Sunday, December 28, 2008

Best Biz Books of 2008

The whole shebang is in Monday's Miami Herald along with requisite disclaimers here. I'll post the full article later in the week (since I like to give 'em at least a 24-hour exclusive) but here's the list (in chronological order).

Click on the text of each title to read the original review. Previous years' lists can be found here.

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need. Daniel H. Pink, Rob Ten Pas. Riverhead Books. 160 pages.

Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds. New Riders. 227 pages.

Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are: Rob Walker. Random House. 256 pages.

Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries). Jared Bernstein. Berrett-Koehler. 225 pages.

Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. Crown Business. Jeff Howe. 320 pages.

The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management. (2nd Edition). Jossey-Bass. Art Kleiner. 432 pages.

The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops — or the Day Before. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 192 pages.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Seth Godin. Portfolio. 160 pages.

Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging and Outmarketing Your Competition. Guy Kawasaki. Portfolio. 496 pages

Globalization: n. the irrational fear that someone in China will take your job. Bruce C. Greenwald and Judd Kahn. Wiley. 186 pages.

Bonus: Best non-fiction non-biz book

Storming Las Vegas: How a Cuban-Born, Soviet-Trained Commando Took Down the Strip to the Tune of Five World-Class Hotels, Three Armored Cars, and Millions of Dollars. John Huddy. Ballantine Books. 364 pages.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Can't buy Beatles?

"the inability of Apple and EMI to get this music onto the market is a symbol of how pathetic the record business has become..."
from Allan Kozinn's terrific article on Apple and EMI's failure to issue upgraded Beatles recordings.... and how the market has responded.

All hail Purple Chick!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's the season for love

Except for pressure groups who preach love and practice hate.

Isn't a loving family preferable to the alternative?

Kudos to Campbell Soup for resisting the Soup Nazis and standing up to hate.

Besides, diversity and inclusion are important components of good marketing.

(Looks like a pretty good recipe, too. Will have to give it a try.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Zen of Presentation

More than words: Books tell you how to motivate
Learn how to say what you mean, conceal what you say and stimulate your audience with these three new books.


Communicating to persuade or motivate is a challenge for many businesspeople. Being literate and intelligent is not enough. Creativity is involved, but it requires the suggestion of images, emotions and other connections in order to achieve the desired effect. Even when the message is solely composed of text, images and other sensual cues are evoked to stimulate and create interest. Here are three recent books that look at ways to arouse emotion and connect the feeling to the action.

Powerlines: Words that Sell Brands, Grip Fans, and Sometimes Change History. Steve Cone. Bloomberg. 272 pages.

Cone presents an overview of how words are used in speeches, for political purposes, in advertising and the like. It's a nice, freewheeling discussion, sort of a ''Words 102'' course, with lots of examples, anecdotes and back stories. As an advertising executive, he's perfectly positioned to relate ways that combinations of words form catchphrases, tag lines and
slogans. And there's lots of backstage stuff, too, with anecdotes about the unsung executives and ''creatives'' responsible for some of the more memorable campaigns.

Though more a survey of the field than a how-to, Powerlines would be a worthy addition to a vocational library or as a reference book for would-be copywriters.

Subliminal Persuasion: Influence & Marketing Secrets They Don't Want You To Know. Dave Lakhani. Wiley. 202 pages.

Lakhani presents basic copywriting principles in the context of ''subliminal persuasion,'' which makes it sound arcane and exotic. Well, maybe, but many of the ideas he offers are substantially less mysterious and forbidden than advertised. And that's fine, since he's applying some of his principles to the packaging and presentation of his text.

He invokes a number of sources to illustrate his thoughts, including a presentation by advertising guru Roy Williams that I've witnessed, where he played Bruce Springsteen's
upbeat, anthemic Born In The U.S.A., then went over the lyrics, which are depressing and downbeat. This illustrated the fact that a feeling can be created that may be contradictory to the actual message contained in the text when packaged in a distracting way -- a nice lesson for the current political season.

Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds. New Riders. 227 pages.

PowerPoint presentations are usually pretty lame. It's strange, because one would think that using a tool like that would enable and unleash creativity. But, no. Presenters usually jam in as many words as possible and accompany them with boring images like logos and charts. What a snooze!

Garr Reynolds feels our pain. An authority on presentations, he's also a corporate veteran, so he's probably suffered through more than his fair share of ponderous show-and-tells. His book is beautifully designed and a pleasure to behold, and he's not afraid to use white space, all text, photos, colors and any combination of the above. As with the best writers, he understands that there must be an emotional connection between the idea and the audience so he shows how it's done. Of course, there's no one right way to achieve this, so he includes ideas and contributions from great minds (and presenters) like Guy Kawasaki, Daniel Pink, Seth Godin and others.

The Zen from the title is apparent throughout the book. Reynolds is a wise and whimsical character who advocates creativity and thought in everything we do, which will improve our presentations, too. His closing words on life, living and learning is the perfect coda to this terrific book, which encompasses much more than its goal and stimulates additional thought and reflection — just like a great presentation should do.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Beatles Christmas Mash

From the brilliant TJT of the fabulous
Beatles Remixers Group, of whom I remain in awe.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

AT&T lied to me

Said that I could switch my DSL to another line when I disconnected the one it was on — seamlessly and simultaneously.


