Communication Society

Trump, trinkets and the triumph of the twats

Next time you meet a dog, try this.  Take a fresh juicy steak and say:  “If you sacrifice this meat, you will earn a special place in Dog Paradise!”  No, a dog will not give a hoot, a steak or half a dry poo for the afterlife or any other such vague idea.  It is a uniquelly human thing to put religion, politics or fantastic creatures of our collective imagination above basic needs.

Sathya Sai Baba was a charlatan who amongst other ridiculous tricks “magically” produced trinkets for his audience.   That was not what they travelled to see him about though.  It was his ideas.   The trinkets were just part of the morning ritual.  A lucky few got to meet with him and be blessed.   Less lucky few suffered his sexual advances.  Silently.  For an idea.

It is our capacity to join forces for big ideas and trinkets that makes us humans such an incredible force to be reckoned with.  No matter what you think of Donald Trump, he has won.  The world is split into Trump lovers and Trump haters and both these groups go to pretty impressive extremes for him.  Much like they would a few centuries ago for their king.  In France they traded the idea of a Sun king for that of a Republicby killing their previous way of understanding how the world was ruled at the guillotine.

What this monumental advance of our species has achieved is to bring idiots like Trump to the forefront.   Twenty thousand years ago, you had to be a good runner, a strong fighter, able at fishing and hunting, fast at fashioning tools and a lot of other things.  Every day.  All the time.  But big ideas in politics and religion brought together more people than ever before, in groups larger than ever before.  And so we could support the twats.

Those with no obvious gift, strength or ability found niches.  You could make a living producing nothing edible.   One clever weird looking man claimed he heard the voices of his ancestors.  In the old days they would have killed him as a misformed baby.  He surely would never get a woman.  Now he had twenty virgins in the next room waiting for him to be sacrificed.

The leader of the clan was no longer the strongest or wisest.  It was the useless fool who insisted no matter what.


Social media diet inspired by primitive, happy humans

Heck, they do it all the time with eating habits.  Why not make a social media regime and sell it?   So here are my tips on how to be happier through changes in your social media habits.   All scientifically tested and based on decades of research:

  1. Eat everything.  Hunter gatherers where more gatherers than hunters.  Always on the look out for berries, or roots, or well, anything edible.   Do the same with your social media.  Don’t be picky which platform to use.  They all taste slightly different.  When you stumble on one, use it.
  2. Gorge on opportunities.  When a stone age wanderer found a tree full of fruit they didn’t sit around debating; they ate as much as possible before some other tribe of humans or monkeys came and ransacked everything.  When you find a new niche, milk it.  Getting a lot of likes for Einstein quotes?  Go for it!
  3. There are three ways of walking the earth.  Ancient nomads where mostly alone all day, with a very small troupe of relatives, 10-20 usually somewhere within shouting distance.  That is how they lived for days and months on end.  Occasions for meeting strangers or bigger gatherins where extremely rare. Emulate this in your use of social media.  Pick a platform for those really close and important to you.  Email, Google plus, ello, instagram, whatever.  Live there most of your day with them.
  4. Be vicious.  Our ancient ancestors were brutal.  Some killed newborns at a whim if they didn’t look nice.  Old people were knifed from behind if they couldn’t keep up, or just left up a mountain.  No regrets, just unfriend, block, send them to cyber heaven.
  5. Boldy go wherever there might be greener grass.  Our nomad ancestors never stopped exploring.   What’s that?  Snapchat?  Hell yeah, let’s try it.  No matter if it looks barren, heck they walked across miles of ice to get to America, you some sort of chicken?  Old places have stale opportunities, look for new vistas.
  6. Burn it all down.  When some enterprising bunch of sailors arrived at Australia 45 thousand years ago, they wiped out all but one of the large marsupials that roamed that continent.   They just burned down forests for fun.  Don’t save for tomorrow what you can use today.  That folder full of “good stuff I found to use some time”?   Well, the time is now.  Go for it.

I could go on with more points but of course I am developing the idea in a book.  And series of seminars, world tour and self-help audio.  Because as my ancient primitive ancestors knew, everything has a price.  Trade wherever you can!

Business Communication

From brain to IPO. Map out your communications

Let’s take a typical day of little Miss X, CEO of an exciting new startup.

