Posts tagged “behavior



Recently I spent a day at the Fairfax County Courthouse. Six months ago a couple of young kids in the neighborhood stole my briefcase. I had left it in the car, unlocked. Shame on me. Police found the briefcase bereft of the easily sold electronics.  The police also (eventually) found the two boys. They were being tried in juvenile court.  In Fairfax County victims are subpoenaed to testify. So I came, though I never made it into the courtroom.  The defendants settled before they ever had a trial. Two counts, felony theft.

So I spent the day sitting and watching.

Life plays out hard in Juvenile Court.  There are the defiant and presumably ‘don’t care’ teens that sit stone faced and sullen next to parents and guardians.  There are the anxious adults who lean into conversations across from detectives and lawyers. Then there are children.  The little ones who sit, squirm, fidget and sometime get loud, oblivious to the nature of their surroundings or the consequences of what might happen next.   

Blue collars far outnumber white collars in Juvenile Court. You see uniforms of the working class … maids, gardeners, medical assistants, and construction workers.  But mostly you see moms, anxious and bewildered moms wondering how they got here, what is going to happen to their child, and what, if anything, they can do about it.

The lawyers match their clients.  They wear Burlington Coat Factory suits. They walk in scruffy shoes.  They write with BIC pens. They seem like earnest people.  There are the jaded comments, of course. “Can you believe what this dumb kid did … ? Then this girl got up and …”.  I would not characterize the comments as harmless, but they seemed to betray more befuddlement than condemnation.

Every now and then there’s a nod of respect.  I heard a detective marvel at the ingenuity of two teenagers who were able to dislodge an ATM machine from a small strip mall and haul it home via a stolen golf cart.  “You gotta hand it to them,” he said. There was nodding around the table. 

These are the public defenders and social workers that see the burglaries, the drug deals, and the petty and sometimes serious crimes every day. They’re not the sophisticated crimes of television.  

But most of what you see or hear is the sad stuff. The stupid crimes.  The careless crimes.  The unnecessary crimes.  All the more stupid because they risk the life trajectory of a young teenager.  They are someone’s child.  But that “someone” becomes unclear for a moment. Then things go wrong. So they end up in Juvenile Court.

The Courthouse is a place of anxiety. The atmosphere is one of anticipation. But not the anticipation of victory.  Rather anticipation of a decision that will either provide relief (often temporary) or continued sadness.

It is a place of contrasts. There are those who make the decisions and those who follow and are affected by them.  There are those with authority and those who must submit to that authority.  There are the burly police, the armed guards, the detectives and prosecutors … Then there are the haggard parents, the scared and sometimes insolent children, the bewildered immigrant families.

But most of all, it is a place of consequences. It is a place of harvest. But not the kind we celebrate at Thanksgiving.  Actions have consequences. The courthouse reaps the behaviors that individuals and societies have sowed. It is part justice, part karma. But a better metaphor might be a force of nature. The Courthouse is like gravity. When something is pushed off a ledge or let go, it falls.

People fall too. And when they fall, they end up here.


JJuice cause

If you have raised a child there is an encounter you are sure to have dealt with. It is the incessantly curious moment.

It is that exchange where every statement you make is met with, “Why?” And after which, each subsequent explanation is met with another, “Why?” And so on. Why? Why? Why?

At some point the exasperated parent blurts out the one word to end all conversation:


“Because.” It is an interesting word. The verb “to be” combined with the verb “to cause”. Or as the old French roots would describe: “by reason of.”


I spend much of my professional life trying to figure out the “because” of things, specifically, the “because” of human thinking and behavior … the “becauses” of thinking a certain way, voting a certain way, giving to a certain institution, joining a certain, dare I say, “cause.”

One thing you quickly discover. Correlation is not cause. It is easy to determine correlation. That is, being able to show that if “this” happens it is very likely “that” will happen around the same time. This is most of the research you see. We sift through the numbers and we see correlations between one phenomenon and another. We even ascribe percentages to it. When this occurs or we take action “A”, then 12% of the time they open the email. But when we do something else and take action “B”, then 16% of the time they open the email. So we show correlation. But was the different action “B” the “be” “cause” of the 4% difference? It is very hard to know.

