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Friday, August 10, 2018

The Myth of Smart

I've spent most of my career as a brand strategist. That means I slap CEOs into the realization that no matter how much they spend on marketing and advertising and social media and public relations, nothing is going to happen until they develop and execute a true brand strategy.  And by true brand strategy, I mean the kind of strategy that's not only clear, credible, authoritative and defensible, but also fattens up the bottom line with cold, hard cash.

As I tell anyone who will listen, the trick to succeeding in business -- or anything, really -- is simply a matter of getting into the other guys' heads.  It doesn't matter if you're negotiating a real estate deal or blasting your brand through some narcissistic phone app:  If you don't know what's going on in your target audience's heads, you're going to fail. Period.

That particular pontification carries a lot more weight than you might imagine.  In fact, it's one of the basic tenets I convey to Millennials who find themselves frustrated in their post-collegitate travails.  Why, they wonder, are they feeling so helpless in their pursuits of careers?  After all, they're smart.  They're willing.  They're capable.  Yet somehow, nothing seems to be clicking.

I offer them two pieces of wisdom:

First, they have to get into the heads of the business world, and a good place to start is with the realizations that (A) all we want to do is make money and (B) everything prior to college graduation is a lie.  It's true. Out here in real life, working to achieve approval doesn't get you squat. In the same vein, advancement isn't a matter of doing the reading and writing a term paper.

Out here, there is no formal structure or fulfillment of requirements that automatically propels you to the next level.  There's also no meritocracy.  But by far, most disappointing of all is the realization that despite all those safe spaces and navel-gazing professors, nobody really cares about how smart you are.  That's because being smart has little, if anything, to do with business success.  Being a businessman, however, has plenty to do with it -- and that's something that no school currently teaches, because it's political taboo. 

Second, they must accept the fact that contrary to what they've been taught in school, there's a lot -- and I mean millions of metric tonnes -- of non-geniuses out there.  I'm not shooting from the hip here.  I'm talking plain, basic math.  Take a look at this bell curve of IQ distribution to get an idea of what I'm talking about:

Pretty scary, eh? And it's totally legit.  If you take a close look, you'll see that George Carlin was right on the mark when he said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that "the average person isn't very bright and half of them are even stupider than that." Hey, I know it's not a terribly popular, everyone-gets-a-trophy kind of sentiment.  But it's mathematically and statistically correct.

The average IQ score is 100, encompassing about 68% of the population. If you add in the population who isn't even that bright, all the way down to the bottom of the barrel, you'll find that an astonishing 84% of the population ranges from "average" to "breathing paperweight."  That leaves about 16% of people who are "above average" or "really, really smart."

But what does all of that have to do with branding?

Well, if you subscribe to the notion that success really is a function of "getting into their heads," it's probably time you got real about the kind of heads you're getting into.  Whether you're climbing the corporate ladder or pitching some sort of digital dementia, it's a good idea to abandon your idealistic image of everyone being smart and motivated and as eager to change their lives as you are. Maybe it's time you start accepting that while you may be brilliant and aspirational, perhaps the rest of the world simply isn't up to your standards.

That could explain why, despite your smarts, nobody seems to buy into your fabulous ideas. I know it's happened to me over the years. Many were the times I'd traipse out of an office, scratching my head and wondering, "How could they not get this?" That's when I realized I hadn't gotten into their heads; I was expecting them to get into mine.

Big mistake.

Since then, I've come to accept that for 84% of the world, keeping things the way they are is just fine. For them, paying the rent, being a good parent, staying out of debt and mastering Call of Duty really is a worthy enough goal.  So maybe those ads of yours shouldn't be set in that east coast upper middle class Cape Cod townhome by the bay, starring some white collar interracial couple leasing that expensive foreign coupe that neither of them can afford.

