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Be A Passionate Advocate For Yourself

At the root of the productivity problem in America are three mistaken beliefs:

1."Busy-ness" and "productivity" are positively correlated.

2. Misery and productivity are positively correlated.

3. Being unhappy, uncomfortable, displeased, or angry is always bad for you.

A lot of stuff got done when we all believed the first two and rejected the third.

- We built factories and railroads and buildings under unsafe conditions for little pay.

- We bore children with no medicine to kill the pain. No shelter, no vaccines, meager food.

- We got into rickety ships with no plumbing and stood there in desperation and squalor. We prayed only to be allowed a chance at greater freedom and opportunity.

For most of human history, misery was the rule and constant toiling its natural companion.

A few people seemed to escape it. So we came to believe that the blessed classes were destined by G-d for exemption.

Calvinism told us - the saved are chosen in advance. ("The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.")

All this tolerance for pain would have persisted if not for one thing: the Internet.

Suddenly (well not so suddenly but relatively) people woke up and realized that whatever they were going through, they weren't alone.

Suddenly the rights that we had demanded as part of splinter groups - us against the Other - became universal human rights. And we were not ashamed to ask for them.

We still are hung up, though, on the misery-busyness-productivity equation. Still worshiping elites. Still wondering why they got picked and not us.

At the end of the day - speaking as the human race, not individual people or groups - we have everything we need to be productive right now. Which means abundance. Which means that nobody should starve.

Ironically we can't seem to see that. We are so stuck on all the talk of scarcity.

I think it's because deep down inside we are torn between two conflicting messages.

- At the one extreme, one says that we are "good people" who are "really working hard" if we are experiencing suffering.

- The opposite one says that we're somehow "unlucky," doing something wrong, or worse yet, were born destined for a cursed life of deprivation. Bad karma!

Ironically enough the answer might be to have the same compassion on ourselves - to turn it inward - the same as we turn it to suffering people around the globe.

Our instinct may be to freeze up with anxiety, but what if we just relaxed?

If we felt entitled to lives of joy and peace we would work effortlessly to set our lives up that way.

We would see others as naturally entitled to the same rights.

And we would embrace productivity solutions that yielded maximum rewarded for minimum effort.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Photo credit: Minna Blumenthal

The New Demographic: People Who Can't Keep Up

New Year's Resolution: 36/365
Photo by Sasha Wolff via Flickr

So yesterday I was on Evernote writing down a "work/life balance list." The list quickly got so long that I ran out of time to finish writing it. And I realized that not only is it difficult to keep up to the old standard, but that the bar keeps getting raised. For example:
  • Income - the median income in this country isn't remotely close to covering what we see on TV as the ideal lifestyle, and the bar keeps being raised. 
  • Education - your career-related skills constantly require updating, new certification, literacy with best practices, etc.
  • Professional advancement - educational degree; people skills; cultural savvy; collaboration skills; work/life balance; personal never stops evolving.
  • Life organization - from tracking the oil change on the car to home maintenance, it all has to be done, tracked and accounted for. Housecleaning - laundry. It has to get done!
  • Technology tools - no matter how fast or how much you learn, it's outdated within a year or two and so is your equipment.
  • Personal relationships - marriage or significant other; children; elderly family members - all need personal time, care, and attention.
  • Civic/community involvement - religion, volunteering, political involvement - people want and need to be part of the larger group; this is a time commitment that also factors in.
  • Hobbies, volunteering, personal pursuits - everyone needs some "downtime," and it is expected that you will have a hobby or two to talk about to make you "interesting"
  • Exercise and nutrition - with obesity rates so high, it's clear that not enough of us make time to eat right or to move enough.
What happens when the ordinary person is required to be almost superhuman in order to keep up? Stuff like this:
  • Comedian Chelsea Handler says, on her popular late-night talk show, that she "stares at the blank TV screen" in her home because she doesn't know how to operate the fancy TV, the fancy electronic system that turns on the lights, etc.
  • A workplace technology chasm between new recruits who operate and learn technology at light speed and who collaborate openly by default, vs. traditionalists who need time to train and who are more reserved about sharing information - meaning two totally different cultures operating in parallel
  • Mothers with their children in strollers, in the subway, begging for food while National Car Rental runs a TV commercial showing a young woman "power professional" who can "choose any car in the lot"
  • Young people who aspire to work in a Starbucks rather than start a brand or own a franchise, because adulthood is just too daunting and they believe that the employer will be minimally decent to them
  • Political class wars between the "I've Got Mine" (as Elizabeth Warren puts it) and the "Give Me Yours" (Republican vs. Democrat), because nobody can seem to figure out a solution in between where we can all live in peace.
From what I can see, marketers are choosing to focus very narrowly on one side of the spectrum vs. the other. What they should be doing is stepping back, looking at the bigger picture, and seeing the group psychology of chasm society as giving birth to demographics, as follows:
  • People who can't keep up - the generally harried treadmill-runners
  • People living on the extreme - either very rich or very poor, technology-oriented vs. averse, etc.
  • People sensitive to the chasm between classes - particularly those who feel guilty about their relative privilege
In the age of YouTube, Facebook, Skype and other forms of instant global video chat, people are more than ever exposed to the totality of human experience. And since it is their mental state that determines what they buy, it's more important than ever to be sensitive to the reaction people have to what they are seeing. We ought to do this not by overly depending on quantitative metrics but by actually using the marketers' most sophisticated tool of all, the brain.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

