What do Green Eggs and Ham have to do with modern business?

This photo was taken at New Belgium Brewing HQ in Fort Collins Colorado. It’s the journal written by now ex-owner and founder Jeff Lebesch. In his travels across Europe where he gained inspiration for his nascent brewing business and captured those stories within. When you visit New Belgium you are struck by the pervasive use of storytelling and story making employed to communicate the businesses history, growth and modern incarnation.

On Friday I published a LinkedIN article “How to hire a Chief Storyteller” in it I use the example of the message “hidden” inside Dr. Seuss’ children’s classic Green Eggs & Ham.

Stories are the language of human communication. From the camp fire to the modern advertisement the best persuasive communication are stories.

That doesn’t mean we communicate in stories 100% of the time. There is a time and a place for cold hard facts, strategic messaging and even debate.

That being said storytelling is a critical part of our communications tool box and every company needs a Chief Storyteller to be responsible for forging, wielding and maintaining this important tool.

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Why Digital Isn’t Enough

The family was in the car.

We were on holiday in the motherland, England.

A favorite song came on the radio.

For you, the song I heard doesn’t matter.

Think of an old favorite. One with memories attached. From a great album.

Can you hear it? OK, let’s continue…

Music in the modern world

I certainly remember what struck me about the song I was hearing. It took me back to a time when I bought the album and listened to every song on it. Playing it again and again until it became the soundtrack for that particular time of my life.

My wife and I started talking about this phenomena. How we felt that there are less and less of those types of songs. Music had become more ephemeral and transient. Buying an album used to be more involved, we committed to it and got to know it. We felt connected to it. This was enhanced by the tactile feel, the touch, its physical presence… with vinyl this was extreme. We treated CDs with kid gloves to avoid scratching them, for fear the evil ‘skip’! There was that glint of rainbow from the CDs metallic surface. Album art, lyrics, song listing. It was a multi-sensory experience.

Now we have a world of songs available through subscription. We follow our friends and can see what they like. In theory we can discover more music. We can hear a song on the radio, tag it with our smart phone, add it to a playlist and have it blasting out over our home music system. There are clearly massive benefits to digital.

The written word

With books you can now carry a whole library with you, literally thousands of tomes on a single device. Amazon worked with the FAA testing hundreds of kindles to prove that the devices didn’t affect safety. And now you can use it for your whole flight eliminating one of the benefits of print on a plane.

Yet you can’t lend or gift a friend one of these books. It’s not allowed by the license. You don’t own that "book".

You can’t sit back in your office and peruse the real, albeit limited, library and be inspired to pick up a book and dive in. I find this is particularly important with factual books, packed full of expertise, books you want to dip into and out of. The same goes for poetry collections.

And of course paper still beats our current screen technology.

Photography

There is something wonderful about seeing my favorites in print, hung in an elegant frame, adorning a wall with great light in a way that catches me as I walk past. Pleasantly interrupting my moment with a memory of a person, a place, a feeling, a journey.

And yet with digital it is infinitely easier to create and share than it was in the days of film. In some ways this can diminish the value, when everyone with a smart phone is a photographer.

Consider the opportunity in learning the craft as fully as you can, pushing yourself in the creation, editing and developing of photos that are something you don’t simply take, rather a piece of art you make. Go beyond filters, get to know Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (the most important part of my photography gear) and how to digitally develop photographs. If you want to go even further take them back out into the analog world by getting to know the printing process itself, rather than simply sending them off to a ‘lab’ or Costco.

Note taking: The analog that refuses to die

Every time people proclaim the death of paper and hand written notes a new approach to bridge these this format with the digital arrives. The literal application of the technology; computerized pen and paper such as the Surface 3 does keep getting better. Yet companies like MOD Notebooks keep raising the bar, enabling you to *really* keep writing on real paper with a real pen and making it available digitally. I’m working on falling in love with MOD, so far they have delivered an amazing customer experience – that tweet is only part of it.

I, like many others, still feel something in that physical connection between fingers, pen and paper. Those senses are important. Something is happening in my neural pathways that creates indirect benefits from touch, and does more so than tippy tap typing on a keyboard. You can’t erase millions of years of evolution and how we interact with the world overnight.

