How to Eat an Elephant, Part 4: When The Choir Rebels. ~Cameron Burgess

Via on Nov 16, 2009

EJ

Having spent two days hot-housing with Waylon [Lewis, founder of elephant magazine and now elephantjournal.com, elevision and now Walk the Talk Show] and then opening up both him and elephant to (lots of) feedback from the community, I feel compelled to offer him the deepest of bows.

Because as much as he’s taken a beating through the last post (which confirmed my belief that many people don’t bother to comprehend what’s being asked of them before they comment), he has continued to remain open, available, and thoroughly vulnerable—you know, human.

It bears testament to his commitment to supporting a conversation about ‘living the mindful life’—how many other people do you know who would have the courage or foolishness to open the door to criticism in a public forum for all the world (including advertisers) to see?

So, as my mom used to say whenever I spoke out of turn—”Thanks for sharing!” and thanks also—a genuine thank you—to those who communicated authentically and honourably in line with what was being asked: how can elephant improve?

The purpose of this post, as much as to illuminate how elephant is moving, is to redress the balance and to reflect back some of the erroneous assumptions being made by the community about Waylon, elephant and business in general.

The reason why Waylon agreed to this process of being blogged about, agreed to be exposed to the community, is because he believed, as do I, that this conversation relates not just to elephant, but to most businesses that are striving to “make the world a better place.” He was therefore willing to go under the microscope, or onto the cutting board.

None of the below assumptions are new to me—they’re common amongst individuals, organizations and communities who dedicate themselves to some sort of ‘higher’ calling (whatever that means to them), yet I never cease to be amazed at the myopia of the mindful masses.

1.  The most common criticism raised was that elephant is “all about Waylon.” [Ironically, some advised that he make it more so, and get rid of other voices].

Duh!

It’s his business! It’s not a non-profit (not intentionally, at least), it’s not a religion, it’s a business. A personality driven, media business. Does Ariana Huffington get the same criticism? David Letterman? Garrison Keillor? Ira Glass? How about Jon Stewart? Or Oprah?

And when it comes to using face and voice to pass along a “spiritual” message, I don’t hear anyone criticizing the Dalai Lama…

Somehow, it seems, that some of elephant’s readers have forgotten that elephant is subject to the same requirements of any business. It’s not philanthropically funded, nor buoyed up by donations. It’s funded through commercial activities—most specifically advertising—and has been pushed along by a strong and media savvy personality.

When the mission is “to be of benefit,” then fame is simply a way of achieving leverage. The Buddhists don’t seem to have an issue with it, according to Waylon, just so long as it’s serving the greater good.

We recognize, however, that the mission Waylon is inspired by—that of supporting conversation about living “the mindful life”—needs to continue to grow beyond his limited capacity to orchestrate. As a founder, holder of the original vision or mission, his role is to offer a space for the conversation through several different mediums, rather than being merely the dominate contributor to that conversation.

2.  ideas about enlightenment and/or enlightened behavior are not enlightened

I know I’m straying here, from a conversation about business, but who, amongst elephant’s 90,000 monthly odd readers is qualified to define enlightenment?

To quote Jessica Duravage from South Carolina, who said:

“If you don’t agree with something.. whether it be Waylon, Elephant or your boss… THAT my friends is your practice. Being open to the information IS YOUR PRACTICE. Deciding how you want to use it IS YOUR PRACTICE. Judging it because it is not serving your immediate needs or wants is %#$@%*$^ [ed]”

Just saying..!

3. promoting products and accepting advertising contradicts the mission

If you live in the forest, in a house you built with your own hands, using tools you made yourself from local, naturally occurring materials, and you walked there, naked, and made whatever clothes you’re wearing using fibers you grew yourself, locally, with tools you fashioned from local, naturally occurring materials, and you grow and harvest your own food and cook it with utensils you made from local, naturally occurring materials, with fire you made by rubbing two sticks together…

…Then there may be some degree of validity to taking the position that being mindful means not promoting product (still, you’ll want to check with the Forest Rangers about use of public lands, or you’ll get kicked out).

In the meantime, buying responsibly-sourced goods that you actually need is a practical way we all get to be mindful, to help change our economy from a consumption-based disaster toward an eco-responsible one. Supporting companies that are moving in the right direction improves access and affordability (try telling someone living in the Projects they should be eating organic and buying sustainable fashion, and see how far that gets you).

Where to from here?

