You Cannot Square a Circle.
“…so, they spend all this money, but they’re not doing it right,” my friend Mitch said. “I know there’s a big business there. All we have to do is square the circle.”
“Huh? I interrupted. “What does square the circle mean?” You can’t turn a circle into a square!”
David was waving his hand like that obnoxious kid in your sixth-grade class who always had the answer. “I know, I know,” David said, barely able to control himself.
“Okay, David, tell us… but please spare us the long mathematical explanation” I begged.
Even though David’s a math savant, he doesn’t get to show off his knowledge very often. He could barely control himself.
“That a circle cannot be squared was not known to the ancients because the Greeks didn’t grasp the concept of irrational numbers,” he started. “Indeed, one of the Pythagoreans was killed for attempting to explain that the square root of two is indeed an irrational number. But before considering irrational numbers like the square root of two or pi, let’s consider rational numbers. Rational numbers are the RATIO of two integers.”
I already regretted asking David to explain. But it was too late.
“Rational numbers come in two flavors, those that repeat and those that terminate. 3/4 is the ratio of the integers three and four. Its decimal equivalent is .75. 3/4 terminates. 2/3 is a rational number that repeats. 2/3 equals .66666… The sixes repeat forever. 2/3 does not terminate.
But irrational numbers neither terminate nor repeat. The square root of two is equal to precisely 1.414213562.”
“I’ll bet you didn’t have to look that up,” I smirked.
David nodded and continued: “Pi is also an irrational number. The infinite decimal expansion of pi neither terminates nor repeats. The first few digits of pi are 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288. I could go on.”
“Please don’t” we said in unison.
“But you get the point. Unlike 3/4 which terminates, unlike 2/3 which repeats, irrational numbers neither terminate nor repeat.”
We didn’t get the point but he was on a roll.
“Now that we have distinguished between rational and irrational numbers, we have to distinguish between two kinds of irrational numbers. The square root of two is an irrational number. Pi is an irrational number that is also transcendental. Irrational numbers, like the square root of two, can be the answer to quadratic equations. X squared -2 equals zero has an answer. The answer is the square root of two. But there are no quadratic equations that have pi as an answer. Pi is not only irrational but transcendental.
The area of a circle is pi times the radius squared. A circle with a radius five has an area of 25 pi.
The area of a square is the length of a side times itself. The area of a square with a side of eight is equal to eight squared or 64.
Squaring the circle means finding a circle whose area is exactly equal to the area of a square using only a finite number of steps. Since the area of the circle will always be a transcendental number and the area of a square has to be an integer, this can never happen in a finite number of steps. Therefore, you cannot square a circle. It’s a metaphor for that which cannot be done.”
“You mean it’s impossible,” said Mitch. “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”
David was knowledgeable. Mitch was erudite.
Which are you? Are you presenting your brand, your business, and yourself in simple terms that your customers can understand? Or are you wrapping yourself in acres of tiresome talk? Are you using big words when small ones will do? Are you using long rationalizations when simple examples offer more clarity? Are you writing an SAT essay when you should be tweeting a competitive advantage?
If you are, you are squaring the circle.
Twelve people are sitting around a conference room littered with two days’ worth of empty coffee cups and water bottles, plus enough USB chargers to open an Apple Store. Our Mastermind is coming to an end. We’re busy tying up some loose ends and handing out assignments for our next meeting.
Most of the people in the room are exhausted and elated, excited and insightful. We’ve spent our time together talking about our successes and failures, and mapping our plans for when we go back to our regular lives.
Our system works something like this: we all introduce ourselves and talk about what we think our top three challenges are. Then we spend about 45 minutes listening to each of the other people around the room. They use their experience and knowledge to make suggestions for us to consider, helping us work through our problems. Finally, we agree to have someone in our group be our “accountability partner” and make sure we actually do what we say we are going to do.
The universal truth is that everyone in the group likes offering advice and talking about other people’s problems. But not everyone is quite as comfortable talking about themselves and their own concerns. It’s a matter of being vulnerable, yes, but there’s more to it. What I’ve discovered is that many of the people I’ve worked with in Mastermind groups — and many of the people I know in my life — are comfortable giving but not taking.
