Working from home…

Since starting at Juniper I have been traveling nearly every week up to the Bay Area. However, over time, I’ll be spending more of my time here at my home office in Huntington Beach. As I posted on Twitter yesterday, I have realized that working from home has some advantages. And some disadvantages. And sometimes those are the same…


A new job, a new opportunity

I might as well get to the point. Today is my last day at IBM. I can’t express how strange it feels to write that. I’ll share more about all of this in future blog posts, but to be brief, I have decided to accept an offer from Juniper Networks in Silicon Valley.

Despite the risk of sounding like a cliché, I have to state that working for IBM has been an absolute privilege. I have a genuine affection for all the IBMers with whom I’ve worked over the last seven-and-a-half years, and I have a deep belief in the purpose and mission for which IBM stands. Last, and certainly not least, it has been a real privilege over the past few years to be responsible for the global social media strategy for the most socially connected company on earth. What more could I ask for? It has been a great experience all around and IBM has been incredibly good to me, for which I’m grateful. To the IBMers reading this, thank you so very much.

So why am I leaving? This has been the hardest decision I’ve ever made. Despite all of these great things at IBM, my wife and I ultimately felt this specific opportunity at Juniper was the right move for the long-term benefit of my family and my career. The hardest decisions in life and business are between two equally attractive choices, and this was no exception.

At Juniper, I’ll be leading their social and digital strategy across communications and marketing worldwide. It is an exciting opportunity to start anew and build from a clean slate. I’ll have more to share when I actually get on board in a few weeks, but the people I’ve met so far make me very excited for the opportunity to broaden my networks and learn from yet another group of highly innovative colleagues.

But before I set foot for my first day in Sunnyvale, I’m already faced with a big challenge: How do I now establish a new professional identity that isn’t intrinsically connected to IBM’s? No longer being an IBMer means a new chapter not only in my career, but also in my professional identity. Over the past few years I’ve spoken at dozens of conferences, given dozens of media interviews, and spoken to countless IBM clients about IBM’s social business efforts. How do I separate my domain expertise from the context of my work at IBM?

Although my social experience has been filtered through IBM’s efforts, I know that in the process I’ve acquired a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience from which to draw. So my task will be to build a professional persona that is appropriately balanced between my personal expertise and skills and my professional contexts – new and old. Both matter; it is finding the right balance that is the difficulty.

It’s going to be a lot of fun.


Changes

Huntington Beach: my new hometown


Forgive me in advance for what is, in effect, a navel gazing post. A lot has happened here in the past few months. From a work perspective, I’ve taken on new responsibilities at IBM, some of which I’ll discuss here on the blog in the coming weeks. In general though, my mission is still to lead the social business strategy at corporate. Pretty great if you ask me.

More importantly though, I also moved my family across the country, back to California. It has been a tougher transition than I would have thought – despite all my complaining during the winters, the fact is I absolutely love the Northeast, Connecticut and New York City. That said, the 50 degree disparity in warmth right now is validating our decision to move back to where we grew up.

So, for the time being we’ve settled in Huntington Beach and I’m working out of the IBM Costa Mesa office. What this all really means is that my access to fantastic ethnic food for lunch has increased exponentially.

Which leads me to my last point in this largely housekeeping blog post. In the past, I’ve only blogged periodically about food. Most of the time, I share all my food notes on Chowhound. And while I continue to do that, I have felt a need for more organization in the public expression of my field notes. So I’ve decided on two courses. First, I’ve spent a lot of time building a fairly detailed Google Map of places I’ve been to, or been tipped off to in Orange County (embedded below). And secondly, I have decided to forgo any attempt at lengthy, flowery, superfluous restaurant reviews (of which I generally have no tolerance) in lieu of short missives that communicate just the basic, actionable impressions I capture on my trusty blackberry while eating around Orange County and beyond.

