Empire Avenue


Welcome to the brave new world of social media gamification. The first challenge I took up after signing on to Empire Avenue was for World Wildlife Federation.

Will update about my experiences here once I get my head around it.

The guy who knows a lot about this, whom I trust more than a lot of sharks swimming around, is Alister Cameron. He writes about blogging and its power. He knows a lot..

Questions, given the context of this blog:

1. Will gamification add to the power of social marketing?
2. What kinds of unintended consequences might pop up?
3. How can I use gamification to make it a try part of the Haverin Books product, rather than simply a way of marketing and promotions?

Watch this space.

Here’s the link if you want to join the experiment…


Messing around with Empire Avenue


This post is just me messing around with Empire Avenue.

Many social media commentators agree that ‘gamification’ will be the next thing to happen to marketing and social media, as the two things converge and the rocket fuel of games is added to the mix.

What does that mean for art, for the expression of authentic identity? What will it do to political expression? What would happen if Clive Palmer (for example) bought a major instrument in it?

This is the link if you feel like joining the experiment…

Sexism and retaliation

In a post in Forbes about sexism in the workplace, the author, Meghan Casserly, discusses the question of how (or whether, even) women can speak up about it at work without retaliation.

She did her homework and asked women to respond, and the story was quite interesting because of the colour of those responses. She found two women who had successfully raised it as an issue, and, not wanting to give up yet, is carrying the conversation on in Twitter and Facebook.

What bothers me, though, is that the article has missed the point about sexism in the workplace: sexism is designed to remind others that there are two groups, and that one is not as good to be in as the other one – to use a really blunt pencil. The article, however, uses a very common ‘female’ way of interrogating meaning: it assumed that the actual words the women used to call out sexism were some kind of magic medicine, which needed the correct dosage applied at the right time and the right place.

For example, the reason that the first successful caller-outer had not received backlash was because she had been really informal about it, and had used a light touch. She had just said “inappropriate” in passing, without making a big deal out of it, and it work. In other words, the right medicine at the right dose.

The second successful caller-outer said her successful technique was to speak to the two sexist-comment-makers one-on-one, privately – that way, they did not lose face. The right medicine, administered in private.

The problem with this whole way of conceiving the solution to sexism in the workplace is that it ignores the element that is central to sexism: the maintenance of power. The variable not controlled in any of the interactions described was whether the woman who did the calling-out had power over the person being sexist. In other words, what man is going to tell his female boss – or even someone a bit higher up in the social pecking order of the office – to get lost?

Sure, it seemed to solve the problem for those two women, but another woman in an identical setting saying “inappropriate”, no matter how quietly, could be inviting serious retaliation.

For example:

Male supervisor in restaurant: I want all of you fillies out on the floor now, or you’re sacked.
Woman waitress (to his disappearing back): Inappropriate.


Male supervisor in restaurant: I want all of you fillies out on the floor now, or you’re sacked.
Woman waitress: Inappropriate.
Male supervisor: What did you just say to me?
Woman waitress: Inappropriate.
Male supervisor: How could it be inappropriate for me to tell you to get out on the floor?
Woman waitress: It’s inappropriate language, because we’re women, not ‘fillies’.
Male supervisor: What? Look, I don’t have time for this. Do you work here or not?

Rape culture v fathers’ rights

Google Ngram viewer

After some inspiration from a guy called Ben Schmidt – who is a historian who specialises in looking at the enormous data sets that have been created since the world started digitising its history, geography, literature and so on – I started exploring the Google Ngram Viewer.

You can see more about Ben’s work here – a more accurate description of the field is ‘digital humanities research’. You can also see a bit of wicked historical geography (or geographical history?) at Spacial Analysis blog. End of digression.

The dataset and the graphing tool available at Google Ngram Viewer represents a ‘big picture’ view of what we think and how we think, which is of course one of my smaller obsessions.

For example, in the gay marriage rights debate, it is often argued by conservatives that legalising gay marriage would mess with an ancient tradition. Yet I suspect that in the thousands of years of human history, most couples have got together, had children, built a house, got on with life and so on without it, so to make marriage sound ‘natural’ or a default position of any kind is not at all accurate. If I could just figure out two approximately equally important phrases that represent ‘married’ and ‘de facto’ (sic, de facto can refer to lots of things) over 200 years, I could do a graph of it right now.

