Showing posts with label quantum physics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label quantum physics. Show all posts

Thursday, January 8

Accepting Temporary: Complacency Is Circular


Last night, I noticed something unusual at my gym. Typically, Gold's Gym is packed with "resolution members," people who made fitness resolutions for the New Year. After two weeks, most of them conclude that it isn't working and slowly fade away into whatever daily routines seem more comfortable. Not this year.

When I shared the observation that my gym was void of resolution members this year, PJ Perez suggested "overweight Americans have accepted their designations."

He's right, but I'm not so sure we're talking about fitness. Eighty-five percent of people voting on a news poll believe that the economy will get worse before it gets better, and only 33 percent have faith that President-elect Barack Obama's administration will be able to turn the economy around.

When the question had been asked during the election cycle, those numbers were considerably higher. It's one of the reasons he won. So what changed? People aren't certain the Obama administration can turn the economy around because Obama has yet to change campaign criticism into a confident challenge. Consider the following …

"I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible," Obama said in a speech set to be delivered at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., outside Washington.

Most speechwriters know that "but" cancels out everything that precedes it. Then again, I'm not talking about politics. I'm talking about the acceptance of what seems to be and complacency as opposed to acknowledging what is and moving forward.

You see, complacency is circular in that it occurs in companies, countries, and people at two ends of the spectrum — when things are too good or when things are too bad. In either case, complacency is the general acceptance of a temporary situation or state of being as if it is permanent (or who we are). So if you haven't already, right now might be a good time to kick around the concept of complacency as a conversation in your office.

Are you making decisions based on (or complaining about) temporary situations? And if so, what happens if and when those temporary situations change? Will those decisions put you in a position to win or ensure you remain in the same place — at the bottom of the complacency circle (which might be where your company started anyway)?

Or in other words, if your company is waiting it out, you might rethink that. After all, times will change. They always do. It's the only certainty.

Thursday, January 1

Measuring Popular: Social Media Meets Gilligan's Island


Long-time industry analyst Barbara French once wrote (link below) that "we've got some very bright people on both sides of the debate — those advocating that we equate influence with popularity/connectedness, those advising against it. Neither side is ready to blink." Well, for those advocating for it, I suggest they study the work of Sherwood Schwartz and blink.

That's right. You'll find all you need to know about how influence, authority, and popularity interact by watching Gilligan's Island.

Influence

Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, and opinions of others.

The Professor, AKA Roy Hinkley Jr., Ph.D., had individual influence, even though group think had more. (So did Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell, mostly over her husband but occasionally the younger female castaways.)

In 1958, social psychologist Solomon Asch devised an experiment to examine the extent to which pressure from other people could affect one's perception. Almost 37 of the 50 subjects conformed to the majority at least once, even when the majority had chosen a clearly erroneous answer. (Hat tip for the reminder: HireCentrix).

It didn't require any sense of authority or popularity; only a simple majority. However, perceived authority or popularity can potentially compound the allure of conformity. And sometimes, in the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous.

Authority

Authority is the power to enforce laws, exact obedience, command, determine, judge, or influence by proven knowledge or experience in a field.

The Skipper, AKA Jonas Grumby, had authority. (So did Thurston Howell, III, but his authority did not translate into an admired quality given the situational parameters of the island.)

In 1963, Stanley Milgram gave the world a glimpse into obedience by publishing the results of his experiment, which proved the authority figure in the experiment could convince participants to deliver electric shocks past safety limits, even when the recipient of the shocks protested and expressed life-threatening danger.

It didn't require any popularity, only a blind belief that someone seemed in charge. A simple majority can compound the allure of obedience. And sometimes, when given to the wrong people, it can be disastrous.

Popularity

Popularity is most simply defined as being commonly liked or approved of, but there's a bit more to it.

Ginger Grant was popular. (But among viewers, people liked Mary Ann more).

In 2008, behavioral geneticist S. Alexandra Burt at Michigan State University found that genes elicit not only specific behaviors but also the social consequences of those behaviors, which means your genes may drive your social experiences and predispose you to popularity in certain social settings. But there is more to it than that. In this study, the 200 male college students were in a unique campus environment where "rule-breaking behaviors" are generally admired. In another social setting, they may not be popular.

In 1993, the Administrative Science Quarterly published "Power, social influence, and sense making: effects of network centrality and proximity on employee perceptions," which explored the relative contributions of individual attributes, formal organizational positions, network centrality, and network proximity in explaining individual variation in perceptions of work-related conditions in an advertising firm. Simply stated, like many studies have found — social settings, structural centrality, perceived leadership, situational timing, and role satisfaction all play a part in making someone popular. And sometimes, when the wrong people become popular, it can be disastrous.

Ergo, exhibiting qualities considered admirable within a specific social network can help someone become popular.

It's also why Gilligan may have been the least popular person on the island, but he was easily the most popular comedic icon among viewers who found the comedy and sometimes accidental genius of the character to be admired qualities.

