Wednesday, February 12, 2014

22 Lessons from Both Sides of the Hiring Fence

Where are you going?
This could be a long one, so buckle up.

I recently made a career change.   While deep in my own out-of-state exploration phase, I was the hiring manager filling new positions with the company I would eventually leave.  Yes, it felt strange, downright odd, in fact.  Navigating these two competing commitments put me in a unique position to learn about career searching and the hiring process.  In no particular order, here are the things I learned in my concurrent roles as recruiter and candidate (Image from lonestar.edu).
  1. Get OK with yourself - Yep. This could be a doozy - or not.  If you have work to do cleaning up emotional baggage or other mental health challenges - get to it.  The longer you wait the harder it is - and the energy you're dedicating to coping/dealing reduces the energy available to be an authentic participant in your relationships, which deeply affects career exploration. 
  2. Be diligent and unwavering in your vision - When you've arrived at what it is you want, whether it's a specific job, a career move to another industry, or relocating - stick to it.  IF you've been honest and forthright with yourself as you honed in on this vision - your "Why?" - you'll only compromise your long-term happiness by compromising your vision.
  3. Use Pros/Experts - If you can't bear the thought of re-writing your resume, or cover letter writing only sparks anxiety, you might be better off paying to have them done for you, especially if the last time you updated your resume was 10+ years ago.  Shop around.  Ask friends.  Chances are there's a marketing freelancer within your network that can help.
  4. Ask for help - and listen - Who do you know that reflects your opinions back to you honestly - someone you will actually listen to?  What insights do you need about yourself and your capabilities to inform your career exploration?  Maybe a career counselor is the way to go.  Maybe just a close friend that has seem you through personal and professional life phases.  Either way, be sure to truly listen to what they're telling you.
  5. Write a (good) cover letter - I was blown away when I'd receive resumes that were not closely matched to the job description with no letter to explain how they would fit the role.  Why, exactly, are you applying?  Oh. I see. You're wasting everyone's time.  Now, if your cover letter is generic and does not illustrate why you're a great candidate for this job, it's almost as bad as not writing one.
  6. Be brief & concise - This applies to cover letter writing, networking, and other forms of career seeking correspondence.  A hiring manager could be inundated with applicants - a verbose cover letter may never be looked at. A busy professional you've been connected to may skip over a 4 paragraph introductory email and forever lose it below the fold.  Be clear and get to the point...nicely.
  7. Be punctual - Really?  I have to include this?  Yep...because I had a tardy candidate blame traffic.  Look, if traffic is unpredictable in your area then leave ample time and park yourself at a local coffee shop.  The consensus of my peers is that this may not be enough to disqualify you, BUT, as a tiebreaker, you lose.
  8. Follow up - This is important for networking, interviewing, and generally being a nice person (see #12)  Nothing says "I truly appreciate your help" more than actually saying that to the person that helped you in an informational interview.  If you're interviewing for a sales job and you don't ask for the contact info of your interviewer for follow up - you've effectively lowered your odds of winning the job (sale).
  9. Do your homework - 15-30 minutes on the web is probably enough time, though it depends upon how committed you are to a company.  If your goal is to work for a BCorp, then you might want to study up on the history of the movement, along with what the company does.  Jeez, at least read some recent press releases (if they exist).
  10. PROOFREAD! - And have someone else do it too, if you have that access.
  11. Network - Think about what you can offer the people you meet, not just about what you would like to find out.  This was reinforced for me by Markey Read of Career Networks, Inc. Develop your 30-second personal elevator pitch and refine it along the way.  Be sure it's not too vague, people are generally willing to help, they just need you to tell them how they can help.  Too vague a request leaves them unsure of to whom they can connect you, which means you won't get connected.  If you meet someone interesting, stay connected, nurture the relationship, send them occasional notes about things they might find interesting, invite them out for coffee.  Etc.
