Sunday, April 30, 2017

Echo of the Future

Behind Winston's back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time.

— George Orwell, 1984

Amazon this week announced Echo Look, an intelligent camera that uses machine learning to act as a personal style assistant.

Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard.

Powered by Amazon's voice control system Alexa, the Echo Look acts as a "smart mirror," taking full-length photos and videos that let you check your outfit.

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. 

The device also connects to an app with a “style check” feature that lets you compare and rate different outfits.

It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.

Fashion-forward users will love Echo Look. And because cloud-based Alexa is always getting smarter, so will the Echo Look.
You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Content Marketers, You are Not a Committee

Why are most corporate blogs mind numbing?

They're the products of committees.

Every post is the same. Safe. Sanctioned. Sanitized.

No one owns the content, so it's uninspired and impassionate.

If you want to improve your corporate blog, find employees who love their work and ask them to contribute (if you can't, you have a bigger problem than a boring blog).

Give them one, simple instruction: You are not a committee.

Then get out of their way and watch what they do. You'll soon have a much better blog.

As Mark Hamill recently told the audience of Content Marketing World, "Follow your own inspiration. If you find something engaging, find a way to repurpose it through your own prism. Believe in yourself and trust your instincts."

 You are not a committee.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Content Creators: What's Fair and What's Foul?

Bill’s Daily Briefing on Bill O'Reilly's website comprises "a daily assortment of copyright violations," according to The Washington Post.

O'Reilly's spokesman says lawyers okayed the daily cut-and-paste job because "this usage falls squarely within the fair use doctrine—the same doctrine that has allowed an untold number of news aggregation sites to exist online.”

Every content creator should grasp the basics of fair use—or quit creating content.

Fair use (part of the Copyright Act) protects you from a lawsuit when you use copyrighted material while creating a new work.

You can use copyrighted material, according to the law, for "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research;" but your use must not undermine "the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."

Courts have traditionally ruled in favor of critics, commentators and reporters defending themselves against copyright infringement when their work wasn't simple piracy; i.e., when they added to and altered the original material.

They have also ruled in defendants' favor when the copyrighted material reused was "newsworthy," "factual" and "unpublished." In contrast, courts have protected the copyright owners of fictional works, and of works not published to protect trade secrets. They have also protected copyright owners who showed defendants' excerpts lowered the market value of their material.

In a nutshell, fair use protects content creators who:
  • Use others' work for the clear purpose of criticism, commentary or news reporting
  • Don't simply repost others' work, but transform or improve it
  • Use others' work for non-profit purposes
  • Use only brief excerpts of others' work
  • Respect others' requests for attribution, and
  • Use out-of-print sources with little to no market value

The Price of Fear

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Koch, Kant and Cant

Blessed be schools with endowments. They don't have to mouth propaganda.

When I worked in grad school as a teacher's assistant, I taught two semesters of Philosophy 101, a course every undergraduate was required to take. My students were freshmen in the nursing and business schools.

The course covered writers like Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume and Kant, and gave the uneager students a taste for the three major periods of Western thought.

That was 40 years ago. Universities had dough and bell bottoms rocked.

Today, the University of Arizona offers another brand of Philosophy 101, thanks to a gift from billionaire libertarian Charles Koch.

Instead of mind, matter, meaning and morals, the course covers money, markets, margins and monopoly.

Students learn that reality is the free market; that evil's source is regulation; and that life's purpose is threefold: deal-making, tax-dodging and self-reward.

Writer and former philosophy professor David Johnson calls the course "a peculiar mixture of the utterly banal and the frighteningly ideological" and "propaganda, plain and simple."

I call it pure cant.

Things don't go better with Koch.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lust for Life

I just spent an idyllic Sunday sketching outdoors at Kuerner Farm, the Pennsylvania dairy farm Andrew Wyeth visited repeatedly for seven decades, and the spot where he found the subjects of many of his most inspired paintings.

One of those is Trodden Weed, based on a 1951 drawing he did of himself traipsing one of the Kuerner family's fields.

Wyeth had encountered near-death the previous year, when he flatlined during a surgery to remove pieces of his infected lungs. Recuperation took months, during which time he spent many hours walking about his neighborhood for exercise. The idea for the self-portrait came to him during one of these outings. 

In a 1952 letter to Art News, Wyeth said, "The painting came to signify to me a close relationship between critical illness and the refusal to accept it—a kind of stalking away."

