Search This Blog

To find a solution, correctly identify the problem

Yesterday's speech by President Obama about peace in the Middle East generated a lot of commentary. A lot of thinking.

(See video of "The Sticker Song" by Hadag Nahash- a popular song from Israel poking fun at the prevalence of "bumper sticker" simplistic ideology.)

Anyway, after yesterday, I was definitely thinking, a lot. Actually my brain hurts from trying to "solve" this problem in my mind. It's like the Rubik's Cube of dilemmas...get one part of the puzzle right and the rest looks like a big mess.

There are notes all over the table here. Let me tackle one of them in this post: on the importance of understanding the problem.

If you correctly understand what is wrong, you can fix it.

If you don't understand, or if you lie to yourself or to others, you obviously can't.

I am a Jewish-American, and a U.S. government employee, but despite the inevitable biases that come from these perspectives I do think I understand the problem of the Middle East conflict clearly: The extremists are holding the moderates hostage. Preventing them from taking the necessary steps to achieve a win-win solution. (Note: Of course - as always - all opinions expressed here are my own.)

In simple terms: The Palestinians literally have guns to their heads. The terrorists, which include Hamas, are forcing them into a hateful way of life because they have an agenda of obliterating Israel and all the Jews within it.

Radical Islamic terrorists hate America too, because it represents a threat to their desire for dominance - which is why they'd like to blow us off the face of the earth as well.

This is not a unique view. The Administration shares it. Israel shares it. The problem is one of an ideology of hatred passing itself off as a religion. In a masquerade.

The problem, in the context of Israel, is that the terrorists are trying to partner with the moderates to attack Israel together. Which would obviously prevent peace from happening, no matter how much land Israel would give up. As Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren put it on CNN's "In The Arena":

"The ball is very much in the Palestinian's court. They have to make a decision. Whether they stick with this pact with the terrorist organization (Hamas) that just - only a few weeks ago fired a missile at a - school bus along the Israeli border, killed 16-year-old child, an organization that condemned America's action against Bin Laden and - hailed him as an Islamic holy warrior....The Palestinian Authority has to make a choice between a pact with that terrorist organization or negotiating peace with us."

Why can't everyone see the presence of radical terrorist ideology as the problem - and nothing else?

I was surprised and heartened to read this remarkable article by Muslim-American Harris Zafar, "A Muslim's Take On Obama's Middle East Speech" - a response to the President's May 20 remarks. See excerpt:

"This is not a war that can be won with guns. This is a war of ideas, which requires tactfully addressing religious factors....Corrupt religious leaders in the Middle East have brainwashed susceptible individuals through a perversion of Islam to further their political agenda. To reverse this trend, America must support voices within the Muslim community who are willing to fight this political ideology with the true teachings of Islam.

"We, as Muslims, must step-up to win this war of ideology, or our nation will continue to face a serious threat of extremists....We must not only vigorously condemn terrorism in all forms but also advocate for universal human rights, separation of mosque and state, protection for religious and other minorities, and the empowerment and education of women."

Zafar is right.

We must correctly identify the problem in order to reach a solution.

The problem is hatred. Is extremism. Is the worship of death and the aspiration to dominance.

Another problem is the competition for power that prevents us from supporting people who are searching for a real solution.

I don't have the solution to Middle East peace, but I do understand the problem.

It's time to start communicating about the real issues, and confront as idiotic propaganda everything else.


Photo source here.

Communication metrics and the fallacy of instant gratification

Example #1: From the intro to a discussion I "lurked" online (paraphrasing):

"I can't believe it. Been exercising 2 days now, and actually GAINED weight. Has this happened to anyone else?"

#2: Roughly re-enacted question about communication campaign:

"Where are the metrics on that message from this week? Has anybody pulled the WebTrends?"

#3: Last but not least that old standby of any conversation about whether an issue is a big deal or not:

"How many hits on that are there in the news results?"

