Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Help me take a pilgrimage to India

In the Zen Peacemakers, we invite friends and family to sponsor a bead on a "mala," to support us in our work and join us on our trips. I’d like to ask you to help me participate in the Pilgrimage to explore the Buddha’s Footsteps and social issues in India in January. I won’t be needed on staff, but I would love to participate and blog about the social issues in India. In order to promote the trip, I took on a study of the Buddha’s geographic path and guided our web community through a virtual tour of India. Because we achieved our attendance goals, our tour guide partner will wave my tuition fee, but I still need to pay for the plane ticket, which costs more than I have in my bank account. Would you help contribute to this goal by clicking above.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Online Customer Service and Corporate Social Responsibility

What role does a strong customer orientation play in Corporate Social Responsibility? When I saw Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in Silicon Valley last year, I appreciated his passionate concern for the customer, but I wasn't convinced that a customer-orientation alone accounts for a solid CSR orientation, as it almost seemed like he was suggesting. Nonetheless, our customers are people of course, and making them happy does make the world a better place. By looking at the effects of technology on customer service, we can start to imagine what it would take to address the needs of all stakeholders, including those who are not currently customers.

Technology enables some people:

The low cost of producing and distributing digital messages and the relative anonymity that comes with them will invite some passives to become more active complainers, particularly those who have high "customer technology readiness." We see this with the viral spreading of the United Breaks Guitars video and the Yours is a Very Bad Hotel Powerpoint presentation. Cyberbullying, online dating and blog comments all elicit behavior that is different from their face-to-face equivalents. However, as I discuss in an article I wrote about online community, there is much debate as to whether digital content about social issues enables behavior that wouldn't have otherwise taken place (such as protests in Burma, or more recently in Egypt) or whether it becomes just another form of passive consumption and distraction.

Technology use changes:

While banner ads had grown to a $9 billion per year business in 2004, by that time click-through rates had already dropped in effectiveness from 10% to .025% over the years (Services Marketing: Integrating Customer Focus Across the Firm, Ziethaml, Bitner and Gremler, 498). There were similar changes in the decreased effectiveness of telemarketing. New media makes it easier to reach more people at a lower cost, but the ability to instigate action may become diluted with time. The virality of online complaints and their detriment to sales will most likely fluctuate as both technology and our use of it change and adapt.

Implications for digital service recovery:

From the side of the firm, we need to create effective online venues that invite and respond to feedback from customers who are digitally oriented (just like we provide telephone venues for those who are phone-oriented). By providing a pressure valve that gives them voice, we channel them to share their complaints with us instead of complaining about them to others. We see a similar phenomenon is society at large. As Samuel Huntington points out in Political Order in Changing Societies, it is necessary for a democratic society to provide a legitimate arena within which to redress grievances in order to avoid violence, rebellion and revolution.


It is important for a company to be responsive to our customers just as it is for a democratic government. But what would it mean to apply the same type of responsiveness to other stakeholders who are not currently customers?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Studying: Online, Body & Zen

I started my first online course today in Marketing. It is with mixed feelings that I dive into the world of e-learning. On the one hand, I am excited by new possibilities created with technology. Intriguing both the educator in me and the computer geek in me is curious about what features they use to fascinate the learning experience. At the same time, I feel a bit of nostalgia. I miss the classroom experience- meeting other students and the teacher. Also, even though I enjoy spending my entire workday in front of a computer, I also love highlighting books. That being said, it doesn't make sense for me to print out many pages of course readings. We'll see how this goes. So far, there are several power point presentation "lectures." That certainly feels a bit more distant than a face-to-face lecture, which could also very well include a power point.

I'm also studying for my yoga finals. Guiding her through some asanas, I explained some basic anatomical concepts to my girlfriend, identifying various bones and muscles in her body. This is perhaps the other end of the spectrum from online learning. I reviewed various muscles, including their location and actions. It is astounding how many muscles there are and how they are intimately woven into each other. We looked at various reasons why it is difficult to maintain an erect back in seated poses like dandasana. In my case, it is from tight hamstrings, which run along the back of the leg and wrap up around the hip bone I think that maintaining an erect (or actually slightly curved) back can also result from weak back muscles or some tight muscles in the back itself, perhaps the erector spinae or latissimus dorsi.

I also learned today that my Zen Teacher Eve became was promoted from sensei (teacher) to roshi (a teacher of teachers). I don't see this as necessarily having a major impact as she was already teaching independently and doing a phenomenal job. Next week, we start the winter intensive. I've been maintaining 10 minutes per day of sitting, while joining the zendo schedule once or twice a week. Its been hard to attend while balancing yoga class. I often find myself rushing from Zen to Yoga and back. That's pretty funny.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why I signed up for a business school class

The board of the Zen Peacemakers recently decided to sell our property in Montague, MA. I have been living, working and training here for the better part of the last two years. Amid this period of change, various energies surge and flux as various overlapping elements of our community forge new paths. The local meditation community, which has been known as the Montague Farm Zendo, is looking into options for a new roof. Bernie, the founder, is focusing his energy on spreading the three tenets and Socially Engaged Buddhism domestically and in Europe. I am helping him with that as his assistant. I am a lame duck tenant.