He later told an interviewer, "I suddenly got the idea that we all stupidly crush things underfoot and ruin them—without thinking. Like the weed here getting crushed. The black line is not merely a compositional device—it's the presence of death. Before my operation, I had been looking at Albrecht Dürer's works. During the operation they say my heart stopped once. At that moment, I could see Dürer standing there in black, and he started coming at me across the tile floor. When my heart started, he—Dürer—death—receded. So this painting is highly emotional—dangerous and looming. I like it."

Art critics have noted that Trodden Weed represents a turning point in Wyeth's work, a departure from sentimental subjects to fierce ones.

On that operating table, Wyeth became what Roman Krznaric calls a death gazer, a person "who decides to seize the day after coming face to face with death."

Psychologists have studied death gazers and label their response to oblivion "post-traumatic growth," Krznaric says.

A brush with the Grim Reaper propels some survivors to become caregivers or preachers. 

"But one of the most prevalent effects is that it induces a carpe diem zest for life," Krznaric says.

"People abandon their tedious jobs, embark on bonding travel adventures with their children, or dedicate themselves to taking chances and squeezing every ounce of experience out of being alive."

Or, like Wyeth, they become lifelong fans of the weeds underfoot.

Seize the day!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Ain't No Forrest Gump

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.

— Seneca

When it favored a ship coming into port, Ancient Romans would say the wind was ob portus.

The Latin phrase gives us our word opportunity.

We think of every opportunity as something a "good wind" blew our way.

But like Roman seafarers, you have to have the port in sight before you can gauge the wind.

Know where you're heading before you assess an opportunity.

You ain't no Forrest Gump.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Burning the Bridge

Bored by her job as a typist, Washington, DC, resident Lizzie Magie liked to indulge her creative side.

Whenever she got the chance, she'd stump on behalf of progressive political causes or moonlight as a freelance writer, comedic actor, and game designer.

She was particularly passionate about
income inequality, and in 1905 published a board game she described as "a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing."

The Landlord's Game became an immediate hit on college campuses, and among leftist groups nationwide. Some Quakers in Atlantic City were so taken with it, they published a bootleg edition, renaming the landing spaces after the local streets.

Thirty years later, at the height of the Great Depression, Magie sold the rights to her invention for $500 to a Boston-based game publisher, Parker Brothers. The company repackaged the Quakers' version and renamed the game Monopoly.

One hundred and twelve years have passed since Magie released her "practical demonstration" and the subject of income inequality again tops progressives' agenda.

MIT economist Peter Temin, author of the new book The Vanishing Middle Class, says it has fractured American society.

We now live under a "two-track economy," Temin says, in which Wall Street and Silicon Valley workers enjoy steady gains while the rest—"subsistence workers"—suffer regular setbacks.

We arrived here after four decades, during which technology, globalization, the decline of unions, the treatment of minorities, and public policy all worked in tandem to disconnect wages from productivity.

Public education, he says, is the only bridge workers can take to cross from the subsistence to the growth economy.

But the bridge is being burned by the current party in power, whose officials openly detest educators and prize the uneducated—provided they keep to their side of the tracks. Which they will.

Sadly, few people outside academia will likely read Temin's 250-page book. Too bad he didn't create a video game, instead.

Lizzie Magie, where are you when we need you?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Little and Good is Twice Good

Even if you cover your ears, 10 seconds into the presentation, you know the rep is an extrovert.

There's too much copy on her slides.

Whether writing or speaking, extraverts cannot grasp Mies' motto, "Less is more."

Adam Grant studied 300 salespeople and proved extroverts underperform both introverts and "ambiverts,” because they can't practice restraint.

Extroverts leave themselves "vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident," Grant says, and wind up overselling.

They'd do well to heed the words of the 17th century writer Baltasar Gracián, who advised colleagues to "leave off hungry."

"Demand is the measure of value," Gracián says. "Even with regard to bodily thirst, it is a mark of good taste to slake but not to quench it. Little and good is twice good. The second time comes a great falling off. Surfeit of pleasure was ever dangerous and brings down the ill-will of the highest powers. The only way to please is to revive the appetite by the hunger that is left."

In other words, be brief, and leave customers breathing room to consider your proposal.

Little and good is twice good.

"If you must excite desire," Gracián says, "better do it by the impatience of want than by the repletion of enjoyment. Happiness earned gives double joy."

