Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Backdata on 19th century CPA and more musings on busyness

A nice link from the Purple Motes blog related to my continuous partial attention post of a few days ago provides the following info:
Until the 1820s (when candle technology started to improve markedly), both wax and tallow candles needed frequent "snuffing." We commonly misunderstand the term snuffing today -- it did not mean to put a candle flame out; instead, it meant to trim the candle's wick. If one did not snuff frequently, then the wick would grow longer as the wax melted, curving over toward the small wall of solid material holding in the melted wax or tallow. The curving wick would then melt the wall, causing the molten material to flow down the candle and be lost. This phenomenon was called "guttering," and it ensured that the candle burned less efficiently and for a shorter time. Tallow candles left unattended might use just five percent of their material and gutter out within half an hour. ...the point is that reading was regularly interrupted -- perhaps every ten minutes or so -- by the need to snuff a candle.[1]

This was in relation, I assume, to my musing over whether or not other ages were as distracted as we, but just differently so.
Point nicely made. I had assumed as much, and go on assuming that there are additional examples of how BB peoples (Before Blackberries) had much on their minds.

About the only way I can think of really measuring a change in the level of distractedness, is by applying it to myself over the course of my lifetime. Am I more distracted at 40 than I was, say, at 16 or 25? I'm not sure. I feel more harried at times, yes. But very little of that has to do with the state of my tools and media choices. It's more about having a kid and a job that has more responsibility than I had at 16 or 25.

And I certainly remember being pretty distracted, harried and hyper-busy in college, even though I had no access to MySpace, IM a cell phone or email.

So I don't know if the delta-frantic in my life is an age thing or an Age thing. And I don't know if all people, throughout history, have either felt, in general, more hectic and pressured as their lives have progressed, or if it's a symptom of our Modern Age.

I have, as I see it, one choice: to master the tools and skills that I feel are helpful, and to limit my interactions with those that I feel are distracting.

Which brings us back to the box. Which we'll get to shortly.


[1] [1] Eliot, Simon (2001), "'Never Mind the Value, What about the Price?"; Or, How Much Did Marmion Cost St. John Rivers?" Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 173, 177.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Alternate Lyrics Kung-Fu

There's a good, somewhat aged post over at Creating Passionate Users about "Creativity on Speed." The basic idea being that having to create something under time constraints is a good way to jump-start the creative process, or jump past creative barriers.

I agree. Back in school, when I was studying writing both in class and in lots of off-hours ways, we'd do lottsa exercises that forced time pressures on us. One of my favorites was "Alternate Lyrics Kung-Fu." Here's how it goes.

  1. Everybody writes the name of a well-known, popular song on a slip of pink paper.

  2. Everybody writes a topic on a slip of yellow paper. And by topic, I mean just about anything. You can write any word or short phrase like, "monkeys," "car repair," "psychotropic drugs," "communism," "your mom," etc.

  3. Put the slips in the middle of the table.

  4. Pick one of each.

  5. You now have 2 minutes to rewrite the song you picked (on the pink slip) with lyrics based on the topic written on the yellow slip.

So, let's say you got the Beatle's song, "Norweigan Wood," and the topic, "cheese." OK... Go!
I once had a lunch, or should I say, I once had cheese.
Cheese can be a side, but not a meal. I wasn't full.
Cheese passed on a plate at a party is something that's fair.
But all by itself can be boring, there's not much "there" there.
And when I was done, I craved much more, more than that cheese.
So I baked a pie. Isn't it good. More tasty food.

Now... I admit. I spent about 4 minutes on that. OK. But I haven't played the game in... yeech. Almost 20 years.

In a post soon I'll go back and talk about how time is only one part of "the box" we're always trying to get out of when we talk about "getting out of the box." We can't get out of the box. We can only understand it and use it better. There are other ways to master the box. More on the box later.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I own the moon (new poem)

Because I say I do.

There are wolves, for sure,
and loons up late. They hoot,
black charcoal shadow cartoon fools
whose gloom assumes
we, too, mourn loss of bright
fiery blaze;
patent days.

There are none, though, walking ways
of cratered, corduroy, rolling, dust-grey
hills and basins. Peaks and vales
like battlefields of grim grenades
and silent, sentient cosmic chum.
but me.