  12. Dress appropriately - This can be a real challenge if you cannot get a gauge of the organization's culture and typical mode of covering oneself with clothing.  Wearing Casual Friday attire to a law firm could be just as bad as wearing a suit to a organic gardening start-up.  It could illustrate that you might struggle to fit in.  If you have the chance to ask about the office dress through networking, do it.
  13. Practice gratitude -  It not only makes you a happier person, it also reinforces the fact that you care and appreciate the person's help/career opportunity.  Take the time to send a handwritten thank you note to the people that help you along the way.  You're demonstrating your gratitude, and potentially standing out from a sea of applicants.
  14. Include your contact info - repeatedly - A cover letter with no name, address, email, phone number? Really?  Yes.  It happened.  Make it easy to find you, name the files you're submitting online with your name and the position (think about how the recipients will be organizing and searching for electronic documents).  Make sure your name, email, and phone are included on every page you submit.  Make it easy to find and contact you.
  15. Join Professional groups - Looking to make a career change/industry change?  Look for professional organizations in your new industry and join them.  Get active online or in person, ask questions.  Tell people your story and share your goals - you'll find the help you need.
  16. Engage in and with social media - OK, depending upon your generation, privacy concerns and the like, this might be tough.  Though, if you're seeking to work in marketing for a consumer products company, you should probably be up to speed on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, and the like.  Follow the organizations you're interested and engage with their content, you'll get a feel for their culture and you never know how this could help.  Oh! And make sure your profiles are up to date and neat.  You may also want to look through your taggings on Facebook to clean up and transgressions that you'd prefer others not see.
  17. Manage expectations - Get a clear view of your transition timing.  Expectations for the time period to give when you give notice vary, typically ~2 weeks for most employees and ~4-6 weeks for managers, maybe far longer in academia and executive levels.  While you may be eager to start your new adventure, be clear with your prospective employer about expectations and time lines for a transition to maintain your professional reputation.
  18. Update your resume/career accomplishments as you go - Few things can be as daunting as updating/recreating your resume/CV after many years of neglect.  So, as with other professional activities, update it as you go.  Take the time to reflect on your last role and record the what's and hows for your resume as well as more detailed information in another document to draw upon for future interviews and career exploration.  If you maintained a good relationship with a former employer, follow up with someone after they've filled your position and see how it's progressed - it's possible that you laid the groundwork for a project that achieved its full potential.  
  19. Think about your career narrative - The term "climbing the corporate ladder" is less applicable today than ever.  Look at your next career/job choice as a chapter of the career novel (or eBook) you're writing.  How does it mesh with what you've done in the past?  How does it build on your experiences?  How does it reflect your ambitions and who you want to be in the world?
  20. Coordinate social media posts with your partner -  In this day and age of interconnections, make sure that you and anyone else that may need to navigate a career transition is aware of and approves of social media sharing.  You never know who might be connected to whom and spill the beans in a most inopportune way.
  21. Be honest and nice in an exit interview - There's not much in it for you to launch into a flaming excoriation of a manager or (soon to be) former coworker upon exiting.  Of course, situations vary and depending upon the organization, you may feel compelled to offer feedback to help them improve, do so honestly and judiciously.
  22. Try something different -I do not have direct experience with this, but I've read about the guy that rented a billboard in London to land a job.  Depending upon your situation, resources, and industry, something like this could be the right thing to do.
So, to all the HR professionals out there, what did I miss?  For hiring managers and career changers, what have you experienced?  I'm curious.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