Back on the grid, but if they would have been honest, there'd be no interruption.

(And by the way, the "customer care" phone interface really blows!)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yes, but

'Yes!' presents a p
retty persuasive case
This new book, based on the work of Influence guru Robert Cialdini, simplifies the rules of persuasion.

Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini. Free Press. 272 pages.

I'm not sure if this book was persuasive — at least in one aspect. Sure, each short chapter features a principle of persuasion, explained and amplified with examples and anecdotes. And the idea behind each one is lucidly presented, logical and — for the most part -- surprisingly obvious, meaning that few of the ''50 scientifically proven ways to be persuasive'' are terribly counterintuitive; in fact, each one makes sense.

For example, in one chapter, they discuss how the brilliant copywriter Colleen Szot made a slight change to an infomercial and saw response rates skyrocket.

Instead of telling prospective customers that ''operators are waiting, please call now,'' which invokes an image of bored employees staring skeptically at their idle telephones,' Szot's script says ''if operators are busy, please call again,'' to which the authors add, "Now consider how your perception of the popularity of the product would change when you heard the phrase `if operators are busy, please call again.' Instead of those bored, inactive representatives, you're probably imagining operators going from phone call to phone call without a break. In the case of the modified 'if operators are busy, please call again' line, home viewers followed their perceptions of others' actions, even though those others were completely anonymous. After all, 'if the phone lines are busy, then other people like me who are also watching this infomercial are calling, too.' ''

It's a subtle but powerful distinction, and if it defies credulity, it's only because you may not have considered that we — consciously or otherwise — tend to seek the security of like-minded people when making a decision. You may not think that is the case, especially if you are a bold, iconoclastic, freethinking individual, but according to the authors, their research indicates that most people do what most people do.

The other 49 principles are equally applicable to the masses; after all, though there are rugged (or refined) individualists among us, this book is focused on the tendencies of groups, though exceptions are inevitable. But the idea here is not to use the information and methods for funky or malevolent purposes. In fact, the authors repeatedly warn that any claims or statements used to advance ideas or elicit actions must be truthful and correct. And the book's brief epilogue recounts a cautionary tale involving the abuse of these methods.

Following that, they include an interesting set of testimonials from professionals who've employed 34 of their 50 ways. Not coincidentally, it's an ideal demonstration of the power of authority to convince readers of their efficacy.

But what about this book was unpersuasive? For me, it was the participation of Robert Cialdini, whose name is twice the size of the others on the dust jacket. My sense is that his ''authorship'' possibly consisted of reviewing the text, which was most certainly inspired by his earlier work, specifically his classic Influence: Science and Practice, currently in its fifth edition. Though ''Yes!'' is a solid, useful and very readable look at the subject, it lacks the good professor's voice — though you may be persuaded otherwise.

published 12/15/08 in The Miami Herald

Friday, December 12, 2008

Four random books on work

Protect your job and yourself
Talent isn't always sufficient; it's hard work that usually wins out.


A recruiter pal told me the other day that despite the ongoing waves of layoffs, some
companies are still hiring, though specific skills and other qualifications are more important than ever. That's good news for those of us who seek new challenges. But it's also a cue to develop extra skills, including the ability to survive and thrive in an often-hostile workplace. One may not necessarily gain immunity from unemployment, but whatever can reduce the opportunity for adversity should be considered.

Here are four recent books that can provide those who are working — or ''between opportunities'' — with insights and tools for survival.

Overworked, Overwhelmed and Underpaid: Simple Steps to Go From Stress to Success. Louis Barajas. Thomas Nelson 192 pages.

Barajas's earlier book, The Latino Journey To Financial Greatness, was his effort to convey personal finance principles to a ''Latin'' constituency — as if they were a homogenous group! I didn't think so (and still don't), but fortunately no such ethnic profiling is evident here. Instead, he acts as a coach, attempting to interact with the reader and force consideration of how they approach their jobs, how others perceive them and what their career goals are (or should be). It's pretty basic stuff, though it includes an array of self-assessments that can benefit workers at any stage of their careers. Whether or not they apply the time and attention required is the critical question, though, but if they do, benefits will undoubtedly flow.

There's No Elevator to the Top: A Leading Headhunter Shares the Advancement Strategies of the World's Most Successful Executives. Umesh Ramakrishnan. Portfolio. 256 pages.

Ramakrishnan is a headhunter, and his book is an expansive collection of front-line tales and reflections. His style is breezy and conversational, but the informality belies the seriousness with which he takes his mission. Since Ramakrishnan's narrative is, essentially, a series of visits with corporate executives, he adds an executive summary at the end of each chapter, which works out quite nicely. While there are few head-slapping revelations her
ein, the author's confident prose, abetted by the words of his interview subjects, speak as the voice of experience.

