Category Archives: books

QOTD: Geniuses, Creativity and Work Ethic

I’m in the midst of Jeff Tweedy’s autobiography, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back). I like the voyeurism of a good autobiography or biography as much as the next person, but what I really like are books, articles, documentaries, interviews, what-have-you that get into how creative people do their work or their thoughts on what is required to do good work.

Thus far, my favorite quote from the book is:

“The people who seem the most like geniuses are not geniuses. They’re just more comfortable with failing. They try more and they try harder than other people and so they stumble onto more songs. It’s pretty simple. People who don’t pick up a guitar and try every day don’t write a whole lot of great songs. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

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Filed under books, music, quote of the day, Stuff I'm Reading

My McLuhan Memes

(Decided on consonance for the title of this post vs. S**t McLuhan Said.  I applaud my own restraint.)

When I feel a bit worn down by 140-160 characters of digital/new/social media and technology quips, purported wisdom, snarky-ness and links – my own included…

When I feel like there is one outline used by most authors for all books about and/or related to digital/new/social media and technology that tend to extrapolate the 140-160 character form to mean 140-160 pages of quips, purported wisdom, snarky-ness and links – with many illustrative case studies…

When it seems after following a week of posts and memes from Advertising Week I’ve come across a scare number of interesting, stimulating, or new concepts…

I turn to Marshall McLuhan.  Mainly because he was right.  In 1964, he was right about 2012.  Maybe more right about 2012 than most of us trying to figure out the reality of 2012 that he could only prognosticate about.  I don’t think he was completely right, actually have a few bones of contention related to what he said, but, by and large, the dude nailed it.

Which then gives me hope.  It grounds me.  Makes me feel my philosophical basis for my day to day is all good.  That I don’t need a new/social media guru to understand what’s going on around us.  Gives me a critical basis to consider new ways of thinking being proposed in 140-160 characters or pages.

So I’ve curated some of my favorite McLuhan quotes into some memes below.  So when this world is gettin’ you down, you can refer to these and get yourself reinvigorated and back into those bubbling, flowing streams of social-ness with renewed perspective and some damn good zingers to boot.  (FYI, there are quite a few Twitter accounts for McLuhan…including his zombie…)


There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.

Our time is a time for crossing barriers, for erasing old categories, for probing around.

Whoever sharpens our senses tends to be anti-social.


All media are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical.

Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.

Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.

Media, by altering the environment, evoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions.  The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world.


Nothing can be further from the spirit of new technology than “A place for everything and everything in its place”.

Our age of anxiety is, in great part, the result of trying to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools, yesterday’s concepts.

When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavors, of the most recent past.

We look at the present in a rearview mirror.  We march backwards into the future.

In the name of “progress”, our official culture is striving to force the new media to do the work of the old.


The instantaneous world of electric informational media involves all of us, all at once.  No detachment or frame is possible.

Ours is a brand-new world of allatonceness.

At the high speeds of electric communication, purely visual means of apprehending the world are no longer possible; they are just too slow to be relevant or effective.

Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition.  We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience coexist in a state of active interplay.


Electric circuitry is recreating in us the multi-dimensional space orientation of the “primitive”.

We have begun again to structure the primordial feeling, the tribal emotions from which a few centuries of literacy divorced us.

Under conditions of electric circuitry, all the fragmented job patterns tend to blend once more into involving and demanding roles or forms of work that more and more resemble teaching, learning, and “human” service.

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Filed under books, communication platforms, future of media, McLuhan

Exporting US Culture

I’ve been wondering quite a bit lately just how flat the world is in light of the re-enactment of Cold War-ishness seen by Putin and the Bush Administration (whatever happened to lame duck presidents just playing out the string and Eastern European countries realizing the shiny, happy ways of capitalism). Seeing reports the past couple of days that the European economic situation is very much akin to ours confirms the inter-connectedness of certain global markets. But is that really a good thing or that new of an insight for that matter?

Regardless, US culture has always been a huge export that has allowed us influence the world over. So seeing that 20th Century Fox is picking up where Sony did by developing a joint venture w/ Bollywood and looking to see how that may expand into China makes me feel somewhat more secure in our flatness.

Of course, I’m in the middle of a book claiming that the consumption of US pop culture is making all people under 30 stupid.

So, I guess whether you interpret exporting our culture as a sign of our influence or as our subversive way of making the rest of the world stupider than us so we can maintain our standing in the world is irrelevant. It’s flat nonetheless and we continue to find our place in it.

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Filed under books, entertainment industry, pop culture

On Calculators, Spreadsheets & New Media

So I really, really liked Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (did I mention that if you’re reading this you should read the book already at some point? Yeah, I did). Anyway, I haven’t annotated a business book this much since The Long Tail.

In the Epilogue, Shirky tells a story about when he was in junior high and the powers that be were lamenting the increased use of calculators in schools, decrying it as laziness and bemoaning the inability of future generations to effectively do long division by hand, fretting over what would happen when the calculator fad was over. Shirky points out that he and his peers had already internalized and assimilated the benefits of this new tool, taking the obvious shift in doing math via calculator not as a fad but a change that was here to stay.

When I was starting my career in an agency media department, I recall the stories from my supervisors of doing media flowcharts by hand with slide rules and rulers. I still recall how when I got my first batch of office supplies, my supervisor told me to get my name on my ruler quickly because people had no qualms claiming them. As I was still trying to figure out why I really needed a ruler, I turned back to laying out flowcharts in Lotus 123 (kids, that’s a spreadsheet program not made by Microsoft, not sure if it’s still around).