Maybe you should be getting into the heads of folks to whom being super smart, totally ripped and uber hip isn't nearly as important as being happy and loved and satisfied with what they've got.  Folks who are smart enough to know who and what they are -- and who and what they aren't.  Those are people who value wisdom over smarts, and maybe that makes them a whole lot brighter than all those self-proclaimed, agenda-driven media gurus.

After all, according to the stats, 84% of them aren't exactly geniuses.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The End of Stupid Tech

July, 2018, will go down in history as the week when Facebook stock took a one-day, 20% stock hit, wiping out billions of market cap value for stockholders and its Chief ExecutiveTeenager, Marc Zuckerberg.  No doubt that many pundits and analysts will leap to conclusions about Facebook, its founder and the many reasons why it stumbled badly that week -- and at this point, continues to do so.

What so many of the analysts won't tell you is that other internet darlings, such as Twitter and Snapchat, took market hits just as hard as Facebook's, which in my humble opinion, tell a much bigger story than they would have you believe.

Flip through the media channels and you'll hear stories about these online brands' issues with privacy and accountability.  You'll likely hear more observations about the companies' failure to live up to revenue or advertising expectations.  Some are even reaching into the realm of fiction, citing diversity and employee practices for lackluster performance.

All of those may or may not be true.  But if you're looking for the real, heavyweight culprit, look no further:  The real reason is that the days of stupid tech are over.

What, exactly, is stupid tech? Pretty much what it sounds like: time-wasting, attention-sucking technologically-driven platforms that offer no truly useful value other than distracting disaffected, disenfranchised and under- or non-employed people from the misery of their daily, non-productive, unfulfilled lives.

That's not quite as ludicrous or simplistic as it sounds.  Allow me to explain:

As I've previously written here, until now, anyone born after 1990 has spent his entire life in the shadows of national economic and aspirational pessimism.  For more than two decades, they've been instructed to give up any hope of attaining wealth or success, choosing to rent rather than own everything from homes to power drills to car rides to their local overpriced coffee shop.  They've also endured a lethargic economy that confirmed Barack Obama's miserable edict that, "those jobs just aren't coming back."  Resigned to lives of mediocrity, those people embraced stupid tech brands like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, all of which excel in two important aspects:

1.  Making people feel more important than they are.
2.  Keeping people busy making people feel they're more important than they are.

This, by the way, is why so many people rant about their politics and feel compelled to photograph their lunches:  Broadcasting into a void makes them feel valuable, even though nobody really cares or is, in fact, listening or watching.

But in July, 2018, something swooped in out of the ether that none of the usual suspects ever expected: A second quarter GDP growth rate of 4.1% -- a figure past administrations stated was totally unattainable, let alone sustainable.  That kind of growth means that during the second quarter of 2018, more people spent time making a real living and less time virtue-signaling from their keyboards.

With fewer people engaging in online services (along with every brand finally acknowledging its customer base is actually a fraction of their stated number due to phantom and fake accounts), the dream of stupid tech is virtually over.  As true investors know, with a growing economy, there are simply better, proven places to put their money now that the economy is back on track.

I don't care who you voted for. I don't care how young or old you are. I could care less about your politics.  Read your history. Learn from it.  This is the economy you've been waiting for.  This is the opportunity that built the USA into the most powerful country.

This is your chance to get out of stupid tech and start your life for real.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

It's not Millennials. It's you.

No matter where I go, the question is always the same: Your kids are out of college? And they're still living at home?  My answer is always the same, always responsible for the look of shock and awe when I respond:

Yup. Just like every other generation has.

Surprised?  Don't be. In the United States, and certainly in countries well beyond its borders, the fact is that with the exception of the latter half of the baby boomer generation, just about every family lived under the same roof with grandma and grandpa until the kids got married -- and even then, a lot of them stuck around to save money. I'd like to say that people forget that stuff, but it's a lot more accurate to say that nobody ever knew it because most people never bother to learn their history.

