Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

The Joker

3288542484_d020daa685I may be late to the party, but I always have a good time.

See, I final caught Heath Ledger’s swan song in The Dark Knight and, like many people, his performance as the Joker really got under my skin.

Weird, damaged, and menacingly off-kilter, Ledger’s Joker embodies everything that Western rationalism apparently opposes and inevitably calls forth.

Unlike those shadowy figures who are thus labeled, this Joker is a terrorist in the most literal sense of the word: his sole aim is the production of a blithely dehumanizing, sanity annihilating, shockingly atavistic terror, specifically, the terror evoked by abject encounters with the chaotic void from which all reality issues and to which it inexorably returns.

The film gets evil precisely right when the Joker says, “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.” From the standpoint of law and order, in either a secular or non-secular sense, the idea that there is no absolute line dividing right from wrong or good from evil is intolerable. To celebrate those acts condemned by the dominant system leaves its hierarchy of values in place; to reject the legitimacy of any hierarchy at all is satanic rebellion.

(On a side note, I hear in the Joker’s ethos the pragmatic view that an unconditional flexibility – no fixed, dogmatic rules  – provides the key to adaptive survival. Of course, the amorality of adaptation, which is really just an opportunistic and even accidental “going with the flow,” is what truly frightens opponents of evolutionary theory.)

The film gets chaos precisely wrong. The violence and mayhem orchestrated by the Joker undeniably reflects the pervading notion of chaos as unpredictable, unassimilable, and overwhelming activity, but therein lies its error. True disorder is not characterized by a lot of something happening, but rather by a lot of nothing happening.

Indeed, the most accurate image of chaos we can muster is the heat death which awaits us as the entropic end of it all. When there is no longer any difference in energy states anywhere in the universe the pure state of chaos has been attained and it is, by definition, indistinguishable from nothingness. (Of course, this is why reviewers were unanimous in designating the Joker’s worldview “nihilistic.”)

By taking the side of the entropic decay and unstoppable disintegration of order, the Joker aligns himself with the grinding momentum of reality itself. It’s also why he is, as he says, “ahead of the curve,” and always one step ahead of Batman and the police; reality’s motion, its long march towards total dissolution is always one step ahead of us. We can never overtake it and are always, in the end and even before, overtaken.

Yet, it is this fact, the ultimate source of the Joker’s power, which also makes Batman’s adherence to his “one rule” truly heroic, though in the tragic sense. Belief in the timeless and unquestionable validity of “the rule” requires the denial of reality (that all rules are provisional, conventional, mutable ) and is, insofar, utter folly. Nevertheless, the faith expressed in devotion to “the rule” constitutes the stuff of valor and is, therewith, utterly human.

This raises the very question posed insistently and insidiously by the Joker as envisioned by Heath Ledger:

Does the unblinking acceptance of reality call for the overcoming of our humanity?

And if it does, should we?

Image Courtesy of Joan Thewlis.

Does Your Company Need a Blog, a Facebook Page, a YouTube Channel, and a Twitter Feed?

Actually, the answer to that question is fairly simple: I don’t know.

I realize that answer might not be very helpful, but at least it’s honest.

Fact is, you can only figure out if you need those things, and what you’ll do with them once you got ’em, after you’ve decided what it is you want to do.

In other words, I would prefer to answer that question with this question: What do you want to do or get other people to do?

Retro-tech as Virtual Gatekeeper


A job-seeker recently told me that a local public radio station explicitly asked applicants to SEND THEIR RESUMES AND REFERENCES VIA SNAIL MAIL. This set me to thinking.

While email has made communication faster and easier, it has also lowered certain barriers. Applying for a job in the old days, when you had to type up a cover letter, print out your resume, and then entrust your career ambitions to the postal bureaucracy, meant that the application process itself served as a filter. It was a hassle. You had to really want the job in order put in the effort.

Nowadays, applying for a job is just a question of pointing and clicking, a fact that effectively devalues the act of applying itself. (The additional fact that companies let machines scan resumes for keywords before forwarding them to a human being is one potent indicator of this devaluation.) By making applicants jump through an out-moded hoop, the radio station erected an initial screen and therewith cut down on the number of frivolous applications from the unqualified and the quasi-interested.

Now, consider reverse-engineering this move and, next time you apply for a job, actually print out a cover letter, etc., and send the whole dang thing off. Although there was nothing differentiating in the past about this approach – it was the main and most common way to apply for jobs – it’s quaintness will now distinguish it from the torrent of digital applications.

Just an idea.

Image Courtesy of uzvards.

Coltrane and the Face of God

103148874_3d354e74e3_mListening to Coltrane’s Settin’ the Pace. It’s not one of his greatest hits and even the various jazz cd review books give it second tier status, but I really enjoy it. “I See Your Face Before Me” is the lead track, an exquisite ballad that I humbly believe outshines the more famous “I Want to Talk About You” from Soultrane.