Yet the power of OneNote for creating, storing, finding notes across all the devices in my life is so powerful. It is literally one of the most important tools in my life. The fact MOD "Syncs" to OneNote is a big part of how excited I am for MOD. Incidentally OneNote isn’t the only service MOD Syncs with, Ever Note and others are also on the list.

Other human beings

It’s not just about creation of and the consumption of art, it’s also about how we interact together. When I mentioned I was planning this blog on twitter @hf noted well that it un-teaches social skills. David Burkus nicely puts how confirmation-bias thrives in digital, pick an argument with a friend online (religion, politics, gun control are great topics) so they can go search and find things that back up their opinion. Don’t do it in person, he says, as you will find a way to come to a common ground.

Email allows us to juggle more, twitter allows us to network more. Between Facebook and YouTube not only are we enjoying cats doing zanier things than we otherwise could we are able to stay in touch with friends and family in ways unheard of before the dawn of such crazy witchcraft.

Yet we are not really dealing with the person. I frequently work with colleagues I never see. In some cases I’ve worked on whole projects and never met or spoken to some of the people involved. We all become virtual resources for each other spread out across the world. We are not interacting with people, rather with a fraction of who and what they are in a very narrow context.

The importance of multisensory experiences

For much of human history we supplanted one way of doing things with something better and relegated the old to the dustbin. The famous John Deer invention that made extracting value from the vast plains of the Midwest is no longer in use, but the plains are more productive than they ever. By in large nowadays the steam engine is nothing more than a fascination. You really have to love the art of physical writing to purse and practice calligraphy.

Vinyl provides a delightful multisensory experience, enhanced with the involvement of touch, sight and smell. Movies are taken to a whole other level with music. We owe it to ourselves to maximize the richness of our experiences. Life is better because of it.

Technology has continued a deep integration into our lives and in many cases there are a mix of generations in use. Each serving a different purpose. You can own a record player and have a subscription to a streaming music service. You can have your cake and eat it.

We seek to capture, improve, alter and share the analog. The first recording devices made this possible, they froze in time sensory experiences. Like Edison famously said about his recording machine, "Talk into it, it will talk back". Technologies were invented to stop things slipping away, to bring them back out again, to our ears, eyes and hearts. And to those of others. Yet at the other extreme technology can through digitizing make things once again ephemeral and transient

My challenge to you: Keep the "more analog" versions of these technologies alive. Utilize all of their benefits and have a more complete experience.

I like to think this serves as a reminder to get out there into the real, purely analog, world and enjoy the living, breathing, visceral moment itself.

How do you feel about the balance between digital and analog? How has it affected you?

Gorilla Trekking

A friend of a friend recently asked for my advice on the topic of Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda. We made that journey in 2008. I took the opportunity to write it out in some detail and share it here in the hope it can be useful to a broader audience.

This post doesn’t cover the fascinating and emotional experience we had in Kigali including everything from motorcycle taxi’s to the genocide museum. Perhaps for another post.

Where Gorillas roam, Mount Karisimbi © Matthew Woodget 2008

Planning for your trek

We went to East Africa in 2008. Our Rwanda trip was a sub segment of a larger journey that included safari in Tanzania and several days on Zanzibar. We did Rwanda at the beginning. After arriving in Tanzania we flew to Kigali. We spent a day in Kigali and headed to the mountains that afternoon. Days two and three were trekking. Day three also included return to Kigali for a hotel stay and an early AM departure on day four to Kilimanjaro to continue our Safari.

Some companies will say one day of trekking requires five days of trip, this isn’t the only way to do it. You can get two trips up the mountain in just four days of visiting Rwanda. Having done the trip I would suggest spending longer in Rwanda by at least one or two more days. Visit some more villages and the people as well as the gorillas.

In 2008 Rwanda was considerably safer than Uganda, I’m not sure how much this has changed. It’s worth bearing in mind. All trekking must be done through the official Rwanda "Parc National des Volcans " organization. They manage the exposure of gorillas to humans and provide you layers of safety onto your trip that you will not want to be without. A worthwhile law in my opinion.

Day one

We got used to the fact you go to the "Parc National des Volcans " HQ where you are put into groups. They carefully manage the exposure that a handful of groups get to humans. The briefing is quite detailed to ensure your and the gorilla’s safety. Then we head off to the national park itself. On the edge were little villages where there is the opportunity to pick up a porter. It’s good to do so if you are carrying much, even a back pack. They are working for what they earn and benefiting from the tourism in an honest way so it was encouraged when we did it. The locals were in abject poverty but the children were all very happy to see us. "Muzungo! Muzungo!" They would shout which roughly translates as "Whitey!" or "Foreigner!"

