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Groupthink vs Non-Conformist

Finding Creative: Non-Conformists & Groupthink

I’m going to be upfront and honest: I don’t have the all answers; I can’t offer you specific solutions. But, what I’m hoping I can offer is insight on the issue and some options to help you navigate it. The death of creative, original thinking in today’s corporate environment is systemic. It’s drowning out creative, original problem solving, critical thinking, more honest communication between work silos and titles, and better, more efficient process in favor of blindly powdering the ass of corporate hierarchical structures and not challenging the status quo. Ultimately, creative non-conformists are being penned up and silenced.

It’s known as “groupthink”. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a few months now, and after reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (which I highly recommend), I thought it was a topic worth having a discussion about. You must have thought it too, or you wouldn’t be here.

What is Groupthink?

Groupthink values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation, causing individual members to unquestioningly follow the leader. It strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.

It’s not just Fortune 500’s and multi-national behemoths suffering under the weight of rigid groupthink, it’s the up-and-coming-razor’s-edge start ups and SMBs too. No one is protected. Think of it as an earthbound Borg – assimilate or die.

And those who do resist conformity on that level don’t last very long. You may hear these folks referred to as “problem children”, “not going-with-the-flow”, “pessimistic/negative”, and in some instances outright “cancers”.  And, once you’re hit with that label, you can’t recover. You can’t dig yourself out of it, and there’s no changing anyone’s mind.

Sure. Some people do want to watch the world burn. They exist; they’re out there. But, I would urge you to resist that interpretation and labeling of the non-going-with-the-flow, difficult, perceived “cancers”, as people who are truly trying to help the company and are trapped by Groupthink.

I like the term non-conformist. I like creative and original thinkers; I really like creative problem-bringers. I worked with several people that fit that description. Hell, if we’re being honest, I’m one of them. Those are adequate, fine labels if classifying is your thing.

What Traditional Groupthink Looks Like

It’s not what you envision. It’s doesn’t look like a gang of suits roaming down the office hallway shouting down opposition (though it might depending on your situation). And, it isn’t an office full of employees dressed in tan khakis and black polo shirts (that would be alarming in a Matrix-esque way). As Grant states, “Once a market becomes dynamic, [big] companies with strong cultures are too insular: They have a hard time recognizing the need for change…they’re more likely to resist the insights of those who think differently.”

Essentially it’s systemic: the strong culture installed at inception, that helped you survive, has now become your undoing. It fosters confirmation bias and the “bring solutions, not problems” C-suite and management style. And, God help you, if the solution you bring to the table isn’t in-line with the credo. Causing that kind of uncomfortability and turning the mirror inward on the company’s own ego and processes, is as close as you can come to signing your own death warrant. Perhaps the C-suite takes the attitude of, “We were here before you. And, we will be here after you. Keep your head down, thoughts to yourself, and do the work.”

Maybe you’re nodding your head. Maybe there’s that team member of yours that fits this profile. Whichever it is, Groupthink doesn’t have to be the status quo, and I want to discuss some ways to work within Groupthink to help our self-proclaimed non-conformists break through.

Creating Inside the Groupthink Box

At any given point inside an organization dominated by Groupthink, a non-conformist has three choices:

  1. Lose what makes you original and creative, succumb to Groupthink
  2. Leave. Head for the hills and don’t look back
  3. Recognize and know what you’re in and start creating within that box

Really, there are only two options. Because even if you did abandon yourself to the group, it never lasts. It’s a plastic tarp windshield or a coat of paint over rust. Perhaps a year, maybe three, but it’s a facade; you’re true mode of being will return. But only fiercer and more pissed off. And, that really is a recipe for disaster. Those are stories you hear about by the coffee station years later. That’s the stuff of infamous lore and legend. And, mentally, you never really recover: you never get back all of you. It’s a permanent mental scar you’ll carry around forever.

If leaving isn’t an option – because responsibilities, because short tenure, because a resume that looks like a frog in a dynamite pond, because all the things and reasons – then you’re really left with figuring out how to worldbuild inside a box that, frankly, doesn’t care for you.

Embrace Your Fear

Embrace Your FearPositive thinking helps, and optimism is a river of gold if funneled properly. But, fear, which we’re told to push aside in favor of optimism, has its own place as powerful fuel. Especially at the outset. Embrace that fear and turn it into negativity – counter-intuitive, right? It works. It’s dangerous to be sure, but it works.

Big presentation? Assigned what seems like an impossible project? Speaking at a conference of your peers? This is when negativity is your ally. You turn that anxiety into fuel to slow down and think through every single worst-case scenario. And, in slowing down, you find and build more creative ways to do the impossible. Whatever happens moving out of that line of thought, is positive. As Grant points out, “…when we’re anxious, the unknown is more terrifying than the negative.”

The danger is consistently and constantly fueling yourself with fear and the power of negative thinking. As potent a fuel as it is, like battery acid, it has power to corrode and permanently warp your neural pathways. The real trick non-conformists have to learn is to alchemize FEAR into inspiration and excitement.

The Funniest Devils Advocate You’ve Ever Met

Humor is powerful. Not only does it pry open mental doorways to allow difficult ideas a space to breathe, but it’s as powerful a cohesive as any I know. Find ways to build humor into challenges through visuals or through metaphors. It’s easier to get folks on-board when there is a mutual feeling of a shared joke. And, sometimes, it’s the only recourse when an entire team is feeling beat down by groupthink and feeling powerless.

It’s a powerful way to convert fear into a positive emotion that can elicit action. One of my favorite examples of this is Srdja Popovic’s “Installing Freedom”.

