Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Spero Ventures. Early LinkedIn, Twitter. These are my thoughts on tech, brand, marketing and community.

Technologists for Obama | Pierre Omidyar

Some of you may have read my earlier blog posts on Obama – from a brand perspective, leadership traits, use of social media, and yet another post here. Since then I’ve been fascinated watching the campaign unravel, the roller-coaster ride, the highs and the lows. As much as I’d not like to talk politics on the blog, I just wanted to highlight some of the prominent technologists/entrepreneurs from the Bay Area who have endorsed Obama, thus far.

For starters, I thought I’ll put together a list of technology pioneers who’ve spoken their mind about their endorsement of Obama. I thought these endorsements stand out from a crowd of personal support that one sees on either side of the political spectrum. Please do check out the individual blog posts to read more of their expectations and rationale behind the support. To start off this series, here’s Pierre Omidyar, founder/chairman of eBay and the philanthropic organization – the Omidyar Network.

Pierre Omidyar – Founder/Chairman of eBay | Blog post endorsing Obama

When he (Obama) talks about America, it makes me proud to be an American. I want to believe, and I do believe that we live in the America he is talking about. I’m an immigrant, and even though I was raised here, I’ve always loved this country and its ideals with the fervor of a convert. He puts words to what I feel.

Pierre’s words in a way reflect similar thoughts that criss-cross my mind, whenever I hear Obama speak and what he stands for, both as an inspirational leader and a global one at that. Pierre then goes on to address, the question of why he chose to go public with this endorsement given his history with the Clintons.

But then I ask myself: when will I have another chance in my life to risk the downside and take a stand, to raise my voice in support of someone as inspiring and aspirational as Barack Obama? That someone like him, of his vision, his character and tempermant, could be president of the United States, will only happen once in my life. Sure, if he loses now he could try again in four or eight years. But by then the audacity of his message will be dimmed by repetition and cynicism. And I will have missed my very first opportunity to stand for hope and the ideals that set this country apart, and make this country great.

I’ll continue showcasing examples of endorsements from technologists that carry a similar level of understanding as the above post, which I’m referring to. Have a great weekend!

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Political brand messaging – Obama on Change

In my last post, I covered the importance for each and every professional to develop and maintain an online brand, since it is the wave of the future. Today, I just got done watching Charlie Rose dissect the historical and remarkable victory speech Obama gave yesterday after he won at the Iowa Caucus, and it got me thinking about a post I wrote almost a year ago, when Obama announced his candidacy (Post: Obama is a candidate from Hope and Community).

In that post, I analyzed Obama’s leadership and political brand traits all of which stems from hope. I also quoted one of Harvard Business Review’s HBR’s list of breakthrough ideas which was leadership rooted in Hope.

If you are an executive trying to lead an organization through change, know that hope can be a potent force in your favor. And it’s yours to give.

And, I can see a reiteration of those themes in Obama’s victory speech yesterday. It’s a tad long (~ 10 minutes) but I’m sure you’ll stay till the end:

Brand perspective

From a brand perspective, it’s very important what you initially define and run your campaign on. The Clinton campaign ran on “experience” vs. the relative inexperience of Obama. While Obama is running on the campaign of hope and change. And it may be a tad late to redefine the two brands right now.

Again, this is very similar to your personal brand that you publish on the online world. If what one finds when they Google your name is your social network with pictures of you doing kegstands, that’s likely to solidify as your brand. On the other hand, if what one finds is a blog of yours where you talk passionately about your career or your thoughts on philosophy you’ll be considered differently. Craft the brand you truly are and continue augmenting it with appropriate social media or social networks.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Obama is a Leader from Hope & Community…

Quick Update: Techmeme has picked up on a thread that analyzes Barack Obama.com’s social networking capability. Check out Steve’s (Zdnet) post here and a more detailed observation from Tony here.


Political brand marketing is a topic I’d love to investigate further. Many bloggers, including Scoble, have dissected the candidacy of the three leading Democrats in the fray – Clinton, Edwards and Obama. One of HBR’s list of breakthrough ideas is leadership that is rooted in Hope.

Our study of effective executives has uncovered many ways in which their decisions, words, and actions make the people they lead more hopeful. Collectively, these practices are the basis of a leadership tool kit for building and sustaining hope. But the most important change comes when a leader is simply more mindful of this vital part of her or his mission.

If you are an executive trying to lead an organization through change, know that hope can be a potent force in your favor. And it’s yours to give.

I believe this kind of leadership is all the more necessary in politics since it drives a nation. And I was pleasantly surprised to find those themes in Barack Obama’s address announcing his candidacy for President 08:


(Source: Flickr images — Barack Obama)

* community

I moved to Illinois over two decades ago. I was a young man then, just a year out of college; I knew no one in Chicago, was without money or family connections. But a group of churches had offered me a job as a community organizer for $13,000 a year.

* faith

It was in these neighborhoods that I received the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith.

* hope

It was here, in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come together that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people – where I came to believe that through this decency, we can build a more hopeful America.

* symbolism

But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. (reference to Lincoln)

Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more – and it is time for our generation to answer that call. (call to action much like JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” quote)

Obama definitely hit all the right notes but questions remain over whether he can translate his charisma into a democratic party nomination. He’s surely a breath of fresh air and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out in the days to come. Let me close with another one of my favorite quotes from his address:

For that is our unyielding faith – that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

Do you think Obama will “BARACK THE VOTE”?

 

Filed under: Miscellaneous

All Roads lead to [[Roam]] Research

Why Roam Research is the future of project management, note-taking and to-dos

  • To-do’s don’t work.
  • Project Management tools don’t work.1
  • Note taking apps do not work

But… Roam Research just might be the Swiss-Army Productivity Knife we’ve all been waiting for.