And I say, "Pay!"

You lovers on my white-glow leaning;
you hunters creeping, deer-spoor seeking;
you children peering, “One day,” dreaming;
all who look upon this, frankly, dreary, lifeless face,
this wide-eyed, gaping maw of rock and shining, lantern jaw,
you now owe toll!

No more free ride. Pay up. Way up.

The Man in the Moon be damned.
Homage? For the loons.
I own the moon.

Continuous Partial... Look! A Bunny!

I've heard the term Continuous Partial Attention a few times recently. It was coined by Linda Stone. Some quotes and comments here on O'Reilly.

Partly it rings true. There are days, of course, when the email piles up and the cell phone vibrates and the Blackberry blinks and umpty-nine people walk into my cube looking for ring-around-the-whatever, etc. etc. and I think, "Is this what I am? A thrall to my toys and tools and a help-desk for everybody within range of my loud, annoying voice?"

But then I remember something. We humans are hunters as well as gatherers, and successful hunters are marked by skills that are very well defined by the term "continuous partial attention." If you are very, very focused on one thing -- let's say, spoor -- you won't pick up sounds. If you are only listening to the sounds of one kind of prey, you won't hear the sounds of other, possibly more valuable dinner-time meat.

Gathering, of course, rewards more single-attention-focus behavior. And the ultimate forms of gathering -- modern, mechanized, industrialized, assembly-line systems -- are ones in which we are each expected to be one thing, all the time, thank you. "Round peg, round hole." Sit down, shut up. You need continuous, full, single-task attention when you are only expected to do and be one thing every damned day for your whole working and family life.

What do you do? What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you plan to make of your life? What does your dad/mom do for a living? Where do you work? What does your company do? These are all questions that, more or less, presuppose a single answer.

But we've been told, for quite awhile now, that we'll all have a number of jobs and careers before we buy the big dirt nap. And if that's the case, if we will "gather" a number of types of rosebuds while we may, then aren't we, possibly, coming into a time when our hunter attributes are going to be more appropriate to success?

The landline telephone was supposed to be incredibly disruptive to our social well-being when it first came out. It would interrupt family time. Allow people whom we did not know to fracture the peace and tranquility of our domestic castle. It would encourage a breakdown of the wall between "business" and "home." Oh, dear! My whole life, me attention has been continuously parted by the telephone!
Sarcasm aside... perhaps it's a case of learning to cope. I've seen this in just the 15 years I've been involved in the wireless industry. In 1992, when I got into the business, people had no coping skills. The few people who had portable phones pretty much answered them every time they rang. Partly that was because so few people had them, and so few people had their numbers. By 1999, after the initial popular explosion, millions of people were carrying flip-phones, and most of them hadn't learned how to deal. Everyone was answering calls everywhere, mostly rudely, and they had to start reminding us to, "Please... silence your cell phones," before movies.

Now? In most places, our phones are on "vibrate" all the time. Most of us don't mind if a friend glances at a phone for a sec to see who it is on Caller ID, and then says, "I have to take this." The assumption is that it's the spouse or the boss. And we wait... because we have spouses and bosses, too. And cell phones. But if it's another call... we let it go to VM. And we don't much care. At least I don't. Either about checking mine, or you checking yours.

About four months ago I got a Blackberry-like Pocket PC that lets me surf the Web and check my work email and calendar at all times. Do I sometimes check it during a meeting when I should be listening? Yeah... if I'm waiting for an email that is (imo) more important than what's going on in the meeting. Do I see other people doing that, too? Yup. And if I need to repeat a question... NBD.

Hunting. Not gathering. Active. Not passive. Looking for spoor and listening to the sounds of the jungle. Lots of little sounds and the crackle of twigs and hoots and calls in the distance and smells and... you get the picture.

We aren't round pegs anymore. We are hunting for and pounding different pegs every day. The pace of change is only accelerating. Our ability to sense markers, to be verbs and consumers of verbs rather than trying to exist as nouns will help us to succeed.

