A cup of flour, half a stick of butter, two tablespoons of sugar …

5’ wide and 20’ long with a drop of 2’ for every 7’ in length …

An increase in top-line revenue of $10 million with profit margins of 20% by …


Every part of life seems to have them. From cooking, to business, to home improvement.

I’m a planner. This means I’m in the business of the research behind communications campaigns. When I talk to clients there is the inevitable question: “How are we going to measure success?”  To which I almost always answer, “Define for me what you think success looks like and I’ll tell you.”

The answers vary. Some see success as getting the right headline in the right publication. Others talk about changing people’s opinions about certain things. Others about generating business and increasing sales. Some even suggest that “no news” is indeed the “best news.”

What is success? And once defined, can that be measured?

People ask that a lot.  And it is more difficult than you think.  Take the matter of education.

Recently I came across two articles in the same issue of the New York Times.  One dealt with primary and secondary schools and the debate over something called the Common Core.  These proposed “standards” (a word that is inherently dependent on the concept of “measurement”) have been so controversial that they’ve united both far left and far right in opposition.  A second, was about President Obama’s suggestion that colleges and universities be “measured” for their success.  Not surprisingly, college administrators were aghast.

Education.  Why can’t we measure it? We measure everything else. What makes education so special?

One the one hand it is pretty simple. At the end of the day, can the person read, write, calculate, reason, think?  If they can’t, then they haven’t gotten an education. They might have gone to school and gotten a lot of other things – a good experience, healthy relationships, perhaps even a healthier, stronger body; but they haven’t gotten an education.

On the other hand there are those who say that simply relying on how well a student does in the “three Rs” is too narrow an interpretation of the idea of “education.” That all that other stuff matters too.  It is just harder to measure.

The dilemma in measuring education is that you end up having to measure people.  And that’s not easy.

Unlike cooking, construction, and accounting, measuring things that are inherently human are, as we see, controversial. Why?  Because while measures of human characteristics can suggest things – they can be indicators – they always fall short of what it really means to be a human being. Things you can measure are part, but only part, of the human recipe.

People are more than numbers.  But, that doesn’t mean that numbers don’t mean anything.

We often associate poverty with unhappiness. But, I know poor people who are exceedingly happy.

We often associate illness with misery. But, I know ill people who are joyous and upbeat.

We often associate illiteracy with being stupid. But, I know of people who aren’t very articulate or book smart and are quite wise.

None of this means that things like poverty, illness, and illiteracy – all things you can measure -don’t matter. They do. They matter a lot, actually. It is just that we’re more than that.

How do you measure faith, hope and love? Because those are the things that make us human.

It is the immeasurable that is the most meaningful.


Photo via flickr


Fam crop

Last weekend I attended the marriage of my sister-in-law.  The wedding brought together a good part of my family.

I looked around and there were all shapes and sizes of Johnsons and Batelaans and Coles and Blumbergs.

They came from Asia, Europe, Africa and America.  There were brown, black and white folk.  Some were affluent, others financially struggling.  There were Christians, Jews, and atheists along with a healthy group of people who are still figuring that one out.  Some were outgoing and talkative.  Others shy and laconic.  Young.  Old.  All shapes and sizes.

It was an amazingly disparate group.  But at the same time one of the most united I’ve seen.

And yes.  The uniting force is love.

And it is not just children who love their parents and parents who love their children (which seems to be increasingly rare).  But it is love that goes beyond beliefs and lifestyles and personalities.  A love that goes beyond any expectations of benefits.  Love beyond obligation.

Just … love.

I believe that is the world God wanted when He created it.

And I smile because God’s blessed me with a tiny but delicious morsel of just that with my family.



RIP:  FitBit

I gave up.

My Fitbit band sits on my disheveled desk face down in the havoc that is my basement.  It is there with its plastic arms pointed emptily toward the sky like a dead bug one would find in a room corner.

Rest in peace.