The Wrong People Are In Charge Of Marketing

Jedi Salesman
Photo by Brad Montgomery via Flickr

Today I walked by a homeless lady on the street. She was leaning over a notebook, writing something. She had a shopping cart covered in plastic next to her. She was young like me and she was a writer like me.

How is it that we tolerate homelessness as a rampant social phenomenon? Basically, nobody has sold the masses on the idea that people living on the street is wrong.

This leads me to believe that the wrong people are in charge of marketing. We ought to be selling ideas that make people’s lives better. Not things they don’t need, don’t want, that just make them sicker and fatter and progressively more addicted to legal but unhealthy things.

I work for the government, where traditionally the words “let’s try some marketing techniques” go over just about as well as “let’s join a Satanic devil-worshiping ring and learn the techniques of occult magic.”

I can understand the resistance. Too often marketing is done by dirty people to make a dirty dollar. And so it provokes that sentiment.

But the truth is that marketing is an agnostic discipline. It’s communication aimed at selling things consistently and you can use it to sell anything. Anyone.

Marketing is also brilliant. There are eons of stories that teach us what to do and what is a waste of time. Without marketing you start from square one all the time, no matter how noble your cause.

I hate greed. I’m a peace-and-Woodstock kind of hippie at heart. But I understand survival and marketing is essential to that. To be effective you have to communicate so well that people would pay money in exchange for whatever it is you’re communicating about.

If you are effective you can answer the marketer’s questions: Is your audience aware? Interested? Loyal?

Above all, did you convert them into buyers?

Marketing can be a force for good. I like it because it keeps society democratic. If you believe that people have a mind over and above Madison Avenue manipulation, buying habits tell us what real people want – not the powerful elites.

If the masses could not vote with their wallets, how would they get past the hollering of the self-righteous?

The problem is that marketers are too often unfettered. That our goals are too narrowly materialistic. That left to our own devices, and our greed, we take shortcuts – manipulate the people, make inferior products, cheat.

If you count the number of possible scams and multiply it by the gullible you end up with infinity.

But if you can look past the real and potential abuses, marketing in the right hands is art and a science that promotes a free and robust society. We compete against one another to sell goods, services, causes, organizations, and yes, political candidates. We can sell ideas. We can take the world to a better place.

Marketing techniques are like a bow and arrow in the hand of an archer: They make us sharp, quick, useful.

“To everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven,” King Solomon said, and I love that song too.

Marketing is not a profession to apologize for.  It’s a profession to elevate.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!