Media

Don’t be a Lumberg – The Sacred Duty of All Leaders

Yeah. I’m posting a commercial. It works.

It works, unfortunately, because we’ve all been there. Some of us are there right now.

“Ah! You see this bulk? This bulk is great. Mmmmm. Look at it go.”

If you’re responsible for other people you have a sacred duty to not waste their time. You have an obligation and a trust to make sure that anything you require from them, that pulls them away from their mission, has value.

If you’re thinking about having a meeting, please ask yourself the following questions:

1. What do we want the participants of this meeting to come away with?

2. What’s the most efficient manner in which to do that?

If you can’t answer the first, or the answer is convoluted, then wait to have a meeting until the answer is clear. If you’ve answered the second question, but that’s not what your plan is – change your plan.

The irony would be humorous if it weren't so disgusting.

The irony would be humorous if it weren’t so disgusting.

Lastly, if you know the answer to number one, and you don’t know the answer to number two, seek outside help and ask members of the team. Involvement breeds commitment – the bored members of your team that are eye-rolling their way through meeting hell will jump at the opportunity to become part of the solution.

If you’re a manager, by all means, keep doing as you did before. You’re not reading this anyway.

If you’re a leader, you understand and respect people and you want to protect them. There is no greater evil than wasted time – start by doing everything in your power to kill it.

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“Made To Stick” – Make messages that connect

Advertising is more often than not, about interrupting people. A lot of it is imitating what someone else has done and what other ads look like for that same type of product or service. There’s a straight and narrow path and plenty of people that would prefer to walk down it. For them, it’s not about connecting with people, it’s about being safe.

For these scared few, their creedo can be summed up simply:  CYA BAE, or “Cover your ass, before anything else.”

Making meaningful, original, honest work that aims to connect the brand/team with the client isn’t high on that list of motivations. If asked, they’d answer that they’d love to connect with people, and many may believe that their benign work is doing just that.

I’m in the business of housing college students, so being relate-able scores major points with our customers. In addition, our students have grown up with the internet since birth – and having ads thrown at them through every medium their entire lives is a constant. Originality goes a long way towards breaking through their defenses. Honesty has immense value.

I saw the following two flyers on ebaumsworld.com and immediately fell in love.

Set Rations to "Meager" and Pace to "Grueling"

Set Rations to “Meager” and Pace to “Grueling”

If you’re anything like me, you LOVED Oregon Trail as a kid. There’s an immediate emotional connection, coupled with the unexpected and the humorous. I’m hooked. I’m connected. Granted, it’s not advertising anything, but imagine a little logo in the corner and this posted at your property’s crosswalk across from campus? It’s enough to highlight the sense of you humor of your team, and to show that you’re human.

The next is a little rougher around the edges as far as language is concerned, so if you’re easily offended by light cursing, might I suggest skipping this one.

Caroline, please edit this blog for $15 an hour.

Caroline, please edit this blog for $15 an hour.

Probably without realizing it, Caroline totally nails the bulk of the Six principles of Dan & Chip Heath’s best seller, “Made to Stickwhich I wrote about in the past.

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas

To wit:

1. Simple: She’s got a simple message! “I fix your paper so it doesn’t suck!”

2. Unexpected: You didn’t expect this, and certainly not with the cat picture.

3. Concrete: Caroline. Edits. Papers. Got it?

4. Credible: There’s a decent sample of her writing, so you could argue she’s credible, though her target customer wouldn’t know that for sure.

5. Emotional: She’s funny! By stating bluntly what she’s thinking she makes an emotional connection to her audience – especially  the type that’s likely to purchase her services.

6. Stories: She tells one for sure. She even gives example of exchanges she’s likely to have with you.

Essentially, the Heath brothers analyzed all kinds of messages to find out which ones stuck with people and which didn’t – and what qualities they possessed. You don’t need all six apparently for a compelling message, but the more the better. Caroline is almost perfect here. If asked weeks later, you could tell that; Caroline edits papers, won’t do so after 9pm because her meds wear off then, and that it’ll run you $15 and hour.

That’s a sticky message.

What would you have told Caroline if she’d made these for you and wanted to place them around campus, but YOU owned the editing service? Would you have said it’s too risky? That you’d prefer something a little safer? Maybe just straightforward – “editing services, $15/hour, call Caroline.” You could have, but then you wouldn’t have nearly 2.5 million views on imgur.

