Andrew Snowdon

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

#uomaSM: A New Hope

In Uncategorized on Wednesday 10 March 2010 at 19:38

Boy, am I glad I shaved yesterday.

Last night, at the invitation of Jen Butson, I headed down (well, fifteen minutes uphill) to the Desmarais building at the University of Ottawa to attend a social media event at the Telfer School of Management.

Now, as far as business goes, I’m a notorious cynic, and with good reason: my childhood was spent listening to stories of the cascading failures of the T. Eaton Company that drove it from being a retail powerhouse to a mere historical reference. I grew up watching Woolco and K-Mart fail. My mother would bring home students’ final projects from her small business management course; I could see first-hand which students were bound for bankruptcy. When I worked at Nortel, I could see the dot-com bubble weakening at the seams; I picked up on signs that the company and the industry were doomed well before the obvious occurred. Michael Copeland and Jozef D. Strauss saw their empires fall into obscurity as I watched. I’ve attended more multi-level marketing seminars than I care to mention (it became a hobby at one point). In later years, I watched Sears make the mistakes that Eaton’s had made, and experienced first-hand the credit policies that led to the US banking crisis of recent years.

I have intimate familiarity with the steep downward dive of the line on a graph.

So, when I walk into a room filled with people gathered for the purpose of discussing business, whether it be a regular meeting of veteran corporate middle-management or an event full of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, well-dressed business students with entrepreneurial aspirations, I find myself hypersensitive to the potential for failure.

This pessimistic attitude permits me to fully appreciate the refreshing circumstance of being confronted with people who have their heads screwed on straight. I’m glad to say that that’s what I felt last night.

Having shown up on time (for once in my life) I got a chance to converse with Alex Barankevych, a later-year student who was there because he got a lot of value out of the last event.

We were joined shortly by fellow hardened cynic David Hicks (erstwhile progenitor of the hashtag #smdb), which was the signal to go to the bar. It’s a good thing we did, because we found out that the caterer was another business student, and we got into a great and mutually rewarding conversation about the practical aspects of social media.

The time came to take our seats. Rather than sit in the T-zone, David and I (and Randy Little) sat in the back row, in what I will call the iZone. The iZone is composed of people who, while raptly listening to the presenters, are yet bathed in the glow of their handheld devices (BlackBerry, iPhone, or otherwise) as they Twitter away their side-comments or relay well-thought-out points to the rest of the world. As disconcerting as it must be for a presenter to see a line of glowing heads at the back of the room, it has to be better than hearing whispers or the shuffling of paper.

Lisa Larter was first to present; my cynicism gave way to a feeling of relief that good old marketing know-how is not dead. She gave a great talk (and a non-eye-searing Powerpoint) on how she used social media to grow her business, and consistently linked back to the importance of using good common sense. The key points of knowing your customer and engaging in a relationship with them transcend the marketing medium; Lisa Larter understands this and conveys it clearly, in a way that holds your attention (which, after a decade of attending customer sales and service seminars, is a very slippery fish in my case) and keeps you interested.

Kyle Braatz was up next. About two sentences into his presentation, I heard a sound I haven’t heard since my Nortel days: Temporal-Three.

After briefly moving the party downstairs to the parking lot of Desmarais, we headed back up when the all-clear was given. When we had settled in again, Kyle picked up from where his presentation left off without missing a beat. He spoke as a former student to current students, and although I’m about as far from being a student as you can get without forgetting how to read, I felt included. It’s obvious why Kyle’s successful when you hear him speak.

Thanks to tools like BackNoise, shy exhibitionists like myself are able to ask questions at these events. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of hands that went up when I asked how many people in the room actively used Twitter. This isn’t something we would have seen even six months ago, necessarily. Twitter’s practically my girlfriend, so I’m glad to see it gaining mainstream popularity. I hunger for the day when “you’re not on Twitter?” replaces “you’re on Twitter?” permanently.

