Category Archives: Business

Posts about business, marketing, communication, and organizational development.

Be Preposterous

Forward-thinkers have it all backwards. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

preposterous, a. (prɪˈpɒstərəs) [f. L. præposter, reversed]
1. Having or placing last that which should be first; inverted in position or order.

“Life can only be understood backwards,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard.

Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth Revisited, advises us to imagine what we want people to say of us at our funerals, and to live accordingly.

It’s called reverse engineering. Start at the end, work your way backward.

Put the cart before the horse. Read the last page first. The answers really are at the back.

“In my end is my beginning” – T.S. Eliot

Here is a great idea from the writer James Altucher: Take a sheet of paper and a pen. In the middle of the sheet, write THAT’S CRAZY. Now work backwards, figuring out all the pathways to THAT’S CRAZY.

James Altucher is crazy, because he doesn’t let THAT’S CRAZY get in his way, ever.

THAT’S CRAZY is where you want to end up in your life. It’s your wildest dreams, your fantasies, the things you tell yourself you can never have, or do, or be.

Why? Because that’s crazy.

So be crazy, and be preposterous.

What is communication?

Communication breakdown is not always the same. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

It is the hardest simple thing you will ever do.

That is why communication failure is at the root of many ills.

And, yet, in our hearts and minds we human beings believe that communication is an ordinary, ever-day act—as natural to us as breathing.

Well, what if your communication strategy has emphysema?

Think about this: homo sapiens is older than words, by many thousands of years. We evolved to communicate without a verbal language.

Emotion, gesture, posture, and facial expression trump verbal communication. We need these so much that in the age of social media we have found ways to interpolate them.

Every face is an open book.

Our communication styles vary. We each have a language of our own. Asperger syndrome is a communication style. The language of poetry is another.

Understand, and be understood. This, in a phrase, is the goal of all communication.

Relationships, marriages, and politics all depend upon effective communication.

Businesses fail when their internal and external communications are shoddy.

The work of managing internal communication is Organizational Development.

The work of managing the effective, bi-directional flow of information is Public Relations.

The work of understanding your audience’s needs and perceptions is Marketing.

Figure 1: the three modes of communication

Figure 1

Do you understand yourself and your communication style? Do you understand the audience? Are you a seller speaking the language of sellers, when you should be speaking the language of buyers? Do you have the right message for the wrong audience, or the wrong message for the right audience?

What does communication mean to you, and to your business?

Mining for your data gold

To give is to receive. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

CC image “Data storage—old and new” courtesy of Ian on Flickr

Do, Dare.

To the English-speaking reader, it looks like an inspirational slogan.

In Latin, it is a verb. Do, Dare, Dedi, Datus: I give, to give, I have given, I am given.

Data are things given.

We live in a world of data. As you navigate the Internet, you give. You are given.

Do, Dare, Dedi, Datus.

You give yourself away. Your Google searches, your browsing history, your conversations with friends.

User-generated content, marketing, and advertising are converging. You are the copy writer and the content marketing department and the customer.

The ads that you see on Facebook are echoes of your posts. This is called re-marketing.

Too much is given, and yet not enough. Your age, gender, location, and income. Your web history. Your click-throughs and conversions and bounces. Your likes and favorites.

Adaptive marketing seeks to tailor the browsing experience to the individual user. The problem is not lack of data, it is abundance.

The future belongs to the experts—to those who can interpret data. You are the expert on you.

That’s why you must become the snitch and the mole and the collaborator. We are all collaborators in this work of giving ourselves, and others, away.

Collaborative filtering is used by Amazon to recommend books. If you and I both enjoyed reading Y, the fact that I enjoyed reading X suggests you, too, will enjoy reading X.

Once upon a time, your personal details were gold. They were secrets surreptitiously mined. You had to be taken, without your awareness.

Then you learned to give. You became data. There was no more guessing at your inner life, drawing upon hit-and-miss clues like your age and zip code. You knew where your gold was, and you gave it away.