This seems to fly in the face of what you might naturally believe — that many people are self-centered and stingy and therefore prefer to take and not give. But that hasn’t been my experience. Instead, I find that people are generous to a fault with their expertise, skill sets, and contacts. But they’re not always as willing to be vulnerable enough to let people know what they need.
It’s also counterintuitive to something else you’d think is true – that the women in the group are more willing to be vulnerable than the male participants. I find there’s a pretty even split. The willingness to open up and share (and the unwillingness to do the same) seems to be the same for men and women. Generosity and desire to help others seems to be virtually universal. Willingness to ask for and to receive help?
Not so much.
The funny thing is that the people who happily offer help but don’t want to take help from others don’t even seem to know they’re holding back. And when the facilitator (that’s me) makes it clear that they’re not participating fully, they still don’t recognize their reluctance nor their reticence. Worse, they often push back, abnegating both the Mastermind group’s needs and its requirements.
Playground teeter totters and two-man saws do not operate properly unless there’s an equal contribution on either side. Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Effective Mastermind groups require balance, too. Like Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmepullyou, there’s no moving forward without cooperation. And in an effective Mastermind group, there’s no giving without taking.
What relationships of yours require two-sided participation? Where can you make things better by opening yourself up to input and recommendations? Where are you holding back — not by not contributing — but by not being vulnerable? Metaphorically speaking, balance is required in effective relationships.
Which of your relationships is out of balance because you are giving but not taking?
First, a disclaimer: When I say “my mother” I am not talking about MY mother.
When I say “my wife,” I am not talking about MY wife. And when I say “my neighbor,” I am not talking about MY neighbor.
They are just examples of people I know whose names have been changed to protect the neurotic. Got it?
My mother did not go to the doctor today because she did not feel well.
If you think that’s odd, how about this? My wife did her hair before she left the house for her hairdresser appointment.
And down the street, my neighbor cleans her house before the housekeeper comes over.
How logical is it to avoid going to your physician when you are feeling ill? Isn’t dealing with your health care issues the whole point of going to see your health care provider in the first place? If you look up the word “irony” in the dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll see a picture of my mother there.
A famous comedian once asked why male football fans wear team jerseys to watch games. Is it because they think they’ll be called to play if someone on the field gets injured? If so, he reasoned, then why don’t women ballet fans wear tutus to performances with the same hopes?
Why does this logically illogical logic matter to you? Because when you market your company, your products, and your services, you probably do it based on what you think is the logical activity and desires of your customers. And when you do consumer research and ask customers and potential customers why they buy your products or services, you don’t get real answers. Instead, you get their own logical thought process. But as you see, consumers’ logic is not always so logical.
Before you laugh at the foibles of others, think about your own illogical purchase habits and experiences. For example, I drive a sports car designed to perform at the unlimited speeds of Germany’s Autobahn. Yet I live in a country where speed limits seldom top 70 MPH. Worse, I live in a city where traffic seldom allows speeds above 45 MPH.
What’s logical about that?
Many people I know drive four-wheel drive SUVs – large, rugged vehicles designed to go off-road, ford raging rivers, and climb steep hills made otherwise impassable by boulders, snow, and ice. Yet we live in tropical Miami where we are blessed with no mountains, no dirt roads, no boulders, and no snow. In fact, the only ice you’ll find around here are the frosty cubes chilling your mojito. Logical? Hardly.
How about you? Do your expensive Nike running shoes make you a better runner? Does your beautiful Fender Stratocaster make you a better guitar player? Does your featherweight Bianchi Italian racing bike lower your race times? Do your Henckels chef knives make your food taste any better?
The truth is we all do things – and buy things – for seemingly illogical reasons that simply make us feel good about what we’re doing. And the companies who understand this – from Apple to Huckberry.com to Tom Ford to Whole Foods – profit from their ability to stoke our aspirational fires.
Today’s consumer tells the world (and themselves) who they are based on the things they buy and the brands they consume. This means that the quality of the function those products provide is necessary, but is not the prime purchase driver. Instead it’s what the product says about the purchaser that matters most.
How do you take advantage of this for your own business? Quite simply, you need to not just understand your customer’s motivations but recognize their aspirations. Then, by creating your brand message to show them how they can express and accomplish their hopes and dreams with your help, your vendor/customer relationship can take a new and more profitable course.
Logically illogical? Perhaps.
