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July 7, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week: Un-Unforgettable

Who r u

I attended a cultural event over the weekend, and following the evening's performance, I gathered with the rest of the crowd in the lobby of a theatre for a drink and some socializing.

Now I’m not great in these circumstances in general, but considering what happened there in specific, I was terrible.

Never again, though!

Here’s the story:

Trying to make my way through the crush of humanity, I was stopped by a somewhat familiar stranger about my age.  He looked at me and exclaimed:

“Well, well…if it isn’t Andy Nulman of Sir Winston Churchill High School!  You look great!”

Not a bad start, a small compliment.  But it proved to be just a softening set-up for the H-bomb he was about to drop:

“Do you recognize...me?”

While I may have a great sense of recall for events and actions, I am far less gifted in face/name recollection.  It’s something I try hard to improve, but it’s a weak point in my real-life social networking.

So…visibly uncomfortable, shifting side to side and stammering, and because I didn’t want to come across as a pretentious ass, I finally sputtered in as humble tone as I could muster:

“I am so, so, so, sorry but I don’t recall.  I’m really not good at this; I think I may even have a real problem.  Please excuse me.  You are...?”

Proper social grace and decency at this juncture is to extend a hand, smile and reveal one’s secret identity.  But no such luck on this night.   Rather than help a brother off a very big hook, my tormentor responded with a wide grin:

“I can’t believe you don’t know who I am!”

Slight pause, then…

“I think I’ll let you squirm for a while.”

I came to the theatre for a show; I didn’t sign up for a memory test, yet here was one being administered without anesthesia or lube. For some reason, I stood there paralyzed for what seemed to be hours of discomfort before he finally relented and graced my ears and memory banks with the sound of his most precious name (which I will not reveal to graciously protect the guilty).

The result of this unlocking was, shall we say, somewhat less than finding a buried treasure chest filled with gold. 

Yes, we indeed did go to school together at ol’ SWCHS.  But he was a couple of grades younger than me, and never a really close friend.  At most, I remember him as a nice guy in the halls, an acquaintance you would exchange niceties with at the mall or a party. 

And here he was again,

decades later, a grinning

timeline terrorist

holding me hostage by

dangling disconnected

brain synapses

in front of me.

After a minute or so of awkward exchange, I mercifully pulled myself away…and vowed that this was the LAST time I would ever be put in such an uncomfortable situation.

I’m sure that at one point in your life—or many, like me—you’ve shared my pain by being put in situations similar to this one, where the happy innocent becomes the uneasy victim.  And what I learned this week is the Express Pass/Golden Ticket out of them. 

So…the next time someone makes ME feel this ill at ease at the name-me game, my two-pronged sledgehammer attack will start with this body blow:

“I’m sorry…

I don’t know who you are. 

I guess you weren’t really

all that memorable.”

And when that someone breaks—and trust me, they will, almost immediately—and spits out his or her name, I will take a deep breath, twist my face quizzically, and reply with this knockout punch, one word delivered in many syllables:

Who-oo-oo-oo???”

Believe me, after this, I will never ever be uncomfortable again.

Nor, for that matter, forgotten!

June 30, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week: Screw the "Other People"

Gallop-in-Germnay

I was having breakfast with a successful TV producer friend of mine, and we were discussing the determining factors of success and failure in business.  Not just “our” business of show, but business in general.

The primary success factor was blatantly obvious: people.  Call them what you will, but without an audience, a crowd, raving fans, customers, clients, subscribers, spectators, viewers, followers…you’re sunk.

The real surprise was the revelation of the primary failure factor…also people, but more specifically, “other people.”

The best way to explain this is via a quote from a woman I admire immensely, Cindy Gallop.  Cindy is not just a gutsy entrepreneur, a genius-level thinker and a magnificent speaker, but also a human magnet.  Her outlandish appearance (that's her, somewhat tame, atop this post) is an immediate visual focal point, and the way in which she speaks makes just about everything she says instantaneously memorable.

I’ve seen her speak a few times, and the last time around, at C2MTL, she so eloquently summed up what my friend and I were talking about.  To wit:

“You will never

own the future

if you care what

other people think.”

This may sound basic, but sometimes, the best lessons are. 

Because of “other people,” so many ideas are never brought to fruition, which prevents them from ever at all being brought to the people that really count.

Other people” are often the airbrakes on the bullet train of progress.  They are the reason why world-changing projects are stillborn, why budding sages stay silent, why potential superstars remain seated on the sidelines, why companies stay the course of the status quo, why so many of us shut up in meetings.

