Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger is full of ideas for promoting your brands or company. This book is an easy read and goes into details on how to be contagious. Below is an excerpt from the book:

 

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After analyzing hundreds of contagious messages, products, and ideas, we noticed that the same six “ingredients,” or principles, were often at work. Six key STEPPS, as I call them, that cause things to be talked about, shared, and imitated.

Principle 1: Social Currency

How does it make people look to talk about a product or idea? Most people would rather look smart than dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky. Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, what we talk about influences how others see us. It’s social currency. Knowing about cool things-like a blender that can tear through an iPhone-makes people seem sharp and in the know. So to get people talking we need to craft messages that help them achieve these desired impressions. We need to find our inner remarkability and make people feel like insiders. We need to leverage game mechanics to give people ways to achieve and provide visible symbols of status that they can show to others.

Principle 2: Triggers

How do we remind people to talk about our products and ideas? Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things. Peanut butter reminds us of jelly and the word “dog” reminds us of the word “cat.” If you live in Philadelphia, seeing a cheesesteak might remind you of the hundred-dollar one at Barclay Prime. People often talk about whatever comes to mind, so the more often people think about a product or idea, the more it will be talked about. We need to design products and ideas that are frequently triggered by the environment and create new triggers by linking our products and ideas to prevalent cues in that environment. Top of mind leads to tip of tongue.

Principle 3: Emotion

When we care, we share. So how can we craft messages and ideas that make people feel something? Naturally contagious content usually evokes some sort of emotion. Blending an iPhone is surprising. A potential tax hike is infuriating. Emotional things often get shared. So rather than harping on function, we need to focus on feelings. But as we’ll discuss, some emotions increase sharing, while others actually decrease it. So we need to pick the right emotions to evoke. We need to kindle the fire. Sometimes even negative emotions may be useful.

Principle 4: Public

Can people see when others are using our product or engaging in our desired behavior? The famous phrase “Monkey see, monkey do” captures more than just the human tendency to imitate. It a) so tells us that it’s hard to copy something you can’t see. Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate, which makes them more likely to become popular. So we need to make our products and ideas more public. We need to design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people have bought the product or espoused the idea.

Principle 5: Practical Value

How can we craft content that seems useful? People like to help others, so if we can show them how our products or ideas will save time, improve health, or save money, they’ll spread the word. But given how inundated people are with information, we need to make our message stand out. We need to understand what makes something seem like a particularly good deal. We need to highlight the incredible value of what we offer-monetarily and otherwise. And we need to package our knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.

Principle 6: Stories

What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in? People don’t just share information, they tell stories. But just like the epic tale of the Trojan Horse, stories are vessels that carry things such as morals and lessons. Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter. So we need to build our own Trojan horses, embedding our products and ideas in stories that people want to tell. But we need to do more than just tell a great story. We need to make virality valuable. We need to make our message so integral to the narrative that people can’t tell the story without it.

 

HOW TO SPOT A BULLSH!TTER

Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace by Jessica Bennett Is a very insightful book on fighting sexism. Below is an excerpt from the book:

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HOW TO SPOT A BULLSH!TTER

Here’s what business bros are great at filling the air to sound like they know what they’re talking about, even when they know about as much as the white board they’re gesturing in front of. But since the ban on bullsh!t isn’t coming to America any time soon, a few crib notes for recognizing the practitioners of this dubious art.

BULLSH!TTER: The Synergist

Says “synergy” and “pipeline” without an actual noun. Thinks “ideating” and “decisioning” are words and refuses to acknowledge otherwise.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: The Rabbit

Much like the rabbit, the Synergist excretes a particular type of crap that is not particularly offensive when taken individually. But if you have to spend a day with this guy, these small pellets will amount to a huge, heaping pile of smelly crap.

BULLSH!TTER: The Empty Wordsmith

Fills the room with long, vague phrases that mean nothing like, “Let’s take a step back for a minute” or “Let’s focus on the low-hanging fruit,” then offers a generic platitude like, “We’re all in this for the mission, right?”

SPIRIT ANIMAL: The Pigeon

Like the pigeon, the Wordsmith’s sh!t drops in unexpectedly in the middle of a meeting, leaving your mouth agape and your blazer covered in goo .

BULLSH!TTER: The Grammarian

Loves the phrase “Let’s unpack that statement” as an excuse to break said statement into its component parts, repeating what you’ve already said but in terms a child could understand. Also prone to chiming in at the end of a meeting to say, “So in summary … “

SPIRIT ANIMAL: The Mouse

The mouse’s bullsh!t is inoffensive and even sort of cute, if you take the repetition of your words as his way of complimenting your idea. But one too many rounds of “Let’s unpack that” and you’ve likely got a full-fledged infestation on your hands.