Also... If you're looking for a cute bunny that shouldn't be hunted but helped to the stars, please take some time with the absolutely charming Orsinal Games.  The one in the upper left is "Winter Bells," and is just delightful. Many of them are, but there's just something about that bunny...

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Twelve Little Pigs

Another post inspired by conversation with my 7-year-old son...

So, Danny was telling me about an assignment at school where the teacher asked them to draw or describe tools that the Three Little Pigs could have used to help build their respective houses of straw, sticks and bricks. Neat assignment, btw, I thought.

He told me about his ideas, and then went on to tell me about something else that day, I forget what, but the story also involved the number "3."

"Why," I asked him, "Do you think the number '3' is in so many stories? Why is it '3 pigs' and '3 wise-men' and '3 blind mice' and all those other '3's?'"

His initial answer proves he's my son...

"Well," he replied. "If it were always 9's, you'd just be asking me the same thing about 9's, wouldn't you?"

Right. It has to be something, don't it? Anyway...

"That's a good point," I agreed. "But why should it just be three pigs? Wouldn't it be a funny story if there were a lot more? Like twelve little pigs? And there their houses were built out of lots of other stuff?"

"Like stuff that's not hay or twigs or bricks. Weaker or stronger stuff?" he asked.

"Exactly. What would the first pig have used, if it was weaker than hay?"

Dan thought for a second and then said, "Grass?"

"Sure," I agreed. "That's weaker than hay. But if we're going to do twelve... I bet you can think of something even weaker than grass to build a house out of."

"Cotton candy!"

"Excellent! That's amazing. That would really be an awful house to hide in from a wolf."

"What would you choose, Dad?" he asked.

I thought and said, "Bubbles."

He nodded. "That's a very weak house."

"Can you," I asked, "think of anything worse or weaker than bubbles to build a house out of?"

He paused for a long moment, brow furrowed in concentration before answering.


I may have peed a little I laughed so hard. Of course. Because, and he confirmed this was his reasoning, chickens would run around a lot while you tried to build out of them.

So I asked him to list the full Pig House Building Material Manifest of Twelve. It went like this:

  • Chickens

  • Bubbles (my only contribution)

  • Cotton Candy

  • Grass

  • Paper

  • Hay

  • Twigs

  • Pants (I have no idea... he just inserted this one on his own)

  • Bricks

  • Concrete

  • Iron

  • Diamonds held together with Super Glue

That would be such a better story.

When he was done, he wanted to know if he could add one more. I said, of course, "Sure."

"I think," he said, "it would really freak the wolf out if you built a house out of wolves."

I agree. I truly, deeply agree.
The moral of this story for writers and creative types is... multiply. If you have three blind mice... how would the song change if it were 300? Farmer's wife... watch out! The song "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," really only lists 5... can you think of 45 more?
"Then the pigs built a house of pants..."

Totally cracks me up. I have no idea what it means, but I love it.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Different vs. Better: Worst Blinders Ever

We are genetically programmed to fear change. Period. I know this, you know it. It's OK. It makes sense. When you do something the same, you're less likely to be poisoned by a strange berry or wander into a dangerous alley and get the crap kicked out of you or marry someone who speaks a language you don't. Because of the predisposition, we almost always regard new stuff, different stuff, immediately as "bad," or at least "worse." Those who do it the other way will qualify it as "better," of course.

We have a hard time with "different." We're just too dang competitive. See "evolution," "professional sports," "org charts" and "last piece of pie."
Problem is, a natural inclination to regard "different" as immediately "worse" or "better" is not logical. And we end up defending our first inclination because, well... we like to be right rather than sensible. Or successful.

Shoshin, or "The Beginners Mind," is a Zen Buddhist concept that suggests we're better off always behaving as an appropriately open-minded amateur, rather than a "I know everything" professional. Shunryu Suzuki said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

So... Let's have an example.