Rather than do what’s right, do what we want, speak our mind or find another way to bask in our freedom, dreading what “other people” may say or do (or even worse, think, because then it remains a mystery) lays down a layer of inertia and drives the ultimate fear of actually carrying out something we might regret later.

I love Cindy’s quote for so many reasons, but mainly because it embodies her spirit of going for broke by over-arching and striving to “own the future.”  She’s not just saying that if you care what other people think you “won’t succeed” or you “won’t be happy”; she’s saying that despite your reticence, you may still enjoy a modicum of achievement…but you’ll never reach the summit.

Put another way...

The only way

to attract people

in the end

is to ignore them

in the beginning.

It takes a certain type of person to disregard the “other people.”  Like Cindy, you have to be a bit outspoken, a bit outrageous, a bit outlandish and a lot “out there.” 

But every major advancement—EVERY one—from life-saving medical breakthroughs to the creation of the device you are reading this on, has been launched by someone who, when push came to shove, didn’t give a rat’s ass about what “other people” had to think. 

Don’t believe me?  Don’t agree?

Well guess what?

I don’t care ;)

June 23, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week: Comparing Apples and…Pears

Pears!

One great thing about striving to learn at least one something every week is that one never knows where the next nugget of inspiration will come from. 

For me, this week’s was found at the bottom of a box that contained my weekly P&A grocery order.  Underneath the mounds of fresh vegetables, boxes of Quaker Oat Squares, bag of Spanish peanuts and cartons of Tropicana grapefruit juice was a padded liner (you can see it above) on which the following tidbit was printed:

Apple and Pear Merchandising:
*75% of apple purchases are planned
*54 % of pear purchases are unplanned

For some reason, I found this fascinating, and wondered why the wide difference in predetermination.  Was it because apples have entered our modern-day lexicon in such a dominant fashion (everything from Apple computers to The Beatles’ Apple Records to the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”)?   Are pears considered more exotic, or an acquired taste, like bourbon or oysters?  Did it have to do with the color and/or shape of the respective fruits and their subsequent appeal to the buying public?

Luckily, there was a call to action link:

“learn more at SUPERFRESHGROWERS.COM

So I went there to do just that.

And was sadly disappointed.

The site is indeed colorful, and if you look hard enough, will hint at why apples may give you more energy than a cup of coffee.  But nowhere does it explain why they are more deliberately purchased than those impulsive pears (even in December, which was National Pear Month…and which shows you just how very deep I dug!).

I had to drill down the Internet a bit more, to a January 2009 research paper from the Washington State University School of Economic Sciences to find out that:

“Fresh pears are one of the most popular fruits consumed in the U.S. Yet, annual per capita consumption is by far lower than bananas, melons, and apples, the top three.

"Indeed, pears are ranked ninth in annual per capita consumption out of a list of 23 fruits listed by the Economic Research Service – USDA (2009).”

NinthNinth!  No surprise they’re purchased on a whim!  And I wonder what the percentage of planned banana buys are?

Now the point here isn’t about apples or pears, or even bananas; it’s about information and learning.  While the two can be intertwined, they are not so automatically. In other words… 

Information does not

equal learning;

it is the raw material,

the catalyst to it.

The relationship between information and learning can be likened to the ingredients of a recipe.  While alone they may be very delicious, only when used in the proper combination and via the optimum process do they culminate into a complete dish that can be considered gourmet.  

I noticed this connection—or lack thereof—at last month’s C2MTL creative conference.  There were some amazingly bright people presenting, and nearly every one of them flooded heads with information.  But the truly successful speakers were those who added relevance to their info with stories, passion, visuals or other “mind hooks” that people could personally relate to.  Those who did turned benign listeners into active learners; an important and profound difference when you’re at a conference. 

Information without relevance

is incomplete; it’s merely

words and/or numbers. 

But to many, and unfortunately, that seems to be enough.  I come across this so very often.  People tell me about a book they read, or a course they took, or a TED talk they watched, and exclaim: “I learned so much!” 

My response is usually: “So tell me, what was the most important lesson for you?” 

Their response is usually: “Uh…”

This can lead me down the rabbit hole of many of my favorite diatribes, most notably my rant against “memorize and regurgitate by rote” education.  But the reason why I think it’s so urgent to distinguish between information and learning, and apply the right degree of enthusiasm and context to the former to convert it into a relatable latter, is because of the coming Big Data boom. 