The four most beautiful words in the English language are ‘I told you so.’ – Gore Vidal

Who doesn’t love discovering a music or stand-up act before the world does 2 LinkedIn (2006), Facebook (2006), Twitter (2007), Spotify (2011), Quora (2012) have been products I fell in love with before the world did, but I think I found myself my next big obsession – [[Roam Research]] – that others might discover in the years to come.


The first draft of life. Roam Research.


A few months ago, stumbling upon a serendipitous tweet, I dove head-first into [[Roam Research]].

A few minutes of exploration later, and $15 of monthly-subscription lighter, I found myself haphazardly and confusedly creating a “root folder” in Roam Research.

Fast forward to 3 months later, I live my work and (slowly, personal life managed) on Roam Research and can’t imagine starting any work day without Roam.

This is the post I wish I had read when I got started.

Screen Shot 2021-10-24 at 8.47.10 PM


Notion is basically lipstick on a Word Doc! 3


It’s not fair to compare Roam to Notion. Or Asana. Or Todoist.

But, as a platform for connecting-the-dots of life 4, Roam somehow out-performs all of the above at their job, and more.

The problem Roam solves is vastly different from what Notion (a better designed & prettier Microsoft Office or Google Suite of productivity docs) solve, or Medium (a beautiful WYSIWYG editor for organizing thoughts), or Todoist (a robust task management app) try to accomplish, and to be honest they all fall short because of one fundamental flaw in how we work. They are all beautiful siloes.

An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood.

That sticks, right in there somewhere.

[he points to his head] – Dom Cobb, Inception

There’s many a slip/s between the moment an idea/s has “taken hold of your brain” to “fully formed, fully understood.”

Enter Roam Research.


Now what does Roam do?


How do we build a platform that makes it trivial to track-download those ideas and process them effectively, without dropping them into beautiful lists of to-dos, notes, and projects?! The challenge being each of those categories of information (to-dos, notes, and projects) interact with one another, but not seamlessly and live in separate islands, including the original silo which is pen-and-paper.

Roam connects the dots between islands of ideas

Roam is a breakthrough in that it allows us to navigate each of these islands of different shapes & sizes (to-dos, notes and projects) by atomizing how each of them are built – from a checklist. Not only does Roam make it trivial to input these ideas mindfully 5 outside of their siloes (like with pen & paper, but better – onto a canvas for drawing upon them with structured data.6), and a simple suite of under-the-hood Easter eggs that pop up at just the right time to get shit done (work or life) and manipulate any idea.

Since forever, we’ve done tasks, projects and every single day, in one haphazard way: ideally, by putting pen-to-paper. Then Microsoft Office, brought the hurt to workplace “productivity,” to be followed by a lighter version — Google Docs. And more recently Notion has created a prettier version of Office (not to be outdone, MS Office ripped off Notion just this past week, to strangely rave reviews and dull re-looped critiques 7).

But, then imagine a near perfect way to capture your thoughts, process intelligence and get shit done — in the moment, through every moment of your life?! It’s almost like Anthony Bourdain describing the In’N Out burger:

Bourdain orders his burger “animal style” — a double patty with extra Thousand Island sauce and pickles. He divulged what he loves most about the burger. “This cheese-like substance is just perfect,” he said. “This is like a ballistic missile … a perfectly designed protein delivery system. – Anthony Bourdain 8

Roam is that ballistic missile perfectly designed for downloading ideas, impelled at completion. 9


What Office could not, and Notion does not; Roam does… 10


Targeted, flexible, multi-layered, Roam is “Notion meets Todoist meets Asana” with agenda, purpose and goals. 11

By shifting all your writing into a bulleted list, and giving you the ability to seamlessly vary that list, Roam reclaims your attention from the tyranny of the blank piece of paper that has writers shudder before writer’s block, and cedes immense control back to you. By also giving all that is needed back to the keyboard makes trivial what might have (until now), taken different iOS apps, desktop apps, and a moleskine notebook to accomplish; a seamless mind-meld between your thoughts and fingertips.

Imagine that, but for every idea that permeates your brain, every idea worth taking down, and because of their mutual links you can jot down and literally “connect the dots” (whether it’s tagged by date or topics, or whole sentences and paragraphs – more on that in just a second.) In the public sphere, that’s Twitter.

In the private sphere, that’s Roam. And I can’t wait to see how that might translate to the work sphere.

Microsoft Word or its online evolution Google Docs is quite literally that blank piece of paper, while both Medium and Notion have prettied things up a bit, without reinventing the original grammar of Word which has served its purpose, but it’s time for the Tesla, not a prettier horse.12

Note taking for me has shifted away from [[Google Docs]] and each time I work on [[Notion]] I realize their immense disadvantages to working seamlessly on a platform like [[Roam]]. It is impossible for any other platform for you to basically get started creating, weaving and connecting ideas without you having to hit a Command-F to File or Scroll to Search or Discover.


Here’s how Roam’s Tesla fares against all previous productivity islands.


Roam’s Swiss-Army-Knife of Five:


Roam differs from Word or Docs or Notion in its minimalist interface (no bells, no whistles, no command-F drop-down from a mouseovers and clicks) that belies the powerful mapping engine powering it, that respond to the click of your keys. (snap of your fingers allusions)

Here’s the five-step crash-course, I wish I had at my fingertips when I jumped on the Roam bandwagon, that might have speeded up my learning times exponential.

Five tools in your tool-belt that will get you humming along your Roam journey in no time. My only $0.02, don’t think twice, don’t overthink, don’t over-plan, just start typing…


1. Pick a Topic, Start a Page: Hit the [[ ]] running…


Imagine being able to create new pages on the fly, without hitting Command-F (File), Open New, and create a new document, or toggle between folders unsure of where you’ve these documents saved, but is there a better way to do this right now.

The framework of Roam Research is built on its bulleted checklists, but more importantly on its bi-directional Wikipedia-like links that can be spontaneously created with the subtle tap of [[ ]].

