Sunday, November 27, 2011

Quilt Quotes

Journalists call semi-fabricated quotes "quilt quotes."

As the name suggests, quilt quotes comprise sayings that have been assembled from separately spoken or written texts.

I prefer the even more colorful term used by video producers: "Frankenbites."

Quilt quotes, unless intended to distort a speaker's message, aren't the worst of writers' sins. But often the original statements are far more interesting than the fabrication.
Here's a case in point. Last week, I visited one of the Occupy DC camps. (Side note: Critics of Occupy should consider doing the same. You won't find a more patriotic gathering outside an American Legion picnic.) DC, of course, has a thing for memorials, particularly inscribed ones. The Occupants have turned the camp I saw into a memorial of sorts.  The sidewalks are covered with placards. While a few feature anonymous sayings, most are like the one above. 

I was so taken with Thomas Jefferson's words, I had to look them up. I quickly discovered that Jefferson never quite said them.

The first two sentences come from a section of his Notes on Virginia, written in 1781. In the passage where they appear, Jefferson argues for securing freedom of worship in a bill of rights before the Revolutionary War ends and America's leaders turn "corrupt," its followers "careless."
The third sentence comes from an 1816 letter Jefferson wrote to his farming buddy George Logan). Jefferson actually wrote: "I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
The "example" Jefferson meant was Great Britain. Spending by the British government on foreign wars was so out of control at the time, Jefferson felt certain it would bring "the ruin of its people," especially the "hereditary aristocracy" responsible for those wars. He didn't want to see Americans make the same mistake.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Capitalist Manifesto

"A manifesto about the end of the mass market," Seth Godin's latest book, We Are All Weird, asks you to accept that "weird is the new normal."

Weird isn't a function of physiognomy (think Charles Stratton or Joseph Merrick). Nor is it a state of being self-styled (think Oscar Wilde or Paul Reubens).

Weird is simply a new waythe new wayto behave as a consumer:
  • To be weird is to demand a vast choice of products. Products so highly customized they appeal only to members of your tiny "tribe" of fellow weirdos. (Like Chia Obama, pictured above, which appeals to hard-core Democrats with a love of indoor gardening and The Mod Squad.) Demanding choice is, in fact, the essence of weird.
  • To be weird is to demand luxury. Only the rich can afford vast choice.  The rich can choose, for example, not merely among "31 flavors," but strawberry basil ice cream, candied bacon ice cream or goat cheese ice cream. The poor can only choose between chocolate and vanilla, if they're lucky.
The good news: everywhere you look, wealth keeps increasing (despite gaping income disparity).

Right now, Godin writes, "There are 10 million households with a net worth of over a million dollars. And there are millions (perhaps a billion people) who make enough money from their day job that they're able to pursue something they enjoy with their spare time. More and more often, the thing they enjoy is something weird."

Godin's advice? If you're marketing a product to the wealthy, it'd better be weird.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Influence is in Inverse Proportion to Distance

Consultant Alan Weiss devoted his Monday Morning Memo this week to the primacy of meeting people face to face.

"Influence is in inverse proportion to distance," he writes.

Weiss's point: If you really want to win friends and influence people, you need to get out of your cubbyhole and press the flesh.

Face-to-face enthuses and charms others.

"Yet so many in business default to email instead of personal contact.  No one has ever charmed me with an email."

Coincidentally, commentator Chris Matthews this weekend took up the same theme.

Matthews thinks the Obama Administration's failure to lead can be blamed on "little kids" who favor emails over getting out of the the White House to attend events.

My own word to the wise: Don't Tweet. Meet.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Why Losers Lose

My latest post explained why winning companies win.

But why do losing ones lose?

The answer is simple.

Look at the ad on the right.

Instead of focusing on customers' needs, losing companies focus on their own.

They make the customer feel like a pawn in their game.

What's more, they brag about it.

John Wanamaker, called in his day the "King of Merchants," had it right.

"When a customer enters my store, forget me. He is king."

Are you treating customers like kings... or pawns?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Winners Win

Winning businesses win by innovating.

But innovation that isn't communicated doesn't cut it.

Winning businesses communicate their innovations to customers.

I pity the tens of thousands of truly talented technologists, engineers and managers who don't "get" the inexorable truth of that statement.

They will innovate. And they will still lose.

Why? Because they'll skimp on marketing or—worse—leave the job to juniors.

The solipsist asks, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

The marketer asks, "If a business comes up with an innovation and no one hears about it, does it have a real innovation?"

Steve Jobs (as quoted in the new biography Steve Jobs) said it well.

"You can't win on innovation unless you have a way to communicate to customers."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

How to Handle a Rick Perry Moment

Bowing to the neuroscientists, The Washington Post calls Rick Perry's forever-famous senior moment a "retrieval failure."

I asked professional speaker Thom Singer what advice he'd offer the luckless governor.

Rightly or wrongly, "People are judged by how they speak in public," Singer says.  "We determine the level of a person's intelligence by the way they perform on stage."  

Thinking on your feet is learned skill, Singer insists.  But, because a moment like Rick Perry's "can happen to anyone," he offers public speakers these three tricks of the trade:

Never "wing it."  "Any time you wing it, you're likely to fail.  So don't.  Practice, practice, practice.  The best way is to role-play with someone else."

Keep your written talking points handy.  This is especially wise for times when you have to go "off script."  "If you get derailed, your talking points can get you back on track easily."

Take ownership of your gaffe.  When you have a Rick Perry moment, "don't try to avoid it.  Take ownership of your slip-up right away.  Poke fun at yourself and your audience will judge you favorably."

Postscript: At least one neuroscientist, Dr. David Langer, recommends coffee.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Cheap Vindication

    If you work in a creative job, you learn quickly to accept rejection.

    If not, you don't last very long.

    Some of my own favorite creations have, in fact, never seen the light of day. 

    They were rejected by clients.

    No big deal.  There's always more where that came from.

    Still, sometimes, deep down, the rejections bother you.

    As Lance Armstrong said, "A boo is a lot louder than a cheer.” 

    Once you're past the sting, you're left harboring the feeling it's them, not you, who's missing something.

    So it's consoling to read, about a third of the way through Walter Isaacson's new biography, Steve Jobs, that Apple's board of directors detested the now-legendary TV commercial "1984" when Jobs first showed it to them.

    They insisted it be trash-canned.

    Jobs and his ad agency defied the board (as chairman, he could afford to).  The spot aired during the Super Bowl. 

    The rest is history.

    Relishing the fact that "1984" almost never aired because a bunch of stodgy executives didn't "get it" is cheap vindication.

    I'll take it anyway.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Word Limit

    I enjoy consultant Alan Weiss' monthly e-newsletter Balancing Act.

    Weiss is the Andy Rooney of the corporate boardroom.

    In the current edition, he bemoans our poor command of language.

    "I’ve always believed that language controls discussion, discussion controls relationships, and relationships control business," Weiss writes.

    Ain't it the truth.

    "As I listen to interviewees on talk shows, protestors on the streets, politicians on the stump, and athletes on a celebratory high, I’m aghast at how poorly they reflect their conditions and circumstances," Weiss writes. "Many are functionally inarticulate. It seems like those with the least ability to express themselves miraculously and insidiously wind up with the opportunity to face the largest audiences."

    It's ironic that business professionals (salespeople, in particular) spend most of their time every day talking.

    But how much time do they devote to sprucing up their verbal "tool bags?"

    "How many new tools are you acquiring?" Weiss asks.  "Or do you still have the same old, tattered bag you had ten years ago?"

    As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
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