Using Humor For Positive Effect

Re-Framing Your Argument & Finding One Person

Re-Frame Yourself and Your IdeaThe thing about humans; we make it all about us. It’s perfectly natural to do that. Except, of course, when you’re in an environment that focuses on “we” – the “me” should take a backseat. As a non-conformist, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “me”: this thing over here and that thing over there, it’s affecting me. Most corporate leaders don’t take kindly to criticisms of process or attitudes. It’s another death warrant moment.

Instead of riding into the fight without armor, teeth gritted, sword drawn, take a moment to re-frame the argument. Find an angle that works to create empathy for the greater good as opposed to the single-you. When leaders see the issue spiraling out to touch whole chunks of people instead of this an individual or two, they’ll be more likely to listen and work to make change. You can re-frame yourself from “corporate martyr” into “people’s champion”.

And, it always helps to find even one other person who feels the way you do (and, you can both hum Peter Frampton if you like). The possibility that you’re alone in your feelings are pretty slim. Find that one person, those couple people, that see the same thing you do and work together.

Doing The Work

Like I said, I haven’t got this all down either. It takes a hell of a lot work and introspection to be able to do even one of these things. But, I’m committed to doing the work. I know enough about me to know that I’m a creative by nature, a non-conformist by nature, and I believe in finding a better way for things to get done. For finding ways to make status quo and continual tide of evolution as both a leader and partner. Hopefully this post gave you the fuel to do that work too, and help you become the best creative, non-conformist you can be.


The Next Evolution in Search Marketing is Human Behavior

The Next Paradigm in Search Marketing is Human

It’s a seachange that has been percolating beneath the surface for a couple of years now in the search marketing world. But, it’s been discussed, talked about, and ideated upon in TED circles for nearly a decade by the thought leaders you know by name: Seth Godin, Allison Hunt, Dan Gilbert, Malcolm Gladwell, etc. The next paradigm in search marketing is the inverse of the model applied today; to go beyond the nearly-infinite data points collected from search, site, ad, and display data to construct the outline of a consumer.

[Tweet “The seachange in search marketing is to understand the consumer & apply data to those behaviors”]

Google: The Impetus for the Human Shift

Digital marketing, as a whole, started to get “human” last two years, and at SMX West this year, I think, the idea finally toppled the keyword-and-link-barbarians at the gates into search marketing. It’s finally arrived; it’s broken through the surface, mostly with the help of Google.
Google’s RankBrain, a machine-learning algorithm, in combination with Google’s Knowledge Graph, has made it evident that next evolution of search (and search marketing) is not strings of keyword phrases woven and stitched together on a page, but that of relevance and context.

Those are two uniquely human characteristics of information – understanding and determining relevance based on context. That the micro-moments of consumer intents and needs, and satisfying those needs through user experience, emotional content connections, and narratives, is the next evolution in search.

What is the Human Paradigm Shift in Search Marketing?

Simply stated, the human paradigm is putting the consumer, the human, at the center of our marketing efforts. Making a shift laterally, to understand consumers’ behaviors, motivations, and intents. It’s about moving toward becoming behavioral marketers – something traditional marketers and advertisers have been doing since the beginning.

Search marketing has always been better with leveraging data, and traditional marketers have been better at leveraging consumer behaviors. Now: we are all at the intersection, as marketers, of behavior and data.

[Tweet “We are all at the intersection, as marketers, of behavior and data.”]

The Future of Search Marketing

Search marketing, in particular, is moving from treating consumers like data points and keywords that topographically fill them in, to understanding them as people. To internalize their intents, their motivations, their behaviors, and their lives. And, then letting the data fill in the gaps.

This is not to say that search marketers can’t or shouldn’t use data to illuminate consumer behaviors, needs, and wants. However, we need to think critically about that data to hypothesize, discover, and uncover what leads to this search or that search. What are consumers thinking about, trying to solve for, when they decide to click this article or that article? Why did consumers purchase this product or that product based on this search?

The new, more human approach to search marketing has the ability to transform the digital ecosystem.

The Art of Overcoming Adversity

Cam Newton & The Art of Overcoming Adversity

The headline reeks of piggybacking on the Cam Newton conversation, and attempting to draft some eyes from a hot topic. So, if you made it this far, I’m proud of you. But, so we’re clear, I’m going to address the Cam Newton situation, and work to translate that to something deeper we can all take with us. Because, who among us, hasn’t screwed up mentality or emotionally while admiring our own reflection in the pond of loss and adversity?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can catch up on it here and here. First things first, it’s simple to stand from afar and pick, peck, and generally lambaste Newton for the behavior. No one is arguing: it’s not a good look. And, you have to be better as the “face of the franchise”. That said, it’s easy to take the high ground of emotional superiority when you’re not standing there. In that exact situation, at that exact moment. In my estimation, there are a select few human beings on the planet who’ve been there, and been in the exact same spot.

Here’s an analogous example for the business community: you’ve prepared for one of the biggest presentations of your life. Several months of research, deck-building, fifty hours of walking through the presentation – down to the pitch of your voice and the gestures. You deliver that presentation to a packed house. And, as you say, “Thank you,” the entire audience rises up in a single, throaty “BOO.” While others shout, “Rubbish,” “Terrible!” and maybe even a “Bullshit!” thrown in for good measure.

The audience literally just booed you off the stage. You performed and they trashed you; they picked you apart. As you’re recovering from the shock of it, you get ten minutes to clear your head, and they whisk you in front a camera to record your thoughts on the how the presentation went and what you might have done better.

That’s being in the same shoes. How’s your emotional superiority holding up now?

The Art To Overcoming Adversity

You have to give Cam a break. He’s 26. He’s never been on that particular stage before, and maybe never will again. Peyton Manning was 33 when he lost his first Super Bowl; that’s huge distance in life experience and growth. Think about how much LIFE (elation, disappointment, success, failure, regret, satisfaction, etc.) and experience is crammed into a seven year span. Adversity, as nasty and painful as it can manifest, is simply the passage way to journey further into yourself. It’s the doorway to next iteration of you; it is, however, up to you to determine what the next iteration looks like.