Whether it’s a mini-rolodex or creating groups of individuals around specific categories, words, book reviews, you name it, create a topic, launch a page, while you generate your ideas. I use it as a mini-rolodex, so I add the job title before the name, I create and tag groups of individuals (so folks who are in Sales, etc.) I even use it for all rough drafts of posts I eventually end up writing, including this very post you’re reading.

The rough draft of everything I think; I build and create on Roam Research, starts with a pair of [[ ]].

It’s interesting that V2 or V3 of every idea goes to different apps:

  • Writing: iA Writer, then WordPress
  • Projects: Emails, Docs, Notion (at times) depends on who I’m sending this to
  • To-dos: Rarely, todoist, for the most part all of my to-dos are reviewed and check-listed on Roam Research

It’s hard to explain Roam to someone who hasn’t used it before, Before I continue, I have to warn the users here, that unlike Notion or Google Docs, there is no freemium version of Roam, so be prepared to pay up-front a subscription to enjoy the benefits of Roam, but rest assured, I don’t see myself working on any other product for note taking (Google Docs), Task and Project Management (Todoist), and everything else under the sun.

Roam is as good as your bulleted checklists and topics (like Wikipedia, but imagine for your personal and work-life), and by just typing those magical [[ ]] keys yields a satisfying Pavlovian response the way that red notifications icon felt on Facebook back in the day. 13


While Google Docs, Notion and others are basically “better, faster horses,” 14, what Roam seems to do is build a new grammar of productivity from the ground up.

And, that leads to a network graph of ideas, unlike any I have seen since my days working at a social network or two. The beauty of these brackets and the chance to start off on topics, is the rich contextual data that accrues that one can see at the bottom of each page.

Over time, I’ve also found myself auto-creating a page for each day, which ties back to making Roam a productivity tool. Creating todos, is as easy as Shift-Enter that toggles through a to-do, done and none.

To me, this is where the magic begins, the 140 character magical spin on documentation itself from Roam. Take Roam for a spin, and in a few days, either the double bracket, or there’s a Chrome extension, that creates a double-bracket, when you hashtag (I know, most of you are rolling your eyes, but when you hit that Easter egg, the productivity gains are immense.

For the first time, in my life, my browser has truly become a moleskine notebook, where I don’t have to toggle between taking notes with a pen-and-paper, staring at my iMac browser screen, but it’s all on Roam, and the keys fly as fast as my mind can.

It’s liberating. And, frankly, this post doesn’t do it justice.


2. Finding a needle (word) in a haystack (block): Double Brackets (())


Now imagine losing your thoughts & ideas in paragraphs, making it more difficult to bring them back up on command, since [[topics]] don’t necessarily tell the full story, but what if you were able to bring up paragraphs or blocks on command by just opening up (()) not just the (it’s called “blocks” here), and imagine being able to at random call up each block that searches and pulls up relevant blocks that might have otherwise been lost.

Imagine a tool that basically allows you to do all of the above three seemingly incongruous goals, and blend them into a daily stream-of-consciousness (yes, seems impossible) that somehow gets things done, while allowing you time to ponder over ideas you’re mulling over (whether it’s a blog post – all of my draft V1s start on Roam) or projects you’re planning at work, events you host, I could go on.

This is basically the culmination of what I described as the fundamental issue with to-do apps. Zooming out and zooming back in to our lives is a constant battle & challenge, but I think, I’ve finally found a tool that allows me to do just that.

Now granted, some of you may be intimidated by even trying out Roam Research. The team seems to revel in the community finding itself, vs. building communities (like Notion seems to be so good at doing), so consider the next five tips and tricks, what I’ve learned in the past 3 months that I slowly Easter-egg’d my way into so you don’t have to…

This is a pretty easy way to master the fundamentals of what makes Roam Research such a powerful tool to accomplish all of the above three – note taking, to-dos and project management – and frankly, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.


3. All Life is a Routine: Double Semi-Colons;;


All of life is a routine. Or a habit.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.” – Gandhi

Somehow Roam gets it, and make it trivial to harness its power.

For the life of me, I’ve tried to figure out life-management, that has taken different shapes and forms from Things to Todoist (most recently), tied to RescueTime, but they all hit upon a fundamental snag — context switching and zoom-in and out of our thoughts — what if there’s a way to go from thoughts to tasks to projects to checklists while you’re on the topic and out and in.

Let me give you an example: tasks are recursive projects that might range from a broken stove knob to a major home renovation. They also slip-and-slide priorities to projects to calendars to time itself. It’s one giant hairball that just cannot be undone, until the very framework and its various parts have been convincingly redrawn.

Every single day, pre-Roam Research, I used a different set of tools for note taking, to-dos and project management, and I must have tried a whole slew of them, and all of them failing, since they were separate islands and they never connected.

Routines have a very important place in life. To-dos, time management systems, project management can all be made more efficient through routines, and no time management app makes it easy to create-and-recall routines as Roam does, and only by being immersed in this environment and using routlines for what they’re worth might one recognize its power.

This has to be my easiest time-saver

  • Emails you send (before an event)
  • Processes and steps you need to set up (during an event, before an event)
  • Daily Top 3 tasks to accomplish
    • Ditto for the week

Just like the iPhone made text an indelible part of our lives and relegated phone calls to the merely urgent, and much like the Macintosh made typewriters irrelevant while making keyboard usage ubiquitous. Roam makes the creation and re-creation of routines and habits trivial from the get-go, what a liberating thought that is but I’ve never seen the ease with which one can create a routine, through keyboard shortcuts.15


4. Tables, Kanban, Pomodoro, on the fly: Double Curly Brackets


The last two features I’ll bring up, might seem trivial at first glance, but I bring them up as an example to showcase the power of Roam Research as a platform for productivity.

Evernote is a popular one that many swear by, I’ve personally only briefly used that app, but there are many others. For me, over the last couple of years, it came down to my favorite Moleskine notebook and pen, which truly works to highlight the day’s Top 10 and any other notes that need taken down.

