One Perfect Song: Johnny Come Lately

Copperhead_road  images MI0002681373

“Johnny Come Lately”
Written by Steve Earle
Recorded by Steve Earle
Released October 17, 1988


“I’m an American, boys, and I’ve come a long way
I was born and bred in the USA
So listen up close, I’ve get something to say
Boys, I’m buying this round.”

These first lines from Steve Earle’s “Johnny Come Lately” off his amazing 1988 Copperhead Road album could serve as an effective introduction for any American songwriter. Blues great Robert Johnson, folk troubadour Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna or Kendrick Lamar. I am here, and I have an important story to tell. I have something meaningful to say.

However, after the first lines of “Johnny Come Lately,” we realize this is not a biographical song about Steve Earle, but rather a story about an American soldier serving in London during World War II.

“When I first got to London it was pourin’ down rain
Met a Iittle girl in the field canteen
Painted her name on the nose of my plane
Six more missions I’m gone.”

The soldier arrives in London and meets a British girl. He tells the world of his love by painting the name of the girl on his plane, and he is already counting the hours and the missions until he can return to her. Later in the song he promises “I’m taking her home with me one day sir, soon as we win this war.” In the chorus, he sings of an expected warm welcome back in the states.

“But when Johnny Come Lately comes marching home
With a chest full of medals and a G.l. loan
They’ll be waiting at the station down in San Antone
When Johnny comes marching home.”

Through this song, World War II becomes connected to a shared, proud and painful past by recalling the popular “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” song from the American Civil War. Heroes were warmly welcomed home then, too. “When Johnny comes marching home again, Hoorah! Hoorah!” War to war, generation to generation, the men and women who put their lives at risk for our safety and democracy come home to celebrations of their heroism and bravery.

Then, there’s a twist. We learn that this story is not being told by the soldier, but rather by his grandson.

“Now my granddaddy sang me this song
Told me about London when the Blitz was on
How he married grandma and brought her back home
A hero throughout this land.”

The soldier did get home safely. He married his British bride. He was celebrated upon his return, and they had a family. They had a grandson.

The narrator is thinking about his grandfather as he himself returns home from the Vietnam war and realizes that the chain is now broken. The narrative has changed. Soldiers return home from a war that the people did not support or understand. The pride of the civil war is missing. The victory elation that followed World War II is missing. People are angry. They are apathetic.

“Now I’m standing on a runway in San Diego
A couple Purple Hearts and I move a little slow
There’s nobody here, maybe nobody knows
About a place called Vietnam.”

America is difficult. Our story is constantly changing and evolving. Families connect to the story of our country across generations, and those experiences are interpreted through vastly perspectives and opinions. I don’t know that the story of our country and its families, now evolving through more than 150 years, has been ever been captured more effectively than Steve Earle has done in “Johnny Come Lately.”

This song, our country…a story about family, war and the patriotism and passion that connects us all. So listen up close, I’ve got something to say. Boys, I’m buying this round.

Check out this short 10 minute documentary film about Steve Earle recording “Johnny Come Lately” with Celtic Punk band The Pogues in North London.

My Best Worst Day

I was sure that whatever was making my vision a little blurry would be rinsed away in the shower, and I could get on with my day. I had just gotten out of bed. I had to get breakfast, get dressed, and my wife and I had to get our six and three year old daughters off to school so we could each get to work. It was January 23, 2002.

I got into work, and it felt like I was looking through a piece of gray saran wrap. It wasn’t so much that my vision was blurry…it was dull. Whatever I thought would be rinsed away earlier was still there. I had my optometrist take a look. “Larry,” he said, “I want to send you to see someone else. There’s blood in your eye.”

I was in touch with my wife and my boss along the way to let them know what was going on. They were each appropriately concerned, and wanted me to keep in touch.

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The ophthalmologist pointed bright lights in my eye. Dye was injected into my veins. Snapshots were taken of my eyeball. “I need to do some more tests,” he said, “and I will call you at home tonight, but I think you had a stroke, a retinal vein occlusion.” I was 35 years old.

It was now about 3:00 in the afternoon, and I was close enough to work that I stopped in to check my voice mail (yes, we still did that in 2002). My boss was happy to see me, and was very sorry to hear I may have had a stroke.

