Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychology. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 26

If 80 Percent Of People Won't Change, Why Force Them?

Why Change?
Jim Earley has it right. When forced to embrace change, 10 percent will respond like James Bond, 10 percent will respond like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges, and 80 percent will do nothing at all.

He even drove the point home by citing Alan Deutschman's book, Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, which found only one of nine people will make lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.) even after they are told they could prolong their life, restore their health, and even reverse diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Get that? Only 11 percent of people choose life over death. 

Everyone else will more or less choose death, about 89 percent. And, in keeping with the Moe Howard analogy, about 10 percent of those are likely to hasten the pace by throwing all caution to the wind. It's inevitable anyway, they might say, just before they sit back down on the couch.

Most people, even those who belong in the 80 percent, will think this is crazy. I'm not one of them. I think it is crazy to expect anything different. People resist change and they have a good reason.

• Many employers do not articulate a reasonable, achievable post-change vision.
• Many employees mistrust the motivations of leadership for organizational change.
• Many employees rightly know that change is accompanied by loss of job security.
• Many employees cite bad timing, because they don't want their workflow disrupted.
• Many people are predisposed to resist change because the present feels safe and stable.

This doesn't just relate to organizational change, but change in every aspect of our lives. As Stan Goldberg put it in his article in Psychology Today, being is easier than becoming. But I might take that thinking a step further by saying that being is easier than becoming until becoming becomes more rewarding than being. Simply put, change requires a long-term plan with benchmarks.

A personal example about change and momentum. 

My doctor recently told me that I should become a vegetarian. There are a number of reasons, but mostly he has read the widely circulated study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. He has not, it seems, read the less circulated study that notes that people with high cholesterol live longer.  Enough said.

That isn't the point. The point is that his statement led to a lesson in effective communication. When he first told me that I should become a vegetarian — a reasonably athletic 40-something who works out almost daily and does watch his diet despite being raised in the meat-and-potato Midwest — I laughed out loud. I was a skinny, less fit 30-something once upon a time and have no desire for it.

Except, my immediate reaction was the direct result of ineffective communication and not a rebut of what he was saying. And since he didn't know it, I decided to help him. I'll make more changes.

My plan is much more reasonable. I can change my diet by introducing more fish (not so easy in the desert) and fiber and see where we end up. And then, depending on the outcomes, make some more changes or not. The way I see it, some numbers will even out or perhaps I'll eventually be relegated to give up meat because the change won't be as drastic then as it would be today. Slow motion is sometimes better.

A professional example about change and mentorship.

Change for everybody.
I had a conversation with someone who currently works in human resources about this very issue, even if he might not see it that way. He asked me what I would do (and have done) when confronted by an underperforming employee.

I knew what he wanted me to say, but I just couldn't bring myself to say it. He wanted me to say that I might bring human resources into the loop because they have procedures. Sure, there is some validity in this direction for extreme cases at large organizations. However, it seems to me there are better ways before the approach is formalized.

A better method is mentorship, specifically outlining a step program that improves whatever deficiencies the employee might have and then giving them one step at a time. I've used this method to help people improve their writing skills for the better part of two decades. It works for performance issues as well.

Why? Much like Earley wrote his post that inspired this one, people will literally do nothing if they are confronted with a change that do not believe is needed, trusted, or leads to something better. They will literally do nothing even if you tell them their job is on the line. In many cases, they are so entrenched in denial, improvement will not be possible. So unless you want to let someone go, it is crazy to confront people with an ultimatum that will cause 90 percent of them to fail.

The same can be said for organizational change. Rather than convincing people that the organization needs change, try implementing small directional steps that establish trust, reward progress and encourage feedback in order to make employees stakeholders in the process. It's more effective.

After all, the way I see it, it's not just the people who are asked to make changes that can act like James Bond or Moe Howard. People who expect changes to be made can come across that way too.

Wednesday, January 22

Why Is Marketing Still Wrong About Social Sharing?

Talk to most people in social media, content marketing, or public relations and almost all of them agree that sharing is what makes social media tick. How often something is shared speaks to the relevance of the topic, quality of the content, and influence of the person creating or curating it.

For evidence, look no further than search engines and social networks themselves. They have made this measurement mission critical. Search engines look at shareability, authorship, and freshness. Social networks validate influencer rank and reach to quantify importance. Some news outlets now pay journalists bonuses if they bring in more impressions per article than their colleagues.

Even Facebook recently announced that trending will become an all-important means of measurement. Brands will get more exposure if their content is featured as a top story. To do it, all they have to do is create or curate popular content that gets more shares, clicks, and comments.

Why?

By placing an overemphasis on sharing as a measurement, search and social platforms create competition among content creators and curators that can only be won by investing in more time, better connections, more content, paid content, and potentially popular content. At the same time, search engines and social networks thrive because this draws attention and people to the platform, which makes it more valuable to content creators and curators. If you sense a vicious cycle, it is.

And yet, people who participate on social networks use a completely different set of criteria than marketers and content creators. There is a different psychology to sharing among consumers.

Five primary drivers behind the psychology of sharing.

The majority of shares can be attributed to five primary motivations. People share content to be valuable or entertaining to others (self-esteem), define themselves as human beings (identity), grow and nurture relationships (reciprocity), to get the word out about content and brands (persuasiveness), and to complete there own sense of self-fulfillment (affirmation). Let's take a closer look.

1. Self-Esteem. There are dozens of studies that link volunteerism and self-esteem primarily because helping others makes people happy. One special report put out by Harvard Health Publications even revealed that the more people volunteer, the happier they become.

While some advocates might argue that social sharing and volunteering are vastly different (and they are right in terms of tangible outcomes), our brains disagree. Knowing that an article we share helped someone or the joke we tell gives someone else a laugh produces the same positive mental impact as donating hard time and dollars (sometimes more).

2. Identity. Marketers aren't the only ones who want to establish their identity online or online identity. It's human nature to project oneself into written and visual communication (hopefully with authenticity). And most social platforms are designed with tools and categories to help people do it.

To do it, we tend to highlight aspects of who we are by sharing likes and interests (and commenting on the likes and interests of others) that reinforce whatever identity we want to project. Interestingly enough, this was especially important among early adopters in social media because it gave them an opportunity to establish their identity based on their passion and ideas over experience and expertise.

3. Reciprocity. The concept of reciprocity goes hand in hand with the connectivity social platforms provide. Just as people develop friendships based on proximity (location) and intellectually/emotionally (shared interests), they create similar connections online and then share content to reaffirm their connections.

As long as the desire to demonstrate reciprocity doesn't conflict with an established identity, sharing not only demonstrates an interest in what we share, but also supports the ideas, beliefs, and interests of  friends, groups, or networks. It demonstrates that we belong based upon similar reactions to the same content. And sometimes, people share just to support to the content creator or curator.

4. Persuasiveness. Although most people self-select their connections online, it is still very unlikely (and perhaps impossible) that all friends and associates will unconditionally agree with and support every idea, interest, and position. And yet, people are all hardwired to find more similarities.

When it doesn't occur naturally, people turn to persuasion. Even when we don't recognize it, people have a tendency to share things not because it helps others but because they know it will help others — content from self-selected sources (or other connections who already agree). Ergo, persuasion not only demonstrates our affinity to something, but also solicits others within our network to agree.

