Triumph of the Airheads, by Shelley Gare

 11th October 2008 by gihan

This book is nonsense dressed up as a serious argument.

Gare claims to take aim at “airheads” in our society, and in some cases she does well. But at other times she just goes off on her own rants about things she doesn’t like, pretending it’s all part of the same argument.

Her first flaw is that she conveniently doesn’t define the term “airhead”. So we have to figure out what it means. Fortunately, most of us do have a pretty reasonable idea of what’s meant by somebody being called an airhead. For example, if we look at the back cover alone, Gare cites:

“an upside-down world where celebrity matters more than substance” – yes, most people would go along with that.

“small girls seriously regard a trashy hotel heiress as a role model” – again, yep.

“an American president who gets Sweden and Switzerland mixed up” – again, (sadly) we’d have to agree.

But then it gets trickier … What about …

“correct spelling is considered less important than knowing how to do PowerPoint” … Hmmm, I agree with her sentiments, but that hardly makes the person an airhead.

“bright maths and science students go into investment banking so they can make truckloads of money” … And who exactly are the airheads here?

“Australian politicians who spend millions on spin doctors while schools and hospitals go begging” … You could argue they are manipulative, unethical, even evil – but airheads? Hardly.

And that – even before opening the book – is where Gare’s entire argument breaks down. It turns out that her definition of airhead is pretty much “Anybody I disagree with”. If she’s had a bad experience with you, you’re tarred with the airhead brush; if she likes you, you’re not.

Take, for example, her vitriolic attack on management consultants “who can spout the latest management truisms to back up whatever nonsensical cost-cutting scheme they are trying to introduce”. Fair enough, but when it comes to public servants doing the same thing, they are portrayed sympathetically as “public servants, often now dependent on their contracts being renewed”. This is pure hypocrisy, especially in light of how difficult it is to get sacked from the public service.

There is no doubt that some of Gare’s criticism is well-founded. She correctly takes aim at Paris Hilton, celebrity worship, excessive consumerism and Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, who was fined for not thinking to declare $18,000 worth of goods at Helsinki airport. These are clearly the signs of “airheadism”, and all power to her for raising our awareness of them.

But sadly those are exceptions, not the rule, in her book.

At other times, she criticises:

  • A chief executive of David Jones department store for wanting more than an already high salary.
  • Her bank, which is “so stingy with its branded ATM machines that in my whole inner-city suburb, there is only one”; and she then goes on to complain that they charge her $2 for using another bank’s ATM. Fancy that! She follows that with the nonsensical statement, “You can’t get much more of a twenty-first century airhead paradox than being charged by your bank for not using a service that the bank tries not to provide”.
  • An insurance company who (quite reasonably) requires written proof that the property they are insuring no longer has a bank mortgage over it.
  • Her local council, who – again quite reasonably – requires proof of identity before giving her a residential parking permit.
  • Citibank, who released a credit card that appeared to be fee-free, but whose fine print sneakily slipped in a big annual fee.

You might agree with these complaints – in fact, I agree with some of them myself. But that’s not the point. She claims these are examples of “airheadism”, when of course it’s nothing of the sort. It might be greed, manipulation, excessive bureaucracy, or anything else. But it’s hard to argue that these are “airhead” policies.

I could go on, but I hope you get the picture.

The irony is, if you are an airhead yourself, you’ll probably believe her argument – hook, line and sinker. But if you take more than a nanosecond to think for yourself, you won’t fall for it.

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Momentum Moves Mountains

 29th September 2008 by gihan

I recently listened to an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook and supposedly the world’s youngest billionaire.

What made this interview interesting for me was not that it’s an interview with a billionaire. It’s not. It’s an interview from October 2005, when Facebook was just taking off as a directory for Harvard undergraduates, but before it became one of the world’s most popular Web sites.

It’s always nice to see things in hindsight. And I was amused to hear Zuckerberg talk about what he thought was the next step for Facebook.

Remember, at the time it was very popular in Harvard, and was just expanding to support other universities. Somebody in the audience asked whether it would then expand across the world (which, in fact, it eventually did). But Zuckerberg said, No. His next big idea was to roll it out to high school students!

He got it totally wrong.

But I come to praise Zuckerberg, not to bury him.