Still, saying this or that by Coltrane is better than this or that by Coltrane seems trivial and, frankly, beside the point (much like I found Ben Ratliff’s book on Coltrane’s sound). These are just opinions, after all, and vanity, moreover. Who cares what you/I think about any particular work by this man? It’s a mixture of hero-worship and elevation-by-association that frankly demeans the opiner by revealing a lamentable failure to listen.

I read an interview with Matisyahu once in which he pointed to the number of love songs out there as an indication of how much people are yearning for the love of God.  “People feel abandoned by God, they feel alone. You see by the number of love songs there are, it’s a proof of that,” he said.

Coltrane’s devotion to God causes me to hear in his ballads blessed celebration and the joy of reunion. The face he sees before him, is the face of God. The “you” he wants to talk about is You, My Lord.

Image Courtesy of Flykr.

Like Soilent Green, Content IS People

2987167878_fa9e3315a1_mLast week on Twitter, Lewis Green asked if anyone was interested in writing a guest post for his blog, bizsolutionsplus. I said I’d been playing around with the idea of content as a process, not a product, and he encouraged me to write something on that topic. What I came up with was, “Content Is Still King (It’s Just Not What You Think It Is),” which was inspired in part by Mack Collier’s provocative assertion that “content is king” is “total bullshit.”

My main point was that stand alone content (whether in the form of a blog post, a white paper, an eBook, or whatever), no matter how well written, had certainly been dethroned, but that it’s place on the throne had been taken by all the content created by members of an organization in the course of their numerous, ongoing, continually evolving online activities. (This point is not dissimilar from Mack’s that your activites off your blog are what make your content interesting, relevant, and attractive.)

Now it is certainly easier to manage a collection of discrete, set pieces than it is to manage an unpredictable range of actions undertaken by a constantly shifting and sometimes loosely defined group of people, and yet that is the challenge facing anyone interested in developing and executing a meaningful content-based marketing strategy today.

What makes the shift from content as product to content as process particularly challenging is that it forces marketers to involve themselves in business operations to an unprecedented degree because, at the end of the day, an organization’s people are rapidly becoming its most active and vital communications channel.

At the same time, these people – their attitudes, their personality, their style, their abilities, and their actions – serve as more than a channel; they constitute in themselves a company’s most meaningful and influential content.

My question on Lewis’ blog and here is: Are marketers ready to engage the rest of their organization as intensively as the rest of the organization is engaging current and prospective customers day to day and minute by minute?

Image Courtesy of miuenski.

My Greatest Weakness

2642520243_9c9a71d7fb_mI would say that my greatest weakness is a certain vindictive ruthlessness. I happen to be VERY competitive and when I compete, I don’t want to just win, I want to crush my opponent. Utterly. Totally. I don’t want to face them again in the future when they have gotten stronger, wiser, better. I want them broken. Forever.

Were I to name my second greatest weakness, it would be, ironically, a tendency to indulge in arbitrary acts of magnanimity and selfless mercy. For example, there are times when I stop short of annihilating my rivals and, instead, leave them with a sense of hope, even encouragement. That is, although my dominance and superiority will be painfully obvious to them, by praising their abilities and hinting at anxiety concerning an inevitable, future clash, from which I openly suggest I do not foresee myself emerging victorious, I practically invite them to return and challenge me again once their wounds have healed and their strength has been renewed.

Of course, when they do return, I obliterate them. Which I guess makes my second weakness just an extension of my first, when you really look at it.

So, what’s your greatest weakness?

Image Courtesy of vaXzine.

Some Models of Enlightened Behavior

If you drop something, pick it up.

When the bill comes, pay it.

When the phone rings, answer it.

When the light turns green, go.

Some Definitions of Enlightenment

To be the same person in every situation, whomever you meet, whereever you go.

To be the same person, without masks, without ruses, without guile, without anxiety or greed, without schemes, agendas, or goals.

To be the same person you were before you were born and after you’re dead. A carbon atom doesn’t change when it belongs to a carrot or a rabbit or a hawk.

Why should you?

Clients in Every Direction: The Keys to Successful Web Project Management

390810384_ee1a79b593_m“When you’re a project manager, everyone’s your client,” says Sheila D’Aniello, a web project manager represented by Aquent’s Chicago Office.

After initially launching her career in the world of broadcast journalism some years back, Sheila increasingly found herself taking on project management roles across a range of industries. She eventually entered the web/interactive realm in 2000, when Monster/TMP hired her to manage a variety of projects, from producing CD-ROMs to the development of high profile, customized corporate and university job-sites.

Along the way she learned an important lesson: the project manager is “client facing” wherever she turns.