When an Idea Gives You Goosebumps

Yes.  It happened.  Last summer. I had a phone conversation about an idea and I got goosebumps.  If I can't pay attention to that visceral reaction as a sign of resonance with my ideals, visions, and dreams, what can I pay attention to?

The part that's interesting to me, as I reflect on the moment months later, is the fact that it's an idea I had about four years ago and abandoned.  Oh, it popped up a few times, in conversations with people about what I was trying to do, a few fits and starts with a co-developer and such, but - yeah - I gave up on it.

Why?

Oh, there are plenty of reasons - having a child, letting the internal critic squash it, no clue how to execute, fear of failure, trying to figure it out myself, the economy, the temperature, star misalignment...

Am I happy that someone's doing something with it?  I am.

What did I learn?

Actions speak louder than words - ideas are not owned - and, the Universe might bring something back to you whether you like it or not.

In this year of letting things go, what's getting in the way of letting my passion shine through - to be present in and with these moments?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Year of Letting It Go

Yeah. A jacket like this.
I finally did it.

I took my father's 25-ish year old leather biker jacket to a nearby second-hand retail/swap establishment - and got rid of it.

Unceremoniously stuffed into the back of a closet, pushed back amid the items that should probably no longer be with us - it was out of sight and not quite out of mind.  What the heck was I doing with it?  And, as I contemplated a 2014 in which I planned to let things both emotional and material go - where did this belong?

Not with me anymore.

I was carting it around without a clue as to what to do with it and what purpose it served.  Did having it with me provide some shred of his presence? Humbug. He passed away 22 years ago - his jacket was just a jacket. Was I going to do something with it as a memorial?  Probably not.  (I had a quick idea about adding a permanent QR-code to it with some sort of online photo-log where people would post photos of themselves during far-flung adventures wearing the jacket - think of it like wearable garden gnome.  Yeah...I never did anything with that.)

So, there I was, at Buffalo Exchange in Davis Square, talking to the super-hip and fully-vintaged clerk about the fact that this was a real biker jacket worn by a real biker.  I mean, this thing is legit (I think he wore it on his trip to Sturgis, SD in the late 80's).  She commented on the coolness of the button holes in the leather and the broken zipper - sure signs of use.  Off she went for a consultation on the value - like Antiques Roadshow - and came back to fill me in.  Interesting.  I let it go...

Is it odd that an urban hipster could be striding around Boston/Cambridge/Somerville in my deceased father's jacket?  Maybe.  It's hard to imagine an area more different than where my father lived and felt at ease. In fact, I'd bet he would strongly dislike the hipster set - but then again, he'd be happy that I ended up with a few bucks in my pocket for an old leather-bound keepsake - and that someone used it.

It's an object - nothing more - the memories remain.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Horror of it All

This is a bit of a departure...

Breaking down in tears in my workplace cafeteria is not something I expect to happen.

Then I saw this photo is today's Wall Street Journal.

Something about this hit me remarkably hard, like a sucker punch from the World.  I'm not pretending that senseless, brutal, accidental, and random things don't happen daily, they happen all the time, this one just hit me and hit me hard.

Maybe it's the look of anguish on the man's face.

Maybe it's the limp and bloody figure he's carrying - snuffed out far too soon.

Maybe it's the feeling of helplessness as I sit comfortably at my office computer.

More than anything, I think, it's a feeling of utter despair - whether or not the photo is of a father-and-son, I place myself in a scene where I carry my son's limp and lifeless body and I wonder if I could go on.  It's not a good though to sit with, and I am happy that it will pass and fortunate that, for now, I am not in a situation where I fear for my family's safety.

I'm not pretending to judge the who's "right" and who's "wrong" in the Syrian conflict.  What I know is that this image is one in a long line of images, some physical, some mental, dating back to time immemorial, of the cruelty mankind can inflict upon others, both in the immediate and long-term.

But, mankind can be thoughtful, caring, empathetic, and loving too - I need to remember that.

Now, back to my life - changed in some way that I might not recognize.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Locally Focused Gift Registry Launches

I have had the good fortune to meet incredible people in my 10+ year journey of seeking to understand "sustainability".  One of those people is the Founder and CEO of a new company that has the potential to "scale" the interest in putting our dollars to work building resilient local businesses.  Her name is Allison Grappone, the company is Nearby Registry, and I'm thrilled to be a member of her advisory team.

The most exciting news for the organization was their November 7th appearance on MSNBC's Your Business.

Watch the MSNBC Segment
I learned something new in the segment. While I'm familiar with the benefits of supporting locally owned businesses to keep dollars circulating locally - building economic resilience - what I had not thought of was the potential for NR to connect seasonal visitors with the places they frequent and love, as one of the interviewees envisioned.  Imagine, someone living in New York City that summers in the Finger Lakes Region could create a holiday wish list comprised of items both from the neighborhood in NYC where they love as well as the funky bookshop or craft boutique they love to visit in the summer.  What a great idea!

Here's what they have kept in the local NH economy since their launch.  At first glance, it may not seem like much, but when you factor in the local business multiplier effect, These 8000 individual dollars (through November 15th) are working hard to support resilient local communities.

So, take a few minutes and visit their site and think about the stores in your neighborhood that you'd like to be a part of Nearby Registry.  Create a wishlist.  If you're more excited about bringing them to your city or town, join their Instagram campaign - snap a photo of your favorite store that simply has to be part of Nearby Registry, tag it with #joinnearby, and send it to @nearbyregistry - let your local voice be heard!  Heck, share it on facebook, twitter, G+, whatever you like.  You can always email them too, at happtohelp@nearbyregistry.com.

