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Thought Leaders
I’ve mentioned some of the great things that I heard at BlogOn  last week in New York. This was a place that was chock full of thought leaders. Keynote addresses were offered up by Seth Godin, “bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change” and David Weinberger, author of the and co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto  – the End of Business as Usual.  They served up some excellent insights into social media and how the internet is shaping up to provide much of the promise that we heard about in the past decade.

Their creativiy, vision and unparalelled zeal prompted me to think about their message in the context of Leadership.  While leadership has many definitions, one that is certainly accepted by everyone is "to provide guidance or direction."  While I did not perhaps agree with everything these guys said, I had to acknowledge their vision and passion for their vision. And from their perspective, I doubt it was important for me to agree with them. Thought leadership challenges, prods, instigates. It encourages contribution and thrives on differing perspectives.

Speaking of thriving on contribution, Wikipaedia defines a "thought leader" as a person who is recognized among his or her peers for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote those ideas. Thought leadership for most companies is defined as innovation. You can distinguish your organization by treating customers differently (see JetBlue) or thinking about a a market or product differently (see Apple). These companies are market leaders because they were first thought leaders.
The End of Business as Usual

If I thought that yesterday’s BlogOn Social Media conference had a lot to say about listening, today kicked it up another notch.   

Social media can also be thought of as grass roots media.  It is the collective intelligence that exists on any one topic and it can be indexed, searched, organized and aggregated through the web.  If you can think of the Internet as one giant focus group, you are on the right track.  But it gets better, it is free.

David Weinberger, a thought leader on the effect of social media on business and co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto – the End of Business as Usual, shared some important ideas as the opening speaker.  The Cluetrain Manifesto suggests:

“For thousands of years, we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests. Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.”

Traditionally, as a leader, you and your company knew more about your company than anyone else but you wanted to know more from your customers.  Isn’t that why you spend money on focus groups or on collecting customer satisfaction information? 

Today, connected networks, know as much or more about you and your products than you do.  Wait, how can that be? Do customers know more than me about my product or service? 

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Are you Listening?

I was back on JetBlue yesterday on a trip to New York to a conference about Blogging.  BlogOn, held at the historic Copacabana cabaret, is an in-depth examination of the business of social media.  Social media is changing the way companies interact with customers and employees.

 Much of the first day of the conference focused on how a company and its executives should treat blogging – and in a much bigger sense, how they should deal with unsolicited feedback and online publishing from its customers, employees, etc. 

 As a leader of a company, -  your customers, your employees, your fans and your critics may be blogging about your products, services and company – are you prepared?  You can choose to ignore this market feedback or you can join this conversation.

 Several discussions ensued about this topic.  I would say the majority at this conference concluded that you must embrace this community, because it will exist whether you like it or not.

Take for example a blog by Jeff Jarvis where he described his own personal Dell Hell  I have known Jeff since 1999 when I met him when he ran  Jeff is a seasoned journalist, has a great sense of humor and also writes about social media on  I would think Jeff would be a customer that most companies would love to have.  Jeff was frustrated with his experience with Dell’s customer service and he wrote about it in a blog.  Come to find out he was not alone in his vitriol for Dell and several people linked to Dell Hell.  Just type “Dell Hell” or “Dell Sucks” into Google to see how pervasive this community has become.

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JetBlue Provides More than Cheap Fares

Those of us in LA and perhaps others throughout the country were momentarily distracted from the destruction of hurricanes Katrina and Rita while we watched the drama of JetBlue flight 292 that had a malfunction in its landing gear. Ultimately, the plane touched down safely after circling southern California for three hours,landing with its front wheels turned sideways.050922_jetblue_hlrg.h2.jpg

This morning I was listening to KROQ's Kevin and Bean, a morning radio show in LA, as they laughed at the transmission between the pilot and the tower. They joked that the pilot in a time of such enormous stress, barely sounded awake. I thought that was not only a funny observation and quite true but a fascinating study of leadership in crisis.

When I thought about whom the pilot worked for, I wasn’t so surprised at his demeanor under such stress. At a dinner last year, I listened to Dave Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue Airways. I have been a fan of Dave’s ever since I was flying from New York to Los Angeles and Dave spent the entire flight time walking the aisles and talking to his customers.

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