My wrists are now bracelet free.  No more “tap, tap” to check on my status.  No more checking on my iPhone app for my daily step count.  No more waking up by wrist vibration.  (That last one was actually pretty cool.)

And I feel better for it.

I don’t know if FitBit will make it.  A lot of people like it and have fun with it.  But it didn’t work for me.

First, it told me things I already knew.  I would sit and pull up my FitBit data.  “You walked / ran a lot steps today!” it would report.  “Yup, knew that,” I thought.  Another day another check with the app.  “You didn’t do squat today,” it scolded.  “Yup, knew that,” I thought again.

I’m a pretty active guy.  I run, work out, stay pretty active.  I also am a modest work-a-holic.  I travel a lot.  I am forgetful but good with short-term memory.  I typically can recall what I did each day.  That is, I’m quite aware of how active I am.  At least I think I am.  FitBit wasn’t telling me anything that I couldn’t figure out with a few seconds of focused thought.

Second, FitBit didn’t give me any particularly insightful analysis as to why I was sedentary one day and hyper-active another.  Perhaps I was expecting too much.  But it would have been great if there was something there that said, “you know, every time you miss your morning run then you’ve a 50% chance of being a couch potato all day.”  Or something like that.   But again, that would be information that I could figure out without strapping an electrode to my wrist.  Fact is I already know that if I don’t do my morning run there’s a 50/50 chance there won’t be any workout in the afternoon.

Finally, I came to the realization that the wristband was more a lifestyle and fashion statement than health device.  At least for me.  I wore it because I thought it was a cool thing to do.  I guess it is.  But I also found it to be a pain in the ass.

Experts say that wearable technology – particularly wearable fitness technology – is the new, new thing.  I guess so.  They are experts, aren’t they?  But it so far isn’t working for me.  My observation is that these types of things work for those who are either very competitive or very complacent when it comes to fitness.  If you are competitive, you enjoy posting step counts on Facebook pages and challenging those “so you think you’re fit?” friends.  If you are complacent you need something like a string around your finger to get you to remember to do your workout.

I am both but would prefer not to have a machine constantly remind me.


When I first saw this I was with my wife and our friend Denise was over at our house.  When the commercial ended, Denise said bluntly “What was that?!?”

When I saw it again I had the same reaction.  And I guess a lot of others have as well.  GM executives have had to go to great lengths to defend it.  GM’s advertising director Craig Bierley says that the piece has been “misperceived.”  I don’t think so.

Why the uproar?

Well let me tell what does not upset me.

I’m not upset about the ad’s American exceptionalism and the dig on the “other countries” that take long vacations or enjoy cafes.  That’s been around for a long time.  My wife was European (now American).  We’re used to the jabs back and forth.

I’m not upset about the ad’s continued promotion of the American “myth” that if you work hard, play by the rules and gut it out everything will be ok … that you’ll end up with a beautiful spouse, adoring children and a house with a pool in Malibu.  The actor even says definitively “it’s that simple.”  Of course it isn’t simple.  More importantly it isn’t true.  For every Horatio Alger success story that you give me I can personally introduce you to one or two people who have done all of what they have (and more!) and are poor, struggling, and need help.  But again, I’m used to that.

And I’m not upset about the ad’s blatant consumerism.  In her searing piece in the Huffington Post, Carolyn Gregoire writes:

The opening shot shows a middle-aged man, played by the actor Neal McDonough, looking out over his backyard pool, asking the question: “Why do we work so hard? For this? For stuff?”  As the ad continues, it becomes clear that the answer to this rhetorical question is actually a big fat YES.

But consumerism and advertising have long been married.  So nothing new there.

No, what upsets me about the ad is the attitude it embraces and, indeed, celebrates which can best be summed up by one word:  Smug.

Smug.  According to one definition, excessive pride in oneself or one’s achievements.

More than capitalism, consumerism, and exceptionalism, this is what this ad celebrates.

A celebration of being “smug.”