Much of what is discussed falls under the heading of common sense, yet it's always easy to make this assessment after the fact. Armed with the observations of Ramakrishnan and his team of senior executives, though, it may be possible to be more
effective and proactive.

The PITA Principle: How to Work With (and Avoid Becoming) a Pain in the Ass. Robert Orndorff and Dulin Clark. JIST Works. 227 pages.

Someone who once worked for me over-communicated. It was useful at first, then it became annoying. Co-workers and managers said he wasted their time with too many details; too much information. After being advised of ways to provide access to information in a less intrusive way, his reputation changed dramatically, and he actually became the go-to guy on special projects.

Similarly, Orndorff and Clark portray a variety of well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning characters who cause aches in the posterior. They also provide ways to avoid or modify those deleterious behaviors and channel the energy in more productive ways.

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. Geoff Colvin. Portfolio. 224 pages.

Colvin says that dedication and hard work always trump talent. But what is ''talent,'' anyway? Is it something mystical? A natural phenomenon? Whatever, its ineffable nature makes it suspect, and the author's sharp observations and apt anecdotes succinctly demonstrate that dedication, preparation and other skills are the key ingredients for success.

published 12/8/08 in The Miami Herald

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: Storming Las Vegas

This is the extended text of the review of Storming Las Vegas that was published in The Miami Herald in May 2008. A few weeks later, this version was broadcast on the South Florida Arts Beat show on WLRN-FM, the Miami NPR station. I'll post the audio file (eventually), but the book is due for release soon as a paperback with new material, according to an e-mail I just received from the author, the amazing John Huddy.

Intro (Ed Bell): "Crime and criminality. Narrative styles. Steve Martin’s career turning-point, where he was convinced that he shouldn’t quit comedy. And the story of the Cuban military officer trained by the Russians who unleashed a brutal series of casino robberies on some of the biggest hotels in Las Vegas. Our reviewer, Richard Pachter, explains.

When you think about it, it’s pretty creepy. Why are otherwise law-abiding, peaceable people like you and me interested in violence and criminality? Solid citizens who wouldn’t even dream of squishing a stray palmetto bug seem inextricably attracted to bloody murder mysteries and detailed nonfiction accounts of criminally insane serial killers and their brutal sprees.

There’s no obvious answer but I’ll guess it’s because these acts present a crystallized, concentrated dose of extreme human behavior and emotion. In the hands of a really smart writer, they become more than just a recitation of the facts on a police blotter. The visceral aspects of the violence are also often less sensationalized and vulgar in this context.

Veteran TV producer and former Miami Herald writer John Huddy, while visiting Las Vegas, caught a whiff of a tale of a Cuban refugee — a Marielito, in fact — in custody after leading a succession of ultra-violent robberies at some of the city’s best-known casinos. Having started his career as a cops-and-courts reporter, Huddy knew that law enforcement personnel are usually fairly circumspect about their cases. Most prefer not to blab too much, but there was something about this case that piqued Huddy’s interest.

And Huddy’s interest is, itself, an interesting thing. Who is John Huddy?

For those of us who were Miami Herald readers in the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s, John Huddy was one of those writers like Edna Buchanan, Carl Hiassen and others who made that paper the legend that it still is today, to a great extent. Steve Martin recently gave props to Huddy in a memoir of his early stand-up comedy career, "Born Standing Up."

He wrote: "In Florida one night, it was balmy and I was able to take the audience outside into the street and roam around in front of the club, making wisecracks. I didn't quite know how to end the show. First I started hitchhiking; a few cars passed me by. Then a taxi came by. I hailed it and got in. I went around the block, returned and waved at the audience — still standing there — then drove off and never came back. The next morning I received one of the most crucial reviews of my life. John Huddy, the respected entertainment critic for the Miami Herald, devoted his entire column to my act. Without qualification, he raved in paragraph after paragraph, starting with HE PARADES HIS HILARITY RIGHT OUT INTO THE STREET, and concluded with: 'Steve Martin is the brightest, cleverest, wackiest new comedian around.' Oh, and the next night the club owner made sure all tabs had been paid before I took the audience outside.

"Roger Smith had told me that when he came to Hollywood from El Paso to be an actor, he had given himself six months to get work. The time elapsed, and he packed up his car, which was parked on Sunset Boulevard, where his final audition would be. Informed that he was not right for the job, he went out and started up his car. He was about to pull away, away to El Paso, when there was a knock on his windshield. 'We saw you in the hall. Would you like to read for us?' the voice said. He was then cast as the star of the hit television show, '77 Sunset Strip.'

"My review from John Huddy was the knock on the window just as I was about to get in my car and drive to a metaphorical El Paso, and it gave me a psychological boost that allowed me to nix my arbitrarily chosen 30-year-old deadline to reenter the conventional world. The next night and the rest of the week the club was full, all 90 seats.”

So Huddy has a lot of weight and credibility. Just do a Google search on him, if you like, and see.