5. Affirmation. One of the most interesting aspects about social networks is the degree to which different networks satisfy ego needs through self-affirmation. In other words, people are not only content with trying to help others, establishing identity, making connections, and occasionally persuading people to their way of thinking, but they also need affirmation that whatever they did, said, or shared was worthy.

This is why almost all social networks provide self-affirmation actions supplied as likes, favorites, comments, shares, retweets, and other indicators that marketers covet. But unlike marketers, people aren't necessarily counting conversions. They're content in knowing someone will affirm their share.

How does this reconcile with with your organization's marketing efforts?

When marketers, content creators, and social media professionals develop a content strategy, they often obsess over organizational messages and some sort of conversion metric. But when you compare their strategies to the psychology of sharing, they come up short. Why?

If you want people to share content, you need to develop content that allows them to help or entertain others, reinforce their identity, or provide a persuasive argument (assuming they agree with you) to reinforce what they already believe or reaffirm their belongingness to a group that believes it. And then? Be prepared to provide reciprocal support and affirmation in return.

If this doesn't sound like a sound strategy for your organization, you are probably right. The model that social networks have devised for marketers to compete in is different than the model consumers participate in on a daily basis. You see, consumers aren't just looking for content that is worth sharing. They share content that contributes to their self-worth. How does that change your strategy?

Wednesday, January 8

Whatever Your Vision, It's Probably Right.

If there is one common thread being spun in the first few weeks of 2014, we can sum it up to stories about vision. Everybody wants it. Few people have it. Nobody really knows what it means.

Let's start there. Inc. ties it to jotting down 3-, 5-, and 10-year goals. Harvard Business Review says it is all about a core ideology and a "big, hairy, audacious" goal. Fast Company calls it a future state. It's a fair summation from those articles at least. All three magazines have published dozens of ideas.

I don't really see visions like that anymore. I've come to see it as an achievable state of being without a definitive conclusion, not just for organizations and nations but also for individuals. It's conceptual and complete, non-comparative and never confined by time (even if we need time to move toward it).

Do you know who was great visionary? Gene Roddenberry. 

He didn't settle on an individual, organization, or nation. He peered into the future to find an ideal outcome for humankind. He envisioned a future for his fiction that centered squarely on hope, achievement, and understanding so humankind could reach for, explore, and master the stars.

The vision was so comprehensive that it has an "optimism effect" on its viewers. It's a phenomenon that isn't confined to fiction either. It's the same kind of optimism that keeps the hope for a Maslow Window alive. It's also why I'm supportive of any space program, public or private. The nation that sparks the next international space race and wins will likely dictate the ideology of our future.

Regardless, the point is made. People feel good when they think about Star Trek, doubly so when they start counting up how many of those innovations came true — everything from cell phones to tractor beams. Some of these technologies might not be mainstream, but iPhone isn't even a decade old.

The optimism effect can radiate from people too, vision pending. 

This is the reason successful people are successful. They always seem to find a way and other people gravitate toward them. Even if something doesn't work out, they quickly find something else to engage in.

It comes from their ability to objectively assess where they are and then move toward a better state of being in every aspect of their life, not just a goal or a singular objective. They consider the entire life — career, finance, health, family/friends, romance/intimacy, personal growth/education/spiritual, fun/recreation, and physical environment/home/community.

Don't get me wrong. I don't subscribe to the notion that all of these need to be balanced all the time. They don't. As long as someone makes progress in each area of their life, other areas can receive more attention. It isn't until someone starts to make long-term concessions or sacrifices (or short-term cheats) that things will start to break down and even whatever dominated their life is compromised.

The same holds true for organizations. They have to consider their mission, values, and culture just as much as market share, revenue, or stock price. All too often, organizations forget themselves and set singular objectives ahead of their vision like increasing a profit margin or cutting a budget.

But what happens over the long run? Much like marketers have found deep discounts can increase conversion rates but cheapen a brand, companies can lose everything by chasing one thing. Case in point, frozen foods have suffered from a sales slump that they hope marketing can fix.

The truth is that once premium frozen food brands like Marie Callender's frozen dinners aren't as good as they used to be. ConAgra thinks it's a perception issue, but it's a quality control issue. The meals they made ten years ago are not the meals they make today. The meals they make today aren't even as good as the ones they made last year. The sales decline matches recipe cutbacks, not consumer moods.

Think of a few companies that have been shuttered. Borders shrugged off an earlier vision to embrace merchandising and so chose a mission to change people (outside of its control) instead of seeing its place within that environment (inside its control). Circuit City adopted a vision that saw its team working together but never really outlined what they were working toward. Blockbuster had a mission and vision that defended its value proposition even when it no longer had value.

Barnes & Noble has an odd mission/vision too. One wonders how long it can compete without recognizing the critical need to better integrate the physical-online-mobile landscape (among other things). I can see a vision for them, but wonder if it will see it before it is missed as a company.

Whatever your vision, it's probably right. 

If you really want to develop a successful vision for the new year, start with assessing where you are and then dream up some ideal outcomes. Develop your vision from there by shifting away from the outcomes and more toward the qualities that epitomize them because it's the verb that gets you there and not the noun.

Once you have it down, it all becomes a matter of making personal progress. Organizations and nations aren't much different either. As long as the people who make it up can agree or believe in the vision enough to take action toward it, it will be infinitely more likely to realize than if it never had one.

Wednesday, November 27

Finding Purpose In A Post-Surgery World. Happy Thanksgiving.

A Turkey by Jenna Becker
Many of my friends already know it, but I thought to share it here too. The day before my birthday last week was one of the most significant in my life. It didn't necessarily feel that way, but it was.

Last Wednesday was the six-month follow-up appointment to the radical nephrectomy I underwent last May. The surgery was the best possible option to remove a malignant mass in my right kidney.

The intent of the follow up was very straightforward: confirm the malignancy was removed, check for any signs of reoccurrence, and assess how well the left kidney was managing its new workload.

I'm grateful for the outcome. While some pre-CT scan numbers were elevated, there is no sign of malignancy. It was good enough news to close out that chapter of my life for good. There will be more follow ups annually for the next five years, but everything else is as bright as a blank slate.

The quantity of time we have is not as important as the quality.

My recovery has been brisk. As soon as I was cleared, I planned out a suitable workout schedule at home. While it is still short of an effective low impact cardio element, I've met or surpassed most pre-surgery benchmarks. My 2-inch post surgery pouch is almost gone. I see a Spartan Race in my future.

Psychologically, the six-month follow up quelled a common side effect among cancer survivors. Most are concerned about cancer reoccurrence. And while I was never afraid of reoccurrence per se (my heartfelt support for those who are), I did find that any long-term commitments always made me immediately uncomfortable. I felt like I was trying to talk around an elephant.

I would have preferred to have it out in the open, but I also understand most people would rather not. No matter. For me it was a temporary condition, but one that has given me a permanent empathy for anyone who has been diagnosed with or survived cancer or any life-threatening ailment.

It made me realize that not only does cancer deserve a cure, but those afflicted also deserve a society that doesn't look upon them as a threat to the illusion of security. And we might not stop with cancer patients but include anyone society attempts to seclude as being short-listed by age or ailment. They don't need sympathy or pity as much as reassurance that it's all right to recognize life as temporary.

tick tock
After all, it's only in knowing that our lives are fleeting in a very real and public sense that we can keep ourselves challenged from the comfort of complacency — when one day becomes indistinguishable from the next. We really don't have time to waste on mediocrity.