My good friend Bob Deutsch, a well-known thought leader in human behavior and advertising – once told me once that good advertising has three qualities.  People see themselves in it; people are affirmed by it; and people are empowered by it.  If that is what is happening with the Cadillac ad, then I agree with Ms. Gregoire that in describing the American dream this ad portrays the American nightmare.

Even the great industrialists – the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Carnegies – had a sense of charity.  And one of the icons mentioned in the ad – Bill Gates – has now turned his attention exclusively to matters of philanthropy.  Charity and capitalism used to go hand in glove.

But this ad from the nation’s largest auto maker and one of America’s most icon brands, ignores that to celebrate the opinionated, the abrasive, the dismissive, the derisive.  You almost are waiting for the guy to say “And if others don’t like it … f— ‘em!”

That’s not the America I know nor the America I want.

The urban dictionary describes smug as being “happy with ones self when others are not”.  It is no coincidence that pride was labeled by Dante’s as the most damning of sins.  “Smug” is not only absent humility, it is disdainful of others.  It goes beyond a lacking of compassion and empathy.  It borders on the sociopathic.

That’s not something I’d want my brand to be about.



proper apologies

Something is happening to apologies.  I don’t find them as much as I used to.

A report will be late.  Something won’t get done.  Or it will get done incorrectly.  Someone says something harmful.  Or takes an inappropriate action.  And more often than not when I raise this with a person what I’ll get is a blank stare and an “OK.”  Maybe a question to the effect of “So what do you want me to do?”

Nothing wrong with a blank stare.  Nothing wrong with asking what I’d like them to do about it.

But no apology.

Am I asking too much?  I’m not asking anyone to grovel.  No need to tear your clothing and douse yourself in ashes.  Just makes me feel a bit better and give me a sense that you understand that you messed up.  Just so I know that you know.

So why are apologies disappearing?  I’ve got some theories.

First, they increasingly aren’t received well.  Apologies used to be viewed as the path toward forgiveness.  And forgiveness was the path back to wholeness and community.  Today, apologies are viewed less as the first step toward reconciliation and more as weakness.  That is, nowadays people often use someone’s genuine confession as a club to whack them upside the head.

All quite sad, really. I remember a rather infamous event at a business meeting when I apologized to a client for running late on a small and somewhat inconsequential element of a project, promising that we’d do double duty to catch up.  What I saw as a small acknowledgement sparked a client explosion.  He harangued me with a series of screams along the lines of “how can you …?” “how could you …?” “explain to me why …?”  “I demand an answer …!”  If that client was the only measure, I’d likely never apologize again.  The broader point is this: if apologies are disappearing perhaps it is because society isn’t embracing the apology as it ought.

Second, the apologies we do see are pathetic.  What apologies am I talking about?  Lance Armstrong.  Tiger Woods.  Paula Dean.  Anthony Wiener.  Need I say more?  Not exactly role models, eh?  If those were the only examples I had of a person apologizing, then I would never apologize either!

Finally, there may be a link between the decline in apologies and that of religion.  Let me explain.  A generation ago in the United States, religion was mainstream.  And as most of that was Judeo-Christian religion, there was a very common practice that most people learned through their weekly trip to the synagogue or church:  asking for forgiveness.  It was an apology of sorts.  It was a weekly recognition that you messed up.  In the Anglican tradition it was framed as messing up in “thought, word, and deed.”  And you asked God for forgiveness.  Then things are better.  You do that throughout your growing up and it becomes a habit.  A lot of young people today don’t benefit from that practice.

Whatever the reason, I’d ask that we bring back authentic apologies.  Let’s celebrate them, embrace them, reward them.

And if you think I’m way off.  If I have offended you, your faith, or your generation in any way.

I apologize.

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


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?”


alarm clock ccLast Saturday I went to a memorial service for a young man named “Jack.”  He was 20 years old.  A beautiful young man who  I knew from church youth group.  He was quiet and soft-spoken (at least around me) but had the most wonderful smile; it was a caring, loving grin that covered not only his face but seemed to consume his entire being.  His eyes suggested he was seeing something wonderful and amazing every minute.  A beautiful young man.