I’m not going to criticise him here for lack of vision. After all, he does have a billion dollars, which is – coincidentally – a billion more than I do.

Instead, I’ll point out that, even though he didn’t get that idea right, he did still did get on the right track eventually. And he did it because Facebook was already an active, growing, thriving Web site.

Here’s the point: Momentum moves mountains.

He didn’t sit on his hands for years, analysing, contemplating, planning, strategising, projecting and cogitating. No, he got started with something, and then figured out how to steer it in the right direction. And even if it sometimes wasn’t quite right, he was still better off than somebody who hadn’t started at all.

So don’t wait until you know how everything is going to turn out. You don’t. And you won’t. Get started now.

This is particularly important on the Internet.

On the Internet, there are some things you just need to experience before you’ll understand how they will work for you. If you’ve never published an e-mail newsletter, put a video clip on YouTube, written an e-book that you distribute through viral marketing, posted to your blog, or recorded a regular podcast, it’s difficult to imagine how they work. You must experience them.

More importantly, starting these things makes it easier to continue doing them.

When you’ve got a blog, you’ll start noticing things to blog about.
When you’ve got an e-mail newsletter due tomorrow, you’ll create the time to write an article.
When you’ve written your e-book, you’ll constantly find new ways to promote it.

So get started! Momentum moves mountains.

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Sell Umbrellas When It’s Raining

 11th September 2008 by gihan

During my recent trip to Europe, I spent four days in Rome. Unfortunately it rained pretty much all four days I was there.

I noticed an interesting thing about the street vendors.

The centre of Rome is full of street vendors and hawkers. When the sun is shining, they sell handbags, jewellery, and religious artefacts. But as soon as it starts raining, out come the umbrellas.

Here’s the guy who sold me an umbrella (on the right). He was a bit surprised I asked him for a photo, but hey – there’s no accounting for some tourists!

Anyway, my point – and I do have one – is that I was impressed by the way they switched products so quickly, depending on the weather.

Hmmm … Selling umbrellas when it’s raining, and not selling them when it stops raining. Not exactly a marketing breakthrough, right? In fact, it might seem obvious to you.

But wait – not so fast!

I wonder whether you are as smart as these hawkers? Nothing personal, but I see a lot of people who don’t follow this simple marketing principle.

Let me point out five mistakes that many businesses make …

  1. Selling umbrellas when it’s not raining: Are you sure there’s a real demand for your product/service? Or are you so in love with it that you haven’t checked whether your clients need it?
  2. Selling handbags when it IS raining: Are you really solving their most important problems? Or are there more important things on your client’s mind than you, your products and services (If so, they just don’t have time to think about you).
  3. Selling umbrellas to people who already have them: Are you reaching the specific niche market who most needs your services? Or are you just taking a scatter-gun approach, marketing to everybody and hoping the right people just happen to notice you?
  4. Hoping wet and bedraggled customers will find you: Are you actively involved in marketing? Or are you just expecting customers to stumble across you?
  5. Thinking you’re the only umbrella salesperson in town: Those street vendors in Rome are assertive! And they have to be, of course, because they’re competing with five others on the same street corner. Are you watching your competition and continually staying ahead of them? Or are you hoping customers will pick you anyway?

Are you making any of these mistakes? If so, you’re probably losing business – fast. Follow the example from a street vendor in Rome, and learn to sell umbrellas when it’s raining!

>The Keynote: A Humorous Interlude

 4th September 2008 by gihan

>Let me tell you a true story …

I was walking along the beach one day, feeling lucky. My life was good. I had all my ducks lined up in a row. Whatever I had believed, I had conceived and achieved. And when the going had been tough, I’d got going.

As I walked, I saw a starfish lying in the sand. I picked it up and asked him, “What are you doing?” He replied, “I’m building a cathedral.” But he clearly wasn’t. So I threw him into the ocean.

Suddenly I felt a force in my back, and I was thrown face first into the sand. I turned to see a group of monkeys aiming a large hose of jet-cold water at me.

“What did you do that for?” I yelled. They stopped, and looked at each other, puzzled. “Err, there’s no ‘I’ in team,” one said haltingly, and then added, “Although, now that I think of it, there are two in ‘schizophrenia’.”