Little Miss X wakes up from a nightmare.  She jots down what she remembers of it in a diary next to her bed to take to her shrink.  This is information just for the two of them.  Clear cut case.  She doesn’t put it anywhere else and she will probably burn the diary; it is all written in shorthand that nobody else will understand anyway.  She then goes to the toilet.  This too concerns nobody else other than her husband.  “Sweetie I’ll go first and you can shower while I prepare breakfast” she says as she goes.  Another interaction which doesn’t need to be on Facebook or anywhere else.  We are still in a very private sphere of Little Miss X’s world.  She doesn’t tell him about a strange lump she feels on her breast, he doesn’t need to worry about that.

But the minute she sits on the toilet and opens Facebook on her cell phone she is out and about.  For starters, all her friends know she is awake.  They see her “Likes” on their posts, then a few of her comments and emoticons.  Her sister sends a message:  “Goodmorning sis!  Nervous about the big event today?”  Miss X posts a picture from her trip to Bali, a Budha at sunrise.  Only her Facebook friends can see it and she is very picky about who is her Facebook friend.  Privacy concerns apart, this is still what she considers a private area.

Over breakfast she scans the news online.  There is an article about her industry in the New York Times.  She posts a small comment on her personal blog, careful not to mention the article directly, but answering the main points.  After all the blog has all the legal disclaimers.  It is her personal opinion, not her company’s official position or anything like that.  But already her mind is at work.

On the drive to the office she snaps a pic of a rainbow landing on the billboard announcing their IPO.  No time to waste, post that straight to the company’s Facebook page.    “A bright new start” seems like a good title in view of what is coming up today.   Sally in Marketing will see it and maybe use it somewhere else later too. 

Little Miss X get to her desk and sits behind the computer.  Now she is at work proper.  Reviewing the press releases and other official communications of the day, thinking about her speech.  From the lump in her breast which absolutely nobody knows about, to her words in front of the cameras in a few hours which will get retransmitted in as many ways possible.  Her success as a person and a businesswoman hinges on mapping them out:

This information goes there.   That information you can expect to find here.”   If you are my personal friend and you send me a message via Facebook I will probably respond immediately.  If you follow my personal blog and write a comment, expect a friendly and unofficial vague response within the day.   If you find the rainbow on the billboard great, someone in marketing will write something marketingey within 15 minutes.   If you don’t like my speech during the IPO I will get full business on you and hit you with data, facts, figures very carefully.”

We all need to be clear about these information flows.  When I say “map it out” I literally mean a map.  You have Pinterest page which you never check up?  Write it on your Pinterst bio:   “I don’t use Pinterest much, check out my Twitter feed if you want to keep up with my latest.”    Started that Path account back when it looked cool?  Well update it.   “If you want to get in touch, I hardly ever check up on this account, so please don’t send a message here.  Catch me on my personal blog.”   LinkedIn?   Sure, but I check it up about once a week.   Draw up all your communication channels and tell everyone about it.

Be clear or be smeared.

Business Communication Technology

Google is evil. But not like you imagine it is.

“Ah, yes, you’re the guy that has a thing against Google.”

It wasn’t the best of introductions but I knew what he was on about. I do have “a thing” with Google.  I am jealous as hell!  Because a select few people in Google are literally the closest a homo sapiens has ever come to being an all knowing God.

This is not some conspiracy theory.  Some time ago Google started hiding search results.  Out of on thousand people coming to a website via Google search, almost nine hundred are now a blank slate.  Google doesn’t tell us which keyword sent them here.  “Unknown search terms” is their way of admitting they are evil.

Worse still, the kind of keywords not appearing in results is far from random.  Google has used all their deep learning algorithm prowess to skilfully select categories so you can’t game or reverse engineer it.  Even in languages other than English, their technology is awesome.  90 per cent of the planet is using a search engine which then sends them to results based on a completely secret method.  And then it tells us nothing about where and how it did it.

So what?  Well, for starters, Google can hide or promote any idea, product, brand or other entity.  There are extreme examples, whereby a government or rich person pays them to do it.  Relegating a search result to page two of search results is usually good enough, though I have seen cases where the unwanted result disappears completely after on phone call.  Completely.  Like it never existed.

But that isn’t the biggest issue.  The real question nobody is asking is “how does Google sell all this knowledge?”  If you want to know what teenagers in your region will be buying tomorrow, Google can tell you.  Yes, it can sell you the information.  The corellations between search results and real life transactions and trends are pure gold.  Google knows if your next export idea is good or not.  Google knows what will sell and what will fail.  Much like they did with influenza, Google knows better than anyone at any time in human history, what is going to happen tomorrow.