Nearby Registry will be, well, nearby, before you know it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Dose of Wholesome Business Goodness - in Vermont

Check out the "Making Dough and Making Change" event pageWhen you have the opportunity to see leaders from Ben and Jerry's, Ashoka, The Guardian Sustainable Business, VBSR, Echoing Green, B Lab, and Calvert Investments share a stage to share big ideas about social entrepreneurship - it's best to take it.

That's how I found myself about 3.5 hours away from my home late last month (with the latest IPCC draft report due out in a few days) hosted by UVM's new Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA Program surrounded by sustainable business, social justice, alternative economy, and local-advocates.  I could practically feel the goodness (or good intentions) all around me - and I liked it.  I felt, if only for a few hours, that I was with my tribe, a tribe I first found and connected with for the two years I attended BGI.

I was ready for my dose of Wholesome Business Goodness Kool-Aid...and I got it.

So, here's who was there (I've included links to the event page on the VBSR website as well as to the participant's BIOs for those that would like more information):
Wow! On top of this stellar line up, I noticed people in the audience from organizations that I've had the good fortune to learn about over the past 10 years or so (some more recently) -Suncommon, Preserve Products, VT Resilience Lab, Vermonters for a New Economy, Shelburne Farms, AllEarth Renewables, Renewable NRG Systems, and many more.

So, what did I learn?  Good question.  With all the tweeting I was doing (multi-tasking), and not sitting still, I noticed that my listening, though-synthesizing, and note-taking suffered.  Regardless of this fact, here are a few tidbits I gleaned from the panelists that I found interesting, if not revelatory:
  1. The people on the ground experiencing a problem and the repercussions of the problems, are the ones most passionate about solving them - and possibly the best able to solve them (with the right resources). While I am sure there are passionate people solving problems they have not experienced, direct experience provides a level of engagement and systemic understanding that someone just a few steps removed will not understand.  There are other people or organizations that can surely support this person in solving the problem - since it will align with their own interests.  Cheryl Dorsey prompted this thought as she shared Echoing Green's "Darwinian qualification" process for evaluating early-stage on-the-ground social change initiatives for investment.
  2. We've come a long way, and there is still a long way to go Daryn Dodson mentioning the 50th anniversary of the Walk on Washington, and asked for a show of hands for how many people paused to remember it.  I felt the air go out of the room - did we forget?  Have we solved the social justice problem of racism?  I don't think so - and it's gotten better...right?  
  3. The high-minded mission statements and values charts so many leadership teams agonize over may go misinterpreted, sporadically followed, or simply forgotten when filtered down through the organization to the people "getting things done".  That's not to say that organizational leaders don't get things done - it's different.  We witnessed a great example when a - some would tweet "brave" - long-time supplier of Ben and Jerry's quizzed Mr. Solheim, "How do you define "shared prosperity" for your suppliers; 10% gross margin, 20%?"  It was a great question, illuminating the reality of a purchasing department's goal to reduce costs colliding with a company mission of sharing success. 
  4. Wit and laughter is a good way to deal with what seem to be insurmountable problems.  Jo Confino and Jay Coen Gilbert demonstrated this well, with what could have been deemed "cutting" banter in the typical across-the-Atlantic-UK-v.-US way as they talked about species extinctions, weather extremes, and sea-level rise.
  5. If you have a belief - stand up and advocate for it because nobody else will.  Andrea Cohen, VBSR's Executive Director reinforced this as she addressed business leaders in the audience.  If a business has a "personality", perhaps echoing that of its founder(s) and/or employees depending upon its size, does it therefore hold "beliefs"?  And if so, why wouldn't it advocate for things aligned with those beliefs?
  6. Is "scaling" anything a symptom of our current thinking and therefore counter to solving the problems we're working on?  I can't help but think that we're missing something when we seek to "scale" a solution.  Yes, we need big ideas and world-changing actions, but just "going bigger" seems misguided.  I was glad to see a member of a COOP ask the panel about COOPs' place in our brave new sustainable and socially just world.
If you're curious about the play-by-play as interpreted by me and many other interested parties in the twittersphere, take a look at the #SocEntSummit twitter hashtag.