Or as the showman P.T. Barnum said, "Always leave them wanting more."

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Buck Stops Here

The President, whoever he is, has to decide.
He can't pass the buck to anybody.

— Harry Truman

Harry Truman kept a foot-long sign on his desk in the White House that said, "The Buck Stops Here."

The saying derives from poker.

In frontier days, a knife with a buckhorn handle was used to indicate which player had the turn at dealing. If that player didn't want the responsibility, he would "pass the buck."

Most people mistake the "buck" in the expression to mean "dollar."

That meaning also derives from frontier days, not from poker, but from trading.

Deer hunting was common at the time, and buckskins could be used as legal tender. Traders valued a "buck" at one dollar.

They valued a doe at half a dollar.

Females have always been undervalued.

HAT TIP: Word-nerd Ann Ramsey inspired this post.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What Clothes are You Wearing?

Ever since the Creative Revolution, marketers have insisted brands have character.

A brand, they say, can be friendlyplayful, rebellious, sexy, wise or generous—or possess any of a score of other human- or animal-like attributes.

Marketers can feel vindicated in this belief by the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United that corporations are people.

They can also feel vindicated by the lending practices of banks, which define "character" as a business' willingness to pay back a loan.

Character, according to the National Association of Credit Management, "imputes a level of ethics, integrity, trustworthiness and quality of management that is provided or available to the business."

So what's your brand's character?

Is it admired, adorable, confident, dynamic, efficient, fair, honorable, innovative, kind-hearted, likable, painstaking, plucky, proud, romantic, self-assured, silly, sincere, thoughtful, upbeat, warm, willing, witty or wonderful? Or is it something else?

Well, here's a hint: Despite all your words, your brand's character is not what you say it is, but what your customers perceive it to be.

As Priceline's co-founder Jeff Hoffman says, a brand's character is a lot like clothing: what you choose to wear every day forms others' opinions of you.
As the old saying goes, clothes make the man—or the brand.

The company Hoffman co-founded, Priceline, says it's admired and innovative.

But Priceline's recent refusal to refund me the price of tickets that it admits in writing it cancelled tells me the brand's character—the company's words notwithstanding—is altogether different. Try abusive, arrogant, callous, creepy, deceitful, evasive, greedy, malicious, materialistic, mean, nasty, obnoxious, pesky, ruthless, savage, self-serving, sneaky, tacky, tiresome, venomous, vile, wicked, and wolflike.

What clothes are you wearing?

UPDATE: I received a phone call late today from Priceline's PR department. The individual who called informed me the company had decided to refund the cost of my tickets in full, and would process the refund to my credit card within one day.

Trade Show Organizer: Is Your Agency Giving You a Bum Steer?

March's edition of Trade Show Executive includes an article by a marketing agency head who claims direct mail, the perennial attendance-acquisition "workhorse," is dying.

"Direct mail isn't dead," she writes. "Yet. Savvy event marketers are, however, anticipating and preparing for the moment the direct mail death knell finally rings."

In the same edition of the magazine, another writer claims, "Telemarketing as a marketing tool appears to be on its way to the 'outdated' bin."

Direct mail dying? Telemarketing outdated?


In terms of marketing spend, in fact, both channels have held steady during the past four years, according to the latest survey of organizers by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

During the same period, the survey shows, email's effectiveness as an attendance-acquisition tool has declined.

Wrong-headed pronouncements like these―regardless of the intentions behind them―pose a real danger to any show organizer who buys into them.

They amount to what our grandfathers and great grandfathers would have called a "bum steer."

That expression―meaning bad advice intentionally given―came into fashion during World War I, when American troops fought alongside Australian ones on the Western Front.

Australians would call defective advice (which "steered" you) "bum," an Old English word referring to the buttocks.

Trade show organizer: Beware the bum steer.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Marketers Have Always Been Liars

Part 3 of a 3-part series on business strategy.

An old business saying, Mercator told readers of the May 1893 edition of Saddlery and Harness, goes, “Get money honestly if you can, but get money.”

It's an adage that can lead businessmen to lie.

But is it okay to tell customers a lie?

Mercator says, yes, in two instances.

First, it's okay to use "elastic terms of quality."

"In strict truth, only the best that can be made should be styled best," he writes, "yet we find in the bridle trade several qualities better, bearing such distinctions as best best, super, extra super, and so on. Here, though there is a departure from the truth, it is so well understood by the buyer that there is no deception, and therefore no dishonesty."