Influence, Authority, and Popularity Online

Michael Litman, who is equally fascinated by the concept of online authority, touched on part of the equation (and provided a sum up of definitions from people with perceived authority online) by simply stating that authority cannot be measured online. He's mostly right.

When you consider various social psychological studies and what we know about cognitive psychology, everyone started as equal as Litman suggests. But since human beings are human beings, we are generally predisposed to create systems of hierarchy and authority. So, it only stands to reason that people quickly went to work attempting to build such a structure in this new social setting.

Fortunately or unfortunately, much of this hierarchy has been built mostly around popularity measurements or largely "reach" as I mentioned on Tuesday, which is easily summed up by how many links, readers, followers, friends, etc. someone has earned. However, it's always important to consider that these measures might be gamed, blatantly, through mutually reciprocal agreements or, covertly, through sycophant behavior (hit tip for the perfect word: Chapel).

The reason reach has been incorporated into the equation is because it's borrowed from the advertising industry and mainstream media's obsession with eyeballs. But in the end, social media gravitation to reach doesn't mean anything because real influence requires offline measures such as changing behavior or tangible outcomes and real authority comes from something other than popularity (even though all three are sometimes interconnected).

“Popularity is the one insult I have never suffered.” — Oscar Wilde

For anyone who knows anything about Oscar Wilde, there is an irony in his comment that makes it all the more colorful. While he may have never penned a blog or joined a social network, he was one of the greatest celebrities of his day, frequently wearing his hair long and decorating his room with peacock feathers and lilies. And even though his situational timing was perfect (because that is what his world needed at the time), he always backed it up with his biting wit and the pledge not to beg forgiveness for what he thought. And what did he think?

"All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life." - Oscar Wilde

For all the mentions of people drinking the Kool-Aid in regard to social media (backed up by studies from Milgram and Asch), we ought to know by now that Wilde was as right today as he was one hundred years ago. If you're not careful, social media has a greater chance to change individuals than individuals ever do to change social media. And if there is any wisdom to be taken away, perhaps it is that participants would be better off searching for truth rather than the cult of personality.

Why? Read some of the work by Walter Lippman, who believed distorted information is inherent in the human mind and only by seeing through stereotypes can we find partial truths. Or ...

Simply recognize that for all the importance placed on influence, authority, and popularity on Gilligan's Island, they never got off the island (er, special episodes aside).

In other words, even if you could measure all the nuances of influence, authority, and popularity, why would you want to? It seems to me, throughout history, we've proven that chasing after the shadow of perception often leads us away from reality.

Related posts pertaining to influence, authority, and popularity online:

Does Influence Equal Online Popularity by Barbara French
Measuring Influence vs. Popularity by Shel Israel
Influence and Popularity in Social Media by Servant of Chaos
Ego Trap: Influencer Lists by Peter Kim
Twitter Popularity Does Not Equal Business Acumen by Jennifer Leggio

Tuesday, March 25

Reading Minds: Neuro Persuasion


At what point does advertising stop being communication? An article in Adweek seems to beg the question as Eleftheria Parpis mentions that more agencies and companies are considering advances in neuroscience to be the final frontier in convincing consumers to buy products and politicians.

Neuroscience is amazing, especially as a tool in post-analysis research. It’s the reason we understand why Coca-Cola is a brand champ or why certain Super Bowl ads, despite what consumers said, outperformed others during the 2006 Super Bowl.

One of the takeaways from the latter study was how the Disney advertisement fired up the brain while a FedEx ad that ended with a funny scene where a caveman is crushed by a dinosaur was perceived as threatening by the brain. Last year, Coke became a client of EmSense to help it decide which two TV ads to place in the Super Bowl. (It was the first time the company used brainwave and biometric data to help select and edit its Super Bowl ads.)

The emphasis on neuroscience is because advertisers and marketers are noticing the steady decline of what was once considered the king of all advertising vehicles — the :30 television spot. As the entertainment industry moves toward on-demand programming with fewer interruptions, the best advertisers already know that gimmicks, tricks, gags, and heavy buys are no longer a formula for success.

Even with a better understanding of consumer engagement on the unseen psychological level, smart advertisers admit: the more they know, the less they know. For example, even a neuroscience-backed advertisement doesn’t stand a chance when it’s fast-forwarded on TiVo. And, the successful Disney advertisement didn’t necessarily sell more vacation packages nor does it consider the decades of branding behind the single tested commercial.

It also doesn’t consider the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Simply put, the concept is that if you watch something, like an atom, it may respond differently because the observation influences behavior.

Add it all up and while the work is important well beyond selling you a soft drink, it all points to one thing. Everybody wants assurances and, frankly, they just don’t exist.

"When economic times get difficult, clients get nervous, and when they get nervous, they want guarantees," Jeffrey Blish, partner and chief strategic officer at Deutsch/LA, Marina del Rey, Calif, told Adweek. "There has always been an interest in trying to make your marketing efforts more bulletproof. It ebbs and flows depending on the business climate."