A long time ago there was a guy named Aristotle. He came up with four ways to think about or look at “causes.” A couple thousand years later, Aristotle’s approach still has value when we think about identifying “cause” in politics, marketing, and social change.

First, there is the material cause. This was the cause determined by the “material that composes the moving or changing of things.” This is the easiest of “causes” to observe and perhaps the most simplistic. It is also the least meaningful. A window broke because a rock went through it. Broken window. Cause = rock. A car engine quit because it ran out of gas. Immobile car. Cause = no gas.

You could say they “caused” the window to break and the car to stop. But were simply materials. They don’t “do” anything. They just enabled something.

It is exactly the same when we ascribe societal or behavior change as the result of a device (iPhone) or an app (GoogleMaps) or a service (Amazon). We say these things are change agents. To be sure change has happened “because” of these things. But they are only a material cause and only give a shallow answer to the “be” “cause” of change.

Second, Aristotle spoke of a “formal” cause. The formal cause results from the arrangement of things. Good examples are the harmonic of a particular musical scale that produces a pleasant sound or the algebraic formula that “causes” an arch to support weight.

Now this gets a bit more interesting. We see it in everyday life. We pay a lot of attention to the “position” of a product or service, whether it is in the supermarket or on a Google search page. Why? Because the “formal cause” or arrangement of things changes an outcome. If you’re selling something you want it to be at the end of the aisle. We pay to have our search term higher up on a page. Yes, these marketing formulas for change work, however often we’re not exactly sure why.

Let’s go further.

Third is Aristotle’s “efficient” cause. This was the cause prompted by a person or change agent. The artist Michaelangelo was the “efficient cause” of the Pieta. You might even say that Hitler was the “efficient cause” of World War II.

Again, we see parallels in assessing the “be” “cause” of developments in business and politics. Einstein. Edison. Jeff Bezos. Elong Musk. Barak Obama. We ascribe to them all manner of causes and changes in politics, society and business. Efficient cause goes beyond substance (the rock or gallon of gasoline), beyond form (the harmonic or equation) to the person or persons who were able to imagine and effectuate change.

Applied to everyday communications, the efficient “cause” are the influencers, the early adopters, the activists, networks and communities that can either make something relevant or irrelevant. So we identify the change agents and chase after them.

Finally there is Aristotle’s – well – “final” cause. This was the ultimate cause. It was and remains the most controversial. It is the cause that is determined by the intrinsic purpose and nature of a particular thing, event or being. As described (in Wikipedia!) it is the cause prompted by “the purpose for which things became.”

Now that’s a phrase to chew on.

Finding the “final” cause of things is the most difficult (and dangerous) but not surprisingly it is the one I find most fun and rewarding. It is finding the “be” “cause” of thinking and action that is due to the intrinsic nature of a person’s being and doing. We talk about it at our agency as the relevant cause. It is looking at things through the eyes, hearts and minds of people and trying to make sense out of the “why” of their attitudes and behavior. And while there, to sift through all the complexity and find out those relevant cause(s) for action.

So the conversation with the little child never ends. After every statement, phenomenon, action, event, or campaign comes the inevitable question: “why?” If we can answer the “why” and find the (be) cause behind those things, we are wiser and can make better decisions about things in the future.


Well … because!


Nice to see you

“How are you?”

It is perhaps the most asked question in life. It is a question asked between everyone from common strangers to  intimate family members.

Think about it. How many times a day are you asked “how are you?”  Now count the number of times a day you ask that of others. “How are you?”

In some rare cases we actually want to know the answer!  But most times not. It is just a thing we say. And nine times out of ten we get the standard response.


Occasionally we’ll get a “great” or “awful” which often is very problematic because we then feel obliged to follow up as to  “why” and are now committed to having a real conversation which we never intended to have because we really didn’t care how they were doing we were just using as a placeholder for hello.

“How are you?”

I recently started an experiment. When asked “how are you?” I started to respond with a phrase I often heard  my father say and it went like this, “Well, I’m doing better than I deserve.”

This really throws people off.  It is not the ordinary “fine”  and has the effect of causing people to think and react.  Typically, reactions fall into one or two camps.

There’s the group that will challenge the “better than I deserve” response.  Sometimes quite forcefully.