Interestingly, the discussions we’ve had illuminated the very issues raised in the comments—issues that it’s clear Waylon was already aware of (our sessions occurred in advance of the comments). In order to expand the mission, however, there are some key strategic decisions that have been made:

  1. Begin the process of teasing apart Waylon and elephant by creating his own unique web presence that will:
    • (re)publish a selection of his blog posts, videos and articles – from elephant, Huffington Post, Shambhala Sun and elsewhere
    • provide a platform for him as both a paid speaker and author (he’s currently working on two books)
    • allow him to lend his personality to elephant in a way that is less about injecting himself into the conversation, and more about promoting that conversation through his engagement with various green / social / mindful events beyond Boulder, Colorado
  2. create a process for receiving elephant content from around the world that will:
    • require less editing and input on Waylon’s part
    • increase the relevance of content to readers from outside of Colorado
    • provide more relevance to advertisers from outside the Boulder / Denver area – with a  particular focus on California, & New York (who, combined, represent about 25% of the site traffic)
    • increase the number and quality of daily posts (more posts  = more readers = more advertisers = more money = more staff = more posts = more readers = more influence = mission being accomplished)
  3. employ a part / full time editor
    • they will be responsible for maintaining the integrity of elephant’s voice
    • this will free Waylon to work more on Walk the Talk Show, completing his books, and attending / speaking at more conferences
  4. redesign the elephant website:
    • provide better grouping of content, rather than the single stream (in line with the ‘tabs’ idea) so that site visitors can more quickly and easily find what they are looking for (website visitors rarely use ‘search’ functionality, and will generally look to what presents on the homepage to drive them deeper into the site)
    • round three will be to start presenting a homepage based upon the site visitor’s location (so that visitors from LA, for instance, can choose to see a mix of local LA content with the balance of content from elephant’s general stream)

So there you have it—and you’re welcome to comment and make suggestions (and inevitably will…). That said, the basic strategy is not up for debate. It’s been decided. In service to Waylon. In service to mission. In service to you. In service to all beings. In service to life.

And whilst we all may stumble upon the path, in equal measure in the seeming paradox between being in the world and yet not of it, it’s a journey we’re all taking together – one immaculately flawed and human step at a time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cameron Burgess

Cameron Burgess is a recent Australian addition to the Boulderverse.

He is the CEO of a group of companies incorporating uncompromise, icologi & wellnessconnect that provide commercialization, strategic development, marketing & digital services purely to the health and sustainability market.

Cameron is also a core-team member of w1sd0m – a global network that helps organize the flow of intellectual, social, human, & financial capital to strengthen Global Social Enterprise.

A speaker, workshop facilitator and agent provocateur, Cameron can be found on twitter @uncompromise

About Cameron Burgess

Cameron Burgess has been founding, catalysing and advising sustainable ventures for more than fifteen years; he is a sustainable venture strategist, founder of @uncompromise & @connect_well, co-founder of @w1sd0m_net, a speaker, facilitator, writer, agitator and fierce angel. Currently on Australia's East Coast, Cameron is a digital nomad and moves from location to location, country to country, based upon his own personal interest and the needs of his clients. If you'd like to find out more about Cameron, visit his website here

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26 Responses to “How to Eat an Elephant, Part 4: When The Choir Rebels. ~Cameron Burgess”

  1. John says:

    So, what I am taking away from this and from the comments on the previous posts is (and I am just Proboscid neophyte) that change scares the pants off of everyone. It always goes back to change and how people react to it. Change hurts and bugs the shit out of us, even the good changes.

    I think the strategic changes you outlined are valid ones and ones that hopefully put Waylon where he wants to be and I wish him the best. As per the Elephant Journal, I hope the changes prove to heighten the experience rather than lessen.

    Good Lick and Cheers!

    John

  2. Thanks for the thorough analysis and summary, Cameron.

    Your strategy makes perfect sense to me. Is the Huffington Post a good model, just in a narrower market? Before I read this blog I was going to recommend that elephant be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post. Like you I feel that promoting the Waylon brand is key to any success. Why not have one publication rather than two? Elephant is clearly the dispensable brand.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  3. Thanks for the thorough analysis and summary, Cameron.

    Your strategy makes perfect sense to me. Is the Huffington Post a good model, just in a narrower market? Before I read this blog I was going to recommend that elephant be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post. Like you I feel that promoting the Waylon brand is key to any success. Why not have one publication rather than two? Elephant is clearly the dispensable brand.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  4. Thanks for the thorough analysis and summary, Cameron.

