Archive | August, 2009

The Power of Place

31 Aug

IMG_0583Spatial memory is a powerful thing. It brings hummingbirds back to Ohio every year from the Caribbean, and it evokes emotional memories for us humans.

What is it that makes places so deeply etched in our minds and hearts? My thought is that it’s because of the sensory experience. Unlike an object, which could be remembered for its static qualities, a place is full of three-dimensional and dynamic sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes.

This is why we return home and feel comfort at the end of a long day. Memory evokes the senses that yearn for the smell of the fireplace in the living room, the velvet upholstery of the favorite armchair, dinner cooking in the kitchen and clean sheets on the bed at night. Places like home, a friend’s house or a spiritual setting like a church, mosque or synagogue elicit emotions that feel good and keep us coming back.

Why do so many visit New York City every year, for the first time?  The reason is place anticipation—spatial memory in reverse. The many attributes of “The City” are known far and wide: opinionated and metropolitan people, high-end boutiques, the best plays and live music, museums, Central Park, street vendors, five-star restaurants. These are the many facets of New York City’s place brand, and everyone knows them. Reading about them or seeing them on television is not enough. The value is in BEING there, experiencing the brand of New York City—close up and in person.

Place branding fuses economic development practice with the strategies and tactics of branding. The goal is to create anticipation for locations that are less well-known—or places that are perceived inaccurately. More cities, states and nations are investing in a place-branding strategy to incentivize capital investment and expansion in their locale. Dubai, Wales and Queensland are prime examples—even my own Ohio. The key in place branding is to focus on the overall economic development strategy and leverage marketing and communications to deliver on their promise.

I am particularly interested in the experiential aspects communicated virtually through place branding. It’s tough to get at all of the senses when separated by distance. Words and pictures can help to tell the story, but two-dimensional impact is not as powerful as being there in person. This interview conducted by CEO Ed Burghard of the Burghard Group with Robert Govers—an expert in place branding, image and tourism—explores the possibilities. In particular, question and answer number 5 address the concept that place branding’s product development is all about managing the experience, in person and online.

As we become more of a global economy and can leverage technology to activate our senses in anticipating place, I wonder how our impressions of places will change as we are exposed to more information about places we thought we knew. Will the so-called “hot-spots” for young talent, families and couples change—both in terms of vacation sites and places to call home? I’m guessing that there are places still off the map in the minds of developers and travelers alike—not because they’re uncharted but because they’ve been overlooked or under-appreciated.

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Blame it on the Puppy

30 Aug

Yes, I got a new puppy over the weekend, which distracted me from the Harvard Business Review subscription drawing.

I am now pleased to inform all of my loyal readers that we have a winner! It’s Mark Henson of Sparkspace, who is entitled to a free year’s subscription to HBR, thanks to MagsDirect, http://www.magsdirect.com/harvardbusinessreview.html

For those of you who didn’t win, you can still subscribe to this stellar pub through MagsDirect. I encourage you to get in on well-written business articles that will keep you one step ahead of the competition.

The Company of Canines

25 Aug

I never knew how much I enjoyed the company of dogs until I didn’t have a dog. Over the past month, I’ve said goodbye to two canine companions—one expected passing due to old age and another unanticipated loss initiated by behavioral issues. Neither was easy, and both were quite different grievings.

IMG_0085Hera was a dog we adopted from the Humane Society as a puppy, back in 1993. My husband and I had been married for just three years when we brought her home with us. We were young and so was she. Her passing is a milestone in our relationship that bookends her adoption. We took her on vacation, worried over her every need and trained her to be a civilized beast. She was the smartest dog I’ve known. Despite being smaller than most of the dogs we had as buddies for her, she out-maneuvered every other dog. She was the canine equivalent of a chess champion. If she wanted a toy, she pretended that she was in love with another fetch-worthy item until the dog who had the toy she wanted couldn’t help but drop it with unwitting greed. Hera thought well into the future, a quality that most dogs lack.

Her face was unique. She had a black mask like a raccoon’s, and it grayed with age so that by the time she died it was 100 percent silver and quite striking. The last few years of her life, we had to call her name loudly even when standing next to her, and cataracts made her eyes mood-ring cloudy and she was apt to run into things. When she stopped being able to get up reliably on her own—at all—and seemed to be just biding her time, we made an appointment. She really, REALLY hated being carried around and resented us terribly for it. Her time had come. The vet came to the house, and the family gathered around Hera in the back yard on a beautiful day. It was a very peaceful passing, and she is forever resident underneath the big pine tree at the back of the yard.

