Our Blog

Our Blog

Summer Dreamin’

Uncategorized No comments

images-1As I walked during a beautiful summer sunset here in the Presidio of San Francisco, young sparrows were darting across my path, evoking fond memories of this season in Japan, where I spent 13 years as an American expatriate. The swallow is a symbol of the hottest days in August, and their beautiful silhouette equates the summer treat, “shaved ice.” Their image is used to advertise shaved ice on fluttering cloth banners to this day. I remember the one that hung at the temple grounds where I studied gymnastics for a few years when I first moved to Tokyo from Silicon Valley at the age of 13.


This morning, as I did yoga, I began to reflect on the sweaty days training in the dilapidated little gym off the grand grounds of Ikegami Honmon-ji (池上本門寺), dating to 1608. I enjoyed reminiscing about the experiences that stood out to me at that time.  As I spend a moment doing some summer dreaming, I realize how much these memories are a paimgresrt of the fabric of my life today – shaping my approach to business and to life.


I was a competitive gymnast and came to know the temple where the summer swallow banner hangs because we had been introduced to the gym’s founder, an Olympic gold medalist, by the Danish coach my brother and I trained with in US. The opportunity to pursue my passion for gymnastics in two cultures and two contexts left a deep impression.


Though I don’t have easy access to my dairy at 13, here’s what it would have said on this summer day, many years ago:

  • We train very differently in Japan, starting each session by chanting a Buddhist scripture on the wall, written in beautiful characters. The kids have a staccato way of saying the words, which I’m learning to mimic.
  • Our warm-ups are exotic to me – we do yoga movements, not the jumping jacks I did in the US. I like the way my gymnast friends pummel me too. There is a degree of intensity that inspires me here. I will progress at a new rate because the kids and teachers are expecting it of me.
  • The girls are intrigued with my being a foreigner and are giving me all kinds of special attention and smiles. (Meanwhile, my brother is getting into fights with the boys who are taunting him for being different….He learns to swear in Japanese quicker and better than I do.)
  • These new friends are not like the tougher teens at my junior high school in America. They are cuddly and familial, and like things like “Little Kitty” (while my friends back home in American are writing to me about parties without parents and all the ensuing gossip.) My gymnast friends take me under their wing, explaining all the etiquette needed to follow at a the temple – how to enter and leave the sacred grounds – turning to bow to the grand tori gates. Of course, because its a temple, there are many, many steps to climb (this is where I learn to count in Japanese). When there’s time, we also wash our hands with bamboo ladles to purify ourselves. Sometimes, when it’s “needed,” we scrub the statue to relieve our gymnasts’ aches and pains. We’re also sure to use our hands to wave the burning incense toward our heads during exam season – apparently it helps! In the gym, we bow and express words of deep respect and humility to each piece of equipment before we began our training. Of course, teachers are not just teachers, they are “sensei.” Some translate this word as “master,” but I would say “mentor.” What they  teach us goes far beyond gymnastics. It is a “way” – a way of thinking and being both inside- and outside the gym.
  • During the New Year, we get to experience a true sense of transition with the heavy drumming emanating from the inner temples. Your entire body feels the vibrations and you sense that something has truly changed when New Years strikes. The ringing of the temple bells is another element of the occasion that makes the New Year feel like a fresh start.
  • In the spring, when the blossoms are at the peak, we are invited to picnic – right in the temple graveyard. The adults are drinking sake. Fluttering white and pink blossoms, salted plum rice balls and laughter were not something I had associated with graveyards before.
  • As summer draws to a close, we are at a pond, lighting lanterns that float across the water for those who have come before us. It is to light their way back to visit us again on earth. One older women asked me to help her find the one that belonged to her deceased son. Her eyes weren’t so good and she couldn’t tell that I was a foreigner. I felt a deep sense of responsibility towards her and her son. Here in Japan, we feel that the other world is very close to us – nature and people, living or dead. The hot, humid air of this island country on a summer’s day makes me feel that I trust humanity.
  • Every day I am here, I am acutely aware that there is so much that is not articulated. Beneath the surface, around the corner, imbedded deep within the realm of the intuition, there is something that seems to shimmer. It is yet-to-be-discovered and provides my life with an element of mystery – a puzzle, a gift…. a bit of magic.