He’s right, but it goes even deeper. Consumers want guarantees too. Not only do they want better products, but their expectations also change with engagement. It’s something advertisers might consider as they delve deeper into social media.

As consumers strengthen their connection to advertisers, marketers, programs, and companies, the entire paradigm of how they see brands shifts in sometimes unexpected directions. Add in the idea that as consumers understand that they are being observed, they might behave differently. Or, in other words, sometimes what seems to be is not what is or will be. Social media is very much like that.

Most often, people consider social media to be an “advent” or “evolution.” But I am not always so certain. Maybe it’s much simpler than that. We were watching HBO’s John Adams miniseries yesterday. And as a man on horseback rode by the Adams home announcing the attack on Lexington and Concord, my wife noted the obvious. “Huh,” she said. “Social media.”

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Friday, August 17

Understanding Gumballs: From Trunk To Maltoni

If there is one secret to be learned after conducting hundreds and thousands of interviews, ranging from an emotionally exhausted mother staying at a Ronald McDonald House to billionaire Sheldon Adelson, it is that the success of any interview hinges on effective communication.

And, if there is any prerequisite to ensure effective communication, it is to see the interviewee as a person, regardless of any perceived labels — status, position, gender, whatever. The concept is simple. The execution is not.

For the past few months, one label that seems to have galvanized, if not polarized, online communities and bloggers is the most basic of all — gender. To this ongoing discussion in its numerous forms, I say gumballs.

Right, gumballs. You know what I mean. When we were all kids and could not care less about silly things like gender, most of us claimed certain gumballs were better than others — blue, red, yellow. We were all delusional. The gumballs all tasted the same.

The gender issue is much like that. It doesn't matter where it turns up. Last month it appeared on a post penned by the popular blogger Penelope Trunk when she abandoned career conversations in favor of sharing her perspective on her marriage, which quickly turned into a war of words about gender.

“So I’m going to tell you the truth about stay-at-home dads…” she wrote.

Not surprisingly, most of the discussion quickly descended into non-communication, with some claiming that any man commenter who disagreed was somehow invalid, if not sexist, because, well, they were men. Never mind that not all of them were men.

Ho hum. What most missed was that if there is a "truth" about stay-at-home dads … it is that there is no truth about stay-at-home dads. Just as there is no truth about stay-at-home moms. Just as there is no truth that accurately defines a good marriage, spouse, or parent. Just as there is no truth to any discussion that revolves around a label.

We saw the same descent into non-communication after Valeria Maltoni published her Top 20 PR PowerWomen list, which prompted Lewis Green to write his much discussed post, which questioned the validity of an all-woman list (he has since yielded and agreed to support it).

Before I continue, I might point out that I already commented at the The Buzz Bin and agreed with Geoff Livingston’s decision to support the Top 20 PR PowerWomen. However, I also understand what Green was asking, but think that he asked the wrong question.

In sum, it seems to me that Green asked whether any list segregated by gender, race, or ethnicity was valid. In other words, he may as well have asked if we group our gumballs by size or color, does that place the other gumballs at a disadvantage. Um no, they still taste the same.

But let's say he asked a slightly different question. Does the promotion of a label — status, position, gender, whatever — further erode the ability of people to interact as individuals without regard to labels (such as gender) or does it simply draw more attention to their differences as identified by such a label and breed resentment?

Well now, that depends solely on the gumballs who make up the group. In this case, there is no evidence that the Top 20 PR PowerWomen are promoting that pink gumballs somehow taste better than blue gumballs simply because they are pink, which basically means that the list is no more exclusionary than a Top 20 PR PowerPeople in the Washington D.C. Area list or a Top 20 Bloggers Who Own Red Socks list.

However, Green's question also illustrates why labels are tricky things. On one hand, humans have great cognitive capabilities, which includes processing large amounts of information by categorizing it by labels. On the other hand, if we are not aware of this process, we can become enslaved by it — either by subconsciously taking on stereotyped behaviors that are identified with a specific label or assuming other people will likely act like the labels that they are assigned.

The simplest truth is there are no typical women and there are no typical men. And if you approach either with the preconceived notion that they will react or respond to you as their label suggests they might, you will likely be disappointed. Worse, you could greatly increase the likelihood of label-centric non-communication.

In a different context, freeing us from the trappings of gender: there are no typical mothers to be found at Ronald McDonald House. And there are no typical billionaires. They are all people and each of them deserve to be treated with respect as individuals. Treat them any differently and you may as well argue that one gumball is better than another gumball, when we all know that they taste the same.

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Tuesday, August 14

Surviving US Airways: Social Connections


“…the surprising ease in which our brains interlock, spreading our emotions like a virus.” — Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.

As a writer and creative director, especially in the fast-paced profession of advertising with always urgent deadlines, I've understood the general concept of what Goleman calls social intelligence for some time.

