Category Archives: Authenticity

United Channel 9

I flew back from New York on United on Monday. I’ve done this trip with them 3 times this year and it seems to work out well. For one thing their flights don’t seem to get that full, whilst the BA trips from the same terminal look as if they are thronged. I get checked in and through security really quickly at JFK so it’s all quite painless.

This time, there was fog at Heathrow and we ended up having to divert to Cardiff to get more fuel… where refuelling ended up taking over 2 hours. On the face of it, this could easily have been a bad experience in which I suppose I could have sat there thinking of ways to blame United. What redeemed it for me was United’s Channel 9, which lets you listen to the cockpit’s conversations with Air Traffic control. This is a feature which is, I think, unique to United.

Now ATC calls tend to follow a highly disciplined pattern, designed to keep them short and functional. But of course, little bits of human conversation and humour periodically slip in. And there was quite a bit of banter going on around the whole fog diversion experience, which we where sharing with several other planes making the same diversion.

So during the Cardiff diversion, I was able to hear the inside story, including the Captain’s patient if slightly frustrated efforts to get the fuel truck to pay attention to us. So instead of relying on the somewhat stilted cabin announcements, I felt I knew what was really going on. And feeling like you’re getting the truth makes a really big difference.

What United need to do is capture the openness of Channel 9 and get some of that spirit into its cabin announcements, which are very scripted and feel quite at odds with what I hear on the channel. And as a relatively frequent flyer this year, that scripting really starts to grate.

In fact, they could take the Channel 9 ethos and spread it through all their marketing. I guess that its recent problems have put United on the defensive, and I often feel there’s an unreality to much of their marketing generally.

But Channel 9 points to a different way of going about things… and they should get more of that into their marketing. Blogging would be an obvious next step.

Thriving Conversations

A friend pointed me to this pdf: The conditions for thriving conversations by Kathia Castro Laszlo and Alexander Laszlo.

I’m really interested in what makes a great conversation and how to have more of them. This brings together some clear thinking. It’s an academic paper so you’ll need to cut them a bit of slack on the jargon front. Here are some of the nuggets I’d pick out.

Conversation, in contrast with debate and other forms of antagonistic discourse, is collaborative. It demands from the conversants an openness to changing views and perspectives that is, it involves learning and can foster coordinated action.

The authors go on to reflect on what makes for great conversation, and what doesn’t. They talk about a blend of generative and strategic dialogue: the former is conversation which builds the familiarity of participants with each other – the relationship focus; the latter is about the explicit purpose or subject of the conversation – the task focus. It’s not an either/or choice of course, and you need both to create a thriving conversation.

Rather like William Isaacs in his book Dialogue, they talk about the stages of conversations and the need to live with chaos:

Thriving conversations are not exempt from such stages – it often happens that an initial agreement (integration) is followed by disagreement and chaos (differentiation). However, a true thriving conversation transcends this stage of divergence and arrives at a new level of organization and meaning

They introduce the notion of synergic inquiry, which supports participants in going through four stages: self-knowing; other-knowing; holding differences; and transcending differences. I think the ability to hold differences without automatically leaping to attack/defend mode is a crucial sign of a group that is capable of something special. I’d just emphasise my own learning about these models: these are not predictable circuits you go through once, in order, then you’re done… in conversations (in life) we’re going through them all the time and not necessarily in the same order.

They have an interesting listing of five different kinds of facilitation, from first generation (outside expert) to fifth generation, who…

not only involves the group in the design process, but also helps the group to learn how to learn to facilitate.

The bit that most caught my attention this morning was their discussion of one factor that differentiates a thriving conversation from a boring one. They quote research on Evolutionary Learning Communities (ELCs) by a guy called Alexander

The composition of a group is critical to its success…. Perhaps the filter relates to relative passion objectives: if the passion objective is to live, learn, and understand from the process in order to enrich ones life, then the ELC will not transcend; if the passion objective is to live, learn, and understand from the process in order to enrich the world, then the ELC will transcend. In the former, the quest is for realization of the self, with contribution to and betterment of the world being secondary and a by-product. In the latter, the quest is for contribution to and betterment of the world, with realization of the self being secondary and a by-product. ELCs cannot emerge from individuals with proximate life passions. They must seek and attract and embrace individuals with transcendent life passions.