All large organizations have more or less secret divisions.  When Microsoft decided to target governments all around the world, they didn’t call the division “blackmail and coerce department”.  It was lobbying.   Unfortunately Google works in much shadier ways.   Kings of industry have personal and secret relationships with Google.  Not their “head of sales” or “head of Research and Development”.  It is outside the office where this sort of information is exchanged.  Like insider information for the stock market only much much more powerful.

Google not only knows which government will win the elections, Google can greatly influence the result.  Google doesn’t even care, they can sell advertising and information to everyone on all sides involved.  Their rising levels of secrecy and the pittance of data they do allow us access to proves Google is more powerful to do evil than any other organisation in the history of mankind.

Business Communication

What your girlfriend can teach you about online communication

“Chat?  That is for my teenage daughter!”  Yeah, right.  Only while you are busy pretending to be serious, she and her entire generation are learning communication skills you need to work on.  Some best practices to think about:

  1. It is easier!  From a scientific point of view it is well established that we use much less energy processing computer related situations than we do with face to face interactions.  You don’t need to constantly scan eyes, body language and all those other non verbal cues which are brains are optimized to scan through thousands of years of evolution.  Everyone keeps harping on about “stop emailing, get face to face!” but there are many situations which demand reversing that thought.
  2. Urgency indicators.  The great thing about modern technology is that you can, if you want, decide when to respond.  This goes for chat too.  As long as you let it.    Most people have a mental map of how urgent each channel is.   “Email for slow things, guess he will respond today or tomorrow maybe; Facebook chat for the quickies, if he is online, he should write back briefly immediately;  SMS for urgent, telephone for really urgent stuff.”   Make sure you are clear everyone knows how you prioritize them.
  3. Sort of not synchronous communication.  Telephone is live, immediate.  Email is not.   That sort of dichotomy however melts away if you think of a Skype call.  You might send a message like “is this a good time?” and then ten minutes later actually do the video part.   Or maybe some parts of the meeting will involve exchanging documents in the chat window and discussing them.
  4. Emoticons.    Do you know why there are so many?  Because we need them!  They are the fastest way to recover from a written statement which may be misinterpreted.  Emoji, Kimoji, whateveroji away.  You can put across emotional support instantly when you need it.  There is more diplomacy or even cunning power games in a well placed smiley than you could get through three paragraphs of artful writing.  In terms of filling in for physical presence they can help with body language, intonation, facial expressions or even alluding to touch.
  5. Devil in the details.  In terms of the girlfriend analogy of the title, this is the equivalent to a couple trying out news things.  Go to a different restaurant, pick an unusual holiday style.  Same with online chat.  I noticed today that in Viber you can change the background of the chat window.   Before you say “oh, just a silly gimmick!” try it out.  It changes your mood dramatically.  In fact every single messaging technology I have tried over the past decades feels different.  It puts you in a different mood.  Always try it first before dismissing it because some of the differences are very hard to explain.

I could add many other big or small items on my list, some would seem silly in a business context.  But they are important.  And much like any other communication, whether it is with your girlfriend or your boss, it is all about picking the right channel and the right time.

Don’t think about it.  Try it out.

Business Communication Society Technology

The Asian Toad and Google research for business

My friend James is probably the smartest person I know.  Whether he is teaching himself music in order to do the soundtrack to an amazing documentary of his, building innovative mammal free zones in New Zealand, riding a motorbike or in Madagascar fighting the Asian toad.

The what?  When a modern human comes across something unknown, we Google it.  Just like that.  Which means that billions (3.2 billion) of searches a day globally can tell us a lot.  People in the UK search for “toad” more than other countries, but of course there are toad in books, children’s series, music band and all sorts of other things.   Maybe there are opportunities in those for some sort of co-promotion.  The English are followed by Ausies, Americans, Canadians, NZ and …Nigeria?  Following Google searches is a bit like the dictionary game.  I just spent five minutes learning about “The Grasshopper and the Toad”, a short story by a Nigerian, as well as the use of the word “toad” in Nigerian politics.  Which is exactly the sort of peripheral knowledge you need as a business when researching your topic.

For example searches for “toad” have seasonality.  Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be because of some amphibian habit.  For example in the UK, October seems to be the main month for “toad in the hole”, a popular local dish, comfort food for many.  By contrast in the America, searches for “toad” peak every year at May and Arkansas is the state leading in interest.  If you are planning a campaign for the Asian toad, maybe do it in the winter when people so you don’t compete with all the people asking “what is the difference between a toad and a frog?”    In Australia searches for toads are in the Northern territory, don’t waste any ad money elsewhere.