IMG_0295Mobley was a big black hundred-pound mess of supposed Black Lab and Newfoundland melange. Since he didn’t like water and couldn’t retrieve to save his life, I am not entirely sure about his rumored lineage. His head was disturbingly large—providing ample breathing room for a sadly undersized brain. No dog welcomed the world of the backyard in quite the same way as Mobley. Every morning, he could not wait to get outside. The phrase, “He could not contain his excitement,” does not begin to describe Mobley’s insane exuberance. I was routinely knocked over by him either in his goings or comings. I still have bruises and scratches to prove it.

Mobley was only six when we had to make the decision. A heart-wrenching decision. We had invited very good friends to come to the house to say their goodbyes to Hera. They brought their dog with them, and I should have told them not to. As he got older, Mobley became more and more aggressive towards other dogs similar in size to him. Instead of telling our friends to take their dog home, I locked Mobley in the house behind two closed doors while we visited with Hera, our friends and their son and dog in the backyard.

Everything was fine until circumstances went awry. Children came in and out of the house. Doors were opened inadvertently, and Mobley got into the backyard. As he burst out the back door, I knew it was going to be bad. And it was. Mobley viciously attacked my friends’ dog and grabbed its throat in his jaws. He would not let go. We did many things over the course of 10 very long minutes to get the dogs apart. My girlfriend was smart enough to think of turning the hose on the dogs, so that finally we were able to separate them.

My friends’ dog was terribly injured. Both my friends and I had been bitten. That night, my friends spent all night in the ER after taking their dog to MedVet. I went to the urgent care. We all got tetanus shots. As for Mobley, he  knew something bad had happened. He just didn’t know that he caused the problem.We were grateful that we had the presence of mind to send the kids all into the front yard while the dog fight was in process.

I rewound and replayed the entire series of events over and over in my mind all week long. I should have told my friends not to bring their dog. I should have locked Mobley in an upstairs room. We should have worked harder to socialize him. Why were we such miserable dog-owners? My failure to control my dog surely made me unpardonable, I told myself.

Mistakes were made, but there’s no rewind in real life. Decisions were imminent. We had to really be grown-ups about this. Because after things happened, we realized that we could not in good conscience adopt Mobley out to another family knowing that this could happen again. We knew we couldn’t keep him safe from other dogs. He could vault the fence and was strong enough to pull us over when leashed. We’d had dogs that we were able to find homes for in the past, either dogs we’d owned ourselves or fostered. And we knew that we had worked hard to train him. There was just something weirdly off with him, something that affected him early in life when his social skills were developing, so that once we adopted him at 2-3 years of age there wasn’t much that could be done. Perhaps he had been trained as a fighting dog. Who knew? He had been rescued after living with numerous owners before us. His behavior was getting more erratic. During a walk during his last week of life, he snapped at a person who wanted to pet him. He was not a bad dog, he was just a dog who would never really change. Although incredibly loyal and devoted to humans, he was a loaded gun with other large dogs.

We talked with our friends whose dog got hurt more than once a day for the week afterwards. And we talked with the family that owned Mobley before us. We told them what we were thinking. That despite the fact that Mobley was true and good in most ways, we felt that as his owners the only responsible choice we could make was to put him to sleep. Sadly, everyone agreed. The affirmation was both validating and painful to hear.

Mobley was a dead dog walking. Because there were bites to humans during the dog fight, we had to quarantine him for 10 days in the event of rabies. And so we bided our time. In some ways it would have been easier to put him down right away, saying our goodbyes and taking swift action. Our house was already quieter for having had to say goodbye to Hera that same week. But we knew that our decision to say goodbye to Mobley was the right one. His former owners came over for a visit. We took him for his last few walks. And we loved him for who he was, nothing more and nothing less.

The passing of Mobley was like his life: tumultuous. We took him into the vet. Because of his size, and because he got nervous around shots, we wanted to be able to help things go smoothly. Well, they didn’t. The vet had to give him two doses of a sedative to get him calm enough for the shot of sodium pentathol. He had to be double-muzzled to keep from biting the vet. And then the anesthesia had to be administered three times because he was so full of life. I am sorry to say that he just would not go quietly. The entire event took about an hour from start to finish. We were physically spent from helping to keep him still, and emotionally worn out from the trauma of making the decision and then seeing it through.

The kids were with a neighbor during all of this. On the way home, I talked with the mother and apologized that we were so late, explaining why. She said, “Well, God didn’t mean death to happen that way.” She didn’t mean to be harsh, and I wholeheartedly agreed with her sentiment. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, dog-owner or dog.

It’s been about a month now since everything happened. I hesitated about posting this. Judgment from people about situations like this can be quite cutting. Fair warning: If anyone comments about the decision, giving advice about why we should have chosen differently, I won’t publish the comment and probably won’t read all of it. I just can’t second-guess the choice we made. Making the decision was difficult enough.