I went to my office, and the director of Human Resources stopped in to see me. “Larry, I heard there was something wrong with your eye. Are you OK?” I explained everything that happened that day, and that I was sure I would be just fine.

But then she didn’t leave. She just stood in the doorway of my office.

“Is there something else I can do for you?” I asked.

“I’m here to let you go” she said.

Only four months after the horrific events of 9/11, our company was struggling as were so many other companies. Some of my friends had lost their job earlier that week. After working at the company for nine years, it was now my turn.

I have told this story dozens of times, and always the first response is “…and they still let you go? Even though they knew you had a stroke?!?”

Yes, they still let me go, and good for them for doing so. I was not bed-ridden, and they had to trim their staff rolls to remain a viable business. They gave me severance, out-placement support, and health insurance for several months. They did the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way. And what a gift that was.

I could not be very concerned about my job loss, because I was so concerned about my vision. On the other other hand, I could not be very concerned about my vision because I was so concerned about finding my next job. My concerns cancelled each out quite nicely, thank you very much.

I was out of work for 13 months. As difficult as that time was, and as much as I did not want to be out of work, I came out ahead in almost every way.

  1. I got to spend more time with my daughters. I was able to be present, available and involved in ways that are so much more challenging when work took me away from home for 9 hours a day.
  2. Much to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed networking. I was good at it. I was fearless. I called people I did not know, and they actually met with me. I learned a lot about other people, and about myself. It was as a direct result of my networking efforts then that I am in the career I am in now, over 15 years later.
  3. I was more prudent in the way I spent money, and my wife was a vigilant bookkeeper. I did not need gas for a commute, I did not need to buy lunches with co-workers at the office. And while I did not enjoy collecting unemployment checks, somehow we got by, and we found ourselves still financially healthy by the time I went back to work.
  4. My wife and I have always been there for each other, but perhaps never more so than during my time out of work. She was there to support me, there to believe in me, there to encourage me. Her love and support felt nothing short of unconditional.

15 years later, I am in a career that I love, my family life is strong and happy, and I wear eyeglasses. I continue to try to grow and improve as a father, husband and professional every day, and I know I would not be where I am now in work or at home had it not been for the events of that very best of worst days.

Working Out Loud Success through the lens of Yammer Analytics

I confess. I was selfish. I was only thinking of myself.

When I suggested that we introduce Working Out Loud at my workplace, yes…I was thinking about how my colleagues could achieve meaningful goals, and how they could improve their career or personal life, but those were not my only concerns. Mostly, I was thinking about how Working Out Loud could help our Yammer networks.

Our staff has been using Yammer for almost three years to communicate and collaborate internally in a home network, and with members of our organization in an external network. While staff Yammer adoption was strong enough, I recognized it could be stronger. And maybe, if through Working Out Loud we could better appreciate the value of sharing information and working in a collaborative platform, our Yammer engagement rates would grow even stronger.

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Recently, a member of one of our Working Out Loud Circles made a comment about a post I had made in our home network regarding Yammer engagement rates as found in Swoop, our Yammer analytics platform. She had come across my post while doing research in support of her Working Out Loud goal, and was amazed to realize how much our engagement levels supported the overall goals of Working out Loud, which encourages people to network, leading with generosity, and to make work visible, and framed as a contribution.

Swoop Analytics sets every user’s Yammer activity in the context of any one of five different engagement personas, or levels. While there is no incorrect engagement persona for a user to have, the overall goal is to achieve the highest “Engager” level,  which means you are asking questions on your Yammer network, sharing information and staying connected to people.

If someone is making posts less than twice a week, and they don’t reply to anyone else, their personal level is “OBSERVER.”

A “BROADCASTER” makes more posts than they receive replies. A lot of information is pushed out. Additionally, they don’t often reply to other peoples’ posts.

Along the same lines “RESPONDER” makes many more contributions than they receive replies, but their contributions are usually replies, likes and posts. They are a bit more engaged than their “broadcaster” colleagues.

Now, the pendulum begins to swing a bit. A “CATALYST” receives more replies than they make contributions. They are making posts that people care about, and they are inspiring people to action.

Rather than necessarily being the most active user, the “ENGAGER” has an even balance of contributions and replies. They post, they click the “like” button, they reply, they are interacting with people, and people are interacting with them.

