Biz Stone: A good guy who’s doing very well

Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, speaks at the Charles Schwab IMPACT 2010 conference in BostonI’m a big fan of Twitter. It’s how I keep up with  the news that I need to know, so I follow Jo Confino, Heidi MooreJoel Makower,  Andy RevkinBryan WalshTom PhilpottDavid Biello, Marcus Chung and Aman Singh. It’s also how way I keep up with the news that I want to know, so I follow Adam Kilgore, Buster Olney, Keith Law, Sam Miller@GioGonzalez47 and @ThisisDSpan. I follow colleagues at Fortune like Adam Lashinsky, economists who write for the public (thanks, @EconTalker!)Twitter has become what the newspaper industry once wanted to create on the Internet, a product informally dubbed “the daily me” that gave each reader news tailored to his or her interests.

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So when I heard that Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, and author of a new book about values and business was coming to Washington, I decided to hear what he had to say. I wasn’t disappointed. I wrote about Biz’s talk and his new book, Things a Little Bird Told Metoday in the Guardian Sustainable Business.

Even if you have little interest in Twitter, the book is worth reading. Here is how my Guardian story begins:

How should we define success in business? Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter, says that to be judged successful, a company needs to make money, make the world a better place and bring joy to the people who work there.

“It’s a ridiculously high bar,” he says. “But if you don’t set the bar high, you’re never going to get there.”

Stone has written a new book called Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind. The book is less about the mind than the heart, less about creativity than values and less about Twitter (and that little bird) than about Stone, an unabashed idealist and, it would appear, a genuinely nice guy. This is the rare Silicon Valley story with little to say about technology, venture capitalists, monetizing users and IPOs but a lot to say about how listening, empathy and generosity can help build a sustainable business and change the world.

“It may sound like a lofty goal,” Stone writes,”but I want to redefine capitalism.”

You can read the rest of the story here. You also might want to check out Biz’s new venture, Jelly, whose ultimate aim is to “build worthwhile empathy.”

Cindy Hoots: Transparency and social media at McDonald’s

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Today’s guest post comes from Cindy Hoots of Cone Communications, the company founded by Carol Cone that does excellent work around cause marketing and corporate responsibility. Cindy, whose clients include Johnson & Johnson and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (but not McDonald’s), previously spent 10 years at Starbucks, working on stakeholder engagement, communications and social media. She also edited The Inspired Economist blog. You can find her on Twitter at @ethicalbiz.

When it comes to multinational corporations, we want to “see the man behind the curtain.” Better yet… we want to question him about his business practices. So what happens when we don’t get the opportunity to ask the burning questions? Well, we begin to spread rumors, create urban myths and make stuff up. McDonald’s Canada has decided to lift “the curtain” (at least a little) and directly answer customer questions through the brilliant use of social media.

Over the summer, the fast food giant launched an initiative called “Our Food. Your Questions” which allows customers to ask questions through Facebook and Twitter and then receive personalized responses from the McDonald’s Canada team. The team has promised to answer every question and has already confronted a number of hot button CSR issues including genetically modified organisms (GM0s), Fair Trade, and animal cruelty. [click to continue…]

The toxic debate over climate science

Can the climate-science debate get any more toxic?

The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank that challenges the scientific consensus about climate change, was embarrassed by the release yesterday (Feb. 14) of confidential documents, including the names of corporate donors. They were published by environmental bloggers led by the DeSmog Blog, which describes its purpose as “clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science.”

Today, Heartland struck back, saying that a key document was a forgery and that others were stolen “by an unknown person who fraudulently assumed the identity of a Heartland board member and persuaded a staff member here to ‘re-send’ board materials to a new email address.” Heartland said: “We intend to find this person and see him or her put in prison for these crimes.”

Wow. It’s getting nasty out there.

Heartland, the DeSmog blog and others who rushed to report on the purloined documents–one of which may turn out to be a fake–all come out of this tainted, some worse then others.

Here are my reactions to the documents, and the ensuing brouhaha: [click to continue…]

Why I love Twitter, and random thoughts on social media and sustainability

Any day now, I’ll attract my 10,000th follower on Twitter. Whoever you are, thanks. Not coincidentally, Twitter has become my favorite social-media platform. So this seems like a good moment to reflect on social media, sustainability and journalism.

Like most of you, I imagine, I’m spending more time lately with social media — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google + and blogs (obviously) — and less with newspapers, magazines, television, radio and books.  While there’s obviously overlap between digital and traditional media, I’m finding social media to be an increasingly  efficient and effective way for me to gather and absorb information, which is what I do.