The Rarified Results of Moving from an Organization to a Destination.
A few years before my agency started marketing Miami, Time Magazine featured the city under the headline “Paradise Lost.” In September 2017 Miami International Airport reported record monthly arrivals of almost 2,000,000 passengers. Miami is now one of the most successful tourist destinations in the world.
In September 1972, Florida International University opened its doors with 5,667 students. Today the school enjoys an enrollment of 45,813 students, making it the 4th-largest university in the United States.
These are the types of successes stories that any business would be proud to report. Of course, they both have some things in common. Yes they’re both Miami-related, but both brands are also both destinations.
Destinations have unique marketing challenges. You can consume media (movies, music, magazines, etc.) from the comfort of your own living room. You can use products and services from your home, office or wherever you are.
But to consume what destinations offer, their customers have to actually go somewhere. Whether you’re promoting a restaurant, a hotel, a sports complex, a city, state or country, a hospital or a university, your customers have to actually get off their duffs and visit.
Besides presenting unique challenges, forcing customers to visit a destination also offers some unique advantages. For example, when our clients visit Puerto Rico, New Smyrna Beach, or Miami Jewish Health Systems (a few of our destination clients), they are surrounded by our environments. We orchestrate the consumer experience and we manage our customers’ expectations because they are in our milieus.
Similarly, when our customers visit our online destinations, we also manage their consumer journey and show them the best possible experience. That’s because even though they are visiting a digital realm, they are still within our borders and are exposed to environments we prepare just as carefully as a director and set designer create theatre.
But what if you don’t market a destination? What if you don’t control the environments within which your consumers enjoy your products? How can you storyboard an experience that will both satisfy and delight your users and keep them coming back for more?
It’s easy. Simply turn your organization into a destination. Stop thinking about your product as a thing. Stop thinking about your service as a period of time or a delivered solution. Try positioning what you sell as an experience your audience will consume.
It’s not enough for them to open a bag or box and pull out your product. Instead storyboard the entire user arc – from purchase to delivery to usage. And if you’re thorough enough, you might even want to consider what your customer does with your product when they’re finished with it. By doing this you can change the way they see what you sell. So while your competition might simply be selling a tool or a solution, you are moving away from function and content and taking your customer on a trip through context.
By doing this you can increase both your product’s value AND its perceived value to your customers. And you can change your purchasers from simple buyers into delighted participants and evangelists.
If you’d like to know more about how to do this, drop me a note or comment on this blog. I’d be delighted to show you proven tips, tactics, and techniques that can raise what you sell above the mundane and ordinary to an exalted position that will build desire, increase purchases, and expand your profits.
But it all starts with a reframing of what you create when you shift from an organization to a destination.
Strolling past the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago in Chile towards the Mercado Central sends you from the sacred to the secular. The street leading to the giant seafood market is lined with cut-price flea market booths hawking tourist tchotchkes, drinks and snack foods, and counterfeit Nikes and Adidas.
Between the booths are buskers and entertainers plying their trade for the grubby pesos passerby’s toss into their baskets. And every block or so there’s a small crowd of people gathered around a bunko dealer. These flimflammers play different versions of three-card monte; some with cups and balls, some with dice, and some with the classic set of playing cards.
But no matter what device the con artists use, they all employ the same techniques; they count on shills and distraction to fool their victims. They do this to first convince their audiences that the games are legit and then to fleece them. In response, their audiences pull folded-up pesos out of their pockets and purses in a single motion that’s both hopeful and desperate at the same time.
Distraction, sleight-of-hand, interference, disruption. All are techniques magicians use to make sure their audiences see what the performers want them to see and don’t see what the performers don’t want them to see. When done right, the audience doesn’t even know they’ve been distracted. They’re simply astonished when the ball isn’t under the cup, the card isn’t in the deck, or the beautiful girl in the cabinet is gone and the magician is there instead.
Most magicians (and con artists) make it look easy. It’s not by mistake that the traditional image of the magician has him dressed to the nines in a natty tuxedo. The distraction is pulled off with such aplomb that it not only appears effortless but it’s usually done long before the audience even knows they’re being fooled.
But some magicians actually work hard to make their distraction look clumsy and unplanned – thus making the ultimate switcheroo appear even more surprising when it unfolds on the hapless spectator.
