Cumulus Partners

5. November 2010 04:49

Curtains before Thanksgiving

5. November 2010 04:49 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

I'm taking a quick break from editing a book manuscript about risk management. I write and edit books on the desktop computer in my home office; I write my blog on the laptop in the dining room. Some days, my main exercise consists of moving from one computer to another. Ah, the life of a modern writer!

At any rate, writing in the dining room brings up another issue: New curtains. Thanks to the efforts of a local builder, the vacant lot next door has been transformed into a towering mega-mansion. It's very pretty, but it's huge -- and when its owners move in, they will be able to gaze directly down into our dining room. Hence the need for new curtains.

My wife is in charge of any home improvements involving curtains, and she wants to get the new curtains up before Thanksgiving. This has created a certain, shall we say, atmosphere of tension in the house this morning. I had grown accustomed to ignoring the construction workers next door; it's a lot more difficult ignoreing my wife as she measures windows and tries to figure out which fabric is best for ensuring a degree of privacy without turning the room into a dark cave.

I am confident that she will meet the challenge and devise an elegant solution. Meantime, I'm retreating back to the home office!

2. November 2010 08:23

The future will be different ...

2. November 2010 08:23 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

I attended the Fairfield Westchester Chapter Society for Information Management CIO Executive Leadership Summit last week in Greenwich last week. It was a good event, with an all-star cast of CIOs and IT management gurus. A highlight of the day was the closing keynote by David A. Smith, a UK-based management consultant and futurist. His talk reminded us that the future won't be "more of the same only in a slightly different flavor" -- the future will be strikingly different. There were about 300 people in attendance, and I saw some of them reacting with skepticism to David's remarks. I also saw many of them paying close attention, and nodding in agreement with David's key points.

David obviously doesn't have a lock on the future -- nobody does. But his chat reminded us that predicting the future isn't easy, especially when your view of the future is clouded by your view of the present.

18. October 2010 14:25

The cover has landed!

18. October 2010 14:25 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Well, the nice folks at Wiley have finished the cover design for our new book, and you are the first to see it:


12. October 2010 12:25

Speaking notes for panel appearance

12. October 2010 12:25 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

On Thursday evening I will be a panelist at a Hamilton College alumni event at the Random House Book Club. The official name of the event is "Book Publishing: Insiders Look at a Rapidly Changing Industry." Here are my speaking notes. The rest will be off the cuff. 

I write non-fiction books. Business books, specifically. I’ve written books on topics such as 

·        marketing

·        marketing technology

·        information technology

·        information technology management

·        information technology management strategy

·        software development strategy

·        and I just finished a book about corporate social media strategy … 

I also wrote a book about the history of the city of Stamford, Connecticut. 

Because I was a newspaper reporter for many years, all of my books tend to read like 220-page newspaper articles. I write in a form called narrative non-fiction … which means that I try to use the same story-telling techniques you would find in any decent work of literature to convey the messages that I’m trying to get across in whatever business book that I’m writing. 

I graduated from Hamilton in 1975. I was an English major. I use pretty much the exact same set of skills sets to write business books that I learned at Hamilton when I was writing papers for my English professors.  

If you can write papers about Shakespeare and Elizabethan poetry, if you can stay up until 3 a.m. writing essays about Dryden, Milton, Melville, Hardy …Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg or Gary Snyder … then you can write about pretty much anything. 

The basic skills are the same. You’re assigned a topic that you know nothing about, you worry and fret about it for quite a while, then you do some research, you interview some experts, you take notes, you write it all up – and suddenly you’re done and you’re ready for the next job!  

That being said, I couldn’t do the kind of work I do today without having worked for 18 years in daily newspaper journalism. That’s where I learned the discipline of writing and the basic skills of tracking down sources and interviewing them.  

You need those basic journalism skills – finding sources, contacting them, convincing them to meet with you … and then actually interviewing them, taking notes, writing up your notes and turning them into readable prose … … you need those journalism skills to survive as a non-fiction writer, at any level in the publishing business. 

But for me, I can honestly say that my ability to write about complex difficult subjects that I know very little about – that ability, which I now count upon to put food on the table and to pay the mortgage – my ability – and my interest in doing that for a living – was first developed at Hamilton, during those long cold winter nights when I was staying up until 3 o’clock in the morning writing essays for English professors like Ivan Marki, Dwight Lindley and Austin Briggs. 

So even when I’m working in my home office in Fairfield, Connecticut, part of me is still up there in Dunham or Bundy, trying to write something clever about Beowolf or The Faerie Queene.  

Take pride in your work, but park your ego at the curb. You have to let go of your ego to do this kind of work … that’s the real challenge of being a ghostwriter … or any kind of professional writer … you can take pride in your abilities, but you have to let your ego vanish …

Anything I say beyond that will be in response to specific questions. It will be interesting to see what kind of questions people ask ...

19. September 2010 04:39

Meditations on Yom Kippur and Herman Melville

19. September 2010 04:39 by mike barlow | 2 Comments

Like many of my fellow Hebrews, I spent yesterday fasting, meditating and reflecting. I read parts of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. I also began re-reading "Moby-Dick" for the first time in many years. Somehow it seemed a perfect fit for Yom Kippur. It is powerful and beyond simple understanding. It is full of wonder, awe, amazement, and mystery.