Most of us know it too, even if we require something big to shake us awake. As Jay Ehret said so eloquently: "Putting duct tape on your life does not give you a different life. Sometimes you just need to let it break so that you can get something new."

He might be right. We'll see. I felt pretty broken about 180 days ago, an eternity on the Internet.

Everyone is driven by something. We can choose what drives us. 

Some people are driven by success. Some people are driven by greed. Some people are driven by fame. Some people are driven by fear. And some people are driven by their past. There are infinite numbers of them to choose from and whatever anyone chooses isn't all that important.

What is important is knowing that everybody is driven by something. And we all have an opportunity to choose what it might be. All we have to do is be aware of what it is and be conscious that we choose it.

Like anyone, looking back, I can list about a dozen drivers at different times in my life. Some of them are admirable. Some of them certainly less so. But what they were doesn't matter any more. What matters is that they're different today and I'm grateful to even have another chance. How about you?

Happy Thanksgiving. If I had a wish to give, it would be for everyone to find the purpose that fits. And then? I would want them to share it with those closest at home for this holiday and then again in whatever they do afterwards. Everyone can make it meaningful not in minutes but in magnitude.

Be grateful. Be silly. Be yourself. I know I am. Thank you for all of it. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, November 20

Content Management Has It Backwards. Behavior Trumps Action.

screens or people
During an organizational meeting last week, I asked several colleagues what they thought the biggest trend in public relations, advertising, and marketing might be. Their answers were expected.

Someone said mobile. Another said big data. And yet another tossed in content management for good measure. As I wrote down their answers, I considered some of my own, everything from versatile display surfaces to 3-D printing — conversation threads that have become standard for my students.

All in all, we came up with a solid list of trends but none of them felt too important. Maybe it's because the answers all sounded too easy. Six months ago, any of them could have been viable topics. But nowadays, they provide a distraction as much as direction. Most answers are based on actions.

Sure, every now and again, a marketer touts transactions over actions, but transactions have a limited shelf life too. Everyone is trying to measure everything based on multiples of the one-time something.

Actions are all about one time and they cost a lot. 

The truth is that actions aren't moving anything forward. Transactions aren't much better. They're largely built around the same one-time sales cycle as if every prompt is a standalone metric — one piece of content times the number of impressions times a conversion percentage is a measurement.

That sounds great, but it's not efficient. And it isn't how anyone ought to be thinking as a marketer.

Instead of attempting to remind people to recycle every time they are about to toss a plastic bottle away, you want them to develop a long-term behavior so you don't have to be an ever-present reminder. Conversely, great campaigns results in long-term behavioral changes so people not only toss plastic bottles into recycling bins, but also actively seek them out by extending their threshold for convenience.

So maybe it's better to think less about systems of delivery (technology), single event triggers (response), and the minimum reach to generate an expressed conversion (reach) and think more about how you can change behavior so that your company is part of the equation much earlier in the decision making process. Some people might mistakenly assume I'm talking about brand loyalty alone, but the relationship is embedded before brand consideration, making loyalty an outcome.

The future of marketing isn't just technology. It's behavioral sciences. 

Why? Simply put, behavioral sciences investigate the decision processes and communication strategies within and between organisms in their environment. It's all about how people think.

It's what will help researchers pinpoint the root of why cardio fitness is in decline among kids, why Jeremy Grantham remains bullish on stocks, and why graduate schools are seeing a decline in enrollment. It's how one application maker solved the psychological uncertainty problem associated with waiting for taxis (hat tip Mark Harai), which is one of Ogilvy Group UK Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland's favorite examples of applied behavioral sciences. In this case, eliminating the uncertainty angst increased taxi usage.

taxi
Consider this single solution against existing marketing models. Day in and day out, marketers propose more content, more often, and sometimes at a discount as the end all to their formula. But in reality: talking to more about taxis to more people, even with a discount, would have no measurable impact beyond shifting a few fares away from a competitor. The application Hailo, on the other hand, removed one of the largest decision-making obstacles to book a cab, increasing overall demand.

The more you understand your clients and customers' decision-making processes at the deepest level possible, the less likely you need to trick them with interruptions, link bait, or empty promises. What marketers can help organizations deliver on is a better product or service though psychology.

Ergo, the shoe company that understands why children run around less, the investor who pays attention to consumer confidence, the master's program that removes enrollment barriers will outperform those that rely on creative advertising, piles of whitepapers, or tuition waivers.

How about you? When was the last time your company or your client's company invested in empirical evidence over industry trends? And if they never have, maybe this is the first "why" that needs to be answered. Why are companies investing in persuasion tactics for short-term results over sound communication that leads to long-term behavioral shifts that require minor reinforcements?

Wednesday, October 16

Do Hardships Make Us Human Or Is The Air Of Success Better?

The first time I saw the crowd funding video for Yorganic Chef, I was pleased with the finished product. The run time felt long, but Nick Diakanonis made up for it with his authenticity. He's telling his own story. It only made sense that he would drift off script and elaborate.

I noticed something else the second time I watched the video. There was one segment missing and it left me wondering whether it made a difference. The script, along with the campaign page, left out a story segment. It's the hardship part. 

Another side to the Yorganic Chef crowd funding story. 

There is a good chance that you won't see this segment of the story elsewhere. It was one of the elements left behind after several team members thought the hardship part was a negative. They want to be upbeat and bright. And maybe they're right. Or maybe they're not.

So yesterday, after receiving permission from my friend Nick, I considered the contrast. You see, Yorganic Chef was scheduled to open last year and Nick had already achieved his dream.

That is, he had achieved his dream until something unexpected happened. Two weeks before opening in Los Angeles, the person who owned the facility and packaging equipment gave him an ultimatum. Either Nick would sign over the business and become an employee or there would be no launch. 

Imagine. For the better part of three years, you invest your entire life in one solitary idea — to create a line of non-frozen, ready-made gourmet meals from the ground up, including a direct-to-customer delivery system that required the invention of a patented state-of-the-art thermal bag. You're two weeks from opening. Your dream is about to come true. And then, suddenly, everything is swept away.

What do you do? Do you sell out and become the manager of your own concept (and leave everyone who has supported you behind)? Or, do you undo the last six months of progress and try to start all over? Many people would have been tempted to sell out, but Nick isn't like that. 


As I mentioned before, the video doesn't include anything about the crisis that Nick had to weather. And there is a good chance most of the stories about the campaign won't ever touch upon it. 

But it makes me wonder. Do we have to be perfect to succeed?

Perhaps more than any other kind of person, business professionals and politicians tend to be most concerned about their image. They want to convey an image of perpetual success. They never lose. 

My life has never been like that. Most people have a mixed bag. Sometimes there are great runs when everything seems easy. Sometimes it feels like standing in sludge, with every inch of forward motion requiring the greatest amount of effort possible. It's a given. Some of us share it. Some of us don't.

Sure, some hardships can become victim stories, saddling some people with excuses to never succeed again. But I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about the hardships people face and find a way to overcome, much like Nick is trying to do. He isn't just a successful culinary entrepreneur. He's a culinary entrepreneur who is hoping to rebound from a rotten turn after doing everything right. 

