Archive for August, 2009

Building Bridges for Peace

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I had a few queries over twitter about the “Building Bridges for Peace” that I am attending in September. As it would be difficult to explain in 140 characters and I would hate to flood the timeline with multiple tweets on the same subject, I decided to provide the information here on my blog.

This event is the 4th in a 6-parts series of events organized jointly by the Mosaic institute and the Canadian Centre for Diversity (which used to be called Canadian Council for Christians & Jews – CCCJ). The full official title of the series is “Building Bridges in Canada: New Perspectives on People and Peace” and its purpose is to create a venue for a better discourse about the Middle East peace for Canadians in general and the Canadian Arab and Jewish communities in particular. The short name is therefore “Building Bridges for Peace“.

Statement of Values

The organizers of this series of events declared that they subscribe to the following values (quote):

  • Canada is a country committed to peace, and diaspora communities resident in Canada have a tremendous opportunity to contribute to Canadian peace building efforts around the world.
  • While governments are vital contributors to peace building, citizens who are informed, and particularly those from diaspora communities originating from regions of longstanding conflict, have an equally important role to play in building peace.
  • It is important for communities of concerned Canadians to enter into difficult discussions about topics as important as the achievement of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. As Canadians, an discussions we have should be polite, respectful and involve listening with open hearts and minds.
  • Any effort that results in increased mutual awareness of the history, perceptions, hopes and struggles of the Canadian Arab and Jewish diasporas is a valuable one. If that effort results in a shard commitment to even one tangible peace building initiative in the Middle East, or in a joint recommendation for enhancing Canada’s foreign policy towards that region, Canada’s mosaic will show its true value.
  • Achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East will require unrelenting goodwill and creativity of good people who believe that it is never the wrong time to pursue peace.

(End of quote)

Session Themes

The six session themes are:

  1. Diaspora Diaries – A Panel Discussion in Cultural Duality (March 4, 2009): The panel featured 4 prominent Canadians (2 from each community) and was moderated by journalist and commentator Noah Richter, author of This is My Country, What’s Yours?: A Literary Atlas of Canada.
  2. The Business of Peace in the Middle East (April 6, 2009): Keynote address by Sir Ronald Cohen, who among many things is the Chairman of the Social Investment Task Force. He was then interviewed by CBC host/correspondent Susan Ormiston.
  3. Making Peace Personal (June 3, 2009): Featuring as speakers journalist and author Janet Wallach and founder of the Canada International Scientific Exchange program (CISEPO) Dr. Arnold Noyek as well as two special guests, Nousha Kabawat, the first Syrian-Canadian to ever participate in the Seeds for Peace program and Inbal Marcovitch, an intern with CISEPO and founding member of the Health as a Bridge to Peace student club at York University. the event was hosted by Evan Solomon of CBC “one of the top 100 people to watch” according to MacLean’s magazine.
  4. Where Are We Now (September 16, 2009): a scholarly assessment of the current status of peace building in the Middle East hosted by Margaret MacMillan, author of best seller Paris 1919.
  5. Where Do We Go From Here (November 4, 2009): A diplomatic assessment of the current opportunities for peace in the Middle East, hosted by Ralph Benmergui.
  6. Bridging the Cultural Divide (TBD): Special concert celebrating a shared experience, hosted by Sheilagh Rogers.

In a previous attempt to a dialog between the Arab and Jewish communities in Canada, which was sponsored at the time by Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, I had proposed to establish a list of Canadian values common between the two communities before starting the dialog, and to commit to resolving differences in views based on such values and principles. Although that first dialog attempt did not progress far enough, we did establish among other things common values that all agreed to, as well as ample historic precedence for harmonious coexistence and even creative collaboration between these two communities. Not many of these made it through to the values stated above unfortunately. The need for such common ground will be felt when it is time to resolve core differences.


The format of the events held so far has been panels or speakers presenting followed by either interviews and/or question period managed by the host. The attendance is approximately 100 guests mostly from the Canadian Arab and Jewish communities. The events are sometime attended by the Israeli General Consul and the Syrian Honorary Consul in Toronto. After the event there is opportunity to linger a bit and engage in conversations (refreshments are served).

After the first session participants were asked to complete a survey designed by The Strategic Counsel. The survey measured audience perceptions of a variety of issues relating to the Middle East. Surveys will be administered again at various points in the series to track changes in the attitudes of attendees over the course of the series.

The sessions are held at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies.

My Take So Far

The initiative to bring the two communities in a well designed setting is to be applauded. The profile of the speakers and hosts has been generally high and the perspectives presented interesting. There is also an element of novelty as the content presented is not well known in main stream media.