    Your strategy makes perfect sense to me. Is the Huffington Post a good model, just in a narrower market? Before I read this blog I was going to recommend that elephant be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post. Like you I feel that promoting the Waylon brand is key to any success. Why not have one publication rather than two? Elephant is clearly the dispensable brand.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  5. Thanks for the thorough analysis and summary, Cameron.

    Your strategy makes perfect sense to me. Is the Huffington Post a good model, just in a narrower market? Before I read this blog I was going to recommend that elephant be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post. Like you I feel that promoting the Waylon brand is key to any success. Why not have one publication rather than two? Elephant is clearly the dispensable brand.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  6. Thanks for the thorough analysis and summary, Cameron.

    Your strategy makes perfect sense to me. Is the Huffington Post a good model, just in a narrower market? Before I read this blog I was going to recommend that elephant be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post. Like you I feel that promoting the Waylon brand is key to any success. Why not have one publication rather than two? Elephant is clearly the dispensable brand.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  7. John says:

    I don't know, Bob. Maybe Waylon is meant to do his new thing (or old thing) and it is time for Elephant to grow some wings…and we all know what happens when Elephants grow wings…falling turds. It would be interesting to see where Elephant goes under new or different management.

    Maybe some young whippersnapper needs to pick up the reins and ride Elephant to the gates. Either way I hope that Elephant still gives voice to little dips like me.

    Cheers,

    John

  8. I'll repeat my hesitation to say anything, because I don't know enough, but I don't see any reason why Elephant shouldn't be folded in under the new Waylon strategy, as opposed to splitting it off. That would be a mistake, in my distant opinion, because when you're developing an image and persence, you need to put all available positive assets to that end. And I think Elephant definitely falls into that category–positive asset toward building Wayon's presence and influence. So use it as such. Don't treat it like a separate entity.

    I was actually quite serious when I suggested that the publication be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post, and become a varied and highly structured extension of Waylon Lewis' objectives. And in press releases I would be explicit about the comparison to what Adriana did with Huffington Post. She built her brand AND the writing careers of countless other people. Waylon should do the same, only in a more targeted market.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  9. I'll repeat my hesitation to say anything, because I don't know enough, but I don't see any reason why Elephant shouldn't be folded in under the new Waylon strategy, as opposed to splitting it off. That would be a mistake, in my distant opinion, because when you're developing an image and persence, you need to put all available positive assets to that end. And I think Elephant definitely falls into that category–positive asset toward building Wayon's presence and influence. So use it as such. Don't treat it like a separate entity.

    I was actually quite serious when I suggested that the publication be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post, and become a varied and highly structured extension of Waylon Lewis' objectives. And in press releases I would be explicit about the comparison to what Adriana did with Huffington Post. She built her brand AND the writing careers of countless other people. Waylon should do the same, only in a more targeted market.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  10. I'll repeat my hesitation to say anything, because I don't know enough, but I don't see any reason why Elephant shouldn't be folded in under the new Waylon strategy, as opposed to splitting it off. That would be a mistake, in my distant opinion, because when you're developing an image and persence, you need to put all available positive assets to that end. And I think Elephant definitely falls into that category–positive asset toward building Wayon's presence and influence. So use it as such. Don't treat it like a separate entity.

    I was actually quite serious when I suggested that the publication be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post, and become a varied and highly structured extension of Waylon Lewis' objectives. And in press releases I would be explicit about the comparison to what Adriana did with Huffington Post. She built her brand AND the writing careers of countless other people. Waylon should do the same, only in a more targeted market.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  11. I'll repeat my hesitation to say anything, because I don't know enough, but I don't see any reason why Elephant shouldn't be folded in under the new Waylon strategy, as opposed to splitting it off. That would be a mistake, in my distant opinion, because when you're developing an image and persence, you need to put all available positive assets to that end. And I think Elephant definitely falls into that category–positive asset toward building Wayon's presence and influence. So use it as such. Don't treat it like a separate entity.

    I was actually quite serious when I suggested that the publication be renamed the Waylon Lewis Post, and become a varied and highly structured extension of Waylon Lewis' objectives. And in press releases I would be explicit about the comparison to what Adriana did with Huffington Post. She built her brand AND the writing careers of countless other people. Waylon should do the same, only in a more targeted market.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  12. Thanks Bob – I understand the rationale, but respectfully disagree. Elephant is hampered in many ways by the depth of Waylon's involvement – and Waylon is equally hampered by his involvement with it.