Oh, one more thing - this would have been a good way for me to try PickUpPal.  Next time.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Human and Environmental Sustainability Summit

It had been quite some time since I attended some sort of "sustainability confab" - I was in need of a few big ideas. The inaugural edition of the Mount Desert Island Biological Institute's Human and Environmental Sustainability Summit took place in picturesque Eden, ME on August 9th. We just so happened to be visiting the island for our annual vacation and family visit so I decided to attend.

Reading the event's description - a gathering of voices from the public, private, and academic sectors showcasing collaborative real-world solutions for our most pressing environmental issues - gave me hope that I'd come away energized and maybe even optimistic.  I found myself most curious about what Chris Mooney, a well-known science writer and public speaker, and Rebecca Henderson, a Professor at the Harvard Business School and Co-Director of the HBS Business and Environment Initiative would have to say. Larry Langebrake, Director of the Marine Technology Program of SRI International and MDIBL's Director of Community Environmental Health Laboratory Jane Disney were slated to appear as well. I found the twitter hashtag and began interacting with others tweeting about it.  This led to a small, informal tweet-up over lunch prior to the event.  I love twitter for this - making connections with people that otherwise may not be made.

After a brief introduction by Lab Director and Professor Dr. Kevin Strange, Mr. Mooney set the stage for us by highlighting the fundamental problem associated with environmental issues - that "science" is mistrusted and misunderstood and that this mistrust is rooted in ideology stemming from our psychological makeup. Whoa.  We hold dear the idea that we arrive at our political beliefs rationally and objectively, well, that's pretty much complete bunk.  A more accurate assessment is that our political beliefs are closely aligned with our psychological make-up - we believe what makes us feel good and aligns with who we are.  Makes intuitive sense, right?

After many great charts and graphs illustrating the psychological and personality differences between liberals and conservatives including their diverging trust in science since 1970, the difference in their feelings when asked about moral issues (some of them feel physically repulsed by things), I was thinking differently.  I recall one chart in particular with character traits along the horizontal axis and the strengths of those traits plotted vertically.  The one characteristic that was highest in respondents considered liberals and non-existent in those considered conservatives was "openness".  That struck me - mostly because of how I perceive myself and my beliefs.  Where was I on that spectrum?  Almost as an aside he made a comment about the term "follow the money", something often used when criticizing partisan think tanks for the information they push out. He offered that the term is too simplistic, it's about "following the psychology".  That made a lot of sense, and explains why some messaging works and some does not.  Language is powerful, and groups seeking to influence opinions and behaviors must use words that tap into the feelings of the people they're trying to reach.  The challenge becomes understanding the psychology of the people you're trying to reach.

Rebecca Henderson had the unenviable task of taking the mic immediately following the lunch break on a gloomy, rain-soaked day to tell us about those mythical private sector partnerships that work.  Her review of what the key elements of successful partnerships was illuminating, citing the need for mutual trust and respect, without which a partnership has a much lower chance of succeeding.

We learned about the connection between Unilever and The Rainforest Alliance to help Unilever source its tea sustainably.  Unilever owns multiple brands that use tea leaves as a primary ingredient.  It's in their best interest to prevent environmental degradation and improve small farmers' economic conditions as both these things could affect their supply.  It is factors like this that will drive businesses to move themselves along the sustainability spectrum - and the rising social demand for it.

I found her anecdotal tale of Eastman Kodak's demise at the hand of the digital photographic age compelling.  It was a sober reminder of how businesses perceive change and a practical example of why change in the face of overwhelming evidence of the need for change (denial, no money to make, no faith in the ability to change) does not happen.  They saw the digital train coming (as did Polaroid) and did not believe that they could make the necessary changes to catch the next wave.

The thought she left me with was how easy it is to de-carbonize our economy - simply price externalities accurately for enterprises and consumers. Now go do it.  Does anyone have enough political capital to do this? Not yet?  Soon?  Remember that comment about tapping into psychology from Chris Mooney?

The afternoon culminated in a ticketed dinner for the lab's Richard M. Hays, M.D., Memorial Lecture featuring Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer, aquanaut, and author. She was the chief scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1990 to 1992 and Time Magazine's first "Hero for the Planet."  Take a look at her TED Talk and tell me if you either come away inspired or overwhelmed by the challenge

I focused on two elements that connected with me of a packed afternoon. To get a bigger picture of the event, check out what other people had to say by reading the tweets tagged with #EnviroSummit.  There are great thoughts from Karen James, Sylvia Earle, D.J. Brooks, Jerilyn Bowers, Chris Mooney, MDIBLRegina the Lobster, and others.