So expect to see here on this blog a much higher frequency of abrupt field notes of taco joints, ramen haunts and banh mi bakeries. In the meantime, here’s my work-in-progress map of Orange County food notes:


Introducing the IBM Expert Network on Slideshare

It should come as no surprise to anybody that IBMers are active in social media. In fact, we have, I believe, the single largest community of employees active in social media anywhere on earth. However, to the casual observer, it can be difficult to really grasp in a meaningful way our unique approach due to our employee-led, intentionally decentralized model for participation. (oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I was asked why we don’t have a single corporate blog or an @IBM twitter account…)

Over the past few years we’ve been looking for ways to raise the visibility of our employees’ individual contributions to the social Web and bring it all together into ways that represent the brand more holistically.

Which brings us to the newly launched IBM Expert Network on Slideshare. Beginning today, you now have a small window into the thinking of many IBMers who are now part of the Slideshare network.

This is a unique program for both Slideshare and IBM. Working with Rashmi Sinha and her great team at Slideshare, we spent the last few months constructing this program to create visibility not for IBM as an entity, but rather for the IBMers that shape our our brand.

For IBM, the value is clear. We are a knowledge-based B2B company that differentiates itself through the expertise of its employees. This program allows us to turn the most common activity of our thought leaders – creating and delivering presentations – into social objects with reach across the Web.

Now, a few notes on the Slideshare network. To be sure, this is a small start. We’ve capped this network today at only 50 experts. Compared to the entire IBM audience, this represents .01 percent of our employee base. It is also a bit too U.S. centric today (with a few exceptions). And finally, many, many more IBMers are already active on Slideshare who aren’t in this program. Over time, we plan to work with Slideshare to evolve the network to be more global, expansive and representative of our work, reach and employees’ expertise. For now, this is a nice start.

So, please take a look through the network, reach out to our experts and let us know any feedback you may have.

And for those interested in a little more context around IBM’s employee-led approach to social media, below is the presentation I am delivering today at the 2010 WOMMA Summit in Las Vegas. Fittingly, I’ve posted it to Slideshare.


Underscoring the complete uselessness of social media rankings

Click to enlargeApparently, everyone loves lists and rankings. From where I sit at IBM looking out over the world of social media, I’ve come across a million of these rankings. What companies are the best at social media? What brands are the most active on Twitter? What company has the prettiest avatars on Twitter? And so on.

And every single one I’ve seen – even when IBM scores very high – seems superfluous and shallow. Even rankings from respectable analysts, like Charlene Li, are usually far off the mark (that’s for a future post if anyone is interested). It’s impossible to effectively look behind the scenes and evaluate how a company is performing in social media without understanding their unique approach and what they are trying to accomplish.

So, if you are going to rank anything, you better be damn well sure that your methodology is rock solid and you are absolutely thorough in your research. Otherwise, you end up looking far more foolish than when you began.

So what got in my craw today?

A company called NetProspex claims to have created the “first comprehensive look at social media activity among employees of the nation’s largest corporations.” (I originally stated this was Flowtown’s report, thus making the correction). Yet another ranking. It only caught my eye when colleagues on Twitter pointed out the Mashable post on it. So, after enduring far too many of these rankings, I’m finally speaking out: Rankings are worthless and do everyone (except the report publisher) a complete disservice. I’ll talk more about the disservice later. But first a bit on Flowtown’s “rankings.” (Click on the image above for an enlarged view).

See IBM there? Way down at the bottom. Tied for 48th. With GE. A company that doesn’t yet allow all employees access to Facebook in the first place (no disrespect meant for my GE friends, of which I have many, but the perspective is valid). Such venerable brands like NCR, Pactiv and BMC Software apparently have more employees active in social media than IBM. Really? Or even take Dell, who by all accounts (including my own) has done a fabulous and innovative job in managing social media. But it’s been a top-down effort, with controlled access and clearly defined accounts. But this is measuring the usage by employees. Dell still doesn’t have a policy for all employees to blog (Richard/Lionel, correct me if this has changed).