I believe that as animal “owners” we become the stewards of our animals. They are like family members. If you’d asked me a year ago whether I would ever consider having to take this course of action, I would have said no. And I would expect most people to not really understand getting to the point of having to make this kind of decision for an animal in their care. It is truly the worst possible decision to make.

We have been healing, but we’re missing our dogs. Hera and Mobley were incredible companions. We know that their souls have moved to the great beyond. With some trepidation, we are taking steps to get a puppy that we can train from the ground up. We’ll see where this goes, but if I had to guess I’d say that we will soon again be in the company of canines.

Harvard Business Review Contest Ends SOON!

23 Aug

Dear 25 Readers,

Please remember that the HBR contest ends this coming Saturday, 8/29. Don’t forget to send me your leadership stories so that you can be entered for a chance to win a FREE year’s subscription to Harvard Business Review.

Good luck!

Social Media Musings

13 Aug

This summer has been an interesting set of firsts for me in social media:

  • I got my first “commercial” offer on the blog–an incentive to run a contest. Gratifying to get asked to help promote a publication as lofty as Harvard Business Review.
  • Just a few weeks ago, I friended my mom on Facebook. It’s been interesting. She will not let me help her to post a picture of herself, but she was very interested in joining the fan page for Elvis and her church. She’s a bit lonely out there right now. I don’t think that there are many septuagenarians on Facebook. But my mom is not afraid to try new things, and I am quite proud of her.
  • I made the decision to “defriend” some people on Facebook who don’t interact with me anyway, in person or online. I am all about having quality interaction with the people that share back with me—not those who share nothing or just include me in push messaging that I’m not interested in. Life is too short to waste time. This defriending lightened my load in terms of friends but gives me more time to read and enjoy content from people where the friending is reciprocated. In case I accidentally deleted someone who really does matter to me, I made sure to let folks know that they should give me a shout to refriend–just as a safety net.

Nothing revolutionary here. Just some social media musings.

“Just Drive,” She Said

6 Aug

The family that drives together thrives together. Long car rides, if they are not stressful, can build great memories. Together, my family of four has traveled this summer by car to Nebraska and Florida–both 18-hour drives–without staying overnight anywhere en route. We managed to stay awake for these marathon trips. And we didn’t drive each other crazy.

Here’s how:

  1. We leave insanely early. I mean o’dark-hundred early, as in 2 a.m. This gives us a chance to let the kids sleep (translation: quiet time for adults). We have found that our kids will sleep soundly until the sun starts coming up. After that, all bets are off. The benefit to leaving this early for a long trip is that you can arrive at your destination still having time to get in some sightseeing or visiting.
  2. My husband and I share the driving fairly evenly. He is more awake than me at 2 a.m., so he does that leg of the trip while I sleep. Around 5:30 or 6:00, I take over, and we continue switching off from then on, with the non-driver taking naps or doing other activities when off duty (see #5 for more info on “other activities).
  3. We separate children in the backseat by a hard and fast barrier. What do I mean here? I’m talking a large cooler, preferably stocked with sandwiches, cold water and fruit/other snacks. The barrier serves as a boundary line defining each child’s “space” in back of the car, keeping screaming and whining at bay. Particularly helpful with the “little brother or sister” heckling phenomenon. Parents, you know what I mean here. The food will keep them happy.
  4. As much as possible, we limit stops to rest areas. This controls the amount of time spent getting off the road and back on again. Rest areas are pretty predictable in terms of getting in and out. Restaurants are not. Fast food is bad for you and gets slower the further south you drive.
  5. Make sure that everyone has activities to keep them busy if bored. Mad libs, car bingo, books, knitting, handheld video games, audiobooks, podcasts, music, math facts. We have found that it’s useful to have the kids also be in charge of ONE DVD player between them, so that they are forced to interact with each other, negotiating on movie choices. Each child should be equipped with their own headset, so that the adults up front are not in on the movie noise. Ladies, take note: I have found that the car is an excellent location for eyebrow-tweezing when you are not on drive duty. Plenty of light and otherwise optimal conditions unless the road is bumpy. This really passes the time productively. I tried to paint my nails during this most recent trip, but my husband complained about the closed space and smell of nail enamel. Oh well.
  6. A Garmin is essential. I prefer to have a hard copy map so that I can see the entire route–and because I am a lover of maps. But the audio directions of the Garmin are very helpful when the other adult is sleeping. And the woman’s voice is sufficiently snarky when you go off course (i.e., the nasal, “Recalculating”) that it’s entertainment in and of itself.
  7. A pre-teen to teenaged girl is extremely helpful when you run the risk of dozing off. She can be talking to you, her brother or a friend on the phone–it makes no difference. The nonstop talking is key here. And the somewhat high-pitched intonation, with unpredictably loud outbursts. Very important.

Enjoy your time on the road this summer. It’s precious family bonding opportunity.