"Storming Las Vegas" is an amazing and absorbing story. The leader of the gang, Jose Vigoa, was a Cuban national trained by the soviet military, who fought in Afghanistan and Angola as a Special Forces officer. He came to Florida during the Mariel boatlift, and joined a relative in Las Vegas. After several menial jobs, he dealt drugs, got caught and went to prison. Upon release, he formed a gang and in a 16-month period, hit five high-profile casinos: the MGM, the Desert Inn, New York-New York, the Mandalay Bay and the Bellagio, netting millions of dollars. Though the crimes were meticulously planned and Vigoa claimed to be attempting to avoid violence, two security guards were killed during one robbery. A task force was assembled, and well, Huddy had the cooperation of almost all of the major players in the story, including Vigoa and the Las Vegas police detective who led the investigation, so the story is well told and suspenseful.

Interestingly, all is recounted in the present tense, which an old writing guru once told me added immediacy and impact. Wonder if Huddy attended the same class… or taught the guru in the first place.

In addition to the great narrative, I learned some things about Huddy I didn’t know, including the fact that he grew up in Cuba before Castro at Gitmo, where his father ran the base’s telephone system.

"Storming Las Vegas" doesn’t provide any answers to the question of why crime fascinates non-criminals, but in addition to the story of Jose Vigoa, the book also brought me back to those days in the late seventies, when I’d get up every morning, trudge barefoot across the white gravel in my driveway on Loquat in the grove, crouch down, pick up my Herald and wonder what wonderful writing I’d soon be reading from Huddy, Hiaasen, Buchanan and the rest...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Juicing The Orange

Squeezing unique advertising ideas out of everyday products
Veteran advertising executive Pat Fallon's relentless creativity and integrity brought his Minneapolis agency international acclaim.

Juicing The Orange: How To Turn Creativity Into A Powerful Business Advantage. Pat Fallon and Fred Senn. Harvard Business School Press. 255 pages.

You have to have a bit of an ego to start your own business, since it's implicit that you think you can do something better than the companies that are already doing it. So when your business is successful, it's not surprising that your own company is prominently featured in a book you write about how to do that thing you do. The trick is to not sound like you're completely full of yourself like Jack Welch, for example, or greater, deeper more spiritual lessons can be drawn from your good fortune and hard work — like any number of businesspeople turned writer-gurus.

Fortunately, that's not the case here, though putative author Par Fallon (I suspect collaborator Fred Senn did most of the heavy lifting here) provides insights based on the great work done by his namesake agency. He also draws a few lessons from his failures, but doesn't spend much time dwelling on them, though others might be tempted to not only dwell, but point fingers, whoop, dance and laugh. More about that later.

Fallon's advertising agency, originally called Fallon McElligott Rice (now Fallon Worldwide, part of the French-owned Publicis Group), broke out of its Minneapolis base by doing strikingly creative work, gaining national and international accounts like United Airlines, Lee Dungarees, Skoda Automobiles, Virgin Mobile, Miller Beer and other products and services.

The premise of this book — and Fallon's philosophy — is that the effective use of creativity is the key to successful advertising. But there's more to it than that, of course, as the text tells how his agency didn't merely rely on intuitive connections and inspirational executions. They did research. They examined how the clients' stuff was perceived in the marketplace, the ways that customers used or didn't use it and any negative notions associated with the thing. Then, they got creative.

For example, the Skoda was a joke, a punch-line to European car buyers, much like the Yugo was here, a while back. Even after the company was acquired by Volkswagen and the vehicle's quality dramatically improved, would-be buyers stayed away. Because the Skoda was so un-cool, they feared ridicule for driving it. Fallon and his team decided to tackle the issue directly, using the tagline, "It's a Skoda. Honest." in their ads. Of course, if the car was still a clunker, the advertising would not have worked, but it wasn't and it did, despite initially powerful resistance from executives within Skoda who did not want to deal with their car's bad reputation.

Fallon's crew was also responsible for the infamous "It's Miller Time" and "Dick, the Creative Genius" ad campaigns for Miller beer. It was a classic case of not only misjudging the market but aggravating the product's distributors who hated the offbeat and ineffective ads. But Fallon only briefly touches on them before touting his group's great work for CitiBank. Who could blame him? Feh!

The story of Fallon's refusal to give in to the demand of the supposedly religious owner of a giant national pizza chain to drop a pro bono account promoting the interests of children speaks well of his concern for maintaining his company's unique culture.

As admen's memoirs go, this one is gently entertaining and offers some examples of fine work, but I was equally impressed by Fallon's integrity, too. (Samples of Fallon's ads appear on the book's website.)

Remarkably similar to something published in The Miami Herald on 8/7/06

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Boat That Rocked

This could be good.

Wonder if it features my old pal, Howie Castle.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

More John Irving

An interview from Russian television.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

John Irving Update!

British and Canadian rights to new novel announced; October 2009 hardcover publication.

from Publisher's Lunch 12/2/08 ) "John Irving's Last Night in Twisted River, set in a New Hampshire sawmill settlement, spanning five decades, as the central character and his 12-year-old son become fugitives after a case of mistaken identity, to Louise Dennys at Knopf Canada; to Alexandra Pringle at Bloomsbury UK, for hardcover publication in October 2009; and to Bill Scott-Kerr at Transworld for paperback, by Dean Cooke at The Cooke Agency."