Does that little bit of detail make a difference? Some people seem to think so, believing that the story is more upbeat without mentioning the hardship. Others might disagree, not seeing anything negative in the full story. If anything, they see it as the clarifying detail in starting the Yorganic Chef crowd funding campaign.

The money being raised by Yorganic Chef has a purpose. It's Nick's chance to replace what was lost — the facility and equipment — when someone he trusted revealed a different agenda. If that hadn't happened, Yorganic Chef would already be serving Los Angeles and looking to open in a second market.

So how about you? When you see crowd funding stories like the one launched by Tinu Abayomi-Paul, does it make a difference that she has a need? Or do you prefer a different kind of back story, one that scrubs away the blemishes no matter how relevant they might be? Or maybe it all ties back into those topics we've explored before — perception matters (but not really). Either way, I'd love to know what you think. The comments are yours. 

Wednesday, August 14

Lions And Labels And Agendas, Oh My. They Made Me Blind.

Agendas
"How we can get people to actually solve problems instead of pushing agendas?" — Amy Vernon 

This is a question that has been rolling around in my head since Amy Vernon asked it in response to an open call for conversation last week. My short answer coached the problem in politics, but the problem is much more hardwired into human beings than we might think. If it wasn't political labels that drive the diatribe and prevent problem solving, it would be something else.

It might be religious labels. It might be ethnic labels. It might be occupational labels. Or it might be the books we read. The music we like. The clothes we wear. The activities we pursue. The experiences we've had. The places we live. The places where we were born. The people we know.

We wake up every day with several thousand labels around our necks. We let them shape us and allow them to shape our perception of other people. We make ourselves slaves to them. And there is no end to how many we might make up. It's why we have nice things. And it's why we can't have nice things.

We've been indoctrinated into addiction. It took our entire childhood.

The truth is we spend most of our childhoods being indoctrinated into labels that make life easier and harder because every label carries an agenda. That's the point. Someone invented them to give life directions, expectations, and excuses. And then our parents and guardians conspire to pass them along just as most of us will when we have children too.

They aren't the only ones. Every peer and role model you ever had did the same thing, for better and worse. Many labels are moving targets, falling in and out of popularity with minorities and majorities.

It doesn't really matter what those labels might be. They blind us by casting bigger shadows than the people who wear them, they bind us to limitations and opportunities, and they consciously and subconsciously tint the lens that we wear when we try to solve problems as individuals and groups.

The only people not overtaken by them have to make a conscious effort to recognize them for what they are, strive to be objective even when it feels impossible, and struggle to retain their sense of self-esteem while not subscribing to stereotypes that the greater society values. It's one of the most difficult things anyone can do in life because people are genuinely afraid that all they can be are their labels.

Who would you be if labels didn't define you? Besides happy, I mean. 

Motherhood
I once had a friend who was struggling with motherhood. She insisted that she wasn't a good mother. The idea was pretty absurd to me because my perception of her abilities vastly eclipsed her own self-perception. So I gave it my best shot. She needed to free herself from the shackles of a "good mom."

After I asked her to write down the definition of everything she considered to be a "good mother," we both took a breath to admire the sheer weight of expectations. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say that the label she had placed on a pedestal was unreachable and unachievable.

Mostly, her list included everything she thought her mom did right, the opposite of everything her mom did wrong, several dozen expectations that are currently popular in society, several dozens values dedicated by faith (even though she was agnostic at the time), and so on and so forth. Once she took it all in and could laugh at how grandiose her job description was, I offered an alternative concept.

"Just like your husband married you and not the idea of a 'good wife,' your son wants to be raised by you and not the idea of a 'good mother,'" I said. "If you are you and do everything from a perspective of unconditional love, then you will be better than a 'good mother' because no one can be you better."

You would be surprised how great people can be when they aren't paralyzed by labels. She did fine.

So what does that have to do with solving problems? Almost everything. 

Have you ever noticed that some of the most explosive companies in history have come out of nowhere? There is a reason for that. They are generally started by entrepreneurs solving a specific problem or changing the status quo.

Why can't big companies do the same? Some of them can, but the advantage belongs to the startup in that they haven't saddled themselves with labels, policies and office politics. People focus on the objective at hand, without any other distractions. Their teams aren't always proven as much as they are ready to prove themselves. And whatever idea they've been turning over is all that really matters.

So let's say the problem is more altruistic, like thirsty children. How do we solve it? Charity: Water says the best way to solve it is to build water projects that put clean, drinkable water closer to the source.

All that stands in their way to deliver it is labels. Some people don't like their business model. Some people don't like that the founder is Christian. Some people don't like their partner organizations. Some people don't like that the program helps people abroad as opposed to at home. Some people worry about project sustainability. Some people want to support another charity. And the list goes on.

Water
We add in additional angst if we make a political issue, where political labels complicate the process. Instead of dealing with the problem. Suddenly, who solves how much of the problem under what criteria and conditions as well as how do they go about it all become subject to the agenda purview of this party or that party and all those special interests, with little concern for actual outcome. The net result becomes a thousand-fold document that costs one hundred times more to accomplish significantly less than what is required.

Nobody is exempt and the test is self-evident. Think of an agency that solves our water problem. Now impart different labels on it, one at a time inserting the label ahead of the word agency. Like this: "_______" agency for water.

Christian. Islamic. Jewish. Satanic. Democrat. Republican. Libertarian. Jeffersonian. Secretive. Communist. Domestic. Conservative. Liberal. International. African. Jamaican. Japanese. Home-Based. Government. And so on and so forth. Which one would you give to?

If you're being honest, certain descriptions might have elicited a positive or negative emotional reaction. It might have been slight, but your prejudices exist, possibly based on your proximity or positive and negative experiences with people who have claimed to represent those things or what you have been told to expect from such people. In swapping the labels, you may even forget the problem.

How do you overcome prejudices and agendas to solve problems?

My oversimplified definition of public relations applies here. While I have more academic definitions, I often say that public relations is the art and science of making "we" out of "us and them." If you want to solve problems without being plagued by agendas, the only possibility is to ask people to temporarily check their labels (not their values) at the door.

It's a tall order to be sure, especially because most people don't even know they exist. They do. They exist on a grand scale, such as those who judge us by the color of our skin. And they exist on a small scale such as how much we might weigh or the shine of our shoes. So if you find someone to set those things aside, even for a little while, then hold onto them tight. They are rare individuals.

At least, that is what I think. I would love to know what you think. I'd also love to know what Dr. Steve Nguyen thinks, and Roger Dooley, and Sandeep Gauntam, or anyone who makes psychology a primary interest as opposed to me, about two classes short of that degree (it was my minor).

Of course, we need not stop with psychologists or people with a bent for the human condition. Anyone can chime in, especially Amy Vernon, who opened the box on this relevant topic. And if this topic is too far removed, that's fine too. What would you like to talk about? The comments are open. Let's talk.

Wednesday, July 3

They Can Have Deen, Snowden, And Obama. I Prefer Freedom.

Retro Quarter
Independence Day in the United States commemorates the adoption of the Declaration Of Independence on July 4, 1776, when a handful of men and women announced their sovereignty as a nation. My favorite celebration to date was 1976. It's hard to beat the United States Bicentennial.

In the city of my youth (Milwaukee), celebrations were planned at every local park. Suspenders and Dixieland hats with a red, white and blue sash were optional. Ice cream came in plastic cups to be eaten with wooden spoons, sold by men on big three-wheel bicycles. The smell of grilled sausages and bratwursts lingered in the air. And it would remain that way until nightfall, when the sky would erupt with fireworks.

