The Peter Principle and Fast Company

I want to talk about the business aspects of what happened between Loren Feldman, Shel Israel and Fast Company, since everyone else talked about the personal branding issues. This is going to be a long one so I suggest you get the beverage of your choice, perhaps something to eat, get comfortable or leave, it’s up to you. Let’s do this…

The Root Issue

The core problem, in my opinion, is that Fast Company picked the wrong people to accomplish their goals. These people are probably “good” people (nice, kind, considerate, etc.) but they aren’t placed in positions where their strengths would benefit the company. There isn’t a system in place to overcome their weakened positions. It is my opinion if people were placed in positions they were more qualified to fill, these issues would not have happened in the first place and now that they have, they would be mitigated.

Fast Company Redesign: Bust

I wrote an article about my experience with the Fast Company redesign. I revisited today and I am happy to report that the spam I wrote about has diminished. This time I have 599 items in My Feeds and I’ve been auto-subscribed to Robert Scoble’s blog. I understand populating the user with a couple of Fast Company items to get the person going and show the features available. Why Scoble’s blog, out of all the blogs available, is the auto-subscribe is beyond me. His blog isn’t even business related. Why isn’t Fast Company TV the auto-subscribe? Place Scoble’s blog amongst the others listed and let the user decide the off-network blogs they want on their feed page. Plus Scoble isn’t updating his blog with the quality he once was; there’s another reason to take it off of auto-subscribe.

I called this earlier and I’m saying it now. There is no way Scoble will be able to continue this path of posting all over the internet, blogging, following 17K people on Twitter, etc. He’s going to say he’s burned out (again) and he’ll have to make a choice. Don’t be surprised if the blog wins since it draws an income.

Fast Company auto-subscribed me to Scoble’s blog and some Fast Company pages but my Contacts page was blank. Puzzling because one would think “someone” from Fast Company would be a contact, even if I decided to remove the person later. I suppose this shows the focus for the company. Loading up with feeds is more important than interacting with people in the company.

I stand by my original review and the site hasn’t changed much since I last visited it. I bet if I pulled a traffic graph it would show a decline in traffic since the redesign launched. My point being: there are very simple things that could be done to improve the browsing experience for the end user, eventually leading to a more traffic, more interaction, etc.

Robert Scoble – Managing Isn’t His Thang

I understand why Fast Company decided to launch Fast Company TV. I understand why they hired Robert Scoble to be a part of it. Scoble is the Managing Director of Fast Company TV. I honestly believe he’s too busy following the web to focus on “managing” the important things. For example, when Shel approached Scoble to do videos, why would Scoble pick Shel over an experienced person in video? Budget? Friendship? It does not matter, the blunt truth: Shel isn’t ready for video and as Managing Director (and friend) Scoble should have gracefully told Shel that and either nixed the idea or trained him.

Scoble doesn’t have the Manager mentality, which requires the very basic principle of thinking before reacting. Scoble and I had this discussion almost three years ago, and he hasn’t changed. Why would Fast Company place someone in a managerial position (without strict supervision) when it is not their strength? Managing is not Scoble’s strength and this is being proved by:

  • The drama is still going on.
  • Scoble doesn’t really know how to handle the situation (which isn’t bad in itself but nothing is being done about it either).
  • He’s traveling all over the place, putting videos up on Qik while the site is not being properly updated. What exactly IS the video editor doing 8 hours a day?
  • Companies are waiting a long time to get their videos aired and the companies receiving the Qik videos aren’t receiving the production quality or Fast Company “brand”.

A good person, placed in a position that isn’t his strength.

Shel Israel – The Branding Nightmare Begins

Yes, he doesn’t own the ShelIsrael.com domain. Yes, he’s being laughed at. Yes, his initial videos sucked. Yes, he’s improving. All of this was bound to happen because it was a nightmare waiting to happen.