More information:
The Mount Desert Island Biological Institute
Harvard Business School Business & Environment Initiative
Citizen Science
SRI International
Frenchman Bay Partners (what Jane Disney spoke about)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tagging Litter - Part 2

Do you litterati?
I recently learned about a project leveraging the popularity and power of Instagram called #litterati.  The purpose? Engaging people in the un-glamorous activity of litter clean-up by digitally capturing, tagging, and sharing what they find with artsy photos. I've become a fan with the handle litterang (yeah, the logo's a take on the Nerf Boomerang - get it - litter + boomerang = litterang, because there is no "away"? Thought so.) and can only see good things coming from it.

Take a look at this video from the Litterati founder about what it is and what they're seeking to accomplish.  The piece that spoke to me was his comments about walking around with his two-year-old and wondering about how to make the world a better place for her.  I now have a two-year-old, and find myself pondering the same question.  The action he's taken...it's...shall I say...inspiring.

So, the idea, in a nutshell, is that people take photos of litter, glamming them up with the cool features of Instagram, and tag them by what the item is along with as much brand and company identifying information as possible.  The bonus is sharing them with their followers in the social media universe connected to their Instagram account.  For example, here's a photo I took last weekend and posted (before I opened the litterang acount):



The text reads #litterati #polandspring #plastic #water #bottle which, assuming I have a clue about the coding that goes into this, flows through to the Digital Landfill and Impact Map on Litterati's site:


Maybe I'm a super-geek (no - it's not a maybe), but I think this is way cool.  Why?
  1. Map litter.  Bring the power of location tagging to gather information on hotspots of litter - helping cities and towns plan their garbage collection and recycling placements
  2. Product Stewardship. Bring brands and their owners into the conversation about what happens to the packaging their products come in.  Packaging is the delivery mechanism for the consumer (you want a bottle of water for the water, not the bottle right?) and producer - oh - and a marketing tool as well.
  3. Build a "cool" factor for tagging litter.  Maybe this is a stretch, but if all your friends are #humblebragging about the litter they're tagging because they're such "good people", you might want to as well - think endorsements on LinkedIn
  4. Energy analysis.  If you could tie embodied energy for the items listed, you might generate interesting data that would be useful to conscious consumers, policy wonks, and energy-minded folks.
  5. Brand reconnaissance.  Brands and their owners could start to see patterns of use - where their products are used and end up.  It might help them understand their customers' habits, where they might place another outlet, perhaps engage with their customers to encourage recycling and proper disposal to strengthen brand loyalty and identification?
Is there a danger that this could make litter "sexy", that people would stage their litter photos to make themselves look good and to earn more hearts?  Wow.  That would be lame, and sure, there is always that possibility - but jeez...super lame.

What about people that are not interested in sharing location data associated with their photography?  This is something I have to say that I struggle with.  I am new to Instagram, and the only activity I am using it for at this moment is #litterati - that is my choice.  For others, it may not be so easy, or desired. 

What else could we learn from this? If you don't have an Instagram account, does some social good activity like this make you want to open one?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tagging Litter - Part 1


I started writing this back in March of 2011, building upon a few thoughts I captured in a 2009 post I wrote about picking up litter in a nearby park.

At the time, we were entering the spring, the time of natural (and perhaps spiritual) renewal.  I found myself increasingly annoyed with litter, to the point of finally doing something more than picking up what I could.  The seasonal revelation of what's been cast aside carelessly in public spaces over the past winter as the snow melts was becoming too much to handle.

This is what I was thinking back then...

Over the past few months I've thought about a project to leverage the power of social media to encourage "cleaning up" and also to help us hold the brands that we all use accountable for their products throughout their lifecycles.

The Social Media Litter Project (it did not go...anywhere)

So far, there are two components of this project, twitter and Facebook. I figured that with the number of people on Facebook combined with the microblogosphere of twitter and the geo-location/image capability of mobile devices, we might have something interesting to work on together.

