Category Archives: 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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The Kids are Alright / Young Folks

For those alright kids oblivious to a reference to The Who, the post-slash title is hopefully a more friendly 21st century reference to Peter, Bjorn & John w/ which you can relate.

Not sure how I missed this (thanks freak for catching me up), but back in April, many people w/ “C” in their title leaned from their ivory towers of the revered advertising and media world, people who control a very large chunk of global ad spend, are playing Dr. Phil to each other, saying “Get over it”. (The fact that within the article there was a reference to Cher slapping Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck – a movie that premiered 21 years ago – perhaps sets up nicely what’s about to be said with regards to Young Folks.) This digitization of media thing ain’t going away and if you want to continue in this here industry you need to figure it out. And that starts w/ the aforementioned Young Folks.

This quote from Lee Clow, Chairman & Chief Creative at TBWA/Chiat/Day (or whatever they’re called these days – need a Young Folks memory abilities to keep the industry straight):

“If you want to participate, you’ve got to start hiring young people, and don’t tell them what to do — ask them what to do.”

Click the link and check his picture – this dude is what Young Folks would call “old”. He probably remembers the “secret” acronym for the shoe company on his t-shirt…

Some lyrics from Young Folks for you to ponder when you think about recruiting Young Folks into this industry – let’s assume the narrator is the ad/media industry:

if i told you things i did before
told you how i used to be
would you go along with someone like me
if you knew my story word for word
had all of my history
would you go along with someone like me

Hmm, let’s see, an industry that’s shifting at a grinding pace towards media spaces where Young Folks spend the preponderance of their time, always have and – more importantly – always will. Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t tell them our story word for word, and we should listen a bit more closely.

They ain’t like we Gen X’ers (apologies to any Boomers reading this but I just made you younger and much more indifferent and cool) who had to adapt to this neat-o digital stuff – they were born into it. ‘Member how we thought it was really cool when we got a VCR in the house? Atari or Activision? Those ultra cool, ultra small, ultra mobile Walkmen – and the technological wonder of the Discman? Mobile phones that had their own special bag and made you look like an Army officer on some sort of mission?

Yeah, very few of these kids have known life without a computer in the house, are somewhat averse to the concept of a physical container for their music that isn’t made by Apple, and have slightly different expectations of what a “mobile phone” is and what it can do for them (hint: primarily not being used for placing calls).

Oh, and know how there’s this whole thing going on about the power of tweens, teens and young adults influence over their parents – i.e. Gen X’ers and Boomers? Guess where they’re needing to spend more of their media time to connect w/ the Young Folks? It’s interesting to take a look at the demographic shift of Facebook and MySpace if you haven’t…

Back to the central thought which is the need for ad/media pros to get over it (dammit, I hate how that keeps coming up) and let the kids take the wheel a bit more. From The Who’s The Kids are Alright:

I know if I go things would be a lot better for her
I had things planned, but her folks wouldn’t let her

I really don’t want to be the folks who wouldn’t let her. Check it – get The Kids are Alright ringtone here. Maybe you Young Folks do get it!

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Perception = Reality

I have always been a believer in the concept of perception is reality. Perhaps it comes from a career in advertising where one is either told directly that is the case, or it becomes obvious that manipulating perceptions successfully is the end game.

I’ve come to another conclusion as to why the algebra behind Perception = Reality remains relevant, perhaps why it’s stronger than ever – people as producers or editors.

The speed and reach of the telephone game in a digital age can call attention to a single person’s perception that is easily and quickly picked up by a blogger who not only posts that person’s perception but also sees a story inside a story and adds their perception which starts a separate string off of the original story which gets linked to based on that blogger’s network and perhaps a few more stories within stories generated based on those folks perceptions are begun which can then be picked up by a more traditional media outlet with a more traditional definition of “reach” and “critical mass” and perhaps in a week, perhaps in a day there’s a good amount of people reached and people talking in a number of different industries about a number of different topics and it all began with one person’s perception. Welcome to your reality.

