Friday, June 27, 2008

Kirkland Planning Commission Follow-up

Never underestimate the passion people feel for the place in which they live. That's the number one lesson I take away from last night's planning commission meeting.

There was a good turn-out of both supporters and opponents of the Kirkland Park Place redevelopment plan. I would say the numbers were about evenly divided. And there are strong passions on both sides of the issue, though my unscientific observation is that the people against the proposal generally seemed to be talking a little louder than those for the proposal. Does that mean that those for it are not as invested in the debate as those against? No, I don't think so at all. There were plenty of people supporting the idea who expressed a very hopeful and heartfelt vision of what this redevelopment could mean for Kirkland.

There was real passion in the Kirkland City Council chamber and I had to sit for nearly an hour and a half before it was my turn to speak. That was long enough for me to go through several fits of nervousness and one bought of flight instinct...confrontation over important issues can be a good thing, but nonetheless I'm sure I'll never be comfortable in those situations. "I live in
Bothell. Who am I to tell Kirkland what they should do?" I thought to myself. "I'm a Kirkland business owner, that's who!" I chastized my internal monolouger. "My business is effected by what Kirkland does and that matters." And bottom line, I care about Kirkland and I want to see it thrive. I got up and said my piece, a variation on the comments I made in my blog post last night. Each speaker gets only 3 minutes to make their point, so it's hard to be eloquent and not feel rushed. I always wish I could step into situations like that and say the one "silver bullet" sentence that will cut to the heart and end the debate in favor of my side. But of course the silver bullet sentence is mostly just a myth and what it comes down to now is just numbers -- budget numbers for sure, but also just the pure numbers of people who showed up for or against.

There were a lot of interesting points made on both sides, but I think the comment that I'll remember most was made by one elderly, soft-spoken gent who got up in support of the plan shortly before I did and calmly built an entirely new perspective for everyone in the room. "Many people," he said, "have gotten up here and talked about how this plan would ruin the quiet, small town feel of Kirkland. They talk about living here for 20 or 30 years and how Kirkland has always been a bedroom community and they don't want to lose that. Well, I wasn't going to speak at all, but I've lived here a lot longer than that and I can tell you that 60 years ago Kirkland was anything but a quiet bedroom community. It might surprise you to know that 60 years ago Kirkland was considered the most vibrant city on the Eastside. It was called the hub of the Eastside in fact." He then went on to describe how Kirkland at that time employed several thousand people building ships at
Carillon Point -- the largest single employer in Kirkland until Google moved in a couple of years ago. "Those were people who worked in Kirkland and lived in Kirkland. This plan would bring that back. That's good for Kirkland."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Kirkland Planning Commission Meeting Tonight

On my way this evening to Kirkland City Hall to voice my support for the proposed redevelopment of Kirkland Park Place mall by Touchstone Corporation.

Anyone who's familiar with Park Place knows that it ain't what it used to be. I've lived in this area for 21 years now and in that time Park Place has gone from a thriving retail center with restaurants, a bookstore, a movie theater, a grocery store and some office to a run down shell of it's former self. The bookstore is out of business, the clothing stores are gone, the movie theater is old and outdated, the place is mostly empty parking lot. There's one good restaurant there, and a Starbucks and a 24Hr Fitness, but not much else.

The debate is around how it should be updated. The leading proposal is to turn Park Place into a mixed use, town square style facility. This would include expanding the main building to 8 stories of large floor plate office space (30,000 square foot floor plate). The alternative plan is to scrap the mixed use idea and just build a 5 story office building. There are citizen groups who are strongly opposed to this plan, and I need to be sensitive to their concerns. They don’t want to see the flavor of Kirkland change, the small-town quality they value disappear. They fear an 8 story building would signal the beginning of the end of the Kirkland they love.

While I am sensitive to their concerns, it’s my opinion that the plan Touchstone has proposed will enhance those qualities rather than detract from them. I support the redevelopment plan because a mixed use, dense, town square-style development with shops, restaurants and office all fronting on and incorporating
Peter Kirk Park will revitalize downtown Kirkland and save it from sprawl and the slow death of downtown businesses that’s already occurring. Kirkland's goal is to use the large floor plates to entice large, high-paying tech firms to locate in Kirkland and bring with them their young, highly-paid, big spending employees. The city believes, rightly so, that large office spaces and vibrant, interesting environs around those offices are key to achieving that goal.