Second, it's okay to display “pretenses as to home manufacture.”

“Nowadays," Mercator writes, "the still so-called boot and shoe maker is only a seller or distributor, and in most cases sends even his repairs out, not needing to employ any workmen on his own premises. The same remarks apply to the soi distant watch and clock makers, whose only occupation is cleaning, not one in a thousand being able to make a watch or clock is it were to save his life.”

So it's okay to imply that you make what you sell, Mercator says—provided customers aren't deceived.

“There certainly are degrees of deviation from the strict truth which commercial customs almost compel everyone to conform to, and so long as the buyer well understands these things, and is in no sense deceived thereby, there is no dishonesty in practice.”

But stray afield of these claims, and you run the risk of discovery.

"The false pretense, although so common in so many trades, is always to be deplored, since it sometimes leads to false representation and untruth," Mercator writes.

"Where, as in the case of the so-called bootmaker, everyone knows the truth, no harm is done, but whenever a buyer is deliberately deceived and hoodwinked, then it amounts to dishonorable dealing. In all these matters the old Latin proverb should be borne in mind—Magna est veritas et praevalebit—the truth is great and will prevail."

Sound a tad quaint?

On his blog, Seth Godin writes, "When you are busy telling stories to people who want to hear them, you’ll be tempted to tell stories that just don’t hold up. Lies. Deceptions.

"This sort of storytelling used to work pretty well. Joe McCarthy became famous while lying about the 'Communist threat.' Bottled water companies made billions while lying about the purity of their product compared to tap water in the developed world.

"The thing is, lying doesn’t pay off any more. That’s because when you fabricate a story that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, you get caught. Fast."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An Open Letter to Jeffery Boyd

Jeffery Boyd
The Priceline Group
800 Connecticut Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06854                

Dear Sir:

I am writing to you in your capacity as Executive Chairman of the Board of Priceline Group. I would like you to arrange a refund of $1,206.22.

On March 31, I arrived with my spouse at Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, DC, expecting to board a flight to Heathrow with tickets I purchased last August on (Priceline Trip Number: 203-791-090-42).

When we presented the airline the receipt emailed by Priceline, we were informed the tickets had been cancelled in September.

I phoned your customer service number and was informed by two different agents that the tickets had indeed been cancelled. They offered no explanation for why the tickets were cancelled (or by whom) and refused to refund the $1,206.22 I paid for the tickets.

My spouse and I purchased tickets with a different airline at the airport, so we could complete our trip, at a cost of six times the amount I paid Priceline.

The only previous communications I received from Priceline regarding the airline tickets were a purchase receipt and an itinerary, both emailed August 29, 2016. I'd be happy to supply copies of these, as well as the two customer service agents' ID numbers, should you need them.

I was brought up to believe a business that fails to render a service purchased in advance by a customer refunds the purchase amount, in full, and often with an apology. I trust you were brought up in comparable circumstances, and will refund my $1,206.22 immediately.


Bob James

Create a Sensation

Part 2 of a 3-part series on business strategy.

"Sensation must be the keynote of all advertising," Mercator told his readers in the November 1892 edition of Saddlery and Harness.

In other words, go big or go home.

Tiny, timid ads don't pay off.

“A small everyday poster is not worth the cost of fixing," Mercator says. "Exactly the same may be said of advertisements in newspapers. A small one amongst hundreds of other small ones is not seen at all; only the large and showy ones draw any attention."

But why gamble on outdoor and print, Mercator asks, when you can use direct mail?

"The best and only sure and safe system of advertising is by addressing circulars from a directory of the town to every inhabitant at all likely to be a customer, and sending them through the post," he says.

"Advertisements on walls, and in newspapers, periodicals, and directories are what we may term promiscuous or indiscriminate. They are issued in thousands with the lottery chance of reaching or being seen by the hundreds or possibly only the tens; whereas the directly addressed missive goes like a faithful messenger at once and without fail to the person intended, and every message is seen if be not read, whilst the carriage of it by post does not cost a tenth part of the amount wasted by the indiscriminate method."

Sound too quaint?

According to Demand Gen Report, "Traditional direct mail is still an important means of communication among B2B marketers, and industry experts are seeing signs of its resurgence as a lead gen tool. This is due to marketers seeing better response rates to mail pieces, and leveraging it with other channels and disciplines such as account-based marketing for a targeted and integrated approach."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Horse Sense

Part 1 of a 3-part series on business strategy.