Understood, this doesn’t work everywhere and for everything. We’re not going to run the same style ad here, but the lesson is important – take away the reasons why it works and apply to your own marketing and advertising. Resist the urge to play it too safe next time. Aim to make a connection and get your message to stick!

“I wish it was all a dream”

iwishitwasalladream8tracks

8tracks.com features streaming music, in mix-tape format, made by real people from their own collections – and I’m absolutely in love with it.

For the last three years it’s given me insight into so many incredible songs and artists and offered an instant escape into whatever mood I’m feeling. Pandora can’t do that. Spotify can’t do that. Not to knock those services, but nothing beats this.

If you’re old enough to remember the joy of making or receiving mix tapes you’ll immediately appreciate the simplicity and the beauty of what they’re doing. This morning I answered the call of the 8tracks.com tumblr blog and got this treat. Indie jams perfectly matching my dispistion this morning. Which is awesome, because yesterday afternoon it was mid-90’s NYC rap that was fueling my work, but this morning called for something a little more chill and this was beyond perfect.

Feeling wistful and breezy this early Fall morning? Pop this on and just go with it (click on the picture) – odds are you’ve never heard of half of the artists or the songs and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Even if you don’t care for this mix, 8tracks has something you’re going to love. Start listening to music again like you did in high school, and, if you’re feeling up to it, make a mix for someone else by simply dragging/dropping from your own music collection. You can post the cover art, name it, and send them the link in a matter of minutes.

 

 

Which comes first? Talent or Belief?

This is the first of a series of posts dedicated to those who helped shape a major portion of who I’ve become at this point in my life. Melissa Lobozzo, this one’s for you. 

Which comes first? Talent or Belief? 

chickenegg

In 2004 I became a Property Manager for Paradigm Properties, and my first Regional Manager was Melissa. Up to this point I’d been in the business for three years in a number of supporting roles, but this was my first ship and I had a lot to learn. As green as I was, Melissa saw talent in me and taught me one of the most important lessons I’d ever learn. 

With an upcoming company conference to be held in Savannah, the powers-that-be were looking for Leaders to conduct training sessions on areas important to company culture. Melissa nominated me to teach a segment on Team Building. At first, I was extremely honored, and then came the inevitable fear that I had no idea what the hell I was talking about. Fake it? No thanks. I’d had tight teams, but I was at a loss at that moment to sum up exactly how I’d done it. Was it accidental?

I went to her some weeks later and told her I had nothing. I’d read a ton of books on the matter in that short window, and tried to couple them with what I already knew but so far I hadn’t been able to put together a cogent theory on Team Building. Maybe I should pass and let someone else have a crack it. Maybe I didn’t have it, maybe it wouldn’t be any good. What could I tell 80 of my colleagues, most of whom were my senior, that would get them to do more than yawn?

She looked me square in the eyes and told me that I was talented, that I did this stuff every day and that she was confident I could come up with something that would provide a benefit. She knew me and had every faith I would do well. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I still left scared, but a little less so, and with newfound determination that I didn’t want to let her down. She’d given me a good reputation to live up to – even if I hadn’t fully earned it yet. That’s a gift you have to earn after the fact, and the price for not doing so is steep. 

Leaving her office I knew what the essence of leadership was. It was the same stuff Michael Jordan was doing when he would tell Steve Kerr that he’d be the one to hit the game winning shot, not Jordan. Kerr would believe it, because he believed in him. She did this all the time that first year – providing the right amount of praise and positive reinforcement with an equally deserved amount of (well deserved) criticism. Trusting her wasn’t a question, she told me the truth all the time! 

I put together that presentation and it was incredibly well received. It focused on exactly that sort of stuff: Positivity! Energy! Bringing everyone together towards a common goal, and it was back stopped by the “Fish!” video about the Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle. You know, where they throw fish at each other and sing songs about all of their wonderful mongering. It was only a fifteen minute session, done six times over so it didn’t have to be Les Miserables, and everyone was appreciative for something other than dull recitation of bullet points. 

After that, I took all the lessons I learned from Melissa and tried to incorporate them into myself: Selflessness, determination, courage, being a servant-based leader who exists to make their people better, one who provides a shared goal and gets everyone involved in how to get there.

