Don’t call it a wrap-up, just a point in time…

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WBC 08 in Sonoma CA

The Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) in Sonoma has come and gone.  I’ve been toiling around with so many things to write about that I hardly know where to start.  So I’m going to have to write a series of posts about different things.

First, there will be no “wrap-up” post.  The concept of the WBC was to take our online conversations and meet face to face, as a community, to get a better understanding of the issues and each other.  Then we need to talk more about the issues back online again.  So I have always viewed the WBC as another element like our comments, tweets, forum posts, etc.  We need to keep this conversation going and evolve the medium as a community.  Its exciting when you think about it.  Like I mentioned, technology has once again taken an industry status quo and turned it upside-down.  The game has changed and we can influence how things pan out in the future.  Already, as noted by Alice Feiring in her keynote speech at dinner on Saturday, there has never been a community of wine writers and now, if you felt the energy in the room at the conference, clearly there is.  Guess what – thats new.

As a co-producer with so many new friends let me say a thanks and an apology.

First the apology:

While its necessary to get sponsors to pull something like this together on this scale and make sure we’re not just gathering in a park drinking from the water fountains, we tried very hard to make this a re-imagining of a wine conference.  All bloggers welcome and the community is there to interact with each other first and foremost.  We attempted to dedicate an entire morning to the Unconference – a free-flowing session with ad-hoc topics, no sponsors, no pitches, only bloggers.  I personally communicated to everyone that we would have at least that much time to do something completely unscripted because thats what we as bloggers are about really – going off-script, something completely different.  I took my time getting to the Unconference and when I arrived there was already a session about Wine2.0 and getting bloggers involved.  So after all my talk of unscripted, unsponsored, hippy-blogger-love day, a brand ran a session anyway which changed the tenor of the Unconference.  I didn’t take that lightly and I do apologize to the community for it.  We hadn’t intended for there to be any corporate presence in that session and I should’ve paid a little closer attention to what was going on.  I wanted to get that out because its been toiling in my head for days.

Now the thanks.

I’ve been getting alot of kudos, which I do appreciate and I do my best to say so even though I’m not the best at taking compliments, but really Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures turned out to be the perfect partner to pull this off.  I know a few of us had been kicking around the idea of a conference for a while but knowing what it takes to pull off a conference, my hesitation was basically I knew what I didn’t know and that was very daunting.  Allan approached me in April and after talking over what he thought he could do for a conference like this it was pretty clear he had alot of experience and skills in areas I didn’t and THAT is what makes teams, companies, ideas, etc. work!  The success we had was not only fast (April to October – 6 months) but we were able to take care of what we needed efficiently as if we worked together for a long time when in reality we were going basically “site unseen”.  So MANY thanks to Allan, the perfect partner to making this come to fruition.

Next post…the anatomy of a conference – the snafus you DIDN’T see even if you thought it went smoothly!

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Repetitive iteration is killing to Innovation

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Image via Wikipedia

I have two real passions that I’ve spent the last few years trying to combine – technology and wine.  This post is about technology.  My technology passion goes back a long long way (in my life) to Commodore Vic20 to working in a computer software store all through High School to going to MIT for an Electrical Engineering degree.  I just love to learn about it and having grown into my skin as somewhat of a geek I feel fine diving in and ripping things apart just to figure out how it works at its most basic level.

Anyway, one thing I’ve seen, particularly in the latest “craze” of social media, is the utter lack on innovation.  There is a repetitive iteration (yes, that was on purpose) to sites and technology I see coming out all over tech but particularly in social media websites.  People, particularly in wine, are confused as to which site to use, why?  Because that are pretty much the same thing.  Slight variations, but for the most part the same.

And yet, many of these sites call their releases “innovation”.  Blech!  Come on.  Innovation is disruptive to the status quo.  In my mind, disruptive makes things interesting.  I’ve gotten involved in a few projects that I found interesting (i.e. I thought could be disruptive) and have tried to counsel these companies on how to highlight their innovations.  I’m not going to blather on about them in this post, this is more of a post to highlight what is and isn’t innovation which is pretty simple – if you’ve created something with some defensible intellectual property then you’ve likely got an innovation.  That means a NEW WAY of doing things.  Not a re-swizzle of old technology.

Unfortunately, far too often folks in Marketing (I guess my current field, technically) walk around touting innovation and what this does is create a high noise floor for real innovation.  One very innovative company that I worked with, Cruvee, went through some intensive messaging sessions with me and are going through some re-designs to reinforce that messaging.  But why did they have to do that and why did they have to call me and ask for my help?  Because the sheer number of “social media” sites that lack innovation in the tiny tiny area of “Wine” made it actually challenging to highlight what they do differently, and believe me, they are taking a very different approach and actually introducing some new concepts.  But that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

I think this is in part due to a diluted engineering discipline called “agile development“, which I’ve written about before.  I say “diluted” because the interpretation of the interpretation of the interpretation of the original discipline has made people think that pumping out any old crap and then adding features will eventually allow you to hit the one thing that people need (or somehow early adopters will just start using it for what they need).  That is a horrible assumption.  That is called “luck” and its no replacement for hard, smart, innovative work.  If you know the story of YouTube you might disagree with me.  If so, then “good luck”, you’re gonna need it.