When I learned about the farm's fate as well as layoffs, I felt disillusioned. The developing Montague Farm Zen House and the Symposium on this campus were dreams come true. Everything was coming together. And after the Symposium in August, the thing I feared most was suddenly happening. It was hard to avoid getting wrapped up in worrying about the significance of the daily twists and turns of a relatively high period of uncertainty in an uncertain universe.

Returning to the Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat in November, I felt comforted by the feeling like I was part of something much bigger than the campus I live on. I reflected on the reason I came to Montague in the first place: to be part of a Zen House, a dharma center where service to the community is viewed as a spiritual practice on par with meditation. I asked myself what I still lack to be part of such a center?

I decided to sign up for a business school class so that I could further develop practical tools to implement my beloved vision. I switched from listening to podcasts on social media marketing to listening to audiobooks on business development.

I was inspired and emboldened by my contribution to Auschwitz and Symposium registrations. And yet, it wasn't enough. As we discussed at the Symposium, Socially Engaged Buddhism needs to find a business model that is right for us in this culture in order for it to survive. My dream is a sort of a modern Buddhist Catholic Worker House. I did my internship at Haley House, a former Catholic Worker House in Boston. A modern version would mix high tech (Internet) and high touch (face-to-face) and would also be hybrid charity/social business.

While the recent past has felt worrisome, there has also been excitement of possibility amidst change. To be part of something new means standing out on a limb. Uncertainty is good training.

What do you think is necessary to make this dream viable?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Cadavers make me think of peace, zombies and cell phones.

I went to the cadaver lab to study yoga anatomy. There is something extremely comforting about seeing the dead body of a Vietnam vet who died of old age. Vietnam is usually something that makes me angry. Makes me want to fight war. And not that we shouldn't, but we all die anyway. I imagined the escape routes I would take in case the body turned out to be a zombie. I wasn't sure whether it would be better to throw a chair at the zombie or just run straight for the door.

My girlfriend wants me to stop holding my cell phone by my face. Valley Advocate says they cause cancer. Cell phones could be the cigarettes of the future. The industry will certainly fight for them. Maybe its killing me or maybe these are anti-technology rumors spread by organic farmers. Everybody has preferences and everybody thinks others would be better off if others shared their preferences (including me). Sometimes, we say others will die if they don't follow our preferences. Sometimes they will. Eventually everyone will.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

"The Social Network" just made me admire Mark Zuckerberg

Advertising = Web Education = fun?
I ignored my to-do list today and enjoyed the luxury of focusing my whole work day on designing a web page and e-mail for Bernie's 2012 India tour. I love looking at the final version and tweaking and looking and tweaking. My strategy is to develop content that is tied to registration for a specific event, but also inherently interesting (both to me and readers). Thus, I plan to launch a virtual pilgrimage to India. This is where the old social studies educator in me comes forward.

I feel a tension between perfectionism and the drive to get more things done quicker. For example, I would like to start working on the budget management. I feel like this is an important skill that will help me be able to make the type of contribution I want to make in the future. After stepping away from my comic book for several months, my newly web-design-trained eye realized that I could say more in my comic with less words.

Is Facebook evil?
Even though Social Network portrayed him as a socially inept jerk, I left the movie with a growing admiration for Mark Zuckerberg. I felt defensive about the movie's anti-geek agenda and wasn't surprised to learn that writer Aaron Sorkin is not on Facebook. That is fine, except for that about half of Americans are on Facebook, so it is no geeky minority. I've felt a tension lately, on the one hand inspired by Silicon Valley capitalism and on the other hand, skeptical.

I think designing web content is fun and it has allowed me to reach thousands of people cheaply with messages that I think make the world a better place. I visited Silicon Valley for the Wisdom 2.0 conference last year and I've been listening to podcasts from the Valley as part of my business self-education (ever since my organization faced layoffs and pending loss of our property, my home, because we couldn't pay the bills, I've been much more attentive to money matter.) I admire the fact that these are folks doing what they love, influencing millions and being successful. I was pleased to see Zuckerberg join Bill Gates in pledging to donate half of his wealth to charity.

But, as I experienced at the Wisdom 2.0 conference last year, I am troubled by what seems to be a superficial embrace of social enterprise. I'm not convinced they are doing a thoroughgoing analysis of the effects of the cycle of production and consumption on every level. I just can't quite buy into the "invisible hand" dream that if I just do what's most profitable for me, it'll actually be more profitable for everyone.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Blogging > Journaling

Just my personal blog
I'm trying something new today. Instead of writing in my journal, I'm going to blog. I'm going to dust my old blog off the InterWeb and dive in. After all, this is "just my personal blog," not my professional, important Socially Engaged Buddhist blog....which I've been neglecting lately. Blogging is funny for me. I love doing it and I also hate it. I feel such a strong drive to share and yet I get so hung up on perfectionism. So I'll just blog instead of journal tonight. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow as well.

Overcoming the fear of offending
I assisted in Yoga class today. As a member of the Teacher Training, I have to do 10 classes assisting. I really don't like assisting. I feel embarrassed to touch people who I do not know. I feel less embarrassed with my fellow teacher trainees, but even one of them told me "Just get in there! You know what you are doing. Don't be afraid." At least I am feeling less and less afraid every time I do it. I also felt some anxiety because I bluntly told a business associate why I don't think they are doing what they need to do in order to move their web traffic to the next level. I thought it had to be said, but it was still difficult.