Posts tagged “Ideas

Because

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!”

“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.”

“Because!”

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.

Why?

Well … because!

The Tradesman

Ever watched a tradesman? Anyone, regardless of gender, who is truly skilled at his or her trade. I have. Sometimes I’ve even had the good fortune to work with them. From carpenters and electricians to cooks and artists.

 

Tradesmen are both beauty and art in motion. To watch them is to watch wisdom applied to a practical task. They move with grace and confidence. They are disciplined and discrete. They are not just skilled, they are wise in what they do.

 

Those of us in business could learn a lot from the tradesman. Here are a handful of tradesman skills I’ve tried to incorporate into my own communications planning work.

 

Be observant. The tradesman sees things that other people don’t. They see the angle that isn’t square. They smell the scent that suggests mold. They notice the coloration that indicates a leak. They notice the things we’d never even think of looking for. Too often we have neither the patience nor predilection for the art of observing. We’re too focused on “doing.” And in so focused on doing, we risk not seeing the things most important.

 

Have the right tools.  A tradesman always seems to pull from their bag or sack just the right device to address that particular assignment. Moreover, their tools become an extension of themselves. They have the trowel that has just the right angle, the hammer that is perfectly balanced. Too often we sell or use things or tools because we have them, not because they are the best for the particular assignment. We grab what is available as opposed to what is most useful.

 

Be efficient. I once saw a tradesman put up a framed door from start to finish in 30 minutes. Nothing was rushed or hurried. There was no wasted movement. Every sequence was in place. Each action purposeful. Every cut was precise. Every angle was square. It was breath-taking. Too often in our passion to act, to constantly innovate, to “fail fast”, the flurry of activity suffocates efficiency. When we do we waste everyone’s time, including our own.

 

Be ready to improvise. At a build in Central America several years ago, I saw a tradesman reconstruct a broken ceramic electrical outlet with a rusted kitchen knife, a flat-head screwdriver and a half roll of electrical tape. It was the strangest contraption I’d seen and I doubt it would have passed a safety inspection. But it allowed us to continue working and finish the job while someone went to buy a new outlet. Too often we have trouble thinking creatively, particularly if “improvising” doesn’t look pretty or present well. We have a hard time adjusting to the reality of the unknowable.

 

Finish jobs completely. The sign of a good tradesman is that after the work is done, there’s no evidence they’ve been there. They spend as much cleaning up as they do creating. They spend as much time fixing the small, final imperfections as they do the big construction. Too often we head off for another assignment before the job at hand is complete. In not finishing, we not only leave the opportunity for a project to unravel, we miss the chance to step back and enjoy the view.

 

Observant. Ready with the right tools. Efficient. Unafraid to improvise. Taking time to finish and reflect on a job well done.

 

We should all approach our work like a skilled tradesman.

 

Drill Bit Cutting Through Wood by Charles Knowels Via Creative Commons

I am not a scientist.

Earth creative commons
My wife said something profound yesterday. She does that a lot, actually. She’s a therapist. She has a knack for human insight.

We were in our typical morning routine, propped up in bed with our iPads reading the news and checking Facebook. Staring at her iPad Sanderijn said, “Isn’t it strange that every time people ask one of the Republican candidates for president about climate change they answer ‘I don’t know … I am not a scientist.'”

She went on, “Why is it climate change is the one thing they feel they are not qualified to have an opinion on?” She thoughtfully added that these guys don’t seem to respond similarly when asked about other areas of policy.

Which got me thinking. Imagine a presidential candidate who says …

I don’t know about education policy because I am not a teacher.

I don’t know about foreign policy because I am not a diplomat.

I don’t know about military intervention because I am not a soldier.

I don’t know about tax policy because I am not a CPA.

I don’t know about crime and punishment because I am neither a policeman nor a judge.

I don’t know about health care policy because I am not a doctor.

I don’t know about moral values because I am not clergy. (ok, Mike Huckabee maybe but that’s whole different story).

Wouldn’t it be interesting if candidates showed the same humility on other policy issues that some candidates are showing on climate change?

Oh, and by the way, 97% of climate scientists believe that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

 

Earth Day Image is used under CC 2.0

Imagination

 imagine maik_sv
“I just can’t imagine …”

 

That, my friends, is the problem.  We don’t imagine, and when we don’t imagine, we don’t do.  Imagining and imagination are a critical first step to change.  Imagination is what enables us to make something that is foreign or non-existent relevant in our lives.  It is through imagination that we are able to “see” what is possible and in internalizing possibilities, we make new things happen, both in ourselves and in others.