The future is convergence and integration and collaboration. You are the creator of the advertising script woven into your friends feed, the conductor of a private focus group, the expert. You are the giver of all that is gold.

Brother can you spare a two-dollar bill?

Use value versus perceived value. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

There are about 1.5 billion US $2 bills in the world. A $2 bill is worth $2.

Two-dollar bills are scarce, yet you can get one at any time from a bank.

When most of us get one in a transaction, we put it in a drawer, because we perceive it as valuable. Perception yields scarcity, and scarcity yields perception.

How did 2-dollar bills become scarce?

The answer is use value. When US notes were introduced, in the late 19th Century, you could buy most anything with a dollar. The two-dollar bill lost a use-value battle.

This is why there are no slots in an American cash register for a two-dollar bill.

Because people are creative, they manufacture use value for two-dollar bills. This is called a Spend Tom Campaign.

A two-dollar bill stands out. The person who uses it gets attention. Attention is value.

Tip: give a waitress a two-dollar bill, and she’ll remember you.

In the past, companies have chosen to give their employees $2 bills to draw attention to their economic contribution to the community. Two-dollar bills have been used as a marketing tool by the tourism industry, by sports teams, and by champions of the Second Amendment.

Scarcity and attention. The power of perception. Find something with perceived value that is scarce but readily available, and leverage it as a use value.

The power of Why?

Your clients are giving you valuable answers. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

There are a lot of wonders, mysteries, and unanswered questions.

Are there multiple universes, is there intelligent life on other planets, is it possible to travel backwards in time, how do birds know where to fly in winter?

I met someone who studies migratory birds. Birds, I learned, use ultraviolet light, the sun, and even the positions of stars to find their way.

An answered question can be as mysterious and awe-inspiring as an unanswered one. Questions are portals to wonder.

Just about everything in the human and natural world is an answer to a question and/or the solution to a problem.

Numbers on houses, birdsong, pneumatic tires, leaves.

Every day the world is evolving to solve problems and to answer questions. Pay attention to this.

People are mysterious, especially in business. What do they really want? What do they really need?

Take note of the solutions people are willing to pay you for. These customers are bringing you your answers as well as their questions.

There are times people don’t really need what they tell you they need, or want what they tell you they want. We all come up with poor answers. And the solution to poor answers is better questions.

Listen carefully. Your clients will give you valuable information if you ask the best question of all.


– We need this quick solution.
– Why?
– To communicate better with our customers.
– Why?
– Because the benefits of our services are not understood.
– Why?
– Because we don’t have a clear sense of our brand.
– Why?
– Because we need help.

Use questions to migrate from something your client’s don’t need to something that they do.

Why? is the ultraviolet light, the sun, and the stars that will help you find the way.

A story teller must be tenacious

Pitch, pitch, pitching at Heaven’s door. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

What’s the story?

An account and a message and a performance and a bond. The most powerful stories communicate values, identity, and purpose.

Pitches, vision statements, business plans, novels, movies, and cultures are made of story.

Stories matter, and so we care for and communicate them.

There are many theories about communication that say a message has to be heard multiple times before it sinks in.

Some say three—others, more.

Thomas Smith’s 1885 book Successful Advertising says 20.

Rarely is it once.

Book browsers are much more likely to buy when they’ve heard of the author, even when they can’t recall what they’ve heard.

When I was in college I had two room mates. One of them (I didn’t know which) had bottles of near-empty shampoo cluttering up the shower.

I decided to send a message.

Each week I bought a bottle of shampoo and put it in the shower. In two months, I had eight bottles of shampoo cluttering the shower.

That’s when my room mates started to get the message.

Here is what the television and film producer Lisa Meeches said to me about her grandfather:

He told me that not everything I thought of would be successful, but to continue trying, and to persevere. He used to use the word tenacious. To be tenacious and to have tenacity as a story teller.

