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Archive for April, 2010

Remember reading your history books about people sentenced to exile from their city states.  I could not understand this as a punishment. I had no context.  At the time, I was living in the eternally cloudy and damp city of London.   Exile would be welcome.  Maybe I could go to Ibiza or the Caribbean and play on the beach all day.

In the context of those city state days, exile from Rome or Florence was devastating. One was cut off from “civilization”. One was removed from a tight-knit infrastructure of relationships that provided credit, intellectual exchange and a concentrated population for trading.

As more global business goes online and transacts exclusively in cyberspace, I can imagine the similarly tight-knit infrastructure of relationships forming by the social currencies of trust, candor and generosity. I can imagine intense trade and credit exchanged between the members of prosperous online groups.  These communities will be increasingly exclusive and selective as they grow. But they will be amongst themselves, open and inclusive. They will allow members to be increasingly candid, vulnerable and generous (predictable), without the constant anxiety of having confidentiality and trust violated.

Where there is predictability, there is trust.

The most successful individuals would be able to move between and trade with many groups, networks and communities online.  Their golden passport to abundance written in the  indelible digital ink of trustworthiness.

A violation of trust could amount to exile from a group. Far worse, this could be like branding a thief on the forehead, but in cyberspace.  No community or group will accept a branded exile.  At least not any group an exile would voluntarily accept.  I assume that would mean some form of justice or due process in a private tribunal, in which  case the jury really would be your peers! This puts into perspective the wisdom of building a public reputation for generosity, trust and credibility.  It could also be the difference between  having a group of trusted friends, business partners and work colleagues that would advocate in your favor, or a hostile mob “stoning you” back into the highly suspicious world of a brick and mortar economy.  OK, a little poetic license, but you get the point.

Whilst part of this may seem like scenes from an adolescent video game, I urge you not to ignore all of these evolutions occurring rapidly in cyberspace and with real consequences.  All the pieces are in place already, and with one exponential leap forward, we will be in that world overnight.

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The proliferation of tens of thousands of communities, meetup groups, networking groups and every form of online community under the sun has me thinking of medieval Europe: thousands of dukes, counts, barons, lords, princes and earls all with their own cultures, colours and principles – all competing for land.

Soon, if not already these online communities will begin competing, not for cyberspace, but for members. These battles will increase and with it the need for negotiating alliances, treaties and building mega communities. Communities will spawn a new professional: the community ambassador.  These professional diplomats will join other groups and forge alliances with the founders and administrators of another group. They will make offers for alliances and treaties to share members, host joint events and conferences and find more groups to join with.

Is this already happening?

Does that mean we will see a United Nations or United States of groups online? Will we draft online Constitutions?  How about laws and regulations?  Lawyers don’t laugh! This could be the x factor Susskind missed. The beginning of a whole new profession.

Will the world never be rid of us? :-)

Not unless they can live without legislation, rules and regulations. When that happens, we can do what the former Roman lawyers did in medieval times: join the church and become professional clergy.

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We all know how that inquiry ends.

My favorite answer to that question came from the first associate I ever hired.  A former Marine, older than me and solid as a brick of gold, Rod would always lift up a clenched fist, cocks it as if about to strike a blow and says slowly: “let me do to you what they should have done to me when I was asking about going to law school!!”   Chuckle chuckle!

It was right after Hurricane Wilma. The entire street was without electricity and my neighbor was running me a line from her generator to power my refrigerator, one light and a fan!  As is common during these post apocalyptic events, neighbours actually emerge and talk to each other on the street.  What else is there to do?

I’m talking to a group of about 5 neighbours, including one in a bathrobe and towel that stopped on her way to hot shower at another neighbour’s with a prized gas heater. A young mother approaches with a somewhat tiny 14 year old son and tells me her son wants to be a lawyer.  I clench my fist, lift it up to my face as if ready to strike and I see terror in his little face.

I can’t do it like Rod. Instead, I blurt out if I were to do it all over again I would study finance.  Now both of them are confused.

I explain. The most important additional skill to have is understanding finance.  Knowing how money flows. How to structure deals, that are mutually beneficial to both parties, have minimal tax implications, allow you a percentage of the deal.  Recently, we have seen a mayor push towards lawyers learning finance, especially in-house lawyers.