But there was something more than all that, the big bands, long parades, and holding tightly to quarters emblazoned with patriots. It might have felt like more because the price of freedom was still fresh in our minds as people were fighting for peace at home or for the nation halfway around the world. It all took a toll.

The country had some challenges ahead, but also felt young and unweathered. 

Two hundred years didn't seem like such a long time. As a country, we had barely finished crawling. If you asked anyone back then whether they would fight the American Revolution all over again, no had to wonder where a majority might fall. The spirit of the Declaration Of Independence was intact.

Our country still counted freedom and liberty among our greatest virtues. We all saw it as the lifeblood of everything — the probability that with education or opportunity or persistence, we could either land a job after graduation or start a computer company out of a garage, which someone incidentally did in 1976. Sometimes it was hard work to make it happen, but mostly the only people in our way was us.

Less than four decades later, it isn't so clear cut anymore. For all the virtues of a majority rule that has encroached on our fragile representative government, we adopted a notion that freedom is as simple as a choice. But freedom isn't a choice. It's about having choices. We haven't been making great ones.

Scale Weights by Tomasz Sienicki, adapted
The reason some of them aren't so great is simple enough. We're continually trading away freedom for security without appreciating the economics of it. Unlike supply and demand, the scales of freedom are stacked. It's the only thing in the world that is cheap to sell and expensive to buy. We've sold away too much of it, often times for promises that will never be delivered (and sometimes for something worse).

More than that, it seems the United States has grown too accustomed to the notion that we are somehow rotten as a people. And as a result, we must somehow feel forever in debt to this national guilt. The terms of payment are clear. Every year, we're asked to give a little more of our freedom and pay a little more for the dwindling amount of freedom that remains. The irony is that government administers the demand and collection of debt, even though it and not the people are responsible.

The quality of the choices we make today will dictate the quantity of choices we make tomorrow. 

A few people who have read this space for as long as I've been writing it recently asked me why I haven't covered the usual communication suspects that have surfaced in the news. Some of them figured it was related to my recovery, but that's not it. It's about my heart.

While my head still sees communication challenges and how this or that needs to be handled, my heart isn't into taking on the ugliness that holds our country hostage to guilt. There are better topics than this:

Deen. Her ignorance is more deserving of our pity than punishment. Worse, by continually reinforcing that various segments of our country have ties to racism is counterproductive as it casts all Americans with European heritage as racists and all Americans with an African heritage as victims. While it's convenient to think so in this fog of political guilt, 5 percent of the men who gave their lives at Bunker Hill were African-Americans. They were heroes not victims.

It seems to me if there is any debt to be paid on July 4, it ought to paid by honoring the thousands of African Americans who fought not alongside patriots but as patriots during the American Revolution. We might even start with Crispus Attucks, a hero of the Boston Massacre. Americans didn't care that Attucks was African American when he was shot. They only cared he was a colonist like them.

Burn
Snowden. His celebrity is the least important part of the story. Although it amazes me to some degree that political factions on the right and left can find common ground on what is being cast as a national security issue, the real story is the extent of arbitrary searches, seizures and the collection of data by the government. Both sides whittled away at the Fourth Amendment for more than 10 years.

While some Americans feel additional security is warranted, the cost is too high in terms of freedom and fiscal expense. It might be argued that short-term measures were reasonable during a state of war, but it also seems infinitely suspicious that any regime would call for a perpetual state of war readiness to justify a permanent invasion of privacy. The greater threat to public safety is that for every dollar the federal government collects to snoop, we have one less dollar for local public safety like firefighters.

Obama. Democracy voted to sequester national health care based on a "free" soundbite. George Washington once said that if freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we would be led like sheep to the slaughter. There is a similar fate for those who vote without making comprehension compulsory. As a nation of news snackers who prefer affirmation and popularity over objectivity and complexity, we don't always understand the depth of the issues we form opinions about.

People pick their sides. So writing about Obamacare spin on both sides seems futile to me, especially when more important topics are missed: what can we do to stop killing bees, why are genetically modified foods becoming more prevalent (avoid them), and how to fix the primary care physician shortage. Right. It's much easier to discuss guilt over soda size than topics that affect us.

Have fun in the name of freedom. And please change the subject. 

In 1976, the country wasn't perfect but what we wanted seemed pretty simple. We wanted a little elbow room to enjoy our definition of happiness and one day a year to appreciate the 2.5 million people (less 10-20 percent loyalists) who put their lives on the line for freedom (and everyone else afterward).

Many of our children may want something like that someday too. With the cost of education eclipsing the cost of a starting a small business, it's anybody's guess if they will. As for me, I'd rather think about heroes and how to help them — patriots (of every race), firefighters, doctors, and honey bees — than the topics served up by social and traditional media. Maybe you would like to help me change the subject too. The press can have Deen, Snowden and Obama. Good night and good luck. Have fun and be safe.

Wednesday, June 19

This Too Shall Pass Unless It Doesn't

20
Six weeks isn't that long of a time. It's about 42 days, a cut above 1,000 hours. Online, it feels like forever. It's such a long time that I tell audiences they only need twice that amount to change the world.

Right. Ninety days was the ideal benchmark I created for Bloggers Unite when I coordinated some of its biggest campaigns. The biggest with Amnesty International changed American foreign policy in Darfur.

I still believe in a 90-day benchmark. As long as you have a base in place, it's the right amount of time to do a campaign without feeling like the task is insurmountable or the outcome too far out. The same can be said for personal goals too. You can rock out a lot in 90 days. I'm around 45 right now.

The two most critical moments for anything: the start time and halftime.

If I stopped today, I would feel pretty miserable. Six weeks only covered the recovery period after my surgery to move from the cancer column to the cancer-free column. The next six weeks matter more.

As careful as I was (and I was careful), I put on an inch or two around my waistline after surgery and lost more definition than expected. It's the price paid for having a forced semi-sedentary lifestyle. I was given explicit orders not to lift anything over ten pounds, be mindful of twists, and no vacuuming.

If I took a snapshot today, most people wouldn't notice unless I had my shirt off. If I did have my shirt off, they might make some pretty crazy assumptions. Specifically, they might think I'm out of shape (me too). But they would also be wrong given a bigger context.

This is what Chris Brogan was driving at as a topic in May. You can find it again in another piece by Geoff Livingston. I've written about it before, talking about how people need to be the verb, not the noun.

My condition is temporal. In six more weeks, I'll be in a different place. These six are all about starting at half my exercise set weight and gradually increasing the amount until I am eventually back or better than pre-surgery. The first two sessions went well, even if I was tired after both.

The next one will be the bigger tell, as it directly includes abdominal muscles. Steady as she goes.

That isn't all there is to it, of course. I'm mindful of my diet and try to find time to walk (as it was the only recovery I was approved to do prior). I make sure I get enough rest. I try not to overdo things.

But the point is pretty simple. A snapshot forces permanence on things that are otherwise ephemeral.

People are easily hung up on snapshots. It's motion that matters.
basketball

As individuals or en masse in social media, most people see snapshots as permanent, which is the primary link between my article on the potential failings of isolated big data and the Livingston expose on mean tweets. It proves effective for this article too because ephemerality makes everyone wrong over time.