There have been no dialogs between the attendees as the format consisted mainly of listening to speakers or panelists. While a limited Q&A has been allowed, the format was strictly limited to questions and commentary or multiple-exchange discussions were discouraged.

The attendees from the two communities do not mix enough in their seating order. Many seats are reserved by name and clustered by community, creating a perception of tiered audience and discouraging mixing with the opposite community. After the event a few good conversation across community lines have been possible, but were limited in time and scope due to the constraints of a brief post-event reception.

Having said that I do appreciate that the first 3 sessions have been building up towards the tougher questions. The next session will provide a realistic assessment of where the peace process stands. The 5th session will tackle where do we go from here. That’s where any commonalities achieved in the previous sessions will come to bear.

I have suggested a few things to the organizers such as changing the seating design to encourage mixing and cross conversations, designing time and space for smaller deeper conversations about specific sub-topics, and setting tangible objectives for the outcomes of the series. Come to think of it, my peers at the Design with Dialog group could offer a lot to some of those activities. Greg and I had a brief conversation about setting up a similar dialog. But this is a more complex issue than organizational transformation, and we would need to have a few serious conversations about approach, methods and capabilities. That’s material for a few months of DwD right there, but peace is so important that we must try everything possible all the time. I am in. Who wants to join, DwD Team?


The CIO Exchange

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

IT World Canada (publisher of CIO Canada) in association with the CIO Association of Canada, is holding its first CIO Exchange on September 16th, 2009. The format of this new “forward-facing event” consists of a on-day peer-to-peer direct exchange of insights and expertise around critical issues facing CIOs.

This first CIO Exchange will be addressing the precarious balance between two often-competing principles: the openness necessary to integrate with all partners in the value chain, and the security to ensure the safety of systems and intellectual property — and from potential legal liability. This topic has increasing importance given the rapid proliferation of wireless networks and mobile devices.

The keynote address will be delivered by Chris S. Thomas, Chief Strategist, Intel Corporation and Director of Architecture, World Ahead. Nabil has been invited to participate in this Exchange and will be reporting back in our blog on the outcomes of this event.

JK Wedding Dance – The Evolution of Viral Marketing

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

By now, many of you might have seen the the JK Wedding Dance, the latest viral video to hit the web. The video shows couple Jill and Kevin’s creative spin on the traditional entrance of the bridal party at their wedding. Set to the song “Forever,” by Chris Brown (incidentally who was recently charged with assaulting his then-girlfriend) the video soared to instant popularity online. Even traditional media picked it up including CNN and Good Morning America. Here’s the video below:

Now the interesting thing is that I have been hearing rumbles about the authenticity of the video as well as the role that Sony (the label who owns the copyright of Brown’s song) played in promoting it from all corners of the web.

The Charges:

a) The video is totally fake, and was created by Sony to help bolster Chris Brown’s flailing career

b) The video is real, but has had a “corporate helping hand” in promoting it to help bolster Chris Brown’s career

c) The video is real, and everything we are seeing is the result of content going viral, organically.

The Evidence:

I am listing all the points, even the flimsy ones:

1) Many people have mentioned the consistency of the song quality throughout the whole video is incredibly good considering it was recorded on a handy-cam. Some speculate a higher quality version of the song was added after the video was shot.

2) The video was uploaded on July 19, on July 25th the entire wedding party was on Good Morning America. To get national media attention within 6 calendar days seems a little fast, even for the web. Other people have also mentioned that the video while entertaining, wasn’t hugely innovative compared to the thousands of other “funny wedding videos” available online. They were a little surprised to see all the media coverage.

3) Blog reported an interesting discrepancy betweeen the number of views and and trends on various social networks including Twitter, Google Searches, etc. They hypothesize that the promotional activities (ie/ the aforementioned Good Morning America appearances, etc) created the initial push which THEN gained momentum online instead of the other way around.

4) According to Ad Age’s Viral Video Chart, all of the videos that made its top ten list took between three and six months to fully gain momentum.