But a moleskine’s advantage (focus) is betrayed by the inability to link to ideas (I know Moleskine has an app that allows to upload your note taking) a digitized moleskine but again it does not solve the fundamental problem, and something that requires specialized hardware and a subscription that I don’t plan on buying.

While creating a table on Roam Research is as easy, as

{{table}}

Yep, hit Enter, and it’ll guide you through how to type in the headings and the respective entry points for a table. But the beauty of Roam Research is how trivial they’ve made the idea of creating a table.

Ditto for a {{Kanban}} table. Or a {{pomo}}doro timer, in case you wish to time your writing a blog post.


5. Isn’t Research All About The Highlights: Command-H


Life needs a highlighter. What I’ve always envisioned in a modern moleskin is the ability to highlight as we go, and it’s always been impossible to do with any of the task management apps I’ve tried thus far. Just select the sentence, and hit “Command-H”

Imagine a tool that basically allows you to do all of the above three seemingly incongruous goals, and blend them into a daily stream-of-consciousness (yes, seems impossible) that somehow gets things done, while allowing you time to ponder over ideas you’re mulling over (whether it’s a blog post – all of my draft V1s start on Roam) or projects you’re planning at work, events you host, I could go on.

This is basically the culmination of what I described as the fundamental issue with to-do apps. Zooming out and zooming back in to our lives is a constant battle & challenge, but I think, I’ve finally found a tool that allows me to do just that.

Now granted, some of you may be intimidated by even trying out Roam Research. The team seems to revel in the community finding itself, vs. building communities (like Notion seems to be so good at doing), so consider the next five tips and tricks, what I’ve learned in the past 3 months that I slowly Easter-egg’d my way into so you don’t have to…

This is a pretty easy way to master the fundamentals of what makes Roam Research such a powerful tool to accomplish all of the above three – note taking, to-dos and project management – and frankly, I feel like I’m just scratching the surface.

The reason being it’s always been impossible to context switch rapidly, especially and most importantly, directly from your keyboard. So you can go from [[Topics]] to ((Blocks and Paragraphs)) to ;;Templates for Routines, and {{Kanban & Tables}} back to a single minded Focus has never been possible, and never from the comfort & luxury of your keyboard.

And the ability to have a daily Top 5 and then some, and then highlight the one you’re working on, allows you to stay focused for as long as you need.

And if you need a timer, all you need is {{timer}} at your hand. Or a {{POMO}}

See the list goes on… Regardless, like a blank sheet of paper, Roam does feel a bit intimidating when you start, and over the course of 3 months I’ve learned what I wish I had known at the start. Building an app ecosystem related to tasks might just takes this to another level.

The key to me, is taking this hyper-invested community of theirs, and move into the mainstream. This post of mine, is just a simple way to describe what has worked so effectively for me — this Swiss Army Knife of Five above.

The four saddest words in the English language, “It might have been.” – Poet John Greenleaf Whittier 16


The Promise of [[Roam]]: Roam is the iPhone to Notion’s Blackberry


Roam’s only competition is itself, and a timeline that competes against Google Docs, who might throw a wrench in the works. But, they are unlikely to move as fast as a nimble competitor like Roam.

What else can they make trivial

To me this is the power of Roam. Any thought process that one can think: topics of interest, blocks of ideas, routines and habits, have been trivialized to a point where your keyboard does the work that normally felt intuitive to pen-and-paper-and-moleskine-notebook.

Ditto for productivity, I feel if they play their cards right, Roam is a far more efficient way to get things done (GTD) than any other tool I’ve ever tried. And if it is, why wouldn’t you make it easy for teams to collaborate off of, and imo that’s exactly what its founding teams would like to do, albeit with religious fervor.

So, what can one expect from Roam Research in the future, and more specifically, what do I wish to see in its North Star.

With a switch of the keys, {{}} or should I say, double curly brackets opens up a world of features that can be summoned at a moment’s notice. Ironically, as well as they connect the various islands of thought on a blank webpage, Roam is the ideal version of Google Docs.

  1. For example: Just this past Sunday, I created a quick overview of my week’s writing with links and a quick hashtag [[time-blocks]] I have created for myself to better manage my time (both at work and in life).
  2. Imagine creating a table on the fly while you let your ideas do the typing. I’ve truly never felt more liberated than when I stumbled upon this easter egg, while planning a sequence of events for the upcoming quarter.
  3. Collaboration (I’d hope) is a simple addition to the foundation they’re building. I find it a huge hassle that I can’t easily share my writing with my peers, colleagues, at work, and I find myself and my content stuck on Roam Island. Ironic, as it may seem.

There’s just so much that Roam could be, and already is, and that can be its greatest undoing as it is its greatest strength. That blank sheet of paper, needs to be defined and communicated effectively to its legions of fans. I see Roam, the way I saw the users of LinkedIn, when I started there back in the day — 2006. Most of LinkedIn’s users were a very active cult of open-networkers (I’m not making this up), and the goal was to create a brand that transcended this core group of users to all professionals, which LinkedIn did.

Ditto for Twitter, that is the closest to the ethos & brand that Roam could emulate. Take for example, how mainstream Twitter’s hashtag and @ mention seem these days, something I’d have never imagined back in the day, when I started using it at SXSW within a core group of insular techie users!

I can’t wait to see what the team at Roam, builds next. But, I’m sure there’s no ceiling for what they can build, but the devil (is always) in the details and execution. And, I am thrilled to continue being an avid paid user of this amazing product.

Just gimme more.


