Marketing hacks, linchpins, and tech women of valor

I've been unusually busy the last few weeks, so I haven't had much of a chance to sit quietly, read deeply, or sift singlemindedly through the online conversations I care about. Here's a breathless sort of wrap-up.

Jailbreaking the Status Quo

While I've been chipping away at a backlog of work, people I attend to have been reacting to disaster in Haiti; the mystery and mystique of the imminent iPad; the form and future of reading; closed devices and the threat to tinkerers; the form and future of work; and issues of gender, self-assertion, and corporate advancement.

Back on January 15, Internet pundit and author Clay Shirky posted A Rant About Women, which encouraged women to (depending on your point of view and interpretation): adopt the most callow attributes of male braggadocio, promote themselves more boldly in the workplace, use "male" tactics of hyper-confidence and self-inflation to open doors. Not surprisingly, the post unleashed a firestorm of response, ranging from sweaty high-fives to thoughtful rejections.

This topic and recurring experiences in my own professional life always remind me of the Jodie Foster movie Contact, which does such a wonderful job of showing how even the most tough-minded and successful women can be undermined by lying and unscrupulous corporate climbers. It also reminds me to mention one antidote: the Grace Hopper Celebration, a conference for women in computing, where the call for participation remains open till March 16.


banana_linchpin.jpgJanuary 26 marked the publication of "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?," a new title from unstoppable marketeer and prolific author Seth Godin. In a genre pioneered by Daniel Pink and Timothy Ferris, Godin dispenses advise in an appealing new-think business book about releasing your inner artist and letting your creativity ship. Godin describes a familiar landscape, where being a well-greased cog in the machine and following the rules no longer buys you a job for life. It's a world where creativity and daring and getting your lizard brain out of the way trump corporate entropy and make you indispensable as an artist and employee. To me, one of the most interesting things about Linchpin was the highly original marketing strategy Godin is using to pre-launch the book and extend its buzz. His tactics form a brilliant live demo for some of his key principles.

Godin shipped early review copies to anyone who sent a minimal donation to the Acumen Fund, "a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty." The methods and mantras of Acumen are perfectly congruent with the messages of "Linchpin." By aligning a new, entrepreneurial model of philanthropy with a new model of self-marketing, Acumen gained the attention of a potential community of engaged advisors and contributors. Through a short series of incredibly well-crafted "direct marketing" emails about Linchpin and Acumen, Godin, was able to assemble a niche of people who probably self-identify as linchpins, influencers, and communicators, and would jump at the chance to participate and contribute a positive review. Twelve years after selling his pioneering Internet marketing firm Yoyodyne to Yahoo! for millions, Seth Godin remains the kingpin of high-order and successful marketing hacks.

For Godin, it's not about the size of your swagger, it's about finding artful workarounds that cut through the clutter. With Linchpin, Godin cuts a clear trail straight to an ideal audience of social media consultants, corporate innovators, and an assortment of dreamers who have everything to gain by aligning themselves with his message and his brand.

Uppity Like Me

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to She's Geeky, an unconference for "connecting women in tech," which took place last weekend at the Computer History Museum in Moutain View. The event was organized by Kaliya Hamlin, a larger-than-life woman and an artist of the sort that Godin describes -- entrepreneurial, altruistic, courageous, and committed. Kaliya is also an interesting proof of concept and/or counterpoint for some of Clay Shirky's allegations.

As a hired facilitator and volunteer Open Space practitioner, Kaliya has been reinventing tech conferences, meetups, and camps for as long as I've known her. As a speaker and pioneering advocate for OpenID (way ahead of many of the guys!), the Open Web, and gender balance at tech conferences, she's been banging on "men-only" doors, sparking conversation, and igniting opportunity for the rest of us too.