Because Allyis is one of the largest employers in Kirkland, and a tech company and recently relocated to Kirkland, the developer and the chamber of commerce have asked me to voice my support for the plan. I can tell them, and I will, that in our experience the atmosphere of the work environment matters a great deal to tech workers. We used to be located in downtown Bellevue, surrounded by great amenities, a great view, interesting restaurants for lunch, the transit center a block away. It was great, our employees loved it. We moved out because the landlord wanted to replace the building but that was the only reason. And when we were looking for new office space we tried very hard to avoid suburban office parks. Those dead spaces surrounded by parking lots. Where we've ended up is better than a suburban parking lot, but it could still use a little more "Kirkland Cool"; we're down at the south end of Kirkland and the cool hasn't spilled down this far yet. We do have
Lake Washington and Lake Washington Blvd, which are nice (a great place to walk, bike, run), but restaurants are all a drive away. It would be nice not to have to use our cars just to go out to lunch. A mixed use space would solve that, and I'll be sure to voice that opinion to the city.

But there's an opportunity right now to turn Park Place into a gem, into the kind of space that could really add to the livability of Kirkland and really make it an exciting desirable place to locate your business. High tech companies are full of generation X and Millennial generation workers who want a work lifestyle not just a workplace. And they don’t gravitate to office parks.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's the Right Way to Blog?

Coming out of the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston my colleagues and I have been discussing the idea of blogging. Should one blog for personal reasons, for business reasons, for both? If for business, how formal should you be? Is it OK to talk about things unrelated to your business or should that be reserved for other forums? The shortest answer to those questions, I think, is "to each, his or her own." That is, do whatever the hell works for you. But, for the sake of discussion, here's a brief analysis of four blogs that were mentioned in the "What Blogging Brings to Business" session at the E2.0 conference. I've tried to outline the rhetorical strategy each is taking.

This is Jessica Lipnack who was in the "What Blogs Bring to Business" session as a panelist. She describes her blog as being "about virtual teams, networks, networking, collaboration, Web 2.0, writing and even yoga, knitting, cooking, family and friends." If you read over her posts you'll see that most of the time she jumps around from topic to topic, but then during the period of the E2.0 conference several posts in a row dealt with that event before she then went back to the more ecclectic approach.
Cesar Brea, another panelist at the E2.0 blogging session. His blog is about technology, advertising, media, online communities, Web 2.0. It seems to be more focused on business aspects than some, I think because he uses it as part of his marketing strategy for his two-person consulting firm Force Five Partners ( He's clearly positioning himself as a thought leader, but what's interesting to me is that even in the posts where he's taking the SME stance, he's not making definitive statements, he's speculating from the standpoint of experience -- educated guessing -- but it still comes off sounding credible because he's so clearly thoroughly immersed in the subject matter. As we refine our marketing approach and the idea of marrying culture with technology to the benefit of employees, this blog might be a good model to follow if we wanted to blog as a way of showing how we're remaining up to date on the thinking about how to treat employees, etc.
This is Bill Ives, also a panelist from the blogging session. Here's how he describes his blog: "This blog shares ideas and hopes to generate discussion on enterprise 2.0, business blogs, web 2.0 and knowledge management to provide value to organizations through practical applications. New trends and technologies are covered with a switch to art, music, travel, and food on the weekends." Like I said in the introductory comments to this post, here's an example of a blogger being his whole self: he's strutting his stuff from a business perspective, demonstrating his credentials, but he's being a complete person too, as evidenced by the several posts celebrating the Celtics championship (including a screen shot of the front page of the Boston Globe). So he comes off like a guy who knows a lot, but a guy you'd feel comfortable talking to. I'm pretty certain that's his strategy.
Final example from an E2.0 blogging panelist. He's a lawyer who's heading up a knowledge management project at his law firm and his blog is entirely focused on that project, knowledge management software and Enterprise 2.0 within the practice of law. His blog is, at first blush, more conservative than the others because he's blogging as his professional self from within the strict and conservative confines of the law firm (he's got a legal disclaimer on his profile page). However, he has links to other sites he maintains that are quite a bit less formal -- Facebook, FriendFeed, Picasa and even Twitter where, among professionally related posts you'll also find this post: "George Carlin has died. S**t, F**k, etc". Not to sound like a broken record, but I do think it's interesting that even on this buttoned-down, formal blog, he finds ways to infuse his humanity and personality. There seems to be an expectation that such things will exist on a blog.