This post is not about how social media is transforming corporate sustainability–although clearly it is. Business has fewer secrets. Corporate communication has become a two-way process. Corporate shaming campaigns are more powerful than ever. Greenpeace targeted Kit Kat and Nestle very effectively last year on Facebook and YouTube, gay activists at All Out brought pressure on PayPal to drop its business relationship with hate groups and a petition on change.org helped spark a national conversation about shopping on Thanksgiving. This is powerful stuff.

Today, though, I want to talk about my own experience with social media. These platforms can be immensely valuable but they can also be a time suck. Here’s my thinking, as of now:

Why I love Twitter: I was on a conference call on August 23 when my home office started to shake. My first reaction was that a car or truck had hit the house. Then I checked Twitter, and found a bunch of posts about the earthquake that was making its way up the east coast. (Within a minute, according to Twitter, there were 40,000 earthquake-related Tweets.) Friends in New York read about the quake on Twitter and felt it moments later.

The point is, Twitter is a super-fast way of keeping up with the news. More important, it’s the best way I know of to stay abreast of the news that I need to know — about business, sustainability, energy, climate and corporate social responsibility. That’s because I’ve found people I trust on Twitter who share what they are reading and thinking about. By spending 15 to 30 minutes a day on Twitter (not counting the time reading links), I can stay on top of news and commentary that matters to me. [click to continue…]

August

I’m taking a break from blogging.

From Facebook and Twitter, too.

I started this blog on August 10, 2006 — just about  five years ago — to showcase the writing I was then doing about business and the environment for FORTUNE. Since then, I have written 856 posts, the vast majority of them in the last two and a half-years since leaving my full-time job at the magazine.

Much of the time, it’s been a true joy. After decades of writing for editors, with space limitations and in the formalized style of the newspapers and magazines where I worked from the mid-1970s until 2008, it’s been liberating to write in my own voice, on subjects that interest me and at whatever length feels right.

But it’s also been wearying.

There’s inevitably a tradeoff in journalism between quantity and quality, and lately I’ve been writing a lot. I worry that the quality has slipped.

So I’m going to stop blogging for the rest of August.

I’ll take a vacation, catch up on reading and, perhaps, devote some time to a longer writing project or two. (I may make an exception to be part of the Tar Sands Action in DC later this month.) I’m also going to take some time to reconsider my goals for this blog. Your comments and suggestions are most welcome, either below or by email to marc.gunther at gmail.com, although I’ll mostly be offline for the next week or so.

See you in September.

 

Seth Godin, book publishing and me

The Internet has not been kind to gatekeepers, middlemen, and those who depend on centralized power and control. Just ask the stockbrokers and travel agents who lived off their commissions (before eTrade and Expedia), the newspapers that monopolized classified ads (before Craigslist), the record companies who packaged CDs (before iTunes) and Hosni Mubarak who controlled communications in Egypt (before Facebook and Twitter).

Book publishers–who have historically been the only way for authors to get their words in front of readers–could be next.

Seth Godin

In my latest column for Cisco’s website about technology, news@cisco, I look at a new, disruptive book-publishing venture called The Domino Project, launched recently by the brilliant marketer and entrepreneur, Seth Godin.  Seth and his colleagues invited me to be part of a support group called the Domino Project Street Team, which is helping to spread the word about Domino and its new books.

Seth’s own book Poke the Box, an instant business bestseller, is the first one out of the Domino Project. Next month will bring be a manifesto by ex-Marine (and author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) Steven Pressfield called Do the Work. Domino plans to publish short, accessible, low-cost, easily-shared books in a variety of formats that will help people change their lives, and the world.

Quick aside: The most surprising thing I learned when reporting this story is that a 26-year-old blogger and novelist named Amanda Hocking has sold nearly 1 million books in less than a year–without the help of a publisher.

Whether all this is a good thing–for writers, for readers, for the rest of us–depends on how you feel about gatekeepers in general and book publishers in particular.

I love newspapers and magazines, the gatekeepers who have enabled me to earn a very good living since I left college many moons ago. I’m also a big-time consumers of newspapers and magazines.  If I had to choose between giving up The New York Times, and giving up all the blogs I read….I’d probably give up the blogs. Fortunately, that’s not a choice any of us have to make.

Book publishers are, in my view, more like travel agents or stockbrokers than they are like newspaper owners. They’re distributors and marketers who as a rule don’t add a lot of value. I’m interested in seeing a world where books can take on many more shapes and forms (shorter, longer, e-books, audio books, PDFs) and where more authors have a chance to connect directly to readers. That’s what Seth is trying to create with The Domino Project.

