Monday, September 28, 2015

Miracle on 34th Street? Or Ploy to Sell CDs?

In the wake of Pope Francis' three-city tour, brisk sales of his forthcoming rock album Wake Up! are assured.

In Central Park, just one of many stops, he drew more than 80,000 fans—20,000 more than Beyoncé turned out the day after Francis appeared there.

You might argue the Vatican planned the trip to max out Christmas sales of Wake Up!—an acceptable stunt, provided the profits are actually used to aid refugees.

But your argument would be sheer casuistry

Apropos, given that Francis is the first Jesuit pope.

Casuistry is a method of moral reasoning perfected in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries by the Jesuits. 

It is still used today to solve moral puzzles in business, law and science.

Casuistry, derived from the Latin word casus (meaning "case"), studies all sides of a question. It becomes useful when values conflict. For example:
  • Should a CEO's duty to maximize shareholder return take priority over protecting the environment? 
  • Should employees' right to privacy yield to improved productivity? 
  • Should an employer benefit from the knowledge of workers it hires away from a competitor?
  • Should an employee take advantage of a discount offered by a supplier, if free tickets to a football game come with the deal?
But, sadly, the word casuistry, as well as phrases like "Jesuitical reasoning" and "Jesuitical arguments," are most often used as pejoratives implying intrigue and equivocation.

The Oxford English Dictionary in fact claims that casuistry "often (and perhaps originally) applied to a quibbling or evasive way of dealing with difficult cases of duty."

Sunday, September 27, 2015

6 Energy-Saving Tips for Communicators

Self-taught his trade, Jack London said he discovered how to "transmute thought, beauty, sensation and emotion into black symbols on white paper" from Herbert Spencer's now-neglected 1852 essay The Philosophy of Style.

From Spencer, London "learned that the right symbols were the ones that would require the expenditure of the minimum of my reader’s brain energy, leaving the maximum of his brain energy to realize and enjoy the content of my mind, as conveyed to his mind.”

Foreseeing today's attention-deficient audiences,
Spencer preached "the importance of economizing the reader's or hearer's attention, to so present ideas that they may be apprehended with the least possible mental effort."

"A reader or listener has at each moment but a limited amount of mental power available," Spencer says. Most of that energy is consumed when the brain takes in the written or spoken symbols, leaving little to spare for comprehension.

Spencer insists, "the more time and attention it takes to receive and understand each sentence, the less time and attention can be given to the contained idea; and the less vividly will that idea be conceived."

To compensate for audiences' sparse mental energy, writers and speakers should economize; or, as Spencer suggests, follow "the law of easy apprehension."

I've boiled his law down to six tips:

1. Avoid long, Latinate words. Use instead the short Anglo-Saxon ones we learned as kids. Use Latinate words only to express big ideas, because "a voluminous, mouth-filling epithet is, by its very size, suggestive of largeness or strength," and "allows the hearer's consciousness a longer time to dwell upon the quality predicated."

2. Use words that sound like their meanings. "Both those directly imitative, as splash, bang, whiz, roar; and those analogically imitative, as rough, smooth, keen, blunt, thin, hard, crag; have a greater or less likeness to the things symbolized; and by making on the senses impressions allied to the ideas to be called up, they save part of the effort needed to call up such ideas, and leave more attention for the ideas themselves."

3. Use specific, instead of generic, words. "If, by employing a specific term, an appropriate image can be at once suggested, an economy is achieved, and a more vivid impression produced.

4. Watch your word sequence. The order of your words should allow readers' or listeners' brains to process each as it arrives, with minimum effort. Put subjects in front of predicates, and give priority to big ideas by placing them at the front of the sentence. "The right formation of a picture will be facilitated by presenting its elements in the order in which they are wanted; even though the mind should do nothing until it has received them all."

5. Place subordinate parts of a sentence ahead of the main part. "Containing, as the subordinate proposition does, some qualifying or explanatory idea, its priority prevents misconception of the principal one; and therefore saves the mental effort needed to correct such misconception."

6. Place related words and expressions near one another. "The longer the time that elapses between the mention of any qualifying member and the member qualified, the longer must the mind be exerted in carrying forward the qualifying member ready for use. And the more numerous the qualifications to be simultaneously remembered and rightly applied, the greater will be the mental power expended, and the smaller the effect produced."

