Self-help and Analysis BeGONE!

Kind of. (After reading this, read this post for more background).

I enjoy reading (and I’m in my 20’s…apparently I’m rare) and I especially like reading books and topics about economics, human and consumer behavior, and the like. Just recently- yesterday, in fact- I started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It’s a great read so far. Into the second chapter, and it is already posing the questions of when we should trust and distrust our adaptive consciousness.

Yes, it’s that intense.

In between chapters, I looked at the back of the book cover, and the publishing house describes the book as “psychology/self-help.”  And the description is accurate. In it, Mr. Gladwell predicts that if we take his observations seriously, the world would be a better place. I’m sure people agreed, or else it wouldn’t have been a New York Times #1 bestseller.

But then I started to think- what changes are people doing?

But it’s not just his book. I’m not picking on Mr. Gladwell. I’m also looking at the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets, Whale Done!, and many other self-help/ business help books that dive into the problems that permeate our society, offer solutions, become extremely popular, and seem to become stagnate.

How are these books so popular, yet people still develop poor habits, investors (professional and amateur) still make poor decisions and speculators are still idiots, and negative reinforcement still seems to be more prevalent (and effective) than positive?

First, I thought it may be the problem of Habit. When learning about consumer behavior, you come to terms to truly how difficult it is to break a habit. That’s the goal for most marketers and communicators- create a habit. Once the consumer view your product or service as something routine, it’s a done deal. Therefore I thought, that these books/lessons offer such a paradigm shift for people, that though they love the information, the poor habits these books highlight are habitual for the players who need to change.

Then I thought- if we are so unwilling to change, then why continually read?

Next then, I thought of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps people read the information, desire to change, but then conclude that their issues are so different, and the lessons and principles cannot be applied.

The truth is, we humans are an interesting bunch. In the US, the “Biggest Loser” is a monster hit,while our children become obese. We champion freedom and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, while our fellow citizens suffer without homes, fight addiction without help, and leave hungry children without food or healthcare.

And we devour self-help books, entertain psychologists, applaud social workers and teachers, quote brilliant investor and inventor minds, and here we are- asking how we got here.

I wish I had an answer. But, based on this observation, I’m guessing the answer really wouldn’t matter.


Wanted: Mentors

A good exchange always helps

Mentor- n– a trusted counselor or guide
(fun fact: In The Odyssey, Odysseus had a friend named Mentor who was responsible in seeing that Odysseus’ son Telamachus received an education)

In the advertising and communications world, for the past few years now, the industry has been quite vocal over the need for mentors. The young and restless professionals are taking the industry by storm (except the minorities, it seems) and with all this new blood, there seems that the people who are supposed to pass the torch are no where to be found. In a relay race, the team that mishandles the baton exchange will likely fall behind- or worse- be disqualified. Likewise, if the industry doesn’t get its act together, it too will face falling behind, or losing the race for talent to other industries (blast you finance!).

In AdAge, there was an article about what is best for new talent: small agency or big agency. The article points out that small agency gives the new talent an opportunity to not only wear more hats, but to also have closer interaction with those decision-makers in the shop. In a large agency, those kind of opportunities may not be as plentiful. Either way, the article sums up, if you’re in a big shop or  a small one, if you have a good mentor, the young pros are set.

Then the article goes on about where to find these mentors, and as always, no real answer was provided. It said that the burn-and-churn nature of the industry doesn’t provide an atmosphere for mentors. The Burnetts, Ogilvys, Boguskys, Kennedys of the past are gone.

As a young entrepreneur and marketing geek, I too have searched for mentors. Some more promising than others, but nothing really concrete. It’s been an interesting experience for sure. What I have come across:

-Old supervisors seeing me now as competition (flattered, but seriously?)
-Older professionals who have no interest in mentoring
-Pros stuck in their ways and show teachings that are no longer relevant; or don’t understand today’s way of communicating
-Pros who haven’t had a mentor themselves

Or we would go to the table, asking completely different questions. The experienced pro would want to talk about the joy of new media, while I want to learn about building a cohesive account team. Nice.

Fun right? Sometimes it’s been amusing, other times quite frustrating. But my business partner and I carry on, watching documentaries, reading whatever we can, and learning from the successes and bumps in the road we experience.

So for those 40+ professionals that are complaining about the talent today, how about you take some time, step off the pedestal, and listen for a bit?


Dunbar’s Number: Does it matter in the Social Media World?

A social network diagram

Image via Wikipedia

This topic has been nagging at me for quite some time. It is a matter about the next phase of social media, and how humans interact with each other. Perhaps, the latter should say “how humans are happiest when interacting with each other.”

I have no formal background in sociology. I do not claim, in any way, that I am a sociologist. However, I’ve studied consumer behavior, behavioral psychology, economics and briefly behavioral economics (that study is still ongoing). I am fascinated in how people choose to interact (or not to interact) with each other, with groups, and especially with goods and services, and those who provide them.

We all have the innate desire to belong. If we go back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the sense of belonging is a crucial for becoming a “whole person.” The fantastic element about social media is that it makes belonging to a community so much easier, and makes our communities so much bigger.

Hmm. Now we’re getting to the meat of the conversation. Is the fact that our communities and connections are getting bigger, with weaker connections, but more interactions, a good thing?

Every networker and social media practitioner would give a resounding “Absolutely!” to that question. I can see both sides to the argument, and think that there is no right answer to the question. It is a matter of perspective. Let’s dive into the sides.

Con: Maintain strong relationships; real community

First, let’s take the side that social media is giving people a false sense of community. This theme of communal consumption helps people connect with those who share similar experiences, but when it comes to bringing a group together, social media cannot be depended on alone. It takes stronger bonds- stable social relationships- to make a real community. That brings us to Dunbar’s number.

Dunbar’s number talks about “stable social relationships“. The number is said to be between 100 and 230,but commonly projected at 150. Groups around this number, it is said, is the limit the human mind has when it comes to remembering quickly the kind of relationship it has with others.

Now the other side.

Pro: Social media all the way!

The way social media is helping us connect is awesome. Whether it strengthens bonds or helps us form weak bonds, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, it is helping ideas get shared, it is helping people get organized, and is providing ways for information to be shared and gathered at a viciously fast pace. A writer from social media today went into great detail, and provided very good commentary about this very argument. They posed that Dunbar’s number, when it comes to social media, is irrelevant because social media is more about having a network than for building strong social relationships.

Once again, I think it’s all about perspective.

For example, a couple who met online will swear up and down that new and social media will be a part of their social fabric. A marketing professional will swear that though their on every social network imaginable, it’s because they need to be on it for business purposes. People use it to strengthen already strong bonds, or to incubate weak ones.

Can it be a generational issue too? It’s possible. I had a lunch with an older professional, and she posed the question of if there’s a negative effect of having too many LinkedIn connections, or too many facebook friends. Is there such thing as ‘too many’? Does the number show the reach you have, or that you’re a networking whore? I never looked at it that way before. But it seems to be many older professionals have that perspective. But I think that’s a totally different conversation.

I’d love to know your thoughts, though. Is there a certain number, or ceiling that humans will hit in social media? Is Dunbar’s number and it’s theory relevant?

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