The writer part of me was gratified (if that's the right word) to discover that "Moby-Dick" is constructed on a general framework that is familiar to traditional newspaper journalists: Introduce a character, tell a little story about him, and then start shoveling in background material. Repeat the process until deadline. I use a roughly similar framework to write the "narrative non-fiction/long-form journalism" business books that pay my mortgage.

When I was younger, I did not appreciate the sacred friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg. When I read the book as a teen, I figured, "Well, everyone has friends. What's the big deal?" I also failed to notice the care with which Melville's builds our knowledge of Queequeg. Every word describing Queequeg's appearance and actions is so nicely chosen. He springs to life on the pages; you feel as though you have found a friend.

Back in 1970, I had an equally shallow take on Captain Ahab: As a young reader, I didn't find him frightening; he was merely the lead actor in cast of "colorful" characters. Now he is truly terrifying to me -- a force of nature, out of control, and deadly.

If you had asked me 40 years ago if "Moby-Dick" was a plot-driven book or a character-driven book, I would have said the former. Now I can see that Melville is the equal of Shakespeare in the character-development department. Ishmael, Queequeg, Ahab, Starbuck, Stubb, Flask -- I'd put them up against the likes of Macbeth, Othello, Iago, Falstaff and Richard III any day.

Blessings for the new year, no matter which stars or constellations you follow!

9. September 2010 03:15

The new name game ... CRM, VRM, SCRM, etc ...

9. September 2010 03:15 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote a post the other day about CRM, SCRM and VRM. The gist of their argument is that SCRM (social customer relationship management) is an oxymoron, and that VRM (vendor relationship management) is the next big thing in the expanding universe of relationship management.

It's a great post, but lots of us still have faith in the basic idea that SCRM is the logical extension of CRM. I think you can make a pretty good case that the convergence of cloud, mobile and social computing is simply enabling the "next generation" of CRM, and that some of us are calling that next generation "SCRM," perhaps for lack of a better term.

Then again, maybe the term "SCRM" is too silly, and we should just call it "CRM II." 

8. September 2010 03:09

Catching up to the 'new' economy

8. September 2010 03:09 by mike barlow | 1 Comments

Chris Brogan writes a great blog, as most of you probably know. I recommend today's post (Looking for Work) and the many excellent comments that it inspired, especially if you feel like a refugee from the post-modern economy.

Chris touches on an important and very under-reported topic. And by the way, it's under-reported because most mainstream journalists (those who are still employed, that is) are working for huge corporations. As the global corporate economy continues evolving into something resembling the Matrix, more and more of us will have no choice but to rely on our entrepreneurial skills to survive. So my question is: When will the education system catch up with this? When will "mainstream" society figure this out?

The world has changed and the vast majority of those cushy corporate jobs have vaporized -- and will never return. Those jobs were the byproducts of the post-WWII U.S. economic hegemony. From 1945 until 2008, we operated as a virtual monopoly (We had a scare in 1973, but everyone forgot about it when the economy recovered in the 1980s). Now that we've got serious competition (the world *is* flat), the fat times are truly over. I'm not complaining -- I'm just amazed by how many people are still out there hunting for plush corporate gigs that no longer exist.

4. September 2010 02:49

Lost moon

4. September 2010 02:49 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

Last night I spent a couple of hours watching cable and listening to Gene Kranz talk about the Apollo missions. The program aired on C-SPAN 3, and it was part of a longer oral history project undertaken in the late 1990s. For fans of the "Apollo 13" movie, Kranz was the guy in the white vest played by Ed Harris. Kranz was the NASA flight director who, among other accomplishments, helped Neil and Buzz set down on the moon in 1969 and guided the successful rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts after an explosion crippled their spacecraft on its way to the moon.

But listening to Kranz was like listening to a guy talking about building the pyramids. I was a teenager when the Apollo missions were launched, but from a cultural perspective, it seems as though they happened thousands of years ago. The distance we've traveled as a culture since those days is astonishing. The journey took us to some better places, but we also managed to lose a lot of our stuff on the long trip. I simply cannot imagine assembling a team of people with the same levels of discipline, intelligence, experience, imagination, energy, talent and focus that came together under the NASA umbrella back in the 1960s.

The 1960s were special -- the dawning of the Age of Aquarius! But they were also the ending of an era, and I worry about some of the baggage that we tossed out the windows as we drove into the future.


5. August 2010 15:11

Put a fork in it ...

5. August 2010 15:11 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

OK, we've finished writing THE BOOK! Yes, the manuscript for "The Executive's Guide to Enterprise Social Media Strategy" has been submitted to our wonderful editors at John Wiley & Sons, and they are checking it now to make sure we didn't sneak any bad words into the text! But seriously, it's moving through the editing process and that means it's on schedule! Whoopeee!!!

1. August 2010 08:22

Kayaking on the Hudson

1. August 2010 08:22 by mike barlow | 0 Comments

My apologies for not posting sooner. Just returned from a wonderful micro-vacation with the family. We went kayaking on the Hudson River, and it was a fantastic experience. We hired a guide from Storm King Adventure Tours, and she was great! The kids got to jump from a railroad trestle into the river, which added just the right degree of danger and excitement! Now I want to kayak the Colorado River! Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.