What I took away, and what I hope most of these bright young minds took away, is that social media is not a magic carpet. Television wasn’t. Radio wasn’t. The people that are going to succeed in business are the people that are good at it, who can adapt to any medium. Yes, you will get left behind (i.e. in the Yellow Pages) if you don’t adopt new media; but trusting that it will give you an edge when you don’t have one to start with is just a quicker path to failure.

So, print business cards. Just make sure your Twitter name is on them.

Special thanks to UOMA for putting on a really wonderful event.


If it’s Tuesday, it must be… Ottawa?

In Uncategorized on Tuesday 9 March 2010 at 6:13

It’s been too long since I woke up naturally at a decent hour.

So maybe it’s a bit perverse, but I rather like being awake before everyone else, to brew the coffee, make the oatmeal, and get caught up on everything that’s happening in the world. Since I’m a little slower than the average human being, it makes sense to get a head start.

It looks like today is another one of those days: there’s too much to do in Ottawa this evening. That’s the way it should be, really.

Tonight is the opening night of Mourning Becomes Electra—The Haunted, for instance. For $15 ($10 if you’re a student or a senior) you can see the lovely Ms. Bryony Etherington covered, inside and out, in baby powder. Oh, I’m sure the rest of the cast are lovely too; I just don’t know them as well. Apparently this play is based on the myth of Orestes. Any Facebook invite that sends me scrambling for my references (in this case A Smaller Classical Dictionary, 1927, and The Myths of Greece and Rome, H. A. Guerber, 1907) before 6am gets at least a “Maybe Attending.”

I do believe this evening I’ve been invited to a social media event at the University of Ottawa. I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to find out where and when: if you can’t, you shouldn’t be there. I encourage you to go to the play instead, if you have a hankering to hang out on campus. Am I social media enough? You bet your sweet bippy I am.

It being Tuesday, the day will end, and another begin, with Bew Cocky Salsa. If you’re not listening, I really can’t help you. Jess and Ed (I can say their names because they say them on the show; take that, privacy police) are, well, the last of the old-school AM broadcast DJs, brought to you by the magic of college radio. If I lost the capacity to select my own music, I would be happy for at least an hour a week. Plus, they both have incredibly sexy voices.

Speaking of voices you should be listening to, Voices of Venus is on this evening at Umi Café. I wonder who’ll show up for Open Mic? Or maybe I have my suspicions.

This isn’t an event per se, but in my inbox this morning was this month’s Zunior Sampler. I wouldn’t know about Zunior, probably, if it wasn’t for Danny Michel having given away all of his albums by way of the service on his 40th birthday this year. I’m going to go ahead and call it an excellent source for Canadian independent music (bearing in mind that I’m no expert: My Canada May Include Texas, or so my hilarious attempt to claim Okkervil River as a Canadian band (over Twitter, during the Olympic opening Ceremonies) would make it seem). I was giddy with delight to see J’envoie’s track Caserne Centrale is on the sampler; here is my subtle pimping of J’envoie’s La vitesse des chats sauvages, and here is where you get the album. It’s good thinking music.

Maybe I’ll put it on while I’m reading up on Orestes.

Whatever you’re doing in Ottawa tonight (uh, if you’re in Ottawa), have fun—but not too much fun.

Random encounters

In Uncategorized on Monday 8 March 2010 at 2:20

I watched the Academy Awards the whole way through for the first time in my life tonight.

I think I love Ottawa.

What I really mean by that is that I think I love living downtown; even then, downtown is loosely defined to include Lowertown (where I live), the Market, Sandy Hill, Centretown, and Downtown proper.

Much of that has to do with the potential for random encounters.

The way tonight started was that I had taken a break from rearranging my bookshelf (as evidenced by the eleven distinct piles of books still blocking the path between this couch and my kitchen) to have a drink and check Twitter. There was some question as to whether a new Mexican restaurant, specializing in burritos (Burrito Borracho) was open for business yet. Since it’s just a ten-minute walk away from my apartment, and I hadn’t been outside during the day, I decided to go check. So I got my coat and shoes on, headed down to Clarence Street, and found that no, indeed, it was not open for business yet (the glass doors were still covered on the inside with brown butcher paper).

