Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Seven Commandments of Social Media Marketing

"I don't want to alarm anyone, gentlemen,
but now might be a good time
to start praying."
Just hours after some drunk guy Kamikaze-ed a stolen Cessna 150 into the South Lawn of the White House, my boss came down to my office to personally express his disappointment that I hadn’t briefed him on the incident.

It was September 12, 1994 and the PR world was trying to re-calibrate itself into the perpetual “rapid-response mode” that was the hallmark of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, made famous in the documentary “The War Room” that had come out the year before.

Once that film hit the theaters, my boss put me in charge of gathering up the world’s news and reading the summaries to him every morning at 7:00 as Earl drove him to the office. If a plane crash landed at the White House in the middle of the night then, “Dammit, John, I need to know about it!”

Fair enough. But this was 1994 and the Internet—and my twin daughters—were still toddlers and no help whatsoever in gathering news. So I had to get up at 5:00 a.m., scan four newspapers, watch CNN and the local news programs, and listen to the radio news station all while feeding my kids breakfast—one Cheerio at a time. A War Room operation this was not.

I was reminded of this Cronkite-ian nightmare recently when a new movie, also called “The War Room,” broke the box office with its unconventional promotional strategy. Marketed solely through social media, the movie debuted at number two after “Straight Outta Compton,” raking in $11.4 million in its opening weekend—nearly four times what it cost to make. (As of yesterday, it had racked up $65 million in ticket sales.)

Much like the original “War Room,” this movie provides critical lessons about the changing rules of successful marketing and communication. Here are seven big ones:

Be religious in your audience targeting—“The War Room” was made by evangelicals for evangelicals. Period. “Our bull’s-eye audience are people of faith and the church,” said director Alex Kendrick. And because he wasn’t trying to entertain a mass audience, Kendrick’s film resonated with his religious audience.

Preach to the choir—According to Kendrick, they “intentionally showed the film to pastors and community leaders to get their support.” But the power of these co-conspiratorial relationships is magnified exponentially on social media. People listen to people they trust. And while you may not have a network of churches in your LinkedIn contacts, you do have a flock of Facebook friends who, in turn, have flocks of their own. And so on.

Don’t worship false matinee idols—Do you remember Johnny Depp’s blockbuster hit Mortdecai? Of course you don’t. It disappeared from the theaters faster than John Wilkes Booth. The fact is A-list star power doesn’t guarantee butts in movie-theater seats anymore. But if you cast an unknown, you might have a prayer. And if that rookie actress happens to be Priscilla Shirer—best-selling author and daughter of the Rev. Tony Evans, one of the most well-known pastors in America—well, buddy, your prayers are gonna be answered. 

In the beginning, move heaven and Earth—There’s a reason people dress like over-stuffed Oreos and dance at shopping malls. There is a power and excitement to launches that is only magnified by social media. To hype their opening weekend, the producers spent months reaching out to fellow pastors, Christian book stores owners, and community leaders, and implored them to “encourage the people that you’re leading and the people that you are influencing … to see ‘War Room.’”

Cast bread upon the waters—And this outreach paid off in ways they probably hadn’t anticipated. After seeing several Facebook posts about the movie, Danielle Wright—the host of an online radio show called “Power of Prayer”—arranged a private screening for more than 200 church leaders a day before the film was released. Guess what they preached about that weekend?

Judge not? Best ye be judged—If you want to secure that critical buy-in from influential community leaders, you’re going to have to invite critical comments from them first. In order to build strong bonds with the network of influential pastors who drove millions of parishioners to the movie, the filmmakers invited the pastors to view and criticize early versions of the film … five times. This was quite clever, really. Once the pastors had a hand in editing, the film’s ultimate box-office success was now their responsibility.