All of the above questions rest on a single assumption that is completely false:

Every action provokes a reaction that you can measure instantaneously.

Of course all of this is Hollywood's fault. And the fault of us marketers.

Movies forward through the action, making it seem faster than it is in real-time. It is especially interesting to see how law enforcement and medical care are portrayed as swift processes when in real life they're actually usually agonizingly slow.

Marketers, of course, push people to buy, buy, buy, on the premise that a leaking wallet leads to immediately visible results. Green tea = 10 pounds in the first week, right? And of course the opposite – fast food, fast satisfaction. Wrinkle cream. Smartphones. Clothing. Vacations. Just press the Staples "Easy" button and it's done.


The problem with all this instant gratification, of course, is that it's a false promise.

In real life, things take time to happen. Change is slow. Relationships build over time. Good and bad. Trust is built as a process. A brand evolves and takes shape the same way you smelt iron into a final form. (OK, I have no idea what I'm talking about with the smelting…hopefully you get the idea.)

It is so very tempting to communicate superficially and look for instant results. Print those glossy posters and brochures, launch that flashy website, sit back and uncork the champagne. You did it!

But the real work is far, far slower. In fact it's almost invisible. Certainly it's difficult to measure.

So the real way ahead has nothing to do with flash and metrics.

What it does have to do with is process.

Just like in weight loss – you change your lifestyle and don't look at the scale.

Just like in gardening – you plant the seeds, water them, ensure the right environment, and they grow.

Just like with children – you love them continuously from infancy.

It's the same with communication.

Build a solid process, reinforce it every day, revisit it when needed. Care for it with love.

That, in the end, is the real formula for success.

Good luck!

10-Tip Grab Bag: Save Time, Save $, Have Fun, Boost Your Reputation

1. Make an Altoids mini-garden: Sounds stupid. Is not. Nobody has cube space. Everybody likes greenery. This is easy, cheap and fun. First seen on Lifehacker.

2. Avoid the ATM: Using new service from Paypal (Droid is new, iPhone has it already), snap photo of check, deposit to PayPal, then transfer to bank - all for free. Here's how.

3. Avoid distraction: Write in a quiet online environment; I like this one (I type, then cut/paste elsewhere); other choices here if you don't mind writing on reverse screen

4. Make a favorites list on YouTube: Keeps your music in one place and leads you to new songs like this sort of have to give it a chance, and then it's great. I can't figure out most of the lyrics but what I can understand, I like.

5. Bring a bag of almonds to work: Munch them instead of regular food. Watch your bad cholesterol drop like mine did. Save money on overpriced, greasy fast food.

Oh I forgot...this is a blog about branding, reputation, communication, stuff like that. OK - quick tips on this:

6. The meeting is over before it starts. Connect with the most influential people before you walk in the door.

7. Put your resume on LinkedIn. It's free, simple, and looks nice. Plus this helps you focus on the highlights of how you can do the job you want. Which is what resumes are all about. See advice from Penelope Trunk.

8. Your reputation precedes your activities. These in particular will determine how you are treated right out of the gate:

* How you dress (put-together shows self-respect)

* Who you associate with (shows your values)

* How much money you seem to have (money is a metric of success - I know, it sucks)

* Whether you seem arrogant or humble

* Whether you seem happy.

You don't just walk in the door as a blank slate. Remember that, respond to the way you are perceived (whether it reflects your actions or not), and don't take it personally.

9. Learn when to talk and when to shut up. Sometimes, you should be proactive; other times, it's better to just be prepared.

10. Give yourself a pep talk every single day. I defy anyone, of any faith background, to watch this video clip from Joel Osteen and not be inspired and uplifted. When you are uplifted, you will smile, and when you smile, your reputation is boosted exponentially.

Have a great day everyone.