Well, never mind “coming”; with the proliferation of data flying at us so fast and in so many ways, I suppose it’s already here.  Whether or not it all has “meaning” will depend on the way it is processed…which brings us back to the food analogy.  Will data just be tossed haphazardly into a blender, resulting in an informational smoothie?  Or will it be carefully crafted into memorable significance? 

While I don’t have the answer, at least I hope to have provided some—pardon the pun—food for thought.

In the meantime, I think I’ll head back to the supermarket.

And buy a basket of peaches.

June 16, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week:--What I Would Do If I Were 22 (Again!)

Scan

A few weeks back, Dan Roth, the Executive Editor of LinkedIn, tossed me a challenge for the month of June.  In an email, he wrote:  “We are asking you to help guide the graduating class of 2014—and all young professionals—in a series called ‘If I Were 22.’”

As part of email, Dan tossed off a few pointers on what to focus. The one that appealed most to me was:

What do you know now

that you wish

you'd known then?

 

Thinking back, the age of 22 was an amazingly transformational period for me.  I had just been fired from my beloved job as a rock ‘n’ roll journalist (after throwing wine at a colleague who was soon to be my boss; don’t ask!), and was finally about to graduate McGill University. Since me and my long hair didn’t impress any of the on-campus recruiters enough to get even one measly job offer, I was forced to go it alone as a greener-than-green marketing consultant.

In retrospect, this getting fired was the greatest thing that could’ve ever happened to me, but who knew that—and could convince my panicked parents—back then? (BTW, that’s me at 22 in the photo above, interviewing the late Phil Lynott of the band Thin Lizzy.)

As a parent of two sons who are now in their 20s, I figured I’d take on Dan’s challenge just after Father’s day, as a lot of what I have to say to this year’s grads are things I’ve already shared with my children…and things I wish my own father—or anyone, for that matter—would’ve shared with me. 

Given the profundity that emerges from many of these so-called “advice posts” on the Net, my counsel may appear trite in comparison.  But it comes from both the head and the heart, and it’s 100% street-level authentic.  So without any further ado, to those in the Graduating Class of 2014, or those who wish they were, here are three simple points of retro-wisdom that I wish I’d known then, or as we’ll call it, #IfIWere22:

 

1)    Exercise and Eat Right

When I was 22, I was a sloth.  “Exercise” was walking to the car, or to the turntable to flip the album over to side B.  “Eating right” was choosing the Filet of Fish instead of the Big Mac at McDonald’s, and proudly telling my doctor that I had forsaken Coca-Cola for the healthier choice of Nestea Iced Tea (yes, he rolled his eyes to the point of seeing his own cerebrum).

While I am now far from vegan, I am very conscious of what and how I eat.  And I am exercise-obsessive, not just working out like a grunting fiend, but also evangelizing my tools of choice (TRX and Rip-Trainer) to anyone who will listen, and many who won’t.  These two immutable elements of a healthy lifestyle were unfathomably foreign to me back then.  After years of pushing, pulling, lifting and sweating, I am in pretty great shape now, but man, how I wish I had jumped on this train at 22…or even earlier.  And FYI, this point has NOTHING to do with vanity; being in healthy shape helps you perform better in countless aspects of your life…particularly  business.

  

2)    Understand Finance 

This isn’t about becoming an accountant or economist, but understanding numbers and the ramification they have on all aspects of one’s life. 

Knowing numbers minimizes, if not eliminates, all sorts of problems, be they business, personal or even relationship-oriented (the greatest source of tension between couples are always money issues).  Whether it’s choosing to buy or lease a car, ensuring you put a few dollars into proper investments (like life insurance, even at 22!), or just managing personal budgets, mastering math helps you make better decisions that effect both the now and the tomorrow.

And as a sub-point to #2, if at all possible, buy something of major value early…most notably real estate.  Many moons ago, when I could barely afford it, I bought some farmland.  It was re-zoned residential, and paid off handsomely.  Revenue-generating properties, like apartments or offices, can provide amazing growth potential while giving you a place to live and/or work virtually rent-free.  Yes, managing any investment is work, but it pays better than operating a steam press or delivering newspapers (both jobs which I actually had).

 

3)    Be Interesting

Another two-part answer here.  First part deals with how you feed your head.  It’s never been easier to be well-read, or shall we say “well-informed,” because with the proliferation of digital media, the onslaught of video and the tsunami of mobile, you don’t even have to read anything anymore.  That eliminates the curse of ignorance. And don’t worry about being “an expert”; it’s more important to be curious, to learn a little about a lot.  The more you know, the more you’ll have to offer, and the more who will want to know you.