  1. By some estimates, the operations economy is going to be far eclipsed by a project economy and tools to enable these projects are going to become the next Microsoft or Google in the workplace. ↩︎
  2. I remember seeing Abel Tesfaye, way before he became known as The Weeknd, and that’s how I feel about technology worthy of evangelism. ↩︎
  3. Love the allusion to a phrase that has gotten quite a few people into hot water, no pun intended, including President Obama in 2008. That said, I reiterate the absolute hot mess that is Notion, as if “’A hog in a silk waistcoat is still a hog,’ meaning, ‘Circumstances do not alter a man’s nature, nor even his manners.’” proving Charles Spurgeon right, via his 1887 compendium of proverbs, The Salt Cellars. ↩︎
  4. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” – Steve Jobs. One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is from his Stanford Commencement speech that can be found in its entirety here ↩︎
  5. This is vastly different from a to-do app like todoist that makes it trivial to add your ideas from any source, but sometimes constraints are good. They focus the mind on a stack-ranked list, as opposed to adding a bunch of to-dos from every source imaginable only for you to declare bankruptcy ↩︎
  6. Ironically, “Canvas” is what Microsoft Loop – their Notion clone – often calls itself when painting a new vision of office productivity ↩︎
  7. Microsoft Loop is a new Office app for the hybrid work era, via The Verge. “These collaborative Loop components have been the dream of Microsoft for the past couple of years, and it’s clear the company has been adjusting how Loop works to fit the realities of pandemic life. A central Microsoft Loop hub looks like an improved way to track and organize these components — and a clear response to the new hybrid work era to which many businesses are adjusting and competition like Notion.” by @tomwarren ↩︎
  8. Known for his brash, yet honest delivery, Bourdain sets us straight on what makes the In’N Out Burger above and beyond, the best at what it does, via Eater. ↩︎
  9. Getting Things Done (GTD) was a “work-life management system that prioritizes clarity by eliminating chaos that is our heads. Think of it as the Marie Kondo technique for your brain. ↩︎
  10. I’m going to caveat this entire post both with “I told you so,” and this has been my experience. For many MS Office might out of habit, be the norm, and for others Notion might have created an ideal community for habit, but if you were to start from scratch and define “that productivity tool” that has it all; it has to be Roam ↩︎
  11. I remember the early days of both LinkedIn & Twitter, there was no existent grammar to describe them both. They both evolved organically through stellar leadership into what they are today, but no one knew what they were, just that they were incredibly powerful tools and you knew someday they’d fulfil their potential given great parenting. Ditto for Roam; it feels difficult to describe to others, which might drive some folks away, but I hope to put a spin on it, that show folks what I see today. ↩︎
  12. I do understand that the team at Notion has built a great platform that works so well, for so many professionals, here’s an example; but again, so has Microsoft and Google. ↩︎
  13. I wrote about that red notification icon that might have been an attractive addition to Facebook on Facebook that was geared towards that dopamine hit ↩︎
  14. Yes, Henry Ford might have used a variation of the quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” but trust me all that some people want is a faster horse. Maybe some day they might consider a Model T, or a Tesla, but for the majority of folks we are selling productivity tools to, they just might want a better, faster, prettier Google Doc. ↩︎
  15. Mobile Roam: I’d so love for Roam to release an iOS app, since I can’t imagine the speed benefits of creating routines or any of the other time benefits unleashed by Roam Research. A browser is a great way to get your ideas through, but the explosive power of Roam can best be harnessed on mobile and it’s going to be a herculean task to make that switch seamlessly. Templates in Roam, via hereAlso Capiche ↩︎
  16. Via Quote Investigator: In the passage above Mancroft also referred to “the saddest words” which he linked to Bret Harte. It was true that Harte wrote a comment on this topic; however, he was reacting to an 1854 remark by the poet John Greenleaf Whittier who proclaimed that the saddest words were “It might have been”. ↩︎

Filed under: Knowledge Networks, New Products, Productivity, Productivity Tools, Roam Research, What's New in Social Media, Writing, , , , , , ,

Write like the President’s Speechwriter

Remember, President Obama’s triumphantYes, We Can” speech, or the hopeful New Hampshire concession speech or most recently the comforting Newton tragedy speech

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Words matter and a President’s words carry meaning to hundreds of millions of people; it helps sooth, comfort, and uplift a nation.

So there’s a lot we can learn about writing from the President’s young speechwriter Jon Favreau (not the guy who brought you Iron Man). This past week Favreau crafted one of his penultimate speeches for the President and shared some of his secrets gleaned while writing for the President.

First, nail the theme

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while writing an essay or a blog post is to blah, blah, ramble on relentlessly towards an unspecified goal in the far distance. Smart writers always get the theme right first, which helps with Act 1 and 3 of the piece, and then work around it to get Act 2 right – usually the toughest part.

The President’s working style with Favreau is no different.

“We wanted to make sure that we were going to pick one theme and not go all over the place. And the president said, “Look there’s the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and for 200 years the American story has been about making those promises real,'” recalled Favreau. For an underlying theme, they settled on the notion that “alongside our rugged individualism, there’s another strand of American belief which is that we’re all in this together e pluribus unum, out of many, one.”

Keep it short, keep it real

For cryin out loud, please keep it short. Everybody’s got ADD (thank you, Twitter!) these days, so holding their attention is gonna be your biggest challenge.

As Ted Sorenson, Kennedy’s speechwriter, said about JFK’s speeches:

No speech was more than 20 to 30 minutes in duration. They were all too short and too crowded with facts to permit any excess of generalities and sentimentalities. His texts wasted no words and his delivery wasted no time.

And, boy did Kennedy’s speeches work because of that very fact:

For he disliked verbosity and pomposity in his own remarks as much as he disliked them in others. He wanted both his message and his language to be plain and unpretentious, but never patronizing. He wanted his major policy statements to be positive, specific and definite, avoiding the use of “suggest,” “perhaps” and “possible alternatives for consideration.”

Yes. Always be specific.

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

Nah, I wouldn’t recommend that rule because not all things that work for Hemingway work for mere mortals. But, Hemingway was right about one thing – relentlessly edit your work till its worthy of public consumption.