Here's a recent interview with the author.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rare Bob Dylan

"Spanish Is The Loving Tongue"

Have no idea why this isn't on any currently-available Dylan album — Bootleg series or otherwise. It was originally the B-side of the 1971 "Watching The River Flow" single. A different version showed up on the "Dylan" album, released after he (briefly) left Columbia Records in 1972. Inexplicably, that version isn't available for streaming on the album's page. Wonder why? Something related to publishing, I'd guess.

But the sole legit appearance
of this version, featuring just Dylan's voice and piano (other than the single), was on "Masterpieces" a compilation released only in Australia, New Zealand and Japan prior to Dylan's 1987 tour of the region.

I think this version is the real deal. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Globalization makes the world go round

I usually read the book(s) and write the reviews a few weeks ahead — or at least a week. Sometimes, I like to work right on deadline, but for this one, I wished I'd given myself a little more time so I could've done a Q&A with the author. I'd realized this over the weekend as I wrote the review, so I blithely e-mailed the publicist and on Monday, spoke to the author as I sat at a Panera Bread in Naples, Florida. (I'd gallantly driven my dear wife to Naples on a top-secret mission for the day.)

I hate doing phoners. I always take notes, but can never decipher them later. And since the subject was economics, I was doubly concerned. But the author, Bruce Greenwald, was great; clear and succinct. And I made a point of repeating what he'd said in my own limited vocabulary, so it seemed to have worked out well.

One other thing: Greenwald takes a few very gentle shots at columnist and author Thomas Friedman in his book, but I don't have to be gentle. Friedman's cheerleading for the Iraq War was disgusting, so it was with some glee that I told the professor about the Friedman Unit (F.U.), a term originated by blogger (and economist — damn!) Duncan Black a/k/a Atrios, in his blog Eschaton, referring to Friedman's repeated insistence that "another six months" is required to see how things are going in Iraq.
(That's worked out rather well, hasn't it?)

It was a pleasure to share that with Prof. Greenwald, to which I added a little gossip about Tom's fortune... which he earned the old-fashioned way — through marriage.

Anyway, enough snark. Here's the review.

Globalization myths debunked
A new book says that international trade isn't the problem — it's the solution.

Globalization: n. the irrational fear that someone in China will take your job. Bruce C. Greenwald and Judd Kahn. Wiley. 186 pages.

It's a really loaded term that triggers sundry hot buttons like ''outsourcing,'' ''imports,'' ''protectionism,'' ''layoffs'' and more. But apparently, everything we thought we knew about globalization is wrong.

Columbia professor and economist Bruce Greenwald, abetted by collaborator Judd Kahn, deftly punctures the prevailing wisdom on the effects of international trade, arguing that most of the books and reporting on the subject deal with this complex, multidimensional phenomenon simplistically, anecdotally and incorrectly. They support their contention with a holistic, research-driven discussion.

Surprisingly, even though most writers (and politicians) look at the issue as if it's something new, it's been going on nearly forever, and our same panicky concerns are hardly original. The world isn't flat, hot, round or whatever billionaire bloviator Tom Friedman's next book says it is, according to Greenwald and Kahn. Local interests still prevail in most of the industrialized world. And whenever there's an attempt to control, restrict or ''manage'' commerce with taxes, incentives, regulations or military force, the ''Rule of Unintended Consequences'' kicks in and things go awry.

It's not globalization that's screwing things up. On the contrary. Overriding local political and economic interests subvert the flow of commerce, which introduces disparities and deficits that result in trade imbalances, inflation, deflation and unemployment.

It's a bit much to summarize here beyond that, though in a mere 170 pages of text, Greenwald and Kahn present a very persuasive case. It's economics, of course, not a romance novel with teen vampires, but they lucidly render the draining of the world economy's lifeblood into an absorbing and compelling experience.

I wondered what Prof. Greenwald would have added (or subtracted) from his book in the wake of the recent economic turmoil. In a brief telephone interview, he pointed out that it's not recent at all, but ongoing in Europe and Asia for some time. Local governments' support and protection of agriculture and manufacturing, for example, artificially maintained high employment in sectors where productivity has grown, yet demand remains static. That's impossible to sustain, so unemployment increased dramatically.

In that sense, we have an advantage, as agriculture and manufacturing aren't dominant elements of the American economy, and no longer constitute ironclad political constituencies. That's the good news, according to Greenwald. The bad news is that our low rate of savings and high trade deficits diminish our spending power. We're ''leaking'' an amount equal to our trade deficit, he said, which diminishes our spending power. But nations with trade surpluses are constrained in other ways; though their ''wealth'' may be in dollars, their own currencies are also adversely affected.

