It's not you, it's me.

The lame excuse of high school break ups contains enormous truth. If only we believed it. It struck me recently how convinced we are of the opposite. 

For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
— Psalm 36: 2
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It starts when we are kids. Our parents come to our rescue if anything in the world says we aren’t perfect. It is really hard not to do this with my own kids. If something happens clearly it must be the other kid’s fault, because my kids are angels (this is in fact a true statement). I have to tell my kid they are perfect and why the other kid is wrong, right? It’s interesting how it is entirely different if the conflict is with a brother or sister. I automatically assume that if you’re crying you probably had something to do with the whole situation.

By the time we get to college we’ve come to believe it’s not us, it’s the professor. How many times have I seen students who complain the professor didn’t remind them enough about X, Y or Z: 

“Was it on the syllabus?” 

“Yes.” 

“So they just didn’t mention it in class?” 

“Well no, they did, but…” 

Or my all time favorite, “The professor seems to show favoritism to those who did the reading.” No kidding?

It only gets worse as adults. In my line of work I know a lot of people who believe we are at war. A political/cultural war that consumes the waking hours of many of them. Whether it is the Fox News junkies, the Dittoheads or whatever the Laura Ingram audience calls itself many of them believe they have THE truth and that they only need to destroy the evil enemy in order to establish world peace. We need to attack!

We are at war. But we seem to have forgotten that the war is not with 'THEM'. The war we are in is only with ourselves. The very moment I think I’m fine and that I don’t need to get better, I’ve lost the war. We forget that annoying truth that we are supposed to love everyone else (our brothers and sisters) and not declare war against 'THEM'. Of course it’s still hard because even if you embrace this mindset you can’t hope the person you’re apologizing to does. And damn it that is frustrating.

It’s not you, it’s me, especially if I’m mad at you.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
— John 13: 35

Authenticity: the popularly priced version of Truth

Too much has been written about the Dove Sketch Ad (26,900,00+ views1). What kept bothering me, though, was trying to understand why so many angry haters?

The hate2 seems to stem mostly from the obvious inauthenticity of the ad3. Apparently Dove still sells beauty products4. Then I realized no, they hate it because it is True. This also happens to be why I think it's the first of Dove's long running 'Real Beauty' campaign that really works.

What is the Truth?

First, we5 always have and always will struggle to be better6. And you know what? That is actually a good thing. Oh, and it happens to be human nature7. I think this is what is driving most of the anger. The authors get angry because women (but apparently not men who, like me, look like Brad Pitt) can't just accept that they are perfect. Of course they can't - it's a lie. Since I'm not perfect, I'm pretty sure you aren't either. And that is okay. We only have two choices: either get better or get worse - standing still is not possible8.

Second - and this is the brilliance of the Dove Ad - women often carry this good thing too far. The Dove Ad tells women that Dove understands them, and it reminds them that striving is okay, but only to a point. Just because the ad doesn't say, "Oh, by the way, if you are ugly, you can still be a good friend," doesn't discredit the ad9.

So would you rather buy from a company that understands the truth or one that's just authentic10?


1 Last week The Voice had the most broadcast tv views at 14.4M.

2 Let's ignore the fact that negative criticism is often just the way to take a trending topic and generate attention.

3 Also: The artist was a male, apparently the women in the ad are still too attractive, aren't diverse enough, society is to be blamed, etc.

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4 image of offensive product ->

5 The collective we humans of the world. Somehow, I'm sure this is offensive.

6 Looking, financially fit, educated, spiritually, socially, etc.

7 Whether you believe it is what's best for our species or because we are striving for something much greater after this life (or both).

8 Applies equally well to businesses - grow or shrink you can't stand still. My scale went up today tomorrow it will go down.

9 Nor that it doesn't mention every: eye color, hair color, skin color, age, chin shape, face symmetry.

10 Apparently an authentic Dove would not sell any beauty products. Maybe they can make a business out of putting affirming messages in their jars of cellulite reduction cream?

Ban the Dart Board

I sometimes imagine brands having this secret room with a giant dart board. The dart board has all the attributes research claims their target audience cares about. When it comes time for a new product or campaign they walk into this room and are given three darts.

Example

McDonald's and its new McWrap (Great Article: McDonald's Has a Millenial Problem). McDonald's is apparently spending a fortune to launch the McWrap because they are doing poorly with millenials. Since millenials value choice (Dart 1) and customization (Dart 2) they developed the McWrap. So I went to McDonald's and ordered the Subway crushing McWrap. It seemed I had three flavor choices (from what I can remember they were: Sweet Chili something, Bacon something and Ranch something) and I could decide whether I wanted crispy (still makes me feel less guilty) or grilled chicken. My sweet chili crispy chicken wrap was good but not something I'd return to get why? Is it because I'm not a millenial and don't value this type of choice as much? No! It just wasn't anything special.

From our research I think millenials absolutely value choice but not for choice's sake. The appeal of choice is that I might discover something NEW (I'm the first of my friends to know about it) and this discovery is so compelling I have to share my experience. Finding something like that makes me cool and we can never have enough social currency. Telling my friends "I tried the McWrap and it wasn't bad," does not earn me social currency. I'd argue if it came with no options but was so unexpectedly good that I said, "No, seriously you have to try this and yes it is at McDonald's." That would work for millenials and probably the rest of us too.