At his memorial service the opening scripture was from Ecclesiastes.  It was a passage that most of us would recognize.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, …; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. 

Here was a young man who left us after only twenty years.  His time was so woefully short.

Time is one of the most valuable and irreplaceable things we possess. We can’t buy it.  We can’t build it.  We can’t borrow it. Yet it is one of the things we squander most readily.  We waste time.  We spend it doing silly things, stupid things, harmful things, but most of all we spend our time doing meaningless things.

We hoard our money.  We invest in and insure our stuff.  We cradle and caress our prized possessions.  But so often we squander our time.

I am not one to look back and I am not one to live with regrets, but if I had one regret (actually, I have many) it would be to reallocate the time I have spent over the last 57 years.

I haven’t been the best steward of my time.  Writer Malcolm Muggeridge entitled his autobiography “Chronicles of Wasted Time.”  That could certainly be the title to my autobiography, perhaps many others as well.

My children are growing older and are moving on with their careers and families.  And I (often painfully) realize that I won’t be able to get to do those days over when they were home.

With every day, I realize that the most precious gift I can give my children is my time.  Moreover, with every day I realize that the most precious gift my children can give me is their time.

Time forces choice.

While in Thailand, I was talking to my daughter, who is 24, and she spoke to me of all the things she wanted to do in her life.  Marriage, travel, teach, learn languages, raise a family, join the Peace Corps.

How am I going to do all these things, Daddy? she asked.  I told her what my Dad told me:  You can do anything you want.  You just can’t do everything you want.  There’s not enough time.

The Bible tells us that God blessed one day of the week, the Sabbath, and made it holy. That is, He tells us that time is holy.  Those precious hours, when I set aside my work and busyness to focus on my relationships with God and my family—this is God’s most precious gift.

Let’s not waste it.



Today is Thanksgiving.  Ok, today is the day after Thanksgiving but I wrote this yesterday and didn’t post it because I was enjoying my Thanksgiving with my wonderful family.  And that brought to mind this:  the older I get, the more I am convinced that one can never have enough thankfulness.  Gratitude is always in short supply.

This is too bad because I’ve found that …

Gratitude is the necessary first step to joy.  True joy comes after you are able to say “I’m so lucky to …” or “I’m so happy that …”.  I cannot imagine being joyful without first being gracious and thankful.

Gratitude takes you outside of “self”.  It is good to be kind and compassionate.  It is great to be able to appreciate and be thankful for the kindness and compassion of others.  Thankfulness fuels both humility and love.

Gratitude enables you to appreciate everything.  I am thankful of my many blessings.  But I am (or should be) also thankful of my even more abundant shortcomings.  I learn from both.

So thank you.  Thank you to all those who have been so kind, gracious and generous to me over the years.  Thank you to all of those who have done so to others.  We have all benefitted from your love. Thank you to the uncaring and unkind.  Thank you to the ignorant and abusive.  You have tested and tried us and we benefit from that too.

We can never have enough gratitude.

Hoping everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving.




I read an article today in the New York Times on the budget standoff.  In justifying their position on insisting to attach conditions to a budget, Rep. Stephen King of Iowa said simply, “Because we’re right.”  His colleague, Steve Pearce of New Mexico went further to say, “At times, you must act on principle and not ask what cost, what are the chances of success.”

That phrase, “act on principle and not ask what cost” struck me.

Consequences exist.  Really.  They do.  I think that is where you have to start.  We all like to ignore them.  We pretend they aren’t there.  We forget about Newtonian physics (the old “equal and opposite” action thing).  We pass over the “reap what you sow” evidence.  But once we step out of our delusions, we look around and see, yes, there are consequences to things.

And consequences have, well, consequences.  Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away, nor does it necessarily make you a better person.  I find any one who would say, “I’m going to do what I think is right and I don’t care who gets hurt in the process” to be a potentially dangerous person.