With the exception of twenty-somethings from about 1965 to 1985, the norm for Americans has always been to grow up, help out at home, go to school and launch forth on their own when they were ready to start a family.  It was only those two decades when boomers' parents' prosperity (the result of their own Depression era and war time hardships) and cheap, convenient birth control spurred boomer kids out of the house at an early age.

But that was a different time, with different circumstances.

The boomer generation was filled with optimism.  Jobs were plentiful and bigger was better. Rents were cheap and costs were low. America's population in 1958 and 1968 was less than half of what it is in 2018.  There were no fax machines or personal computers -- it took far more people to do far less work.  Above it all, a national ethos of "there's plenty out there if you just go get it" pervaded the land.

Not so for millennials.

As I've written previously,  anyone born after 1990 has endured a childhood, adolescence and young adulthood filled with economic and national pessimism, where initiative has been quashed by nearly three decades of institutionalized laziness and inertia.  Clinton was a party animal, the first boomer president who mistook ambition for success. Dubya was a rich kid boomer who didn't succeed at much, either. Obama was the boomer who will go down in history as the first American president to simply give up, intoning phrases like, "those jobs just aren't coming back."

It's the spoiled, selfish, untrained and uneducated boomers who traded long term wealth accumulation for short term quarterly gains.  Boomers are the first generation to prefer leasing to owning and living with unmanageable debt.  The first to eschew the security of savings for overpriced consumerism and the first to choose the short term solution of divorce over the commitment of marriage.

Hardly the virtues their millennial children needed to see in their everyday role models.

Growing up millennial was to endure the media's preoccupation with terrorism and bad news relentlessly pounded the brains of kids without any counterbalance of real progress and opportunity.  Couple that with an educational system that glorified impracticality, ignored real life skills and promoted biased political agenda, and after a while, one has to ask himself how anyone under 40 would be motivated to leave the nest.

What's the point of leaving if there's nothing out there worth pursuing?

It's true America has been polarized, but not the way you think.  It's not a black versus white thing.  It's not a rich versus poor thing, either.  It's a "can do" versus a "what's the point" thing, which is why both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have emerged as the voices of their respective viewpoints.  One camp still believes in the American promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while the other has simply given up on the American dream.

So the next time someone asks you why your kids are "still living at home," school them in a little American history.  Let them know that historically, that's how it's always been. Tell them they've shirked their duty by depriving an entire generation of its rightful opportunities.

 And while you're at it, explain that it's the kids who are perfectly normal -- not them.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Timing is Everything

As you may or may not know by now, I've spent the better part of my life as a brand strategist, either initiating brand strategies and tactics for start-ups or resurrecting established brands' whose Caretaker Managers have neglected them to the point of causing imminent death.  It's been a fascinating career, replete with challenges that were overcome with equal parts observation, business acumen and more than a little imagination.

It's the imagination  part that seems to catch everyone by surprise. For some reason, people can embrace a "what if" scenario on a spreadsheet, but when it comes to human behavior, they're not nearly as receptive.  Given the unprecedented events that have occurred throughout the world since 2016, I can't understand why human imagination is still mired in the depths of conventional thought. If anything, by now people should have learned to expect the unexpected.

They don't. Do you? Let's see just how receptive you are to this imaginative prediction of a few imminent world events:

At the time of this writing, a great debate is ensuing in the United States as to the possible outcome of the midterm elections that will occur in November, 2018.  Some pundits are sure of a magnificent "blue wave" which will wash away the still-unbelievable victory scored by Donald Trump.  Others are just as sure that the "red wave" is an unstoppable train that will roll over both houses of Congress with grace and ease.

I happen to believe the red wave will prevail, but not for the reasons proffered by either side.  And this is where your imagination comes in.

First, understand that unlike most midterm elections, this one will likely be influenced by both domestic and foreign factors. For every American who values his Federal tax break there's another who deplores the construction of a southern border wall.  For every Hungarian and Norwegian who has shunned muslim immigrants, there's a Frenchman, Brit and Swede that has watched Western society become completely overrun with Middle Eastern invaders.