 

I won’t do the obvious.  That is, I’m not going to quote that song by John Lennon.  (And BTW, I don’t think all the things he wanted us to imagine would be necessarily a good thing.) But I do think he hit on something that many great people have in common. And I’m talking about everyday great people, not just the famous ones. They have an imagination.  In fact, I suspect that it might even be impossible to do great things, unless one submits, indulges or engages the imagination.

 

I was reminded of the power of imagination at a recent lecture on hypnotherapy.  (My wife is a therapist and this was part of her continuing education classes.) The instructors had studied under Milton Erickson, considered one of the godfathers of medical hypnosis and therapy. They noted that hypnosis is typically used in therapy is to help someone change some behavioral challenge, often an addiction, disorder of fear.

 

They noted that the reason hypnosis can promote behavior in individuals lies in the simple fact that “imagination is more powerful than will.”  In many respects, that is what hypnotherapy is all about: enabling people to imagine themselves or others differently.

 

People set goals. They muster will power.  They make resolutions.  They join support groups. They feel they can “muscle” their way through.  But then they find they can’t.  Why?

 

Because despite all of our willpower (or lack thereof), somewhere deep in our subconscious we are not able to muster up the idea that we can actually do things like quitting smoking or over-eating or easing anxiety.  Too often we lack the idea of the possible.  We lack the ability to truly imagine and believe that life could be other than what it is.  And so we end up back in the life they’ve learned to expect for ourselves.

 

Great things, great accomplishments, require imagining they can be. It is not just thinking big.  It is the ability to see, and see clearly, a different path. I believe that was what Rev. Martin Luther King, meant when he said he had a dream. Because in imagining and dreaming he was able to take those first steps to change.

 

But let’s not just use our imagination to simply help ourselves accomplish the things willpower can’t.

 

Let’s help others imagine those things that willpower alone won’t allow them to do.

 

Imagination can be contagious.  And liberating.  And when it spreads, everyone is better for it.

 

 

Imagine via flickr under cc 2.0

Sacrifice

sacrifice james allen quote

Now here is a fun topic!  Sacrifice.

Eww!  It conjures up all sorts of horrible imagery.  Not something you’d raise your hand and volunteer for, right?  Except but of course we do.  Sacrifice is as fundamental to life as air and water, breath and blood.

We sacrifice things every day.  We just don’t realize it.

What prompts a post on sacrifice?  Well, it has something to do with the Dutch.

When you hear the word “sacrifice”, Holland may not be the first country that comes to mind.  But yesterday I read an article in the New York Times on the Dutch pension plans.  It seems that unlike U.S. pension plans (a) Dutch pension plans still exist; and (b) they are not only solvent, but financially rock solid.

Why?  In a word:  sacrifice.

Seems that following the financial crisis of ’08 the Dutch looked at the financials of their retirement programs and determined that the only real way of making things work moving forward was to have people contribute more and have plans pay out less.  Oh, and they refused to do any of that funny accounting stuff and base assets on what they “might” be in the future.  People made sacrifices (including my in-laws who are currently on Dutch retirement programs).  It wasn’t easy.  People complained.  It was controversial.  Some of the sacrifices hurt.  But they made them.  And the result is that the retirement plans for the next generation are preserved.

Yesterday I spent time with my daughter (who is half-Dutch!), her husband and their three boys.  My daughter told me of some of the sacrifices they are having to make in order to raise their family as they want to.  Some budget cuts.  Some lifestyle changes.  But things you give up for a much greater good.

You may not realize it but you make sacrifices every day.  They can be “good” ones or they can be “bad” ones.  They can be sacrifices that cut corners, skip steps, and achieve “quick wins.”  Or they can be sacrifices that enable you, over time, to achieve a higher goal.

Too often we make stupid sacrifices.  For example, we sacrifice our health by consuming yummy but unhealthy foods.  Or we sacrifice the opportunity to help others by focusing just on taking care of ourselves.   Or we sacrifice relationships by spending all our time working and making money.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can be smart about our sacrifices.  We sacrifice our own ideological rigidity for the cause of getting along with others.  We can sacrifice a bit of low priced carbon for the sake of the environment.  We can sacrifice time in front of a screen, to spend time with someone who could use a listening ear and a word of encouragement.

So let’s embrace sacrifice!  In doing so we are more aware, more conscious and more in tune with ourselves and each other.  And when the consequences of our sacrifices become manifest, we won’t be surprised, only hopeful that those sacrifices were worth it all.

Ideas and Execution – It isn’t the What, it is the Why

1167px-Giovanni_Bellini_-_Saint_Francis_in_the_Desert_-_Google_Art_Project

Here’s a life lesson from the Franciscans.