Think about where you were seven years ago – professionally, emotionally, and in the sum of your life experiences. I imagine mentally and emotionally you’re in a different space now (and if you’re not, maybe that’s a problem too). No matter what business you’re in, what your function in that business, adversity will find you. And, while it’s cliche and a banal axiom, adversity has the power to be a transformative force (positively or negatively). You have to give yourself some latitude and respite. It’s no secret that adversity simultaneously contains both the power to crush you, causing your life to spiral in a different direction, as well as the power to become a catalyst to a more experienced, wiser, and more compassionate you.

Learning to handle adversity requires experience and time. It requires that you internalize this experience, that difficulty, this period of defeat, that stretch of failure, and grow from it. That takes bravery and courage on a different level. It is a real work of mental alchemy – to bathe yourself in those negative experiences, those failures, know each of them by name, and emerge different than you were.

Netflix - The Silicon Valley Manifesto

The Silicon Valley Manifesto & The Dirty Secret of Success

It’s rather en vogue right now, not only in the hallways and boardrooms of Silicon Valley, but also in hallways and boardrooms of small and mid-size business, to put Process’ head in the guillotine. Over the last few years, process has become a pariah among the most cutting-edge, forward-thinking, and avant-garde companies. Somehow, process has become foreshadow of “the death of creativity” and the “stifling of innovation”.

No one wants to deal with it, no one wants see its terrible name scribbled on the whiteboards, see it infiltrate work emails, and, generally impinge, and potentially collapse the supersonic speed of business. It’s a pretty loathsome, cumbersome word; a large gray box that barricades creativity, innovation, and inserts Jersey barriers at every step.

Instead, we have businesses going all-in on the concepts of the “High Performance People” – better known as “Rockstars”, spontaneous creative genius, and the idea that these Rockstars will embrace corporate and fiduciary responsibility en lieu of adhering to a process.

Enter what Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, has called, “one of the most important documents to come out of Silicon Valley.” Enter the Netflix Deck.

The Silicon Valley Business Culture Manifesto - Killing Process

The Silicon Valley Way

The deck above has been shaping Silicon Valley’s business culture and practices for over half a decade. It’s safe to say it’s their manifesto; the gospel of tech culture according to Netflix. There’s tons of aspirational, utopic new-wave corporate ideas in those slides that would seem to transform any business (large or small). And, as with anything that presents itself as a new revolution, there are some things Netflix gets right and some things that are simply are negligent of human psychology, behavior, and the real-world function of business mechanics.

What The Silicon Valley Way Gets Right

The corporate values are hard to disagree with; every company should be looking to foster:

  • strategic thinking
  • a culture of listening
  • treating coworkers with respect and honesty
  • a results-focused, passionate, knowledge/learning-hungry culture
  • information-sharing across silos and departments
  • and, of course, a culture of creativity

It’s certainly is better than four or five vapid corporate standbys (i.e., loyalty, courage, leadership, etc.), offering nothing more than dissipation from a distance, and, really, have become faux-guideposts.

I also agree with the idea of acquiring high performance, “stunning” talent for the business. The larger concentration you can gather in a single environment, the greater the likelihood of long-standing innovation and success.

And, in theory, I can relate to a utopic environment built on responsibility and freedom, where the larger a company grows the larger the boundaries of freedom. That’s the big-enchilada-in-the-sky dream, right? I get to do what I love without being bogged down in the crossfire of corporate bureaucracy and gear-grinding process. It’s inspiring, to be sure.


What The Silicon Valley Manifesto Gets Wrong

Like many manifestos before it, they simply choose to bypass reality when it inconveniences the larger message. It’s corporate anorexia, and choosing to starve yourself of the realities to maintain an image that looks “normal” to you, but is grossly deviating from reality. Particularly, the ideas of process killing creativity and limiting freedom in a “highly driven, high performance” culture, and how cultivating a team of “all-stars” for every open position is nice in theory, but simply isn’t reality.

Too Many All-Stars In The Kitchen

High performers/Rockstars/All-Stars are like four-leaf clovers; a lucky and extremely rare find. There are lots of “Paper Rockstars”, meaning those whose resume makes them look stratospheric, but in real-time, fold like a cheap suit. It’s admirable, of course, to want to hire high performers for every available position; they simply don’t exist in abundance, not enough to fill even a 10 person company. However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume you get 10 genuine Rockstars on the team. How do you think that’s going to go?

The answer: not well. Rockstars are who they are because they are not only bright, tenacious, and competitive, but they also GSD (get shit done). They are the connective glue that teams rely upon to not only pull everyone together, but raise everyone up by carrying the largest loads. Rockstars also come with egos; when you’re among the best at what you do, people know about it. And, if we couple this fact with what we know about any professional sports team (pulled directly from the manifesto), we know that too many egos are destructive. Think of any team that had too many superstars on a single team – each one wanted to the hero, each one needed their spotlight, and each one needed to out alpha the other. It simply turns into a loosely-stitched-together pissing match of egos and talent.

That’s a broad sweeping generalization to be sure, but there can only be so many alphas in a space in any given time. That’s simply anthropology and sociology at work; one or two people will emerge as the clear Rockstars. It creates an ultra-competitive, cut-throat environment that hinders the overall effort. The others that don’t emerge, still Rockstars in their own right, must become subservient, possibly lose confidence, and likely develop animosity toward the team and company.

Moreover, Rockstars burn out. Everyone needs a breather, everyone needs to be able to take their foot off the gas. Rockstars put in this position – fixed at their maximum speed of work velocity and creativity for too long – simply burn down. They’re human too. They will make mistakes, they will forget a detail, they will saw, “screw this,” too. Everything about this concept and model is pure horseshit.