What most people don't know about any crisis event is that it only represents a moment in time when everyone agrees something bad has already happened. Everything from that point on is malleable.

Barring criminal charges and other liabilities, business executives have a choice to turn things around or close the doors. A personal crisis isn't much different: the crisis event is the moment you realize your company is in decline, your marriage in on the rocks, or your physical condition puts you at a health risk. Any or all of those things might feel like the end of the world. But they aren't, unless you're dead.

The realization is simply your cue to make your next move. You have a choice to do nothing (which is stasis, akin to losing ground at a pace too slow to notice until it's too late), give up (accelerate the bad), or reverse direction and mediate the challenge (have a plan to make things better). There are no other options, no matter how loud any spectators might become.

Right. The loudness of it all doesn't matter nearly as much as people think. Any negative sentiment is more akin to a symptom. Any closure is more likely to link to the disease — bad practices, bad ideas, or bad reactions. And that's why social media and isolated big data based on social media aren't accurate predictors. It's like a poll. It can show you a plot point in the near past, but the future is still wide open.

In other words, the reality of it reads much more like the title. This too shall pass unless it doesn't. Or, as I wrote several weeks ago: when bad things happen, there is very little you can do except find solace in the storm. You find your peace. You let it happen. But once the bad is done, you look for potential.

You make a plan. You press ahead with a positive trajectory. And as long as you set that plan in motion and then double check yourself at halftime, it's nearly impossible to become stuck in the moment or sliding backward. Today, I'm about 45 days better than I was the day I left the hospital and my momentum suggests than every day will be better ahead. How about you? What's your direction?

Wednesday, May 1

Killing Me Softly: Cancer

Richard R. Becker, self portrait
I have said it in a dozen different ways before, but I have never said it more plainly. The quantity of time we have is not as important as the quality. Write it down somewhere and tape it to your computer.

We always want for more of it. We rarely use it wisely. And most of us sell it for far too cheap.

For the last few months, I haven't been writing in this space as much. It was a decision I made back in February before I knew it in my head even if I already knew it in my heart. The incidental finding on a CT scan wasn't just a spot on my kidney. It was a mass. It was malignant. And I'm grateful, not regretful.

The remedy is straightforward. I start pre-op tomorrow and the surgery is on Friday. It won't be fun, but I'll find some fun in it anyway. The survival rate for radical nephrectomy is especially good. In terms of cancer, they say, it's the absolute best one to get. It's almost like hitting a jackpot. What does that mean?

There won't be any chemotherapy or radiation. The whole of it rides on one operation, and then a lifelong commitment to a different (but not debilitating) lifestyle with semi-regular followups, blood work, and scans to make sure there isn't any more of it lurking around somewhere. So seize the day.

The past 90 days have been fun. Thanks for sticking around. 

I really give a lot of credit to people like Leslie Lehrman and her daughter Jennifer Windrum. They saw cancer as a catalyst for something bigger. It takes real courage to do something like that. And I've met a lot of people who see it as a calling of sorts. We need more people like them. Cancer needs a cure.

I took a different path, more along the lines of Hazel Grace Lancaster in The Fault In Our Stars after her transformation. I lived a little more, only alluding to or mentioning surgery as necessary. It was the only way I could work, live, and play without it overtaking my life. I even pushed the surgery out enough so my family could keep our vacation, my students could keep their instructor, and clients and service commitments might have a few more hours of time. My wife hated the idea, but it's who I am.

I quit smoking (before the prognosis, ironically), worked out more, finished some home improvement projects, baked some desserts, made new friends, reached out to old ones, discovered some inspired talents, worked with amazing people across several dozen companies and nonprofits, pressed forward with plans to start a new agency with three other partners, promoted other people's causes and efforts, funded some ideas via Kickstarter, supported education by donating to schools, re-discovered some latent artistic talent, made a sketch at The Getty, stood by as my son received another star for his black belt, saw my daughter baptized because she wanted to be, and wrote fiction for the first time in years. As the log ride caption read on Instagram: This is life, baby.

Sure, there were a few disappointments too. My doctors wouldn't clear me for the Spartan Race so close to surgery. One promising prospect green lighted and then retracted a proposal because someone sold them snake oil, wasting several days of precious time. And occasionally, despite my best intent, the gravity of the circumstances sometimes made me too impatient for those closest to me. I'm sorry.

The next 90 days will be even better. Expect to see changes sometime soon. 

If those last 90 days had taught me anything, it was how working on the wrong accounts truly dragged me down last year. I wasn't always happy with some of the work, even if I was good at it nonetheless.

I had learned the lesson before, but obviously needed to learn it again. There won't be a next time. Beginning with my recovery, expect to see some changes in this space. Time is just to too short to be stuck in one niche for too long.

I really wish I could tell you some specifics, but none of the paragraphs felt right so I took them all  down. Let's save it all for a post-surgery conversation. And if we never have the chance to have one? Then the best way to think about everything is to reflect on a comment I wrote for a friend of mine.

When bad things happen, there is very little you can do except find solace in the storm. And in finding it, hold those close to you a little tighter, even if it is just for a little while. The importance of such things are not measured in minutes but by magnitude. Good night and good luck. It has been my pleasure.

Wednesday, March 20

Measuring Effectiveness: Coke Says Buzz Is Not Enough

Plenty of people have said it before, but Coca-Cola had invested hard dollars to prove it. Online buzz is not enough to have a measurable impact on short-term sales. Online display advertising works better.

While the concept seems to contradict what social media enthusiasts tend to tout, it's one of several studies that not only raise questions about the growing interest in online influence but also refute it. After all, if buzz doesn't drive short-term sales where display advertisements might, then what about influence?

Smart companies don't make decisions based on single studies.

Of course, according to the Adweek article, Coca-Cola isn't ready to toss out the baby with the bath water. Its digital media team points out that the findings were based on one study with one segment of one company that appeals to a particular customer. In this case, one with 61.5 million Facebook fans.

Instead, Coca-Cola will continue to look for ways to measure online buzz and other popular social media counts such as video views and social sharing. The company, one of the early entrants into digital media, wants to find a predictive measure that can pinpoint financial outcomes — at least so marketers may better understand the tradeoffs among media types.

Personally, I'm not sure they have to or that it is even possible. After all, no influence expert to date has considered that obvious problem with attempting to measure online influence. Much like social media, influence does not exist in a vacuum.

The psychology of a decision-making process is bigger than one trigger.

Most people aren't subjected to a singular influence that leads to a single action like influence scoring systems such as Klout suggest. On the contrary, most people are subjected to dozens or even hundreds of complementing and contrary influencers — ideas, people, personal experiences, and other variables — before they complete a multi-decision process that leads to a purchase.

Ergo, if a friend or "influencer" recommends a book, the suggestion is subject to all sorts of variables, ranging from what other friends and influencers have said, the largely random collection of reviews that might be found prior to purchase, any number of customer reviews at the point of sale, the propensity that they have made past book recommendations, whether or not you know the author, how far off it is from your preferred genre, whether or not you are reading a different book, etc., etc.

It seems amazingly silly to credit someone who might not even be the initial influencer with what is an infinitely grand process. But that is partly why all marketing is part art and science, not just science. The human brain doesn't merely string together 0s and 1s like a computer program. It's much more complex.

Keep watching Coca-Cola anyway. It finds out all sorts of interesting things.