I sometimes use it to remind account executives and others that negative reinforcement might teach mice to press bars for cheese, but it never did anything for creativity or teamwork. The designers will beat the deadline, I tell them, provided you stop asking them if they’ll meet it.

Emotions are like viruses. And communication is the way it spreads.

Being keenly aware of this, long before reading the first page of Goleman’s book (I picked up at the airport, where I was stranded, the morning after), perhaps it was easier for me not to succumb to the plague of negativity — worry, fear, anger, rage — that swept through the terminal the day before.

Instead, I focused on making alliances with like-minded people who seemed unaffected by the social disease caused mostly by US Airways employees. While I could have tuned it out as an observer, I opted for an inoculation of sorts, creating positive social connections that can make all the difference when you are destined to perform a mini-repeat performance of Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal.

“That’s based on a true story,” insisted Stephan (from Sweden), who was stranded on his way to Dallas. (I didn’t know it, but he was right).

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Christina (from Germany), who was on her way home after studying at Duke University. “I never saw the movie.”

While our group originally numbered five in line, it was the three of us who spent the most time together, passing the evening hours in an airport bar that was packed with marooned passengers. For a few hours, communication was effortless as we traded observations about our respective cultures, ranging from Christina’s choice to study law in America or Latin in Europe and how the Seventies-spun infamy of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders is ever-present abroad to the growing Swedish presence in American hockey and why some Europeans think Baywatch exemplifies the American experience.

I’m thankful for these spontaneous friendships. It proved helpful when we waited in line together and even more so before heading off to find our respective sleeping arrangements — some empty terminal benches (some passengers flipped them on end to make temporary beds). Sure, there are plenty of tips I could pass out to help people deal with such a crisis, but the best advice is to seek out positive people (not those who want to focus on the horror of it all).

Had the US Airways passenger service agents known this, they too may have been better equipped to face the long line of rightfully concerned passengers who heard that the airline would offer no redemption whatsoever. Hmmm ... imagine how different it could have been had US Airways personnel at least understood that their communication had a greater impact on the passengers than the cancellations. Or that even the simplest service plan could have helped.

Demonstrate Empathy. When you have a 40 percent delay rate and 4 percent cancellation rate like US Airways, it might seem easy to shrug it off as another “here we go again” situation. However, passenger service agents need to appreciate that cancellations are not ordinary to passengers.

Draft Consistent Messages. Even my partner, who attempted to connect with the 1-800 number from home, noted that after speaking with four people, each of them had conflicting messages and none of them were told what I was told on scene (which was different from what other airlines told passengers for that matter). A consistent message — we will get you to your destination and, more importantly, we care — would have went a long way.

Create A Crisis Team. Two or three people serving stranded customers in a bank line model does not work. US Airways could have used personnel who were obviously not checking people in on these flights to assist. Even a 4-person team could have provided a better structure: two on the counter; one to assist off counter (calling for updates, gathering hotel availability, etc.); and the one to handle special needs, eg. parents who needed their baggage, which contained their baby’s formula (baggage could have tracked the bags before the family went down to claim them).

Offer Pre-Counter Service. Rather than allow a passenger service agent to walk the line and discourage passengers; the employee could have told passengers what to expect, letting them know that they were being booked on the next available flight; that it might be late tonight or tomorrow morning; that if they want to change flight plans, need baggage, or have other needs, fill out a form so they can assist expediently; and for those spending the night, they would receive an updated list of hotels ready to accommodate them.

Provide Real Guidance. Given the frequency of cancellations due to, um, "weather" in Philadelphia, US Airways could have easily produced a working list of area hotels based on rates, proximity, and availability, making it easier for passengers (even if the airline refused to pay for them).

Expedite the Line. Four-and-a-half hours (some waiting even longer) is too long when the "return on wait" is negligible or negative. Studies prove long waits are more bearable only if customers can see superior service ahead of them. Since our plan already provides passengers information before they reach the counter, passenger service agents could have fine-tuned their communication, saying “we have booked you on this flight, which means you may want to stay at this hotel tonight at this rate. If you want to change your plans, need your bags for medical or other reasons, or if you have additional special needs, this agent will assist you over here.” Move them forward. Put them at ease.

Simple. Easy. Effective. Empathetic. At minimum, it would have been better than. Instead, the only communication besides a few discouraging employees was a fifth generation photocopy that began “The entire US Airways team sincerely apologizes for this disruption to your travel plans.” It was disingenuous at best and communicated the exact opposite at worst. Frankly, the letter US Airways passed out last week created more negativity than no letter at all.

If anything, it reinforced the only semblance of a consistent message that US Airways seemed to have for the passengers stranded in Philadelphia: “Ha ha! We’re blaming the weather for the cause of every cancellation tonight. You are on your own and I wish you would just deal with it on your own because I’m going home in an hour, and you're not. We just don't care.”

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Wednesday, August 8

Driving Brand: McDonald's Corporation

It seems Coca-Cola has some proven company in breaking through the brand clutter. McDonald's, with more than 30,000 local restaurants serving 52 million people in more than 100 countries each day, has struck the neuroscience nerve.