What's ultimately required is ending the standard of a single nation's currency (like the dollar) upon which others are based. In addition, the playing field really has to be flattened, which means no more protectionism and price supports. Good luck with that! True globalism, ironically, may be what's been missing. Adversity brings opportunity and now may be the ideal time to effectively deal with these long-festering issues. Understanding them, without hysterics and histrionics, is the first step.

published 12/1/08 in The Miami Herald

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bob Dylan on marketing

So Dylan just put out another (the eighth, so far) of the "Bootleg Series" compilations of unreleased material. I have most of them because they're great. If you like Dylan, they're indispensable.

The latest one is a 2-CD set, which is available everywhere that still sells CDs, and online through the usual outlets. But there's also a 3-CD version that includes all the songs on old-fashioned vinyl lps, too, and a hardcover book. It goes for about $170 bucks, too rich for me!

But damn, I want those 12 extra songs, so I started poking around online and made a rather interesting discovery. They're here on Dylan's website. Listen to 'em free along with the other 2 CDs... and everything else Dylan ever recorded and released legitimately.

Sure, you can't download and burn 'em onto your hard drive or iPod or a CD but you can listen, which is brilliant marketing.

Of course, Bob is an old advertising guy. Here's a commercial he shot a few years back with one of his grand kids.

And here's another one he did with his car.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Screw Black Friday!

I just saw a TV spot urging people to set their alarm clocks and go shopping at 4 AM to get great deals on... stuff. Jewelry, in particular. Ooh! Shiny things!

To hell with that!

The economy is pretty crappy right now so if retail stores want to attract customers, make it easy for them to buy, not more difficult. No games.

Get up early and go to your store at 4 AM? How about never? Is never good for you?

When I see a store that rejects this fascist Black Friday crap, they'll get my business. To hell with the ones who don't!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Innovation could be our salvation

Three new books offer advice on when and how to harness the power of creativity.

How do we get out of this mess we're in? The United States doesn't manufacture very much any more, nor is agriculture likely to re-emerge as the driving force of our economy. American popular culture is still dominant throughout the world, but many of the movie studios and remaining record companies are foreign-owned. Ditto with industries like brewing (Miller, Anheuser-Busch), pharmaceuticals and many more.

Some observers say that small business will take the lead and will aggregate the necessary critical mass for economic growth, and that may well be the case. Innovation could serve as the fuel to power the engine. As corny as it may sound, American ingenuity is a formidable force and could be our salvation. Three recent books look at ways to foster and capitalize on innovation.

The Way of Innovation: Master the Five Elements of Change to Reinvent Your Products, Services and Organization. Kaihan Krippendorff. Platinum Press. 256 pages.
Krippendorff's 2004 book, Art of the Advantage, was a fascinating glimpse at traditional Asian philosophical thinking, making it comprehensible and actionable for Western business minds. He looked at stratagems found in books such as Sun Tzu's The Art of War and extrapolated them into hypothetical scenarios that could be replicated within modern commercial settings.

This new book picks up the thread by examining the nature of innovation, the forces that drive it and ways to jump-start the process. Using Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist ideas and principles, Krippendorff cites a number of companies and tells how they utilized these philosophies — consciously or not — to drive innovation and success.

It's an interesting and potentially mind-blowing exploration, and Krippendorff certainly knows his stuff, though I didn't know what to make of this jaw-dropping assertion, coincidentally concerning one of his current clients: "Many believe Wal-Mart uses size to negotiate lower prices from its suppliers. But there is no meaningful evidence to support this.''

From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas into Money. Phil Baker. FT Press. 192 pages.
Baker takes a decidedly pragmatic view of innovation, and his new book is a mostly no-frills primer on what it takes to get it going. He looks at the various factors including product design, engineering, testing, manufacturing and distribution. There's nothing arcane or mystical here, though he does write expansively on the use of Asian resources for design and manufacturing.

As you would expect, he employs ample examples to illustrate his advice, many of which are derived from primary experiences rather than analyses of case studies. Though his prose is clean and precise, there's plenty of good information herein for those attempting to capitalize on their inspiration.

Mastering the Hype Cycle: How to Choose the Right Innovation at the Right Time. Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino. Harvard Business School Press. 272 pages.
Timing is everything. The world apparently wasn't ready for Apple's Newton when it was introduced, though Blackberries and other PDAs — including tricked-out iPhones — are now all the rage.

Fenn and Raskino lick their thumbs, check the winds and look at the best times to ride the waves of innovation. As vice presidents and fellows of Gartner Research, they back up their assertions with solid research. They seem to understand the intuitive part of the equation too, which is exactly right, as the creative process is one that draws from many sources (see Krippendorff, above), and not every action can be quantified. But benefiting from the lessons of one's predecessors is never a bad idea.

Published 11/24/08 in The Miami Herald

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sirius-ly messing with customers

Nationwide howls of "WTF?!" could have been avoided
Most people dislike changes and surprises, despite claims to the contrary. Right now, I'm unhappy with the changes Sirius XM made to their programming, despite that fact that I knew changes were going to happen.

The real problem? Sirius didn't manage customer expectations. At all.