While attempting to isolate the impact of social media, especially buzz, might not be possible given the magnitude of the variables, Coca-Cola is discovering some interesting data related to online advertising. According to the article, the company found online display ads could be considered about 90 percent as effective as television while search advertising is only 50 percent as effective as television.

Given the continued changes that Google is making to its search algorithm, this might surprise some SEO proponents because it runs contrary to what people like to think, unless we're talking about mobile. But the truth, I think, is even more surprising. One-off SEO has undermined search as some specialists attempted to divert unrelated searches to gain traffic. People trust display ads more than search because the ad is what it is — the search suggestions might not be what they want.

But it raises another wrinkle in most studies out there. The best marketing strategists — digital or otherwise — know that like all advertising, the operative word is sometimes no matter how hard naysayers try to steer people away from one or all facets of distribution. And that "sometimes" depends not only on the distribution method but also the timing, message, presentation, product, organization, audience, and a half dozen other things that most people don't know to measure.

Tuesday, March 5

Smoking Guns: Why Anti-Smoking Campaigns Fail

The best guess by Gallup in determining the number of people who smoke in the United States is 20-22 percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this estimate fits. The CDC frequently cites that one in five people smokes cigarettes.

The number has mostly plateaued since 2000; slightly down depending on how it is sliced. But tracking the percentage can be a bit misleading as the population has grown too. In other words, the number of smokers in the U.S. is relatively constant (or may be increasing), which means it's time to face facts.

The four-decade long barrage of anti-smoking campaigns is no longer effective. 

The reason seems pretty clear. Most anti-smoking campaigns do not target smokers. They target non-smokers in an attempt to vilify people who smoke instead. And that's fine, as long as policymakers and nonprofit organizations want to spend millions or more on ineffective advertising campaigns or pass anti-smoking legislation and sin taxes to make themselves look like heroes.

I think we can do better, but it will take better campaigns. They have to be targeted and they can't all be negative. After all, there is psychological evidence that suggests negative messages produce negative results. That might be especially true for smoking — the ages most exposed to anti-smoking campaigns are overwhelming under the age of 18. Coincidentally, the majority of smokers start before they turn 18.

For many of them, it was never about smoking being cool as advertising censors claimed. It is about being defiant to authority, demonstrating a foolhardy sense of immortality, tempting fate by flirting with something potentially addictive, or being accepted by peers and adults (e.g., parents who smoke) like it was a private club. The campaigns all play into this notion.

Afterward, once someone becomes a smoker, anti-smoking campaigns take on a different feel. They either make smokers feel bad about smoking or convince them to light up in defiance. The messages aren't much different from individual abuse smokers receive on a daily basis — which is impossibly ironic, given how many states are passing anti-smoking laws but legalizing marijuana.

Creating a better anti-smoking campaign means a bigger focus on benefits. 

Many campaigns that are designed to help people quit aren't properly constructed. Most of them reinforce negative messages — how hard it will be to quit smoking, the impossibly low success rate (and significantly high relapse rate), and additional consequences commonly associated with quitting cold turkey or attempting to step down using gum, patches, e-smokes, or other nicotine replacements.

If you are are a non-smoker, think of any habit you have. If someone told you half of what they tell smokers, would you want to try to kick the habit? Probably not, especially if stress is a trigger.

A much more effective campaign would have a two-fold approach. First, it would help smokers stop smoking as opposed to quitting outright. Second, it would focus on the benefits and not the curse.

Don't quit. Just stop. 

Stopping could mean any number of things, all of which would eventually help any smoker stop completely. It could mean they stop smoking in certain locations (cars, houses, etc.), at certain times (immediately after meals, while drinking, etc.), in front of certain people (co-workers, clients, kids), etc.

With each successful 'stop,' smokers tend to become vigilant in controlling the addiction. Each 'stop' leads to another until the act of smoking becomes more annoying than pleasurable. Some people might be surprised how often they might put off smoking if it feels like a chore. At minimum, it will make them more aware of how often they smoke and what triggers (prompt to smoke) they might have.

Along with these 'stops,' many smokers have an easier time stopping after they switch to a natural/organic cigarette. While natural/organic cigarettes are not considered healthier alternatives, there may be truth to the idea that commercial cigarettes have more addictive ingredients. They most certainly have more additives, as many as 600. Nicotine is hard enough to give up. Don't risk other additive addictions.

The benefits of stopping.

The benefits of not smoking are easily undersold. When most campaigns talk about the benefits, they talk about long-term ailments (e.g., cancer) or use them to paint all smokers as an unhealthy, smelly group of vile people. That doesn't help smokers stop. What might are the immediate short-term benefits.

Stopping for even 20 minutes can lower your pulse rate and blood pressure. Stopping for eight hours will remove more than 90 percent of the nicotine from your body. Stopping for 12 hours will drop carbon monoxide levels to normal and raise blood oxygen to normal.

It only takes two days for smell and taste receptors to begin to heal. It only takes three days for the lungs to begin to heal. It only takes ten days before teeth and gums to begin to heal. Within a few weeks, the circulatory system and heart begin to heal. Even insulin returns to normal in about two months. Eventually, most damage can be reversed until even some risks return to non-smoker or even never-smoker levels.

The changes and benefits are dramatic. And while such benefits timetable lists vary (a few are paired with disturbing images), talking about them could significantly help a smoker find a short-term health benefit that means something to them — from their teeth and gums to shortness of breath after exercise.

The two times I stopped smoking. 

Even when I smoked, most people didn't know it. I seldom smoked in public and would mostly hide myself away if I did. Conversely, despite the habit, I exercised regularly, ate well, and established an aggressive teeth maintenance program. I never smoked in my house, car or in my office — always outside, rain or shine.

I stopped smoking last month. And unlike the other time I tried to stop, this time was relatively easy.

The difference was all in the approach. The first time, maybe eight years ago, I did it the way campaigns tell you to do it. I tossed out everything related to smoking. And much like they warned, I was irritable and miserable. And then I felt even worse, like I was letting everyone down. I lost.

This time was different because I had already stopped smoking 90 percent of the time. Then one day last January, I caught a cold and just stopped. I didn't tell anybody. I didn't throw anything away. I still have seven packs in the cupboard. They empower me more than tempt me. It's my choice to not smoke.

I initially made a choice that going outside in the cold was less desirable than just going to bed. When I woke in the morning, I decided to see how long I could wait. That wait never ended. Sure, there were some cravings here and there, but I already had a list of things that always made me not want to smoke — carrots, apples, cashews, sugar-free Jelly Bellies, gum, etc. (everyone has their own things). So, I would have one or two of those things instead. I was never irritable either. It felt easy.

While I would never suggest anyone take as long as I did to stop outright, I had to develop a plan that didn't exist — one that worked for me. Sure, seven years is too long, but my future self wasn't around to create a better campaign. A better campaign could have helped me stop sooner and possibly helped me avoid having surgery this year.

Unfortunately, I don't see many effective campaigns in the cards. Very few people in the medical profession want to embrace a step-down program without relying on prescription medication (all of which have higher relapse rates). Most anti-smoking advocates stress lifelong victimhood over willpower (because it helps funding). Most advertising agencies would rather have 80 percent of the population notice an ad than a fraction of 20 percent (because awareness is more valued than results). And the general negativity toward smokers is ingrained by a majority; it's as depressing as it is hypocritical (considering obesity rates and the recent legalization of marijuana).

