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8 posts from May 2013

Seeing Houston as a work of art (in progress)

Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation have gotten together to support writers who support contemporary art. Tq130603wpThey provide grants to accomplished writers such as Harbeer Sandhu, who says,

The city of Houston, while offering artists much needed support in the form of work space, free time, gallery space, and even financial backing, lacks the supportive yet critical engagement necessary to fully realize its potential to be a rich arts community. Aiming to provide a local forum for art criticism connected to world literature and international concerns, Harbeer Sandhu will develop a Houston-based art blog featuring weekly posts focusing on the visual art of Houston and Texas in a global context.

And the result is Texphrastic, from About by Harbeer Sandhu... 

I aim to write long-form criticism and independent ekphrastic responses of literary quality–I aim for depth, not breadth, and certainly not currency–and I hope these essays will remain pertinent and interesting long after the artists they discuss have moved on to new projects. So make some popcorn, pull up a chair, kick off your shoes, sit back, get comfortable, leave some thoughtful comments… and tell two friends to tell two friends.

'Ekphrastic' expression is where one form, such as writing, seeks to evoke another form, such as painting, or place-making, in this case. 

All of which would just be posturing if it didn't result is some 'damned fine writing,' which it has. (My dad would be impressed.) The question is, will it lead to Houston being a better place to make art?

Don't swallow the story

The latest trend in advertising is to tell more stories. Of course, great advertising has always relied on stories, but direct marketing has often been very mechanical. Storytelling classes are now being promoted, and story templates can be purchased.

Tq130528sfDaniel Kahneman points out that plausibility often trumps logic. Our System 1 mind craves coherence and will gladly subsititute something that sounds logical for the hard work of analyzing probability that System 2 could apply. Remenber that phrase, 'you could look it up'? Who bothers?

When it comes to making investments, you should bother. Future market conditions are impossible to predict in the short term, and only slightly less predictable in the long term. A pretty plausible story doesn't negate that. Diversifying your portfolio allows you to accept many outcomes.

If you believe in your business, you must be building content for it

The more you cherish your business, the more likely you are to be freaked out about the danger of saying the wrong thing. But you have to get over it, because you are just undermining the foundation of your marketing. The more is written about your business, the less important any single piece of content becomes. Are you going to write it? Are you going to hire someone who is a better writer? Or you going to let your competitors and detractors get ahead of you?

WebInkNow: Building inbound marketing assets, not expenses, 2013-May-16, by David Meerman Scott Tq130522ba

Thinking of your content as an expense like advertising means you always underspend.

For example, if you spend $5,000 in a given month on Google AdWords, the only thing you are buying are the resulting clicks of your ads appearing against the important phrases people search on to find your business. But as soon as you stop paying, your clicks stop too. This is the classic example of a marketing expense.

However, if you spend $5,000 in a given month to hire a freelance journalist to write a bunch of interesting blog posts relating to important phrases people search on to find your business, you will have assets that live on forever that will drive people to your content from the search engines for years to come. The content will have value many years after it has been paid for.

I started writing this blog in 2004. There are posts that I wrote many years ago that rank highly in the search engines for phrases that people search on today such as "brand journalism" "online media room" and many others.

TFS: Why you should think like a loser

Often, prejudicial thinking falls under the "Sin of Representativeness." We estimate the probability of success based on whether someone looks like a winner. How can you avoid prejudicial hiring? We are naturally drawn to likeable candidates that fit our expectations.Tq130520tl

Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow:

You surely understand in principle that worthless information should not be treated differently from a complete lack of information, but WYSIATI [the biased belief that you see is all there is] makes it very difficult to apply that principle. Unless you decide immedidately to reject evidence for example, by determining that you recieved it from a liar), your System 1 will automatically process the information available as if it were true. There is one thing you can do when you have doubts about the quality of the evidence: let your judgments of probability stay close to the base rate.* Don't expect this exercise of discipline to be easy--it requires a significant effort of monitoring and self control.