“Aside from internal and external clients, account directors and account services people, my team is my client – in many ways, the most important one. The team is looking to me to manage communication with all the other clients and they have to trust me. They have to know I’m on their side. And, when something happens, they should feel like, “Sheila’s going to take care of this.”

Really just make it happen.

Web project managers are “managers,” but they are also mediators and facilitators, and that poses interesting challenges. “You’re managing people,” Sheila explains, “but you really only manage their time and their resources – that is, on top of managing the project budget, the time-line, the scope of the work, and all that.

“You manage them, but you don’t give people their reviews or have hire-fire power. This means you can’t get caught up in personnel issues. Your attitude with your team needs to always be: ‘How can I help you?’ and ‘I’ll make it happen.'”

Listen to what they don’t say.

In addition to being organized and resourceful, a web project manager has to be a “people person,” someone intensely focused on building relationships and creating alliances. This means developing a communication style centered around listening and understanding needs.

But uncovering the real needs of a client isn’t always easy when you’re simultaneously trying to understand their expectations, objectives, and pressures. How do you do it?

“Listen to what they don’t say,” Sheila advises. “The client may have a challenge with approvals, or with their manager. Clients don’t always tell you. You’ve got to listen between the lines.”

“I need a visual.”

Web project managers move between distinct communities with their own unique jargon and shared reference points. “You work with a lot of different people in different roles and at different levels of the organization. At the same time you’ve got to keep information moving between these groups. The people on your team may be very technical, but your other clients may not be. You’ve got to keep the messages clear.

“You have to help your team make it more real, and that starts with explaining it to you in a way you can pass it on. You got to keep saying, ‘I need a visual. Make it plain. Give me an example.’ In the end, you have to understand, because you’re the one who has to go back to the client and explain it to them.”

When things are not going right, bring the solution.

It’s the nature of project management that the best laid plans sometimes go awry. That’s why Sheila says, “You always need to be doing your best to understand when things are not going right.

“Things can pop up,” she continues, “but you can’t just go to the client and say, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’ You always need to be coming with the solution.”

The key is building relationships.

“When things are not going right, the client will forgive you if you have the relationship with them already. If not, they may go elsewhere,” Sheila warns. Of course, the more people involved in a given project, the more difficult forming and maintaining these relationships can be.

“Who does the client have a relationship with? Managing that can be a challenge, and it means that you yourself have to build relationships with clients, both internal and external. Those relationships are really the key.”

Relationships don’t stop with the client, however. “You need to create alliances in all directions,” Sheila says, so that you have a reliable network of resources and can “gather information from wherever” as the need arises.

Watch out for burn out.

Thanks to the unique requirements and special demands of web project management, “It’s hard to find these people,” Sheila states.

At the same time, it can be hard retaining them. “Project manager’s get burned out. If companies want to hold on to the good ones, they need some place to go, a next step, an opportunity to really grow.”

As she puts it, “Project managers need a different career path.” She adds, “So we don’t have to become consultants.”

This report from the web project management trenches first appeared on June 11, 2008. – Matt

Image Courtesy of Dave Schumaker.

MarketingProfs B2B Forum, Boston 2009 – Assorted Afterthoughts

3609889588_dd2d4ff833_mI spent Monday and Tuesday at MarketingProfs B2B Forum where I moderated a panel on “creating robust content to engage customers and prospects.” The panelists – Phil Juliano of Novell, Valeria Maltoni (the Conversation Agent), Chris Penn of the Student Loan Network, and Mike O’Toole of PJA – were all smart, funny, articulate and great to work with. It was a privilege to be associated with these folks.

While I hope that our panel discussion, which Valeria recapped on her blog and which Mike and I previewed on MarketingProfs DailyFix, provided attendees with a useful framework and practical advice for advancing their content-based marketing initiatives, I know for a fact that I learned a lot from the sessions I visited and the numerous people I met at this conference. To whit:

  • More and more B2B marketers are feeling the need to leverage social media but are not sure where to start.
  • Even when they are producing interesting content, organizations are not taking advantage of the many available distribution channels nor are they thoughtfully or aggressively re-purposing this content.
  • Even though marketing department budgets and staff have been cut drastically, companies still need to market their products and services, which seems to offer a lot of opportunities for independent consultants and agencies.
  • Companies don’t realize the importance of integrating their SEO efforts with the full range of marketing, advertising, and, most importantly, IT initiatives.
  • As a corollary, the lines of communication and collaboration between IT and Marketing seem to be broken, which is a problem because the state of marketing today calls for increasing and ongoing integration with IT.
  • Finally, the individuals on your sales force are your most important channel in the B2B space, so your marketing efforts need to be geared at educating, enabling, and empowering them.

I have more to say on each of these topics but am actually more curious to hear what you have to say about them. This stuff sound right? Wrong? Whatever?

Image Courtesy of Bob Collins. Thanks, Bob!