5) Google reported on their official blog that instead of using copyright infringement as a reason to pull the video (as Sony and other labels routinely do) Sony capitalized on the video’s popularity by running text ads during the video and placing click to buy ads below:

At YouTube, we have sophisticated content management tools in place to help rights holders control their content on our site. The rights holders for “Forever” used these tools to claim and monetize the song, as well as to start running Click-to-Buy links over the video, giving viewers the opportunity to purchase the music track on Amazon and iTunes. As a result, the rights holders were able to capitalize on the massive wave of popularity generated by “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” — in the last week, searches for “Chris Brown Forever” on YouTube have skyrocketed, making it one of the most popular queries on the site:

This traffic is also very engaged — the click-through rate (CTR) on the “JK Wedding Entrance” video is 2x the average of other Click-to-Buy overlays on the site. And this newfound interest in downloading “Forever” goes beyond the viral video itself: “JK Wedding Entrance” also appears to have influenced the official “Forever” music video, which saw its Click-to-Buy CTR increase by 2.5x in the last week.

The Outcomes:

  • As of today the video has over twenty million views.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that Brown’s song, Forever, climbed the charts landing at No. 4 on the iTunes Single Charts and No. 3 on Amazon’s best selling MP3 List, no easy feat considering the song was released nearly a year ago.

Interestingly enough, Softpedia reported that  Sony wasn’t totally sure about its approach, initially disabling the embedding feature and then changing their minds afterwards.

The Verdict:

I think after looking at all of the evidence I am going to go with option B. The video itself is real, but someone at Sony spotted an incredible opportunity to help one of it’s troubled artists and jumped on it. Both parties made some money and Brown’s song increased in popularity. Everyone wins.

What this means for Viral Marketing:

Spot the Good Wave. I find this case study particularly interesting because it challenges the traditional pressure faced by marketing folks to go and “create something viral.” Instead, a brand manager’s role now involves focusing on spotting vehicles like video that can help a brand gain online momentum.  This allows companies to avoid the pitfall of manufactured content. With the JK video the world was entranced by a human moment, something that an organization would have had a difficult time recreating. (Unless I’m totally wrong and the video is completely fake and Sony has fooled us all, lol) Much like surfing, marketers will need to develop a skill to differentiate the real gems from the thousands of other videos out there that can give their brand that extra boost.

Consumer Generated Content Can Be Your Friend. One can hope that this example has opened the eyes of Sony execs to the potential uses and profitability of user created content. Instead of forcing people to pull their content down, there is a possibility of both parties benefiting from making it available online.

Tactics will change and evolve. As more videos become viral, viewers will become increasingly suspicious of popular content which will mean that brands will need to invest in their online relationships in order to understand how consumers wish to be engaged.  If it’s interesting, I will watch content whether it is created by a company or not, I just want to know up front. Others might be completely indifferent. Knowing these nuances will spare companies a lot of headaches in the future.

Social Media and the New World Order

Sunday, August 16th, 2009 recently presented a keynote about Yes We Did at the American Chamber of Commerce Executives in Raleigh, North Carolina. In fact, I originally wrote this post from the airport where my flight has been DELAYED and my internet wi-fi connection was spotty at best, despite paying $7.99 for highspeed access. Thanks AT&T. (Hence the delay in posting)

In spite of these developments, I am happy to say that I really enjoyed the time I spent in North Carolina, ACCE is an association of people who are genuinely interested in improving their communities. I met so many great people and had some wonderful conversations.

One of those conversations got me thinking about Social Media and its impacts on existing business models. I frequently get asked about how Obama’s social media strategy holds up post-election. Would the tools that were so powerful continue to have such impact after Obama was elected? Or was it a one time shot?

Despite rebranding Obama for America into Organizing for America, it seems the response in using the community building tools introduced during the election to help promote the Administration’s legislative agenda is having lukewarm results. Efforts to push Obama’s health care reform and stimulus packages have seen limited successes.

1. Tactics vs. Strategy of the major themes in Yes We Did is the importance of differentiating between strategy and tactics. The Obama administration is at risk of falling into the same trap that claims so many social media initiatives. Just because the tools for Obama for America proved to be effective in an election process doesn’t mean that they will have the same impact now that Obama is President. For one thing, now that the Administration is in power, the sense of urgency and danger has faded.

One of my jobs as an Obama Volunteer was to call supporters who were organizing events all across the country to make sure that they fully understood how to use our site’s tools and to offer any support or resources that I could. The one thing I remember is that so many people approached this election with a “do or die” attitude. That has now mellowed and I feel that most people, while very supportive of the President, have slowly faded back into a distant interest.

2.  Supporting Faulty Systems

The second thought that struck me was that maybe the lesson here isn’t to try and mold social media to fit business models. Instead, maybe New Media is indicative of a deeper social shift that is exposing the inadequacy of these systems, be it government or business, that can no longer keep up with the way that we communicate and participate with our community. So instead of figuring out how to get people to knock on doors or write letters to their elected representatives, maybe we should be examining the way we invite people to get involved in the political process.