Make no mistake, Americans are feeling a real divide out there and it could all come to head in time to affect the midterm elections under a huge red wave. Ready? Imagine this:

  1. Consider that with foreign countries restricting and outlawing guns (and now, apparently, knives) native populations are feeling increasingly squeezed into a corner. And while guns and knives may be illegal, cell phones, packages and explosives are not, which means that car-bombs and the like could become a street militia's weapon of choice. Who's to say that well-organized underground militias haven't already planted explosive packages in civilian neighborhoods of Paris and London? Disguised as repairmen, the bravest may have already placed these devices in high-rise tenements located in the most populous, most dangerous "no go" zones where even policemen are forbidden to trespass. What if one synchronized call to all those cell phone-activated packages would detonate hundreds of devices, bringing down tens of buildings at the same precise moment? No knives or guns required. And to top it off with just the right amount of poetic justice, what if it were all synchronized to happen on September 11th -- two months before the elections in America?

    That looks distinctly red to me.
  2. Consider that for almost two years since the inauguration of the 45th president, the United States' Department of Justice has been investigating the hijinks, crimes and intrigues involved in the election of 2016, and that while much has been discovered about Democrats and somewhat dismissed about Republicans, there has been virtually nothing in the way of prosecution of any culprits. Especially notable has been the absence of any litigation targeting Hillary Clinton by Jeff Sessions. One reason could be that there's no case to be prosecuted. But what if such a prosecution would have far more effect if it were launched closer to election day?  Even her most ardent supporters couldn't take it if Hillary Clinton were in a courthouse just weeks before an election. Following the foreign shock of September 11th, I'd venture to say that announcing a criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton on October 15th seems just about right.

    That also looks a bit reddish to me, as well.
Of course, I could be wrong. Imagination is never about certainty. It's more about possibility.  It's there to cushion the shocks we experience when reality hits us where we least expect.

We live in strange, surprising times. It's possible that some of this could happen.  It's even more possible none of it ever will.  But like I said, sometimes you have to use a little imagination to see things from a radically different perspective.

Personally, I suspect a big red wave coming. But maybe it won't. One thing I have learned is that timing is everything -- particularly when November 6th falls so neatly in line with September 11th and October 15th.

As the bean counters with the spreadsheets say, what if?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Ticking of Black Apartheid

We live in truly historic times. And by historic, I mean eventful:  Since 2016, the world has been rocked and re-shaped in various places experiencing dynamic -- and quite frankly, foundation-shaking outcomes.  You know what they are and where they're happening. You can't dip into any medium without reports of all political stripes assaulting you with updates.

As eventful as it has been, however, the turbulence is far from over. As I've written here previously, Europe, the United States, the Middle East and others are now at the brink of even more disruption as invading cultures clash with national traditions for territorial dominance.

But here's something you may not know:

South Africa, that black-dominated country that shed its white Apartheid government decades ago, is now being torn apart by a reverse Apartheid.  White South African civilians, who comprise about 10% of the entire population, are being systematically attacked and slaughtered on their own legally-owned farms and domiciles. This is a particularly interesting situation to watch, because unlike every other western culture on the planet, white South Africans have never been subject to, nor hindered by any sense of political correctness.

They know only the agenda of survival -- and historically, they've been extremely vigilant about it.

Anyone who has any knowledge of South African history knows that historically, the Dutch and English do not go quietly into the night. Even when fighting each other at the turn of the twentieth century, they were fierce combatants, and perhaps more importantly, never ones to back down from a fight. Their descendants are no less stalwart, which leaves us wondering just how they will take the fight to their enemy, the black Apartheid government of South Africa.

As a strategist, I'm fascinated by this situation, because the outcome of this conflict will not be a negotiated settlement. Far from it. I expect that within the very near future, white South Africans will take up arms and, through shrewd planning and sheer determination, quite likely win their cause.

