Archive for March, 2009

In Montreal and Toronto

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

It’s so good to be home for a little while! Here’s what I’m up to this week.

Tuesday – Unfinished Business Lectures: Karen Stephenson


The nature of organization lies in its barrier to entry: in how “membership” is defined. This is the raison d’être of organizational “culture”.  This disheartening social fact is all the more lamentable in today’s globally interconnected world where our need to meaningfully integrate across disciplines, cultures and firms is more important than ever before. Historically, the prevailing wisdom was to let good ideas “bubble up”, but along with the economic myth of “trickle down” it is just and only that, MYTH! A counter these myths are the proven anthropological approaches that get to the heart of culture, using interviews and participant-observational techniques….all good, but still very time-consuming. What is needed is a new way to reliably accelerate an accurate diagnosis of an organization and intervene to produce predictable and sustainable (read: healthy) change.

For more information and to register, visit

Wired Wednesday

I am going to Wired Wednesday to hear David Crow and Saul Colt speak about cool geeky things that make my heart go pitter patter.  It’s free. It starts at 6. Details here.

Thursday – The Social, MySpace Canada, Toronto

This Thursday I will be the keynote at “The Social” MySpace Canada’s industry event. I will be talking about my new book Yes We Did which is being published in May 2009.

I will also be participating on a panel called “The Social Circle” which will be moderated by Nora Young of CBC Radio’s Spark and include:

  • Yanick Bedard, Director of New Media, Sid Lee Montreal
  • Dave Stevens, General Manager, MySpace Canada
  • Dr. Boris Wertz, CEO of Nexopia and W Media Ventures

Friday – #Geeklunch

I will be organizing a #geeklunch this Friday April 3, 2009 in Toronto. It will probably be at the Bright Pearl since I have a major Dim Sum craving! If you are interested following the #geeklunch tag on Twitter for final details. This time I will bring my camera since I had so much fun at our last one!

Telegraph-Journal: Focus on strategy not execution

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009
I was featured in an article in the Telegraph-Journal about my upcoming talk at the New Brunswick Securities Commission’s annual Fullsail Summit in May.

Canadian Arts Summit, Montreal, April 2008

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Canadian Arts Summit, Montreal

I had the privilege of returning to the Canadian Arts Summit for the second year in a row to speak to the leaders of Canada’s major Arts Organizations about technology, young people, and appreciating the arts. I love the arts, and am firmly committed to supporting them in anyway that I can.

I am involved with Business for the Arts, which has a great young professionals group called ArtScene. If you’re in Toronto or Calgary you should check it out. More chapters will be opening across Canada soon.

World Economic Forum – The Global Partnership Project

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

The World Economic Forum: The Global Partnership Project

My project is called the Global Partnership Project and it’s really fascinating.  In association with the governments of Qatar, Singapore, and Switzerland, the Forum is creating a global multi-stakeholder dialogue on a wider global cooperation system to deal with some of the world’s most complex challenges.

The World Economic Forum, in association with Qatar, Singapore and Switzerland, is creating a global, multistakeholder dialogue on a wider global cooperation system. The aim of the project is to examine ways to improve global governance from some of the world’s leading experts and thinkers.

My favorite part is that this project will uphold the Forum’s mandate to improve the state of the world, and I can’t wait to hear your feedback and comments as the project takes shape.

I’ll be tagging all Forum posts with “The Forum” tag.

Business Innovation at the YTA

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

York Technology Association

York Technology Association, known better as YTA, has been representing the tech cluster since 1982. In addition to advocacy for its members  interests, it aims to connect, share, and encourage the growth of its member.

One of  YTA’s most successful programs for enhancing the exchange of information and experience between members is its rapidly growing Peer Group program.  Peer groups provide a venue for peers from member organizations to share challenges and experiences and learn from each other in an intimate and safe  envrionment with defined code of conduct. There are currently 8 groups: CEO (of Technology companies), CFO, HR, Technical project Management, Marketing Leadership, Sales, Services Excecutive, and the most recent addition: Business Innovation.