Don't have the energy to read Herbert Spencer's The Philosophy of Style?

Good news: there's a free audiobook.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why Experiential Marketing Rules

Fortunate folks can say, "Wow, I just had a peak experience."

But no one has ever said, "Wow, I just had a peak advertisement."

Ads can grab us, hold us, and charm us; but only experiences have, baked-in, the promise to unleash moments of self-actualization.

That's a prime reason experiential marketers keep pushing the envelope, as Lucasfilm did recently at Comic-Con.

Admit it or not, we all want to be "peakers."

In Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences, Abraham Maslow first described peak experiences as, "rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect."

Peak experiences can arise from simple, accidental life events, or be engineered.

Artists, in particular, are specialists in engineering them.

A peak experience of my own took place in 1991, when I worked on the crew that installed Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Umbrellas.

I was one of 960 fans who labored for five days at minimum wage to erect 1,760 immense yellow umbrellas atop the brown hills that hug an 18-mile stretch of Interstate 5, 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

The morning of The Umbrellas' big reveal, we ran headlong, like kids on Christmas morning, from one giant umbrella to the next to crank them open.

That experience was indeed "exhilarating." But the luminous part came next.

Once the 1,760 umbrellas were open, curious crowds appeared.

Christo and his wife had engineered a wonder.

I saw young mothers gasp and their children chuckle with delight.

I saw crusty ranch hands gape from their jeeps.

I saw migrant workers skip and dance.

I saw a beefy tractor trailer driver stop on the interstate's shoulder, climb from his cab, take a long look at the hills, and burst into sobs at the beauty.

In their aftereffects, Maslow says, peak experiences leave us with the feeling the world's truly perfect.

We turn into "peakers," he says, and long for a chance to repeat the experiences.

Because we all seek perfection.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Why does every management consultant want executives to become "storytellers?" Why does every grammarian want businesspeople to "write like you're having a conversation?"


Also known as the "curse of knowledge," mindblindness grips you when you know so much about a subject, you can't see it through the eyes of anyone less informed.

When you're mindblind—when can't imagine life for those who don't know what you know—you can't communicate why or how others should follow your directives; and you can't write (or speak) with clarity or concision.

Mindblindness produces not only unrealistic expectations ("We always delight our customers!"), but blame ("You slackers, you disappointed our customers!").

Mindblindness is a primary reason leaders fail, and why so much business writing stinks.

It never occurs to the mindblind that others aren't up on the latest jargon and grasp the steps too obvious to mention. So they don't bother to explain the jargon, spell out their logic, or supply details.

Philosophers call extreme mindblindness "solipsism," the belief that nothing exists outside your mind.

Bertrand Russell said that, although it could be true, solipsism should be rejected because it's easier to believe the external worldincluding other people's mindsexists.

“As against solipsism it is to be said, in the first place, that it is psychologically impossible to believe, and is rejected in fact even by those who mean to accept it," Russell said. 

"I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Do Facebook Users Want?

With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, a Boston psychiatrist and psychologist have teamed to answer the question, "Why Do People Use Facebook?"

They reviewed 42 scientific studies of Facebook users and have discovered the following:

  • Healthy people enjoy using Facebook because it improves self-esteem (our shield against feeling like outcasts). Women and members of ethnic minorities use it more than men and Caucasians.
  • Healthy people don't idealize themselves on Facebook, with one big exception: they present themselves as more emotionally stable than, in fact, they are.
  • Narcissists especially enjoy using Facebook, and spend an hour every day in front of the screen. And they love to upload photos, often enhanced with Photoshop.
  • Highly neurotic people share more on Facebook than healthy people. They prefer written posts over photos.
  • Extraverts have more Facebook friends and are more likely to become Facebook addicts.
  • Introverts substitute Facebook use for real-world social interaction. And shy people spend more time on Facebook than people who aren't shy.
  • Good-looking Facebook users are more attractive to other users than plain-looking ones; so are users with good-looking friends.
  • Facebook users with only 100 friends are unattractive to other users; so are users with 300 friends.
Do the findings make you want to delete your Facebook account and find a shrink's sofa? 

They shouldn't. As Freud said, “A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Make Crazy Moves

I dropped into my Ur-Starbucks this week and was reminded, you can't go home again.