When I was sent to GE University in Crotonville, GE paid a Columbia professor about $20,000 to teach 160 lawyers finance for a day.  In this large u-shaped auditorium, the front middle row had only 2 seats: Cohen and Colon. Day and night. Cohen was a tax lawyer for GE, former CPA and LLM in tax law – quiet as a stone underwater.  Colon: NBC and Telemundo media counsel, former tabloid lawyer, knows everything about TV, movies and celebrities, and can’t stop talking.  At some point in our accelerated finance education we were asked to perform a complex equation.  10 minutes into the lecture no one can answer the question regarding this equation – except Cohen. He mumbles, quietly at first, then louder. But will not raise his hand. Lawyers from 40 countries are falling over each other to get the right answer. To be the one to get a triumphant “YES!” from Columbia’s finest.

I urge Cohen on, “c’om on, say it, raise your hand, you know it!” He shakes his head while recoiling from his paper pad as if it had turned into a venomous snake.

“You do it”, mumbles Cohen.

Without hesitation, I raise my hand and answer.

“YES!” shouts the professor. “Finally!”

I beam, knowing the entire auditorium is wondering how I (the TV guy) solved this finance puzzle.  Ahh…it feels good to be the finance king.

“Colon, how did you solve it?” asked the elated professor

Silence in the auditorium, everyone listening. I laugh and say, “it was easy. He told me – pointing to Cohen.”  Auditorium breaks out into laughter. Thus did my first great moment in finance pass.

Moral of the story: if you still can’t grasp finance, sit next to a genius. Money doesn’t care who answers the question as long someone is paying attention to it.

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Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Whos’Got Your Back bestsellers, is a friend and mentor.  These are some of the principles I learned from Keith:

1. You can’t get there alone:

Funny how we forget this! I know at times I’ve forgotten how many people have helped me in my success. When I pause to think I realize how little I sometimes did. Some of my biggest successes, I was almost passive in comparison. It was literally handed to me by a friend, colleague or family. My part was living up to my commitments and earning intimacy in my relationships with them.

2.  Business Relationship are personal:

Keith is adamant that there is no “solely business” relationship. He distinguishes between an intimate relationship and a relationship that is not intimate.  Both are personal.  Taking the time to learn about a person’s problems, needs, interests, you become a part of their life and you earn their trust. We’re assuming you didn’t learn this by stalking them!

3.  Share passions and vulnerabilities:

Be transparent and share your passions and interests. Keith insists on being vulnerable with your clients and contacts. The principle of reciprocity is triggered and they feel more willing to share theirs.  Despite some fears of exposing weakness, Keith insists that it eliminates prejudgments. If you’re authentic they can still choose not to like you, but they will trust you.  We trust what is predictable, and an open person is predictable – even if rude.

My stepfather was brutally honest and many people did not like to be around him because he could insult them as easily as he could inspire them. Like him or not, they all trusted him and his friends were friends for life.

4.  Be Generous and Give – Don’t keep score.

“Intimacy comes from giving without keeping score.  Everyone knows when scores are being tallied and most don’t like it.” Keith also warns about the generosity of not allowing others to help you.

I see this playing itself out on the internet in a scale that is unprecedented: chronic spamming and broadcasting from a red ocean of marketers, all working on an ultra short sales cycle.  It’s a numbers game for them! Many people that started out with generosity give up too soon. They feel taken advantage of, and soon revert back to highly transactional behavior.  If you go back to number 1, my statement of passively receiving success was a direct result of not keeping score.

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Hootsuite, Ping.fm, bit.ly, tweetdeck, twitter, ning, linkedin, Facebook…..are you keeping up ?

I remember when taking all my vitamins was the most important thing to do every morning. It’s been only weeks since I made a commitment to blog everyday and start using all the social media platforms. Now I wake up to a torrent of tweets: 61 tweets, then 39 tweets, then 43 tweets…..in 1hour! The on to the blogs, blogs, blogs ad infinitum, to read, to make comments on, and then replies to 200+ emails!

It’s exhilarating to read about and meet hundreds of amazingly talented people. Although I can’t deny that some are just utterly crazy.

I can truly sympathize with anyone reading this and wondering if it’s all worth the time and effort? Many of us prefer to what is more commonly known as “lurking” in the background.  Sounds awful, doesn’t it?  But in the world of social media, we’re valued and evaluated by how much we’re contributing and participating in conversations. The most interesting aspect is that you don’t even need to make remarkably original contributions.  Many simply recycle everyone else’s content.

