Tag Archives: Strategy

World Economic Forum Associate Director and Obama Campaign New Media Team Member Rahaf Harfoush

20 Sep

Lunch with Mary 043

Date of lunch:
Monday, September 20, 2010

The company:
Rahaf Harfoush, after living in Geneva, has just moved to Paris (jealous) and works for the World Economic Forum as the Associate Director of the Technology Pioneers Programme. She is also a sought after new media and technology speaker with engagements all over the world from Egypt to Uruguay to Toronto. In 2008, she was part of the new media team working on the Barack Obama campaign in Chicago. She has published a book about the experience called “Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand”. She is currently in Toronto for 10 days for several speaking engagements and interviews and I was very happy to get some time on her very busy calendar.

The food:
We ate at Kit Kat on King West. I was a bit disappointed in that I made a reservation and was then given one of the worst tables in the restaurant. What’s the point of a reservation? We were, however, able to move in the end. Rahaf had the warm scallop salad (which looked delish) and I had the agnolotti daily special – it was FULL of cheese and amazing but I assume extremely unhealthy. We both had diet Cokes and Rahaf had a tea. Total bill was $40 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I feel a bit silly writing this but having lunch with Rahaf kind of felt like a life-changing moment. I spoke with Rahaf about the amazing things she has already accomplished at a young age, like having a successful book published and working on Obama’s campaign. She just explained that she is like a dowsing stick. When an opportunity arises or she is looking into doing something, she wants to be so excited about it that she is shaking like a dowsing stick that has found water. And if she feels that way about a job or opportunity, she will find a way to do it. I have never met someone who so fully lives by this rule. She searches out inspiring work and makes it happen. Now this book I keep talking about – it’s time to make it happen.

The lunch:
Rahaf explained to me that while working on the research and writing team for Don Tapscott’s book “Grown Up Digital”, she interviewed Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and coordinator of online organizing for Obama’s campaign. After speaking with him, she knew she needed to get on the ground and be part of this amazing movement. She called Chris and he told her to get down to Chicago asap. So Rahaf put her current work contracts on hold, found roommates on Craigslist and moved herself to Chicago.

I love Chicago and had the pleasure of being there just a few weeks before Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and the city was buzzing. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in the campaign war room and part of the groundbreaking social media campaign as excitement was continuing to grow.

Rahaf’s current work at the World Economic Forum is really fascinating. The Technology Pioneers Programme identifies companies from around the world that are involved in the design and development of new technologies, typically in the start-up phase. Once identified as a Technology Pioneer, these companies become part of the World Economic Forum’s network and benefit from this integration. 2011 Pioneers include foursquare and Scribd.

Rahaf has now gotten her work schedule down to about 70% of her time so she can commit herself to writing her second book, which she is co-authoring with Len Brody tentatively titled Misfits: How We’ve Outgrown the Way We Live and What to Do About It”.

 As I mentioned above, Rahaf also commits a good deal of her time to speaking engagements and through this she has had an amazing opportunity to travel all over the world, and sometimes add a few days here and there to be a tourist, such as an extended trip to Portugal earlier this year and another trip to Uruguay and one to Columbia coming up. For someone who admitted to me that she doesn’t like to fly, she certainly is racking up a lot of air miles.

I was truly inspired after my lunch with Rahaf. She is so positive and driven and genuinely excited about the work she is doing and the future of her career. It’s really amazing to see and something I hope that everyone can accomplish in their lives. I hope to be able to speak with Rahaf again and see how she’s doing on her current and new projects and perhaps try to get some of her incredible optimism, drive and perseverance to rub off on me.

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Strategic Innovation Practitioner, Author and Professor Alexander Manu

17 Aug

Lunch with Mary 021

Date of lunch:
Thursday, August 13, 2009

The company:
Alexander Manu’s career is so diverse and interesting that it is actually quite difficult to describe. He works with Fortune 500 companies to help them with innovation, strategic insight and understanding “desire” – it’s not needs , it’s desires that motivate. From this work, he designed a course at Rotman’s for MBA students called “Innovation, Foresight and Business Design.” It sounds like an amazing course. Alexander is working to help businesspeople to not just think in numbers but to understand what makes people tick, what their desires are and use this knowledge to design products. Alexander told me I can audit his course in September. I hope he meant it.

 

The food:
We met at the Bedford Academy on Prince Arthur and sat on the beautiful patio. Alexander actually did not eat but I, of course, did not miss the opportunity to chow down. I had the grilled portobello and goats cheese salad, which was good except I hate when I have to cut my salad before I eat it – I just wish the cooks would slice the portobello so I didn’t have to. Ok, rant over. I also had a diet Coke to drink. Alexander had a coffee and Compari soda. Total bill was $30 with tax.

 

The lunch lesson:
The biggest lesson of the lunch was just being able to see the world for a few moments from Alexander’s perspective. I can try to explain what I mean by describing one of his favorite innovations, the iPhone. The product is not the iPhone – you are the product. Because your experience with the iPhone is totally dependent on how you choose to use it. Without you, it’s just an object. But add the app store and you’re able to customize it any way you like – it’s a music player, a camera, a GPS, restaurant finder, a level, a gaming console, a translator and more. So when the iPhone came to market, it let the users make it into what it was, instead of it telling you what it was. According to Alexander, it’s not really a phone – that word almost takes away from its possibilities. Just a slight twist to how you perceive the products around you, but an important one.

 

The lunch:
This was a fascinating lunch and I hope that I am able to accurately capture what we spoke about.

The first question I asked Alexander was to help me to understand what he does for a living. He studied Industrial Design but his work is so much more. He started to tell me about his work with lottery corporations. This client really excited Alexander because, he explains, unlike some other companies, the lottery corporations understand “desire”. They aren’t selling tickets, they are selling hope, which is a lot more fun. I have been known after buying a lottery ticket to walk down the street and imagine what I will do with the money – a house, a cottage, a vacation, taking all my friends and family on an amazing trip, a car, sharing my good fortune, and just thinking about it makes me happy. And this is what Alexander likes about working with them – it’s so much more than tickets.

Alexander talked about the companies that we are going to see emerging in upcoming years. The models of these companies will be different from anything we see now and the way they are marketed and promoted is going to change. There will be a shift in the value proposition – currently defined as: A business or marketing statement that summarizes why a consumer should buy a product or use a service. This statement should convince a potential consumer that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than other similar offerings – Investopedia.com. As Alexander said about the iPhone, the company is identifying the desire and the customer is creating the value proposition. And this shifts advertising and marketing into a different role.

Alexander also spoke about some of the work he gets to do. He has had a busy summer, heading to the Maritimes to provide insight to entrepreneurs and soon to be heading off to Finland to speak with business people there. He is also an author of several business books focused on imagination and innovation and has a new one coming out shortly. His perspective is really unique and he is working hard to help others to understand how to create and innovate in ways that will garner success.

I really could have spoken with Alexander for hours. At one point he asked me if I was recording our conversation in order to help me to write my blog later. As a practice, I don’t record my lunches. I like them to be casual conversations that I can then capture afterwards. I will usually jot down a bunch of notes right after the lunch to ensure that I get the good stuff down while it’s still top of mind but I don’t want the process to be too formal.

With Alexander, I really wish I had recorded our lunch because I am sure I haven’t captured nearly enough of what I learned in this post. But that is why I hope the offer is still on the table to take his class at Rotman’s this fall – I’ll be sure to take great notes!