We were somewhat apprehensive based on the fact some of my parents friends had been killed whilst doing this exact same thing in 1999, albeit in Uganda. But the world and Rwanda had changed a lot since then. There were two armed guards with AK-47s, one up front, one in the back of our hiking line, "for buffalos". Whilst this was technically true they were also there to provide protection from a potentially more dangerous animal in the undergrowth.

Hike Puzzle © Matthew Woodget 2008

We trekked up through some pretty steep terrain on the mountain in some very dense vegetation and the bamboo got insanely thick at points. And it was hard work. We both were glad we had trained for the hike. At some points we were trudging through mud as we pushed through stinging nettles eight feet high with the sun beating down on our heads. In 100% humidity of course. In addition to our guides there were a few trekkers who went out ahead to find the gorillas.

Dreamer © Matthew Woodget 2008

It is entirely possible that you do not see the gorillas at all on a trek. We did. And oh boy… it was one of the most emotional and moving experiences of our lives. We came across the edge of the family, some juveniles hanging out in the trees. The chap above was the first ever Gorilla that we saw in the flesh. We really were in the clouds at this point and our experience deepened as we found ourselves moving further into the family group who were spread out over perhaps a half square mile of rain forest. The guides were very prescriptive on how to behave and continually reminded us of what we should be doing. It’s hard to convey what it feels like to have young boisterous male gorilla’s play fighting and chasing each other right past you, so close that the brush against your waterproofs. Or seeing a mother cradling her child, then putting it on her back as she moves off into the mist.

The Bond © Matthew Woodget 2008

And of course the fabled silverback is something else entirely. A firm, confident, powerful master of his domain that is monitoring your every move, dare you threaten his family in any way. This particular family was probably 20 strong and they were a constant froth in the thick lush green that surrounded us. The bamboo had seemed somehow thicker on the return and the trek back proved it. We knew something was wrong when the time started to drip away and the light faded. A storm was coming and we were still not out of the forest. I remember with visceral clarity stepping on some bamboo that was hidden in the undergrowth. I had been trying to push my way through some very thick trunks when my foot slid violently to the side. Grabbing for the upright bamboo I caught myself before any damage was done to my ankle. All that was bruised was my pride. The heavy camera backpack on my back was really starting to feel its weight by this point. Two camera bodies, half a dozen lenses, a video camera, a point and shoot and other assorted gear. It was certainly worth it for the photos I was able to make. Suffice to say on day two I was to choose the use of a porter.

Day two

We were experts! Well, we know the drill at least, and before long were hiking up a mountain again. A very different experience to day one. Drier and simpler. We met a much smaller group with a younger father, Mr. Charles.

Mr. Charles © Matthew Woodget 2008

We were treated to both some very young gorillas playing with each other and with the "Pok Pok Pok!" sound of a silver back beating his chest as he rampaged through the undergrowth and ripped a small tree over. A display to remind us who was in control of the situation. This was a smaller more intimate affair and we thoroughly enjoyed spending some quality time just lounging around with this family. Aside from Mr. Charles’ display It was a very peaceful commune with some of our closest ancestors. It wasn’t until later when reviewing the GPS logs for my photo GPS tagging effort that we realized we had strayed over the boarder into the Democratic Republic of Congo, it was clear why we had our ‘buffalo protection’.

To this day our Africa trip remains indelibly marked on our memories. Nothing more so than the two days we spent up the side of a volcano with several dozen of our some of our cousins, a few millennia removed.

Full Gallery: Rwanda | Tanzania

Storytelling–behind the scenes

I’ve recently been filming two sets of videos for work, the narrative and content is yet to be revealed. You can however get some glimpses behind the scenes with these two galleries.

It’s been a fun project melding visual and verbal story telling and I’m excited to share the actual pieces with you. Until them take a look at some of these fun photos. Which of course in their own way are also a story.

Lotus F1 Team

© Matthew Woodget 2011 www.fluidpixel.com

New Belgium Brewery

© Matthew Woodget 2011 www.fluidpixel.com

On selecting a printer

This is another story I authored for the photography community at Microsoft regarding the production of the 2013 photo book.