Remember the Good Book—Social media marketing is a multi-platform affair. To inspire communication about their movie, the producers wrote seven different online “War Room” bible study guides, including a “leader kit,” that can be yours for the low low price of $24.99—less than the price of a bag of buttered popcorn and a small diet Coke. Bless their hearts.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy of Social Media Myths

"I just want to talk to you for a minute
about your obsession with 20th century
communication tactics."
The last time I hitchhiked, I got picked up by a cop who ended up racing me back to my apartment at burglary-in-progress speed—with the sirens blasting and the lights a-flashing—because there really was a burglary in progress … in my apartment.
Earlier that night I had gone with some guys I knew from school to a genu-winehonky-tonk bar in Mesa, Arizona to ride the mechanical bull and drink Coors. This was a rare treat for a Jersey boy like me because Coors didn’t ship east of the Mississippi back then and the closest thing we had to a mechanical bull back home was the bumper-car ride at Asbury Park.
 Unfortunately, after we spent all our beer money the guys thought it would be a hoot to leave the “city boy” stranded at a cowboy bar miles from the bright lights of Arizona State University. So I had to hitch a ride home.
When this young cop pulled up and told me to get in, I figured I was going to spend the night in the drunk tank. But he was cool and offered to drive me back to Tempe. We were about a mile from home when a call came in about a “burglary in progress … La Crescenta Apartments … 1029 East Orange Street ...”
“Hey, that’s my apartment complex!”
“… large white male approximately six-foot four inches, 240 pounds has kicked open the door of apartment 209 …”
“Hey, that’s my apartment!”
“That’s really your apartment?”
“Heck yeah!”
“Some bitch. Well, hang on, boy. We’re gonna catch us a bad guy!”
True story.
As it turned out, the “large white male” who kicked open my apartment door wasn’t there to rob me. He came by to kill me. Apparently, he got it into his head that I was romantically involved with his best gal, who also happened to share the apartment with me and a couple other college kids. Why he thought we were having a fling I will never know because I sure as heck didn’t tell anybody.
I bring this up as a cautionary tale for those of you who have not yet fully embraced social media—especially my friends in the ideas industry, like trade associations, foundations and other nonprofits. You may think you’re getting along just fine with your 20th century ways, but Social Media is getting ready to bust through your organization’s front door and beat the crap out of your outdated communications, membership and fundraising programs.
Here’s a quick quiz to see what kind of danger you’re in. If you answered “yes” to even one of these myths, you’re at risk of getting your metaphoric doors kicked in.
Our target audience doesn’t use social media. You’re targeting dead people?
We don’t have the manpower to get involved in social media. Yes, you do. They’re sitting right there. See that guy working on that press release that no one will ever read? He’s a hilarious blogger with thousands of followers. And that woman next to him who has been laying out the quarterly newsletter for the past two days? She posts great things about your organization nearly every day. They’d both be delighted to stop creating products that no one reads and dive into online campaigns that will yield immediate results.
We don’t have enough content to be active online. Are you serious? You’re in the ideas industry. Everything you produce is content. Everything you’ve everproduced is content. Your biggest challenge will be digging through it all to pick out the best stuff.
There are too many platforms. We can’t be on all of them. Exactly. Nor should you be. But you do need to be on some of them, preferably the platforms that your key audiences frequent.
We already have an online presence. No, you really don’t. Bringing on an intern to tweet links to your press releases is not an online presence.
Social media is hard to learn. Riding a mechanical bull is hard to learn. Social media is easy-peasy … and a lot less painful. Remember when you had to call Dell tech support to ask them how to turn on your computer? Remember when you were afraid of email? Well, look at you now.
Social media is a fad. Yeah, Johannes Gutenberg got that a lot, too. The fact is we humans will always latch onto the latest technology that allows us to most effectively communicate with the people we need to connect with. And we will stick with that technology until something more effective comes along. We never go back.
So unless you know something about social media that Blockbuster, Tower Records, Newsweek, Kodak, and two million unemployed travel agents didn’t know, you’re going to have to stop canoodling with your 20th century tactics, open the front door and invite Social Media in for a beer. You guys are going to be working together for a long time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Candor-Intuitive: 7 steps to help you become your authentic, imperfect self

"Don't worry, Beautiful.
He's not talking about us."
I’m so claustrophobic that a half-full metro car can rattle my jimmies. So when a sudden apocalyptic thunderstorm forced me, my family and 3,000 other tourists to seek shelter in the lobby of the Tavern on the Green restaurant in Central Park, I freaked out.