Now I’m sure most of those who object to the unusual “better than I deserve” response to the standard “how ya doing?” question are well meaning, well intentioned and wanting to be helpful and supportive.  They see (or hear!) the “better than I deserve” phrase as one of despondency. I sense they interpret it as someone who questions their own self worth and so is in need of a bit of affirmation. Their response seems to be …

“Oh that’s not true.  I don’t know you but you seem like a nice enough guy.  I’m sure you’re deserving of a lot of good things. I know that I am.  Everybody is deserving of good things.  So cheer up!  Take a little credit for yourself!  Run a victory lap and be proud of all the good things that are happening to you.”

Then there are those that “get it.”  At least get it in the sense of what my Dad originally meant.

For him the “better than I deserve” response was an expression of gratitude. We have so much, even when we have little.  We are so blessed, even when things are pretty crappy.  Just the joy of “being” and experiencing life is an undeserved privilege.And then there are all the stupid, silly and sometimes downright mean and awful  things that we’ve done that we have somehow gotten away with! If we were all accountable for everything we did and got what we “deserved” for the completely dumb things we do I doubt many of us would survive past our teens!

I know that is true for me.

I remember complaining to my Dad once that “life isn’t fair!”  I will always remember his response.  “You better be glad, son, that life isn’t fair.  Because if we all got what we deserved we’d be in big trouble!”

Months ago, my daughter wrote down the toast she made at her little sister’s wedding. It has been by far the most popular and widely read thing on the Juicebar.  Ever. It was about expectations and the joy of not having any (expectations, that is). Seeing everything, good, bad, and indifferent, as a blessing.

So if you ask “how are you?” and if I respond “better than I deserve,” know that I believe this to be a very, very good thing.

Nice to see you” by Just Ard is licensed under CC BY 2.0


One of the many things that fascinate me are fines.  I’m referring to penalties, not “its all good.”  Are they proportional?  Is there a logic?  Do they work?

When I was growing up, people used to go to the library (this dates me!).  Typically the check-out period for a book was 30 days.  If you kept the book longer than 30 days you had to pay a fine.  As I remember it was something along the lines of a nickel per day.  Those nickels added up quickly!  Be late for a month and it would cost me a buck fifty which was about a third of my weekly allowance.

As an adult, one of the fines I’ve paid most often is for parking where I shouldn’t have or longer than I was supposed to.  Fines in the District of Columbia are not cheap.  I think the last one I paid was $100.  If you’re late they double.  Rack a few of those up and you’re talking real money.  Let’s say that you average a couple of parking fines a year.  And you’re late on one of them.  That’s $300.  If you’re the average person with an average family income (which is $51,413), that’s about .6 percent of your income.  Not much.

I read yesterday that the FCC fined Google a whopping $25,000 for for impeding an investigation.  It had something to do with Google collecting information without permission.  I don’t know if the FCC was right in fining Google.  And I don’t know if Google was really guilty of anything.  But I’m thinking that Google doesn’t look at the FCC fine the same way I did my late library book fines or parking fines.

According to Gooogle Finance, Google has about $57 billion in the bank.  But that’s not liquid assets that they can use to pay the FCC.  No, their liquid assets (cash and equivalents) are only $23 billion.  And now that I think of it that’s not the right measure either.  When I paid library fines or parking fines, I didn’t pay them out of savings, I paid them out of income.  So what is Google’s income?  Well for the quarter ending in March 2011 net income was a paltry $3.5 billion.

So how does $25,000 stack up to $3.5 billion?  By my math (and I had to search to find an online calculator that would go far enough in decimals to figure this out) it is .0007 percent.  But that is over three months.  The math gets a bit better if you look at it through the lens of monthly income.  If we assume that Google’s net income is running about $1 billion a month (a bit more than my allowance growing up and slightly higher than the median family income) then they are making net about $33 million every day (this includes Saturdays and Sundays! … those Google people never stop working!).   And assuming that these guys are working 24/7, then the math works out to $22,916 in net income – that is income after expenses and taxes – every minute.

So that’s the FCC fine.  The government got sixty seconds of Google’s net profit.

So here’s the question.  If the library only charged kids sixty seconds of their allowance after candy, soda, and music … if the DC parking authority only charged us sixty seconds of our income after taxes, rent, and food …

Do you think we’d ever bring back a book or pay a parking meter?