All these levels refer to Yammer activity, but they also make perfect sense when looking at them in the context of Working Out Loud.

Observe

We are going to experience less Working Out Loud success and growth if we only “OBSERVE” what is happening. If we never reach out to people, if we never have anything to share, if we never express our appreciation, we will make little progress in sharing information, or connecting to more people.

A key part of Working Out Loud that when we network, we do so leading with generosity. We consider first what we have to share, rather than that which we might receive. Sometimes that means we broadcast the information we each have. We share what we know. But, if we only broadcast, if we only push out, we are not letting very much back in. We are not learning.

If we are Working Out Loud at a “RESPONDER” level, that means we are probably not being very proactive. We are only doing what we have to do, and we are not being thoughtful about what we have to share or how we might be able to help others.

When we are at the “CATLYST” level working at a level where we are actively reading the posts of others, and we are sharing information that people care about, and information that people respond to.

Solidarité-internationale_guidedelamobilitéFinally, when we are Working Out Loud at the “ENGAGER” level, we are networking with a true spirit of generosity and empathy. We care about the information that people are sharing, and people care about the information we are sharing. We “like” the posts that we see, we comment on how the information has helped us, and we share the information with others in our network.

In turn, others are “liking” the information we share. Our network is growing, and together with our contacts, we are learning new things and we see real, meaningful improvement in our life both at home and at work.

Working Out Loud has indeed helped our Yammer networks to grow,  but only when we use our analytics are we able to truly understand the key ingredients to that growth, and to understanding how Yammer really can help us find a true level of connection, transparency, engagement and success.with our colleagues and members of our organization.

Collaboration and Yammer Access

There is no organization, be it a suburban household or a multi-billion dollar international corporation, that does not want to find ways to collaborate more effectively.

1120140483_9509Though collaboration may be a bit simpler in a household (shopping list on the refrigerator, Sunday night planning meeting for the week ahead), most every organization, large or small, is trying to collaborate better. Trying to stay better connected, trying to be more transparent, trying to be more effective.

One key to better collaboration is making sure people have access to information. Yammer, and other enterprise social network (ESN) platforms, provide access through private networks, discussion groups and file libraries. When setting up a Yammer ESN, it is important to understand who can have access, and how information can be shared.

Home Yammer Network: Glickman Telecom (my imaginary billion dollar company) sets up a home Yammer network. All Yammer networks are based on email domains, so our Yammer network would be found at http://www.yammer.com/glickmantelecom.com. Only people with an @glickmantelecom.com email address can get into the home network.

Discussion Groups: In our network, discussion groups can be created. These groups can be either be public to everyone in our private network, or they can be private for a specific team.

Add Extra Domains: We have a sister corporation called Marx Digital. We can go to our Network Administration page in Yammer, and indicate that anyone with a marxdigital.com email address is able to access our network.

yammer-place-o365-groupsCreate an External Group: Users without a glickmantelecom.com or marxdigital.com email address can be invited to our home network by creating an external group. This is a discussion group feature designed for the specific purpose of collaborating with users outside of our organization. Users in these groups, though, must have a work email address. Gmail, Yahoo and  other major ISP addresses will not work in an external group. External group users will only have access to that group, and not to the entire network.

Create an External Network: If there is a need to regularly engage with users outside of the organization, with users who may have a work email address, or a gmail address (for instance), Yammer offers external networks. An external network works exactly like a home network, and users with any kind of email address can be invited in.

Now that your Yammer network has been created, and you have determined which users should be in your network, it is now time Set the Table for Yammer Success by planning your groups, curating information and getting people engaged. Now, the real work begins!

9 Great Rock, Jazz and Soul samples in Rap Music

“Said a hip hop,
Hippie to the hippie, the hip, hip a hop,
and you don’t stop, a rock it out.”

Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang was released in 1980, and was the first rap song I ever heard. I was 14 years old, and growing up a white, Jewish kid in the suburbs of Chicago, rap music that was completely foreign to me. I found the song to be a satirical curiosity. I had never heard lyrics like this before, and the music was distilled down to a simple beat. Whenever I heard the song, it made me smile.