Here’s how the story begins:

Seth Godin’s first book failed because of Vanna White.

My last book was crushed by George Bush and John Kerry.

The book publishing industry is stuck in a rut. It desperately needs new ideas.

That’s why Seth and I are both excited about his new venture: The Domino Project, a publishing platform that uses the power of social media to help writers spread their ideas and connect to readers.

The Domino Project’s first book is an 85-page manifesto by Godin called Poke the Box, which was published March 1. It’s about starting things, making changes and learning in today’s fast-moving economy.

You can read the rest here.

Here’s Seth on video, talking about  about Poke the Box and the Domino Project.

Jeffrey Hollender: Life after laundry soap

For Jeffrey Hollender, the longtime chief executive of Seventh Generation, business has always been about more than selling laundry detergent and paper towels.

At Seventh Generation, Hollender looked for ways to do business better–better for customers and their health, better for its workers (who were also owners) and better for the environment.

Those efforts came to a abrupt halt in October when he was unceremoniously ousted by Seventh Generation’s board, which was forced to choose between Hollender and Chuck Maniscalco, the CEO he’d recruited as his replacement 18 months ago.

The story behind the falling out remains murky. Neither Seventh Generation nor Hollender have been willing to air their dirty laundry, presumably because their break-up agreement included a promise not to speak ill of one another.

Hollender broke his silence last week, not to talk about the past, but to discuss his future, which he says will involve business and political work to address social and environmental problems that he thinks are mostly getting worse.

“I’m very worried about where the country is headed,” he told me, when we spoke by phone.

Jeffrey, who is 56, divides his time between Burlington, Vermont, where he has lived for years, and New York, where he grew up. (Disclosure: Jeffrey and my wife Karen Schneider were high school classmates.)

So what’s next? [click to continue…]

Brazil’s paperless census

I’m a print guy. Three newspapers (NYT, WSJ, WPost) land on my driveway each morning. We subscribe to a bunch of magazines (Fortune, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Economist). I’m reading Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, and while it’s hefty at 562 pages, I have no desire to read it on a Kindle or iPad.

The earth would probably be better off if I read my newspapers, magazines and books in digital form, but I spend too much time as it is looking at screens.

Fortunately, others are doing better at transitioning from print to digital media. One example: the government of Brazil, which is in the midst of completing an all-digital census. It’s a big project–with an estimated 201 million people, Brazil is the world’s fifth most populous nation, behind China, India, the U.S. and Indonesia–but one that will not only be good for the environment, but improve the accuracy of the count and show off Brazil’s growing IT sector.

I wrote a story about Brazil’s census for News@Cisco, a website that includes stories about technology by outside contributors as well as news and press releases produced by the giant technology company. Here’s how the story begins:

What comes to mind when you think of Brazil? Beaches, Rio or the Amazon? Soccer, perhaps? Probably not information technology. But Brazil’s technology know-how is on display this fall as the country undertakes its first all-digital, fully-networked census.

It’s a massive undertaking. Between August and November, about 225,000 census takers will poll about 58 million households—many living in overcrowded cities, others scattered in some of the world’s most remote places. Each census taker will carry a handheld personal digital assistant, about the size of a smart phone, equipped with GPS technology. Data will then be uploaded to a national broadband network, and posted on the website of the Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

You can read the rest here. I’ll be writing a  monthly feature about the intersection of digital technology and sustainability for News@Cisco, so feel free to send story ideas my way.

The technology that could save the planet

What if the technology we need to curb climate change turns out to be not a solar panel, smart grid or electric car battery but social media powered by cellphones, laptops and online networks like Facebook?

350.org event in Copenhagen

350.org event in Copenhagen

As I prepare to leave today for the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, I’m struck by–actually, flooded, overwhelmed, swamped and dizzied by–the sheer volume of user-generated content coming out of Copenhagen, much of it created by people in their 20s and 30s. Groups like 350.org and the Youth Climate Movement (“It’s getting hot in here”) and TckTckTck (“right now your leaders are deciding our future”). It’s not just the kids, of course: Traditional NGOs are also blogging and tweeting like crazy from Copenhagen, as are the mainstream media (Juliet Elperin of The Washington Post is worth following on the Post Carbon blog), and even global companies are tapping into the power of social media to spread information. The real-time carbon counter below comes courtesy of Deutsche Bank’s Asset Management division; it was launched earlier this year in Times Square and now can be seen on blogs and websites around the world.

www.know-the-number.com

Our Climate is Changing!



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Of course, those who want to block climate regulation are using social media as well. The controversy known as ClimateGate has been [click to continue…]