    Waylon has a life beyond the blog – a life as an author, speaker and host of Walk the Talk. To bind up his own brand in the brand of elephant would be a fundamental mistake – it would mean that the blog would not survive him (his interest, availability or physical manifestation).

    However, as his brand grows, so elephant will grow with it – to the point where Waylon may ultimately be little more than a contributor to it, founder of it, and 'holder of the space'.

    All personalities who brand into several different fields of expression should seek to own their own name and their own identity online and in the world. Those who fail to do so, are ultimately consumed by a brand with far less flexibility than their own (if Waylon was to run for Congress, for instance, there is no reason why his website could not morph toward that end – elephant never could).

    The difference between Waylon, elephant, and Walk the Talk and the other media companies mentioned, is that only this one is so strongly mission driven.

    For Waylon to get what he wants to get out of this, this is the optimal pathway forward – and optimal, ultimately, means there is only one way.

    The work that he and I have been doing together, and the reason why this has been such a process, has been to ensure that – since it's Waylon's business and Waylon's vision – that the structures he has around him will assist in achieving the vision that he has.

  13. hey John – that's essentially what we are proposing to do. waylon will continue to hold the space – supporting, no doubt, decisions that may be financially unsound, but completely in line with the vision – but ultimately, a full-time editor and operations manager / ceo will take care of the day to day.

  14. Watch out…falllinnnnggg turddddsss!

  15. John says:

    This reminds me of the typical "Director" and "Assistant Director" Archetypes in non-profits. "Director" supplies the vision and enthusiasm while "Assistant Director" sees that it is realized within the normal constraints that is faced by the organization. This leaves the "Director" to be more of a visionary and big-picture sorta type.

    I like it (if this is what you are proposing) b/c I have seen it work quite well.

    Cheers,
    John

    Where did all the angry people go?

  16. Change is only frightening when there is a lack of clarity. After that, change may be uncomfortable, but it's guided by a strong knowing that 'this is where i'm going'

    I suspect we will see some immense shifts here (i already feel that something has changed from the variety of posts from different authors over the past week) before year's end.

    As long as I have anything to do with it …… ;)

  17. Thanks for the detailed response, Cameron.

    I'm sure you're right, since you're much closer to the situation. I'm just taking shots in the dark.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  18. Thanks for the detailed response, Cameron.

    I'm sure you're right, since you're much closer to the situation. I'm just taking shots in the dark.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  19. Thanks for the detailed response, Cameron.

    I'm sure you're right, since you're much closer to the situation. I'm just taking shots in the dark.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  20. Thanks for the detailed response, Cameron.

    I'm sure you're right, since you're much closer to the situation. I'm just taking shots in the dark.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  21. Thanks for the detailed response, Cameron.

    I'm sure you're right, since you're much closer to the situation. I'm just taking shots in the dark.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  22. Thanks for the detailed response, Cameron.

    I'm sure you're right, since you're much closer to the situation. I'm just taking shots in the dark.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  23. The accelerating rate of change we are experiencing can also be described as an accelerating rate of possibility!
    How amazing when you "blow" away the mandala you have been constructing to find that the truth has already been imprinted there on your heart.. or on this blog for that matter. Your keys to success lie in your mission and foundation. I applaud your efforts to assist bringing this company back to its mission and vision with "a determination."

    BTW – After a mayoral "run-off" (just about the most exciting politics in the history of Myrtle Beach, SC…) our current mayor has been re-elected. Just thought your might like to know the extent of the news we are getting here…. oh yes, and we cannot leave out the shady "Quilting Society" who has been accused of using CIty Council Grant money irresponsibly.

    Peace

  24. Do i smell a new branding for elephant?

  25. Angry people have no interest in being positive or constructive. They like to kick 'em when they're down. But they, I mean me.

    Still, those 100+ comments were good for me, I'm sure.

  26. Yah, we have no dough for redesign right now. We never have had. Ty Hammes, our webby from the beginning, has given us a good rate in return for our giving him an ad for his soap business, and hooking him up with other business. Sam Breed, who came in for awhile and redesigned the site, did so as an internship, more or less, and we managed to help connect him with some businesses, including his present work I guess. So we're really just built on strength of our community. Ideas, not dollars.

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