Even some of the communication from trusted sources is off. The CDC, for example, estimates that 1 in 5 Americans dies from cigarette-related causes. Since they also say only 1 in 5 Americans smoke, the figure is either fudged or the government is suggesting that all people who smoke die from cigarette-related causes. Meanwhile, many cancer rates continue to rise anyway. Let smokers stop, guilt free.

Wednesday, February 13

Communicating Big: The Art Of Nonverbal Power

When colleague Kelli Matthews, instructor at the University of Oregon, shared a recent talk by American social psychologist Amy Cuddy, I was immediately curious and excited to see it. Cuddy's TED talk rubs up against some of my individual work related image development, with mine approaching it from different disciplines. I had seen her study two years ago, but not the talk.

I also thought this would be useful for one of my upcoming classes. Several former students have encouraged me to include a larger spokesperson session as part of Writing For Public Relations. In this case, the topic stems from Cuddy's work in nonverbal communication with Dana Carney and Andy Yap.

The crux of the research is simple enough. They note that humans and other animals express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, contractive postures. And then the researchers ask a riveting question. Can posing in these open postures create power?

The power of nonverbal communication is remarkable, even potent. 

What was so fascinating about the study was that it confirmed that posting in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants. Let me be clear here, because it's especially cool.

What they found was that the high-power poses could elevate testosterone and decrease cortisol, which was accompanied by increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk. Meanwhile, low-power poses exhibited the opposite. Any person, they suggest, could instantly make themselves more powerful by assuming simple one-minute poses.


While I find the subject fascinating, it is not the end of the story for me. While the research is spot on in terms of being interesting, Cuddy overreaches with her anectodal application. Specifically, like many personal branders have suggested, you can fake it until you make it.

Her own story suggests this is possible because she used to "fake it until you make it" in order to feel comfortable teaching at Princeton. In other words, if you pretend to be powerful, you will actually act more powerful (and be more powerful). There is some truth to this, but "faking it" is still flawed.

You don't have to fake it to increase your sense of power.

While the body can shape the mind, just as Cuddy suggests, it's more important to change reality rather the perception. In other words, you don't have to fake it to make it. You can simply make it by putting yourself in related experiences that will help you adopt and learn new leadership skills.

Why is that important? Because in one of the studies conducted by the researchers, they had the mock interviewers convey no emotional response. They had good reasons to do it, but what was missed was that setting might not account for real-life scenarios where one or more of the interviewers may be dominant.

In such scenarios, when people feel uncomfortable because there is no room to capture an "alpha position," they tend to respond using subconscious cues. And what happens? People who are prone to low-power postures surrender and those prone to inappropriate high-power poses can be agitated.

It is much more effective to give people empowering experiences. In fact, this is why so many motivational trainers ask students to climb poles, walk over coals, break boards, or any number of tasks that they have never done (but can do with some instruction). Doing something that one would ordinarily assume is extraordinary creates a mental impression that anything is possible while delivering the same chemical reaction that Cubby mentioned in her speech. And the more you do it, the more you believe it.

In fact, it's not all that different than what I teach interns and students. I encourage them to become involved with at least one nonprofit and one professional association because both types of organizations will open leadership opportunities for them. In addition, it will not only teach them that leadership isn't reliant on dominance like animals, but also emotional intelligence to adapt to a group.

The proverbial wise man on a mountain doesn't need a dominant posture to convey power. His perceptive size is the mountain. Or, if you prefer a different example, search for images of Mahatma Gandhi. Most of them convey low-power and even submissive postures despite his depth of power.

Monday, January 28

Failing Forward: Debbie Millman At AIGA Las Vegas

Debbie Millman knows something about failure. Most people would never guess it nowadays.

Today, she is a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant, and radio show host. Specifically, she worked in design for over 25 years and currently serves as president of the design division at Sterling Brands, a leading brand consultancy formed in 1992 with offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati. She's held the position for 17 years. You know her work.

The consultancy’s client roster includes many international brands such as Procter & Gamble, NestlĂ©, Disney, Bayer, Google, and Visa. She has been personally responsible for working on the redesign of over 200 global brands.

While her position alone would be enough to scream success, she is also a contributing editor at Print Magazine, a design writer at FastCompany.com, chair of the Masters In Branding program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and hosts the award-winning weekly radio talk show “Design Matters With Debbie Millman.”

And yet, with all sincerity and despite the twinkle in her eye, Millman is among the first to say that her career never really took off until her 30s. Before that, she chalked up one failure after the next.

What does Millman think made all the difference? 

While Millman shared a top ten list of things she wish she knew before she started her career (a list that will be published on a transitionary AIGA Las Vegas site later this week), it took a question from the audience to pin it all down. When asked what was the catalyst for change, she settled on a single word after a long and thoughtful 30-second pause.

"Therapy."

The single word answer almost fell flat on the 200 or so attendees at the Jan. 25 event hosted by AIGA Las Vegas, Las Vegas - Clark County Library District and Library Foundation. Enough so, that as a speaker and instructor, I wanted to jump in and provide a greater context for what she meant. I got it, even if not everyone did.

Millman didn't mean that everyone needed to find a psychologist or therapist to find success. But what most people need to do, especially students on the eve of graduating who can't see a clear vision into their future, is to change their thinking. The greatest road block for success begins with giving ourselves permission to succeed, something Millman had admitted that she never really did until later.

"I started to choose a path that was failure proof," Millman said. "If there is such a thing."

Over the next half-hour of her presentation, she outlined a career path that chronicled one failure after the next. The worst of it included becoming the object of ridicule on one of the first design blogs ever created. The blog, Speak Up, attracted dozens of comments from designers she admired in the field.

Her revision of the Burger King logo was met with considerable scorn. But it was the blog's comments that drove the discussion away from a single logo design and defining Millman as a talentless hack.

Millman might have been able to weather the criticism had she not just recently been more or less shackled by the leadership of AIGA as not being progressive enough as a designer to hold a position on their board. (This was also despite finally finding her dream position at Sterling Brands.) Basically, it meant to her that neither AIGA designers nor anti-AIGA designers would accept her or her work.

But that was a long time ago. What really changed it for Millman was her ability to stop avoiding failures and start embracing them. In fact, Millman says that if you don't make mistakes, you aren't taking enough risks. And taking risks — not avoiding failure — is a critical step toward finding success.

You can't be successful by trying to avoid failure.

Many of Millman's life lessons are much like that. While some people might chalk it up to common sense, the truth of it is that most people are afraid to take risks, find excuses not to make them, tend to quit too soon in order to prove success is elusive, and never give themselves permission to live the remarkable lives that they dream of, assuming they ever open themselves up to dream them. I couldn't agree more.

Therapy is the right answer, but it doesn't necessarily mean hiring a a therapist. It means accepting who you are and changing your outlook about what's possible, especially if you have built a lifetime of resistance. Most people need help to do it. And it just doesn't matter whether that help comes from a teacher, mentor, friend, colleague, ideology, faith, or whatever because it sounds simpler than it will be.

We have to be open to the possibilities, work hard in actively pursuing them, and never give up in the face of failure. As Millman eventually learned, it was her failures that often opened doors for success and not the other way around. Or, as she so eloquently put it, she failed her way to a successful life.
 

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