I, along with a lot of other people, have gotten pretty curious about St. Francis.

To say St. Francis was an interesting guy is a mild understatement.  Born into affluence in the 13th century, Francis renounced his wealth and family to follow his faith in God.

And like for so many people back then who lived lives larger than life (did I just use a variation of “life” 3 times in a 5-word phrase?) it is hard to tell fact from fiction.   Biographer St. Bonaventure described St. Francis as the “second Jesus.”  As noted in Wikipedia, it has been argued that no one else in history was as dedicated as Francis to imitate the life, and carry out the work of Christ, in Christ’s own way.

So the BIG question for the Franciscan order after St. Francis’ death was simple:  “How do we be like St. Francis?”  Think of it as a Middle Age version of “I want to be like Mike,” or “what would Jesus do?”

On one side were literalists.  For them it was nothing less than doing everything EXACTLY like the good St. Francis.  On another side were the idealists.  For them it was less about having the habits of St. Francis (BTW, that pun was intended!) and more about having the mind or spirit of St. Francis.

The latter won and for good reason – both existential and historical.  On the existential front, doing everything EXACTLY like St. Francis presented numerous problems.  Let’s take something as elemental as geography.  St. Francis wore a simple robe with a rope belt.  So what do you do if you live in say, Sweden?  Live in subzero temperatures with only a cotton robe and belt?  I don’t think so.  Then there was the historical.  St. Francis walked everywhere.  Good luck with that if you find yourself in LA.

But there was another thing.  Those literalist Franciscans were following the wrong thing.  They were following the HOW.  What folks really liked about St. Francis wasn’t the HOW, it was the WHY.

The idea is always more important than the execution.  It is why I don’t read all those articles that start “X ways to …” fill in the blank.  People get obsessed about the HOW.  What they should be obsessed with is the WHY.

That is why (wordplay intended) Simon Sinek’s TED talk is one of the most popular of any online TED talk.  Sinek’s even made a business of it.  What?  You haven’t seen it?  Well you should.  (Not only because of the content but also because he does NOT use PowerPoint.)

After 20 minutes watching this you’ll understand.

So my question for you:  What is your “why” in your “golden circle?”

Fine!

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.

Hiding in plain sight

So now we know that all this time the world’s most notorious terrorist was living in a suburb of Islamabad.  And not only that, the town was also the home of the Pakistani military academy.  Not exactly a cave in the hinterlands.   It would be like this guy to have hung out for years in duplex outside of Quantico Marine base.

Hiding in plain sight.  This, my friends, is the story of life.

We miss stuff all the time, and it is hiding in plain sight.  Like the housing crisis.  Or the oil crisis.  Or the next retirement crisis.

This stuff is / was there.  Like, right there!  Right in front of us.  Clear as an unmuddied lake.  But we don’t see it.  Sometimes it is because the object of our affection or interest has craftily gone to the once place we’d NEVER think about looking.

Sometimes we fail to see or acknowledge what is in plain view because we’re either focusing on something else.   A version of the latter is called inattentional blindness.  It was the subject of a recent popular book which I highly recommend titled “The Invisible Gorilla”.  According to Daniel Simons:  “Inattentional blindness is the failure to notice a fully-visible but unexpected object when you are focusing attention on something else.”

Finally, there are those times when things can hide in plain sight because we find them too uncomfortable to face.

So which was it for the Pakistani Army?  Was it simply that the terrorist had outsmarted them by going to the ONE PLACE that no one would have ever guessed (including, by the way, the Bush and Obama administrations)?  Or did they not see it because they were too busy with other things?  Or did we not see it because they didn’t want to see it?

Most of the challenges we face are hidden in plain sight.  We know they are a problem.  But we don’t see them because we’re either (a) caught up paying attention to other less pressing but often more pleasurable things; or (b) find them too painful to confront so we pretend they’re not there.

Most of the solutions to our problems are hidden in plain sight.  We just don’t pursue them because it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.  This is certainly true for people.  Overweight?  Exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables.  Financial concerns?  Save more than you spend.  Unfulfilled?  Do only those things you are passionate about.

This is true for every organization and every brand.

We know we’re to focus on core competencies, invest in people, constantly improve the customer experience.  The principles that the big consultancies come up with aren’t rocket science.  They are pretty basic stuff.  They are things that most people in the organization ALREADY KNOW!  But they hide in plain sight because we are either distracted or inconvenienced.

Like our now deceased terrorist … most of our problems and their solutions are … right there hiding in plain sight.  And like the folks in the Islamabad suburb, most of the time we find ways to ignore what we know to be true.