As people jammed into the Tavern, the mob grew into a frothing sea of wild-eyed tourists that carried us deeper into the bowels of this over-priced tourist trap. Suddenly, a wave of Midwesterners crashed into us from the right, ripping Karlyn from my grasp. As I watched my daughter being swept away by a riptide of obese Iowans—her blond head bobbing up and down in a sea of “I Heart NY” t-shirts and Styrofoam Statue of Liberty crowns—I panicked.

Acting on pure lizard-brain survival impulses, I zipped around to make a dash for the exit. Unfortunately, in my blind panic I didn’t see the rather short, kind of cute, full-figured woman behind me, or her two crutches which I proceeded to knock out from under her.

I knew that if she fell, she would be trampled by the mob, so I instinctively grabbed her and held her upright. Unfortunately, all I could grab in that mob scene were her breasts. True story. Here I was, holding up a complete stranger by her Playtex Cross Your Heart bra—in full lift-and-separate mode—staring directly into her eyes which were ablaze with shock, anger and … well, I’m not quite what that other emotion was, but it was about as far from “happy” as an emotion can be.

There’s a reason we Americans are so protective of our personal space. That invisible force field that keeps us an appropriate distance from each other also keeps terrible, horrible, awful things like that from happening.

But social media is tearing down the personal space between us, stripping away the social constructs that have kept us lifted and separated from each other for most of the last 100 years. Social media has drawn us all into the crowded lobby of the Internet, scrunching us so closely against each other that our every flaw is exposed and shared with the world.

The impact of this new candid camaraderie has been most profound on the glitterati. The “experts” and “leaders” and “stars” of the 20th century whom we trusted, obeyed, and adored have been stripped of their magic by the Internet which showed us that, in a lot of ways, even the most magnificent among us really are just frightened little men and women pulling levers behind a curtain.

But there is a lot that is troubling about this new reality for those of us in the Bandwidth Generation who took some comfort in having our stars so far out of our reach. We didn’t want our heroes to be human; we wanted them to be flawless models we could emulate. 

And even though we knew we weren’t ever going to play in the big leagues or kiss Demi Moore on the silver screen, we worked hard to get as close to our dreams as possible. We perfected our game, hid our flaws, and presented idealized versions of ourselves to the world.

And now, after all that work, artificial perfection has been trumped by unscripted authenticity. It seems that Millennials--the 80 million people between the ages of 18 and 35 who are taking over the world--really do prefer red-pill reality over blue-pill perfection. Consider this: last week, Hillary Clinton's campaign launched a $2 million TV ad campaign that features a scripted, edited, and damn-near perfect 60-second commercial in which the presumptive nominee waxes nostalgic about her mom. It's gotten 80,000 views.

Meanwhile, a video of late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel tearing up over the death of Cecil the lion, which came out the same day as Hillary's ad, has nearly eight million views--one hundred times more than Hillary's polished ter ... ribute to her mom.

If it isn't already abundantly clear, let me spell it out for you: it’s time to loosen the tie, unclench the fake smile and start being real. Here are seven simple things you can do right now to get back the authenticity you spent your entire career trying to hide:

1.       Praise others. (Extra points if you praise your competitor.)
2.       Apologize when you screw up. Immediately. Sincerely. And as publicly as necessary.
3.       Say “I don’t know” when you don’t know. And promise to follow up when you do.
4.       Be grateful. It will change your life.
5.       Give credit. No one can make a pencil without help. Credit those who helped.
6.       Don’t boast. Yes, it’s important to tell your story, but try not to use your Trump voice. It’s very annoying.
7.       Be nice and mind your manners.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Brand Building: It's Not Just for Mad Men Anymore

"Sure we're a unique demographic...for 1981.
But we'll be busting out big time in 2015!"
Back when we would willingly sit through seven-and-a-half minutes of commercials to watch 22-and-a-half minutes of Bosom Buddies, corporations spent literally billions of dollars on advertising to convince us to trust their brands.