This resonates with me. Lots of people like to talk about synergy but I think it’s easy for that word to simply mean: a process where I get to take out more than I put in, as if it is a risk-free, safe process. What makes for thriving conversations, and thriving groups, is a sense of a goal beyond our immediate egotistical desires and a willingness to take emotional risks to get there.

Shared Space

Fascinating post at the Intraspec blog, spotted by Dick Richards.

When drivers no longer have the security of kerbs and traffic signals or signage their behavior shifts accordingly; they exercise greater caution and restraint, becoming more observant and psychologically attuned to pedestrains. Less delivers more…

When customer service reps no longer have the security of scripted words and actions (or whatever else they depend upon for security), their behavior shifts accordingly; they exercise greater caution and restraint, becoming more observant and psychologically attuned to customers. Less delivers more…

Here’s the underlying BBC article – can naked roads kill speed?

Making it up

Dan Gillmor has a good post about the standard PR practice of making up quotes. Snippet: strains my brain to imagine that John Lee, senior vice president CNN Newsource Sales really told a PR person: “A more useful Web site continues CNN Newsources leadership position in communicating with affiliates, ensuring that they have all the information they need as quickly and reliably as possible from CNN. This newly designed interface is an easy-to-navigate portal that connects affiliates to the world of news. It is an efficient, intuitive, one-screen, information portal that lets each desktop user get immediate, topical information that they need from CNN to produce their local newscasts.

Nice post

Jory des Jardins’ mum likes her latest post (see the comments). And so do I. Living Without a Net: An Odyssey into Self-Employment (Part XVII): On Defining Success and Allowing Oneself to Have It Here’s a snippet:

I imagine that this different feeling I have is residual energy shored up by being passionate about the work I’m doing – energy I’m not spending dredging up interest in the menial tasks that I’d attracted before soloing; the energy I once spent attending events following up with people that I wasnt particularly interested in, or who weren’t interested in me but that I pursued just in case, more to hedge my bets in case I eventually figured out what I was passionate about.

Jacob the Teacher

Infinisiri blogs this story:Jacob the teacher

Jacob almost seventy was in the midstages of Alzheimer’s disease. A clinical psychologist by profession and a meditator for more than twenty years he was well aware that his faculties were deteriorating. On occasion his mind would go totally blank; he would have no access to words for several minutes and become completely disoriented. He often forgot what he was doing and usually needed assistance with basic tasks-cutting his food, putting on clothes, bathing, getting from place to place.

Jacob had occasionally given talks about Buddhism to local groups and had accepted an invitation to address a gathering of over a hundred meditation students. He arrived at the event feeling alert and eager to share the teachings he love. Taking his seat in front of the hall, Jacob looked out at the expectant faces before him . and suddenly he didn’t know what he was supposed to say or do. He didn’t know where he was or why he was there. All he knew was that his heart was pounding furiously and his mind was spinning in confusion.

Putting his palms together at his heart, Jacob started naming out loud what was happening: ‘Afraid, embarrassed, confused, feeling like I’m falling, powerless, shaking, sense of dying, sinking, lost.’ For several more minutes he sat, head slightly bowed, continuing to name his experience. As his body began to relax and his mind grew calmer, he also noted that aloud.

At last Jacob lifted his head, looked slowly around at those gathered,and apologized.Many of the students were in tears. As one put it, ‘No one has ever taught us like this. Your presence has been the deepest teaching.’ Rather than pushing away his experience and deepening his agitation, Jacob had the courage and training simply to name what he was aware of, and, most significantly, to bow to his experience. In some fundamental way he didn’t create an adversary out of feelings of fear and confusion. *He didn’t make anything wrong.*

~ from *Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha,* by Tara Brach, Ph.D.”


There’s an interesting discussion going on at Chris Carfi’s blog provoked by his post, Lie la Lie. The reference to The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel is made more relevant by the sprited fight that follows in the comments.

Chris challenges the underlying principles he sees in Seth Godin’s All Marketers are Liars (briefly citing my earlier post about the book). Seth comments back pithily as do a few others.

I see wisdom on both sides here. I also felt uncomfortable that Seth’s book may seem like a licence for manipulation and support mindless consumption. Equally, I think he raises good questions on what we think the truth is; he may not answer those questions but then I’m not sure anyone can. Seth is good at provoking debate, which I like. Christopher is good at demanding depth and conscience in marketing, which I also like.

Some of it is really good – including some nice reincorporation of Simon and Garfunkel lyrics by Ed Brenegar. Reading some of the other comments feels a bit like watching lawyers nitpicking, with forensic examination of quotations leading to a game of NIGYYSOB (from Transactional Analysis: Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch). Overall it’s much the best debate about the book I’ve seen.