In the ten years hence these traits have proven invaluable beyond count, but the biggest was that one little thing. Did she really believe I wouldn’t screw it up? Did she really think I had the talent to do it? I think so, but the good reputation she gave me that day was the thing that made that presentation possible, and a whole host of other things I went on to do, possible as well. 

I know I was a tough student, and lord knows there were days when I’m sure Melissa wondered if I had the sense God gave an aardvark. Actually, that’s probably insulting to aardvarks, but it is a testament to her belief that she could get through and get me to believe the same things about myself that she had glimpsed. And for that, I’m eternally grateful. 

“Her” – What does it say about “Us?”

Having just watched Spike Jonze 2013 Oscar Winner for Best Original Screenplay, “Her” last night, I’ve been flooded with questions the last 24 hours, and not a soul to discuss them with that thought anything other than “that was… weird.”

Some SPOILERS beyond this point:

In fairness, it was weird. That’s what completely new things feel like – weird. Not the familiarity of the tried and true and too often repeated. And being so original it can make one uncomfortable with its intimacy. Not just the kind shared between the lonely poet-of-sorts and a computer program, but the unveiled honesty of the whole experience.

Image

From the start we see a famous pregnant woman’s photo (Demi Moore’s 1991 Vanity Fair cover, anyone?) come to life in Theodore’s mind as pure fantasy (weird, right?) and further to his brief, anonymous phone call with a woman who encourages him to choke her with a cat in order to bring the interlude to climax. Super weird. These aren’t things we’re used to seeing or thoughts of a nature we’re used to sharing.

Theodore is alone, and as he’s not surrounded by another person, there is no reason for artifice. He communicates like we all do with our most intimate selves – we just happen to be watching – and that’s the problem apparently. It is fully accepted and understood that we all live private lives that we don’t share with anyone – something always is held back for fear of how it will be construed. But Theodore doesn’t have this limitation: telling all to an insanely curious operating system (desperate to know the world and to know this man) he’s not at risk of being judged the same way his blind date will judge him.

In that last part there’s the bit of the ultimate male fantasy, I suppose: The woman who exists (it appears) to do little else but to love and care for us. Lest Ted get bored too quickly, he tells Samantha that he’s not ready for anything too serious. To our surprise she responds not as the demure, emotionally attached woman, but as an honest-to-goodness person of her own. She has dreams and wants, and doesn’t just live to make our guy’s life grand. That’s interesting and refreshing – because this is a love story and not just “guy has interactive phone-coitus with his OS and it’s totally weird but beautiful, kinda, because Spike Jonze put cool music over long shots of Phoenix riding a train.”

These characters are real and more importantly, honest. The normal bet-hedging we all do when we meet someone gets eliminated here. She’s forthright with her fears, though appropriately hesitant (for effect) and does her best to grow as a person. She wants him to be happy and wants the same for herself. Instead of being the trapped housewife we might imagine, she’s actually living an incomparably full life – one Theodore can never match.

Being that close (as viewers) to the unbelievable highs of new love and the (inevitable?) growing apart that these two go through, is an unsettling experience. So yeah, “weird…” is a perfectly appropriate description of “Her” but also woefully incomplete. It’s also about the scars of losing someone and the scariness of loving someone else again. It’s about selflessness and shared existence, about our desire to find happiness almost anywhere.

Could you love a computer program? I think most will be quick to dismiss the notion as too fanciful, but isn’t (sufficiently bright) Artificial Intelligence, still “Intelligence?” And isn’t that half or more of what we come to love about another person – or at least the part that really sticks? Sure, the way they wrinkle their nose when they’re about to sneeze, or the way they hold their coffee with both hands when it’s cold, are super cute, but is it the lion’s-share of why we love them?

In the end, isn’t it the relationship between our intelligence and another’s, that pulls the lever in our brain, the one releasing the dopamine and serotonin that cause us to get so insanely high that we act all kinds of crazy in love?

Amy: “Are you falling in love with her?”

Theodore: “Does that make me a freak?”

Amy: “No, no, I think it’s, I think anybody who falls in love is a freak. It’s a crazy thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.”

Would it have made a difference had Theodore reached Samantha on the phone randomly at the start of the film, as opposed to uploading her onto his computer? His having never known she was a program – would we view it any differently? There are plenty of people who have relationships that are entirely long-distance, one’s where they’ll never meet the person on the other end of the phone, or computer. Little odd? Maybe, but not dismissively so. 