Brand-building was strictly the purview of corporate America because it was prohibitively expensive. In order to reach lil ol’ you, advertisers had to blast their messages repeatedly to one of the demographic groups you belonged to. Target demographics, as defined by Madison Avenue, were massive chunks of the US population awkwardly grouped in the tens of millions by a handful of characteristics like gender, age, income, race, and geography.

It took a lot of money to make an impression on such enormous clusters of society. But there was no alternative. You needed clear and compelling communication in order to effectively build your brand. Today the opposite is true. Literally. You need a clear and compelling brand in order to communicate effectively.

You see, social media has splintered the 20th century demographic model into untold millions of self-selected communities. These online communities have come together organically based on common values, experiences, and interests. And communication within these communities is generally restricted to people they trust … others in their communities. Outsiders simply haven’t earned their trust.

So if you—an outsider—want to communicate with them, you need to first present a clear brand that shows you share their values, experiences or interests.

The good news is that it’s a lot easier and cheaper build a trusted brand than ever before. Social media has turned us all into Mad Men, giving us powerful production and distribution tools we need to create and manage our brands.

The bad news is that many people—particularly those who have built successful pre-Internet careers without giving a second though to building a brand—are intimidated by the prospect of having to take responsibility for their own brand.

But unless you’re planning to retire in the next year or two, brand building is in your future. If you’re ready and willing to learn more, we’re ready and willing to answer your questions … for free! Just click here and we’ll get things started.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mission Critical: Is your mission statement killing your organization?

"We waited three years ... for THIS??"
Like HAL 9000 from Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kodak—the once undisputed leader in its field—is now singing “Daisy Bell” to an increasingly hostile audience.

Case in point: When Kodak unveiled its first smartphone last January at CES 2015, analysts expected the long-awaited phone to go on sale in late March, likely in the United Kingdom. Instead, Kodak missed the deadline by two months, opted for the Netherlands over the UK, and gave their phone the same name as the Perez-Hilton manufactured boy band that was unleashed on the public shortly after Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection back in 2012.

Not that anyone noticed. Kodak’s big announcement would have been the proverbial one-hand-clapping were it not for intrepid reporting by PhoneArena.com and the Ecumenical News.

And not that anyone cared. The reviews from Kodak’s big reveal back in January were the tech-community equivalent of, “Aww, Kodak! Let’s just scotch tape that to the refrigerator door so everyone can see it.” TechRadar.com labeled it nothing special. And the Verge warned: “This is the first Kodak phone, and it’s probably not for you.”

We know this mighty has fallen. The question is how? The smart money’s on their mission statement.

Before Kodak started Chapter 11 of their tragic history, their mission statement was a 110-word board-room war cry that spoke of “a world-class, results-oriented, diverse culture based on our six key values” that offered their “customers and consumers differentiated, cost-effective solutions” in pursuit of their “fundamental objective … Increased Global Market Share and Superior Financial Performance.” [Caps theirs.]  

By contrast, Instagram—which became the new first-name in photography when Facebook acquired the company for $1 billion in cash and stock just two months after Kodak signed their articles of surrender—doesn’t have a mission statement. It has a quest: “To give all users a view of the world as it happens.” And it seems to be working for them. RBC Capital recently reported that Instagram could generate more than $2 billion in ad revenue next year.

The jarring contrast between Kodak’s mission and Instagram’s quest is a cautionary tale for those organizations still clutching to the “What’s good for GM” mentality of the 20th century.

To be successful in the Interactive Age, you need to have a connection with your audience or your customers (or your “customers and consumers” if you’re not into that whole brevity thing) well before you try to sell them your product or service. Simon Sineck demonstrates this quite beautifully in his TED Talk.