The once-sparkling and cozy suburban store, where I spent many an hour reading, writing, ruminating and conversing with friends and strangers, is now bleak and unwelcoming.

No matter their age, businesses decline not merely because their standards flag, but because the formula that worked so brilliantly in the first place becomes an excuse to avoid risk.

Meanwhile, 67 year-old singer Robert Plant is on a world tour, belting out experimental post-metal songs, disco tunes, and newly interpreted rock classics, including some from Led Zeppelin's catalog rendered in Celtic style.

In his review of Plant's show, music critic Brian Ives praises the singer for dodging a Led Zeppelin reunion, "despite the fact that it would surely be worth tens of millions of dollars to him." Plant instead has taken the road less traveled.

"There’s a lesson to be learned," Ives says, "and not just for musicians, or even artists."

Before the end, no one's story is ever over, he says. No one's bound to an original formula. You're a work in progress and can re-imagine yourself, at any age.

"You can make crazy moves, change the way you’re doing things, and bust out of your comfort zone," Ives says.

"Listen to music you’ve never listened to before. Go to a restaurant that serves food you’ve never tried. Hang out with people you don’t know that well. Learn a new skill. Your story isn’t over."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Lean In

Businesses sink billions into "designing out waste" and "building lean in," but spend nothing to discourage verbosity.

They'd do their bottom lines a big favor by sending every employee the link to John McPhee's latest article in The New Yorker, "Omission."

McPhee clarifies why lean writing is good writing: it's what's left out that counts.

Lean writing comes from heavy editing, which McPhee compares to shortening a train. 

"The idea is to remove words in such a manner that no one would notice that anything has been removed," he says. "It’s as if you were removing freight cars here and there in order to shorten a train—or pruning bits and pieces of a plant for reasons of aesthetics."

Not only editors, but artists, designers and comedians understand that, always, less is more.

Hemingway called it the Iceberg Theory:

"If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

Evidence to the Contrary, Short is Sweet

Look and you'll find countless proofs of the advantages of long-form over short-form marketing content. 

For example:
  • Tests by Hubspot confirm the long-established fact that Google rewards blog posts 2,500 or more words in length.
  • Tests by Neil Patel prove posts of 1,500 or more words capture 68% more Tweets and 23% more Facebook likes than shorter ones.
  • Tests by Buzzsumo show Facebook posts linked to long blog posts receive 40% more interactions than Facebook posts linked to short blog posts.
But I'll stick to my guns on the matter.

Gobs of evidence to the contrary, short-form beats long-form, at least in the long haul.

As Don Peppers says, marketing content should be snackable.

"The more frictionless it is to digest your content, the more your customers are likely to rely on it," Peppers says.

A single lesson from history, I'd argue, proves my point:
  • In 1863, at the dedication ceremony for the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Secretary of State Edward Everett delivered a 13,607-word address to the crowd. 
You know the rest.

It's history.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Emotion Trumps Promotion

Think B2B branding's about promoting product features? 

Think again.

Research firm CEB recently asked 3,000 B2B buyers whether they can tell one company's brands from another's, based on product features.

86% cannot.

More importantly, CEB's study revealed B2B buyers have stronger emotional ties to business brands than their B2C cousins have to consumer brands.


Because buying the right brand can make them heroes; and buying the wrong one can make them unemployed.

In fact, for B2B buyers, "business value" has only half the importance "personal value" does, the study shows.

B2B buyers, in addition, are eight times more likely to pay a premium price for brands that offer "personal value."

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Farewell to Apps

It was a pleasant cat café, bright and clean and friendly, and I took my tablet out of my brown and saffron backpack and started to write. I was writing about the next all-hands meeting and the email was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I did not look up nor know anything about the time nor think where I was nor drink my mochaccino. Then the email was finished and I read it and saw that it was a good email but very long.

A girl came in the cat café and sat at the table next to mine. She was very pretty with a face as clear and clean as an iPhone box if they packaged iPhones in skin and painted the logo on with crimson lipstick freshened by a cool autumn rain. She smiled at me with her gently modeled face and her eyes looked inquisitive. "Using the app?" she said.

"To pay for my coffee?"

"No, The Hemingway app. It edits your writing."

"It's news to me."

