Sunday, August 28, 2011

What I Learned at Useful Information Summer School

The first round of a useful information summer meetings concluded last Thursday in much the same way it began:

  1. One stalwart member whose attendance record is as visible as her contact details are hidden.

  2. A marketing professional whose feigned technophobia belies her online sophistication.

  3. A community-based non-profiteer  looking to raise awareness and funding for some local groups.

No one knew the other.

No credit cards were swiped. No RSVPs were required.

There were no commitments for additional classes or word-of-mouth campaigns for swelling the ranks.

[caption id="attachment_726" align="alignleft" width="116" caption="Courtesy of Livbaldino on Flickr"][/caption]

I was as pleased with three attendees as I was happy with the dozen who came the week after the Greenfield Recorder's Chris Curtis profiled the Society for Useful Information made the rounds in local media circles. Strangers now familiar with my work were intrigued by Chris's piece and needed to see for themselves. Friends and family who've never sat in on a useful society session felt like they had after they read the same article. My fifteen fame minutes were spent in the right place.

I was prepared for the next dozen or nobody and I was ready to launch with intermittent WIFI from the Bookmill or to model frameworks in lieu of another feeble Verizon / Comcast signal in Montague Center. (Apparently the Bookmill is as hard to find for WIFI signals as the patrons who come prepared to shop for dispensible books).

What They Don't Teach You in Information Wants to be Free School

My Delicious page was base camp leading outward for all investigations. That's how I could keep my dualing promises of minimal memorization, free sourcing, and optimal confusion. I also led the group through the basic building blocks of query formation  -- syntax, semantics, and operators. When the WIFI failed it challenged me to teach the source conjugation frameworks that go to the motivations of information providers both in terms of why they would share and what they would hope to achieve. There's no better search tool than Google -- when it's not Google's nest being padded by the investigation in question. We are, after all, the products being monetized, not the customers being serviced.

We also spent some time on establishing information oceans, lakes, and ponds, and what's in store in terms of expectations and time sinks when we dip our rods in these vastly different search environments. Not surprisingly the relatedness of social networks and topics were a source of great debate and interest among most attendees. This is a far cry and a heartening refresh from the binary constraints of corporate information fetishes around silo-driven expertise, the disregard for interdependent thinking, and the culpability of knowledge. Thank you, Pioneer Valley!

What I enjoy the most in these sessions is not only the co-mingling of multidimensional inputs and interpretations but the ability to throw a browser window up on the pale, thumbtack hole-infested walls of the Sawmill River Arts gallery and abolish online isolation, at least for a few hours. The ability to team lead around both intentional and serendipitous discovery is the most compelling kind of learning I know.

I'm pleased that this heady blessing will continue after a four week respite with classes resuming on Thursday evening, September 29th.   In the meantime I hope that no one shows up  unannounced with an empty shopping cart.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Two Diplomas

[caption id="attachment_713" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Not like father..."][/caption]

Two diplomas collided with my in-box on an early fall in late summer Friday afternoon. The first was inspired by a background checking third-party.

Actually "third" is probably too intimate a term for the degrees separating the four alien parties who picked up my case and blindly resubmitted the same craven information collection request:

“Despite many attempts, we have not been able to verify your degree/attendance at George Washington University.  We are contacting you to ask that you send support documentation such as a transcript or copy of your diploma to verify your education there.”

In round one I responded with a 2002 email request for my Graduate School to produce an academic transcript when I flirted with a library of science degree. The punch-line that year was that the school had lost a good chunk of its earliest academic histories when the files were U-Hauled from East 18th Street in lower Manhattan. That was in 1991 when the school relocated from CUNY ("City University of New York")  to George Washington University. Librarian degree or no degree, no sane archivist is going to hang onto 9 year-old memoranda detailed a lost transcript.

But Friday after I got the second boilerplate of verify emptor I shifted out of email search and broke my nine-year silence with the school. After all, the 4th party background checkers didn't need my GPA -- they just wanted to know that I wasn't inventing a graduate degree in electing people to office. Could the aggravation be worth the excavation? Imagine what I learned in a class room impacting what I do for a living? "Nothing farfetched about that" I can almost fathom Neil Fabricant saying.

Fabricant was the school's founder. In 1986 he took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to drum up interest in a graduate program for political consultants -- the equivalent to the MBA for management consultants. He framed his pitch with a tag line I'll never forget:
"Politics is a good thing."

Fabricant was channeling Center of Politics Director Larry Sabato. He was trying to say that the art of the deal deserved a Master of Deal Arts. Hard to believe but it sounded as unfashionable in 1987 in the era of Lee Atwater as it does in the post debt ceiling recriminations of today. Then again who would start a political consulting school in NYC instead of DC? Maybe those obliterated records were supposed to remove any hint of this fundamental miscue. Back then the Shuttle was $49 so flying Mark Mellman, Doug Bailey, Celinda Lake et al. in weekly might have been plausible for one or two board meetings at best.

I remember another memorable tagline made by the school's first head of admissions, financial aid, and registrar named Christine Solomon who told me the school wanted its students to be "needs blind." This meant that we could gather up the courage to be the inaugural lab rats. Such gumption would release us from fretting over trivialities like student loans. At the time I was confused. Was she was trying to outfit my billfold with a blindfold or hold my blindside with a jello mold?

To others in the program this loan is blind first impression was prescient and they refused to pay their balances without qualifying first for the Neil Fabri-card. Years later something preordained in the unhappiness of those first class campers rubbed off on the crates of records in the U-HAUL on moving day. Since then, we specimens have been chasing down a credential I stopped using long before the age of the permanent campaign arrived.

On Friday the curse of the Fabricard, the jello mold, and Lee Atwater's tormented spirit all lifted. I reached three GSPM employees in a row who were all patient, resourceful, and ultimately effective in helping me produce the long delayed official degree conferred through the dazzle of scanned diplomas basking eternal in PDF splendor. The bureaucracy of the background checkers could now recede into a dormant state of permanent dimmer.

One Diploma, Two Graduations

No sooner had I thrown down the lights on my career in political degree recapture I got an attached PDF of my son's high school degree from the Seton Home Study program. Jerry finished his studies a month or two ago but the big momentous certificate arrived last week. He wasn't shouting or jumping up and down but "was very happy to have it" as is his accustomed state of graduated adulation. His mom held back the tears -- most of them anyhow.

But like son...
I'm glad that mom stayed on top of the situation. I'm grateful for her sacrifices as a home school educator. I'm glad that she stayed on top of the paperwork. I'm glad that our son won't be asking Seton administrators in 2034 to search on all the Jerry Solomons in their “early two thousands” archives. I can’t possibly know what it’s like to bring that diploma to life.

But I am perhaps most ultimately grateful that Jerry knows what it’s like to don the graduation gown and hat and walk with the Greenfield High School class of 2011 – something no virtual degree will ever confer. The fact his high school experience bears the certifiable and the ceremonious is a tribute to Jerry.

Loud and clear.

When the interim director of student affairs ran my name against her screen records last Friday, there were three Marc Solomons who appeared -- none of them related to Christine Solomon or myself.
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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.