Editing is an art form with the structure depending on how you choose to approach it. In some cases, logic will be the guide:

“He’s known for his rhetoric, right?” said Favreau. “But he’s also got a very lawyerly, logical mind. And so the thing he always does best is putting every argument in order.”

The night before the inauguration, Obama was done editing. All that was left were words to underline so that they’d get proper emphasis in the delivery. The president did a read through in the map room of the White House that night.

And, in other cases, reason will dictate the contents of a speech as Ted Sorenson describes JFK’s goal with his speeches:

At the same time, his emphasis on a course of reason –rejecting the extremes of either side –helped produce the parallel construction and use of contrasts with which he later became identified. He had a weakness for one unnecessary phrase: “The harsh facts of the matter are . . .”–but with few other exceptions his sentences were lean and crisp. . . .

But regardless, if there’s one thing I’d like you to takeaway from this post, it’d be edit, edit, and edit until your post is worthy of being seen by people. Or as Hemingway said to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934:

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit,” Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Put it in the wastebasket, not on your blog.

Filed under: Best-of, Leadership Communication, Public Speaking, Writing, , , , , ,

The Larry Summers Show: Straight Talk. Served Angry.

Yesterday, Larry Summers, whose words have landed him into trouble on more than one occasion was interviewed by Walter Isaacson (Aspen Institute President and Steve Jobs biographer) at a Fortune conference. Of course, the blogosphere was abuzz, but I felt the interview was interesting on a couple other areas on CEO communications that I’ve spent quite some time talking about here.

Three more tips on being interviewed in public ensues… right after the pic.

BTW, I couldn’t embed the video here because WordPress sucks at embedding flash files (they cite security but what’s good for Tumblr’s good for me) on their posts and don’t give any other option either. Thank you very much! But, I digress.

1. Speak your mind. Don’t mince words. Not Angry.

Love him or hate him. You’ve got to give it to Larry Summers for speaking his mind — no matter, how controversial it is — and no matter how he is perceived at the end of the interview. Of course, he seems to get away with lecturing the audience in his professorial tone given his past history.

Why so serious?

The very first question was about a scene from the Social Network that portrayed him being dismissive of the Winklevii twins (I’m not gonna get into the details, but if you’re reading this blog, I guess you’ve watched the movie). Here was his no-nonsense answer to it.

I’ve heard it said that I can be arrogant.

If that’s true, I surely was on that occasion.  One of the things you learn as a college president is that if an undergraduate is wearing a tie and jacket on Thursday afternoon at three o’clock, there are two possibilities.  One is that they’re looking for a job and have an interview; the other is that they are an a**hole.

This was the latter case.  Rarely, have I encountered such swagger, and I tried to respond in kind.

Of course, not everyone can pull this off, but for someone with Larry’s notoriety this was a great start to an entertaining interview.

2. The power of simple metaphors

I’ve said it before (while describing Steve Jobs’ style) and I’m gonna start collecting more examples of leaders who are effective at using simple metaphors to get across a point during interviews. In my opinion, this is the only way to communicate effectively to your audience. For instance, I thought Larry Summers probably made the simplest description of the debt ceiling debate in this interview:

Look, if we default on August 2nd, it’s going to be what happened after Lehman collapsed on steroids.  It’s going to be financial Armageddon.

The idea that adults who have some agenda, whatever the merits of their agenda, are really prepared to threaten sending the United States into default, to pursue their agenda, is beyond belief.

You know, I have had arguments with my college-aged children about spending, and sometimes we discuss whether they should spend less, whether they should pay, whether I should pay.  We don’t entertain the option that because we can’t resolve our argument, Visa should get stiffed

3. Got Stories? Share it.

I think one of the key reasons people watch keynote interviews is to learn something new but more importantly, to just hear some “exclusive” stories they’d normally not hear elsewhere. It’s kinda like one of the key reasons people read blogs instead of press releases.

My favorite moments from this interview were surely an answer on the different leadership styles of the two Presidents Summers has worked with: Presidents Obama and Clinton.

You’re working for Barack Obama.  If you have a meeting scheduled at ten o’clock, there’s a 25 percent chance that the meeting will begin before ten o’clock, and there’s a — you know what’s coming, and there’s a 70 percent chance that the meeting will have begun by 10:15.

If you wrote Barack Obama a memo before the meeting, it is a virtual certainty that he will have read it.  If you seek to explain the memo you wrote to him during the meeting, he will cut you off, and he will be irritated.  If he, as the leader of the meeting, will ask one or two questions to kick the tires, but will basically focus on how whatever subject you’re talking about fits with the broad vision and approaches of his presidency.

He will basically take the attitude if you’re his financial advisor, that if you can’t — it’s up to you to figure out whether preferred stock or subordinated debt is the appropriate financial instrument for your bailout, and that if he doesn’t trust you to figure it out, he’ll get a new financial adviser, but that is not the question on which he is going to spend time.

So it’s a very focused executive, big picture guidance, disciplined approach.  At the appointed time, his secretary will come in and will bring a card that says it’s time for his next meeting, and you will be out of that office within five minutes.  It is a certainty.  That’s working for Barack Obama, and it is a wonderful experience.

Working for Bill Clinton is also a wonderful experience.  It is a different experience.

(Laughter.)

And, here’s his experience working with President Clinton:

The probability that there is compensation for the fact that your meeting will begin late, it is virtually certain to end late.  Bill Clinton has a 30 percent chance of having read your memo before the memo.  Bill Clinton will, however, with near certainty, have some set of quite detailed and thoughtful perspectives to offer on your topic.

He will say things like “I was in the White House library reading the Journal of Finance, and there’s some really interesting thinking about the role of dividends in the system.”  “I went to a conference at the Brookings Institution 11 years ago, and do you know that there’s a really interesting experiment with providing credit access in Tennessee?”