The more confident you feel that you've found a winner, the more you should check that feeling and imagine that you've picked a loser. Don't indulge your confimation bias. Get your analytical System 2 to kick in by forcing yourself to thinking about the humiliation of losing. Pick up a resume you rejected and visualize the possibility that you're overlooking someone who will become a big success for your competition. 

*Wikipedia on "base rate":

In science, particularly medicine, the base rate is critical for comparison. It may at first seem impressive that 1000 people beat their winter cold while using 'Treatment X', until we look at the entire 'Treatment X' population and find that the base rate of success is actually only 1/100 (i.e. 100 000 people tried the treatment, but the other 99 000 people never really beat their winter cold). The treatment's effectiveness is clearer when such base rate information (i.e. "1000 people... out of how many?") is available. Note that controls may likewise offer further information for comparison; maybe the control groups, who were using no treatment at all, had their own base rate success of 5/100. Controls thus indicate that 'Treatment X' actually makes things worse, despite that initial proud claim about 1000 people.

Reckless blogging and whining

This morning I'm blogging without having anything to say. That's because I've been so busy that I haven't had time to collect ideas. I've been trying to hold onto my routines, but searching doesn't always lead to finding. Tq130516bd

I've been re-reading Peter Bregman's 18 Minutes: Find your Focus..., which is better than that kitschy title suggests. I'm pretty sure I've been focusing on the most important things but I just cannot get over the desire to do more. I regret too much that I can't find enough time. It's just not fair. I could be so awesome if I had more time.


TFS: How Availability Bias can make us act squirrely

Such a big part of being a good entrepreneur and/or being a good marketer is about objectively evaluating risk. Most of the public discourse about availability cascades focuses on the use of public funds, but private funds can be used imprudently as well.  Tq130509ab

The correct management of risk is to recognize both the probability of the outcomes and the magnitude of those outcomes. So a sufficiently bad outcome can overpower a low probability and generate a high risk. Plus, correct risk calculation includes factoring in good outcomes as well as bad outcomes. But if the bad outcome is fresh in your mind, availability bias can cause you to exaggerate its probability, and then to drop the good outcomes from your calculation. So you run scared from a fight you probably would have won. Bad behavior for entrepreneurs and marketers. 

So the next time something frightens you, especially if you want to spend big money insuring against its occurrance, set aside your emotions and become a detective. Am I overlooking possible good outcomes? Human beings usually over-estimate low probabilities. Look at a 1% chance of losing $10,000 versus a 0.1% chance. Your expected loss $100 or $10. Isn't it worth sitting down and figuring if that seat-of-the-pants 1% is really only 0.1%? Of course, risk aversion makes us run from a $10,000 loss as a personal calamity, but that doesn't make it a good business decision. Availability bias says that if a friend of yours just declared a painful bankruptcy, you'll be acting squirrely about risk for awhile. 

On Listening to the Right Things

I'm a big fan of listening, but make sure you're listening to the right things. Often, the most important things go unsaid. We can over-react to customer feedback, "always oiling the squeaky wheels," as Larry Freed says below. In my current job, the benefit my company provides is installing systems, and customers constantly complain that we're hard to work with. Well, yes, it's inconvenient to put in a new system, but that doesn't mean they are not getting great value for the investment.  Tq130507lc

Harvard Business Review Blog: Are You Listening to your Most Important Customers?, 2013-Apr-17, by Larry Freed

Measuring the voice of the silent majority starts with understanding the difference between collecting feedback and measuring the customer experience. Feedback is opt-in, and inherently reactive, because businesses focus on addressing the issues raised by the "squeaky wheels." Measurement is random and representative, which allows businesses to prioritize changes based on everyone's experience: lovers, haters, and those who fall somewhere in between.... 

In the new "big data" world, in which organizations collect and analyze enormous amounts of data in order to improve the way they do business, it's important not to get overwhelmed. Understanding the difference between types of data, putting proper data in context, and knowing which data to "listen" to is the key. While feedback data gives you a chance to react, measurement allows you to be proactive and strategic, giving you an advantage over competitors who are still running around oiling squeaky wheels.