Chris is arguing for authenticity and I like that. I’ve written a lot about it myself, though not so much lately – because it’s so hard to define and because it’s easy to end up sounding pious. Thank God for Doc Searls‘ endorsement of blogging as open-ended as I’m not feeling able to reach any rousing conclusion to this post.



Tom Guarriello reflects on Seth’s All Marketers are Liars. Even though he’s not read the book I think he’s written the clearest summary I’ve yet seen (and I have read it).

Tom likes the sound of it but concludes

But am I the only one who thinks that this “lying” business muddies more than it clarifies?

He’s put his finger on a half-finished thought I had. I added this comment to Tom’s post.

Tom, yes, I think it does muddy the waters, and I think there’s a role for books that do that. I have found it difficult to write a coherent review of Seth’s book as I’m not too sure what it means. I quite like that.

What’s perhaps most interesting here is the realisation that these stories we make up about who we are or how the world is have some downsides. And the thought that they may not be the truth is both scary and exciting.

It’s exciting because it gives us a glimpse of greater possibilities. (You’ve written recently about the excitement of wildly improbable things happening.) Scary, because we’re quite attached to the security that our fixed worldviews apppear to offer us.

Beneath the stories are our actual felt experiences. When we talk about those (angry, sad, happy etc), and when we name our stories for what they are – fantasies we make up – then I think we’re getting close to the source of authenticity.

The Student, the Nun and the Amazon

There are moments when I get really excited by an unexpected byproduct of my own blog. One such happened a week ago when I met Sam Clements. Sam found me via some post or other here and we agreed to meet for a chat.

At first I thought I’d just be offering a bit of advice to him on a marketing project for his leadership course. Then he told me a bit of his life story. Rather an astonishing bit as it turned out. Here’s how the tale is told on his website

In the summer of 2003 James Newton and Sam Clements headed to Brazil with a video camera, a map, and the idea to make a documentary. It was whilst filming in Southern Brazil that they heard about the extraordinary work of US missionary Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun with a price on her head. For over 20 years she had been fighting to preserve the Amazon rainforest, while helping peasant farmers live sustainably. Inspired by a mere five-minute call to Sister Dorothy, they set off on a 2500-mile journey to find her. Little did they know of the dangers ahead, or that Sister Dorothy would later be killed by hired gunmen.

The Student, The Nun and the Amazon is a remarkable, touching, disturbing film. (Sam kindly sent me a copy). I can’t easily explain why it engages me so much but it’s partly its paradoxical mixture of innocence and sharp clarity about the brutality of the real world. On the one hand, Sam comes over as the intrepid explorer and yet also he’s a man with a mission and a point to make. The same can be said, in spades, for Sister Dorothy. Consider this description of her murder:

Sister Dorothy’s name had been on a death list for many years, although no one really thought it could happen to such a dear elderly lady. On February 12th 2005 whilst on her way to a meeting of poor farmers – on the same red dirt road we had travelled together two years earlier – two gunmen confronted her. She pulled out her Bible and read to them. They listened for a moment, took a few steps back, then shot her six times. In this lawless latter day Wild West, life is cheap. Her killers were paid a mere twenty dollars each for her death.

Since watching it, I find myself feeling very distant from the day-to-day consumerism I see in action here in London. Confronting the extraordinary challenge of making our life on the planet sustainable looms larger in my imagination.

There’s a very short trailer here: Windows Media


And heres a mp3 recording of James and Sam discussing their experiences on the BBC World Service.

Sam’s sunk quite a bit of his own money into making this video and I would like him to get some of it back. He’s thinking of recovering his money by charging for the DVD/VHS of this. I wonder if he should take a risk and offer it free or for a donation and aim to recover his costs by speaking opportunities or getting sponsorship from an organisation that wants to identify with this kind of brave endeavour. (I think he needs to make a longer trailer too).

DIY corporate press release

Christoper Carfi offers an all purpose corporate press release.

[Company name], a [noted | leading | large] provider of [insert industry name here] solutions is [happy | pleased | thrilled] to announce [a new customer | a new product].

[Paragraph with lame details here]

[Paragraph with glowing quote from executive here that was written by someone else]

[Paragraph with contrived quote from a customer here, that was written by someone else]

[Paragraph from a “Noted Industry Analyst”