Of course Google “normalises” the data.  Which means they try and mess it up enough so you can’t reverse engineer it, or use it to compete.  Still, with time, even without numbers, you can see that there are more searches for a “horned frog” than an “asian toad”.  You can follow that path too and look for promotional opportunities if you want to.

I picked the example of the Asian Toad on purpose.  If you are using a business problem you are often too close to the topic to explore.  For example searches for “toad” correlate in seasonality in the U.S. with searches for “vinyl siding”, “house paints”, “insects” and “utility trailer”.  Each of these terms merits some online detective work.  Working around the limitations of data provided by Google is actually inspiring.  Searches for “frog” correlate mostly with “garden clogs” in America but while checking this out I discovered “save the frogs”, a poetry competition in Australia which made quite a digital dent in terms of stats.

Searches for “toad” in Australia correlate with the term “religious”.  The search to figure out why this occurs won’t fit in a blog post.  But you see the point:  playing around with Google search data brings new ideas to your project.  It changes priorities by giving new angles.  Something you consider secondary might be a huge business opportunity in a specific segment.    New ideas are born, old ones improved.  We are all essentially trying to build a model of how things work.  Use Google’s model to tweak yours.

It is a big and complex world.  Don’t let your assumptions narrow things down too quickly.  Oh, and check out – tell people about the Asian toad and let’s all do something about it.


I saw your teapot

I saw your teapot,

it was small.

Quite clean, and stylish

very neat.


Looks like you use it now and then

but yet,

it didn’t fool me.


Not one of those well crafted ones,

that make ten cups a day.

Nor one of the enormous ones,

when we’ve a lot to say.

Or well respected older pots,

with patches, cracks, decay.


I judge men by their teapots now,

and yours is lacking greatly.

Takes more than water and a bag,

to brew a proper Tetley.


Business Communication

Mastercard hits rock bottom in advertising

The poster in the Athens metro featured a young man next to a swimming pool at Santorini.

“Waking up in the sky: Priceless 
With your MasterCard you are welcome all
in resorts, hotels, villas and spas.”

Oh really?  Welcome are you?  Whoever wrote that hasn’t travelled much in Greece, have they?  Sure, major hotels and fancy spas in major tourist locations might accept Mastercard. But that is the tip of the iceberg of course.  Most rooms to let don’t have any way to accept a Mastercard.  At best they might take you down to the tourist shop, charge the card and get cash from their friend there.  (I have done this!)  But wait, another ad:

“With your Mastercard you are welcome all over Greece, in supermarkets, fruit markets and grocery stores.”

Yeah right!  Outside of major cities and big supermarkets, if you try showing a credit card in a “fruit market” everyone will laugh at you of course.   And any small “grocery store” on an island is more likely to accept your jewellery as payment than a Mastercard!

I tried hard to think what else Mastercard might want to achieve.  Maybe they want to pressure store owners to install credit card machines.   So advertising in the summer when everyone involved in tourism isn’t in Athens to see their campaign makes loads of sense….not!   Maybe they will just run it for a couple of weeks, take pictures and then tell everybody that they did it, see if that impresses them!

Coming face-to-face with
your schoolbook pictures: Priceless®
With your MasterCard, you are welcome all over Greece,
in museums and galleries

This one cracked me up.  If I had a pen with me I would have added “if the museum is not on strike, or the keeper hasn’t left early that day, or it isn’t some weird holiday you have never heard of, or it isn’t one of those little museums with just one guard and no electricity or internet connection which doesn’t accept credit cards….”   The picture of a statue was also really weird, some angle which felt distinctly uncomfortable.  Surely not an image any one found in “schoolbook pictures”!

But the fourth advert of the series in the metro was probably the best:

Forgetting to update your status: Priceless
With your MasterCard you are welcome all over Greece
in bars, night clubs and discos

This whole campaign is some sort of weird fiction.  As if some exec in the US dreamed up a campaign in ten minutes projecting a long term goal from one of his powerpoint presentations.   It is in many ways like holding up a “everything that is wrong with Greek tourism” summary in four advertisements.   In an upside down world maybe you can go to a noisy bar and pull out a Mastercard to pay for your drink.   But surely not in Greece!