Again, I want to point out that NetProspex isn’t measuring effectiveness. Many of these on the brands on this list very well may be more effective that we at IBM are (though I think we have a compelling argument). But this list measured volume. So, on that point, consider the following:

  • 200,000: current IBMers on LinkedIn, according to their own data… (By the way, it’s the LARGEST single community of corporate employees on any social network platform anywhere)
  • >1,000: current IBMers actively blogging externally. (some on ibm.com, but most off domain).
  • >3,000: current IBMers active on Twitter (my own estimate… but consider that Eric Andersen almost immediately quickly reached the 500 limit when he put together this list of IBMers. If no limit, it would be 6x larger).
  • 75,000: current IBMers on Facebook.
  • 100,000: current and former IBMers on IBM’s Alumni Social Network on ibm.com and LinkedIn.

I can’t see any possible way to justify the facts above with NetProspex’ rankings. Silly.

OK, enough with this report. I’ve given it enough press.

Finally, I want to get back to my point earlier about how these endless rankings are, ultimately, doing us all a massive disservice. Why do I think that? Well, primarily because it turns all of this into a race. And as companies try and keep up with each other, they start to apply the tactics that helped company “A” get to the top of the list without realizing they have a completely different business model and culture. It always ends awkwardly. I talked a lot about the impact of corporate culture on social media previously here on this blog. It’s worth revising that in the context of these lists to ask whether we should put a final nail in the coffin of endless rankings. If only.

********

I made some updates above to clarify that this report was apparently conducted/published by NetProspex, not Flowtown.


Authentic Chinese in Connecticut? Yes indeed: Lao Szechuan

One of the nice benefits of the new board changes on Chowhound is that all of Connecticut is now lumped together, rather than Fairfield County being split off and grouped with Westchester and the rest of the NY Metro area. For me, that means I am now exposed to the fact that, apparently, there is food east of Norwalk.

In particular, this new board exposed me to the fact that despite my grumblings over a lack of good Chinese in Connecticut, there is allegedly a wonderful Szechuan restaurant just shy of New Haven in the undistinguished town of Milford. For the past few years, people have been talking on Chowhound about this little restaurant called Lao Sze Chuan serves up high-quality authentic Chinese food from Szechuan province. In the middle of Connecticut?

Upon this discovery, I and my Sinophile friend, Shawn Nelson, tricked our families to schlep up to Lao Sze Chuan for a quick weeknight meal. In terms of aesthetics, the restaurant is a step up from the typical suburban Chinese joint, as evidenced by the white table cloths and clean decor. Feeling obligated to try more than we could possibly consume, we ordered the following:

  • Ox tongue and tripe with hot sauce – $9
  • Szechuan dumplings in red chili sauce (8) – $6
  • Scallion pancakes (two orders) – $5 each
  • Fried pork dumplings (two orders) – $6
  • Breaded sole fillets with Thai sauce – $19
  • Sauteed shredded beef with Szechuan jalapeños – $13
  • Twice cooked sliced pork with Szechuan jalapeño and leek – $12
  • Chicken Lo Mein – $8 (crowd pleaser for the kiddos)
  • Sesame Chicken – $12 (also for the kiddos)
  • Bok Choy and garlic

Although I am still digesting all of this, I’ll just highlight a few of the main dishes below:

Ox tongue and tripe with hot sauce

2010 02 09_0314 To a Westerner it’s a dish that sounds daunting. But put aside the reservations because it’s one of the best cold appetizers I’ve ever had. Of all we tried, this dish best showcased the purity of the Szechuan peppercorn, in all of it’s unique tingly, lip-numbing heat. The tripe had a slight, pleasing crunch, but not chewy or tough at all. The thinly sliced ox tongue had a deep beefy-like flavor, but without being too overpowering. The dish was dressed perfectly by a szechuan peppercorn-infused sauce that cut the richness of the tripe and beef.

Szechuan dumplings in red chili sauce

These Szechuan dumplings were more reminiscent of a ravioli in form than a stereotypical Chinese dumpling. The small pork fillings were wrapped in a thin, rather delicate dough swimming in a black-red chili sauce. All together, it was a nice surprise. Given how good these are, I wouldn’t bother with the regular dumplings here, which were sub par to begin with, let alone compared with the Szechuan dumplings.