“Did you read the latest issue of — the Asian edition of The Economist?  It had a perspective on Thailand that you might want to think about.”  There was a stunning, I mean you know, while he wasn’t reading your memo, it wasn’t that he wasn’t doing anything about it.

I’ve a couple more interesting themes on corporate social media I’ll start covering shortly as I continue my fluency of writing posts on here. In the meanwhile, follow me on Twitter.

Filed under: Leadership Communication, Public Relations, Public Speaking

Do Political leaders need community evangelists?

Absolutely! I’ve written on numerous occasions in the past how important political brands are. Check out this recent Fast Company article, which talks about how big a brand Obama is and how quickly he has shaped it in a span of a few years. And, so are the other political candidates’ brands – Clinton or McCain, both different attributes but similarly important

(Check out Obama and McCain‘s question on LinkedIn Answers. Guess who got more answers?)

Stowe Boyd’s rather inflammatory take on John Edwards’ absence from the social media twitterverse soon after his departure from the election scenario, tickled my curiosity. Boyd laments the dissappearance:

Proof of old politics wolf in new politics sheep’s clothing: they assume the ways of the new social web revolution as a means to come into contact with us, but when they lose (and maybe when they win, as well?) they drop the pretense of involvement, and go back to whatever they really believe in. Which is clearly not this new emerging whatever-the-hell-it-is on the web.

But then Stowe Boyd continue along the same vein asking the all-important question:

Will the winner of the race continue to use social media after installed behind in the White House?

And, let’s be candid here – it is gonna be challenging for presidential candidates to literally be present at all times on every other social media channel that sprouts each passing day, given his/her priorities of running a country. Having said that, I believe every political entity (senator or president) absolutely need an authentic representative or community evangelist/s in the social media universe. Why?

1. Analogy to community evangelists in the corporate space

As I’ve maintained in my earlier posts, it is not realistic to expect CEOs to maintain a blog. Having said that I know how important it is for a company to have a legitimate representative who’s a point-of-contact at various social media touch points. For e.g. As far as LinkedIn is concerned, you can reach me either on LinkedIn (d’uh), Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, my blog, the LinkedIn blog, etc… but I don’t know whom I should contact if I’d like to offer support or feedback to any of the three current political campaigns (feel free to leave a comment if you know who that individuals are). And, I’m not talking about the “social media accounts” that currently exist with faceless interns posting vapid commentary/schedule updates. (If you know of leaders actually updating these pages, leave a comment)

2. Why does it help having a real person represent a political brand

The same reasons it helps a company have a community evangelist. Two main reasons. 1. It humanizes the political brand – it helps having a turn-to person when you’d like to offer feedback 2. Crisis Management. Like in Edwards case, given all the brouhaha over his absence these days, it’d be nice to have someone from their campaign (it could be an intern) who actually responds authentically to social media mentions (like to Stowe Boyd or Craig Stoltz).

3. Why is it important?

This will happen, in much the same way social media has become a commoditized feature of many Fortune 500 companies’ marketing plans but more importantly because in politics more than in corporate America there’s a great need to sustain that human connectivity with the citizenry. The voting populace deserves both a response and conversation with their leaders and since a leader may get weighed down with the urgencies of a fast changing world, a social media savvy political evangelist/community evangelist/s who can do that for them are an absolute necessity.

What are your thoughts? Are there evangelists for the current three campaigns (Obama/Clinton/McCain) I’m not aware of?

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Is Facebook a walled tumblelog?

Quickest update (as of 6/29/007): Wow, this discussion just keeps going on and on… Earlier today, Steve Rubel thinks that Facebook is a walled garden and here’s a snippet:

That leads us to social networks and, in particular, Facebook. (I should preface this by adding that Edelman represents MySpace.)

Despite the age of openness we live in, Facebook is becoming the world’s largest, and perhaps most successful, walled garden that exists today.

Most social networks (which I am characterizing here broadly to also include sites like Flickr, Vox, del.icio.us and digg) let you determine what you share with the general public through Google vs. what you only share with your circle of friends. This level of flexibility is a win-win for everyone. If you don’t want to share anything you don’t have to. On the flip side, if you’re a voyeur, go for it.

For all of the excitement around Facebook and its application platform, it’s essentially a giant walled garden. You can embed virtually anything you want inside Facebook. Just like open APIs, Facebook’s developer program lets anyone create value in the ecosystem.

And, Jason Kottke concurs:

I’ve no doubt that Facebook is excited about their new platform (their userbase is big enough that companies feel like they have to develop for it) and it’s a savvy move on their part, but I’m not so sure everyone else should be happy about it. What happens when Flickr and LinkedIn and Google and Microsoft and MySpace and YouTube and MetaFilter and Vimeo and Last.fm launch their platforms that you need to develop apps for in some proprietary language that’s different for each platform?

Quicker update (as of 6/25/007): Kent Newsome debates Facebook: the New Internet or gilded cage?:

Open API or not, there’s still a wall around Facebook. It’s hard to get data out of there and into the wild. As AOL found out, what people look at initially as a safe place to hang out can begin to look like a cage over time. I continue to believe that the blogosphere is the only network that matters, and that over time most people will elect to take control of their content and manage it via a wall-free platform. Anything that gets between a content provider and its users is by definition bad for the content provider. And there’s no need for a central registry of contact information- we have Google. Just do a search.

Quick Update: Feld Thoughts has stirred a mini-storm with his Facebook problem. His recent post summarizes what that problem with the new f8 platform is:

None of these Facebook apps developers are deriving any real benefits (if you are a Facebook apps developer and ARE deriving a tangible benefit, other than customer acquisition within the Facebook infrastructure, please weigh in.) In addition, Facebook has shifted all of the infrastructure costs to these apps developers, creating the “I have 250,000 users, now what?” problem.