Some of the most industrious “recyclers” are busy “retweeting” up a storm on twitter.  They’re more like a AP mini-wire service of streaming content.  Up to 20 tweets in an hour of links to articles, blogs, videos….and highly subjective personal opinions.

These career “retweeters” are an enormous help in orienting myself during the morning on what’s going on, who’s saying what, where and when the next event or webinar is taking place. All of which was at one time the realm of traditional media. That reminds me of Ken Thompson’s Bioteams’ ants exchanging tiny bits of information at rapid speed for the good of the colony.  Oh, and as I wrote that, a tiny ant appeared on my monitor screen.  I wonder what it is thinking as it scurries along this screen about a million times bigger than itself.  Maybe it thinks the cursor is a predator.  Maybe it thinks it’s in an ant version of Cowboy stadium.

I feel as tiny as that ant every time I’m in the world of social media.  But like that tiny ant, I also have a billion fellow ants in the colony, all cooperating and collaborating freely – and some lurking!

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I’m just asking, with all the recent technology allowing us to provide reviews on EBay, Amazon, Tripadvisor, AVVO, etc., are ratings of customers coming next? I had thought of a business like Avvo, except in my version I would have included lawyer and professionals reviewing  clients.  I can think of many instances in which I could have saved myself some real time and revenue wasting experiences, not to mention grief, had I known more about some clients before they retained me.  Maybe I was just young and inexperienced. Maybe…..

Some of the client rating questions could be:

  1. Do they pay on time?  Wait!…   Do they even pay?
  2. Do they re-negotiate bills, and how much?
  3. Are they a pleasure to work with or are they the “clients from hell”?
  4. How many other lawyers turned them down?
  5. If they  have prior litigation, how many times did the win/loose?
  6. Have they ever filed a bar complaint?  (oooohh…now that would be worth something to inquiring minds)

Do you have some of your own questions about your clients?

I suppose for something like this to work out, customer rating/review access would  have to be ultra private, members only and with scroll down choices to avoid personal remarks.  I bet some of you reading this are already going huumm…….. I’d like that.

How about a client credit report like a FICO score for clients.  Why not?  “Uh… your score is a 540 (sub-prime?) so will have to charge you a larger retainer and you’ll have to pay a premium for this insurance policy in case…..Am I getting carried away?

My dog keeps looking at me like it if he’s saying (between drooling and panting) it’s not a good idea.  Maybe he’s right. Maybe….

What do you think?

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Take a look at this video from TED talk. It’s Alan Siegel’s 5 minute talk on Simplifying legal jargon.

Now read this excerpt from Clay Shirky’s blog article, The Collapse of Complex Business Models

When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler, which is to say right up to the moment of collapse. Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.

Some good news in the conclusion (I hope it is for you):

When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.”

Whilst it was heresy to simplify the law, it seems that it actually requires knowing complexity to be able to simplify effectively. Problem is that most professionals that have reached this level of complexity, first, benefit from it financially and second, struggle with what to eliminate. It is always easier to add…more and more. Until it all collapses!

Don’t underestimate the timing of Alan Siegel’s TED Talk.  It may already be too late for many lawyers.

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I just came from dinner party at a beach house. The entire dinner party was then moved to a bonfire on the beach for dessert – brownies, cookies and marshmallows roasted over the fire.  We sat around the fire telling outrageous April Fool’s stories and observing the star filled sky.  As I was driving home, I realized it was Thursday – still a week night – and tomorrow was another day of work. 🙂

About networks: 2 years ago, I read an interesting book titled, “Competing In A Flat World: Building Enterprises for a Borderless World” by Victor Fung, William Fung and Yoram Wind. At the time, I was helping my mother’s fashion business produce a 28 minute infomercial for sale in Europe.

The Fung’s book is based upon the Fung’s experience as “network orchestrators” in the garment and consumer goods industry.  The Fungs conclude that global competition is no longer about “firm versus firm” but “network versus network”.  They encourage firms to join these networks or practically be squashed by highly orchestrated networks with vast resources.  What I like the most about the Fungs is that they are not theorizing academically – they’re doing it.  They also see that the present challenges, and those ahead, for a truly flat world as coming  from politics and nation states’ bureaucracies slowing down the speed and efficiency of these orchestrated networks.

It’s late and I’ll leave you with this quote from their book:

“A company’s strength lies not as much in the competencies that it possesses as much as in the competencies it can connect to. This means that the capability to connect to competencies – the capability for network orchestration – and the capability for learning might be becoming as important as any firm capabilities”

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