When they combined programming after their long-sought merger, they did so in the middle of the week, informing subscribers about the new order by
e-mail. No prior warning and no research to find out what's popular — no one asked me, anyway.

While it was inevitable that channels would be dropped, especially where there were duplicates, some of the changes are dumb. For example, XM's
punkish "new wave" alternative channels — Fred, Ethyl and Lucy — are gone and the Sirius substitutes lack their flavor and edge, instead, adhering to a more mainstream approach.

While it's nice to have Little Steven's Underground Garage, the addition of a 24-hour Springsteen channel, one for the Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville station (programmed by my old pal, Steve Huntington), an Elvis Presley (not Costello) channel, and another featuring jam bands, is overkill for me. Beyond Jazz, which featured fusion and non-traditional "modern" jazz, is gone — and not replaced by any equivalent.

Soul Street, XM's excellent R&B station, was supplanted by Sirius' more conventional version; ditto with XM's alt-country station, "the X," which was replaced by the Sirius equivalent, which seems to rock a lot less. Hip hop fans are even more exasperated about the loss of their channels, too.

There've been quite a few personnel changes. The 50's channel is now manned by a 60s icon (at least in New York), "Cousin Brucie" (Bruce Morrow) who must be a million years old now, since I listened to him when I was a kid, on WABC. Not that big a deal to me, but the guy who used to do the 50s stuff is an authority on the music and was really great the few times I listened.

The 70s channel now has my old pal Ron Parker, who's an excellent Top 40 jock, though he's been shouting and puking a bit too much for my tastes, unfortunately.

Some programming, like Howard Stern's channel, now requires an additional monthly fee.

And every time I get out of my car, when I come back, the tuner reverts to the preview channel. I already subscribe. I don't need a preview!

But it's less about my personal tastes and tics, and more about the way things were done.

The last figures I saw for subscribers (July) had XM with 9.6 million and Sirius with 8.9 million; that's 18.5 million total, now reportedly up to 19.1 million. But they're still losing money — a ton of money:
they reported a $4.8 billion net loss for the third quarter of 2008. Their stock traded this week at 16¢ a share.

Upsetting subscribers is a very bad idea. The company can't afford it. There are
now many other options that didn't exist or weren't as readily available several years ago.

Other problems are ahead. Terrestrial radio is trying to force inclusion of their new "HD" stations onto satellite receivers. Oy.

When my Sirius XM subscription expires in a year and a half, I'll have to consider whether it's worth renewing. A few months ago, I was happy with my XM (that's right; "my XM"), and if you'd suggested I'd ever consider canceling, I would have laughed.

Now, not so funny.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Relevance or irrelevance?

Making and selling things that matter

A collection of vignettes about companies that strive to connect

Relevance: Making Stuff that Matters. Portfolio. 272 pages.

Author Tim Manners’ Cool News of the Day is an interesting website. A marketing director with whom I worked turned me on to it a few years back, and I received its daily e-mails for a while, then unsubscribed. Why?

Well, the site’s real name — — makes one promise and “Cool News of the Day” suggests something else. But thinking about why I’d begun letting the missives remain unread in my in-box, I realized that neither was true. There wasn’t much newsy about them. In fact, there was little, if anything, time-sensitive therein. Mostly, there seemed to be a sameness in tone and content, so if I’d unsubscribed, I wouldn’t be missing much.

The subject matter throughout was marketing with a relentlessly consumerist approach, not “reveries” or meditations in any sense. Or maybe they were and I was far too obtuse to notice. That’s a distinct possibility, though in all fairness (to myself), the nature of e-mail and the Web requires almost instant appeal — which wasn’t there for me. Now, a few years hence, I favor RSS feeds over e-mail, so I subscribed and will give it another shot.

This book, however, represents an opportunity for Manners to stretch out a bit, to really deliver some actual reveries. But that’s not what he wanted to do, apparently, as the content mirrors the e-mails. There are short corporate profiles in four categories: Insight, Innovation, Design and Value. Just about every story begins more or less the same way; with a brief statement of the problem, then the remedy is elucidated by a corporate exec. The consistent thread, of course, is the eponymous “relevance,” with different meaning to the purveyors and users of each product or service. And sometimes, the same thing means something else.

Manners writes about one airline who upset its female customers by building a website to specifically cater to them, while another airline gained favor by doing something similar. He also discusses companies who claim to ignore demographics and segment their market in other ways, and firms that disregard conventional wisdom and do what they think is best, valuing the intuitive over the empirical. But don’t most successful ventures define rather than follow best practices?

A few of Manners’ own insights are sprinkled throughout the book, as well. When writing about the artist once again known as Prince and his scheme to distribute CDs at concerts, which the music industry ultimately refused to count in its sales charts, the author tartly (and smartly) opines: “This seems to be a pattern in the record business: If it outwits the rules, outlaw it.”