As the plethora of podcasts on the topic proves, freelancers' and entrepreneurs' craving for business advice is insatiable.

Those seekers of commercial know-how could do no better than Mercator's 10-part series, "Business: Reasons of Failure and Roads to Success."

It's not a podcast, but a series of articles that ran in the British trade journal Saddlery and Harness between August 1892 and June 1893 (the author took December off).

Who Mercator was remains a mystery; but that hardly makes his advice―tips on everything from advertising to time management―any less sound.

On the subject we'd call "focus," Mercator's advice is as pointed as any you'd hear from Seth Godin or Gary Vaynerchuk:

"Amongst the answers given by businessmen to the question as to the chief causes of failure occur the following," Mercator says. "'Unwillingness to labor and wait,' 'lack of perseverance,' 'haste to get rich,' 'undue haste to accumulate,' 'drifting,' 'unwillingness to achieve success in the old-fashioned way,' 'waiting for opportunities,' 'unwillingness to work persistently,' 'lack of appreciation for the opportunities of life,' 'unsteadiness of purpose,' 'lack of persistent application,' 'unwillingness to begin at the foot of the ladder and work up.'"

All these causes of failure, he says, amount to one thing: disdain for details.

"It is a common thing for us to speak of our great men as genii, and to suppose that a genius is a man who from his birth inherited a superiority of brain which was bound to carry him to excellence, when he took up the line of life he was especially gifted for," Mercator says.

"To a certain extent, and in certain cases this is undoubtedly true; but what definition did one of our greatest writers and scholars—Carlyle—give of genius? He said genius is nothing more or less than 'the capacity for taking infinite pains.' This, indeed, is the secret of the success of the most eminent men in all times.

"Take Newton and all the most celebrated astronomers; take Stephenson, Brunel and all the famous engineers; take Watt, Edison, and all clever inventors; take Sir Robert Peel, Gladstone, and most of the principal politicians and prime ministers of England; take great poets, artists, warriors, and all the men who have risen to eminence in the world, and you will find that they have almost all been famous for their industry, their patience and their perseverance."

Sound too quaint?

In 1995, Steve Jobs told Computerworld, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Surrounding the chancel of the church where Shakespeare lies buried in Stratford-upon-Avon are 26 intricately decorated choir stalls that date from the 15th century, as I discovered on a recent visit.

Inside each is a misericord (from the Latin for "act of mercy"), a wooden ledge that allowed infirm priests to sit during masses and divine offices, without appearing to do so.

If you wonder why the little butt-rests were considered merciful, you must recall priests had to stand throughout two masses and eight divine offices, which they were required to attend every day.

Medieval people applied the word "misericord" not only to these little ledges, but to any kindness shown infirm priests, including gifts of meat during Lent and blankets during winter.

But mercy didn't stop with priests.

Seats for the infirm were also provided in churches to laymen. Church walls customarily featured built-in benches, where infirm parishioners could sit during mass.

It's from the custom we get the expression, "The weak must go to the wall."

"Victory is to the strong and the weak must go to the wall," Hitler once told a group of his officers, meaning, in our dog-eat-dog world, only the strong deserve to win.

Sadly, his sentiment is alive and well in Washington and many state capitals today.

Why pay for misericords, when our billionaire masters can have more?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Passion Fruit

Without passion, you don't have energy; without energy, you have nothing.

― Donald Trump

If I had a nickel for every time some guru said success stems from passion, I'd be living in Mar-a-Lago.

Sure, passion's prerequisite―but far less so than money, talent, timing and luck.

Passion alone, however, can lead to distinction. It won't lead to "great;" but it can lead to "worst."

Consider the case of Ed Wood, the Hollywood hack who earned distinction as "worst director of all time."

Passion alone―and he was passionate―couldn't carry him to greatness. The tides ran against him.

"Ed Wood wasn’t the worst filmmaker of all time," says film critic Matt Singer, "but he might have been the unluckiest.

"His life story is a series of missed opportunities and broken promises. He would prepare a film, and the financing would fall through. He’d plan a project for an actor, and the actor would die. He made what would become one of the most famous movies in history, then thoughtlessly sold the rights to it for a single dollar to pay his rent."

"Passion is the genesis of genius," Tony Robbins says.

But passion alone can bear bitter fruit. 

Unbacked by money, talent, timing and luck, passion is the font of failure.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spam. A Lot.

