Saturday, March 29, 2008

Improve Your Message--Say It Badly

Copywriter extraordinaire Jim Logan recently posted the following advice:

Every time you find yourself presenting, speaking, writing, or otherwise communicating with someone and you find yourself saying something like “What I mean by that is…” – stop yourself. Whatever you say afterward is exactly what you should have said in the first place.

The reason this works is that your preface acts as a psychological crutch--because you've already lowered the audience's expectation of eloquence, you're free to say what you mean without feeling the pressure to say it well (which, ironically enough, generally causes people to say things badly).

I even institutionalized this at Symphoniq. Whenever people were struggling to express a complex thought, I asked them to "say it badly" first. Then I'd write down what they said and read it back to them.

More often than not, "saying it badly" resulted in a much better message than any of their previous efforts.

Try this technique for yourself, and let me know how well it works for you!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Swedish, Danish Women Launch Topless Protests To Fight For The Right To Bare Breasts

After my recent post on the promiscuity of the women of New Zealand, one friend and loyal blog reader (whose name shall be withheld to protect his reputation) commented, "Guess I know where to book *my* next vacation."

He might also want to arrange stopovers in Sundsvall and Copenhagen. There, valiant Scandinavian women have used the power of bare-breasted protests to win the right to swim topless in public pools.

The actual news articles are in Danish and Swedish, but I'm guessing that most of you are less concerned with the text, and more with wondering whether or not they run pictures (yes, they do.)

As ardent supporters of freedom, Adventures in Capitalism readers should applaud their dedication and creative tactics.

The Foolproof 5-Step Way To Answer Tough Questions

I was having lunch yesterday with some friends, when the subject turned to questions and answers. My friend had attended a conference panel, and complained that the panelists all failed to adequately answer her question.

(In defense of those panelists, the question was a difficult one without a clear right answer.)

I proceeded to answer the question, much to her satisfaction, and she asked me afterwards,
"How do you give good answers to tough questions?" I thought you marketers out there might be interested in my response.

1) Make sure you understand the question. When someone asks me a question, I listen carefully, both to the words, and to the unspoken assumptions. Two people might ask the exact same question in exactly the same words, but my answers to them would differ depending on tone, body language, and my history with that person.

2) Start your thinking broad, and narrow it down. As I listen to questions, my brain is constantly jumping ahead, thinking about the various possible paths the question (and my answer) might take. It's a bit like watching a search box autocomplete, gradually narrowing down potential answers as I type. That way, rather than searching for a single right answer and not knowing where to start, I simply winnow my down to the truth.

3) Always directly answer the question, even if the answer is "I don't know" or "I can't tell you that." I always give a direct response. Unless you're really slick, it's unlikely the questioner will forget what they actually asked, and your attempts at evasion will simply madden them and reduce their estimation of you.

4) Make your answer interactive. Just as I'm constantly making mental adjustments as I listen to the question, it's wise to follow the same approach when answering. Give one part of your answer, and check for agreement. There's no sense in erecting a massive rhetorical edifice if the listener disagrees with your basic assumptions.

5) Check afterwards to see if the questioner feels satisfied. You're answering the question, so you don't have to stop until you feel like it. Don't let the desire to finish override the real goal, which is to convey understanding. If it takes a little more time, better a longer response than an unconvincing one.

We also discussed my on-again off-again project to create the "AskTheHarvardMBA.com" web site where folks could ask for my advice. What do you guys think of that?

"There is actually no such thing as atheism" (David Foster Wallace's commencement speech)

Ben points to this wonderfully trenchant commencement speech from author David Foster Wallace. It's probably the most honest and least sentimental commencement speech I remember reading. I only wish I could write like this.

In the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clich├ęs, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.

They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.

What do you worship?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Reasons Why Blogger Sucks

Hey Google guys, I hope you're listening, because this product sucks. If anything, it seems to be less reliable than when it was being run by Ev on a couple of leftover servers.

1) Your image insertion stinks. Every time I insert an image, it goes to the top of the post, and messes up the spacing on the rest of the post.

2) Whenever I correct the spacing, if I have to re-submit for publishing, it gets messed up again.

3) Your CAPTCHA never works the first time. Literally. It never does. See, just happened again.

Seriously guys, are you even trying?

Fake Steve Jobs Makes Global Warming Activism His Bitch



This is literally the funniest and most insightful post I've read in months.

I actually believe that there is a pretty good chance that releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere is likely to raise global temperatures, but I am also very skeptical of the catastrophist viewpoint (AKA ManBearPig).

That's why I loved this Fake Steve post--it's insightful and punctures hypocrisy in equal measure. South Park would be proud. Here are some of the tidbits:

"Imagine that instead of global warming what we were facing was a giant asteroid the size of the moon hurtling straight for our planet, expected to make impact in, oh, about ten years. In other words, if you really believe that global warming is about to destroy the planet, why haven't you quit your job and moved to the top of a mountain somewhere to escape the rising ocean levels? Why aren't you stockpiling food? Why aren't you going door to door, telling everyone to run for their lives? Why aren't you doing something? (And no, building a $100,000 electric roadster doesn't count as doing something.)"

"Honestly, no matter where you are, if Branson gets on board you know there's something profoundly wrong with the project. It's the business equivalent of finding out that some movie has Donald Sutherland in it."

"Every VC in the Valley has a hard-on for greentech because it's the first market they've ever seen where they can mitigate their risk by laying it off onto governments (ie taxpayers). The trick is to spread lots of hype and put pressure on governments (hence Kleiner hires Al Gore) so that governments will provide subsidies to keep these venture-funded startups alive until they can be flogged off onto the public markets. They'll sell these stocks to dentists and they'll use the same pitch that Toyota uses on the Prius -- sure it's overpriced, but think how good you'll feel"

"The great thing about this approach is not simply that it will let obscenely rich scammers get even more obscenely rich off the backs of taxpayers and suckers in the public markets, but that it also will enable these rich assholes to feel really good about themselves while they're doing it. They can run around feeling sanctimonious about doing something meaningful with their lives. They also can feel a little less weird and guilty about having so much money.

Because believe me, almost everyone who has more than a billion dollars feels really weird and guilty about the money. (Larry Ellison and I are rare exceptions.) Rich dudes always need some kind of weird hobby (ballooning; mountain-climbing; building $100,000 electric sports cars; going into outer space with the Russians) and some kind of meaningful cause. If that cause gets you lots of good press and also involves flying your jet to exotic islands and partying with hired dancing girls in bikinis, so much the better."