"It cuts dead words from your writing and highlights passive constructions, so you write with the power and clarity of Papa, only faster and easier and without the beard. It costs only $9.99."

"I'll be sure to read the reviews."

She nodded and then I went back to my email and read it a second time and felt sad because it was very long. I clicked on Safari to download the app and launched the beach ball of death showing the wi-fi was broken and all the sadness of the big city filled me suddenly, with the streets turned to wet blackness by a cold winter rain and the storefronts all dark as if they were once Radio Shacks and Borders and Blockbusters and A&Ps and I thought my writing was slow and bloated and perhaps out of date like those stores.

I finished reading the last paragraph and looked up and looked for the girl and she had gone. I hope she's not saddled with student debt like one of the mules we took up the mountainside at Caporetto, I thought. But I felt sad. I shut down my tablet and put it in my backpack and said psh psh psh to a black and white tuxedo kitty that came and restored my dignity.

Friday, September 11, 2015

How to Present Perfectly

Great speakers love triads.

Gaelic bards loved them—because they can be readily memorized.

Roman orators loved them—because they structure ideas.

Modern leaders love them—because they inspire.

In their new book, Communicate to Influence, speech coaches Ben and Kelly Decker urge execs to use triads whenever they prepare a presentation, calling triads the "perfect framework" for sales pitches, product launches, motivational talks and business briefings.

In three short strokes, triads create patterns and rhythms, which makes them inherently more intelligible than longer lists of things.

Triads are also more persuasive and memorable than long data dumps. Just think of the many you remember:
  • Veni, vidi, vici
  • Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!
  • Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
  • Liberté, égalité, fraternité
  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people
  • The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth
  • Truth, justice and the American way
  • Stop, drop and roll
  • Wine, women and song
  • Location, location, location
As writing instructor Roy Peter Clark says, "In the anti-math of writing, the number three is greater than four. The mojo of three offers a greater sense of completeness than four or more."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Roll Over, Richard Branson

Real brand spokespeople can't hold a candle to imaginary ones for tugging heartstrings.

Personification, hypnotizing us since Homer's day, attributes human qualities to animals, abstractions and inanimate objects.

Not only do educators and entertainers like Sesame Street, Disney and Pixar tap into personification, but marketers bank on it to spur customers' cravings for parity products.

Personification is a breed of metaphor, and the DNA of every marketer's imagination, says marketing professor Stephen Brown.

"Our very understanding of the world is reliant on figurative thinking," he writes. "Metaphors are both unavoidable and invaluable. They are the bits, the bytes, the binary code of the imagination and the crucible of today’s creative economy.

The most powerful metaphors symbolize human embodiment, sensations and emotions, Brown says.

"Hence, we sniff out market opportunities, listen to the voice of the customer, keep in touch with technological developments, spot yawning gaps in the market and lament the chronic myopia of top management. Our basic worldview is personified, in other words, and marketing’s root metaphors reflect this fact."

A sampling of famous personifications includes:

  • Mr. Peanut
  • Mr. Moneybags
  • Mr. Clean
  • Michelin Man
  • Marlboro Man 
  • Uncle Ben
  • Aunt Jemima 
  • Betty Crocker
  • Peter Pan
  • Californian Raisins
  • Pillsbury Doughboy
  • Jolly Green Giant
  • Keebler Elves
  • Snap, Crackle and Pop
  • Google Android 
  • Budweiser Clydesdales
  • Tony the Tiger
  • Dove Soap
  • Red Lobster
  • Angry Birds
  • Playboy Bunny
NOTE: Thanks to photographer and video producer Ann Ramsey for suggesting this post; she personifies creativity.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Beware Influencers for Sale

The Federal Trade Commission isn't keen about marketers who truck with shady social media influencers, as two recent cases illustrate.

In November, it slammed ad agency Deutsch for misleading consumers after a rabid junior account exec persuaded fellow employees to use their personal Twitter accounts to broadcast ringing endorsements of Sony's PlayStation Vita game console.

The employees failed to disclose they worked for Deutsch or that Sony was a client, and the FTC ruled their tweets could reasonably be understood as the genuine opinions of consumers.

This month, the FTC charged online network Machinima with consumer deception because it paid two influencers $45,000 to post videos on YouTube that endorsed Microsoft’s Xbox One. Like Deutsch's employees, the two influencers failed to disclose that their seemingly authentic opinions were anything but.