Lisa Meeches
Photo: Lisa Meeches, by Fred Cattroll

Tenacity means to hold on, to retain, to have firmness of purpose.

Know your story, and never compromise its integrity. Be respectful, and don’t beat your audience over the head.

But also be open to finding new ways to tell your story when your message doesn’t get through. Persevere and adapt, without losing site of your values, identity, and purpose.

A story teller must be tenacious.

Don’t go it alone

It takes a village to rock. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

This is a story about Mick and Keith.

Steve Jobs wasn’t interested in computer circuitry, and Steve Wozniak didn’t believe there was a market for the machines he was making in his computer club.

Elton John can write a decent melody. Bernie Taupin has written some of pop music’s best-known lyrics. The two met in 1967 through an audition that both failed. When they joined forces, they succeeded.

In the 1980s, Mick Jagger tried (unsuccessfully) to become a solo superstar. Keith Richards once said that, together, he and Ron Wood were the best guitarists. He added that he and Ron were average individually.

A rock band is a division of labor, a team, a small corporation, and an alchemy.

Many of the most successful rock bands have had four members. Many personality assessments are four-factor. You can plot many rock bands on a DiSC graph.

DiSC Graph

I’ve created several rock bands, and I’ve worked with many corporations. Whatever you’re doing, think of it as a team effort, because it is. The alchemy of personality and talent is not arbitrary or mysterious. It can be assessed and measured. I know this.

Even if you are a novelist, you need a good team behind you.

Who is supporting your success? Do you have mentors, collaborators, colleagues, partners, and role models?

The lesson of Mick, Steve, Elton, and Paul is that you can’t do it on your own.

Don’t go it alone.

Pie versus Sunshine

Be open, bold, & generous. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

Imagine a company that sells sunshine.

You can’t, because there is no plausible reason to buy it.

If I have a pie, a certain number of people are going to get pie. I can cut it two or twenty ways. No matter how I slice it, every portion eaten is a share someone else is not going to get, ever.

Absorbing the rays doesn’t mean someone else will now be unable to enjoy sunlight. It is impossible to take in the sun the way we eat a pie. No matter how many people step into the sun, there is surplus sunlight.

The difference between pie and sunshine is not only a matter of supply. Both can be scarce. In the northern hemisphere, there is less sunshine during winter, so people pay for tanning salons.

You can slice a pie but not sunlight. One is divisible, the other indivisible.

If I love one person today and ten tomorrow, I do not diminish the supply of love. If I am kind to ten people, it doesn’t follow that I must be less kind to the eleventh person I meet because kindness has been consumed.

Love and kindness, like sunlight, are indivisible.

I went to a store in my city and ordered something I’ve been looking forward to having for some time, but they didn’t have any of it in stock.

The moment I walked into the store, the staff smiled and welcomed me. It felt good to be there. It was obvious to me when I left that the store managers had paid careful attention to every moment and detail of my experience.

Even though I didn’t get the slice of a pie that I wanted, I am going to go back because I got sunlight.

In your life and in your business, some things are divisible and some are indivisible.

Take stock of the abundance and indivisibility within your personal inventory: creativity, imagination, and will. Be open, be bold, and be generous. Give, without regard to getting in return. Count your pies and cast your sunlight to the waters, because you can and because it is a good idea.

Cultivate abundance, and you will have abundance.

You can afford to do this, and you can’t afford not to.

Simple, not simplistic

We need more simple people. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

The best ideas are simple, never simplistic.

E=mc2 is simple. Einstein had other, earlier formulations, but none had the elegance of energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared.

Even a child can recite his simple formula. Few can comprehend its profundity. Einstein provided insight into the nature and relationships of matter, energy, light, and gravity.

If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. It’s simple. And yet there have been countless fad diets, promoting simplistic ideas like “don’t eat x.”