As I was running low on tobacco, I decided to walk up William to my favourite tobacco shop (i.e. the only one that stocks my particular brand of pipe tobacco). From there, I was going to walk home along Rideau and maybe dip into the Metro on the way to pick up some food.

Instead, as I was about to cross George, I ran into someone. Out of respect for her privacy, I shan’t say who (and I’ll deny anyone you guess). We are acquaintances, mostly by virtue of accidentally turning up at the same parties. After an enthusiastic chat about a project she was working on, she mentioned she was tired of standing on the street corner.

So she invited me back to her apartment to watch the Academy Awards.

Before anyone suggests anything, unless you consider eating popcorn with chopsticks and having tea and hot chocolate to be untoward, nothing untoward came to pass. We sat and watched the Academy Awards with appropriate witty conversation (at least I hope I held up my end of the bargain) and, when they were over, she ushered me out of her apartment (some people have to get up in the morning, apparently) and I walked home.

The last thing she said before I left was, “I love random encounters.”

So maybe I love Ottawa. Maybe I just love living downtown. I’m not sure, really.

There is one thing I am sure about, though.

I, too, love random encounters.

PS: Sandra Bullock won for Best Actress (it has a much longer name than that, but I forget the exact wording and am too dead tired to look it up). Now, the four other actresses nominated in that category were nominated for, from what I could tell, much better and harder-to-nail roles, and I would wager better performances. I have nothing against Sandra Bullock. I liked The Net, and there are only so many people that can act opposite Keanu Reeves without making him look like a plank of Ikea pine. I did not see the movie for which she was nominated; it’s just clear to me that the other four actresses were pretty much neck-in-neck.

When Ms. Bullock got up on stage to accept her award, it was plain that that’s what she thought too. I admire her grace in accepting the award while making it clear that each of the other actresses deserved it.

What was the Academy thinking?

I can’t say for certain. Maybe her performance really was that much better than Meryl Streep’s, for instance. My personal theory, however, is that Sandra Bullock was a bridge bid.

If you don’t play bridge, well, I don’t play bridge either. My father used to try to explain it to me when I was a kid, and I kind of got the idea of game play, but bidding confused me. Bridge involves… well, you’ve got a partner, and you’re playing against another player and their partner, and the idea is to beat everyone else’s cards; it’s like War or Hearts (or an awful lot like Euchre). If you have a lot of high cards of one suit spread between you and your partner, you can clean up easily, if you co-ordinate. The problem is, you’re usually not allowed to see your partner’s cards.

So each hand of bridge starts with “bidding,” where the players attempt to reveal how strong their hand is to their partner without revealing it to their… to the other pair of partners. I’m sure you can Wikipedia this to figure out how it works; someone bids “four clubs” and their partner may go “five clubs” to indicate that they are strong in clubs. It’s worse than the International Code of Signals.

To make matters worse, there are bids that fall outside of this system; apparently there’s a way to indicate that you have a really piss-poor hand by opening with a specific bid… and that’s where Sandra Bullock comes in.

Here, the Academy was confronted with four performances so equal in excellence that they couldn’t decide which was best. As a matter of fact, I think they perceived that to give any one of them the award would be a slight against the others. Thus, to convey that they did not think any one of the four should win over each other, they picked the fifth performance, Sandra Bullock’s, awarded her the Oscar, and let her say what the Academy couldn’t; that the award belonged as much to each of the others as it did to her.

Okay, so it sounds insane. Maybe Ms. Bullock, who is an incredibly hard-working actress, did clearly win that award, and I’m rationalizing away something I don’t understand.

But the look on her face suggests she might just agree with me.

The opinions expressed in this post are not those of the lovely, talented Sandra Bullock, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or anyone who knows anything about bridge. But you knew that.