Taking the mystery out of SEO – go directly to the source

Uncategorized No comments


As we all experience in our day-to-day lives, Google searches have became the place where marketing issues play out for many organizations. When customers need information, they need it now, and are most likely to turn to a Google search. What does this mean for marketers? It means we all need to be aware of how Google ranks and what customers want to know.

Take a moment to see what SEO leaders at large companies like Walmart ask when they get the opportunity to speak directly with our Google gods. Particularly reassuring is that Google simply rewards those who use common-sense marketing practices that appeal to customers – great content that is responding to what customers want to know.  Also, of note,  in this clip is the fallout after major changes announced by Google last April (“sites that are not mobile will be penalized”).

Thanks, Jason Youk, SEO Internet Marketing Manager at Walmart, for your professional guidance in staying close to evolving SEO issues in our market. You gave me great tools to roll up my sleeves and stay abreast of issues as they unfold. Anyone can become an SEO expert by listening in on this conversation, and by spending an hour a week reviewing their Google Analytics.


Happy New Year

Uncategorized No comments
BUJI and was written by Hosoai Katsudo (1919~1985) who was a Rinzai sect Daitokuji Ryugenin temple abbot. Photo by Larry Tiscornia, 1/1/15.

BUJI and was written by Hosoai Katsudo (1919~1985) who was a Rinzai sect Daitokuji Ryugenin temple abbot. Photo by Larry Tiscornia, 1/1/15.

In Japan, it is the tradition to choose a single theme for the year ahead. From the emperor, to CEO’s and to all those who seek focus in their efforts, a single word suffices. During a year-end tea ceremony, I was greeted by the words of the Zen priest Hosoai Katsudo (1919~1985), who was a Rinzai sect Daitokuji Ryugenin temple abbot.  His calligraphy said,  “Buji,” or “without worry.” The scroll suggested that we separate from the many issues that could distract us from that which is true and meaningful and forward-looking in our world. On this new day of the new year, wishing you a year without worry and full focus on that which is essential.

Video as visual “candy”

Uncategorized No comments

Using visual candy to “trick” and “treat” your audiences – Happy Halloween!

Creative new approaches to video - as an invitaiton

Creative new approaches to video – as an invitation






















Anyone having a marketing discussion today is talking about the importance of video.

But is video always the answer?

I asked Kate Schermerhorn whose commercial and documentary film company,  Luna Park Productions team has won Emmys, Peabody Awards, Tellys, Maggies, and Oscar nominations.


Laurel: Is video always the answer?

Kate: They can backfire. A video can be counterproductive if:

1. It is out of touch. (“Are you sure you understand your audiences and what else they are watching,” asks Kate.

2. It is not high quality. (“Quirky only works sometimes,” says Kate)


Laurel: Why? Isn’t iPhone video considered the “snapshot” of the video industry?

Kate: The problem is that there is a lot of footage out there:  the internet is resembling TV. On the one hand,  people don’t want to read anymore. On the other, the challenge is that videos are so common that they have become mundane. In an area where there is so much video, one has to be unique in the presentation.


Laurel: What resources do you draw upon to be unique?

Kate: I lure people into to watching my videos by injecting “visual candy.” I capture their attention by appealing to their emotion.

My “tricks” include:

  1. Humor
  2. Visual Appeal
  3. The unexpected

Videos should not be another form of PowerPoint, but a means of presenting in an entirely new way.


Laurel: Can you show an example of this story-telling technique?

Kate: This was an attempt to tell a story in a new way. Rather than letting the audience know the kids are in juvenile hall up front, we chose to draw the audience in with the creation of beautiful art by these kids before revealing where the classes were taking place…..



Laurel: What’s your vision for where video is headed?

Kate: Creativity will reign because audiences are becoming too sophisticated for canned video. I foresee a time in the near future when organizations will work harder to have remarkable video vs hoping that any footage will get viewed. It won’t.


Laurel: Where are you pushing the creative limits of video to get results?