The future of marketing

Marketing is the ART of telling authentic STORIES that get SHARED by an AUDIENCE. (Based heavily on the insights of Seth Godin) ART: Art is an intellectual ability, acquired by practice, of making an idea a reality.

STORIES: Rest and delight our souls by lifting our minds and emotions above the cares, confusions, strains, and frustrations of everyday life to a wider and clearer vision. Rhetorical stories should inspire us to action, achievement and solving the problem at hand.

SHARED: Sharing is a conversation. It is human nature to share. We must create things people are excited to share.

AUDIENCE: The community of people we love. Love begins with empathy. Big data is not empathy.

If you are looking for a new marketing firm find someone who:

  1. Loves the audience you want to reach.
  2. Knows how to tell a great story.
  3. Can clearly explain to you why people share.
  4. Has a clear process for creating great art that connects.

 

 

Take your 5-year-old to the Avengers!

Ok wait. Don't actually do that. Unless you are okay tolerating a little too much violence for a great life lesson. Last night my wife and I took our 5 and 7-year-old boys to see the Avengers and here are the lessons learned:

1) Don't listen to people without kids about what's okay for kids to watch.

2) Stan Lee is a brilliant man with more impact on culture then almost anyone appreciates (reinforcing this was the fact that only Kate and I laughed at his cameo).

3) Despite being a little too violent for them, there are two big lessons my kids will never forget from this movie that I will reference for a long time as they grow up:

Leaving the theater I asked Isaac (7), "What was Hulk's problem?"

"He gets angry," said Isaac.

"What did he have to do to be a good guy?"

"Control his anger."

Now for a kid who often reacts out of anger and stays angry, I am not sure he could have seen a better example that he could internalize and that Kate and I will use to help reinforce the lesson.

"Jake, what did the super heroes have to learn to beat the bad guys?"

"To work together."

I'm not sure they've seen anything else that comes close to delivering such a clear message in such an entertaining way. I love Pixar, but it doesn't come close. From that standpoint I'm not sure Avengers can be beat.

Thank you, Stan and Joss.

How not to choose a college

When I speak with perspective students and their families I often feel sorry for the bewildering choice they face. Education is an enormous financial commitment. Unfortunately, the best information available is often little indication of whether or not the school is the right choice for them. Worse still most people justify the expense because of the job they hope to have post-graduation. So my advice is straightforward: Don't choose a school because you want a job (there are rare exceptions). Picking a school because you want a job is an outmoded model and an enormous gamble. If you disagree, I invite you to look at people who articulate the dilemma better than I: read Linchpin by Seth Godin, watch the presentations given by Sir Ken Robinson (Sir Ken Robinson @ TED and Sir Ken Robinson - RSA Animation). When we are training students for a future we can't possibly predict, for jobs that don't yet exist, going to school based upon a job you think you want is at best a gamble.

What should school accomplish?

In the recently released, and much buzzed Academically Adrift, the authors argue, supported by what schools themselves claim, that the primary aims should include critical thinking, complex reasoning and advanced writing. To some extent I agree. These traits are critical in nearly any field. The problem is that, at most universities, the ideas of critical thinking and complex reasoning are interwoven with a relativistic world view. Rather than leading students to The Truth students learn that any position can be supported and argued, even if it is fundamentally false. If critical thinking's main accomplishment is promoting a relativistic world view, is it any wonder why little actual learning happens on most campuses?

Pope Benedict XVI in his 2008 address to Catholic educators had a slightly better argument:

First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord's disciples, the Church.

This encounter, once embraced, naturally leads students to a passion for their faith. As Benedict continues "Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens the vast adventure of what they ought to do."

As we all know, this encounter isn't always an instantaneous event and the place isn't a singular building on campus. Rather it happens over time and is singularly dependent on God's grace.  How then should a school provide the place?

Most schools have as part of their mission the idea of graduating "life-long learners" the only problem is they don't explain what that means or how it is accomplished. My argument, and I think that of Pope Benedict, is that learning happens most effectively through passion. If I get passionate about something, learning becomes trivial. Passion MUST come first for The Truth and second for a vocation.

In order to ignite a passion for any vocation (not just a job) one must understand their strengths and learn the truth that true joy is found through "being for others" (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). When a student discovers a unique talent and they understand how that talent can be used to serve others, try and stop them from learning, growing and doing amazing things.

How does a school ignite passion?

The only way this can happen in school is through the Grace of God and the living example of the faculty, students and administration. Only through the witness of people passionate about their faith AND passionate about their vocation can you hope to ignite the right kind of passion in students. Students must see examples of people who have achieved worldly success and yet live their faith everyday.  Only in this type of culture do you build a "place" that students can regularly "...encounter the living God."

How do you pick a school? Look closely at the people you'll interact with every day. Understand their mission and how the faculty, students, and administration live that core purpose. Don't rely on brochures--the names and faces most schools use to recruit are not the people you'll see very often. Will the people you interact with ignite your passion?