Archive for the 'Communication' Category

Ferrazzi podcast.

31 March 2006

Folks, I've endorsed Keith Ferrazzi and his approach to building relationships before.  For a great, pithy introduction to the ideas laid out in his book, Never Eat Alone, check out this podcast he did with


Follow-up to “Teaching is about students…”

16 March 2006

John Salt was nice enough to point me to his follow-up piece for the Lego- and Harry Potter-based tutorial I referred to in my earlier post, “Teaching is about students, not the subject taught.”  John’s post (with a comment from me) is here:

Real-world tasks.

Teaching is about students, not the subject taught.

12 March 2006

The most important part of anything is its human element. Teaching is no exception. Without taking anything away from the importance of whatever subject is at hand, good teaching will always be more about the students trying to grasp the subject. Indeed, the best teachers always remember that the topical material has meaning only when students grasp it.

Here is a wonderful Lego- and Harry Potter-based piece from John Salt that reminds us of this.

(Thanks to Kathy Sierra for the link.)

The K.I.S.S. Principle and environmental change.

10 March 2006

I’m sure Seth Godin isn’t writing the great posts on his blog strictly to give me fodder to talk about environmental issues and how they’re discussed. But his latest entry, “Bite sized”, serves the purpose just as well as his earlier posts about “climate cancer”.


Actually, our behavior as people is pretty easy to predict. We like things that are simple, not complex. Issues where we can take action without changing very much. […] The best problems, as far as a consumer is concerned, are those that can be solved quickly and easily, with few side effects.

Me: It would be great if everyone had the same wish that I do to embrace complexity, seek out change, and grow by leaps and bounds from day to day. But does that describe the world you see around you? It doesn’t even describe my actual experience, only my wishes, and I’m the most gung-ho wisher for huge, positive change you can imagine.

I’d love it if the most powerful environmentalists got their heads together and agreed that, while maintaining their many varied good programs, they were going to collaborate on the one message, a simple message, that would best best serve the earth’s environment. I don’t know if it would target hydrocarbons, or habits of consumption, or what, but I do know it would help if every person in the industrialized world internalized some message like “Let’s keep it safe for our grandkids: Stop polluting now.” Put up billboards with a picture of a cute infant/toddler holding the earth in his or her hands and smiling. Run simple, warm television ads featuring respected, politics-neutral notables saying what they’re personally doing to reduce their output of pollution. Hit every branch of the media in every country. Say it over and over.

Above all, give people something simple they can do right now with minimal pain to address the high-leverage problem. I’m busy and I’m weak-willed–make it easy for me, much less the folks who drive Excursions.

“Atmosphere cancer,” redux.

9 March 2006

Last week I cited Seth Godin on the poor job that’s been done to inform the world of the dangers of global warming. Among other smart observations, Godin made the point that the general public would look at the issue differently if we called the phenomenon “atmosphere cancer” rather than “global warming.”

This interesting item from the “Framing Science” blog uses graphs of Gallup polling data to show just how low global warming rates in the public mind. The blog itself addresses exactly what Godin was talking about, namely the way that scientific issues are portrayed in the media. It’s author, Dr. Matthew Nisbet, teaches communications at Ohio State.

The failure to adequately alarm or motivate the public about global warming raises a timeless organizational issue: who’s responsible? We’ve all had the experience, when working in groups, of deadlines that slipped or tasks that fell by the wayside simply because it wasn’t clear exactly who was responsible for which part of the project. The old saying has as much currency now as ever: “If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible.”

For macro issues like “atmosphere cancer,” effective responsibility tends to fall to two types of entities: (1) private citizens or groups who take the issue on as a “holy” cause, or (2) governments. In the case of global warming, the former class includes major and minor environmental organizations, professional scientific groups, experts like Prof. Nisbet, and the few concerned citizens who will make this their #1 issue for activism. To start at the head of the list for governments, the Bush administration has been, shall we say, less than zealous in helping the American people to understand the real and pressing threats posed by global warming.

“Global warming” needs better p.r.

1 March 2006

Another typically sensible post from Seth Godin: “The problem with ‘global warming’.” The short version is that the problem hasn’t been presented (or marketed) to the general public in a way that is (1) understandable, and (2) moving. In my view, Godin is absolutely right.

I’ve heard far too many earnest pleas for urgent action from well-meaning people who do not grasp the nature of human communication. They believe that if they just explain it again, slowly enough and passionately enough, their audiences will come to understand the severity of the problem, change their own ways, and then take up the cause themselves.

But guess what? We in the audience are human. We like what we like. We typically don’t like change, especially if it affects things that we enjoy. I don’t want to give up my car. I don’t want to give up my wanton use of electricity. You’re really going to have to convince me — to sell me — to do otherwise.

I say all of this not because I’m dubious about global warming — I used to write an environmental column, for crying out loud — but because I know that I haven’t done a tenth of what I could have to change my own habits for the better in terms of global warming. I’m not trying to be selfish, but my schedule is criminally overbooked and it takes some convincing to get me to eat my spinach in any context. Make it real to me. Convince me. I’m good-hearted but highly conflicted.

This complaint shares the same root with my earlier rant about blocks of prose on PowerPoint slides. Presenters who fill their PowerPoint slides with chunk-o-text bullet points are thinking more about their own needs (making just one slide, easy-importing from their word processor) than about mine (bad eyesight, distraction, a stark lust for pictures).

Don’t do that. Please. I’m weak and needy. If you want to convince me, you’ll have to do better.

Any ideas on how to market the urgency, the right-now-this-instant urgency, of global warming–ahem, “atmosphere cancer”–to the general public?

“Making meaning” and Mercedes-Benz.

11 February 2006

Guy Kawasaki has talked about “making meaning” as one of the major foundations of good branding. (See his typically insightful post here.) I think he’s right.

The folks at Mercedes think so, too, apparently. They’re running advertisements that feature the tagline, “You’re Not Buying A Car. You’re Buying a Belief.” You can find details on the campaign here, or a bigger image of the specific ad here. The related press release is here.

(Let me just digress to say that enthusiast sites like eMercedesBenz are one of the greatest arguments for the existence of the Internet. Before right now, I didn’t know where to look, should I ever become engrossed in the doings of Mercedes. Now I know.)

The text of the ad makes the connection to Guy K.’s point for me: “The notion of building a Mercedes-Benz has always been an exceptionally meaningful endeavor. More than making a machine, we are upholding an ideal. . . .” Immediately I think of my father’s colleague who crashed in a Mercedes back in the 1960s. The car flipped a time or two, landed on its roof, and was damaged beyond repair. My father’s friend unbuckled his seatbelt, let himself out through the window, and walked away. This set of positive associations erodes any idea I might have that the Mercedes stands for acquisitive lust, and builds up the idea that “Mercedes” is a synonym for “excellence”.

That’s what making meaning is about.

Tremendous charts.

22 January 2006

By Karl Hartig, master of the form. Click here.

Tufte would be proud, I think.