Process Killed The Rockstar?

It all depends on how you view process. If your business philosophy views process as an inflexible, rigid thing, then it will absolutely become a creativity killer. However, if you view process as something more fluid, that can adapt as necessary to new realities and atmosphere, then process becomes a tremendous support structure and assistant to creativity, freedom, and workflow. But, that’s the knife-edge process balances on.

The Netflix “Fourth Option” is rubbish. As stated above, high performance Rockstars isn’t a solution; a company won’t be able to stock an entire company full of them, nor will they play nicely together. And, certainly not at the speed at which a company would need to stave off implementing some process. Nor will it “kill innovation and creativity”. It’s a delusional fantasy. Process, if it’s implemented in a fashion that makes it more like guardrails instead of railroad tracks, has the ability to keep “chaos” at bay, while also allowing those using it to make it better. Essentially it comes down to whether or not your executive team is flexible: do they have the ability to innovate their own minds instead of living on auto-pilot?

Process isn’t stonework. No one is chiseling process in stone tables or granite, and declaring, “IT MUST BE DONE THIS WAY EACH AND EVERY TIME!” However, if process is viewed as something more permeable, then it can be shaped, and re-shaped, as the situation calls for. Process is simply another word for discipline, and process helps to produce repetition, which in turn helps to mitigate uncertainty and fear, in my view. These are core, essential elements to fostering creativity: moving beyond fear and infusing discipline.

Folks bound to the Silicon Valley Manifesto method are no doubt living in a constant state of fear to produce efficiently and profitably at 100 MPH, but also creative, innovative, ground-breaking shit. Day-in, day-out. It’s not sustainable for anyone.

Process is the dirty secret to success. It creates stability and efficiency, allow Rockstars and “Average Joe/Jane” employees alike to lean on it, and can help to foster more creativity when fear of screwing up is removed from the equation. Removing process is suicidal, just as putting process on a pedestal and carving it in stone is equally detrimental.

As a post-script, Patty McCord, the author of the Netflix deck (a.k.a. The Silicon Valley Manifesto) was “moved on” from Netflix almost 3 years ago. And, a special thank you to Monica Wright, who as of late, has been an incredible Muse and friend, and without this tweet, might have never sparked me to pen this post.

Twitter’s 10K Tweets – Tapping the New Social Media Model

10,000 Character Tweets! Maybe.

In case you haven’t heard, Re/code is reporting that Twitter, the social platform built on brevity, is “considering” expanding tweets to 10,000 characters. Let me be the umpteenth person to throw my hat (and two cents) in the ring on this. Ultimately, for me, this massive expansion of characters breaks the initial spirit that made/makes Twitter great: fast news, fast conversation, and fast links. That said, change is inevitable, stock prices mean a lot investors, so if Beyond 140 is the new direction for Twitter, so be it. I simply have to trust Jack and his team that same user and content experience they are sorta-kinda promising to keep stays.

I don’t want to get into the trap or circular argument of “it’s a platform that doesn’t create it’s own content, it uses ours”. This is a moot point better left to meta-physical philosophers to argue over the merits. What upsets me more is the soon-to-be monetization of their blatant content-grab, while simultaneously punching content producers/publishers in the face, in what can only be called the New Social Media model.

Twitter Cashing In On The New Social Media Model

Twitter Trying To Cash In With 10K TweetsWhy offer more robust, larger, continental-sized tweets? One might assume it is to compete with Facebook, allowing users more freedom to create more verbose, meaningful posts. One might even guess that it has to do with larger corporations wanting more “room” to get their message out without having to be in the vice-grips of 140 characters.

My hypothesis is that it has everything do with advertising revenue (which is not that big a stretch or revelation). Not only do bigger, badder posts allow Twitter to potentially charge more for promoted tweets (I guess we could call them novellas at this point), but it’s also a way to keep users on-site longer, and as Re/code points out, “luring new users,” helping to put ad messaging in premium tier of costs (or at the very least get more advertisers).

What I also take a wee-bit of umbrage to is the idea that, like Google and Facebook, Twitter is deliberately tying a helluva large kink in the traffic hose to outside content producers and publishers. Twitter will become the stingy gate-keeper – keeping a lot of the traffic (and content) for itself while passing less and less of it on to publishers. And, of course, twisting and tweaking their algorithm will go through so as to cater to Big Ad while attempting to make those intrusions as inconspicuous to users as possible. Very much a “Keep Calm and Carry On” mentality.

If content producers can practically publish posts if/when Beyond140 goes live, users don’t need to links to read the content. And, to top it all off, Twitter would “own” that content. It’s a double-whammy: publishers have the potential to lose a major, perhaps vital, pipeline of inbound traffic, while also giving up the rights to owning the content. Sounds like a sweet deal.

It will alter the way we construct tweets, for those of not interested in writing a personal biography every tweet: links first, then context of the link. There are more varied ramifications to be sure; allow some one to stream-of-conscious thoughts, and they’re going to. Think political, religious, activism, hate-speech, etc. I suspect people’s block usage will increase two-fold. Twitter’s Beyond 140 might accomplish everything they hope in terms of increasing monetization and creating happy investors, but it also might be the thing that drives a stake through the heart of the platform.


Awakening Your Own Bliss – Analyzing Episode VII

As with the original trilogy of Star Wars films, there is an abundance of symbolism and mythological themes weaving through the Episode VII. I want to address and explore the more compelling mythological themes and symbolism that I believe add more rich, robust layers to the story; more than the simple archetypal backdrop, if not the eternal struggle, between Good vs. Evil. There isn’t the time, nor do I have the expertise, to tackle them all. That said, there are few ways to address the thematic symbolism: through characters and through plot and imagery; in this instance, I think it makes sense to approach it from both entry points.