“Ummm … We were just shifting your paradigm”, said another.

“No, no”, said a third. “We moved your cheese.”

I just stared at them, until eventually one of them muttered, “Nobody ever asked us that before”, and they skulked away.

I turned away in disgust and looked out to the ocean. Suddenly, to my horror, I saw a battleship heading towards the beach, and – what’s more – right into the path of my starfish.

I cupped my hands to my mouth and yelled across the water, “Turn 10 degrees to port – now!” In reply, their loudhailer boomed back at me, “No, YOU turn 10 degrees to starboard – now!”

They were in trouble – BIG trouble. But I had a positive attitude, which was contagious – and I hoped it was worth catching by the men on that ship. I called back again, “I’m warning you – turn 10 degrees to port – NOW!” But the reply came back, even louder, “And I’m warning YOU – turn 10 degrees to starboard!”

What could I do? They were heading straight for shore. “Stop! Danger!” I yelled. But the reply came back, “I stop for nobody. I’m a battleship.”

Quickly, I thought outside the nine dots and yelled back, “I’m a lighthouse”. Unfortunately, it was daytime, and they could see I obviously wasn’t. So they ignored my warnings and headed straight for the shore.

I knew I had to lead, follow or get out of the way. I got out of the way. Unfortunately, the starfish wasn’t so lucky.

I tell you this story not to sadden you – because the sun is always shining even when you can’t see it – but to inspire you.

Nor to apologise – because love means never having to say you’re sorry – but to theorise.

And not to point a finger at the commander of that battleship – because whenever I do, there are two fingers pointing back at me (there used to be three, but I lost one in a freak accident when I lost concentration while sharpening an axe for six hours) – but to point YOU in a new direction.

You see, that was in the past, and the past is just a memory. All we have is the gift of now – that’s why we call it the “present” (Ummm … and the gift of tomorrow, I suppose – that’s why we call it, err, the future. But that’s another story).

I felt bad at the time, but it WAS in my past. Looking back now, I realise it didn’t make a difference to me. But it did to that starfish.

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Make Your Message Spread Like Wildfire

 26th August 2008 by gihan

Every message has three components:

  1. An idea you want to convey;
  2. An audience you would like to reach;
  3. The delivery of that idea to that audience.

This is obvious, right? In marketing, you’d call this product / market / medium; in a presentation, you’d call this content / audience / delivery; and so on.

But it’s one thing to understand these things exist; it’s another to use them whenever you deliver a message.

How do you turn your message into something they listen to, act on, and remember long after you’ve gone?

In high school physics, I learned that the gravitational attraction between two planets depends on three things: the size of the first planet, the size of the second planet, and how close they are to each other. The bigger they are, the greater the gravitational force between them; and the closer they are, the greater the force.

The same applies to your messages. Your success depends on three things:

  1. The quality of your idea
  2. Your understanding of your audience
  3. How well you deliver that message to that audience.

How good is your message?

Think about an idea, product, service or concept you’d like to deliver – whether it’s in a one-to-one sales meeting, a group presentation, a marketing flyer, or your Web site.

How well are you doing these three things?

  1. How well have you developed the idea?
  2. How well do you know your audience?
  3. How good are you at connecting with your audience?

Use these specific questions to evaluate your message …

Your Idea:

  1. Solutions: How well do you provide solutions to your audience’s problems?
  2. Expertise: How much expertise do you already have?
  3. Packaging: What’s your experience with creating messages in this format?
  4. Margin: What’s your profit margin?
  5. Leverage: How can you use it in other ways?

Your Audience

  1. Niche: Are you aiming this message at a small, clearly defined, niche group?
  2. Problems: How well do you know the audience’s problems, questions, concerns, challenges, and worries?
  3. Demand: How well do you know the demand for your message?
  4. Price: If you’re selling a product, have you tested the price people are willing to pay?
  5. Relationship: What is your existing relationship with your target audience?

Your Delivery

  1. Strategy: Do you have a strategy for rolling out this message?
  2. Reach: How easily can you reach them?
  3. Tactics: Do you have experience already with the specific delivery techniques you’re planning to use?
  4. Interest: How interested are you about your audience?
  5. Commitment: Are you really committed to the process?

Use these 15 questions to evaluate every message before you deliver it.

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