By connecting with old and new friends on Facebook and twitter along with the immense growth of mobile technology adoption, I've become aware of the potential for mobile technology to help us track litter to determine where it came from and how we might prevent it from becoming litter in the first place. When I see people dabbling in Farmville and MafiaWars (are these still relevant?) , I think to myself, is there something as fun and habit forming that makes a difference in our world - that serves a higher purpose - that we could do together?

So, I created a twitter handle @litterproject and started taking photos of litter I've collected in various places and posting it with geo-location enabled. I've been posting using the @litterproject account, and would like to get people to post to @litterproject to participate in this "litter tracking" adventure and see what we can accomplish. Here's a sample post:
@litterproject #mcdonalds in the mix always @dunkindonuts some #polandspring
various #styrofoam & #plastic  http://tweetphoto.com/19560433
With the help of friends from BGI (as well as anyone else that might be interested) we'll create a continuously updated map of the litter people pick up, and thanks to photos and what people post, we'll also know what brands are getting left for others to pick up.

In my brief experience around the Beaver Brook Reservation on the border of Waltham and Belmont I've noticed a high level of Dunkin' Donuts paraphrenalia. I've started a special collection of items with the Dunkin' Donuts logo on it (2013 update - it's since been sent to a landfill). They have a store located in Waverley Square not far from where I live. For those of you in the Northeast, you know what I'm talking about. Seems that there is an inordinate amount of litter around this area comprised of DandD stuff. What I'm curious about is how we as a culture assign responsibility for the "disposal" of something at the end of its useful life - is it the user's or the producer's?  Maybe a bit of both?

What if we created a map with brand identifying characteristics to make people aware of just how much "stuff" is out there and to start bringing in the providers of said "stuff" into the conversation so we might prevent the "stuff" from getting there in the first place.

I'm curious to find out what will emerge from this effort (2013 update - for me, not much). Perhaps the folks at Terracycle or Save that Stuff will note this little experiment and have an idea about extending the useful life of the products recorded here or some other ideas about what to do with them that do not add to our injection of post consumer waste in to the biosphere.

In Part 2, jumping ahead to the present day, there is inspired action by Litterati

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Fixing it Yourself Matters

Confronted by Rust
What does spending 3 hours on a hot afternoon contorted under a 1997 Toyota Camry with 215,000 miles on the odometer do for you?

Here's what it did for me:
  1. Engaged my problem solving muscles
  2. Two words - Neural Plasticity
  3. Saved money
  4. Kept a depreciating (-ed) asset on the road
  5. Helped me be "sustainable"
1. Problem solving - Practice, practice, practice.  If you're not using a skill, it's probably atrophying (or, completely atrophied), so, with that in mind, I decided to figure out how to do it.  No lift? No problem.  Hydraulic jack, sawzall, exhaust clamps, aluminum wire, tiger patches, lengths of pipe - it took multiple weeks, the borrowing of tools and various implements of destruction from multiple family members and driving to too many places - and I figured it out.  

2. Neural Plasticity - the concept idea that we can continually alter our brain, essentially rewiring it to increase its health and our intelligence.  One of the ways to do this is to do things the hard way - I learned by reading a Scientific American blog post I found through @AndreaKuszewski.  I was happy to see that the little things I try and "fix" on a day-to-day basis (waxing my own shoelaces, making a funnel out of a soda bottle, trying to figure out the best way to alter a container to make a drip irrigation system for a container that I'm growing tomatoes in) are not merely obsessions, but activities that might make me a bit smarter (or waste way too much time).

3. Saved money - Depending upon how you value your time...  In this case, the intermediate pipe that this portion of the exhaust's noise cancellation system is part of cost north of $300.  Add installation, and the hours I spent associated with point #1 was worth it...well, the sense of accomplishment at least.  

4. Kept a depreciating (-ed) asset contributing - I'll probably never buy a brand new car (unless something drastic changes about me and or my life), and, I don't view a car as much of an asset, it's more of a mode of transportation that makes our life a little more convenient at the moment, despite the costs associated with it.  The point?  This is a way to get us around in some semblance of comfort - as part of our net worth, it's a piddling contributor (if I really crunched the numbers, possibly a liability) so let's leave it alone. 

5. Helped me be "sustainable" - Did it?  According to this 2007 article from Treehugger, it does not.  Damn.