If you agree with me then what’s the cure?  Easy, proper Product Management – think about what you’re doing, the audience you’re attracting, what their actual problem is, and have a directed effort.  What a Product Management discpline is all about is INCREASING YOUR CHANCES OF SUCCESS.  You can count on luck, or you can do the work.  I guess it depends on how much time you have and how long you can go without a salary.

On the plus side, investors that I know just ask me “who’s got something innovative?” or “what do you think of this company?” and I can keep being employed to separate the wheat from the chaff.

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Is it me or is this guy a TOTAL douche bag?

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Image by Getty Images via Daylife

OK, so I’m trying to insure that the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Sonoma has good, solid Wi-Fi access.  I’ve spent a decade and a half in the networking industry and the last 8 years designing wireless products so when I setup a conference for 160+ BLOGGERS, i.e. many many laptops in the same room, I have my concerns because of the physical limitations of Wi-Fi.

So the hotel hooks me up with the contact information for their service provider (the Wi-Fi is outsourced which is typical for a hotel).  I send him a message stating exactly my concerns and pointing out that I’ve setup many tradeshow demos as well as conference networks that got hammered by a techie conference.  Here is the email that he sends back to me (understand, I am the hotel’s customer and I am selling out their hotel for this weekend and giving them untold exposure through media the whole weekend).  Is it me or is this dude kinda of a douche?

Dear Sirs-

There are a total of 19 APs interspersed throughout the hotel, not including extra devices occasionally set up by catering.  Depending on the unit, they’ll support from 12-36 users on the wireless (multiple internals).  This has been the design at the Flamingo since its initial design and installation, almost as if we knew what we were doing…

Please inform the users that the codes will be bound to the MAC address of the NIC they use at the time of connection and entry of the code.  They cannot switch computers and use the same code.  The time in contiguous and not broken up to when they are using the connection, ie: 3 hrs ≠ 9 hrs of 15 minute usage periods.

Also, be aware that the total bandwidth for the Hotel Guests use is 6mb/3mb.  Therefore, this should not be a time for these “HEAVY internet users” to download all the Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda videos as this type of abuse will naturally hinder the enjoyable experience that such a convention should foster, human dialogue and contact.

I hope that you enjoy your stay at the Flamingo and that all elements of your convention are a total success.

JJ

Maybe its me, I don’t know…

Updated: The hotel worked on the service provider to create a parallel network in the main conference area that will be supported by additional APs on non-adjacent channels and they committed to having staff on hand throughout the entire conference should this network shit the bed.  I feel better about the chances of success.

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Still alive and kicking…

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Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

As a fugitive of the cubicle nation I’ve learned a few interesting things.  Some about myself and some about actually jumping ship and really trying to get things going.  In fact, I don’t have much time today but this blog is an important part of my life and I don’t want it to go dark for too long.

So its about three months since I was officially “jumped” and the main thing I’ve learned is this – have your shit together, ducks in a row, and get ready because having little visibility into where the money is going to come from is a scary thing.  Don’t let all these entrepreneurs tell you “oh yeah, just do it; shit or get off the pot; blah blah blah”.  All crap.  There is NOTHING impulsive about jumping ship and going it alone.

If you’re part of the cubicle nation you’ve most likely gotten extremely good at your job and that gives you confidence to “give it a try”.  Recognize this – while you may be a genius in your field, you do NOT know everything you should to go it alone.  Go into it with your eyes open and allow yourself to “know what you don’t know”.  Business development, marketing, networking, tech services, administrative assistant, bookkeeper, customer support, legal secretary, etc…

Its not that you CAN’T do all this stuff, but just know that you’ll need to plan some time where you don’t have money (or assume you don’t) figure out how you’ll pull that off – assuming no income – and then when you’re OK with that you can go for it.  Because what will happen is things will take longer then you think and you need to make sure you’re not rushed into bad decisions for your business just because of the uneasy feeling that “no visibility” gives you.  In fact, you want to figure out everything I mentioned in the previous paragraph as a way to give yourself visibility into your business and the more visibility you have the better you’ll feel about the jump.

Next – you can’t get away from politics.  Now granted, there are no office politics unless you want to count arguments over why the dogs haven’t been walked in a week and the potential of withholding of certain marital obligations as politics.  But the politics that I’m talking about are around meeting new people, making a name for yourself, and building your business.  I’m not big on politics and generally as a consultant, even early in building the business, I tell it like it is, turn down business that while I’m perfectly capable of doing the work, it doesn’t add to my “portfolio” if you will.  Its a tricky thing breaking into new markets and its clear that there are “circles” everywhere you go.  I’ve always known that and I’ve been ready for it.  But its more important to understand that going into it then I would’ve thought before making the leap.  So I think its important to communicate that out – You are not getting away from politics by escaping from the cubicle nation; you are just dealing with a different type of politics.  So “how to gain friends and influence people” is still an important skill!!

OK, I have to run but I think I’ll be doing more and more around communicating my Cubicle Nation Fugitive experiences as they seem to be coming fast and furious and they are actually interesting as I learn from this.

Cheers!

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