Oh, and it is impossible not to “update your status” because all the Greeks do at the club is play with their cell phones…



Communication Society

Send in the Olympics…and then the IMF!

(Note: By popular local demand this article has been translated to Greek with various extra links to older articles about the Olympics here.)

This is not some conspiracy theory.  My question is simple:  What is the effect of turning a huge global spotlight on a country via the Olympics?

Of course I am thinking of Greece and a recent conversation – for the umpteenth time – about the economic impact.  That isn’t really the point.   Multiple fine economists have studied micro, macro and …malaka economics concerning impact and it is always a pretty grim picture.  But forget all that and please don’t get caught up in whether or not we needed a stadium for baseball.   Or whether they killed all the stray dogs inhumanely or not.

What did the world see of Greece because of the Olympics?  For a couple of years in the run up all you heard of us was pretty grim horror stories.  How bad our economy is, how terrible the workers unions are, how difficult it is to get anything done, how the prime minister had to do it himself… it just went on and on.  A British newspaper would make fun of us, we spiked our backs in indignation but the story stuck.   Greeks are lazy, just like we thought they were, and completely incapable of getting anything done in time.   British, American and German companies have to fly in at the last minute to get it done.

The fact that the Athens Olympics “went well” is beside the point from a communication point of view.   Everyone just assumed (quite rightly) that it is a party that always goes well in the end.   Same crowd, same stars, same music.  There haven’t been any “failed” Olympics because it always comes together in the end.  Nothing to do with the Greeks, it is the organizers that get it done.  One way or another.   We just pay the bill.

So many years of bad news about Greece, then a few weeks of pleasantries.   Then some of you went on holiday here and then the whole circus headed for the next host country.  What was left as an impression?   That Greece is hopeless.   A lost case.   An easy target for any sort of economic speculation…hey, wait a minute, that’s exactly what happened isn’t it?   Greeks think the whole world is against them.   Ancient obsession.   Jews, Germans,Persians, Americans, even aliens have supposedly targeted Greeks as the “chosen” enemy because we are so good!  They are all jealous or something like that.

Well this is the first time it feels like they are right!   Greece was indeed singled out in a pretty unique way.  Both in terms of policies, in the way other countries ganged up against it (or for it, depends on your conspiracy hat) and the media had a field day.   We complain about German media, but what did we expect?  We have been selling the image of lazy Greeks, on lazy islands, with lazy donkeys, sipping ouzo and taking siestas for so long that it would be rather hard to change now!  

The Olympics aren’t to blame for the Greek financial crisis.   And conspiracy theorists are wrong:  these things aren’t preplanned by some evil Genius or ten ultra rich people.  But the way the Olympics shone a light on all of our weaknesses helped Greece take the scapegoat position a lot more easily than it would have otherwise.    Selling unusually harsh measures needs a strong story to work on.   And a corrupt and lazy country, incapable of organising the Games is a pretty good start in building a global negative myth to get that sort of story off the ground…

Business Communication

In defence of experiments

The recent uproar concerning experiments run by Facebook is really worrying.   Because without experiments, there is no business, there is no progress and we learn nothing.   Most of my working day is spent conducting experiments or setting up experiments.   Most of my business advice ends with “well, let’s try it!”  Facebook being accused now is ludicrous.  Google runs much more experiments on a much grander scale and nobody has ever complained about that, have they?

Anything we do on the internet is set up as an A/B experiment.  I, Facebook or Google do exactly the same thing: we send one user to one type of setup and the next to another.  Then we measure.  It is no different to what I did when I was in retail.  You set up a shelf one way, see how it sells, how people react.  You set up a different store differently.   Then you measure.

This attitude really is the only way to learn.  Whether you are Leonardo DaVinci or Bill Gates, this is your tool.  Experimentation.   And of course in business, until animals get their own credit cards, most experiments concern human behavior.    We want to sell more, change attitudes, change beliefs, influence you.   We play music at different volumes to change the speed you walk in the supermarket, we use different colors to change the way you eat in McDonalds, we use even smells to sell more in a travel office.   You do the same thing everyday in your job too.   Two year olds do the same things to test their parents limits.

Much of my best consulting has been in finding ways to conduct experiments despite limitations.   How to test demand for an eshop idea without actually building it for real?  How to find potential buyers for a service which hasn’t been completely defined yet?   How to run a competition for our product without risking the edgy concept backfiring on us?

So give Facebook some slack and stop pretending.   Look at your everyday life.  If you’re not experimenting all the time, you’re not learning.