BULLSH!TTER: The Flatterer

Compliments the overall tone of the meeting without saying anything of substance. “I don’t want to be too navel gazing but I feel like we’re making great progress.” He also enjoys agreeing with smart things other people have said, in hopes that his words will be associated with their wisdom.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: The Dog

Like a puppy, this bullsh!tter smells a good idea and feels the need to piss on top of it, in order to add his own scent to the mix.

BULLSH!TTER: The Disrupter

Uses the words “disrupt,” “disruption,” or “disruptive technology” because he thinks it makes him sound cool. Also frequently insists on “action items” and “key takeaways.”

SPIRIT ANIMAL: The Cow

The cow can’t help but put forth a horribly “disruptive” pile of heaping sh!t. The good news is he’s impossible to miss for anyone with a sense of smell.

BULLSH!TTER: The PowerPointer

Produces elaborate paper handouts or PowerPoint presentations. The more he dresses up the content-Venn diagrams, fancy fonts-the more he thinks it will “distract” from the lack of substance.

SPIRIT ANIMAL: The Sloth

The sloth takes days to coordinate its weekly poop, traveling a rough terrain of foliage, branches, and tree trunk in order to finally get the job done (at the bottom of its tree). It’s a lot of effort put into an act that leaves the sloth vulnerable to predators.

BULLSH!TTER: The Closer

Arrives to the meeting completely unprepared, waits until it’s almost over, then chimes in to question the reason for having the meeting in the first place. “Wait, guys, can I just ask what we’re trying to do here?”

SPIRIT ANIMAL: The Cat

Sneaky, undetectable, and likely to be hiding in a dark corner under a whiteboard somewhere-you won’t see this bullsh!t coming until its stench suddenly hits you.

Book List 2016

Below is the list of books I read during 2016. I’ve included links to my blog articles about several of the books as highlighted. If you’re interested in tracking books that I read during 2017 you can follow me on GoodReads:

Hidden Life of Trees: The Mysteries Of Moving Water

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World by Peter Wohlleben is a captivating book. For someone who enjoys wood and forestry, this book is for your bookshelf. Below is an excerpt from the book:

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How does water make its way up from the soil into the tree’s leaves? For me, the way this question is answered sums up our current approach to what we know about the forest. For water transport is a relatively simple phenomenon to research-simpler at any rate than investigating whether trees feel pain or how they communicate with one another-and because it appears to be so uninteresting and obvious, university professors have been offering simplistic explanations for decades. This is one reason why I always have fun discussing this topic with students. Here are the accepted answers: capillary action and transpiration.

You can study capillary action every morning at breakfast. Capillary action is what makes the surface of your coffee stand a few fractions of an inch higher than the edge of your cup. Without this force, the surface of the liquid would be completely flat. The narrower the vessel, the higher the liquid can rise against gravity. And the vessels that transport water in deciduous trees are very narrow indeed: they measure barely 0.02 inches across. Conifers restrict the diameter of their vessels even more, to 0.0008 inches. Narrow vessels, however, are not enough to explain how water reaches the crown of trees that are more than 300 feet tall. In even the narrowest of vessels, there is only enough force to account for a rise of 3 feet at most.”

Ah, but we have another candidate: transpiration. In the warmer part of the year, leaves and needles transpire by steadily breathing out water vapor. In the case of a mature beech, the tree exhales hundreds of gallons of water a day. This exhalation causes suction, which pulls a constant supply of water up through the transportation pathways in the tree. Suction works as long as the columns of water are continuous. Bonding forces cause the water molecules to adhere to each other, and because they are strung together like links in a chain, as soon as space becomes available in the leaf thanks to transpiration, the bonded molecules pull each other a little higher up the trunk.

And because even this is not enough, osmosis also comes into play. When the concentration of sugar in one cell is higher than in the neighboring cell, water flows through the cell walls into the more sugary solution until both cells contain the same percentage of water. And when that happens from cell to cell up into the crown, water makes its way up to the top of the tree.

Hmm. When you measure water pressure in trees, you find it is highest shortly before the leaves open up in the spring. At this time of year, water shoots up the trunk with such force that if you place a stethoscope against the tree, you can actually hear it. In the northeastern U.S. and Canada, people make use of this phenomenon to harvest syrup from sugar maples, which are often tapped just as the snow is melting. This is the only time of the year when the coveted sap can be harvested. This early in the year, there are no leaves on deciduous trees, which means there can be no transpiration. And capillary action can be only a partial contributor because the aforementioned rise of 3 feet is hardly worth mentioning. Yet at precisely this time, the trunk is full to bursting. So that leaves us with osmosis, but this seems equally unlikely to me. After all, osmosis works only in the roots and leaves, not in the trunk, which consists not of cells attached one to the other but of long, continuous tubes for transporting water.