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I’m haunted by so many aspects of this film: What does it say about the connections we make and the connections we don’t? Towards the end it kind of dawns on Theodore that everyone is having these silo-like-relationships. It’s almost a “Soylent Green is made out of people!” moment. But far less ominous, of course. Would such a relationship, undertaken knowingly, be “healthy” in any way? There clearly aren’t any ethical implications, right? Wouldn’t an unchecked AI with the power and sophistication of Samantha be incredibly dangerous? I mean, Terminator starts with far less in the way of operational processing power, doesn’t it?

More importantly: if Samantha can feel things, emotionally, what kind of responsibility does that place on Theodore (or anyone) to treat her in a respectful manner? Is an AI, regardless of how sophisticated, just a series of switches and impulses sending out hyper-realistic communication, but ultimately nothing more than so many magnetically positioned ones and zeroes?  And if so, should it be excluded from the same respect we pay to animals? Or the mentally deficient? If an AI (like the newly resurrected Alan Watts of the film) is created with a sufficiently complex “personality” does that mean it should be afforded the same rights as a person? Meaning it would be unethical to shut it down without due process?

Much like an iceberg, the total mass of questions this movie represents are largely unseen, I just wish more people saw the exposed parts for how intricate they are.

1996 Rears Its Head…

1996 Rears Its Head…

Back in 1996 (the year I graduated High School, btw) NPR started airing a segment by Radio Diaries, called “Teenage Diaries” which gave recording equipment to teenagers around the country to record their lives and thoughts for a year.

Recently, they’ve been doing follow ups with the initial participants as it’s been 17 years since they were 17 themselves. Obviously, when you hear of the existence of an audio time capsule dating to the same age you were at the time, you can’t help but be intrigued.

One of the teenagers, Melissa, had a baby that year which mirrors a friend of mine at the time. Actually, a few friends at the time, sadly. Listening to the recordings immediately takes me back to that time and place and reminds me of the feelings of uncertainty and confusion. What would their lives be like? What would the kids be like when they reached the same age? What the hell were we all thinking?

The most unsettling thing – or rather, the least expected – is how young they all sound. Despite the best attempts at appearing “grown up” they all come across as inherently uncertain and… very much like children, really.

Funny. Because growing up, I don’t think many of us thought of ourselves like children. We couldn’t wait to be adults and we thought we had a good handle on how to act that way. Perhaps “act” is the giveaway in that last sentence.

Personally, I have video recordings of my friends and I from various parties, and about 700 pages of notes collected from them during my High School years. In fact, a year ago when I moved, I took the time to organize them in chronological order. It’s all there: Loves lost and loves dreamt of that never happened, petty slights and minutiae of all sorts that are hard to recall. In a very real way, I have my own “Teenage Diaries” but it’s from all of my friends and what they were thinking; hopes, fears, posturing, pretending, achieving, regretting. So much weight for young minds and young hearts.

I’ve always been a fan of history since I was young, and maybe that’s why I’m drawn to this series, and why I kept all of that stuff in the first place. Notes between classes were always supposed to be throw away stuff – everyone else threw my notes away after all. Except for one ex-girlfriend who ceremoniously burned them in her fire place after some falling out. Friends would ask me why I kept them and I never had a great answer. “Maybe they’ll be important someday” or, “We’ll all want to read these!” but those were hopeful answers.

I now know the reason I kept all that stuff was to better understand myself and to hopefully understand “us” as a loose collection of friends. We’ve all grown up and out and rarely talk anymore, but I’m happy to report, we still talk. Those that matter most (and you never know who that is at the time) will always be there, time and time again. And it’s fun to share that history and look back and realize we didn’t have a clue. Not a real one anyway. We thought we knew who’d we become and what our lives would be like and virtually all of those predictions turned out wrong.

Rob, Chris, Tracy

Rob, Chris, Tracy

It’s an important lesson now to remember, as we look at the next 17 years. Who will we be at 51? As confident as we were then, I think it’s important to be reminded of the outcomes of our previous predictions as we make the next big decisions in our lives.

So, what’s the big take away? For me, it would be this: Beware hubris. Seek continuously to look at yourself through an honest lens. Don’t forget who you wanted to be and can still become. If that’s all I learned from this, then it’s an absolute fortune.

Oh, and one more thing: Don’t break up with an amazing young lady two days before prom – no matter the circumstances surrounding your own life situation.