And the most meaningful connections begin with a shared quest. Unlike a mission—which is a directive from an external source that’s nailed to the break room wall right above the coffee maker—a quest is driven by a passion that comes from within to achieve a purpose that you hold dear. By publicly declaring your quest, you will find and attract entire online communities who share your goals, and your passion. And who will rally with you in pursuit of your shared quest.

And that’s when your successful journey really begins.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Power of Experience over Tchotchkes in the Interactive Age

"The struggle is important,
but I got what I came for."
Marius Overhand’s first run-in with the law—and Billy Clifford’s last—occurred in the R&S Auto store located right across the street from the Middletown, NJ police department back in the summer of ’71.
As a prank, Marius stuck a tennis ball in the front pocket of his jeans. He was pretending to shoplift to scare Billy who was such an altar boy that he’d hang his head after stealing second base in Little League. The joke backfired when Marius couldn’t get the ball out of his pocket before store clerk caught him.
Within seconds—literally—Middletown’s finest were screeching into the R&S parking lot with their lights blazing and their sirens screaming, which is a bit much since they were stationed right … across … the street.
(Now, there is some debate as to why an auto parts store was selling tennis balls. The most logical response I got from my twilight bark was that they were probably sold as potential trailer-hitch covers, which is good enough for me.)
Anyway, the reason I brought up the now-legendary "one too many balls in the jeans" caper is to demonstrate that, prior to the Internet, “stuff” was a lot more important to kids. Today, young people value experiences far more than the material possessions needed to have those experiences.
Case in point: on our walk yesterday, my dog Lucy and I found a baseball … and a complete set of catcher’s gear that had been left behind the night before. Think about that. In 1970s suburban America, some of us would risk arrest to pilfer a tennis ball.  Yet today, a kid will “forget” to bring home his catcher’s gear.
There are a couple of reasons for that. First, cool stuff was a lot harder to come by when we were kids. Back then, an $8 Timex watch was your “special Christmas gift,” an electric typewriter (with eight-character memory erase!) was your high school graduation present, and a new color-TV console in the neighborhood led to an impromptu block party.
Today, every kid in America is walking around with an HD TV in their back pocket. Not to mention a computer, a “hi-fi” stereo system, a video production studio, and a better two-way wrist TV than Dick Tracy ever had.
Second, young people don’t actually need to own as much stuff because they can rent practically anything in today’s sharing economy. I loved my ’69 Chevy Impala, my lime green Schwinn 10-speed, and my beat-up record collection. But my daughters wouldn’t dream of owning any of that when they can simply Uber, Bikeshare, or Spotify.
The new way of thinking about “stuff” is neither better nor worse. But it is something you’re going to have to take into account if you want to communicate more effectively with your audiences.
One simple step: lighten up on the tchotchkes. There ain’t no room in a micro-apartment for a shelf full of baubles, especially stuff that promotes the organization more than its cause.
Which leads to a more nuanced but no less important point—when promoting your organization and its cause, keep in mind that your audiences see your organization as the vehicle and your cause as the experience. And there are plenty of other vehicles out there.
So lead with the experience; lead with your quest. Connect with your shared vision. And take the time to develop a relationship based on your mutual goals—perhaps over a nice cup of coffee—before you offer them the mug.

Friday, May 15, 2015

In the Interactive Age, it is better to give THEN receive.

"Tell me more about how much you
 like my ring tone."
I had already dropped three quarters into the meter before I saw the flashing message: “No parking. Construction only. You will be towed. January 2, 2007.”

It had taken me 40 minutes to find that spot. There was no construction nearby. And I was pretty damned sure that it was 2015. That is until I heard the theme song from “The Little Rascals” coming from the suit pocket of the guy sitting at the cafĂ© I was parked in front of. At that point, boiling over with rage at this effed-up city and temporally unhinged from the anachronistic no-parking notice, you might have convinced me that it was 1969 and I was sitting in the big red chair in my mom’s living room, playing hooky and watching The Little Rascals.