The question at the moment is, exactly what would they be winning?

Taking the entire country hardly seems a likely possibility.  Not only are whites only 10% of South Africa's population, they are concentrated in a few disparate, densely populated locations around the country. Strategically, it would be suicide for them to attempt a coup to restore the national white government -- they have neither the weaponry nor the fighting forces for that.  What might make more sense would be the fortification of one or more of those white-populated regions in order to declare its independence from South Africa.

Think it can't happen? It already has, sort of. The country of Lesotho is completely landlocked by South Africa. And within South Africa itself, the town of Orania has been whites-only for years. There's your proof of concept. Motive, means -- all that's left is opportunity for it to happen.  And my suspicion is that plans for a vicious armed rebellion are probably nearing or at completion.

Most people suspect South Africa has a maximum of five years until the lid blows off.  Don't you believe it. The fuse on this powder keg will burn faster than anyone thinks, and when it ignites, the explosion will rock the world off its axis.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Coolidge Effect

On the advice that "those who don't learn their history are condemned to repeat it," my favorite reading is biographies. I figure that knowing about people throughout history -- their successes and failures -- along with the recurrent phases of human behavior allow one to accurately predict what's just over our own horizon.  As with my wildly unpopular assertion in 2015 of Donald Trump's chances of election, lots of my opinions and observations turn out to be correct.

Believe me, it's not because I'm some psychic or genius. I just pay attention.

Reading the biography of Calvin Coolidge seems to be especially timely.  Most people, including most Americans, know little or nothing about Coolidge.  In fact, he was the 29th Vice President of the United States in 1920, who became the 30th President in 1923 when President Warren Harding died in the White House. Coolidge won re-election in 1924, serving more than five years as the nation's chief executive.

Other than one clean joke about his being a man of few words, nobody remembers much about Calvin Coolidge's presidency.  That's probably because what made him a nationally popular hero is what happened to him before he ever sought national office.

It happened in 1919, just after the first world war, when the globe was wrapped up in political instability. All over the planet, monarchies and kingdoms were giving way to industrialized republics, redrawing maps and changing governmental structures that had been in power for centuries, causing mass confusion.  It's no coincidence, for example, that the Russian revolution succeeded in 1917: As Machiavelli once noted, "the quickest ascension to power is through a vacuum."  By 1919, the success of Communism was a very real threat to the United States, especially with the Boston Police Strike of that year.

Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts at the time, faced with the dilemma of handling a breakdown of law and order of unprecedented proportion.  Although the police were forbidden by law from striking, they walked out anyway, figuring they had the public's support.  After all, the mood of the city was one of agitation, inspired by the newfound power enjoyed by Socialist and Communist labor unions throughout Europe and beyond.

The entire strike lasted about a week, throwing Boston into chaos and making national headlines. Despite the media's perceived sentiment leaning in favor of the striking policemen, Coolidge decided that the beyond the policemen's sworn and moral obligation to protect the public, the law was the law: Coolidge called in the militia and not only fired all the strikers, he guaranteed none would ever be re-hired by the Boston police under any circumstance.

Warned by pundits that his actions would be deemed politically unpopular by the public, Coolidge's decision to sustain law and order were actually enthusiastically endorsed by voters across the country. Firemen, telephone operators, nurses and coal miners who had been tempted to walk off their jobs, backed off their threats. It was the first instance in which the phrase "silent majority" was applied to those whose opinions and votes weren't even mentioned by the media.  Upon realizing their error, most media quickly changed their tunes and endorsed Coolidge as a true, solid leader. Real presidential material.

That was 1919. This is 2018.

Look around the planet.  As of this writing, lawlessness abounds. Apartheid is worse than ever in South Africa, only now it's the whites who are feeling the pain of state-sponsored robbery and murder.  The white population is now warning of violent rebellion against their corrupt black oppressors -- and they have the resources to back up their threats.  Check out the tension of European countries as they wring their hands over the continuing decay of their own customs and disciplines.  Watch how many South American countries drown in their own lawless poverty.