That is what is so disturbing to me about Mr. Pearce’s comments.  It seems that he recognizes consequences but chooses to ignore them.

Now here’s my rule for ignoring consequences:  it should be for a greater good and the downside risks should only involve the person who chooses to ignore the consequence.  Some examples:

  • I’ll protect others even though I may get hurt.
  • I’ll provide for others even though it means suffering for me.
  • I’ll give to others even though it means I won’t be able to spend for myself.

It is the story of the soldier that lays down his life for his country.  It is the story of the philanthropist that gives his or her money away to help others.  And in the case of my faith, it is a God who sacrifices of himself for those whom He loves.

All good reasons to ignore consequences.

But to ignore consequences just because you are “right”?  Ignore consequences that could harm others and not yourself?  Ignore consequences because there are people encouraging you to do so without regard for others?

This isn’t “right”.  It is even beyond “wrong”.  It is an attitude that leads inevitably to very, very bad things.

Mad Men Go (Desperately) Wild


Sometimes you look around and ask yourself, “what the hell were people thinking?”

We at the Juice Bar came across two marketing campaigns that got us “scratching our heads”.  I use the term “scratching our heads” advisedly because, after taking a look at these advertisements, one may think that the brand is wanting us to scratch somewhere else.

Warning.  The following content may contain material unsuitable for anyone with a sense of decorum or taste.

The first campaign was brought to our attention by our friend Greg.  It is a campaign recently launched for the restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday’s.  Have you been to one?  They are a “family” style restaurant indistinguishable from TGIFriday’s and a host of other restaurants.  The ad features the picture of a burger with the center, or meat part, pixilated just as one might see a television channel do when they are showing a video of someone with their private parts exposed.

Their tagline (and I am not making this up!) …

“Fun between the buns!”

That’s right.  Clearly this was meant to be “viral”.  Click on the Twitter button and here’s what they want you to post on your Twitter feed:

I just saw some #FunBetweentheBuns and got $3 off. C’mon, Everyone’s doing it!

Yes you read the above correctly.

Fun between the buns? … C’mon, everyone’s doing it?

Now perhaps we at the Juice Bar have our minds in the gutter (or, toilet).  But I can’t imagine that someone, somewhere, at Ruby Tuesday’s didn’t have the temerity to say to someone, “Do we really want to be known for this?”  “Do we want our brand to be all about ‘fun between buns’?”  “Any chance that some mom or dad might think the ‘bun’ reference is to – well – what they use to sit on when they go to the bathroom?”

This is wrong on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin.  So I won’t.  As one of my colleagues wrote, “makes you want to be a vegetarian!”

The second campaign was forwarded to us by a colleague and also has an anatomical twist.


What are things that are tall and rectangular and sit upright?

Did you say ketchup bottles?  You’re right!!!

Did you say port-o-johns?  You’re right too!!!

So some creative team at Heinz ketchup got the same inspiration and must have said (we hope jokingly) … “let’s do the whole Reese’s Cup thing and do a ketchup bottle port-o-john mash up!”

But it apparently wasn’t a joke.  Alas, the iconic Heinz ketchup bottle became the place that was your best friend after too many beers at the county fair.

Again, I can’t imagine that someone at Heinz somewhere might have asked the question:  “Do we really want our iconic bottle and brand to be remembered as a smelly urinal?”  “Do we want someone to look at a ketchup bottle on a table and say, ‘Hey, I remember relieving myself in something that looked just like that a couple of weeks ago!  Yum!  I’m gonna put some of that on my french fries!’”

Gives a new twist to the line about “anticipation”.

I spoke to my brother who was a former creative director at Saatchi and at Grey.  His interpretation:  desperation.  Sales and the stock price are in the toilet (pun intended).  You’re under the gun.  The CMO is about to get the boot.  The account is about to be put up for review.  These are situations where taste, decorum, and thoughtful advertising are set aside.

Throw deep.