When I hung up the phone with our contact at “Company B” on Tuesday I was both happy and sad. Let’s start with sad first so we can end on a high note.

“We know how important this project is for the photographers at Microsoft, and for raising money for the United Way so based on our conversations I really can’t recommend pushing to go with us for the 2013 book.” Said Mr. B (our contact at Company B).

For the past few days I’d feared this is where things was heading. We had been working on some final attempts at a workable solution. We’ve been working schedules and deadlines for about four months as well as exploring pricing structures, book sizes and printer options. Lots of moving parts. Why had we been pursuing Company B? They could also create a great online sales experience.

The thing that caused me the most heartache as I hung up the phone was that we know how important buying online is for you and that it had been problematic in the past. We really want to make it work.

At the end of the day it came down to time. And not enough of it. Specifically the difference between July 1 and July 22. Company B was relying on a third party printer based in Asia to do the job. Company A is based in the US and printed our book for the last two years. If we had known back in February what we know now we could have pulled in production… judging… submissions to hit the July 1 date (hurrah for 2014 planning!). At the end of the day we were not prepared to sacrifice the quality of the book to make the July 1 deadline. Your experience when you open it and leaf through the beautiful photos is paramount. The Give Campaign is in October and it’s critical that we make the book available for that wonderful carnival.

Company B used to only do Print on Demand. Which is rather expensive. They now also offer “offset” (bulk) printing. As such they can deliver products comparable to the 2012 book, in the quantities we need.

A partnership with Company B goes beyond printing. The most obvious and important thing the project would benefit from would be having a frictionless online sales motion. One that captures the necessary information to enable the charitable match. A US Benefit. This. Is. Huge. Double the money when a US employee purchases a book? Yes please. An important part of the project is raising money for charity so a focus on the US market is inevitable.

Online sales also open up our ability to sell the book externally, and internationally. Whilst our communities product is different to a standard coffee table book it doesn’t exclude others wanting to buy it, for a good cause. When you think of your family and friends getting a copy think about the charitable match you will get, as a US based employee, when you buy it for them.

“So let’s start talking much earlier about the 2014 book, as we’d love to be involved. OK?” Said Mr. B and I replied in the positive.

We hope you enjoyed this story. The photos just entered the layout process. We’ll keep you posted on that soon.

For now we will continue to use Company A and the Company Store and continue to plan for how to expand plans in 2014.

Judging a photo book

Last week I co-authored this with Josh, another member of the steering committee. We are working to share stories about the production of the photographers @ Microsoft Book. Behind the scenes, baby!

Enjoy!

Hi,

This email marks the start of a series of stories where we will share with you little slices of insight into what’s happening during the production of the photo book. We hope you find these interesting and insightful J

Our goal of creating a beautiful book full of amazing photos for you, the photography community at Microsoft, has many challenges. A critical one that we face early on in the project each year is how we select the photos for the book. After all this is first and foremost a community effort for you (by you) joining together for a great cause. Being a member of the judging committee in the past I got to experience an in depth view of the results first hand. I’ve found that with photography being art it is a very subjective experience and two judges can look at a photo and have very differing opinions of it. The good news is when we have many judges (THANK YOU for those who volunteered their time this year!) we can average those scores together to get a solid average for every photo. At some point we need to draw a line of how many photos are in the book to strike a balance between quality (great product) and quantity (as many members from our vibrant photography community in the book as possible). As the number of submissions fluctuates each year our goal isn’t necessarily a concrete number or formula but rather to have a ratio of photos that are submitted which should maintain a pretty solid and consistent quality assuming the same average distribution of photographers. Even still it’s important to remember that it is still subjective (being all about art) and there will always being photos that any given individual will feel deserve to be in the book and some that one feels could have been left out. With the judging system we work to ensure it all comes down to statistical averages.

Anyway, judging is just getting underway. We did our training with the judges at the end of last week and are set to start here in the following days after we iron out a few kinks in the technology.

We hope you found this little glimpse into the process of creating a book from your beautiful photos an interesting one. Please do feel free to let us know if you liked this (or not) and if there is anything in particular you would like to hear about the creation of the book.

All the best,

Josh Debner

A participant in the Microsoft photography community & a member of the 2013 photo book steering committee