I want to focus on three mythological themes that recur throughout the entire film; they ask and require us to translate, export, and think more deeply about the world around us. Initially, I want to address the idea of mapping in Episode VII, secondarily I want to discuss the theme of Technology vs. Nature, and finally, I want to discuss the idea of awakenings and, ultimately, the notion/idea of finding your own bliss.

History Repeats Itself – The Ouroboros

Uroboros - History Repeats ItselfThere’s no dispute: Episode VII maps Episode IV in terms of plot points and events. More succinctly put: you’ll think you’re watching Episode IV except in an alternate universe where everyone got old. This is not to say it is any less entertaining, but it is to say that if you are looking for unique story line that advances from Episode VI, you won’t find it. Do the checklist in your head, and you will find that it matches up in a near-identical fashion. The overall consensus is that this was done deliberately to “hook” audiences back into the original canon of Lucas’ trilogy (and helping to ensure the economic success of the film), but Episode VII’s mapping can be extended to a larger historical context. Leaving aside that the writing could be considered “lazy”, the larger theme this mapping presents is that history repeats itself.

It’s really that simple: empires fall, empires arise. Cyclically. Whatever the means and reasons empires are dismantled and scattered: economics, over-conquering, unable to integrate/destroy the root cultural paradigm, etc.), new powers centralize and rise over the course of hundreds of years or decades. We arrive at the same point in Episode IV: an empire exists and is hell-bent on conquering the universe and obliterating a rebel force. As an audience, we never questioned how it came to exist; only that it did exist in this particular conflict model. And, this is the lens we have to view The Force Awakens: the passage of time has amassed a new centralized power. Remember, it took three films (the prequels) to explain the original empire’s existence: its formation and rise to power.

Extending the concept of empire and rebellion further, of history repeating itself, we find that it is a rooted mythological symbol of the Ouroboros or the Yin-Yang. It is the cycle of renewal, of death to sustain life, or the idea equilibrium and balance. That in the “death” or defeat of the Empire in Episode VI, the First Order becomes the new head of the snake to continue the cycle, becomes the Yin to complete the whole, restoring universal balance.

Technology Won’t Save Us

Technology Won't Save UsThis is another theme borrowed from Episode IV but made entirely more blatant in Episode VII. And, without question, is derived from Joseph Campbell’s work on comparative religion and mythology which positions this as a universal mythology rooted in escaping, alluding, or bounding over death. The idea that we can live forever; the idea that technology will save us, and in some way allow humanness to transcend into a god-like state. Put another way – technology is being used to usurp nature.

In Lucas’ original trilogy, the Empire is representative of technology most principally stated in the man/machine Darth Vader. Vader, in terms of symbolism, is the singularity; the true merger, symbiosis of man and machine, where neither can exist without each other. Nature, as you have guessed, is represented in the Rebels/Jedi.

In Episode VII, we’re treated to this theme in a heavy-handed way from the get-go with the contrast between the Rebellion and the First Order. The Rebellion forces on Jakku are not up-armored in tech, living in only in simple structures in a vast desert landscape. Their wardrobe is cloth and animal skins, and technology is present as an aid, not as the identity. As the First Order forces land on Jakku, nothing could be more the opposite, it is the epitome of technology: armored soliders and Kylo Ren.

There are two scenes in the film that explicitly capture this theme and make it undeniable. The first is when Finn begins his journey through the Jakku desert. Throughout the entire escape sequence, only his head is exposed (or removed from the Storm Trooper helmet), suggesting that intellectually he accepted Nature. That Finn has wrestled and understood philosophically what humanness is. After the crash landing, as he trudges through the desert, Finn, piece by piece, begins to remove the uniform, the technology. For Finn, he has moved through an intellectual/philosophical acceptance to a whole body/spiritual acceptance.

The second scene in Star Wars Episode VII is at Maz’s tavern. This is a rich, layered metaphor drawing from not only the obviousness of the “green space” or forest. As Rey says, “I didn’t know so much green existed in the entire universe,” gives us the undisguised cue: this is nature. Even the tavern itself is encased in stone. By itself, this creates an unambiguous symbol of nature; however, it’s a rather trite, boring one. It is not until we layer in the Shakespearean use of the “green world” that we can unearth a well-thought out symbol.

Shakespeare used the “green world” in several of his plays, most notably A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where it symbolized the escape from the urban environment embroiled in the entanglements of gender power struggles, romantic predicaments, and political strife where truth is revealed by nature (and usually the fantastic), problems are solved, and order is restored. The green world was a place of the fantastic, a place of respite, and a place where the fragmented become whole.

Keeping all this mind, this is a most crucial scene in the film where the characters become whole: Finn now fully embraces his Hero’s Journey, Solo reengages in the fight with the rebellion, Leia’s love is reignited, and Rey is awakened. When the First Order destroys the green world, there is no greater imagery or symbol for technology vs. nature in the entire film. It can be interpreted in multiple ways, have multiple meanings; it is the hallmark of a masterstroke of writing and film making.

Waking Up To Your Journey

The Hero's Journey of Conscious TransformationIt seems fitting to end this post with this mythological idea; it is universal to all of us in some way, shape, or form, and it is the most evident theme in the entire film (i.e., all the characters of the film “awaken” to a journey). However, I want to rely on Campbell’s understanding of awakening, of the Hero’s Journey, not as a part of literature narrative that propels the story forward, but as journey one takes inward, into the self. And, it seems only fitting that the close of the New Year, that is is how it end: introspectively. After all, isn’t that what a New Year is all about? The resolutions we make to birth a new concoction and adaptation of ourselves as an artificial gate in the linear movement of time is closing and the gate opens.