(Photo source here)

Worker Abuse Destroys Your People, and Your Brand

"Do I have to be raped before someone does something?" 
- Housekeeper at University of Maryland-sponsored forum on worker mistreatment, May 10, 2011

People go through a lot of stuff at work. Unfortunately that list includes rampant intimidation and sexual abuse. No matter where you look, high or low, near or far, great brand or no-name, there it is. Just recently:

* International Monetary Fund: IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrested and charged with "sexual assault and attempted rape" 

* State of California: Former Calif. Governor Schwarzenegger fathered a child with his housekeeper.

* University of Maryland: Independent student newspaper covers town hall on sexual harassment and bullying of Spanish-speaking housekeepers.

Obviously abuse at work is not restricted to powerful males taking advantage of very un-powerful women.

A new study released in April 2011 showed that about 1 in 4 people, or 27 percent, report being bullied at work.

Not to mention the rampant bullying that takes place at school.

With all of this harassment going on, how are people supposed to do their jobs at all?

When you look around the office at your employees, wondering why they're not doing a better job of building the brand, take a step back.

Maybe the first question to ask is whether they are operating in a "culture of intimidation and fear" (as was stated at U. of Maryland) that prevents them from doing their jobs in the first place. 

To all the employees struggling to survive in the cruel world that is sometimes the workplace, stay strong and keep speaking out until justice is served.

Some people only have one idea.

Briefly: Market to the Elderly Like They're Young

I spend a lot of time with older people. And in every way except physically, they're young. I agree with the psychic Sylvia Browne: "Everyone is 30 years old in their own mind."

So not marketing to them, or not marketing well, is ageism. Shortsighted too. Marketers, normally with a healthy appetite for profit, are irrationally lacking in initiative here.

Think of how much money there is to be made on products for people who think like 30-year olds, but just can't do things physically like they used to.

I think it's our collective fear of growing old ourselves.

It's sad, because by marketing to older people as if they were young, we would actually be helping them. As well as ourselves.

There is a lot of money to be made here...if only we would open our minds.


Photo by Liu Joey

How to Really Sell Technology (Hint: It's Not About Being Technical)

I decided I wanted a Kindle when I saw people using it on the train. They weren't using the Nook or the iPad. It was definitely a Kindle, with the Amazon logo. As you may know my idea of reading a book is flipping through the pages to get the "main idea." I think most books are a total waste of time. (Which should be an interesting revelation coming from someone in the process of writing one.) But the sight of that Kindle, over and over again, being used avidly by people of every age and demographic on the train - that made me want to buy it.

They could have saved themselves money on the TV commercials. I didn't really get why someone would read a Kindle on a hike. And if I were sitting by the pool, the last thing I would be thinking about is fighting the glare on the screen to read a novel. That all made absolutely no sense to me. Except for the part about the battery lasting one month - I did remember that and it is pretty cool. Is that true?

Sociological theory tells us how to sell technologies like the Kindle, a new device with no precedent to speak on its behalf: We believe we are entitled to the same thing as the people around us. It's not peer pressure, but the theory of relative deprivation. If we don't have that Kindle, we're left out.

Same thing with the iPad. I know it's a cool device. I'm not arguing with you. But it doesn't really do anything for me. I don't see the business use. Maybe it's nice for movies? But then again you have to prop up the screen. And why would I take photos with a screen that large.

I need a keyboard. Not the plug-in kind. And I didn't get a good answer from the Apple rep on the word processing capabilities that come with the iPad. No, I like the MacBook Air (which I wanted when I saw an extremely influential person using it, and she had it covered with bumper stickers - I was in awe). Nevertheless, every executive in DC seems to have an iPad - with a little leather cover. When there was a fire in our office building and we had to wait in a hotel nearby, I saw gazillions of little iPads laying around on tables, along with fancy pens and the other accoutrements of success. If I were an executive, I would consider it a business necessity to shlep one around. If for no other reason than to be cool.

Amazon and Apple should spend all their money giving away their little devices to opinion-leaders. None of it on advertising. It's about socializing the consumer to want one.