Simplistic ideas often resemble simple ones. Simple ideas summarize complex insights, while simplistic ideas remove them.

The only way to tell a simple idea from a simplistic one is to conduct a forensic audit, listening to the account an idea gives of itself.

The simple idea can not be superseded. It can explain even the simplistic competitor. The reverse is not the case.

Example: any fad diet that works involves eating less calories than you burn.

No one comes up with a simple idea until they have perceived, studied, and comprehended complexity.

Take something complex that you understand, and find a simple way to represent it: a mathematical formula, a picture, a phrase, a neologism.

Use your representation as a means to provide a fuller account.

Be simple, not simplistic, and serve the world.

How do you make people feel?

Beauty is good business. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

Yesterday I had a business meeting with Apple. On my way to the meeting, I rode the subway next to a woman who was reading the Bible on her iPad.

There are bibles on iPads, but no iPads in the Bible.

If Jesus had known about iPads, he would have used them as metaphors, because they are integral to our lives. There would be at least one good apple story that didn’t involve a serpent.

An iPad is the size of a sheet of paper, a magazine, and a human face. It’s light and sleek and beautiful. It’s aesthetically pleasing, to the eye and to the touch.

Apple didn’t invent the tablet. Years earlier, when it was first introduced, people mocked and ridiculed the idea of a keyboard-less computer.

The tablet was not a laptop, or a Palm Pilot, or a Pocket PC, or a BlackBerry. So the experts scoffed.

When Apple introduced its tablet, they scoffed again.

And then they tried it, and the scoffing stopped.

Whatever your product, your service, your labor, or your mission, aesthetics matter. Bernadette Jiwa says that “marketing is, and always has been, a transfer of emotion. It’s about changing how people feel and, in turn, helping them to fall in love with something.”

How do you make someone fall in love with something?

By seducing them with beauty, poetry, thoughtful design, attention to detail, excellence.

What does your customer feel in the presence of your product? How thoroughly have you thought through the experience of your client, from the moment before they have even opened the door?

Remember: we judge books by covers. That’s why I hire pros to design them.

Apple has created an aesthetic and applied it to every detail of every interaction. The simple and sleek brushed-chrome-and-white surfaces of their boardroom look like an iPad.

Seduce your audience with beauty. Make them fall in love with something. Until you have, your work is unfinished.

Follow Your Passion, revisited

Create, test, refine, repeat. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

We have all heard the phrase, many times now:

Follow your passion.

It usually means Quit Your Job. Stop doing what you hate. Do only what you love.

Love vs hate. Happiness vs misery.

I hate my job, what do I do? Follow your passion.

Accounting, engineering, finance, and dentistry are passions. Maybe they’re not your passion, but they’re someone’s. In these cases, follow your passion means Get Your Job.

Some passions have clear pathways. If your passion is helping sick people, you can study medicine and be a doctor.

Business consultant Jim Collins invented the Hedgehog Concept, which says: Find a passion that is economically viable and that you can do better than your competition.


– How do I find my passion?
– Do I have, or even need, a passion?
– Could I have many different passions, at different stages of my life?
– If I can love my job, does it follow I am passionate?

Doing what you are passionate about = being passionate about what you do.

A lot of us do something all day we are not passionate about. But the problem is that the passion<—>doing connection can be murky.

If you are passionate about medieval poetry, then what?

The reading and writing of poetry requires skills like intelligence and creativity and the ability to perceive and to make sense of complex patterns. A poet is an entrepreneur of language. She builds something out of nothing, using will and mind.

This is creativity. Creatives ought to be the richest people on earth, given their ability to make something from nothing.

Making something from nothing is a passion.

– Make a list of ten skills that you have
– Create a list of businesses or products that use the skills on your list
– Identify the products or services that you can do best and that are the most economically viable
– Set targets of one, three, six, and twelve months to develop and sell your services
– Are you less, or more, happy?
– Test, Refine, Repeat

What if everything you know is wrong?