If there’s any thread that runs through the book, it’s that delivering value to customers is key, whether it’s in terms of cost, utility, design, convenience or in other less tangible and more ephemeral ways. In fact, the book’s final two chapters — a “coda” and a ten bullet-point list of “certain secrets” — sum up everything perfectly; so well, in fact that they render the rest of the book somewhat redundant, except for the pleasant corporate vignettes.

published 11/17/08 in The Miami Herald

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old white people rocking

So lame, I didn't even stay for the the free food and drinks. Elaine called me a snob, but when it comes to rock and roll, I plead insanity guilty!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Johnny Bunko and friends

Daniel Pink, a fantastic writer and visionary, is the author of two great books; Free Agent Nation which came out in 2002 and is about the rise of the independent worker, and “A Whole New Mind” from 2005, about the future of creativity and how integrating our creative and pragmatic minds gives us, well, a whole new mind.

His latest book, “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need” is something else entirely. It’s manga, the Japanese form of graphic storytelling, like a comic book or graphic novel. Actually, it’s a westernized version of manga, read right to left (like Hebrew) and not the other way around, as in English, but the artist, Rob Ten Pas, incorporates most of the medium’s conventions, so unless you’re a nit-picker or mega-fanboy, manga it is! (A formal review of it, along with a couple of more traditional offerings, is below.)

Anyway, there’s a video promo for the book here (and a q&a session here), plus a website with excerpts and more. In fact, before very long, the whole book will be on the site, since Pink is posting a couple of pages every few days. Or you can get a big chunk online.

The six secrets in the Bunko book are vital lessons for nearly any successful career. They are: 1. There is no plan, 2. Think strengths, not weaknesses, 3. It's not about you, 4. Persistence trumps talent, 5. Make excellent mistakes, and 6. Leave an imprint.

What do the “lessons” mean? Well, the trailer will give you a good idea, but the book is quite entertaining (really!), well illustrated, short enough (160 pages), and you can get it for about ten bucks on Amazon so check it out.

But the idea behind it, in Pink’s own words, is that "most career books just plain stink. They’re too long, too boring, and too quickly outdated. Today most people get their tactical career information online — how to write a resume, what questions to ask in an interview, who to use as a reference, etc. What they want in a book, or so people tell me, are (sic) what they can’t get from Google. They want strategic lessons — and they want it presented in an accessible, to-the-point way. Most career books take about 30 hours to plow through. You can read this book in an hour.”

Creating a career is a job
Three new books offer advice for those seeking clarity while pursuing career goals.

For most people, career paths are unclear at best. Maybe some athletes or artists have a defined course to follow, but even then, things change. For the rest of us, change happens despite our best intentions or hopes for the contrary.

Three new books offer advice and wisdom for those who seek to define their life's work.

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need. Daniel H. Pink, Rob Ten Pas. Riverhead Books. 160 pages.

Daniel Pink has blown my mind for a third time. His first book, Free Agent Nation, was a prescient and insightful survey of the tectonic shifts occurring in the topography of work and careers. The next one, A Whole New Mind showed how true integration of the right and left sides of the brain, combining the creative with the pragmatic, is the way of the future. But this new one is a real trip. It's a comic, er, graphic novel. But that's not correct, either. It's really an ersatz, westernized version of manga, the Japanese comic art form.

Here, Pink, abetted by award-winning artist Rob Ten Pas, creates an ill
ustrated career guide that blows away all the rest with its clarity, simplicity and intelligence. There's also humor, a little romance, caricatured villainy, corporate conflict and more. While the ideas herein are strong and attractively presented, the medium with which they are conveyed makes them irresistible. The flashback of the protagonist's job interview will resonate with anyone who has gone through that ridiculous exercise.

Any career consultant — or high-school guidance counselor — who doesn't immediately order copies of this book in bulk is missing the boat — big time. If you're skeptical, check out the author's cool but clean website to see for yourself. There's also a generous sample of the book online.

How'd You Score That Gig?: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs and How to Get Them. Alexandra Levit. Ballantine. 352 pages.

For those who still like to read words without pictures, Levit provides a very nice career catalog. Of particular value to those just starting out — or starting again — she presents a number of personality types (she calls them ''passion profiles'') that link to different careers and jobs. Her style is both personal and personable, and you'll learn a bit about her own life and travails while reading this book. That's not always a good or useful thing, but here it works just fine. For example, in the section on marketing, Levit discusses her own experiences in that mysterious profession.

But it's not just focused on her life. There are numerous short notes in each section from professionals in those fields. My only criticism is that the book runs a little long, due partly to its casual, conversational tone. But it needn't be read sequentially, so skipping around may alleviate this concern.

Job Hunting Online. Mark Emery Bolles and Richard Nelson Bolles. Ten Speed Press. 224 pages.

Looking for a job is a job unto itself, with requisite skills that have been transformed — just like everything else — by technology. If you're accustomed to dealing with employment agencies and newspaper classified ads, it's a different world now. Online is where it's at, with Craigslist, CareerBuilder, Monster and a host of other online resources providing the means to find and be found by prospective employers.

For those who are stymied by the changes, Richard Bolles, the guy behind the popular What Color Is Your Parachute, and his son, Mark, will set you straight.

Reviews published 4/21/08 in the Miami Herald; preface originally appeared on