The Business Innovtion PG was launched o March 27th at the Corporate Training Centre of Seneca College on Allstate Drive in Markham. This first session confirmed a strong need for addressing a variety of issues all connected to business innovation. The participants provided anectodal evidence that technology companies are facing significant challenges in managing change, adapting to ongoing market restructuring, and mitigating innovation risks.

The Business Innovation PG will have monthly gatherings each with an invited speaker introducing and framing a specific topic for discussion by particpants. Topics are selected from the program being developed by the Peer Group’s two facilitators.  A LinkedIn group has already been established to maintain the conversations going between monthly gatherings.

A new PG focused on Women in Technology is being prepared an will be launched shortly.

Manara is proud to be a member of the YTA and a co-founder of the Business Innovation PG. Manara’s President, Nabil Harfoush,  is co-facilitating this PG with John Sutherland, President of Ennova Inc. For more information please contact us. Our coordinates are available on the Contact Us page.

Update from Switzerland – Where did March go?!

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

I checked the calendar today and did a double take.  Was it already March 22?  How is that possible?  Maybe time moves differently in the land of chocolate!  I can’t believe my last post was on March 3rd.  Much has happened in the last two weeks as I get settled into the routine of living in a new country.  I acquired my very first Swiss souvenir: a mild concussion. That’s right, in a brilliant display of grace, balance and poise I took the mother of all spills outside of the Foreign Visa office, knocking myself out cold. I’ll let my travel blog update those of you who want more details, since I would like to keep this a place of Foushy business!

I spend my days learning about the World Economic Forum and sifting through the large volume of research they have done over the past year. It is a veritable treasure trove of data that tickles my information addiction. At night I polish my chapters and send them to the editor and copy-editor. It is amazing to see the book start to take a definite shape, it won’t be long before I get the first galley!

Some quick updates:

  • I will be creating a special page on the site for the book, where I will upload some of the videos that I recorded while down in Chicago and other interesting tidbits so keep an eye out for that!
  • I’ll be returning to North America at the end of March and will post more details on when and where, hopefully we can put together a Toronto #Geeklunch?
  • I am currently wading through two hundred emails that I haven’t been able to access due to spotty internet connections and hitting my head. If I owe you something please be patient or resend if it is time sensitive.

I am so glad to finally return to a normal blogging and twittering schedule!

Google Portrait – under the internet magnifying glass

Friday, March 20th, 2009

On January 7th, 2009 the french magazine Le Tigre published what it termed the first Google portrait of Marc L. a pseudonym for a randomly selected 29 years old young man. Using information publicly available on the internet and common sense an amazingly accurate and detailed profile of that person was constructed. The magazine wanted to illustrate the dangers of collating personal information spread all over the web.

The french daily Le Monde picked up the story on January 17th, giving the subject the pseudonym Jule. The young man was told about the article by a friend. He initially did not take it seriously, but once he started reading, he was shocked. There were so many personal and even intimate details (his travels, his love affairs, his friends etc.) that he contacted Le Tigre and asked that the article be removed. Legal opinion told him that there wasn’t much to achieve through courts, as all information was from public sources. Le Tigre sanitized the web-based article by anonymizing further details other than the name, but for the paper based article not much could be done. But even after the sanitizing the article makes for interesting reading (if you read French or like Google translation).

Some juicy extracts

Here is the English translation of a short section of the lengthy article, addressed in letter style to the subject:
Let’s get back to you. You are single and heterosexual (Facebook). In spring of 2008 you had an affair with Clauda R***, who works at the French-Austrian Culural Centre in Bordeaux (I did not find her immediately because the character ü has to be spelled ue for Google). In any case I can confirm, she is charming, small breasts, short hair, nice legs. You give us the address of her parents, V*** Boulevard in Bordeaux. (…) Please note that I have her work telephone number (opening for a pedagogic assistant position at the Cultural Center; she works in recruitment).”