Which brings us to #3a, how you package your knowledge and opinions.  Don’t be afraid to stand out.  Dare to be different.  Whether it’s what you wear (for me, it’s an overabundance of jewelry), how you cut your hair, how you walk, speak, stand or sit, do it in a way that spawns inquisitiveness.  Be a magnet for others.  Complement your inner smarts with an outer shell that invites connection.  Then hope that those you attract are as interesting as you!

P.S.  As a head start, try impressing someone with the fact that you read this blog post ;)

June 9, 2014, 09:15:00 AM

What I Learned This Week--The Foolproof, Two-Step Secret To Go VIRAL!

Photo-40

It has become the social media question for the ages, one that defines our era:

“How do I make my

YouTube video/Facebook post/

blog post/etc.

go viral?” 

I was asked it twice last week alone; once while speaking at a Content Marketing conference put on by Infopresse (see photo above), the other time in a meeting with the head of one of the savviest electronic toy companies in the world.  At a brainstorm session back in January, a multinational client told me outright that they were looking for “someone to push the viral button.”  It’s the question that won’t die. 

By now, one would think that people would realize that there’s no magic formula.  Virality may be understood as the brass ring of social media success (“misunderstood” actually; keep reading until then end), but a simple cause-and-effect procedure to get one there is as elusive as a cure for the common cold.  

But that brutal reality of no quick fix still doesn’t stop people from searching for it…like they continue to do for Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, winged unicorns and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

So in an effort to satisfy inquiring minds, and to finally bring closure to the topic, I have come up with the foolproof, two-step path to Virality; a guaranteed route to widespread wildfire.  To wit:

To go Viral,

you need to blend

Rebellion and Religion. 

Here’s how it works: 

Rebellion

In a nutshell, this means you have to do and say something different.  VERY different.

To start, let me splash three cold, hard facts on your marketing message: 

  1. Nobody cares.
  2. Nobody give a damn.
  3. You are irrelevant. 

You may harbor the conceit that the world will stop in its tracks, that people will lay down whatever it is they are doing, absolutely ignore the million other marketing messages bombarding them at the exact same time, and do so just to concentrate on what you have to say. 

But you are wrong.  What you say doesn’t matter, and is extraneous info to just about everybody. 

Unless, that is, you do and say something so special, in a way so unique, that it smashes through this Iron Curtain of Complacency and gets people talking. (For example, check out the bomb my cartoonist friend Stephan Pastis dropped on Saturday.) 

And even THEN you’re not in the clear, because mere “talking” is not enough any more.  For something to go viral, it has to be special enough for people to actually interact with, and share with others.  This means that not only must your message be earth-shattering, but be so undeniably special that it makes people feel good about themselves by telling others about it. (I wrote a full, award-winning blog post about that very phenomenon here.) 

That’s the Rebellion part.  Don’t think you can do it?  Then enjoy a Spartan, secluded life in a sterile cocoon.  And consider this—if a brand as established and seemingly mundane as Cheerios can do it—TWICE!—then what’s your excuse?  (Check out what I mean with these two Cheerios masterstrokes: #1 and #2.)

Religion

So, let’s say you’ve cracked the Rebellion code and come up with something so magnificent, angels are chanting your name in choral praise. 

You’re still not there.  Now comes the religion part.  This step is way simpler than the first one:

Just get down on

your knees and pray.

Because no matter how brilliant, how eye-popping, how brain-busting a concept you’ve created, there’s no guarantee it spreads.  That is up to the Gods. 

Who knows why?  You may have released it on the wrong day.  Someone or something else may be dominating the social media attention span at that moment.  There are thousands of other reasons for things NOT to go viral.

So even if you’re the most hardcore atheist, the most shrewd SEO strategist, give yourself up to a higher power, and ask him, her or them for a little help.

Then wait and see…

Finally! 

After all that, here’s the bad news.

Let’s just say you manage to score big and infect the Internet. 

So what?  Getting Viral doesn’t keep you Viral.  You may reach a stratospheric high, but you’re not setting a new baseline with it.  It’s like a trip into space on one of those zero-gravity aircraft; enjoy the brief feeling of floaty euphoria, but you’re coming back down to earth before you know it.  (Best case scenario is picking up, and keeping, a nice amount of new followers/customers while up there.) 

As the social media

brass ring, Virality is rusty. 

It’s the wrong goal.

Rather than shooting for the quick up-and-down of Virality, aim instead for a positively-inclining line of consistent growth and increased interaction with your followers/customers.

That’s where the REAL win, and the true answer to the question, lies.