So where does that leave us? We don’t know. But recent research has discovered something that at least calls into question the effects of transpiration and the forces of cohesion. Scientists from three institutions (the University of Bern; the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research; and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich) listened more closely-literalIy. They registered a soft murmur in the trees. Above alI, at night. At this time of day, most of the water is stored in the trunk, as the crown takes a break from photosynthesis and hardly transpires at all. The trees pump themselves so full of water their trunks sometimes increase in diameter. The water is held almost completely immobile in the inner transportation tubes. Nothing flows. So where are the noises coming from? The researchers think they are coming from tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide in the narrow water-filled tubes.” Bubbles in [lie pipes? That means the supposedly continuous column of water is interrupted thousands of times. And if that is the case, transpiration, cohesion, and capillary action contribute very little to water transport.

So many questions remain unanswered. Perhaps we are poorer for having lost a possible explanation or richer for having gained a mystery. But aren’t both possibilities equally intriguing?

 

FOCUS: How Gritty Leaders Articulate Purpose

The Four Virtues of a Leader: Navigating the Hero’s Journey Through Risk to Results by Eric Kaufmann is a quick and enjoyable read. He talks about four key questions to keep you on track: What am I creating? What am I avoiding? What am I sustaining? What am I yielding? Below is an excerpt from the book:

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Purpose is the focusing element we need to understand and develop among the building blocks of grit. Grit is a forward-facing principle. Running away from something isn’t grit; it’s fear. While fear provides a strong motivation to keep running and moving, it drives you from behind as it pushes you along. Grit, on the other hand, magnetizes you toward a long-term objective. Clarity of purpose is a critical element for successfully developing and enhancing your grittiness; this can be something as broad as your life purpose, or a more narrowly defined sense of purpose for your work, team, or project.

Purpose draws from your focus, from your answer to “What am I creating?” In formulating your focus, you keep attention toward the horizon, and in so doing forward becomes obvious and easy to press toward. Leadership is a constant vigilance toward the future, toward what’s coming, as well as to the present, to what’s happening now. Long-term goals feed grit. We persevere when the future plays an active role in moment-to-moment decision making.

I’ve seen a common pattern among people who are most effective at remaining on purpose. I’ve coined the acronym FOCUS as a thinking guide that reflects how gritty leaders articulate purpose. FOCUS is a way to concentrate your efforts forward and bring forth the elements that empower grit:

F-Fulfilling. Is your goal fulfilling to you? How does this long-term goal feed your spirit? How does it make you a better person? Beyond the things that we have to do that we find challenging and difficult, how is this work feeding your soul? My job is challenging. It takes lots of attention and energy. Yet I grow and learn and make extremely rich and meaningful connections. I can press through the challenges because my work is fulfilling. My grit-my perseverance for striving to improve professionally-is fed by the fulfillment of being of service, of touching people’s lives in a meaningful way.

O-Optimistic. My daughter has a glass on her desk half filled with water. She keeps it there because she wants to be gritty, and gritty folks choose to look at the glass as half full. It’s difficult to be gritty when you’re pessimistic about your goal in particular or future in general. You can learn and practice optimism, and the optimistic aspect of FOCUS isn’t just looking at the world positively, but looking forward and being engaged by the future. Being focused on the goal means that you direct yourself toward it; being optimistic about your goal means that you look forward to it. It’s nearly impossible to persevere toward something that you dread.

C-Challenging. Believe it or not, if the purpose is too easy or too ordinary, we lose interest in it. It’s paradoxical that grit-stamina and determination in the face of difficulty-is activated by the very presence of challenge and difficulty. Being challenged has a stimulating and energizing effect when the goal is also fulfilling; you strengthen grit when you know that you’re working toward something fulfilling and challenging.

U-Urgent. To stay on track with your purpose, it has to entail a sense of urgency. Urgency keeps your intention top of mind and your attention focused. This might sound counterintuitive, as grit refers to passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Yet if the long-term goal has no sense of urgency, then it simply languishes in the “would-be-nice-someday” category. When urgency turns to stress, though, it actually consumes the ability to be gritty. What builds purpose for true grit is your continued attention to the urgency of the goal while maintaining a rational detachment from the strain and stress of the deadline.

S-Specific. The final component of FOCUS is that the goal is specific; it’s restricted. During strategic planning, I refer to strategy as the “art of exclusion.” Being specific means honing in on one defined outcome and ignoring the other possibilities and temptations. Losing weight through diet and exercise can take a while, often longer than we wish, and saying, “I want to lose weight” is fairly useless. But saying “I want to weigh 140 pounds” is specific. “Hiring good talent” is vague; “hiring three experienced trainers” is specific.