The ‘self’ virus

I live in Washington DC.  I work in public relations.  I used to work in politics. I am a human being.  Consider me an expert in the self-driven life.

I was thinking about that a lot lately; trying to stitch together and make sense of some crazy things I saw at work, around me outside of work, on television, on the campaign trail.  Have you seen it?  Man, there’s some absolutely crazy stuff going on out there.   How could we get so dysfunctional?  I’m thinking that there’s a new disease, worse than HIV/AIDS, ebola, and avian flu combined.  It is the attack of the self-driven and the self-absorbed.

This is a bad thing, by the way.  A very bad thing.  I’ve a sense that we’re all infected with this virus in some form.  Because it is all about me, right!  But what happens when everyone, all around you, say the same thing:  “It’s all about ME!”  Well, when that happens you have a lot of the madness that is going on right now.

As best I can tell, here are the main symptoms of this virus:

A warped perspective of reality. If it is all about you, the reality of the outside world slowly begins to fade.  Why?  Because you can’t see the important things happen that don’t relate to you.  Just like pre-Copernicus astrologers, you have this mistaken impression that life evolves around you and your well-being.  The ‘other’ is only a consideration in as much as they (a) cross your path; or (b) provide you a stepping stone to the other side.  After awhile, this is not only a sick way of looking at life it is a false way of looking at life.  Living in your own self-absorbed cocoon, everything looks rosey.  You can’t see outside yourself (another word for ‘outside yourself’ … ‘reality’!)  Then, BAM!  That nasty real world slams you up side the head.  And you never saw it coming.

Destruction of meaningful and lasting relationships. This is close to a tautology but worth noting.  You can’t have a meaningful relationship with anyone or any thing if you are the #1, #2, and #3 most important things on your daily todo list.  When you hold the top position of what’s important in your life, relationships become shallow and matters of convenience.  People no longer become people.  We’ll all playing a game of “Survivor” or “Big Brother”.  People are disposable.  Relationships are transitory.  And you wake up one morning and there’s no body around you.  Go figure!

Death of moral values.  Objective moral values – universal truths of right and wrong – suffocate in the oppressive and feckless nature of the self-absorption.  Self sucks up all the oxygen.  The old fashion ideas of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ have about as much chance as a polar bear on a melting ice cap.  When it is all about you, concepts like honesty, integrity, service, dependability, and trust eventually lose their original meaning.  Everything becomes a function of what is good for you.

It is a nasty, nasty illness.

So what does any of this have about companies, organizations, and brands?

A lot.  I’ve seen this virus spread to them as well.  In this I’d go so far as to agree with Governor Romney.  Companies are, indeed, people.  And when they turn inward and begin organizing around self, they lose perspective of what is going on in the marketplace, the bonds they’ve built with their customers begin to fray, and they end up making really dumb decisions.

The vaccine?  Try putting something or someone ahead of yourself.  Maybe even more than one!

The people I admire are those who put themselves last, and put others first.  The same is true for companies, organizations and brands.

A resolution to change how I think, not what I do

So you have a New Year’s resolution?  I do.  And it was inspired in no small measure by my daughter who is resolved to focus in 2012 on “quality, not quantity” and my son whose resolution is less tech and more touch.

This year I’m resolved to change how I think about people – people I know, people I see, and the people I never see but reach through a career in communications.

I resolve to not think of people based on what they do.  I don’t agree with the old saying “you are what you eat.”  People are much more than their diet.  And I’ll dare to challenge Aristotole that a person is “what they do every day.”  A person is more than a collection of habits.  I resolve not to think of people based on what they have.  People are more than rich or poor.  They are more than their medical condition or position of authority.  I resolve to not define people by what they can do for me.  People are more than clients or business partners or even friends.

In business and life it is so easy to think of people as a commodity, a label, a category.  The people – and businesses – that I admire and respect most think better than that.  They don’t view their customers, neighbors, and friends that way.

So here’s a resolution for 2012.

A resolution to always remember that every person is sacred.  And regardless of their habits, possessions or what they can do for me or us … each merits respect, patience, understanding, mercy and love.

Happy New Year.