Carrots, milk, and apple juice all taste better to preschoolers, ages 3-5, when they are wrapped in packaging that sports one of the most familiar brands in the world. At least that is what they found in San Mateo County, Calif. when 63 children were given the same foods. The only difference was the wrapper.

The impact is amazing, but it is the age at which this brand embeds itself that is extraordinary (and perhaps a little bit frightening). The research appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and funded by Stanford and the Robert Wood Foundation and it was picked up by the Associated Press yesterday.

In a prior experiment, the researchers demonstrated that even a single exposure to a television advertisement affected preschool children's brand preferences. This study found that the frequency of eating at McDonald's was not the only influencer. The number of television sets in the household also played a factor.

This doesn’t surprise me. All of us, but children in particular, respond to visual and audio stimulus as if it were real whether we admit it or not. In other words, what we see on television has an equal chance to impact our decisions on a subconscious, if not conscious, level (assuming the writers and producers know what they are doing).

Founder Ray Kroc knew what he was doing. He not only raised the bar on the principles of quick service standardization, but also forever linked the idea (if not the practice) of quality, cleanliness, service, and value to McDonald’s name.

“If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.” — Ray Kroc

Although some may argue not all local franchise owners measure up to Kroc’s vision, it doesn’t matter. McDonald's spends more than $1 billion dollars in advertising per year. That’s a whole lot of positive impressions.

Fun fact: Our first regional television script was written for McDonald’s in the early 1990s. It was part of a regional campaign to determine which of the “Arch” burgers would be introduced nationwide. While the “Arch Deluxe” won, the “California Deluxe” beat out Big Macs in some markets. McDonald’s has one of the strictest shot standards in the quick service industry; no one is allowed to actually “eat and chew” food on camera.

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Monday, July 9

Measuring Success: Image Empowering

Updated weekly, it might take months before the Image Empowering blog by Stephanie Bivona ever makes the blogger B list, let alone the mythical A list. But does it really matter?

Not for Bivona. Her business strategy for Image Empowering drives her blog; her blog does not drive her business or its message. Her post today reflects this thinking — "The Law of Attraction" as popularized by The Secret suggests that our thoughts manifest what we have.

Although The Secret repackages "The Law of Attraction" and gives it a fresh look, the idea is not a new one. It has been around for a very, very long time with the concept interwoven into almost every pearl of wisdom ever written. In fact, it might even be scientifically provable within the context of quantum physics.

Applying “The Law of Attraction" is also pretty good at debunking the myth of how some people measure social media success, especially among blogs. You see, I know Bivona’s blog will achieve all of its objectives despite never chasing traffic or blog rankings for one simple reason.

As one of our new social media clients, Bivona knows that the success of her blog or any future social media project is that traffic or artificially created rankings are myths being pushed by those who benefit from them the most.

The only people who seem to forward such discussions like A-List Bloglebrity, which uses Technorati to determine your standing in the blog community, are those who already have some rank. (Bloglebrity is similar to the equally popular What’s Your Blog Worth or even Alexa traffic ranking for that matter.)

While these measures are fine for virtual water cooler conversations, it’s silly to think they mean much more than that. Case in point: when this blog broke the top 40,000 on Alexa for a few days, we noticed the average length of time our readership stayed on the blog was reduced from 4-5 minutes to a mere 60 seconds. So what did we really achieve? Not much more than what I just mentioned — it’s an interesting water cooler conversation and opportunity to compare the power of one post to a direct mail postcard.

So while we thought it was pretty nifty, we also know that generating traffic and inflating page rank is pretty easy to do. We know all the tricks used by others, ranging from slanted SEO writing (even if the sentence structure makes no sense) and echoing other blogs (by adding gratuitous links) to weighing in on controversial topics (especially if you take a minority view) and being painfully trollish (like calling people names in the comment sections). For our part, we don’t employ these tactics (though SEO writing seems to come natural) because like Bivona, we’re not after traffic for the sake of traffic nor blog rank for the sake of blog rank.

You see, Bivona is not chasing traffic or blog rank; she’s attracting clientele and creating a means to provide constant contact with her existing clients. Thus, her blog becomes a multi-faceted tool that she has employed as a means to that end. Sure, casual visitors might benefit as her weekly posts shed some light on the importance of empowering your personal image.

Yet, her decision to enter social media was not to become an “A-list blogger,” which would require a different strategy all together. Instead, her blog provides an efficient and effective means to brand her full-service image consulting firm, which is her second business (she also owns a successful practice that buys and sells other companies). We’re even retained to play a part in its development; taking care of some details so she can focus on her clients.

Some of this fits in with this blog too. While our strategy is a bit different than Image Empowering, it’s no less dismissive of traffic or blog rank for the sake of traffic and blog rank. We believe, like any successful business does, that it is best to measure results that match your objectives, whether those outcomes are profitability, market share, niche dominance, or any other measure. In other words, it might be tempting to jump on the traffic and blog rank train, but doing so might produce the opposite of what you desire.