Kate: I’ve enjoyed coming up with a new concept – the video-invite. I’ve never seen anything like it, and created this with a client. It is proving to be both beautiful and effective in terms of getting click-throughs and RSVP’s for the event:



Producer Kate Schermerhorn

Producer Kate Schermerhorn











About Kate Schermerhorn

  • Award ­winning and endorsed ­ – Luna Park Productions team has won Emmys, Peabody Awards, Tellys, Maggies, and Oscar nominations. Endorsed by The New Yorker, Scientific American, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Sensitivity to high profile subjects ­ – Past interviewees include Cesar Chavez, Daniel Ellsberg, Pete McCloskey, Simon Winchester, Michael Pollan, Ethel Kennedy, Howard Zinn, Gordon Moore, William Miller, Al Badgley, Paul Saffo, Rita Moreno
  • Highly experienced with long and short form documentaries ­ – Over 30 years of experience on documentaries, corporate, non­profits, and commercials (Seeking 1906 trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcr00rha9rs )
  • Innovative and creative ­ – Luna Park’s approach to storytelling includes humor and beautiful imagery for entertaining, engaging, and unexpected content to engage a wide variety of audience perspectives.
  • For more about documentary film producer Kate Schermerhorn, see her articles in the Huffington Post, or learn about her recently PBS debut, a film on what constitutes a happy marriage at: http://www.afterhappilyeverafter.net/#!watch or visit her website: Kateschermerhorn.com



“Networking!” A key takeaway by high school business student

Uncategorized No comments

Bobbie Reyes in Green

Bobbie Reyes, of Hayward High School, has confidence in her budding career, and if you meet her you will instantly know why.  Like any great entrepreneur, she knows how to recognize opportunities.  When she stepped into Rick Charles’ Business Finance and Marketing class last fall she was prepared to drop the course, but something in Mr. Charles’ introduction struck a chord, and she knew she had to stay.  10 months later she was runner up in the Bay Area’s regional finals, and on October 9th she will be competing with 40 other young men and women from around the nation for $25,000 in the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s (NFTE) Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

Win or lose, Bobbie is gaining tremendously from the experience using the networking skills cultivated saying that future employers are waiting to hire her once she graduates from college.

Says Reyes, “I have people waiting for me to graduate from college so that they can hire me.”

The source of her pride and forward-looking nature? Her answer, “Networking.” It is a skill she learned through her Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) instructor, Rick Charles during a program offered through his business and marketing class at Hayward High School.

The most impactful lesson she learned from NFTE, according to Reyes, is networking. She believes it is one of the most powerful skills to develop as a young person.  She says that it is due to her successful approach to networking that future employment will not be a problem.  She also believes in continual improvement, saying,  “Every time I receive an award from my community or from NFTE, I remember that there is always room to grow.” She wants young people to know that one needs to be a risk taker and to try new things. “That’s what happened to me with NFTE.  I took a chance and ran with it.  You never know what doors will open for you,” says Reyes with a smile.

During a recent visit to a NFTE classroom, the students asked for my business card. I congratulated them on their proactive approach to networking and encouraged them to develop a system that works to keep that data handy for future reference. What system do you use?

What is “innovation” after all?

Uncategorized No comments

What is Innovation, after all?

Experts in the field of “innovation” discuss the critical role that jazz serves in demonstrating, and training for, an innovative mind-set.


Jim Nadel, Executive Director, Stanford Jazz Festival

Jim Nadel, Executive Director, Stanford Jazz Festival

A term often used without a clear definition

“Innovation” is a commonly used term. In strategy documents of organizations ranging from Harvard Business School and the American Medical Association to small start-ups, the term is one that is used profusely. It is obviously important, but how you we define it and how do we achieve it?


At a recent Stanford Jazz Festival event, guests had the chance to explore the concept with leaders in business and music. Conversations revealed three essential aspects of innovation to help us start to think more deeply about what this ellusive (and often over-used) term really means.

Looking to jazz for concrete concepts

Last month, Larry Coryell & Bombay Jazz played to a capacity audience during the Stanford Jazz Festival. After the performance, some guests had the opportunity to mingle with the artists. Several of these guests, experts in the field of “innovation,” discussed the critical role that jazz serves in demonstrating, and training for, an innovative mind-set. These guests, each leaders in their respective fields, reviewed three (3) essential elements of innovation.

1. Teamwork/collaboration


Elizabeth Doty, Founder, Leadership Momentum

Elizabeth Doty, Founder, Leadership Momentum

Elizabeth Doty, a graduate of Harvard Business School and founder of Leadership Momentum commented, “On-stage, you see the performers working in harmony to create a unified experience. They are each  able to shine, but they also adapt to ensure the whole performance weaves together.”   She was impressed because her work involves helping leaders collaborate more effectively. For her, teamwork is essential. She adds, “If leaders do not work as a team, their efforts to innovate can create confusion or complexity for customers and other stakeholders.”