So what if that’s what’s happening in Washington? What if President Trump’s apparent missteps are actually calculated techniques used to distract us from what’s really going on?
Don’t worry, this is not a political screed. Instead it is an exploration of the ways that the current administration might be using a time-honored technique to legislate without our knowledge.
Why else would the president insult the pregnant widow of a fallen soldier? Why else would he insult the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria? Why else would he go to war with the NFL over freedom of speech? It’s much too easy (and naïve) to write it off to him being a clumsy boor. What if there’s something else going on?
Consider this – as much as all of us want to look at the classified papers from JFK’s assassination, why release them now? What could be a bigger distraction than to get us all lathered-up over an assassination and conspiracy theory that occurred over 50 years ago?
Or consider this – while we’re paying attention to Trump’s reality-show antics, what’s happened to the Russian hacking investigation? While we’re busy being sidetracked by 45’s tweets, look at the bills that have been introduced in the House of Representatives:
Whether you agree or disagree with all, some or any of these bills is not the point. What matters is that we are all being suckered by the same tactics that we’d smugly say we’d never fall for on a three-card monte table. On the other hand, there were plenty of people tossing their cash at the bunko dealers on the street, so maybe I’m wrong there too.
60 Minute’s curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, used to begin his rants with, “Did you ever wonder…?” Rooney would then go on to excoriate whatever or whomever was bothering him that week. Sometimes Rooney’s screeds made me laugh and sometimes they made me mad. But Rooney’s outbursts always made me think. My goal with this post is to shoot for all three. If I only make it past one or two, that’s okay too.
You ever wonder about people who misuse the word “literally”? As in the friend who shows up late for your lunch date and announces, “Dude, I’m, like, literally starving.
No, you’re not. If you were literally starving, you’d be laying on the ground too weak to move and in enormous pain.
Or the friend who tells you not to worry because they “literally have your back.”
Also wrong. Literally having your back would mean they were gripping you from behind.
Instead, they are figuratively starving and they figuratively have your back. The words they use are simply illustrations of the idea they’re trying to get across not actual depictions of what’s going on.
I got to thinking about this pet peeve this morning when one of my running buddies handed me an ad for a local South Florida HMO. It read: “513,000 PEOPLE CAN’T BE WRONG. That’s how many of your Florida neighbors already have (our) Medicare Advantage.”
That’s a headline that’s both literally AND figuratively wrong.
Of course 513,000 people can be wrong. Just because a large number of people actually do something does not make it right.
Variety Magazine says 3.19 million viewers tuned into Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
The BBC estimates that over one billion around the world smoke cigarettes.
And CNN says almost 63 million people voted for Donald Trump.
How’s that working out for you?
Whether or not choosing the health plan is a good decision, the headline is simply incorrect. 513,000 people can indeed be wrong. So can one billion. And so can any number of people in between.
Just because a lot of people do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
Or as my mother used to ask, “If all your friends jumped off the roof, would you do it too?”
Since when does following the crowd result in anything more than a mediocre result?
Most people simply get what everyone else gets because they only do what everyone else does. Unlike the little town of Lake Woebegone “where all the children are above average,” most people do not get exceptional results because most people do not do exceptional things.
Average is average for a reason.
If you want to build your brand, build your business, or build your life, one of the first things to do is consider zigging while everyone zags. Whether you follow Roberto Peck’s The Road Less Traveled or Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, success seldom lies at the end of the obvious path.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
After all, if it were easy everyone would do it.
As you know by now, Hurricane Harvey drowned most of Texas. Hurricane Irma had its way with a score of Caribbean Islands and South Florida. And Hurricane Maria has devastated our friends in Puerto Rico. Worse still, Mexico suffered a lethal earthquake and 50,000 people in Bali are fleeing the Mount Agung volcano.
Dark days indeed.
My question is this: “What’s the best way to help?”
Giving money to the Red Cross used to be a no brainer. If you wanted to help, you stroked a check to the Red Cross.
But five years after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, NPR and ProPublica went looking for the results of the $500 million the organization received to provide relief. They found the organization had built only six homes and refused to provide information on where the rest of the money had gone. What’s more, they discovered that a quarter of all the money donated after the earthquake went towards internal spending — 124 million dollars.