Every major character is awoken to the Hero’s Journey in Episode VII in both the journey outward and inward. For Finn, it happens early on through the shock of war, and the sudden realization of the robotic nature in which he has moved through life. He had to confront the death of another, have blood smeared across his helmet, to awaken him to the journey inward. For Rey, there are multiple moments, but chiefly two: rejecting the offer of 60 portions for BB8 in order to satisfy her hunger, and dream sequence at Maz’s tavern.

In Episode VII, the “awakenings” of each character not only lie in parallel with larger journey of saving the universe from the First Order, but also the journey of spiritual awakening to the Force. The Force, in my opinion, is the energy of one’s own consciousness that feeds into the universe’s consciousness – “The force is an energy field that connects every living thing.” Primarily, in the Hero’s Journey, it is when one makes a sacrifice that foregoes self-preservation, and in doing so, transforms one’s own consciousness and giving yourself to a higher end. That is what epitomizes being human; the sacrifice of the self and journey into one’s self to discover bliss. And, in turn, sharing that bliss with others around you – whether it is art, philosophy, writing, music, business, or even digital marketing. The smallest and most minute things have the chance to be transformative if harnessed and wielded in the right way.

As we slide into the new year, and as cliche as it seems, what will awaken you? Where will you discover your bliss, what journey are you willing to take to arrive at it?

The Growing Need for an AMS Algorithm

Amazon Marketing Services Time BombSorry to disappoint, but this isn’t about Google; it’s about Amazon and their Marketing Services ad platform. It’s about the soon-to-be-dire need of an algorithmic solution to the overly simplistic method of “highest bid wins”. As marketer who has been using the AMS platform since its inception, I can only describe what is happening as nothing short (and with wonderful, if not fanciful, hyperbole) as a nuclear arms race of bidding. As more and more vendors discover and turn to AMS, the bidding war will only become more caustic, blatant, and expensive. It’s a time bomb with short fuse.

For those yet familiar with Amazon Marketing Services, let’s start with a quick synopsis.

What is AMS (Amazon Marketing Services)?

In a nutshell, it’s Amazon’s paid search platform for Amazon vendors to increase their product visibility and product sales by bidding on keyword terms, relevant categorical products, or consumer affinity interests. Amazon provides vendors three ad types to choose from:

Amazon Marketing Services Ad Types

Every single ad type is CPC-driven. As Amazon states in their FAQs:

Amazon Marketing Services uses a cost-per-click, auction-based pricing model. You set the bid which is the maximum cost you are willing to pay when a shopper clicks an ad. If your ad is eligible to appear in a shopper’s search, your ad will compete in a real-time auction. The more competitive your bid is, the more likely you are to win the auction.

If your ad wins the auction and the shopper clicks on the ad, then you will be charged $0.01 more than the next highest bidder.

And, that’s the whole show: bid “competitively”, get the impression, win the click. It’s that simple. Assuming you did your Amazon consumer journey homework, found the terms, all the marketer/vendor has to do is set a bid. Waa-lah: success.

There’s a lot be desired from the world’s #1 online retailer. Namely, how about a way to reward vendors/marketers who build great content on your site? Or, reward AMS accounts that dominate in their specific categories: earn consistent, high CTRs and convert sales.

What Google AdWords Gets 100% Right

What Google got right, and continues to get right, is applying a Quality Score algorithm to advertisers’ ads. Taking into account several factors directly related to the consumer experience with paid search like:

  • Keyword Term Relevance to Ad Group
  • Landing Page Quality – is the destination relevant and provide a solid consumer experience
  • Ad Text Relevance – in relation to the term bid on
  • Ad + Keyword Term Performance Click-Thru-Rate (CTR)
  • Past Account Performance (Account, Campaign, Ad Group levels)

Granted, it doesn’t stop extremely high bids in competitive categories or competitive niches, but allows those marketers and advertisers that put together the complete package with a solid bid, relevant, tightly stitched Ad Groups, and good CTRs the ability to earn better position and cheaper clicks.

This is precisely what Amazon Marketing Services needs to implement. A system of checks and balances.

An AMS Algorithm Could Strengthen The Entire Ecosystem

The AMS algorithm wouldn’t have to completely mime Quality Score, but it would have to take a few elements into account in order to swerve off the bidding war track:

  • ASIN/Product Detail Page Content
  • Campaign Keyword Groupings
  • Ad CTRs

Not only would focusing on these elements keep the Money Train full-speed ahead, but it would strengthen Amazon’s entire ecosystem.

ASIN/Product Detail Page Content

Amazon strongly encourages vendors to build robust, unique product content. Amazon certainly isn’t frowning on SEO services that optimize product pages. After all, is there any doubt that when you’re searching for a specific product category or product in the web-at-large (i.e. Google, Bing, etc.), Amazon seems to show up on the first page?

Here’s Amazon’s chance to reward vendors that have been building great product content over the last few years, and encourage those vendors that slap up their content to build better content: make your ASIN/product detail page that you’re driving consumers to count.

If the vendor’s landing page is authoritative and relevant to the term the ad is bidding on, it should get a boost by either lower the CPC and/or increasing the impression rate over competitors bidding on the same term. When other vendors realize they forking over a full CPC bid, while their competitors aren’t, content quality across the board will get better.

Campaign Keyword Groupings

This is a bit more difficult as the structure of AMS is inherently different from a Bing Ads or Google AdWords campaign structure. There are no ad groups in AMS, making it a bit more difficult to actuate and incorporate this as a algorithmic metric.

That said, Amazon should reward tighter, more neatly stitched together campaigns that target relevant keyword terms. These campaigns are always going to outperform campaigns that incorporate disparate, tertiary terms that are slushed together with target terms. For example, if the campaign is targeting “jeans”, but also targets “socks” or “running shoes” because they’re high volume terms in clothing category, the overall campaign is going to have a lower CTR and conversion rate than one that focused variations of jeans.