Band member George Brooks emphasized that a great deal of emphasis of jazz is on collaboration, explaining, “We work on stepping in or holding back based on what will work best for the whole.” This type of sensitivity and awareness of group dynamics plays out in every one of their performances, as it does in other jazz performances, where there is a great deal of leeway regarding what will happen at any given point in time.


Collaboration is an important feature of the innovation process overall, according to a specialist in the field, Debra Dunn, who is also a Stanford Jazz Workshop Board member and consulting faculty member of the Stanford Design School. She, too, had been to the show, and provided background on innovation from an academic and a practical standpoint, adding that, one of the primary reasons she joined the Stanford Jazz Workshop Board was because of the method that the school uses to teach the skill of collaboration:


“The work done in the camp is about far more than music. There is a much higher probability, especially among people who have that experience during their formative years, that they will learn about how to be part of a group, how to collaborate, be open to what other people are bringing, and look on ways to build upon that. That is a big part of what happens at jazz camp: they are learning to work with others in a way is different from other educational venues.”

2. Diversity


Debra Dunn, Consulting Faculty Member, Stanford Design School

Debra Dunn, Consulting Faculty Member, Stanford Design School

To Dunn, this particular performance also demonstrated another vital part of the innovation process: bringing diverse points of view together “to create the germ of some phenomenal new break-through.” The band had members from America and India performing onstage together. After describing the successful aesthetic effect that that created musically, she went on to explain how the concept is successful in business:


“The concert on Saturday night was a beautiful example of how jazz exhibits and models innovation. That group brought together radically different musical forms – classical Indian music and what we think of more commonly as jazz.  When you take a multi dimensional team trying to solve a problem and you put them in a room together, it looks very much like that. This concert provided a great example [of this element of the innovation process.]”  Describing it in business terms, she believes that bringing outside perspectives into an organization helps that organization create and implement important changes.”


3. Improvisation – working without a script

George Brooks (left) of Larry Coryell & Bombay Jazz

George Brooks (upper left) of Larry Coryell & Bombay Jazz

According to Jim Nadel, Founder and Artistic & Executive Director of Stanford Jazz Workshop, “An important part of the innovative process involves risk-taking and trying new things. Performers and students, both, develop the skills needed to experiment and improvise. These skills include:  self-confidence, goal-setting, and spontaneity” says Nadel. He explains that students learn to make quick decisions, but also to prepare/practice, so that, when the moment comes, they are “ready” to react with strong skills to bring a solid result. “Having a beginners mind outlook, combined with years of practice, enable those who improvise to do so successfully,” says Nadel.

Looking forward to hearing more up-to-the-minute information on how those around us are defining the term “innovation.”

What’s in store for the future of Medical School Education?

Uncategorized No comments

The future of medical school education – “creating leaders of change”

Dr. Clay Johnston, dean, Dell Medical School: soft smile belies bold mission

Dr. Clay Johnston, dean, Dell Medical School: soft smile belies bold mission


Yesterday, The New England Journal of Medicine published an article entitled “Innovation in Medical Education.” http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1407463 Similarly, last fall, the American Medical Association rolled out a plan to introduce “innovation” to medical school education.

What are the issues and how will new paths be forged?

I had the opportunity to speak with the dean of America’s newest medical school to learn more about these issues first-hand. In this piece I cover his perspective on the issue, and review points raised in the medical community publications cited above.

Dr. Clay Johnston, Dell Medical School, University of Texas, founding dean, summarized the overarching problem he will be addressing in his new role:  “Doctors have often resisted change even in the face of a healthcare system begging for improvement.” To that end, he continued, “we’ve got to make anticipating and shaping the future a part of the core mindset of future physicians.  Rather than being the ones resisting change, or even reluctantly accepting new approaches from other sources, doctors need to be trained to proactively drive the change needed in our industry.”

American Medical Association (AMA) Approach

Last fall, the American Medical Association (AMA) hosted a pivotal meeting to initiate the transformation of medical education in the U.S.