Rap music was made by people I didn’t know, and it came from places I didn’t visit. My friends and I easily dismissed rap music. “That’s not music.” “What’s the big deal, I could do that!” But over time, I recognized the necessity of rap. These were important stories that needed to be told. The songs were honest, sincere, angry, joyous and endlessly creative.

Rap music then began to contextualize their new songs by including samples of older songs, and it was through this sampling that I finally found my way to rap music I could identify with, understand and enjoy.

It is easy to dismiss music we don’t understand, or music that feels completely foreign to us. But, by including snippets of songs we know, rap songs become a little more familiar, they give the sampled songs a new life, and a new way for us to listen to the new songs, and the old songs.

nwa511.Express Yourself,” by NWA masterfully samples the horn riffs and bass lines of “Express Yourself” by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. Written by Ice Cube and performed by Dr. Dre, it is the one song on the Straight Outta Compton album that does not use any profanity, and yet ironically demands an expectation of freedom of expression and action.

rs-177844-1445983892. I first found “Ghetto Bastard,” by Naughty by Nature on MTV in the early 1990’s. The video was a sparse, honest document of life in the ghetto. Drugs, crime, abandoned children. And yet, an eternal optimism was offered in the chorus, which featured a brilliant sample from “No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley. Yes, everything is going to be all right. Perhaps the finest sample in a rap song I have ever heard.

3. “Eye Know” by De La Soul is an immediately inviting, airy and open track off Three Feet High and Rising from 1989, regularly called one of the finest hip hop albums of all time. “Eye Know” features a sample of “Peg” by Steely Dan, with the familiar refrain of “I know I love you better.” Sing along!

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4. The opening bass line from “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed, three simple notes fluidly sliding from one to the other, is so immediately recognizable that when you first hear the same bass line opening “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest you are surprised to hear a light, lively percussion track rather than the low, flat tones of Lou Reed singing about a girl named Holly, who was from “Miami F.L.A.”

5. The track begins with an old recording of a woman speaking. “Ladies and gentlemen, as you know we have something special down at here at Birdland this evening. A recording for Blue Note records.” “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” is the excellent first track off the excellent 1993 album Hand on the Torch  by Us3. Blue Note records, the venerable jazz recording label that began in 1939, saw the value and legitimacy of rap music in the early 1990’s, and gave Us3 unlimited access to its vaults to include samples in their tracks. The lead track on the album is also their biggest hit, featuring a sample of “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock.

6. “Walk this Way” by Run DMC represents of the gty_run_dmc_jt_130412_wblogearliest, and most successful intersections of rap and rock and roll music. Rather than simply sampling, Run DMC actually covered “Walk this Way” by 1970’s rock monsters Aerosmith. A song that already featured rapid fire lyrics, this was a natural choice for recording by just the right rap artists. Recorded over 30 years ago, it still sounds as fresh and vital today as the day it was recorded.

7. The group Arrested Development was part of a socially conscious group of artists, along with De La Soul, that ruled the airwaves in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Their track “People Everyday” is a plea for peace and equality amongst African Americans, and it features the wonderful chorus from “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone.

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8. Kanye West is always challenging and controversial, but there few artists who are more creative or inventive. “Gold Digger” not only features lyrics from “I Got a Woman” by Ray Charles, but the lyrics are sung by Jamie Foxx, who played Ray Charles in the brilliant biographical movie “Ray.” What a brilliant way to combine the present and the past.

20071208-fest9. Chicago rapper Rhymefest is a big Michael Jackson fan. While Michael was still alive, Rhymefest recorded an entire album of Jackson inspired rap songs. Unable to formally get permission to use the Jackson songs, Rhymefest made the entire available to fans for free. The last track on the album, titled “Man in the Mirror” perfectly echoes the message and tone of the original Michael Jackson song (personally, my favorite Michael Jackson song) while making it more personal and contemporary.

If you are unfamiliar with rap music, you think rap music isn’t for you, or you think that rap is not even a valid form of musical expression, give these songs a try. They are creative, they are accessible, and in many cases, they speak a truth that is important to hear.

How I learned to stop worrying and love Yammer topics

1280x720-yammer-blueA primary challenge of administering any kind of online space is leading with empathy, the ability understand and share the feelings of another person. What do users want to see? How do they think? How they are most likely to find the information they are looking for?