What an innocent message reply can do

Another section is revealing of how easy personal information on Facebook is released. The reporter accumulating the profile created a fake ID on Facebook and asked to become friends with Marc or Jule. The young man was suspicious and did not accept. However, he replied with a message “Hi Who are you? Regards, Marc”. The reporter was about to reply with some invented story, when Facebook alerted him that when he sends a message to someone on Facebook they gain access to his list of friends, his core, work and education information for a month. The reporter realized he did not even need to reply and gained access to Marc’s information!

Morale of the story

As The Foush recently recommended, you should do self audits on the internet, not only for the sake of verifying correctness or reputation management, but more importantly from a security perspective. Look at all information (text, pictures, videos, tags by third parties) and ask yourself, what can a third party do with it. Clean up where possible, although with more and more sites including in their agreements (yes, those you don’t read and just click “accept”), “perpetual and irrevocable” rights to anything you post on them it is becoming increasingly difficult to remove your information.

The 27 European CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) are debating some safeguards including imposing guidelines enabling web users to erase their personal information when they so desire. My take: even if legislated, it’s going to be a long up-hill battle, as information moves across systems and jurisdictions globally. That’s not even taking into consideration the drooling marketeers, organized crime, and intelligence services all over the world.

Arguably, you always give up some privacy when you join a community, but the surrender of private information that we’re witnessing is a “strange phenomenon of shared exhibitionism and mutual narcissim” as Alex Türk, president of the French CNIL puts it in Le Monde. So, where to draw the line when you are part of multiple global communities, when public spaces are increasingly privatized, and private spaces are shrinking continuously?

Obama, Changecamp and the World Economic Forum

Friday, March 20th, 2009

This weekend Changecamp was held in Toronto. Inspired by the changes seen south of our borders, it is an event bringing together Canadians from all walks of life to answer the question:
“How do we re-imagine government and governance in the age of participation?”

Unfortunately I was not able to attend in person but many from my Overlap and Unfinished Business friends were there. Through their tweets (tag: #changecamp), their blogs and the event’s wiki I was able to follow at least from a distance this remarkable event.

In the course of the discussions my good friend Charles Finley tweeted the following question: “new models of engagement, or technology-enabled versions of what already exists? Will this change structures of governance?”. I find this to be a very good questions. Since the success of Obama’s new media participatory campaign became known, there have been a tremendous demand to learn the “secrets of the trade” and “how they did it”, and to apply learning to organizations of all sorts: corporations, agencies, political parties, and all levels of government.

In the rush to learn the recipe of that success, however, there is great danger to miss the magic that enabled the recipe in the first place. There are many, who can teach the tools and recipes better than me. But here is my take on the real magic behind it all:

The Vision

It started first and foremost with thought leadership, a renewed vision of a truly participatory way for governing. It wasn’t fundamentally new; we have been dreaming of it and seeking to achieve it for centuries if not millenia, but our implementations, even in the Western democracies of the past 100 years have been wanting at most. Instead of true conversations, there were and still are many on-way “broadcasts” from the governing to the governed with only a brief opportunity for real feedback, mostly through an election every few years, and frequently in a context of lopsided communications due to interests-driven media.

There is no denying of the inspiration injected into that vision by the Internet’s many tools for communications and collaboration. But inspiration alone is not enough to attain success. Even the leadership’s vision, while a necessary ingredient, is not sufficient.

Values & Willingness to Adapt

The vision had to be bolstered by strong leader values: authenticity, transparency, mutual respect, fundamental rights, trust in the people, acceptance of interdependency and shared future etc.
The vision had also to embrace a true two-way conversations with people, which meant really listening to what people had to say. It had to be followed to its ultimate logical consequence: the demonstrated willingness to adapt plans and precepts in accordance with the conversations with stakeholders. This is a tall order as most organizations only engage in conversations after they have developed a plan and a strategy and people come up with many ideas and preferences, not all easily reconcilable.


If the vision, values, and will are all there, the final prerequisite is for the enablers. Although a technological platform is a major one, it is not the only one. Other enablers include: organizational capacity not only to run the technology, but more importantly to aggregate, analyze, understand, and respond to the conversations engaging the organization. This requires a capacity for rapid decision making and a dynamically adaptive strategy responding rapidly to the evolving conversations. Not your standard business school curriculum!
Another enabler is the relevance of the subject and objectives of the conversations to the audiences engaged in these conversations.