The AMA proposes four new initiatives to update their educational system to create an openness to transformation within their ranks. These include:

  • Competency-based curriculum

  • Technology-enhanced learning

  • Team-based training/ integrating education across medical professions

  • Greater focus on prevention and chronic diseases

The New England Journal of Medicine: “Innovation in Medical Education” proposal

The authors recommended three changes in medical school education:

  1. Establishing metrics for success in the goal of  “the production of a workforce capable of delivering economically sustainable care that will improve the health of patients and populations in a changing environment”

  1. Examining fundamental changes to the structure of medical education, such as whether graduation should be time-based or competency-based;

  1. Piloting new models for financing medical education. As it stands today, they say “Currently Medicare (mostly) pays hospitals (mostly) for training residents (exclusively physicians), using a historical formula that is largely untethered to current goals.”

Trends to watch

Hopefully, as the AMA and other stakeholders roll out new initiatives, they will keep their eye on the overarching purpose of these mechanisms, as articulated by Dr. Johnston – “creating leaders of change in medicine.”


Tracking and replicating success among new institutions, such as Dell, in addition to other schools that have established a reputation for leading new initiatives, will be essential.


For those interested in hearing Dr. Johnston’s vision for change, scroll ahead to the last four minutes of this video presentation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1Hf8Dar1IQ


Is “The American Dream” moving overseas?

Uncategorized No comments

Is “The American Dream” moving overseas?

It appears entrepreneurial activity has slowed in the US, but is growing overseas.

Why is the spirit of change/innovation important to any economy?

OnPoint Interview: Beyond Silicon Valley, Declining Entrepreneurship.

Has Silicon Valley become corporate? Can the entrepreneurial spirit thrive?

Has Silicon Valley become corporate? Can the entrepreneurial spirit thrive?


A new Brookings Institute study reveals a drop (by nearly half) in new business creation (“entrepreneurship”) and business risk-taking overall across the last 30-40 years in the US. Even in Silicon Valley itself, considered the hotbed of business creation in the US, according to the study, the percentage of new businesses was dramatically reduced over the last three to four decades.


During a recent OnPoint show, four thought-leaders, including  Danielle Kurtzleben, economics and business correspondent for Vox.com, Nancy Koehn, historian and professor business administration at the Harvard Business School (HBS). Ray Hennessey, editorial director of Entrepreneur.com. (@Hennesseyedit), Lina Khan, policy analyst in the Markets, Enterprise and Resiliency Initiative at the New America Foundation. (@linamkhan)


Why are economists like Danielle Kurtzleben,  economics and business correspondent for Vox.com, concerned?  She explains, “This sort of ‘churn’ or ‘business dynamism,’ which includes moving from job to job and learning new skills,  is essential to growth.” Another word she uses to describe it is “creative destruction” (linking “entrepreneurship” to “innovation.”)  She warns, “Productivity is reduced when there is less change.” Based on observations of global competitive trends, she warns, “If you are not moving workers around, this really could put a crimp on growth.”


Nancy Koehn, historian and business administration professor at HBS, whose work focuses on entrepreneurial leadership, is equally disturbed. She says, that, in this study, “we see an ongoing and steepening trend, especially in the last six years.” She underlines, “This is a big deal.” Why? Because, she explains, this means that job creation and innovation are also down. This has cultural implications as well because America has always been the place defined by its entrepreneurial spirit. She calls it “can-do” and “make-it-up-as-you-go-along,” and “do-something-different” and states that these concepts have been part of the “American Dream.” She says that the definition of “entrepreneurship” (coming out of HBS in the 1970’s) is “opportunity driven vs. resource constrained,” and that this is the root of economic growth and the rise of new, successful businesses, concluding, “Entrepreneurial activity is important to the beginnings of big business…..This trend is worrisome for what it portends for 20-30 years from now.”


The speakers agreed that, while entrepreneurship and the innovation mindset is markedly subdued  in the last 30 years in the US, overseas, it is “catching fire.”

It will be interesting to verify this trend of entrepreneurial activity growing overseas while stagnating in the US with real data and to see if, over time, what these economists predict, will reshape the global playing field for new business growth.

OnPoint Interview: Beyond Silicon Valley, Declining Entrepreneurship.

Aligning ourselves around the term “entrepreneurship” (2006, HBS Professor Howard Steven article)


Special Thanks:


Thank you, Kaz Asakawa @Kaz_Asakawa management professor and specialist in innovation at Keio University in Japan,  for bringing this issue to my attention.