AMS is already calculating this metric for each campaign (in that they keep track of impressions and clicks of each campaign). They simply need to put it to use. If your ad has great click-thru-rate because you took the time to craft a great message and targeted appropriately, you should be rewarded with a CPC price-break. Here too, this will help vendors/advertisers step up their marketing game across the board: build better ads.

Building an AMS Algorithm Sooner Than Later

Nothing has reached critical mass yet. But, in the last year, I’ve seen a marked uptick in cost-per-click. The secret is out: use AMS instead of wasting your budget (and time) with AMG and see even better results. Marketers/Vendors/Advertisers will put up with the skyrocketing costs for a while. But, sooner or later, the disgruntled whispers will start, the CPCs will start to become astronomical for single click in a subcategory; the heavy hitters will throw down the gauntlet, will raise the stakes, willing to pay in the double and triple-digits for a click, boxing out the smaller players. Some advertisers leave, etc., etc.

Maybe that’s Amazon’s plan? I would guess it isn’t, but if they aren’t working on a solution to what will inevitably become the problem in the near-future, they have a mess on their hands.

Can You Create A Smashable Digital Brand?

What is a Smashable Brand?

Can You Create A Smashable Digital Brand?Maybe you’ve heard of it? If you haven’t, the idea behind the concept of “smashable” is relatively simple: if your product was to be smashed, shredded, broken apart into one-hundred, one-thousand, ten-thousand pieces, would a consumer still know that the product was your brand? The origin of this concept comes from none other than Coca-Cola in 1915.

Martin Lindstrom, the creator of the smashable brand theory, says that nowadays brands have to be more than just logos:

But when it comes to brand identity these days, it’s about a lot more than the logo. What’s far more important than any one particular image is the entire sensory experience that your brand conveys…Whether you’re selling soda, toys, electronics or cars, your brand needs to be smashable – that is, instantly identifiable by its very essence — with or without its logo.

Build a Smashable Digital Brand? Yeah Right.

In terms of more traditional marketing, especially in today’s global market place, creating a smashable brand is a pretty tall task. In terms of the digital marketing? It’s impossible to create a smashable brand digitally, right? Like successfully discovering Sasquatch in your backyard,

Logos? They’re just as easily passed over on websites and digital media; strip them out, and chances are you’d never be able to ascertain what site you’re on. Content is re-purposed, stretched, torn, obliterated, and re-combined pixel-by-pixel, character-by-character; images enter Photoshop as one brand’s idea and leave as a another brand’s take on it. Video is just as malleable too. There isn’t anything digitally that can’t be rewired and distributed as one’s own on the web.

Even with all that, even with odds stacked immeasurably against you, there is a way to create a smashable digital brand.

The Three Cornerstones to Create a Smashable Digital Brand

Smashable Digital Brands TodayWhen I think of what constitutes a “smashable” digital brand, there are a few that come instantly to mind: Google, Twitter, Facebook, and The Onion. These brands utilize at least two of the three cornerstones to create a smashable digital brand.

  • Design
  • UX
  • Content

Creating A Powerful Design

It’s no secret the web is renown for mimicry. Just go through the list: infinite scroll, parallax, clean-over-abundant-white-space designs, etc. If it works once, and has sexy-factor, then you can bet within a couple of weeks it will be ubiquitous. All anyone really remembers is the “first-mover” and the “done-better”; everything in between blurs.

What really matters, in my opinion, is creating an appealing color scheme (whatever it my be) and exploiting it, expanding it, and weaving it throughout the design. Make those color combinations yours. Make the color scheme work toward imprinting on users/consumers and triggering recall of the brand.

Google is a perfect example with it’s Crayola-primary-color scheme. If you’re honest, anytime you see those four primary colors in combination with one another (red, yellow, green, blue), you think GOOGLE.

Sleek and Efficient UX

Finding a way to help users find the information they’re looking for and achieve their tasks painlessly, efficiently, and with as little effort as possible is at a premium. User Experience (UX) certainly is the new darling of the web world and for good reason: when your site is smooth, accessible, and easy, users are happy and apt to spread that happiness to their social circles.

A great UX usually lends itself to a great CX (customer experience). And, brands with good UX see more conversions and throughput of goals (whatever those may be).

Twitter, Facebook, and Google have brought UX to the forefront, understanding how users navigate their sites and how they interact through data and goal completions. You could strip nearly all the design from these three sites and still know exactly what site you’re using and how to use it.

If your site has that level of impact, then you know you’ve got something smashable; you’ve got something that has laid a new foundation for how the web should work.

Build A Tone, Voice, and Opinion No One Can Copy

As a brand it’s the easier (and legally safer) play to be monochromatic and monotone. Your brand’s voice sounds just like everyone else’s: deal-driven-saturated, faux-joyful, and bland as a piece of white paper. Is it any wonder almost every brand’s content is like watching the peripheral as you whip by at 65 MPH: you can’t see it, you barely remember it was there at all, and there is a faint aroma of bullshit in the air.

Building a strong brand voice, tone, and opinion is as lasting a marker as anything else. It’s not about shock; it’s about strength and confidence.

The Onion is a perfect example of smashable digital content. No one could scrape The Onion’s content, mangle and rearrange it, and pass it off as their own voice. You’d know the tone and voice anywhere. Now not every brand is The Onion, I realize that. It’s the essence of the idea: create content with an opinion, voice, and tone that is distinctly yours.

A Smashable Digital Brand Isn’t Out of Reach

If your digital brand can do at least two of these three things, then it’s moving toward smashable. It won’t happen overnight, and might not even happen in the next year. But everything you can do to move toward creating a color scheme that outlasts a logo, building great UX and CX, and finding a brand voice all your own, is a step in the right direction. Go be smashable.