Now seven years later, Newsweek and NPR report that little has changed. “The Red Cross is either unwilling or unable to disclose what percentage of donations will be allocated toward helping Hurricane Harvey victims.”
“On NPR’s Morning Edition, a Red Cross executive, Brad Kieserman, said the organization had spent $50 million on Harvey relief as of Wednesday morning, noting that the money went primarily toward 232 shelters for 66,000 people.”
“Host Alisa Chang asked, “Through donations, how much of every dollar goes to relief?”
“I don’t know the answer to the financial question, I’m afraid.” Kieserman answered.
Chang asked the executive if these types of issues were still occurring and whether such a “substantial percentage of donations [is] going to internal administrative costs rather than to relief.”
Kieserman didn’t have an answer to that, either.
But during a 2013 speech in Baltimore, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern expressed pride that “91 cents of every dollar that’s donated goes to our services.” But that wasn’t true. Auditors who examined the Red Cross’s tax documents found fundraising expenses have been as high as 26 percent.
Questions and complaints on a list of disasters the Red Cross has mismanaged include Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Isaac, and the floods in Louisiana.
Still, the organization knows how important their image is to their ability to raise money. According to ProPublica, “During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, ‘just to be seen,’ one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.”
“During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.”
Regardless of the incompetence, “two weeks after Sandy hit, Red Cross Chief Executive Gail McGovern declared that the group’s relief efforts had been ‘near flawless.’”
Clearly the organization’s brand awareness has gone a long way to help it continue to collect large sums of money from a concerned and generous public. But such a powerful disconnect between their internal intention and abilities and their external image must eventually weaken even a century-old brand. Because as we’ve said so many times before, people don’t choose what you do, they choose who you are. And once Americans understand who and what the organization really is, their largess will be directed elsewhere.
With all the problems in the world right now, that probably won’t happen a moment too soon.
“HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The first patient was rushed into the emergency room of Memorial Regional Hospital around 3 a.m. on Wednesday, escaping a nursing home that had lost air-conditioning in the muggy days after Hurricane Irma splintered power lines across the state.
Four were so ill that they died soon after arriving. In the afternoon, the authorities learned that another had died early in the morning, and was initially uncounted because the person had been taken directly to a funeral home.
In all, eight were dead…
The 152-bed nursing home was acquired in 2015 by Larkin Community Hospital, a growing Miami-area network that includes hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities…
Dr. Jack Michel, the health-care network’s current chairman, did not respond to requests for comment.”
Instead, Michel went on Facebook where he wrote:
“@FLGovScott The best way to honor the memories of those who lost their lives in Hollywood Tragedy is identifying root causes and making sure this doesn’t happen again in FL, not finding scapegoats. Due process is a constitutional right.”
Since that September 18 post, 140 of Michel’s followers have posted likes and frowny face emoticons and some 30 or so sycophants have posted comments blaming the power company, politics, and the unfairness of pointing fingers. Virtually everyone’s been blamed, in fact, but the people responsible for the tragedy.
At best, Dr. Michel’s Facebook bleats make him and Larkin Community Hospital look insensitive and self-serving. And even though only one respondent has criticized his actions online so far, that response is inevitable.
Because as we’ve said so many times before, “When you’re explaining, you’re losing.”
Jim Fried is the senior vice president of Spectrum Mortgage Group, a company that provides commercial property financing. Fried uses his robust social media presence, plus his weekly radio program, Fried on Business, to promote himself and his company.
After the storm Fried posted a five-word message that said simply, “We Are Here to Help!”
Below the headline he wrote: “Hurricane Irma has brought us many challenges, from property damage to cash-flow issues. If you’re in need of cash right now, we can help you turn your real estate property into quick cash with a private loan. Even if your home or property has been damaged, we can lend based on the land value.
Call today! One person makes the decision. We can commit today and close next week.
Let us help you in this special situation.”
Positive, inclusive, and aspirational, Fried made his online post immediately relevant to his readers. He told them precisely what he can do to make their lives better. Then, after making his point, Fried followed up with the Reasons To Believe (RTBs) showing that their property has value, and that they can close on a loan quickly because only “one person makes the decision.”
Simple, direct, and to the point. Jim Fried understands the concepts behind an All About Them marketing strategy.
Defensive, insensitive, callous. Jack Michel clearly does not.