Be loyal, and oppose. ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

What if it turned out that the world was flat? Can you even show beyond doubt that it isn’t?

We don’t know what we don’t know, and we think we know what we think we know.

A person who goes around questioning everything is called crazy.

And yet, the opposite of crazy is conventional wisdom, or common sense.

Common sense says that it’s good to go to college, vote, drink milk, buy a house, and work your way up the corporate ladder.

I’ve done all of these things, and I don’t recommend any of them. I think some of the things recommended by conventional wisdom are crazy things.

In the Parliamentary system, there is an official, loyal opposition. The duty of the loyal opposition is to show that the people in power are wrong.

The opposition is called loyal because challenging power is valuable, even necessary.

I think it should be someone’s job in society to challenge powerful ideas.

Each week this person should write an article on topics like:

– your school grades don’t matter
– the experts are wrong
– democracy is a bad idea
– economic growth is dangerous
– dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together

I don’t think dinosaurs and people ever walked the earth together, but apparently some people do, and it may be worth understanding why. Or maybe not.

I don’t know what I don’t know, but by definition the person who does know will think differently than I do.

They might also be crazy.

Sometimes however the loyal opposition is going to be right.

After all, college may in fact be a waste of time, and voting may not make a difference.

– Find something that, your whole life, everybody has accepted uncritically as good
– Come up with all the reasons it isn’t
– Turn those reasons into opportunities
– Invent a product or service or new conventional wisdom that everyone fixated on the old conventional wisdom can’t see, because they think they know what they think they know and don’t know what they don’t know.

This is how all human progress works.

80% stop what you’re doing right now

Today’s lesson is diminishing marginal futility ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

I’m going to stop 80% of what I’m doing, right now.

We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule, known as the law of unequal distribution.

– Eighty percent of your business is driven by twenty percent of your customers.

– Eighty percent of your profits come from twenty percent of your products.

– Eighty percent of the problems are caused by twenty percent of the people.

The idea is that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. Known as the Pareto Principle, the concept is named after the economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Pareto noticed that 80% of the peas in his garden came from 20% of the pea pods. He started looking around for other examples of the 80/20 rule.

He found them everywhere.

I think it’s more like the 90/10 rule, but 80/20 is not meant to be absolute. In any individual example, it could be 70/30 or 60/40 or even 99/1.

It will never be 100/100. That’s like buying only winning lottery tickets, and writing only #1 hit songs or #1 New York Times best-sellers.

I have almost 600 posts on this website, and over 80% of my traffic is generated by a half-dozen of them. That’s 80+ percent of traffic from 1% of posts, each and every day!

So I’m focusing on the 10–20 percent of my ideas and actions that get the results. And then I’m focusing on the 80/20 subset of that 80/20.

For example, I’m only going to write the 10% of the words that you’ll read, and leave out the other 90.

If we all did this, we could waste a lot less time.

But first you have to find the 20% of your pods where all your joy, fulfillment, happiness, money, and success come from.

How the media failed at marketing and made us sick

The Internet did not kill Old Media ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

First, a Venn Diagram.


Proximity is physical distance, Influence is the degree to which something directly affects you, and Control is your ability to do something about it.

At the centre, where the spheres intersect, are far-away events that have little effect on your life and that you have no power to control.

This intersection is the news.

News appears to break the rules of sticky marketing. Since the job of media is to sell eyeballs to advertisers, breaking these rules is a bad idea.

What exactly is it that the media sell?

Before we explore this question, here’s a quotation from Hoover Adams, of the Dunn Daily Record, reproduced in Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick:

I’ll bet that if the Daily Record reprinted the entire Dunn telephone directory tonight, half the people would sit down and check it to be sure their name was included.

I don’t need to explain why the New York Times doesn’t print the Manhattan phone directory, or why the Wall Street Journal doesn’t run stories on happenings around my dining room table.