But isn’t that the way it is with everything? When you begin to adopt other people’s measures of success — blog ranking, traffic ranking, attractiveness, self-confidence, wealth, whatever — you run the risk eroding your business strategy (or self-confidence) because one size or measure of success does not fit all.

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Friday, June 22

Collecting Unconscious: Godin & Maister

Right now, I’m on a plane headed toward Reno to attend a state commission meeting in Incline Village. So I wrote this last night and asked my partner to post it this morning (rather than double up on Thursday and be dead on Friday).

The Internet makes it possible: you can post a piece of the past in the present and nobody knows it, unless you tell them. I found it fitting to mention because this is an odd little post about the collective unconscious, which was Carl Jung’s theory that we can all pull something down from “a reservoir of the experience of our species.”

It happens in my field every now and again. Someone comes up with an advertising campaign at virtually the same time someone else does, leaving some of them to wonder who came up with the idea first. Maybe no one did. It happens on blogs as well. Sometimes two authors write about virtually the same thing even though the inspiration is unrelated. It happened with David Maister and Seth Godin this week.

Maister posted about Passion, People and Principles, which is not only the title of his blog, but also three ingredients that make up a recipe for success.

Passion alone, he rightfully points out, can be dangerous. You’ll seduce a lot of people to your side, but you’ll end up fooling or betraying them. If you have principles and understand people, you risk being righteous but ineffective. You need all three in everything, which is so right, almost no one could add anything to the proposed discussion.

The day before, Godin posted a similar point, talking about drive, which is another way of saying passion.

He’s right too. Most successful organizations are driven by something, for a while anyway (not all drives are sustainable, largely because they neglect the other two ingredients). He then runs down a list of drives associated with some companies (eg. paycheck driven, marketing driven, fashion driven, etc.).

Market driven, which he says most people claim to be but really aren’t, is about creating what the market wants. It seems to me that of all the drives that he lists, market driven is most likely to carry the passion, people, and principles equation. Maybe that’s why it is first on the list.

I always understood, but never really cared for Jung. Still, he laid some important groundwork for other psychologists and theorists, especially in terms of identifying behavioral patterns, dream interpretation, and, yep, the collective unconscious.

Hmmm … I wonder how many times Jung’s name came up in the news during the last month and if that’s why I reached up and pulled down collective unconscious after seeing a coincidental link between two blogs. It’s not the first time; and likely won’t be the last.

Regardless, there is a collective truth to what Maister and Godin offered up. And me, well, I’m content to make my way as a beneficial presence. Maybe you can figure out where that might fit within two contexts. I think it fits quite nicely.

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Wednesday, February 21

Chasing Tails: Schrödinger's Cat

Every now and again, I reference seemingly unrelated topics (psychology, philosophy, quantum physics, and even theology among them) and then attempt to apply them to communication. To me, they fit together. Others disagree, and that is okay.

Recently, I referenced quantum physics in a response to someone who asked, basically, whether bloggers were obligated to contact the people they post about, especially if there is a perception that the post is critical. It's a good question.

In response, I posted that as someone who has worked as a journalist beyond social media (and occasionally still do), I have often asked myself the same question, but eventually reached the conclusion that no, that argument, while valid, doesn't hold up. From a strict communication perspective, I likened blogs to op-eds, where observations/opinions are made and anyone (on most blogs) have an opportunity to comment (agree/disagree) with equal space or comment (agree/disagree) on their own blog if they prefer. (Besides, I imagine it would be a public relations nightmare to field calls from hundreds of bloggers.)

But I also alluded to the prospect of quantum physics as part of my rationale without explanation. I'd like to take a stab at tying that in, recognizing I am a mere novice on the subject by comparison to probably anybody in that field.

In simplest terms, quantum physicists have long asked whether or not the observation of science could potentially impact the results of what is observed. In other words, does the observation of the atom and its components, quantum and whatnot, alter what they do?

In attempting to address this question, Schrödinger's Cat, proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, demonstrates the conflict between "what quantum theory tells us is true about the nature and behavior of matter on the microscopic level and what we observe to be true about the nature and behavior of matter on the macroscopic level." Part of the lesson is referred to as the quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox: the observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that it can never be known what the outcome would have been if it were not observed.

Applying this to communication, I submit that the more direct interaction between a blogger and the subject matter, the more likely the blogger could potentially alter the outcome of any communication study. Sure, I know what some people are thinking right now: if that is true, then could the post itself alter the outcome? Absolutely, but with some limitations.

With the advent of social media, posts are already part of the equation just as traditional media always has been. So, while a post after the fact may or may not alter the outcome, the same information shared privately before any action occurs would almost certainly change the outcome, perhaps negating the future post.