Scallion Pancakes

I’m not sure how particular to Szechuan scallion pancakes are, but we couldn’t resist ordering them regardless. Lao Sze Chuan’s pancakes were far better than your typical suburban Chinese restaurant, packing good flavor with a nice crunch without being overly greasy. That said, their pancakes lacked the flakiness of great scallion pancakes and don’t really compare well to my all-time personal favorites at Nice Green Bo in NYC. Given the other great things on Lao Sze Chuan’s menu, I’d look elsewhere on the menu for appetizers.

Breaded sole filets in Thai sauce

2010 02 09_0315 The proprietor of Lao Sze Chuan strongly recommended we try this dish; I’m glad she did as I would have never tried it otherwise based on the menu’s description. Of everything I tried, this was the best single dish of the night. The sole couldn’t possibly have been cooked more perfectly – large filet chunks, impossibly tender and bathed in a mildly spicy-sweet sauce. The hearts of palm, garlic and mushrooms filled out the dish to make it a must-try for anyone going to Lao Sze Chuan. Oh, and don’t be daunted by the “Thai” name – it felt Szechuan through and through to me.

Sauteed shredded beef with Szechuan Jalapeños

2010 02 09_0316

Despite the name, this was one of the mildest dishes of the night (apparently Szechuan “jalapeños” are milder than their Mexican namesakes). The beef was mildly flavored, but velvety in texture. The peppers gave the dish a very pleasant peppery flavor with a subtle bitter note to the dish.

Twice cooked sliced pork with Szechuan jalapeño and leek – $12

2010 02 09_0317

Of the main dishes, this was perhaps my least favorite. But that says much more to the strength of the other dishes than this dish being poorly executed. In fact, this dish would be the star at any other Chinese restaurant in Connecticut. The fatty pork (uncured pork belly?) was sliced paper thin taking on a ribbon-like quality. Cooked with traditional Szechuan spices, leeks and peppers this was still a very good dish. (I sold it to my kids as “Chinese bacon”) My only complaint is that, even though well executed, I was still left with too much of a greasy aftertaste. That said, I’d happily take it any other day of the week when I don’t have access to the rest of the menu.

To wrap up a wildly long post, if you happen to be within a 45 minute radius of Milford, CT, go to Lao Sze Chuan. You’ll count the time and gas investment well worth it.

Lao Sze Chuan
1585 Boston Post Rd.,
Milford, CT 06460
203-783-0556
[MAP]


Aires de Colombia in White Plains

It took me a year from the time I first wrote this restaurant in my notebook to when I actually tried it, but at least I got there.

I first noticed Aires de Colombia while driving around aimlessly looking for Empanadas during my Empanada trek last year. I took note of it, but just didn’t have a chance to try it.

I finally went for lunch today. I was alone so my samplings were small, but I was very pleased with my meal.

I started off with my must-have Colombian drink, guanabana con leche. Man, I love that drink. I was a bit cash poor today, so I ordered only a few empanadas, then an appetizer of chorizo that came with an arepa con queso.

empanada from aires colombia restaurant-1 I actually ordered two empanadas. One came out immediately and had obviously been fried before I got there. It was still very good – a fat four-inch half moon with a crunchy orange crust, filled full of beef and some potato. And unlike so many Colombian empanadas, Aires’ empanada filling had a very high meat-to-potato ratio. When the second empanada came out – freshly fried, it was that much better. A great texture to the crackling crisp orange corn-based dough. At $1 each, you could easily leave there dropping only $2 for empanadas and feel satisfied.

choriz con arepa y queso with empanada at aires colombia-1 The chorizo and arepa came next ($3). Nice sausage. Lots of flavor, a bit of a spicy kick even, in what seemed to be a natural casing. All in all, quite pleasant, if not extraordinary. Similarly, the arepa was quite good. As is typical with Colombian arepas, it came flat , sprinkled with queso fresco. The arepa had a nice slight char on the outside from the griddle, but, importantly, inside it was pillowy soft with a a strong corn/hominy flavor and aroma once you bite into it. Coupled with the quite piquant vinegary salsa they offer, it was a good meal. Including the guanabana con leche, which was $3, my meal set me back $10.

It’s a nice addition to the long list of Colombian restaurants in Westchester.

Aires de Colombia Restaurant
64 W. Post Road,
White Plains, NY


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