But if the Wall Street Journal did do this, I’d read with keen and active interest.

Local is a hook. Hooks are sticky—our eyeballs get snagged and we can’t turn away.

The most powerful hook is your name. You can’t not read something that has your name in it.

If tomorrow’s New York Times had the headline “Spear Considers Bold Business Move,” I would buy ten copies.

Come to think of it, reprinting the phone directory is likely a good strategy, in an era when news media struggle merely to survive.

Spending your time focused on things far away, well outside the sphere of your life, that you have no power to control, is the path to mental illness.

At the very least, it’s a recipe for gloom, negativity, cynicism, and resignation.

A healthy person’s Venn diagram intersects at nearness, influence, and control—focused on the people and events that they can influence for the better.

In fact, sticky marketing can be condensed into a kindred formula: you must demonstrate how your product, service, or message solves a painful problem of your audience.

No wonder we loathe a media that is forever bringing us bad news from across the world of things we have no power to change.

Worse yet, the bad news from across the world is emotionally charged.

Emotion is a powerful hook.

In fact, it’s one of the six “hooks” of Made to Stick:

1 – Simple
2 – Unexpected
3 – Concrete
4 – Credible
5 – Emotional
6 – Story

This is the answer to our question What exactly do the media sell?

Powerful, emotional hooks. Outrage, scandal, indignation, horror, pathos, fear.

Lacking the prospect of proximity, nearness, and control, these hooks produce mental fatigue and malaise.

Our logical mind recoils. We ask “why exactly are we reading the news?” We come to the realization that the news, in fact, is best ignored.

Perhaps, then, the Internet did not kill Old Media, or at least not in the way we had thought. Perhaps it was all a marketing failure.

What is a brand?

When a brand is owning the thoughts in someone’s head ✎ By Wayne K. Spear

It’s a big question, but the simplest (and, I hope, not simplistic) answer is that a brand is the experience of a customer in the presence of a product.

Have you noticed those smiling, laughing people in Coca-Cola ads? There’s nothing remarkable about water, CO2, and high-fructose corn syrup. Combined, they produce an unexceptional, sugary drink.

But love, belonging, and joy are remarkable. We crave them. So every Coke ad sells them to us. And it’s the same with everything. Every successful brand in history has sold basic human desires—the stuff we’re hard-wired to need and want.

Affection, approval, acceptance, love, security, hope, sex, beauty.

Then, in the 2000s, we began removing the products.

I’m sure you’ve seen that viral post which started at TechCrunch:

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Maybe what’s happening is that brand is now entirely separable from product.

There has always been a degree of separation. The product was never the brand. The experience of the customer in the presence of the product was the brand.

Increasingly, however, the product is someone else’s business.

Here’s an interesting way of looking at it, in a Seth Godin post “Templates for organic and viral growth”:

Invent a connection venue or format, but give up some control

Show it can be done, but don’t insist that it be done precisely the same way you did it

Establish a cultural norm

Get out of the way …

Many of Seth’s examples are not businesses, but his description is nonetheless relevant to the TechCrunch post.

The idea is that every time someone wonders “What happened to that girl in high school?” they’ll think Facebook.

Every time someone thinks “I need a cab,” they’ll think Uber.

Every time someone thinks “I’m going to Australia and I need a place to stay,” they’ll think Airbnb.

None of these companies delivers the product or service. They have, as Seth puts it, got out of the way.

Their brand is ownership of a cultural norm—even of a thought itself, as the examples above suggest.

Imagine if every time someone thought about x [“I wonder what happened to my high-school girlfriend”], it evoked your brand [Facebook]. And then a stranger far away produced and delivered the product [your high-school girlfriend, in this example] under the umbrella of your brand.

Instant connection, all unbeknownst to you. And you get paid.

Invent a way for people to connect, show them it can be done, establish it as a cultural norm, and get out of the way.

Branding, 21st-Century style.