For example, purposely avoiding mention of where this conversation came up, let's say I sent John Edwards an e-mail (I didn't) that said "John, what gives? Your only way out of this communication mess is if the bloggers resign." Let's say he took the advice to heart and those two bloggers resigned the next day, negating the need to send out that ill-advised statement. That would have dramatically altered the case study whereas what I did, write about that case study in real time with my comments bearing no more weight than any others, was simply part of the total communication equation.

So without question, the side effect of transparency or being a public figure changes behavior. Imagine for a moment, Schrödinger's Cat placed in a glass box with hundreds of people shouting conflicting messages that the cat understood. Surely, that will cause a different outcome than Schrödinger prescribed. Yet, in the study of communication and transparency and being a public figure, this is precisely the the environment in which studies are conducted.

Here's another example: will a teenager left alone with a can of beer react differently than if left alone with friends who drink beer or differently if he is left alone with parents who discourage drinking. You bet the outcome will be different, but it will be even more different if we tell the teenager exactly what we intend to do. It is also a possibility that the teenager who learns they were observed after the fact might react differently the next time out, but that is the very essence of a learning process.

Please, if you are one of the handful of people who regularly read this blog, keep in mind that I rarely if ever have any opinion about a subject beyond their behavior unless specifically noted. Case in point: whether Verizon is a good company or bad company is irrelevant on this blog (though I am a Verizon customer with no cause to change plans). What is relevant is that I disagreed with certain aspects of the company's communication, which I write about here for very specific reasons, including: public relations students who attend my class or anyone hoping to glean a different, hopefully interesting, perspective on communication.

In simplest terms, I believe there are two ways to learn something. One is the hard way by doing and making mistakes (or perhaps doing it right). One is the easy way, which is by learning from others who already did it the hard way. It is my hope by focusing on best practices and more often worst examples that more people can learn the easy way.

In conclusion, if you or your company is the subject of a post here, you are welcome to post comments or e-mail me (if you prefer private correspondence) like anyone as I will not be contacting you (simply put, pre-post advice is reserved for clients). However, I am always happy to correct any misinformation, clarify a point, listen to your opinion, or whatever; whereas I am equally obliged to disagree if there is cause under certain circumstances.

Digg!

Friday, November 10

Labeling The World

The dictionary defines a label as something functioning as a means of identification. It's also how we learn to process cognitive information. But labels can also be tricky as the definition of any specific identification is a matter of perception.

In communication, we generally use the term ''message'' over ''label'' because when the terms are applied to people and companies, "label" tends to have a negative connotation. "Message" does not.

The interesting thing about messages is that they come from a variety of sources, not just the individual or company. Generally, messages about individuals and companies come from everything they communicate about themselves (written or spoken), everything they communicate about others (comparisons or contrasts), everything others say about them (real or perceived, right or wrong), and everything others say about themselves (comparisons or contrasts).

Given that it requires about 80 impressions (the amount of times you're exposed to a message), the message that prevails most often is usually the one repeated most frequently from multiple sources with differing degrees of credibility, including the individual or company.

Wee Shu Min, who continues to be a topic of choice in the blogsphere, learned this the hard way. She defined herself as elite, without recognizing that most people do not know that ''elite'' and ''elitism'' are not necessarily the same things as pointed out by one blogger. A member of the 'elite' could be a philanthropist (a person who donates money, goods, time, or effort to support a charitable cause) as much as they might be a snob (a person who adopts the world view that other people are inherently inferior). Ironically, the label she chose stuck, along with its worst possible meaning. When in reality, what she meant was that she had little sympathy for people who do not empower themselves (a view that is contrary to the view of a snob).

Derek Wee, on the other hand, defined himself as a solitary voice speaking out for underprivileged masses against an uncaring government, which is a rather noble message whether it was, in fact, true or not. (Mr. Wee is a very well-educated professional working for a multinational corporation, which may or may not qualify him as underprivileged). Ironically, the label he chose stuck too, along with its best possible meaning. Enough so that I've seen graphic representations of Derek Wee as someone who could only afford to eat a meager bowl of rice, alone, in the dark (just before he turns on his computer to blog).

Both employed messages or ''labeled'' themselves, creating a ''perception'' of themselves in the blogsphere, which is what shaped the entire story. In reality, both could be very different from their blog posts, but for millions of people one is a snob and one is a hero. (I've posted my observations on the story in two earlier posts: Correcting For Politics and Sanitizing Personal Opinion. Unless, more people come to realize both were right in that one voice is a statement while two voices is discussion.

I'm not sure they will. Most people seem more interested in discussing the labels, which is why we must always take care in defining ourselves through both actions and words, else we allow others define us.

It is one of the things we do here. Help people or groups of people (or companies, which are made up of groups of people) define and communicate their message while they avoid being mislabeled by others. Seems simple, until you pick up the newspaper, see a competitor's advertisement, hear another's sales pitch, or, in the case of Wee Shu Min or Derek Wee, read someone else's blog.

However, outisde of communication, individuals and businesses hoping to share a message or children learning to process information for the first time, we don't need labels. But what the bleep do we know.