I also recall my supervisors crunching large amounts of numbers on a calculator/adding machine (i.e. a calculator that had those roles of paper hanging out the back), then ripping the sliver of paper off to use as reference in a meeting. That same supervisor that told me to write my name on my ruler quickly also told me to do the same on the bottom of my calculator and to make sure I always had a calculator w/ me in every meeting. I nodded my head then went back to developing formulas and various other calculations in my spreadsheets so I wouldn’t have to rely on making sure I held onto little slivers of papers or develop formulas while rifling through data from disperse sources on a calculator in front of demanding clients and crabby bosses.

The point? To paraphrase Shirky, it’s not that I (or those starting their careers at roughly the same time I did) knew more useful things – we knew fewer useless things. We came of age professionally (the early to mid-90s) when the tools now taken for granted – tools that have been vastly approved upon – were in the process of overtaking the way things had been done for decades previously.

Another little fad started taking off as I was starting my career – these things called “banners” were starting to be sold on this thing called “the Internet”. So, if you’ve ever wondered why it’s taking so long for “new”, digital media to catch up with “traditional” media in terms of importance even though time spent with “new”, digital media is growing while pretty much every other media is decreasing in time spent, remember this thing called “the Internet” was coming of age as a medium when a generation of media people were still reliant on rulers and calculators to do their work.

Now nearly 15 years on, those of us who understood the inherent power of digital tools in more effectively and efficiently doing our work and saw the initial promise of are coming to points in our careers where the Young Folks coming to work for us don’t know what it’s like to not have a computer connected to the Internet within easy reach. And they’re taking for granted the tools available to them.

So, as I told my former colleague in response to not the first rant of his I’ve heard on this subject matter, I like to recall Gandhi’s quote: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Feels like on most fronts, truces are being negotiated.

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Filed under books, future of media, the career

Read This Book

Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky you must read. If you claim to be in marketing, advertising, media or just have a general interest in understanding how technology empowers people to connect and what it means for society – good and bad – in general you must read this book.

If you’ve ever been concerned about the phenomenon of echo chambers (couple more books in here that I’ll be reading right after this one to get different perspective – i.e. step out of the echo chamber – on roughly the same topic) and their effect on the work you’re involved with (that’s me), you must read this book. Late in the book, in a section called “It’s Not How Many People You Know, It’s How Many Kinds”, the following appears in relation to a company going through a transition in management and re-org:

“…a dense social network of people in the same department (and who were therefore likely to be personally connected to one another) seemed to create an echo chamber effect…new managers rejected ideas drawn from this pool with disproportionate frequency, often on the grounds that the ideas were too involved in the minutiae of that particular department and provided no strategic advantage…”

Again, back to the section title, it’s not how many you know, it’s how many kinds…

If you’re looking for a professional life-changing experience you should read this book. It did mine. I will say that I thought the first few chapters were slow and re-hashing things I already know or believe, but with Chapter 4 and onward, Shirky has really challenged my thinking.

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Filed under books, communication platforms, future of media, the career

The Post-American World is Flat

“What’s critical now is not how a company compares with its own past (are we doing better than we were before?), but how it compares with the present elsewhere (how are we doing relative to others?). The comparison is no longer along a vertical dimension of time but along a horizontal one of space.”

– Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World

Zakaria, Newsweek International editor, somehow does a better job of crystalizing in 259 pages the overly complex, sprawling, meandering ideas that Thomas Friedman outlined in The World is Flat (the book definitely did not hold true to the concept of flatness).

Let me see if I can capture it in 2 paragraphs…

We are living in a world where intermingled markets are driving the “rise of the rest”, especially China and India. We have considered them as competitors, but in a 3rd world, 2nd class sort of way since they just hadn’t mastered the strategies and tactics of our game. But their gumption, shifting strategies and standing within the new marketplace and current economic situation makes them very serious competitors now.

So how the US competed and defined the game before does not hold. We have to reconsider the game and our goals in a reconsidered game – how, where and with whom we are competing and what success looks like now and how it needs to evolve.

I actually bought it with the intention of better framing my thoughts about the coming presidential election, which it has helped do. But having encountered the quote at the start of this post towards the end of the book, and some posts I’ve read from the various landed gentry of the marketing blogosphere of late, it became very timely from a business standpoint. Interesting.

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Filed under books, competition, election 08

Quote(s) of the Day – Fact vs. Gut

Have been thinking quite a bit lately about the ever increasing analytics involved with marketing. The following quotes are from Merlin Donald, a psychologist who writes extensively (A Mind So Rare, Origins of the Modern Mind) on how human consciousness and the mind develops its powers, then changes and evolves.

Yeah, just a little light reading, but I hope you find the quotes as thought-provoking as I did when considering fact-based decision making vs. gut-based decision making – and the subsequent proof needed in supporting whether something accomplished it’s objective.

“The first step in any new era of theory development is always anti mythic. Things and events must be stripped of their mythic significances before they can be subjected to…objective theoretic analysis. In fact, the meaning of ‘objectivity’ is precisely this: a process of demythilogization.”

“The switch from a predominantly narrative mode of thought to a predominantly analytic or theoretic mode apparently requires a wrenching cultural transformation.”

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Filed under books, measurement