As I warned in 2017, it's only a matter of time until the lawlessness we're seeing -- on the same international scale seen by Coolidge a hundred years ago -- erupts into full scale conflict. My thesis that now, as then, the silent majority will again support leaders who can and will buck the media's advocacy of lawlessness, choosing a return to law and order.  The United States, Hungary, Poland and Italy have just weighed in; I suspect more are on the way.

It won't come cheaply. The media will likely accuse those leaders of unbridled nationalism and worse. Real people are going to bleed and die in the streets. History, however, will undoubtedly report the ultimate return to stability as one more natural diversion in the course of human history, the periodic purge that cleanses the system, followed by a period of worldwide prosperity.

Just like it did after Coolidge.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Future Imperfect

A lot of people use the quote "Those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it," attributing it to 19th/20th century Mexican General George Santayana, which is all well and good until, ironically, a little research reveals the phrase formally originated with British statesman Edmund Burke back in the 18th century.

Funny how those things happen.

Regardless, the sentiment is as true as it is profound. You really can't tell where you're going until you know where you've been.  Everyone needs a point of reference, which is why if you're intelligent enough to be reading this, you should be frightened to death of the Millennial generation's inheriting the earth.


Hear me out on this, because this is not the usual rant of some troglodyte bemoaning the loss of his traditions of romance and exotic nobility. This is a guy who calls 'em like he sees 'em, and what he sees is unlike anything anyone has witnessed in the course of western civilization:

Millennials are the first generation whose future is compromised not just by its lack of education, but by a complete lack of interest in its own history.

Go ahead and ask any Millennial about the Age of Reason. The Renaissance. The Dark Ages. The Middle Ages. The Industrial Revolution. The Age of Enlightenment.  See if he can explain Greeks and Trojans as anything other than college fraternities with the best parties. Then watch for his two reactions:

1.  A glazed look in his eyes.
2.  A grab for his iPhone to Google it.

I'm not even going into the catastrophic impact that "information" services like Google and others practice by distorting their search results via their own personal and political agenda. If you really want to delve into what mind control is all about, you can read all the George Orwell and Aldous Huxley you please.

No, the real issue lies in the fact that for the first time in history, education (or what's left of it) is undergoing a lethal, quiet transformation from an active to a reactive process.

The broad acceptance of simply "looking it up" or "Googling it" is, by its very nature, displacing the centuries-proven alternative of active education, whose essence echoes Burke's and Santayana's very own sentiments.  Simply put, by the time a Millennial responds to new information (which itself may be wrong) it's likely too late to be of any real value.  By knowing one's history, however, that same Millennial could walk the earth prepared by his education because he took the time to learn it before he needed it.

But you can't know anything unless you ask about it, and fewer kids -- now past minimum voting age -- even bother with asking. It just doesn't occur to them to do so. So what we're left with is an army of drones doing just what they're told by their masters to do without question.

That, to me, is scary.

Human tragedy like wars and poverty are avoided with prior knowledge, not ignorance.  The civilized world is made a better place by remembering how bad things once were. The problem with Millennials is that they have no knowledge of their past, only fantasies of their futures, most of which have/will never materialize.  The sad part is that like lambs to the slaughter, they have no way of knowing it, and no desire to question it.

I always told my kids (and anyone else who'd listen) to talk back to the TV.  Yell at YouTube. Choose your own drive for knowledge over the toxic fumes generated by search engines.  I stressed that the first twenty years of life is mostly lies and that it takes a good few years beyond your last year of schooling to exchange infantile idealism for life's harsh lessons in reality.  That's where the value of history is: A record of truth stretching back eons, there for anyone to learn from, to avoid making the mistakes made by others and to improve their own lots as a result.

It's a tried and true system, assuming that anyone's interested in asking.  And sadly, that's an assumption we can no longer afford to make.