Wasting the time of the audience is damaging the medium itself.
― Derek Harding

Email marketers, take comfort: 7 in 10 customers prefer to receive your content by email, rather than through social media channels, according to EveryCloud.

But that doesn't mean customers won't report you as a spammer.

Nearly half of all emails are spam, EveryCloud says; and because they are, your customers are steeled for a fight.

On any given day, 45% might report your email as spam, because they think you send too often; 36%, because they don't remember subscribing; and 31%, because your content seems irrelevant.

Spam isn't customers' only source of frustration, says EveryCloud.

Customers in general think marketers put them on too many lists, and have no patience for their fine-print advisories about name-use.
What can you do to avoid annoying customers? The answers are self-evident:
  • Send great content
  • Send it infrequently
  • Be clear about your name-use
For more good stuff about email marketing, check out EveryCloud's new Statistics Guide (a humongous infographic). 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stories are Elementary

IBM's supercomputer Watson is named after the company's first CEO.

But the Watson we remember and love was the storyteller.

It's elementary.

Stories stick.

Content's just content.

Now that IBM's Watson can publish content better than any human, the marketer who can't tell an arresting story is dead meat.

Sadly, that's the majority.

If you're publishing content without telling stories, it’s time to reboot and retool.

The silicon Watson can now publish content better than you can.

But how do you tell a story?

You don't patchwork data, as this tale does:

Acme will save 40% of its IT infrastructure costs over the next four years by migrating to a cloud solution. Acme is a small company without IT staff. Before our team migrated its users to the cloud, Acme used a single Domino server, which served up mail and one application, as well as a Traveler server for six mobile devices. Our team migrated all of the users from the on-premise Domino solution to a standalone cloud solution. This also included moving the six Traveler devices. Each user was reconfigured to connect to the cloud servers and provisioned with a clean mail file, as well as given a local copy of his or her old mail file to use as an archive. In addition, the one application (a vacation calendar) was moved to the cloud. In order to do this, we set up a user called and had all vacation requests sent to this account. Administrators were then able to go in and approve or deny them. In addition, all users can now view the vacation calendar to see who is in or out on a given day. With a small operation and no in-house IT support, Acme wanted to get back to “doing business” instead of “supporting business.” The cloud solution lowered its costs by eliminating the yearly licensing of Domino and decreasing the onsite footprint of servers.

What should you do, instead?
  • Give us a character we can care about
  • Give us a drama with a narrative arc
  • Give us details that help us imagine what happened
  • Spare us unnecessary facts
  • Give us insights, new perspective, and a call to action
In short, give us a story:

One of America's most known and respected anvil makers, Acme is a small business whose profits were at risk due to recurring IT costs and poor vacation planning. Ironically, the company's IT needs were simple―email and a sharable vacation calendar―so simple, in fact, the company had no IT staff. But it did have two servers that needed babysitting, and which occupied an office that a key salesperson coveted; plus a $10,000 a year software license―and no sharable vacation calendar. Our team helped Acme move to the cloud. In doing so, we equipped every employee with email and gave everyone access to the vacation calendar, so employees can now plan their work around others' absences. As a result, Acme's two servers are history; the $10,000 annual license is history; a top salesperson now has the office she so desperately wanted, instead of a cubicle on the plant floor; and the company is running a lot smoother. Acme will cut IT costs by 40% in the next four years! Would you like to do that? Give us a call today.

See the difference?

It's elementary.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Carpe Diem

At no time has man so loved life as he did at the end of the Middle Ages.

― Philippe Ariès

Meandering the UK and gaping at the ubiquitous twelfth-century churches and town halls has nudged me to take carpe diem off the backburner.

Death was in your face in medieval times, when dysentery, ergotism, gonorrhea, influenza, leprosy, malaria, measles, bubonic plague, smallpox, childbed fever, and typhoid fever killed people every day in their own beds.

Today, in contrast, the dying simply vanish, retreating at old age into retirement homes, hospitals or hospices, while ads, films, songs, magazines, and social media posts paint a picture of perpetual youth and wellness that divert us from ever thinking about death.

"Much of social life can be interpreted as an elaborate means of shielding us from our inherent anxiety about death," says Roman Krznaric in his new book Carpe Diem Regained.