The Real Trick To Better Emotional Intelligence

I’m sure you woke up today and thought, “There’s definitely a better me hanging out somewhere in here.” Then you proceeded to poke and cajole the side of your face, tap the center of your forehead, and then held your breath waiting for the new you explode out of you.

Whether in the office, at social gatherings, or with family, we are always striving to be a better (or the best) version of ourselves. We are always looking to optimize, enhance, and hone our emotional intelligence (EQ). Who wouldn’t want to be a more polished, smooth version of themselves? It’s simple: all you need to do is find an article on improving your “likability”, interpersonal skills, or inter-office communication. AND. BAM: You’re an emotional intelligence rockstar. Right? If only everything were that easy.

The Futility of EQ / “Likability” Posts

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) WheelEQ: the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

It’s become rather en vogue in the last few years that employers not only want a potential candidate that is business-sharp (IQ), but also a candidate that’s emotionally-sharp (EQ). And, in some circles, emotional intelligence is becoming more valuable, more sought after, than business IQ. And, as such, there’s been a burst of tip and tricks posts to help you to recognize, to refurbish, and refine EQ.

Here’s an example: 7 Secrets That Will Make You Much More Likable. On the surface it’s not about EQ. On the surface, it’s about how you can be a better jigsaw piece in the larger puzzle (fitting in and getting in). This isn’t about emotional intelligence because there is more “science” around emotional intelligence. More measurable, right? More facts, figures, and standard deviations.

In my opinion, these sociability/likability posts are really masquerading as a packed, couched way to say emotional intelligence. And, perhaps these posts, these tips/tricks, are more insidious than mean to be, causing more harm than good? To wit: these posts are crap; they’re placebos for the real work EQ takes.

Peeling The Likability/Emotional Intelligence Onion

I don’t need to dismantle the post tip-by-tip, point-by-point; it would only serve to make me look like a pompous ass (as if the post hasn’t done that already). I think the central point around posts like these is: a vast majority of people hardly know themselves. It’s a lifetime of work to “know” yourself, much less chip away the burs of a rough hewn personality. And, yeah, its a very new-age-y concept that’s likely a product of the information age and a luxury of a service economy. But, the idea is centuries old, stretching back to Socrates and Shakespeare and Hamlet.

Most people will absolutely think they know themselves: how they are going to respond to a situation of stress, or truly believe they listen empathetically, or be brave enough to honestly and critically self-examine their behavior. Until you’ve experienced it, you don’t know. No matter how many of these posts you read, no mater how much you keep it at the forefront of your mind, no matter how many of these “secrets” or “tips” or “sure-fire ways”, their true self shines through on the next encounter. It takes a long time to be “likable” or “sociable”. It takes a long time to build emotional intelligence.

EQ is very much like an onion; there are innumerable layers. Having “situational awareness”, “making eye contact”, or “actively listening” is only the first step. It’s an important one, mind you, but the nuances are deep and far-reaching. Every one these things requires continual work and effort.

You Too Are Going To Fail At EQ

I fail at this all the time. Sometimes grandly and in a spectacular fashion (as many of you may know). Mastery of anything takes time. Takes effort and dogged willingness to see it through. But, these failures could most certainly be termed “failing forward,” and even that takes a long time to wrap your head around. It takes a special person who can accept that concept out of the gate. The real key is to putting yourself in situations where you have to put emotional intelligence to the test, getting better at each try.

New Archetype For The Web: Digital Zombie

Post-Mortem Facelift?

On the Google’s Blog, they announced that Google+ has been reinvigorated, revamped, and redesigned. If you don’t want to read the entire post (I don’t blame you), the short of it is Google is attempting to make Google+ a conversation engine. The focus is now centered around Communities and Collections.

Communities like ORM and Infographics, and Collections like Surfing and Zombie Cats. And, for all the chest-beating of 1.2MM users/day, recall Stone Temple Consulting’s study in April of this year: 90.1% of valid profiles are empty. Even though this is a positive effort for the Google+ team, in the end, in reality, it doesn’t mean a thing. Google may have created a new archetype for the web: digital zombie.

Google+: Still On Life Support

Google+ Is A Digital ZombieIf you listen closely, you’ll hear it: wind whistling down the Google+ hallways and corridors. Sure, it looks like a lively, bustling place. But it’s devoid of real, meaningful content. It’s simply the last-ditch landfill from Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest re-posts; it’s the final place for content marketers to file in some referral traffic.

Don’t let this “refocusing” and “re-imagined” Google+ fool you into believing there will somehow be a resurgence in the platform. It’s as dead as its ever been. The Pinterest/Instagram-esque format and center of gravity won’t convince anyone to who’s not already there (actively) to become an active participant. It’s simply another stent for Google+’s weak heart, another life-extending tactic, that seems to have no end in sight.

A New Digital Era Archetype: Digital Zombie

The fact-of-the-matter is Google+ will live on life support forever because Google tied to businesses (the first attempt to make it a “real” social channel, a blatant oligarchical move). And, until such a time as Google severs that connection, you can expect reinvention after reinvention, reanimation after reanimation of the platform. It truly is a digital zombie.

And, that is rather apropos in describing the platform: it’s not truly alive, nor is it dead. It simply exists. Google+ is a barnacle: leeching off a larger Google ecosystem, feeding off the flourishing, living platforms (both in style and content), and attempting to convert users them over to a zombie platform. Google can, and likely will, keep the AED at the ready.

In the end, perhaps that’s what Google is counting on. If you have to use it to manage your Google profile, your business page (even though technically it’s through Google My Business), a couple other things, maybe you’ll stick around and participate. Though I doubt a “more robust” Collections and Communities section is really going to turn the ship around. Since no marketer (digital or otherwise) can opt-out or ignore Google’s ecosystem, it’s better to use it to your advantage. And, maybe, even throw them a courtesy post or two.