Spanning the globe for insights into human behavior and persuasion.



Decency 101

When my sister sent me an indignant email about an article in Seventeen magazine about female genitalia, I was hoping she had succombed to an Internet rumor.

Too bad she hadn't.

It's true. Albertson's just pulled Seventeen from stores in 12 Western states because the October issue contains an article describing, in detail and with pictures, a vagina. Title: Vagina 101.

Truth be told, I haven't read the article. I subscribe to the Garbage In, Garbage Out view of the mind. But this crosses the always moving and admittedly fuzzy line of decency.

I'd like to know the point of a glossy magazine "educating" 12 and 13-year-old girls about their most private parts. Aren't there better places for that to happen? Like in a conversation with a trusted adult? And even if that isn't happening, what gives Seventeen the right/responsibility to be the source of that kind of content?



Political Hay

Politics to me are fascinating and maddening all at once: fascinating, because I get to see persuasion at work and maddening because words and persuasive techniques are used to distort and convolute.

I am tired of politicians using the New Orleans tragedy to make political hay. Those who place the problems with emergency response squarely on the shoulders of Pres. Bush are either being intellectually dishonest or have partisan tunnel vision.

The Bush administration has made mistakes. They should have known much earlier that state and local authorities couldn't handle the aftermath of Katrina. Their problem was decisiveness. He said as much yesterday.

But government responsibility rests solidly with the State of Louisiana and the City of New Orleans. They had disaster plans, but they didn't have the resources or the foresight or the leadership to implement them.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility lies with the citizens themselves. They, just as their governments, had plenty of warning--years of it. Since 9/11, the govt has been encouraging all of us to have family preparedness kits. If more citizens would have taken more responsibility for themselves and their families, the New Orleans tragedy would have been less about the loss of human life.

But the "If only..." game is just as fruitless as the blame game. In the aftermath of Katrina, we should be completely focused on doing our level best to help those in need and doing our level best, as citizens and as governments, to be better prepared for when the next natural or man-made disaster strikes.



This Is Your Brain...

I mentioned months ago that I had read John J. Ratey's "A User's Guide to the Brain." I read it thinking that I might be able to pick up some hints for persuasion: you know, an insight that would help me gain others' attention, something that would help me persuade. Turns out, the book only solidified widely-held marketing and learning theory conventions--stuff like the brain learns better through repetition, or that emotions stimulate motivation, or that movement is a key driver for memory or that brains are wired to be attracted to novelty and anticipate reward.

Despite that, or perhaps because of that, it's a book I'd recommend to anyone. I have a new appreciation for the wonder of humanity.
"There are more possible ways to connect the brain's neurons than there are atoms in the universe... The connections guide our bodies and behaviors, even as every thought and action we take physically modifies their patterns" (A User's Guide to the Brain, page 20)
Even more amazing to me than our infinite biological possibilities is that the brain is an ecosystem, one that can grow and change and adapt over time. It is constantly changing, adjusting, reconfiguring based on new experiences. But just like other ecosystems, if one component goes awry, the rest of the system is thrown off kilter. Witness the connection of low neurotransmitter levels to ADHD, or to less easily explained brain disorders with far worse implications, such as autism or Alzheimer's.

But the brain, as Ratey puts it, is plastic. It can re-form. A telling example is of an autistic young woman who practiced approaching and entering a Safeway store's automatic doors. For most of us, walking through these doors is a no-brainer; to this girl, it paralyzed her with fear. But concentration and repetition helped her overcome that fear. Later on in her life she would hearken back to how she learned to approach automatic doors to help her work through paralyzing social anxiety.

I am in awe.



Semantic Nitwits, er... Nitpicks

Amid all the criticism being lobbed at various parties in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Jesse Jackson and members of the Congressional Black Caucus are saying that the use of the term "refugee" is racist. Why? Because most of the--dare I say--refugees are black.


"Refugee" is a color-blind word. These people, many of whom are white, are seeking refuge from a one of the worst storms in history, for crying out loud.

From the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News)
"The AP is using the term 'refugee' where appropriate to capture the sweep and scope of the effects of this historic natural disaster on a vast number of our citizens," said Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. "Several hundred thousand people have been uprooted from their homes and communities and forced to seek refuge in more than 30 different states across America. Until such time as they are able to take up new lives in their new communities or return to their former homes, they will be refugees."
Hear, hear.

Refugee certainly hasn't been used as a perjorative. And it certainly hasn't kept other Americans from opening their wallets and giving of their time and energy to benefit the victims of this catastrophe.

The problem, in my opinion, is that the word "refugee" connotes the Third World. That's embarrassing to the Rev. Jackson and to President Bush, who, from the same Yahoo article, said:
"The people we're talking about are not refugees," he said. "They are Americans and they need the help and love and compassion of our fellow citizens."
Of course they do. And our fellow citizens are showing them love and compassion and offering them help because they are American refugees. It's obvious to anyone who's seen pictures of the devastation and the squalor of those left behind.



On Models and Jerry Garcia

More fun posts that I missed while I was employer-focused: One from Chris Carfi and the other from Seth Godin.

Chris is doing something that a now-defunct former employer of mine did: developed a model for a way to engage customers. The big difference between his model and the one developed by the agency I worked for is that it actually might change the way companies view customers. My agency's model, though developed in 2002, is pre-Cluetrain. You know, your market is consumers who eat content and crap cash. (Maybe that's why they're now out of business.)

Chris is definitely looking at things from a post-Cluetrain viewpoint. Now, if he can just get some clients to listen.

Seth Godin essentially called Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead the earliest practitioners of permission marketing:
More than Campbell's Soup or American Airlines or CAA or Cisco or McKinsey, the Grateful Dead is the template for how organizations are going to grow and succeed moving forward.

No, not every element of who they were and what they did, but the idea of conversations and open source, the idea of souvenirs and emotion and live events and of remarkability. The Dead sells through permission marketing, spread their music through an ideavirus and yes, as long as we're slinging buzzwords, profits from the long tail.
Since getting high and following a band as if they're Jesus has never been my thing, I don't know much about the Grateful Dead. But I'm thinking they're worth looking into. Any books you'd recommend?


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