Social Media isn’t a shiny new coat of paint to slather over an old, antiquated model. Social Media is a reflection of how we are evolving the way we communicate and are running into issues when we try and apply this new model to stagnant and out dated systems.

What do you think?

The not-so-secret Overlap Unconference

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

Business Week published on August 3rd, 2009 a guest blog by Venessa Wong titled “Inside the Secret Overlap Conference“. Being an Overlap 2007 participant, I felt the Overlap concept would be best served and explained through a post I wrote immediately following my participation. That post is published on the Ning Network’s Overlap site, which is accessible only to members. Although membership is open, it may be an inconvenience to have to register in order to read my writing from June 17, 2007. I am therefore providing it here for convenience:

From Overlap 07 to Overlaps

Just got back, fully charged, from Geneva Park where Overlap 07 was held over the weekend. I must admit, it exceeded all my expectations. And no, it’s not the post-conference or post-vacation euphoria that often befalls people who extract themselves from their busy lives to attend an event. My enchantment has its roots in the unique blend that characterizes the concept of Overlap: An invitation only event, where a limited number of participants with a broad range of backgrounds, specialization and experience, selected carefully to have vivid minds and an overlap in their interests, are brought together in a pleasant and relaxed environment to engage in a conversation about a chosen subject.

The limitation of the number of participants provides the intimacy required for meaningful conversations and deeper understanding of the various contributions. The broad range of backgrounds and experiences available ensures that those conversations are inherently interdisciplinary and at the frontiers of each specialty. The pleasant and relaxed environment optimizes the collaborative potential of the group. The declared (initial) theme of the gathering provides an easy starting point for the various conversations, which are allowed to evolve the theme further by mutual agreement. Last but not least, the very thoughtful selection of participants guaranteed high caliber conversations (literally) every minute of Overlap 07. I believe I speak for all participants when I congratulate the organizers of Overlap 07 for the exceptional job they did.

This year’s theme started with the overlap of design, business, and innovation and expanded in the process to include communities and sustainability. So what was the outcome? Here is my personal take on it. I am sure that many of the friends I made at Overlap 07 will be writing soon their own conclusions.

For me Overlap 07 is a new form of intellectual exchange, firmly anchored in a peer-to-peer model. Contrary to traditional conferences and symposiums with static structures and deterministic outcomes, Overlap 07′ agile and dynamic structure results in a broad range of outcomes. Peter Evans was the first to point out the agile nature of this gathering. Like the other participants I will take out those elements of knowledge and insights that fit best my own interests and needs. Some of the knowledge and insight obtained at Overlap 07 I will use immediately in current projects; some will be the subject of collaboration with one or more members of the gathering; others will only come to bear in time or in indirect way, cross pollinating my own thinking and my future projects.

Overlap 07 was a wonderful journey full of wonderful discoveries. As Manuel Toscano pointed out, we are nomads thirsty for knowledge and wisdom. We discovered this magic place we didn’t know existed. Could there be others waiting to be discovered? Well, the mystery of the recipe for this magic place is starting to unravel. Perhaps many others will try their magic wands and build many other wondrous Overlaps. I can’t wait until I meet some of my fellow nomads on the next journey.

What’s Happened Since?

Now two years later, I am glad to observe that many overlaps have indeed emerged. The yearly Overlap event continued in New York in 2008 and California 2009, quite a feat considering there is no organizational structure or set leadership. More interestingly, an Overlap Toronto chapter emerged few weeks after the 2007 event and has evolved since into a persistent and dynamic community in Toronto, centered around the two organizers of Overlap 2007: Michael Dila and Robin Uchida of the Torch Partnership.

Not many people realize that many of the creative initiatives and activities in Toronto are emerging from that community: OCAD’s sLab (Strategic Innovations Lab), the famous Torch Lectures series, the Innovation Parkour concept, Unfinished Business project, the Wicked Brown Bag Lunch events, and the initiative to name a few.

I am certain similar activities and results were generated by Overlap participants in other geographies and areas of activity. I would love to hear from other participants about the impact it had on them and their communities.

So the “Secret Overlap Conference” is inviting you all to organize your own Overlap Unconference and start your journey of discovery. Every true “Overlapper” will be willing to help you in your efforts because the rewards are in the learning created by new overlaps and the opportunities generated by intelligent conversations with other creative minds.

Overlap has been kept “secret” on Ning, Google Groups, Facebook, Twitter (#overlap09), on a web site and who knows how many personal blogs! Take a peep at the secret. Perhaps that will inspire you to some action of your own?