So my take away from all these is try to be truly who you are, speak in your truest voice. If you don't, you won't be able to maintain the conversation for long.

The Fugitive

When I was 17 I stayed out all night with friends. Stolen beer and borrowed cigarettes. Inevitably nights would end and I would slide through the front door of my house, creep past dark furniture toward the safety of my bedroom upstairs. Tensing with each fugitive footstep lest a floorboard creak and wake my parents who would demand, with sleep in their eyes, that I explain myself when I was not ready to do so.

Now I am 39 and I don’t sleep all night. Thoughts of work I need to do and ambitions I have not met. Inevitably I cast the sheets aside and get out of bed, slide through the darkened house toward the stairs and the sanctity of my office downstairs. Tensing with each tired footstep lest a stair creak or my knees pop and wake my children who will demand, with sleep in their eyes, that I make them breakfast and watch Mr. Rogers when I am not ready to do so.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars -- I Want One

Interesting event happening in California this week. Major car makers -- who all, it turns out, have been developing hydrogen fuel cell cars while our government slept with the oil companies -- are holding a 200 mile public relations road rally. They're showing off their vehicles to the public in an effort to raise awareness of the viability of this technology and to add impetus to the push to build the "Hydrogen Highway", a network of hydrogen stations running the length of California. They've already got my support. Is this going to be the technology that replaces internal combustion gasoline fueled engines and makes the US energy independent? It's still too early to say for certain, but it's clear that at the fringes and behind the scenes there's great technical innovation happening, it's clear that innovation is not happening among the oil companies and it's clear that if we could just get a network of people to support ideas like the Hydrogen Highway financially until it's proven, we could really move the world forward.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Twitter: More Powerful Than It May First Appear

Last week I attended the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston. Four full days of presentations and discussion about the use of social networking and collaboration tools -- like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs and wikis -- in a business context. I may report more on the conference in future posts, but right now I want to share my thoughts about just one of the tools I learned about: Twitter.

When I was a kid I would sometimes spend summers at my grandmother’s house on
Mercer Island. The bedroom I slept in was on the other side of a thin wall from grandma’s room and a couple of mornings a week I would awake to the sound of her voice. I would listen as she made her way through her address book, calling each of her friends on the phone. Each call lasted only a minute or two – a couple of questions about what they had planned for the day, or how their families were doing, were they gardening, had they seen the article in the paper about thus and such. “Good, good. Well, goodbye,” she would say and move on to the next friend. As I got older and more cynical I would joke that she was just checking to see who was still alive and who could be crossed out of the address book. But I know there was more to it than that. She was maintaining her connection to her friends. Knowing them. And giving them something by which to know her. Actively. Proactively. She didn’t just have connections to her friends she cultivated them.

I do not do that with my friends.
They do not do that with me.

It is a myth that we really know each other.

In my experience, most people desire to be more connected to one another than they are.

And yet, as strong as our desire to connect is, our inhibition about reaching out across the distance that divides us is even stronger. The physical distance may be miniscule – the scant few inches that separate you from the person sitting in the seat next to you on the bus, the few feet that separate you from the other professionals at the after work networking event, the few minutes of driving that separate you from friends who may live in your same town, or even the socially-constructed barriers of hierarchical roles within the workplace. It is not the physical distance that stops us from moving to connect, it is the emotional distance.

In the absence of regular interaction with each other, we become rooted in the belief that there’s more that makes us different than makes us similar and so we back away from each other. I find it hard to bring myself to pick up the phone and call someone for a chat. I seldom see those I call my friends. Consequently I know less and less about them and about their lives and about what’s on their minds. And so I know them less and less.