The guy let the song play out its natural break before he answered (wouldn’t you?), staring at me with that “dig me” look that this town is known for. Rather than irritate me, the guy’s ring-tone home-run trot actually reminded me of a very important lesson about successful communication that I’d been meaning to talk to you about.

On October 24, 1936, Hal Roach released “Pay as You Exit,” The Little Rascals 148th and arguably most important short comedy film. You see, the 74-year-old “Pay as You Exit” short actually holds the secret to successful communication in the 21st century—it is better to give THEN receive.

The plot of the show is simple: in order to attract an audience to their production of Romeo and Juliette, Alfalfa invites everyone to see the show for free and tells them to pay as they exit only if they enjoyed the performance.

And it is precisely that simple formula that is separating the communication winners from the losers on the Internet. Organizations that freely give away their best material are attracting people who are interested in their key issues—some of whom would be willing to pay for a deeper dive in the info pool.

Those who are still hoarding their cache of information in hopes of attracting pay-to-play customers are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a world where knowledge is free. Sure, your organization may be the uncontested champion of the arcane details of your “highly specialized” field, but if you are hiding that info behind membership dues, outrageous download fees, or other monetary considerations, you won’t be the champ for long. People will find a free way around you.

You will fare much better giving away as much information as you can, attracting those interested in your topic to your helpful, free platform, and developing a reputation as the go-to resource on your given issue. If you’re content is as good as you think it is, you’ll have plenty of people paying as they exit … and even more when they tell their friends about your amazing website.

A little known fact: The actual title to the Little Rascals’ theme song is “Good Old Days,” which presumably referred to a simpler pre-20th century era—a time before people viewed information solely as a commodity.  Back in the 20th century, nobody gave away information. (You think Hal Roach let his audience “pay as they exit”?) So when we start giving away our content, we are not marching forward into some brave new world. We’re actually returning to a much more natural way of communicating with people.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Helicopter Parents have landed and they’re coming for your children.

"And don't forget to look both ways before
you cross the ... oh, to hell with it."

The Montgomery County, MD parents who were accused of child neglect for letting their 10-year-old son and six-year-old daughter walk home from a park unchaperoned were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” by the county’s Child Protective Services.

Can you imagine what the charges would be if those parents let their kids chase the mosquito man truck down middle of the street in a blinding fog of DDT ... like our parents did?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Good Kipp, Bad Kipp: Comcast's dis-service culture starts at the top

"The spoon thing? Bag of shells. But for the
life of me I can't cancel my Comcast service."
One of the least vulgar Urban Dictionary definitions of "comcastic" is "something that is not merely horribly bad, but actively offensive in some universal way," as in “Comcast’s customer service is comcastic times xfinity.”
The latest chapter in their saga features a “rogue” employee who renamed one of their customers “a**hole” over a billing dispute. But this employee isn’t alone. Comcast seems to be a veritable rogues’ gallery of vindictive “customer service” reps.
And it apparently starts at the top.
Steve Kipp, Comcast’s regional VP of communications who’s doubling as road manager on this most recent apology tour, was himself Comcast’s “Rogue of the Month” back in May 2011.
The cable exec's swan dive onto the hard slab of public opinion was prompted by a tweet that expressed appropriate—and pretty much universal—disgust that the FCC Commissioner who voted to approve the $30 billion Comcast/NBC merger "is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?" (sic) Much to Kipp's chagrin, the tweeter was Reel Grrls, a nonprofit that teaches media production to young women, and which is funded in part by Comcast.
So Kipp fired off this email:
"Given the fact that Comcast has been a major supporter of Reel Grrls for several years now, I am frankly shocked that your organization is slamming us on Twitter. ... I cannot in good conscience continue to provide you with funding ... I respect your position on freedom of the press. However ... I cannot continue to ask [my bosses] to approve funding for Reel Grrls, knowing that the digital footprint your organization has created about Comcast is a negative one."
For this digital dressing down, Kipp received the widespread condemnation that Comcast seems to court on a regular basis But he also gave us the opportunity to review a few basic PR commandments:
  1. Don't cite your respect for the First Amendment just before punishing someone for exercising their First Amendment rights.
  2. If you're a multi-billion-dollar corporation with a reputation so compromised that your marketing slogan is commonly used as an insult, don't threaten charitable nonprofits.
  3. Before you hit “send,” take a breath and consider what Mickey Rourke said to William Hurt in Body Heat. “Any time you try a decent crime, you got 50 ways you're gonna [screw] up. If you think of 25 of them, then you're a genius … and you ain't no genius."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bleak House Revisited