Who’s Change?

Engaging in a new media strategy involves hence technological, organizational capacity, and cultural changes. What is important to realize is that these closely entwined elements force the organization implementing them to change significantly. From vision to values, to willingness to adapt, to capacity building and cultural change, the organization is driven by the requirements of a successful new media strategy to become a better, more transparent and capable organization, and to be better connected to its stakeholders and constituents. This is quite a departure from the past, where most media strategies aimed at changing the target audience, not the originating body.

The Moral of the Story

To achieve success all of the prerequisites are needed, technology being only one of them. To my friend Dave Gray and my fellow changecampers I say: Definitely new models of engagement, with serious changes asked of the status quo.

And to the elites of the world as they gather at the World Economic Forum in Davos (Switzerland) this week to discuss “shaping the post-crisis world” (twitter tag #davos), I say: You would be well advised to reflect on the need to change yourselves as much as changing the world, if not more. Therein lies the true promise of the new media for the WEF and for the world.

Barriers to New Media Success in Canadian Politics

Friday, March 20th, 2009
Since the breathtaking success of President-elect Obama’s campaign, new media is being touted as the future of political campaigns and citizens engagement. Interest in applying the new media lessons learned in that campaign to the (marketing) campaigns of the corporate world is exploding. My daughter and colleague Rahaf, who put her life on hold for 3 months and worked for the new media group at the Obama campaign headquarters in Chicago, can witness to that. A recent invitation to speak about her experience in an intimate setting at Toronto University’s Rotman School of Business attracted 300 people and forced the relocation of the event to a larger auditorium.

In her presentation Rahaf listed six lessons learned from the Obama new media campaign. She also pointed out to the vision driving the campaign as being a fundamental element of its success. Through further conversations with her I came to think that this may be indeed the most profound lesson learned. The recent political developments in Ottawa have raised public interest and brought increased engagement and activism in online venues like Twitter and Facebook. There are several calls for mobilizing online against the Harper government, so I am trying to apply Rahaf’s six lessons plus my current understanding of new media success factors to the present Canadian context.

What amplified the success of Obama’s new media campaign is a vision that was people not candidate centric; its core elements of hope, change, inclusiveness and mutual respect resonated with a broad spectrum of people. It was that vision that attracted like-minded top organizers and staffers, established a strategy of two-way communications with the people around a consistent message, engaged young and old people in a respectful way, and admitted the new media group as an equal at the planning and operational levels. It didn’t hurt either that the candidate is charismatic and inspiring.

What Canadians politicians can learn

So how do we compare? Although many people converge towards core Canadian values of collaboration, tolerance, etc. no party has a well articulated vision that resonates with what people really want from their politicians:

  • Putting people’s interests and the country first, ahead of narrow minded party tactics;
  • Engage in intelligent, civil, and constructive conversation in parliament across party lines;
  • Lead instead of being kicked in the but every step of the way;
  • Restore hope and pride in Canada’s role as a global leader.

Instead, the various parties are aligned along the traditional combative lines of last century: “small government”, “middle of the road for middle class” and “workers unite”. Never mind the absence of a charismatic and inspiring leader!

Continuing along the traditional model, all significant discussions and decisions are made in backrooms by an exclusive club of elitists and their staffers, who excel at delivering quick short-term results through tricks and mean tactics, even at the cost of the country or at the detriment of their own party’s members. Consequently, no party has a clear need or desire to engage the masses and really listen. As a result engagement is seen as a PR exercise and communications is a one-way delivery function receiving it’s instructions from the closed club.