To my great surprise, my experience with Twitter in the last week has had the effect of reversing that slide into emotional distance. Suddenly, with Twitter, my friends and I are sharing our lives and our thoughts a flash at a time. Each post is a single frame of a life. Like a film, each frame viewed by itself is only mildly interesting, if that. But when you tie the frames together, and move them past your eye sequentially, suddenly a story takes shape. A thousand frozen moments tied together make movement and that movement (in films and, it turns out, in Twitter) can be moving.

There’s something significant about knowing people’s’ small moments over the arc of time. When you don’t talk between meetings you get together and spend time catching up, but you don’t know the movements that brought them through time to be with you. You don’t know the changing shape of their lives beyond what they’re able to remember or explain to you in the few minutes you spend together. Those movements through time – those instances when you get on a ferry and react to the view, when you misplace your wallet on the way to
Steamboat Springs and worry about it, when your three-year-old gets out of bed to go to the bathroom for the ninth time in an hour and you marvel at their ability to keep producing, when you ponder the metaphysical meaning of the fact that, following your youngest’s 6th grade graduation, you are now the parent of a jr higher and a high schooler – those moments build the real you, they are the real you.

Those moments typically burn off, escape like radiant heat. Twitter captures them.

And the result, in friendships and business relationships, is truer representations of ourselves. More open, more human, more revealing of personality, more welcoming. Twitter stands us before each other arms open in a welcoming embrace. The impact? In friendships, deeper connections. In business, the breakdown of perceived hierarchical barriers, more openness, honesty and effectiveness when people come together outside of Twitter.

Find me on Twitter.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Announcing Ethan's Summer 2008 Gasoline Challenge

“The biggest single step we can take to cut global warming pollution is make our cars go farther on a gallon of gas -- and it'll also save you money at the pump!” -- Sierra Club

I can’t make my car go much farther on a gallon of gas than it already does – I keep my tires properly inflated, I keep my engine well-tuned, I don’t carry any excess weight (except for myself when I head home from the Pagliacci Pizza restaurant). Best I can calculate, I’m getting about 24 miles to the gallon. Good, not great. Not great, not acceptable. So I’m trying to make myself go farther without my car.

I’m taking drastic action and I hereby announce:


The Gasoline Challenge works like this:

Duration of challenge: 5 months (May, June, July, August, September of 2008)
Goal: To limit to 1,000 the number of solo-driving miles I amass during this time.
Rules: There’s only one rule; I can carpool or ride public transportation as much as I want to, but if I’m driving all by myself, I only have a budget of 1,000 miles for the 5 months of this challenge. That’s an average of 200 miles per month of solo driving. It’s about 20 miles from home to work, so just in commuting my miles can add up quickly.

Report: I’m a month and a half into the challenge now. So how am I doing? See below.

May 2008: Miles budgeted – 200/ Miles used – 60.3/Challenge Miles Remaining – 939.7
June 2008 (through 6/14): Miles budgeted – 200/Miles used – 97.1/Challenge Miles Remaining – 842.6

So far it’s been much easier to forego solo driving than I anticipated. I have long been a creature of comfort and I’ve resisted public transportation and carpooling because I liked being alone in my car with my radio on, coming and going whenever I chose. What I’ve discovered is that thanks to my iPod I can achieve the solitude I like so much (even on a crowded bus) and I get the effect of listening to the car radio. As for coming and going when I choose, I can’t do that when I ride the bus or carpool – I do have to bow to someone else’s schedule. But the payoff for giving up some schedule control is the satisfaction that I’m not shelling out huge bucks to the robber barons in OPEC and the oil companies. It costs me over $60 to fill my 2004 Honda Accord with regular unleaded and I’ve only had to fill up once since this challenge began.

And most important of all to me, is that I am reducing my individual carbon footprint by doing this. Each gallon of gasoline burned yields approximately 20 pounds of Carbon Dioxide. Therefore, if I’m getting 24 miles per gallon of gas and driving 40 miles round trip to work and back, then in one trip I produce over 33 pounds of CO2! If I drive that trip 5 days a week, 4 weeks a month, that’s 660 pounds of CO2 every month! If there are 48.6 work weeks in a year and I drive solo every work day, I’m pumping out 8,019 pounds of CO2 every year just driving to work.