Shel wrote Naked Conversations with Scoble. If you go back far enough it was called The Red Couch, that is where Shel’s domain URL came from (redcouch.typepad.com). The title changed to Naked Conversations, the domain was registered and parked/redirected to redcouch.typepad.com. New project, Global Neighbourhoods and Shel registered the .net version of the domain and redirected it to redcouch.typepad.com. Not once did the domains stand on their own merit, they were always co-mingled into redcouch.typepad.com, which Shel does not own. Before that domain it was ItSeemsToMe.typepad.com (and yes, redcouch.com and itseemstome.com were both registered by someone else when this went on).

Shel never had a clear brand in the first place. You can’t lose something you never had, can you?

Now would be the time to get one and he doesn’t need ShelIsrael.com to do it. Now would be the time to get his “house” in order, nip this stuff in the bud once and for all, and move on.

Shel seems like a nice guy, he really does. It’s time for Shel to create his own identity.In one of the videos he did about Global Neighbourhoods. The first sentence, “Hi, I’m Shel Israel. I’m the co-author of a book I wrote with Robert Scoble”, like it’s his identity or the best thing he’s done (and yes he’s writing an e-book with Scoble and he’s at Fast Company TV because of Scoble so I can see why he makes statements like that – Scoble is every where). Right after that, he said that Global Neighbourhoods looks at the impact of social media on business and cultural. The goal of the project:

Global Neighbourhoods TV has very few of the answers, but it will continuously present to you examples of people, companies and institutions who are achieving some of the answers.

Well, the irony is that Shel is his own best story of how social media can impact a company and a brand. Yes, this issue impacts Shel’s personal brand but, because his personal brand is attached to his revenue streams, it impacts his business brand as well. There were hurdles from the start and it would have helped if the project had a stronger foundation.

Then Shel did something I can’t believe he did…>e asked Loren for the domain back.

shelisrael : @1938Media You’ve had your fun at my expense. Why won’t you just give me the domaine? Why are you doing this?

The equivalent of begging. His friends are trying to come to the rescue and asked Loren to give the domain back. It’s really sad to see because Scoble and Shel are honestly baffled on how to deal with Loren.

Shel: You don’t need the domain.

Haven’t Heard a Word From Fast Company

Well, they’ve been pretty quiet about this publicly. Perhaps because they are unsure how to deal with the issue as well. Perhaps they thought it would die out on its own. It’s not that I expected an official statement or anything, but more like an iron fist. You know like:

  • Scoble, we’re sending someone else to Israel, get the footage you need, while you straighten this mess – you created – out.
  • There is no point in shooting more footage when things are backed up
  • Why is there a work-flow issue? How can it be resolved?
  • Is there a better way to shoot the videos so the editing process is easier?
  • These videos are NOT up to our quality standards. Fast Company has a brand to maintain, never forget that.
  • Shel, this is how you deal with Loren….

And the true irony in this situation? The latest Twitter from Scoble:

Scobleizer: I’m off to Israel. Will be on the 12:59 flight to London FLT:4490. Then on FLT:761 from London to Tel Aviv. See ya on the other side.

This Is Business – Stop Making It Personal

About the pleas for Loren to give the domain back. Time to join the real world. This is business and only the strong survive. The world doesn’t spin around the ShelIsrael.com domain. Let it go, it’s gone, and thankfully, Shel really doesn’t need it.

Perhaps Shel’s friends think they are helping by asking Loren to give the domain back but it only fuels the fire. Again, if people thought about their actions more instead of acting on impulse, the risk would not be worth it.

Friends and business usually do not mix and this is a very good example as to why. Feelings, compassion, etc. get in the way of making wise (and unfortunately tough) business decisions. To resolve this situation one has to do the very tough job of detaching, looking at the big picture, and forming a long-term strategy to address the branding issues that were there long before this puppet drama ever started. To step back and see how Fast Company TV can come back strong and thrive.

Contrary to popular belief, all publicity isn’t good publicity. If you felt that way, put yourself in Shel’s shoes. Would you feel good right now? Being the butt of the joke (people laughing at you) is different than telling the joke (people laughing with you), isn’t it?

What Now?

There are ways out of this for them, it’s not that difficult. I honestly wish Shel the best of luck, I hope everything works out for his show and Fast Company TV. But let me be clear: there are ways to turn this negative situation into a positive even if Loren kept the domain.