In Yammer, the Microsoft enterprise social network platform (or anyone of the several other ESN tools), empathy can be found in how a post is made, how a file is named, or how information is organized and  shared.

Yammer does not offer file folder functionality. All files are stored Yammer discussion group file libraries in one long list. Though the lack of file folders is an often cited Yammer weakness, I think that this is actually an incredible benefit, and a powerful statement of empathy.

If Yammer did offer file folder functionality, users in my network would need to guess how I approach file storage, and which files they would find in which folders, and how those folders might be nested in other folders. Not very empathetic.

To avoid this confusion, Yammer uses topics. Topics can be a word, or multiple words, attached to any document. I encourage users new to topics to use them as they would use a file folder. If I had a new policy to share with my team, I may very well attach topics #Policy, #2017Policy, and #2017DeptXPolicies. It is as if every topic is its own virtual folder, and the single file is being kept in several of these virtual folders at once.

Once a topic is attached to a file in Yammer, there are many ways that topic can be used as a means to organize and connect users to information. And though there are many benefits to using topics, there are also many ways topic functionality can be improved.

  1. Topic Selection
    Any word, or combination of words and/or numbers, can be a topic.
    GOOD: After the “Add Topics” link has been clicked, a field appears to enter your topic. Existing topics appear in a drop down menu that match what is being typed. If a topic already exists, it can be selected from the menu. If it has not been used, no suggestions will appear and a new topic can be added.
    COULD BE BETTER: Topics should appear on this selection drop down list in an immediately discernible order, preferably alphabetical. As it exists now, it seems rather haphazard. Also, regardless of the topic length, the entire topic should be visible in the drop down menu. Topics currently get cut off if they are too long.
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  2. Topics, Spaces and Capital Letters
    A topic can be included in a post by first typing the # symbol. However, the only word that will be recognized as part of the topic is the word immediately next to the # symbol. For example, if I type “#Great Posts”, only “Great” will be recognized as part of the topic. If I want the whole phrase recognized as part of the topic, I need to type “#GreatPosts”
    GOOD: When words need to be connected in order to be used as a topic, they become immediately recognized as a topic. It is also a very easy usage tip to teach. Underscores can also be used.
    COULD BE BETTER: When underscores are used to separate words, they become invisible, so users may assume topics will work correctly with spaces between words. Additionally if capital letters have been used in topics with several words, such as “#TopicsAreGreat,” only the first letter will still be a capital after the topic has been added, so it reads as “#Topicsaregreat.” The capital A and the capital G can be added back in, but it does take a few clicks of the mouse.
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  3. The # (hashtag) Symbol
    A word becomes a topic when it has a #symbol in front of it. But, when adding topics using the “add topic” link (rather than just typing it as part of a comment), the # symbol is automatically added.
    GOOD: The less we have to remember, the better, and not having to add the # symbol saves both time and effort.
    COULD BE BETTER: When using the “Add topic” link, make it impossible to type in the # symbol. “##GreatTopics” looks terrible.
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  4. Searching Topics
    Using the search box in the upper left hand corner of the Yammer page, users can search on any name or word. Yammer will search resources, groups user profiles and topics.
    GOOD: Searching is made easier by the inclusion of topics. Users are able to connect easier to important collections of information.Capture
    COULD BE BETTER: The way topic search results page seems rather haphazard. I think there is room for improvement here. Also, Yammer needs to enable users to search on multiple topics at a time. Yes, I can search on two or more topics using boolean search methods. I can search for “”Topics” and “Great””, and I will get search results for each topic. The real improved user experience though would be a way to search for files and conversations to which both topics are attached.
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  5. Sharing Information Collections
    I want you to see all the files that match the topic “#MembershipForms.” I click on the link, click on the topics tab on the search results page, and copy and paste the URL in an email or Yammer post, and you will see the exact collection of information I want you to see.
    GOOD: This is incredibly useful and powerful, and connects users to information with convenience and empathy.
    COULD BE BETTER: I think Yammer should make this feature more obvious. When clicking on a topic, have an option to copy the address for conversations and/or resources. Include pop ups that encourage users to share direct links to topic resource pages.

Yammer topics is an incredibly robust tool, and I think with a little more empathy and refinement, it can be a real game changer.