Thursday, March 12, 2020

A numbers game.

For someone who makes his not inconsiderable living with words, I have a stunningly adroit mathematical mind. Throw out ten sums or a bunch of numbers and I can calculate them—add them, subtract, figure out percentages and what-not better than just about anyone I know.

Back not-so-long-ago when I worked in an office, the planners would shake their heads when I demonstrated my acuity. Or when I noticed that some set of data being presented didn’t add up.

Accordingly, my facility with numbers has led me to concoct a number of numerical rules for living. 

For instance, I have something I call “the nine-day rule.” I’ve observed through the decades that a haircut always looks best nine days after the snipping. If you’re going to a wedding on the 12th, get your haircut on the 3rd.

I’ve also derived something I call “the 11-day rule.” I noticed this many years ago when Adweek magazine changed its format and more recently when the Metropolitan Museum of Art changed its logo.

There’s a huge uproar. Cancel my subscription. This is awful! How could they do this.

That all dies after 11 days. In fact, by that time most people have forgotten what the old design looked like.

For politics, fatherhood, work and a whole host of other fairly human activities, I’ve surmised the 60:40 ratio. A good person does the right thing 60% of the time and the wrong thing about 40% of the time. The numbers are flipped for the bad person. (There are, of course, Trumpian outliers. Or is it out-liars?)

I take offense when I see political campaigns go after a candidate for having done something heinous 22 years earlier. The assertion that we can live mistake-free lives is nothing more than asinine. If you pilloried everyone who's ever wronged you, the earth’s entire population would be sentenced to the stocks.

(I got to this, by the way, after having read in my life hundreds of biographies. Even the most revered of people have done many awful things. Winston Churchill might have saved Western world, but he also abused an entire sub-continent and had the police fire on striking Irish laborers. As Willy Loman once said, “It comes with the territory.”)

Where absolutism gets me angriest is in the workplace, from people and companies that bang a big ass bass drum and shout to everyone who is within ear-bluster, “we have the answers.”

No one has the answers. Anyone who says they have them is a scoundrel and a charlatan. Everything is trial and error. Yes, that’s made more precise via experience, brains and luck. But nothing is ever a sure thing. That’s why betting on horses is an industry.

You can’t spit in the general direction of LinkedIn without seeing a dozen or 97 proclamations of people and companies touting their proven method of digital transformation.

To be completely honest with you, I've heard the phrase digital transformation probably ten-thousand times this year alone. I can scarcely tell you what it means. And when you ask someone you usually get a torrent of blathering buzzwords that makes the Johnstown flood look like a leaky faucet.

I just got one of these ads. I’m being cautious and I’m not pasting it here. But there's a tone to the whole thing and in so many imperious ads that "we know the way. We have it figured out. We're 100% right."

No one in the history of the world has ever been 100% right--especially not consultants. But dig the haughtiness in their copy—the company’s promise to their viewers.

The headline reads, “Purposeful technology redefines the way your brand is being experienced.” And the copy says, “Technology enables companies to build future ready businesses. It can help create customer experiences, as well as provide the efficiencies that reduce the cost of doing business.”

The company behind the ad doesn’t think—they know. And they know absolutely. 

To my mind that raises a question. If you know so much, why aren’t you bigger? Why aren’t you growing? Most saliently, why can’t you write in English.

Here are some more whys.

What is “purposeful technology”? How does it differ from technology without a purpose?

Why is “the way” italicized?

Is it possible your “brand is being experienced” in more than one way?

Why did you use the ugly sounding word “enable” rather than the simpler, lets.

What are “future ready businesses”? How do you know what the future will bring so you can be ready for it?

What do you mean by technology that creates customer experiences? Whether I’m buying something in a store, or online, or checking into a hotel, I rarely have an experience I like. Most technology works badly and most sales-people earn low wages and treat you poorly.

Finally, “efficiencies that reduce the cost of doing business.” I happen to think more efficiencies would be gained if we actually added to the cost of doing business. Just yesterday, for instance, I was in the Verizon store. I was asked for my name about 12 times and had to repeat my phone number about 20 times. In most cases, the most useful technologies might be a pad of paper and a pencil and maybe a set of ears.

My point about the copy I’ve picked on is simple.

No one has everything figured out.

And if you do have it figured out, then stop with the bullshit and run an ad that shows it. An ad like this.

Oh, and please just stop with the meaningless jargon.

That’s just wrong.

100% of the time.

A wise person said to me many years ago that people like in brands the same characteristics they like in people.

I won't go into those characteristics here. But most people appreciate a certain fallibility and vulnerability. Most brands, however, prefer to act like that most despised type of person, the know-it-all. 

I think.

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