Machinima had guaranteed Microsoft 19 million views of the videos.

Unfortunately, one originated within the FTC.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Robert Downey Words

After Robert Downey, Jr., walked out of a TV interview during which the reporter brought up the actor's former drug abuse, Downey's defenders agreed: he had reformed, and there is no call to bring up his dissolute past.

Words, too, can reform themselves, giving us no call to dredge up their once-dark lives.

Linguists call the mysterious process whereby a pejorative sheds its negative connotation over time amelioration.

Like guests at a Hollywood party, we're surrounded by words (and phrases) that have—over history—ameliorated:
  • 30 years ago, bad meant crummy, sick meant unwell, wicked meant vicious, killer meant murderer, and shut up meant be quiet. 
  • 70 years ago, collaborating meant aiding the Nazis, and a geek meant a freak in a circus.
  • 200 years ago, lumber meant trash.
  • 800 years ago, pretty meant cunning, shrewd meant evil, and nice meant stupid.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Publish, Don't Perish

Everyone knows "less is more," says Alexandra Samuel in the Harvard Business Review; but masters of brevity can sound loutish on line.

And one ill-thought-out email can jeopardize a career.

When writing an email or social media post, Samuel suggests you:
  • Use a conversational tone
  • Start with your key point
  • Avoid profanities, acronyms, bragging and kvetching
  • Exercise caution with humor
  • Be 30% nicer than you are off line
  • Adapt your tone to the platform
No matter the topic, "if you write it down, you should be prepared to see it on the front page of a newspaper," Samuel says.

"That doesn’t mean you can’t email your colleagues about confidential business dealings, but be sure that you can live with whatever you’ve written—so don’t write down anything that would sound small-minded or unethical (particularly if taken out of context). And when you’re posting on social networks, which are out in the open, assume that anyone can see anything—including your boss, your mother, your clients, and your kids."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Watch Those Weasel Words

Weasel words—defaults for bureaucrats and politicians—are qualifiers that nervous speakers and writers bank on for cover.

Avoid them, because the more you water down thoughts with weasel words, the less clear and certain your speech and writing become.

For example, instead of saying, IT possibly seems to have suggested that Aptly may no longer be supported after December 31, say IT may no longer support Aptly after December 31.

At the same time, avoid absolutes like always, never, will not, cannot and nothing is worse than.

Avoid statements like, Nothing is worse than displaying your password. Really? What about your company's recent job-cuts, the drought in California, or Syria's civil war?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The King of Clockwork

I envy the grimacing joggers I pass on my way to work every weekday morning for their samurai discipline and inveterate svelteness (a quality I lack).

Leadership and personal productivity experts goad us to rise above mediocrity by forming useful habits.

Surpassing champs like Kant, Edison and Einstein, the king of the clockwork habit could well be Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope.

He wrote with such regularity, that he produced 47 novels—plus 32 plays, short stories and nonfiction books—in his spare time.

Stephen King (with 60 novels and 200 short stories, no slouch either) describes Trollope's habit in his memoir, On Writing

"His day job was as a clerk in the British Postal Department (the red public mailboxes all over Britain were Anthony Trollope's invention); he wrote for two an a half hours each morning before leaving for work. This schedule was ironclad. If he was in mid-sentence when the two and a half hours expired, he left that sentence unfinished until the next morning. And if he happened to finish one of his six-hundred-pound heavyweights with fifteen minutes of the session remaining, he wrote The End, set the manuscript aside, and began work on the next book."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Your Event is Either an Experience or a Waste of Time

While they puzzle over details, many event organizers never grasp the key to a satisfactory event.

It has to deliver an experience.

In the same way a restaurant is not about food, an event's not about tables, chairs, booths, badges, busses, signs or even speakers.

An event is about an experience.

Restaurateur Danny Meyer says the restaurant's job isn't to serve food.

It's to create an experience of wellbeing: to instill in each patron the sense that "when we were delivering that product, we were on your side."

Delivering an experience justifies the patron's expenditure—not of money, but of time—Meyer says. "When they leave, are they going to say, 'That was a good use of my time?'"

"The most precious resource we all have is time," Steve Jobs once told a reporter.

Are you delivering an experience, or wasting your attendees' time?

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