Detroit Hustle

 

This memoir is a quick read; Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life & Home by Amy Haimerl. She writes about her dad’s advice on contractors. Below is an excerpt from the book:

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Contractors, he said, have a right to feed their families. Don’t look for cheap; seek quality work at a fair price. That is so important that Dad had this bit of philosophy inscribed on the back of his Bear Excavating business cards: “The bitterness of poor quality and workmanship remains long after the sweetness of the low bid is forgotten.” I remember reading that as a kid, and it’s always stuck with me. Be direct and decisive, he added. Know your budget and be honest about it. Pay on time. Look for someone who is a partner, who asks good questions and seems to care about the answers. Look for someone who can make suggestions and offer alternatives. Go with your gut and understand that your contractor is worth every dime because that’s the person who will make the project either a dream or a nightmare. You’re going to be more married to them, he tells me, than to Karl. Finally, make sure they are bonded and insured

Two Yardsticks for Measuring Risky Decisions

How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices by Therese Huston is a fascinating book. How do you make decisions? Do you know the risk in making your decision? Below is an excerpt from the book:

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Are there strategies for figuring out when to take a risk? I was torn on whether to include this advice because I don’t want to send the message that women are, underneath it all, fearful of risk. The data doesn’t support that. But whether you’re a man or a woman, someone who takes too many risks or too few, you need strategies for evaluating new opportunities. There are any number of risky decisions you might be considering. Maybe you’re thinking about taking a new job or quitting your current one. Maybe you’re trying to decide whether to invest your time in a project that your friends think is a dead end but that you believe is just beginning. I’m going to offer two tools, two yardsticks you can use to measure a daring move and whether it’s headed in the right direction.

The first tool is the 10-10-10 rule, developed by the journalist and author Suzy Welch. The purpose of this strategy is to help you look at a decision from three angles, with the hope that one of those vantage points will provide a pop of clarity. In her book 10-10-10, Welch offers three easy-to-remember questions: “What are the consequences of this decision in 10 minutes? In 10 months? In 10 years?” Simple, yes, but potentially quite powerful. The goal isn’t to constrain you to those exact numbers – you could think about two days, six months, and seven years from now. The goal is for you to think about the immediate consequences, the impact your decision will have in the foreseeable and imaginable future and in a distant part of your life, a time far enough in the future that you can’t predict the intervening details or events but you still have clear hopes for yourself. Imagining forty years out is probably too far. The idea is that all too often when we’re trying to make a decision, we’re focused on one, maybe two of these time frames, but wisdom might lie in considering all three.

The second tool for sizing up a risk is something called a premortem, a strategy discussed in the bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University professor and Nobel Prize- winning economist who has been studying reasoning and decision- making for over forty-five years. You may be familiar with a postmortem, which is what you do when a project or event is over, but a premortem is just what its name suggests – a step you take before the project launches, before you’ve committed to a plan of action and the risks that come with it. The concept is simple. Once you have a concrete plan on the table, bring together the key people who know about the decision you’re making and say, “Imagine that it’s a year into the future and we’ve gone ahead with our current plan. The result was a disaster. Take five to ten minutes and write down a brief play-by-play of that disaster

You might not be immediately impressed with this strategy. You’re thinking, But I’ve already asked “What could go wrong?” a dozen times. But that question involves looking forward, to possible events in the future, whereas the premortem involves looking back. (A premortem is similar to the look-back we discussed in chapter 1.) Looking back may not seem like much of a shift, especially since it’s all in your imagination, but this small shift in perspective can be profound.

Consider these two questions: “How likely is it that an Asian American will be elected president of the United States in 2024? Why might this happen? List all the reasons that come to mind:’

Before you read on, take a moment to think about this future possibility and generate some ideas.

That was looking forward. Now consider these two questions: “It’s 2024 and an Asian American has just been elected president of the United States. Why did this happen? What events might have preceded this one? List everything that comes to mind.”

If you’re like most people who’ve been asked these questions, a wider variety of vivid details come to mind in the second, hindsight scenario. It’s not just that you’re getting a second chance to think about the same event – people generate better answers to the hindsight questions even if they never heard the first ones. Deborah Mitchell at the University of Pennsylvania, J. Edward Russo at Cornell University, and Nancy Pennington at the University of Colorado collaborated on a project and found that people who are given the second, hindsight scenario generate 25 percent more reasons than people given the first, foresight scenario.” Perhaps even more important, people generated more specific and concrete reasons in the hindsight scenario. When we think about future events, we’re content to think in broad generalities, but when we think about something that has already happened, we feel a need to provide more convincing explanations. This is why the premortem is so effective- it’s looking back at a fictional event as though it’s happened. You’ve always heard that hindsight is better than foresight, and that, remarkably, includes imaginary hindsight.