Microsoft is consistently terrible at putting on a liberal arts hat to sell anything. No, for them it is all about geekdom and the wonderful wizardry of tech. Which is why I can't, for the freaking life of me, figure out anything that is explained in a Microsoft user manual online.

The only reason I use Microsoft is that everybody else does and I need to communicate with them. Otherwise, forget it. (There are tons of smart things you can do with Microsoft Outlook that they never bothered to sell...I will never understand why, except maybe shortsightedness and the laziness of knowing they've won anyway.)

A simple example. I spent half the weekend trying to convert my XML export of my blog posts back into Word. Yes, yes, yes I am writing a book, for the millionth time. And no, I don't have all of the original posts saved. I feel like an idiot. But I really thought it would be simple just to keep a backup of the XML and then convert it back when I wanted to.

So I kept on Googling, "Convert XML to Word" with no success other than to come up with this Microsoft add-in for Office. I click on the supposedly free add-in and download it no less than 3 times. Damn, it doesn't seem to work. I get no answers. I look on eHow. I look on user forums. I look everywhere. Damn, damn, damn it completely wastes hours.

When I go to the Microsoft page explaining the add-in I have no idea what it means. It is lengthy though.

I try to just open Microsoft Word and then open the XML file. No dice.

I try to cut and paste the XML into Word and then remove the code. From 1200 pages. The program crashes.

I try to use a PDF-to-Word service online to convert the file. Fail.

Finally I ask for help. Products are recommended.

Steadfastly I refuse. The Internet must be free! Or as free as possible.

I use BlogBooker to convert the XML to a PDF. Open the PDF in Mac's Preview. Select all. Copy and paste into the text editor. Then copy and paste it all into Word.


Microsoft could take a peanut butter sandwich and make it impossible to put together without a 72-page user manual.

Don't get me wrong, I respect people who can figure technology out. I believe high-tech companies like Microsoft are doing the world a big favor. I just wonder why they can't get their heads out of the geek bubble long enough to hire marketers who have studied psychology, sociology, anthropology, biology, economics, history, and other subjects that would help them to think out of the box about appealing to the actual consumer - who isn't normally a techie.

I have an old friend who studied English literature. She is a VP at a social media company now. My mom sent me a video clip of her being interviewed about why some brands have better buzz than others. She talked about psychology, not Facebook techniques. It was a fascinating lesson in marketing for me. An excellent interview.

There is a lady who sits in a Starbucks I go to. She is hard to miss. She has a little Dell netbook equipped with strange-looking antennas. She is testing the netbook. I got into a conversation with her about it. I don't even care what the daggone thing does. I liked that it was red, and that she was using it, and it looked better than what I had at home. Evolutionary psychology. Darwinism. Sell me on technology as a means of survival.

Often technology companies use the principles of economics to sell their stuff. I can sort of see that. But they don't usually do a good job of it. Because it's hard to mentally make the leap from not understanding how to use it, to knowing.

Last example. I had to take an online class to learn how to teach online. I felt like a fool for much of it. I couldn't find where anything was. I was forever behind the curve on the assignments. Discussions took place and I didn't even know what electronic "room" they were in. If not for the fact that I had to take the class in order to be an adjunct, I would have given up for sure. And I really like learning new technology.

Change makes people feel stupid. It is hard to do things a new way. Once our brains are wired to a process, they're wired. That's what most tech companies don't understand. The devotion to "old-fashioned" records and record players is the best example I can think of. The music all sounds the same. It's just what we come to take for granted that's the issue.

If you want to sell technology, the best thing you can do is socialize it and make it real. Saturate the target audience with live examples of people using the things. I would be transparent about it and announce that a giveaway or product placement of some kind is taking place. But that is the real way to get the money rolling in. Abstract proclamations about being the best, weird conceptual campaigns, fast-talking spokespeople, and all the glitz and glamour is just a waste of money.

It's the people factor that wins, every time.

Good luck!


Photo by Gubatron