Instead, I made one which compared the phrase ‘rape culture’ with ‘fathers’ rights’ from 1990 to 2000. And this is what it looks like:

To use a music metaphor, it looks like a jaunty little duet. It’s not even a fugue or a call-and-response. It’s two voices a third apart, rising and falling, but mostly rising. So I wondered if that was just a blip, and decided to try ‘rape culture’ against ‘female graduates’. That graph produces another duet, but this time a fifth apart:
There are no controls, so weighting, and absolutely nothing else to tell you that this is some legit piece of research that you should bring up in polite (or even drunken) conversation. However, we now have ways of testing our ideas about things and looking more clearly into the deep pool that is human (literate) culture. We should use it not only for advertising, but also to settle arguments about Downton Abbey.

Books en primeur

The blueprint for this business is starting to diverge. There’s the publishing stuff that I can do – that I love doing – but which takes experience and skill, and contacts. I already have a really distinct sense of where I could take that and what is the nature of the various risks associated with the different titles and products. This is a very personal business, but I don’t know just how far one can go with being a writer and publisher and trying to design the business so you can sell it to someone else later. It’s a bit like those intense hobby shops that live and die by their owners (Bernard Black, notably), but which are virtually worthless if you try a trade sale. Plus, you can’t duplicate them. If I can, I will, but maybe putting off doing something just because you can’t replicate and scale it isn’t a good idea. It might be that the most important thing is to make a start and see what happens later.

With the social enterprise, I think I know where to take that one, too. It would be a community-owned frachise that makes money providing services that have traditionally almost no margin and are therefore usually very ably provided by volunteers or very shittily (new adverb) by operators who will tolerate impossibly narrow returns. I am thinking, for example, of the provision of school lunches or stationery supplies. More on that one later.

In the meantime, the publishing business could get off the ground by selling goods en primeur. Nobody would buy a caseload of the same title as they would wine, but they might buy a mixed case of product that they could on-sell at a profit. It is in this direction that Haverin Books needs to head. I am beginning to get my bearings and I now have a good feeling for which way is North.

How pure am I? Designing a social enterprise from the ground up

I do my best thinking when I’m on a little journey somewhere. When I was a teenager, it was those endless trips in my parents’ car or on the train; as an adult, it’s my habit of going for a good wander. Sometimes, the wander is in the car, sometimes, it’s on foot. (Occasionally, very occasionally, it’s on skis). Once upon a time, when I was younger, it was running.

Sometimes the goal is to come up with a solution to a specific problem, either of content (what do I want to write?) or of form (how should I design that project so it works?) In that case, I use a special rule: on the trip out, I can whinge and carry on all I like about the problem, but when I get to the point of turning around to come back, I must begin the journey of solving it, and when I arrive back, I must have solved it. The journey then has its own in-built deadline.

At other times, the job is too creative to be forced, and needs to be coaxed out. For this, window shopping often works, particularly in old-fashioned shopping strips. Sometimes in art galleries or museums.

Today, I took the dog for a walk in the town where we are planning to relocate, about twenty minutes away. (She was really excited and wanted to sniff everything; she was in such a happy mood she didn’t even really notice the small fluffy dogs walking past, which she would normally try to inhale).

The problem I was prodding at today was: so what kind of organisational (and financial) structure would work?

The point is, I have cracked upon a little bit of the problem of the business model. It needs to be able to serve the needs of the community in providing a safe haven at work for people who are vulnerable in the world of work. But at the same time, I’m not helping anyone if my family goes broke. So how to mix the two?

Key entrepreneurial question – who is the ultimate ‘natural owner’?

The first key strategic question about any entrepreneurial effort is, who is the natural owner of the business, once it is established and stable? The answer is, the community.

So the next question is, how can that be manifest? The old-fashioned way of doing something like this would be to simply give it away – put it in the hands of a responsible trustee of some kind and hope for the best. But how could the social enterprise be designed so that it has built-in longevity? (And… grudgingly, the possibility of being replicated?)

What if I used the idea used by the Bendigo Bank in its Community Bank franchises? (For readers unfamiliar with this, it’s a system of franchising bank branches to communities, who operate them and have a board and shareholders in that particular branch). What if the enterprise was designed so that individuals in the community, plus local institutions and service providers, could own shares in it in just the same way? If so, should this be a co-op or a company?