Monday, August 8

Operating In Educational Boxes

When I was in seventh grade, I stumbled onto something. I discovered that I love to read. It was an accident, like many discoveries in life, but nonetheless, it was one of the longest lasting and most impactful lessons I ever learned. I’ll never forget the circumstances either.

I remember spending a significant amount of time in the library looking for a book because my reading teacher, Richard Pyle, told everyone in the class that they could pick any book they wanted. Any book at all. Then, he asked us to read the book while we were in class and write a book report. I was a bright kid (or so I thought at the time) and set out to find the book that meant the most to me -- the one with the fewest pages so I could complete the task at hand, earn my A, and twiddle my thumbs or draw pictures on my notepad for the rest of the semester.

There was another reason I wanted a short book. I was afraid. In third grade, my grandmother held me back because she noticed that I seemed to be falling behind on my reading skills. In order to correct the problem, she pulled me from the Milwaukee public school system and enrolled me in a Catholic school, Holy Redeemer. It seems she decided that a stricter school would be better for me.

Their solution was simple and it seemed to work. Talkative children, which is how the public school system labeled me on early report cards, were always seated in the front of the class at Holy Redeemer. A firm hand can change even the most undisciplined children, which I might have been, considering I drew pictures in my spelling book while attending public school. Within the span of a single year, my reading improved and they discovered I had a natural aptitude for math.

I was relabeled from undisciplined to misunderstood. However, one fact remained. I had some ground to make up; and for some time, I classified myself as a slow reader. Later, in fifth grade, another discovery was made. It seems that Holy Redeemer solved my talking ‘problem,’ but they never saw the real problem. I needed glasses. In fact, it was one of the reasons I talked in class. I lost interest in the lessons because I could not see the chalkboard from the back row (my last name, at the time, started with an 'R' and seating in the public school system was alphabetical order).

By the time I was in seventh grade, it made sense that I wanted to take the easy way out. I chose a novella with a science fiction twist; something about a future where people could replace any organ they wanted in a vain attempt to defeat the natural aging process. While the story is interesting, it never had a lasting impact on me.

I finished my hundred-some pages and book report in two weeks, a record pace, faster than anyone else in the class. As the only one to have completed the assignment, Mr. Pyle freely admitted that I had earned not only an A, but the highest grade in my class to date. I thought I had it made for the rest of the semester, but Mr. Pyle was not content to let me sit in his class and twiddle my thumbs. He told me that he knew I was trying to take the easy way out and that he hoped I would accept his challenge to keep the highest score in the class by taking on a second assignment.

He handed me a copy of Dune by Frank Herbert, a huge book in comparison to my first choice. I accepted the challenge and it became one of my favorite books because it was so easy for me to read. For those who do not know the story, a short summary might be that it was about a fatherless boy in a new and foreign land who possessed hidden talents that were waiting to be unlocked.

I won't go into the details, but I related to the story. Given this small section of history, it is also no surprise that I related to a reader's editorial that was published in the Review-Journal last Sunday. It was written by the teacher whose frustration with with our area's failing school system seems to have manifested itself into the notion that not all schoolchildren have the same potential. While she certainly raised some valid points in her piece, I can only hope some aspects of the article never solidify into a popular movement to shuffle underperforming students into trade schools like they do in Europe.

Please don't misunderstand me. I appreciate the plight of teachers in southern Nevada more than most; I am friends with several who are working in other trades after being disenfranchised by the school district. However, I am also hoping that the teachers who are still working here, despite their less than perfect working conditions, do not lose sight of the fact that when people ask the wrong questions they tend to find excuses instead of answers.

Contrary to this teacher's editorial, all children DO have an equal potential to excel and the burden, however unpleasant, undercompensated, or unappreciated, is probably a teacher's most important job. Otherwise, someone who might later become a professional writer and communication strategist might be mislabeled and ushered off to trade school not because they lacked motivation or intelligence, but because they needed glasses. Thank goodness for those few teachers like Mr. Pyle who took the time to call one child's bluff and help them realize a lifelong love for reading, which later became writing.

So what am I reading today? While I certainly read entertaining works that range from Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz and The Hiding Place by Corrie Tenboom, I also read more significant works. Recently, I finished 1776 by esteemed historian David McCullough, which I originally picked up because of my interest in history and politics. And while a few of my friends have found it a curious choice, I recently started reading In Search of Schodinger's Cat by John Gribbin.

If you don't know, Gribbin's book is about quantum physics. Believe it or not, quantum physics is a subject that applies to communication and education as much as it applies to science and mechanics. In fact, what I've already learned from this book (and I probably already knew it) is that throughout history, people tend to invent theories, opinions, and ideas and then attempt to operate in boxes shaped by those theories, opinions, and ideas. Then, once they are safely (or unsafely) wrapped up in their boxes, they stop making progress until, finally, and hopefully not too late, someone comes along and disproves all those old theories, opinions, and ideas. And that, the ability to break out of the educational box, not trade schools, is what is needed most here in southern Nevada.
 

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