If you believe that your brand is in the hands of your customers, then you believe that their perception is going to create your reality. Even if you still feel like you and only you truly own your brand, why would you be investing in advertising? Aren’t you trying to define perceptions that will lead to a reality of increased business?

The thing is there is a critical mass of people who aren’t passively accepting your ownership of your brand anymore. They aren’t internalizing your messages. They’re talking about them – about your brand – deciding your reality based on their shared perceptions.

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Echo Chambers

One of the largest critiques against most forms of conversational – blogs, social networks, twitter, etc. – media is it leads to people being stuck in echo chambers that continually reverberate and reinforce strong opinions shared by a like-minded group. I find this a cop out on a couple different levels.

I could spew forth an extended list of media properties that explicitly or implicitly lean towards the left or right, but let’s just use the most obvious comparison in the “traditional” media space – Fox News vs. CNN. And increasingly MSNBC (some would say NBC in general) added to the left lean of CNN. Anyone see the cover story on the New Yorker (lean to the left…) a couple week’s back w/ that stalwart of political journalism Keith Olberman’s quote asking the president to shut up? For fans of SportsCenter from ~10 years ago, you may be like me and pine for the days of Dan Patrick and Keith Olberman anchoring the 10p show. Thus, I have a hard time buying him as a hard-hitting political pundit – especially when NBC still pulls him back into the Sunday night football studio. It seems he’s taking the reverse trajectory of Dennis Miller’s Monday Night Football experiment. Every time he tries to holler down a new echo chamber, it bounces it’s way back to the original one. But I digress…kind of…anyway…

Considering human behavior and the history of media in general this analogy of conversational media as echo chamber is also a cop out. Before fair and balanced journalism appeared on stone tablets or papyrus scrolls, people had a tendency to gravitate towards people who are like them and to avoid, or at least be politely – or not so politely – standoffish to, those who aren’t like them (see: Bible). Since time could be recorded on a mass scale – i.e. when the printing press came into existence – media has been used as a means to join like-minded communities together (see: Luther’s 95 Theses and that whole Protestant Reformation deal). We live in a country that has been sited as the first “paper democracy”. I’ll stop there, but needless to say, I could make many similar analogies for each break through in media delivery and communication technology in history (telegraph, telephone, radio, TV, cable, Internet, etc).

Media history lesson aside, it is important in our professional lives as marketers to step outside of our echo chambers and take a look and listen into a few, sometimes many, others. Brands are bouncing off the walls of any number of echo chambers at any given point in time. Sometimes they come out like Tigger – bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun! Fun! – and other times they thud against the wall and roll out. Having insights and understanding about your bizarro-target audience and competition can be as important and beneficial as fully knowing those who most effectively and efficiently drive your business. Just ask Superman.

My professional echo chamber loudly reverberates with the benefits of digital media and the evolution of all media towards the wonders of digitization. However, I’m becoming more and more keen to a backlash against digital technology, especially as it pertains to the perceived negative effects of the Internet on society, that is gaining momentum. The Atlantic’s July/August issue featured an article by author Nicholas Carr called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” A very interesting read and very much contrary to my views, and his book – The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google – is now on my reading list. A further perusal of the bookstore (a digital one…) led me to realize there is an enlarging echo chamber for these topics, including claims that the Internet has led to the Dumbest Generation that could very well bring down the aforementioned paper democracy (it’s coming w/ that Amazon shipment of The Big Switch). And there are more where those came from – and mostly from intelligent intellectuals well-versed in communication theory. It’s not a backlash confined to TV networks, as it turns out (an echo chamber I feel pretty comfortable avoiding).

I think the important thing here is that you don’t immediately dismiss noise from echo chambers you don’t inhabit as being outright wrong. Always remember your Art of War – “So it is said if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

I enjoy stepping out of my echo chamber because I enjoy figuring out why people do what they do because, more times than not, they do what they do for reasons that are all together different than mine. If we get stuck in preconceived notions about why people do what they do or how we should do what we do, we could go deaf in our echo chamber. Our enemies will overtake us, and our friends will think us irrelevant for not listening to them.


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