Bert G. channeling Charlie D.
I was looking at the FlackOps analytics and saw that just today someone came to our fine establishment after searching "john doyle consultant hornback" and "bert g. hornback falsely accused." Our googler no doubt had great expectations of finding this article and it appears this person found it, because he or she seems to have revisited the post several times--either that our they shared the link with friends.

Either way, I would be a less than hospitable host if I failed to offer my assistance to this inquisitive soul. So I am reposting the article in question in hopes that our mutual friend will see that, indeed, I did not falsely accuse acclaimed Charles Dickens scholar, Bert G. Hornback, of anything. I simply posted his email to me in which he admitted being ... let's just say, inappropriate. My contribution to this post was to simply offer context--the hard times I went through, if you will--and additional insight where it was lacking.

I also note that it is exactly one week shy of a year since I originally posted that piece. In honor of the occasion, I think I'll have a drink. The only question left--olive or twist?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Today's Lesson: Lessen the Lessons

"Still think it's all fun and games? Try swimming with your legs chained together."
"Still think it's all fun and games? Try swimming with your legs chained together."
Want to kill a kid’s interest in something he enjoys? Make him take lessons “to get better at it.”
When I was a kid, I liked to swim. My technique was appalling but I could cut through the polluted water at Ideal Beach with no effort at all. And whenever I stepped on a crab, I was a regular Mark Spitz.
But apparently this wasn’t good enough for my mom, who signed up the four of us kids for swim lessons at the Red Bank YMCA.
Everyone who takes swim lessons at the Y starts as a Pollywog before advancing to Minnows, Flying Fish, and then the ultimate achievement—Sharks. Being a Shark in and of itself was pretty cool. But they also got to use the high dive, so you just had to get to Sharks.
First, however, you had to graduate from Pollywogs by demonstrating that you could swim … their way. Apparently, what I was doing did not qualify as swimming, so I got stuck with the five-year-old Pollywogs while my brother and two younger sisters advanced to Minnows. I was 12 years old.
It gets worse.
Before they even let me paddleboard with the other kiddies during free time, I had to demonstrate that I knew how to hold my head underwater without breathing. To do that, they had me bend at the waist with a paddleboard in my outstretched hands, take a breath, put my face in the water, exhale, turn my head to the left to take in a breath and repeat the process 10 times.
I couldn’t do it. For six weeks I couldn’t do it.
Those six weeks passed slowly. I’d watch as nervous new kids—“fish” we called them—entered the pool for their first day of swim lessons. And then, when they learned their lesson, I’d pat them on the back and wish them well as they advanced to Minnows. Sure, I was envious at first. But I knew I was never getting out of that hell hole so—over time—it made me happy to see those little tykes get over the wall, so to speak.
As the summer--and our swim lessons--were coming to a close, I asked my instructor in a final act of desperation if I could turn my head to the right to breathe. “Sure,” she said. “A lot of good it’ll do ya.”
Well, it worked. I could swim—their way. In one day, I graduated from the Pollywogs, blew through Minnows and became a Flying Fish. By the end of the week, I was a Shark.
True story.
But now I hate to swim. And I’m afraid the same thing is happening to people who enjoy telling stories. You can’t swing a life guard’s whistle these days without smacking into some self-described expert who wants to teach you how to tell a story.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you already are a great story teller. Sure, there are ways you can improve your unique technique, as you’ll see in this video*. But when it comes to telling stories, you’re incredible. A regular Mr. Limpet.
* This video originally appeared in our QuASAR Method Video Series.