"The way so many of us desperately seek career success or lasting fame, our tendency to accumulate possessions that give us a sense of permanence, our wish to pass on a trace of ourselves to the future by having children, or the way we simply fill our time with so many diversions, from collecting stamps to foreign travel―these are all, at least in part, strategies for dealing with the stark reality that one day, sooner or later, we will cease to be and the worms will claim us."

Krznaric thinks the medieval spirit of carpe diem has been "hijacked by consumer culture," which teaches us to live happy lives through shopping, web surfing, fingering our mobiles, and―the latest craze―practicing mindfulness.

The better way to live, he believes, can be discovered in the past, when people seized opportunities to exist spontaneously, not by denying death, but by remembering it.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

United Breaks Guitars. But Priceline Breaks Contracts.

You've probably heard Dave Carroll's story.

He's the musician whose $1,200 guitar was broken by United Airlines baggage handlers.

Dave tried for nine months to move the company to honor his claim. But United said "No," because he'd failed to submit the claim within 24 hours of the incident.

So he wrote and recorded a song, "United Breaks Guitars," and uploaded it to YouTube.

After only 150,000 views, United contacted Dave and offered to pay the claim if he'd delete the video.

Dave instead produced and uploaded two more, related songs, at which point the media picked up his story. He did over 200 interviews.

Then, the song parodies and knockoffs started, and millions of people learned to sing "United Breaks Guitars." On one flight from Newark, New Jersey, the passengers sang it in chorus as the plane taxied to the terminal.

Within three weeks, the company's stock plummeted by 10%, a decrease in value of $180 million.

A week ago, my wife and I tried to board a flight from Washington, DC, to London, using tickets we'd purchased for $1,200 six months earlier through Priceline, only to learn the company had cancelled the tickets.

When I called Priceline from the airport, I was told it had indeed cancelled the tickets in September and would not issue a refund. Ever. "We do not issue refunds," I was told.

My wife and I made other travel arrangements, at six times the cost of the cancelled Priceline tickets.

Next week, I'll send a brief protest letter to Priceline's executive chair, Jeff Boyd.

I'll remind Mr. Boyd of Dave Carroll's story and close the letter with the words, "Song to follow."

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Finger in Every Pie

While roaming about the yard of St. Kentigern’s, a 12th century church in Britain's Lake District, my wife and I ran into the docent, who was locking the church doors for the night.

He was a wizened Hobbit of a man, dressed incongruously in a leather biker's jacket and a matching Los Angeles Rams cap.

He took it upon himself to give us a guided tour of the churchyard.

He pointed out a large Celtic cross over one grave and said that the man below "had his fingers in both pies," meaning the man was hedging his bet on Christianity by having an ancient pagan symbol erected above him.

The docent's statement was a corruption of an old expression, "to have a finger in every pie," which means to be a busy body.

It probably first referred to nosey visitors to the kitchen, who couldn't resist tasting the cook's dishes by sticking their fingers into them and taking a lick.

Shakespeare alluded to the expression in Henry VIII, when the Duke of Buckingham says of the meddlesome Cardinal Wolsey:

"No man's pie is freed
From his ambitious finger."

The docent of St. Kentigern’s meant less that the dead man was intrusive, but that he hoped, in the afterlife, to have his cake and eat it too.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Shepherd's Lives

The geographic constraints of the farm are permanent, but within them
we are always looking for an angle.
― James Rebanks 

I had the honor yesterday to visit the farm of James Rebanks, to interview him for a couple trade magazine articles.

Rebanks is a British sheep farmer, an Internet rock star, and author of
The Shepherd's Life, an international phenomenon whose sales have already reached over 320,000 copies.

He sat down for the interview over lunch, his clothes still muddy from the fields, where he'd been working since before dawn to care for his animals (lambing season hasn't quite yet ended, so the farm is busy).

Rebanks mentioned that, after lunch and our interview, he'd be meeting with students in the classroom he and his wife have built onto the rear of their home. Student groups visit the farm regularly to learn about raising sheep. Sheep farming at a small scale isn't very profitable, so teaching is a second income stream for the couple.

Although farming is his occupation, Rebanks, in addition to teaching, supplements his family's income with writing, professional speaking, consulting, and even the occasional construction job.

With the soft demand for wool and meat, crushing competition from industrial farms, and small-famers' meager subsidies from the government, every small sheep farmer is the UK today has to diversify, to get by. The income from a small farm is just too little to sustain anyone.

The next time I complain about having too many clients, too many projects, and too many emails to read, poke me.

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