On another note, I responded to Eric Schonfeld (Business 2.0) to his related post on Facebook:

Actually, I wrote a post on how I leverage Facebook for activities surrounding my social interests like movies or music and most f8 apps facilitate that.

However, LinkedIn focuses on helping me navigate my professional network and advance that part of my life; my career.

Having the two separate helps me better manage my already chaotic life!

Check out the TechMeme discussion or continue reading my original post below.

Ever since I spoke to Matt Cohler at the Web 2.0 Expo, I’ve been wanting to try Facebook and given the recent spurt in activity I’ve had a chance to try it out and notice that many of my friends are on it as well. Facebook is an interesting way to keep track of the various social activities that you’re passionate about and facilitates sharing that with your social network.

As an example, here are the activities in my life that Facebook allows me to keep track of and the f8 apps that facilitate it:

* Movies (f8 apps: Flixster and Netflix movies)

* Music (f8 apps: Last.fm’s official app – love it)

* Photos (f8 apps: MyFlickr and ZuPort: Flickr)

* Politics (f8 apps: The Compass, Elections 08, Obama)

* So, Movies + Music + Photos + Politics + any f8 app you can throw into the mix = Mini-feed (yes, that controversial mini-feed)

An evolved walled tumblelog?

Think of the mini-feed as the evolution of twitter. So, in twitter you were hooked onto the various minutiae of your social network’s lives, on Facebook you do something similar, but a little bit more organized and richer. Well, let me back up here. Think of Facebook as an evolved tumblelog. So, what’s a tumblelog you may ask.

Jason Kottke, one of my favorite non-marketing bloggers, defined tumblelogs in 2005:

A tumblelog is a quick and dirty stream of consciousness, a bit like a remaindered links style linklog but with more than just links. They remind me of an older style of blogging, back when people did sites by hand, before Movable Type made post titles all but mandatory, blog entries turned into short magazine articles, and posts belonged to a conversation distributed throughout the entire blogosphere

…really just a way to quickly publish the “stuff” that you run across every day on the web. (Source: Wikipedia)

And, that’s exactly what Facebook is. Just better than the tumblelog definition above and far more effective, except that it’s a walled tumblelog. So when bloggers like Kent Newsome wonder why Facebook is better than blogging:

What is so much better about Facebook (and MySpace and other similar platforms) than an ordinary blog on a popular platform- say WordPress?

The answer, as Dare Obasanjo surmises, lies in Facebook’s richer solution a.k.a the tumblelog, but the dilemma is that it’s a walled tumblelog. So, there are really two answers: if your blog is a personal, social interaction tool that you use to communicate to a closed circle of friends then you’re better off with Facebook. It’s apparently WAY better than MySpace. On the other hand, if you’d prefer a public (maybe career focused) blog that helps define your online brand then Facebook cannot replace that. However, Facebook allows you to import your blog and share it with your social network through a feature called “Notes”. Nice!

(Disclosure: I work for LinkedIn, the professional networking site)

Filed under: Facebook, Tumblr

And the award to best use of social media in politics

Scoble’s question a month ago on which of the three democrats’ election campaigns has really ignited conversations, still remains unanswered, so instead I thought I’ll take a stab at finding out how successful their campaigns have been at driving traffic to their website?

A cursory glance at all three websites of the leading Democrats — Edwards, Clinton and Obama, shows that they all follow the beaten path of new media. However, if I were to rank them in terms of how focused the sites are on social networking, here’s my ranking of the three sites: 1. Obama (MyBarackObama), 2. Edwards (OneCorps), and 3. Clinton.

Of what use is all the buzz if we cannot measure its impact. The closest approximation of the its effectiveness is to compare the Alexa rankings of the individual websites (given below). It looks like Clinton (blue) and Obama (red)’s sites had a spike in traffic around the time their websites/campaigns launched but Edwards’ site (green) seems to be trailing.

Also, check out this article that provides a detailed overview of my space colliding with the political space (via Church of the Customer)

So why do you think Edwards reaching out to bloggers didn’t have the desired effect?

Filed under: Uncategorized

Does the 1% rule work — in politics?

John Edwards ignores mainstream media

No, seriously… Running for President by courting the blogosphere. C’mon, you’ve gotta be kidding me.

Another new-new media milestone. First John Edwards announces his intentions to run for the presidency on YouTube…and for his first post-announcement interview to be on Rocketboom and not on conventional TV.

Now that is what “Exploding TV!” and “Television Disrupted” is all about. — via Jeff Pulver

Mainstream media ignores John Edwards

While the tech blogosphere, gets excited at Scoble & RocketBoom being a part of the Edwards entourage, the rest of the more important mainstream media go ahead and ignore all this blogger chatter:

But a quick scan of reports from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Reuters and the Washington Post make no mention of the YouTube clip. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, vloggers!

Bottom line? Ain’t no link love in the big time. (via NewTeeVee)

Will the 1% rule or will the mainstream majority triumph?

I guess this is all about brand differentiation. When Newsweek, pretty much sums up the battle brewing between the two primary Democrats’ candidates — Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama, it does necessitate the rest of the candidates trying to differentiate themselves (or are they trying to make themselves more marketable?) in the eyes of the voter/consumer.

Given the recent embrace of YOU & YouTube by one mainstream newsmagazine – Time, and the meteoric rise of Howard Dean via the blogosphere in the past election, John Edwards may’ve tried to position himself as a tech-savvy candidate of the masses, but has he just gone ahead and court the 1%ers (as defined by Ben and Jackie)

Roughly 1% of your site visitors will create content within a democratized community.

Taking the same analogy, roughly 1% of a country’s citizens are probably activists who stir action within a democracy. Will Edwards gamble of courting the 1%ers pay off or will they remain nothing more than a tiny ripple that’ll soon be forgotten in the ensuing Battle Royale, between presidential hopefuls Hillary and Obama.

What do YOU think will happen? 1% or the mainstream majority?

Filed under: Uncategorized