I am leaning towards a company, but one which has explicit values about re-investing any profits back into its operations, and pays dividends in the form of services rather than cash. Shareholders could come and go, trading their shares in if they moved out of the community, or buying some if they became a supporter/partner.

So where does that leave me and my family? How can I set it up so it provides this social good without creating an inherent conflict of interest built in to it?

What do I want out of it? Do I want to make a profit when I exit, so I can go and start something else? Do I explain to the initial board that, unlike the other shareholders, I need to take dividends in cash? How do we value the shares?

How pure am I?

Clearly, this blog has a way to go. Stay tuned.

Getting your elders and betters to inadvertently goad you into action

I had a contact request from a former client recently (Mark Smith) (Hi!), whose business (Nexstep) I used to find very inspiring, and whose colleagues at the business also inspired me.

So I fixed up my Linkedin account to better reflect what I’m up to, including all this Haverin Books plotting and planning.

This is an expansion of what I wrote:

I am putting together a crowdfunding proposal for two product groups directly in my area of expertise. But I am taking my time over it as I want the company to be sustainable, and, therefore, the financial side needs to be sustainable. (Read – I am being a bit of a scaredy-cat).

Even though it will start out as crowd-funded, I would like to attract more serious, committed funding in the future and so do not want the venture to look like the first horse in the second race at Randwick or Flemington. (Read, I want to be taken seriously, even though I have called the business Haverin Books. Oh well).

These are the products I want to start with:
1. tourism souvenirs tailored to specific towns and their events – main market tourist information centres and cafes. Most VICs and tourist towns carry either old-fashioned, unattractive souvenirs or very trendy but non-location-specific souvenirs
2.a book for single mothers about looking after their legal and financial affairs – main market social services organisations’ clients

Both publications will have some freebie (and almost-freebie) side-products eg an app or online resource. Most resources for women are difficult to read for women who are time-poor and some of whom have not had the education to fight back when necessary (not understanding why lawyers say things in certain ways is an example of such barriers).

These are the human beings I want to start it with: long-term unemployed single mums (or dads). The team will:
1) turn over in a controlled manner, fairly frequently, because the goal is to support people in a workplace whilst they train for something they want to be in the wider world. Sort of like a half-way house for ‘homeless workers’. There it is. I buried the lead.
2) as much as is legally and ethically possible, provide extra support compared to normal workplaces (eg going to see a counsellor would not raise an eyebrow or be taken out of personal leave)
3) this is going to require buy-in from a social service agency of some sort as I will need a partner with this kind of expertise.
4) this will also require partnership with a vociational training organisation of some kind.
5) the traineeships would be things like customer service, bookkeeping, graphic design or its precursor.
6) provide a radical model for what’s possible in terms of workplace flexibility. For example, install a washing machine and dryer in the back room? Provide old fridges and freezers in the back room so workers can either trade backyard or homemade food or simply get online grocery deliveries. ie incorporate things that give families back some time, where it does not really impact on the business (who’s going to care if an employee is away from her desk for the 2 minutes it takes to transfer washing?).

So you can instantly see the problem. The product and the workforce do not, at the moment, match. But I will keep at this idea until I can out the puzzle together correctly. Thus this blog.

This business is based on the idea that disadvantage is not necessarily caused by lack of intelligence or ability. Down the road from where I live, there is Wesley Fire and Clay, which has re-invented what we might have once called a sheltered workshop into something vibrant and enmeshed in its community, which interacts with the public at fairs and markets.

This business is based on the principle that there are many talented, thoughtful, energetic women (and men), who just need a bit of support whilst they train, in addition to learning the skills they don’t teach you at TAFE or uni: how to be both a commited, loving parent and a skilled, valuable worker at the same time, with minimal conflict between the two.

Note: there is another business that could be built along these lines but I don’t have the skills to start or run it: a cafe that has a catering arm that provides healthy school lunches to schools which don’t have their own canteens.

So this is classic Jenny MacKinnon. Couldn’t just yearn for a healthy business that makes money. Turns her back on the obsession with growth/replicatability. Wants instead the ‘replicability’ to be about spreading personal growth and dignity rather than increasing EBITDA. And I don’t care if someone rips off my idea – in fact, wouldn’t it be fantastic?