What can we do about it

So, here are my recommendations for any party wanting to use new media:

  1. Start by articulating a vision rooted in the people’s needs and wants
  2. Commit publicly to the values of transparency, inclusiveness, and willingness to change in order to align with your constituents
  3. Recruit your inner circle from people who have demonstrated their commitment to these values
  4. Devise a comprehensive two-way communications strategy around a clear and consistent message
  5. Attract young engaged leaders to implement the new media component of your strategy and treat them with the respect they deserve

Without a vision around which people can rally, without a core that is committed to transparency, inclusiveness and change, and without truly listening to people and engaging in meaningful conversations, no media (never mind new media) can deliver the strategic advantage everyone is looking for.

Where do we start

How we can jump-start this process is a question that should be opened to the people to contribute their mass creativity to. Here is my personal contribution: How about if a group of politicians from one or more parties establishes a list of the core principles of such vision and a code of conduct (sort of a manifesto if you prefer big words) and starts practicing it openly?

The Future of Twitter

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I had lunch earlier today with my friends Dave Gray of Xplane and Bob Logan of sLAB (previously the Beal Institure for Strategic Creativity). The food at “Le Pain Quotidien” was great, the ambiance cozy and surroundings not too noisy. The conversation drifted to Twitter, its future and what its potential could be. Dave encouraged me to blog about this conversation (hopefully not out of concern that at my age I’d forget the content soon if I didn’t! Lol). So here are some highlights of that conversation.

I am not sure why, but
we did not talk about the traditional advertisement business model. Perhaps it was our aversion to ads interrupting our experience, whether on TV (if you’re still watching any!) or online, and we just couldn’t imagine our current Twitter experience poisoned by pop-up adds driven by parsing the last tweet we received. Perhaps it’s an obvious model that many are practicing and we felt we were in a more “innovative” conversation.

The most obvious value of Twitter to us is in the communities it helps creating and enabling. One of the hypothesis about the business models of the web 2.0 world is that accumulating substantial numbers of “customers” or users of your service even at a loss could have value for others by reducing their cost of access to such group. That was the favorite hypothesis when eBay acquired Skype for $2.6 billion in order to gain access to Skype’s 54 million users.

With the gradual realization that modern brand management hinges on the involvement and active engagement of brand related communities, the business value of such communities as well as of its venues and communications platforms continues to increase beyond the traditional value of a company’s customers database.

Another aspect is Twitter’s value to individuals as a convenience tool. It can act as a filter between the ever noisier outside world and the individual’s interests and preferences. Dave refers to Twitter as his personal “info shield”. By developing more sophisticated and slick applications to manage your “shield” Twitter’s tools would become more desirable by its users… and consumer desires can always be monetized!

I recently blogged about how micro-blogging, the type pioneered by Twitter, is supporting a new type of learning, which I called micro-learning. After some more thought I prefer to call it now agile learning, a way to learn in small incremental steps driven by your own needs and preferences instead of a rigid curriculum formulated for a broad population. My Twitter friends are really a growing network of scouts hunting for information and knowledge and tweeting about their findings, out of which I can then select the gems most interesting and useful to my learning. By the same token the drive (or at least the peer pressure) to have followers encourages me to be a good scout for my followers. This makes Twitter a prime platform for the new agile micro-learning that is emerging.

The ultimate value of Twitter, however, is in the data it collects and aggregates from all the tweets of its users and in its ability to mine such data for useful practical purposes. Technology, even the coolest one, is just a tool. The data is the ultimate treasure. Google, arguably one of the most innovative technology companies around, demonstrated in November 2008 what you can do with such data through their Flu Trends tool. Flu Trends was not only able to deliver estimates of flu levels in each state that were consistent with CDC’s results based on field data, it was also able to do so in near real time (i.e. faster than CDC!).

There are many visualization attempts and experiments of the Twitterverse. For example: 17 ways to visualize the Twitter Universe. Visualization is but one way to uncover inherent structures within the data that are otherwise not visible. The key for a successful business model, however, is to extract knowledge that is usable for a number of applications and industries. There are a number of companies starting to explore these avenues, but to my knowledge Twitter is not strategically pursuing any of them. One such company that I personally find exciting is Canadian. Unfortunately I am bound by an NDA and must defer more details to a future blog once I get the approvals to share their information.

If you know of companies doing something in this direction please let me know.