A recent Media Post "Online Publishing Insider" post titled, "Gobbledygoogle," talks about how the TV advertising industry shouldn't let Google sell "scatter" TV advertising; ie, the ads that are left over after the upfront. His point is basically that by letting Google in the door to sell to people that can't currently afford TV media, it will let in people who also can't currently afford to make good TV creative. His metaphor is that of high-priced real estate:

New Canaan, Conn. has one of the most exclusive Zip codes in the country. Residents include David Letterman, Paul Simon, and, ironically, Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric. The town maintains its immense value because not everyone can afford to live there. Television is like New Canaan — not every advertiser can afford to live there. What Google fails to recognize as it tries to play in this neighborhood is that, while it does make it easier for advertisers to pay the mortgage, those same advertisers can’t afford to build a home. Google advertisers pay a buck or two a click to advertise on Google right now. How much money do you think they are going to spend on the production of a television ad?

This piece is, frankly, the best example of defending "different" as "worse" I've seen in awhile, and I am grateful. Because it really helps us see how change can frighten the bo-jangles out of us while keeping us from seeing, as Suzuki said, the many possibilities.

Rosenberg, the author of the Media Post piece, has seen one possibility -- that the same people that pay low dollars for pay-per-click search ads will pay the same dollars for pay-per-spot TV scatter... and (assumptions continue), that their creative will suck (more assumption) because (additional assumption) it will be similarly low-budget... AND (still more assumptions) viewers will cringe and turn away from badly produced ads. The number of assumptions in this chain of reasoning is quite impressive, and gives us lots of room to back up and behave like a proper beginner. And what does a proper beginner do? Ask questions. Smart questions. Lots of questions. Because questions lead to possibilities, and possibilities lead to more avenues to success. Questions we might ask about the, "Google TV ads will lead to great buckets of suck," conclusion:

  • Are all advertisers using Google ads that don't currently buy TV doing so because of lack of budget? Or are there other reasons? Could the logistical difficulties of spreading a decent ad budget over a national buy, but on local stations, or in tight verticals have been something that has kept advertisers out of that media? If I have a product that I sell, spread out, in 50 states, but don't have the time to negotiate local ad buys with 50-250 Tier 2 or Tier 3 stations... and I don't feel like paying a media buying service a huge cut to do that for me... is it a question of not having money? Or not having time or an appropriate tool for spreading my money appropriately?

  • Are we even talking about the same people? Google AdWords can appeal to mom-and-pop shops with ad budgets as low as $50-100/month. If your ad word campaign is specific enough, you can get good results. I don't think "cheap" in TV is ever going to be "cheap" in ad words. And the stations will still, clearly, get to set a basement on their prices, eh? We're not talking about a 30-second spot going for $11. So though Google will be doing the selling, and though they will be attracting an audience of advertisers that is "different" than some current TV advertisers, that doesn't mean they will be "different" in the same way that ad word advertisers are different front current TV advertisers. I suspect that there will be some overlap, yes... but that we'll find lots of current TV advertisers simply upping their levels and finding new places to put current creative. Which leads to...

  • Why must the creative be cheap simply because the media is cheaper? That's just a bad assumption. If I have X to spend on advertising, I may decide to blow 2/3 on the creative, in the hope that it goes viral. If the price for TV comes within my range, it may open the door into some creative production that we haven't seen before. Which leads to...

  • Since when does "big budget" = "good" in creative land? Land'a Goshen... Think of the worst TV ads you've ever seen, and my guess is that they all cost more than $200,000 to make. Jeez. And last time I looked, home-made, low-bud creative was taking the world by storm, eh? The Quizno's Spongmonkey ads kicked ass for them. And the production values were... uh... not there.

  • And even if the ads suck... Does that mean that viewers will turn away? That's the craziest part of this chain. Yeah. I'm watching a show that I like (probably on my DVR). And a bad ad (meaning most of them) comes on. I'm so turned off by the production values that I leave the station, never to return to the last 10 minutes of my show. Yeah. That'll happen. Here's the thing... If I'm watching one of the Big Four networks, I'm much more likely to be turned off by the low production values and fantastically bad writing of the local news team or an ad for a used car dealership down the road, which we've had for decades.

I have no idea if Google handling TV ad remainders would be good or bad for the industry. I'm not well versed enough in the details. But I know enough about how *not* to approach a new situation when it's just out of the gate. Don't make assumptions. Don't take one trail all the way from "what I like now" to "what will be the worst case scenario if one little thing changes." Don't confuse "different" with "worse."

And don't forget to ask lots of questions.