CO2 is the waste product of our chosen primary means of transport in modern America. The primary means of transport in previous eras also produced large quantities of waste. Those were horses and the waste product was horse poop. Imagine if we could see the waste our cars are making the way you would be able to see 8,000 pounds of horse poop. Our cars are squeezing out big heavy car turds every year all over the road. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

There's still 3 1/2 months left in the Gasoline challenge -- that's 650 miles of solo driving if you want to use the full 200 available per month. Anyone interested in joining the challenge? Email me and let me know. It would be great to have you and to know what your experience is.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Customer Service: Some Thoughts on the Bad Kind

As one of the leaders of a service company I’m always tuned in to examples of good and bad service. Unfortunately, too often, it seems like businesses don’t give much of a damn anymore.

Case in point: I just returned from a business trip to Boston where I attended a conference at the
Westin Boston Waterfront hotel .

277 bucks a night. To me, that’s a lot of dough for a bedroom and a toilet, but that’s where the conference was and they did advertise that the hotel was a very nice one – worth the $277 per night, they implied.

Outwardly, it’s a beautiful hotel, as you can see from the pictures on the web site. But the truth is there were a lot of little nagging service issues which ultimately turned me off to the place.
1. The in-room coffee maker had old, standing water in it – red water! House keeping didn’t clean the coffee maker in the 4 days I was there.
2. The in-room safe didn’t work: the door would not lock no matter how many times I went through the exact sequence of instructions provided
3. Wireless internet for the conference couldn’t handle the traffic and kept crashing.
4. To apologize for the crashing wireless, hotel management sent up a plate of strawberries, a cookie, a bottle of water and a glass. I acknowledge it was a nice gesture…but, dudes, the glass was dirty.
5. On the final morning of my stay, housekeeping knocked on the door at 7:30 am. When I opened it, the woman bluntly asked me “When are you leaving?” I asked her what time was check out. She said noon. I replied I’d be leaving at noon. “OK. That’s your choice,” she said and walked away.

Now, I know to some I come off sounding like a spoiled business snob here, and I am aware there are significantly bigger problems in the world than whether or not I have a clean glass. I have the luxury of being able to complain; I get that. But I’m speaking from the standpoint of how to run a business. I’m simply saying that if you base your business model on providing a particular experience for customers, and you use the implied promise of that experience as justification for what you charge, then as a business you have an obligation to make sure the experience delivered is the experience promised. You can’t have your marketing department describing one reality and your staff delivering another.

Though I’ve used this space to talk about service problems as delivered by the Westin staff, it’s my belief that the cause of the problem is not the staff but the management – the corporate management. Is the corporate management inspiring their hotel staff to want to deliver great, above-and-beyond service to guests by providing the staff excellent support, benefits and compensation? I would bet money that the answer is no. Where management fails to deliver beyond expectations for employees, employees stop short in delivering for customers.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why My Northwest Life?

As a first entry, maybe I should briefly explain why I titled this blog what I did: "My Northwest Life." The truth is it was harder than I expected to pick the name. I came here thinking I'd like to start blogging about my interest in the Green movement and the battle against global climate change and so I thought about naming this blog something related to green..."It's not easy being green" occurred to me. But I quickly realized I have too many thoughts swirling through my brain to limit myself to a single topic. I want to be free to write about any aspect of my life that is preeminent on any given day. I don't want to be constrained by the expectations created by a title -- even a title I've created. So, since I live in the Northwest corner of the United States (Seattle area) I thought to name the blog something relating to life here. "A life in the clouds" came to mind (clever I thought since it addresses the fact that the sun never shines here in Seattle and it incorporates the idea of cloud computing of which blogging is a signature element). But that title was too long for the URL, I thought and emphasizing the idea of clouds might give you the impression that I was depressed -- as though clouds were a metaphor for my outlook on the world. In truth, I tend to be quite optimistic and so I didn't want to imply a pessimism that isn't there. So, "My Northwest Life" is where I settled. It has a geographic specificity that I'm happy about (al beit a relative specificity given that my Northwest may be your Northeast, Southeast or Southwest, but be that as it may) and it's broad enough that I can write about whatever I want and not be accused of going off topic: I may talk about green issues, I may talk about bran muffins, I might lament the hole in my sock and it's all just part of the life that's unfolding for me here in the Northwest corner of the U.S.