Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Does Technology Make Us Happier, Smarter, More Productive?

Most of us can’t seem to go a day without our precious digital devices by our side. But is modern technology really making us happier and more efficient? Results of a recent Harris Poll, suggest that many adults are divided on the pros and cons of modern technology. Try raising this question over Thanksgiving dinner with your relatives and you’ll see what we mean.

On the plus side, seven out of ten adults (71%) believe technology has improved the overall quality of their lives and more than two-thirds (68%) say it encourages people to be more creative. On the flip side, nearly three fourths of respondents (73%) believe technology is creating a lazy society, while almost that many (69%) say it’s too distracting. What’s more, nearly three in five respondents (59%) say technology is having a negative impact on literacy. How do these results stack up to your straw poll of family members?

Sure, two-thirds of Americans (63%) told pollsters that technology helps them learn new skills, but the majority of respondents said technology has a negative effect on:

  • Their relationships with friends (54%)
  • Their ability to live life the way they want (55%)
  • Their happiness (57%)
  • Their social life (58%)

Think about those stats before you bend over backwards trying to look cool and master every shiny new tech toy that comes down the pike.

Generational differences

As expected, Millennials are more likely than older generations to say technology has had a positive effect on key areas of their lives and researchers found that men of all ages are somewhat more likely than women to be technology zealots. So if your clients are primarily young adult males (i.e. tech entrepreneurs) then definitely hit the social, mobile, IoT pedal hard. But one size won’t fit all when it comes to your thought leadership marketing and client engagement. You’ll need to customize for each cohort.

Generational Effects of Technology
Gen Xers
Baby Boomers
Ability to learn new skills
Relationships with friends
Ability to live life the way they want
Social life
Relationships with family
Source: Harris Poll report, November 2015

As the chart above shows, we were especially struck by the generational differences about technology’s perceived impact on relationships with friends, social life and family. Why do you care? Well where do you think most of your “word of mouth” referrals come from?

While Millennials may be the most likely group to say technology positively affects their relationships, and the ones most likely to say it enhances their social life, their family and friends feel differently. Also, Millennials are more likely than any other generation to say their friends/family think they use technology too much.

Gender differences regarding technology

Men and women of all ages tend to differ when it comes to technology’s effect on their lives:

  • Women are more likely than men to say technology has become too distracting (76% vs. 70% of men) and that it gets upgraded/updated too quickly (67% vs. 57%).
  • They’re also more likely to believe it has a negative effect on their productivity at home (30% vs. 17%) and safety and security (18% vs. 13%).
  • That said, women are more likely than men to say technology can be used as an escape from their busy lives (50% vs. 43%).
A majority of men are more likely than women to believe technology has a positive impact on several functional aspects of their lives:
  • This includes their ability to learn new skills (67% vs. 60% of women)
  • To live life the way they want (50% vs. 40%)
  • Their work productivity (43% vs. 29%)
If you don’t think gender differences matter, then consider how you approach couples who come in to see you during discovery meetings and regular client updates. Are you really connecting with both spouses? But regardless of gender, technological devices have surpassed even TV as staples of daily life they CANNOT live without:
  • Without Internet access (67%)
  • A computer/laptop (60%)
  • Mobile phone (59%)
  • Television (55%)

That’s right. American can now go longer without television than they can go without their mobile phones, computers and Internet access. So when you sit down with friends and family this Thanksgiving, put down your devices, have a real-life conversation or two with the important people in your lives and give thanks for all of our modern conveniences. You don’t need to use them 24/7 in order to appreciate them.

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


Technology distraction, addicted to tech, Thanksgiving

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Power of Negative Thinking

If Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris were not enough, stock market gyrations, looming interest rate hikes and economic slowdowns in the U.S., China and Japan could give even the most optimistic among us reason to worry. As many of you will agree, the only thing worse than bad news is waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop.” We all have our own ways of coping with anxiety, and if you or a close friend or co-worker strikes you as a glass-half-empty person, that’s not necessarily bad.

A growing body of research, such as this new
study in the journal Emotion, shows that people who manage stress by thinking the worst can be a validation of sorts for those who embrace their anxiety.
Kate Sweeny, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and her researchers surveyed 230 law school graduates frequently during the four months after the California bar exam in July 2013. What they found was that waiting for uncertain news is often distressing, at times even more distressing than facing bad news. Researchers proposed two definitions of waiting well.

1. First, people can wait in such a way as to ease their distress during the waiting period.

2. Second, people could wait in such a way as to ease the pain of bad news or enhance the thrill of good news.

First, participants who suffered through a waiting period marked by anxiety, rumination, and pessimism responded more productively to bad news and more joyfully to good news, compared to participants who suffered little during the wait. These findings substantiate the difficulty of enduring a stressful waiting period, and suggest that this difficulty may pay off once the news arrives.
“One definition of waiting well is not having negative emotions. But not going through that thinking process leaves you less prepared to receive the news. That’s the paradox, the counterintuitive part of the findings,” according to Julie K. Norem, the author of “The Positive Power of Negative Thinking,” and a professor of psychology at Wellesley. Norem was not involved in the study, but commented about it recently in the NY Times, Good News About Worrying.

Coping strategies are generally separated into three directions, said Sweeny.

1.       Some people sought to suppress fears. “But the more you try not to pay attention,” Dr. Sweeny said, “the more aware you become.”

2.       Others sought silver linings. “They tried to anticipate something good in a bad outcome,” Dr. Sweeny said. “‘I will grow as a person if I fail the bar exam.’ But, she contended: “That’s defensive posturing. Why would they take the bar exam if they believed that silver lining?”
3.       Others aimed for a time-tested approach: hoping for the best, bracing for the worst. These people worried constructively, doing what researchers call “defensive pessimism,” or “proactive coping.” They dive into the worry maelstrom, surfacing with contingency plans.
“Set your expectations low and think through the negative possibilities,” Dr. Norem said. “It drives optimists crazy. But it shifts your attention away from feelings of anxiety to what you can do to address the disaster that might happen.”

I once coached a very successful teen soccer team that reeled off 28 wins in a row. My assistant coach, a defensive genius, must have said “Uh Oh, that’s trouble!” every time the opposing team pushed the ball within 30 yards of our goal. That was his way of coping and making the right adjustments as we conceded less than a dozen goals per season during our run. Right now I’m an assistant coach for a youth baseball team that went 25-4 and won the state championship last summer. Every time we get into a close game and the opposing team puts runners on base against our pitcher, our head coach starts shaking his head, muttering, “Damn, we blew it again. When are they going to learn!” But when the kids come back to the dugout between innings, he quietly pulls them aside one by one, helps them understand what needs to be improved, and more often than not, it gets done.


Whether you’re working with youth baseball players, mid-career professionals, or aging retirees, facing your fears and working through them can take you a long way. Although anxiety is perceived as a negative emotion, researchers say it doesn’t make you a bad (or unsuccessful) person to feel it. Most of you have clients who not only invest in the markets, but manage businesses or practices they someday hope to sell and who set plenty of other BHAGS in life (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). You just can’t sail through life in these high achieving spheres without some prolonged anxiety and worry.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and set realistic expecations. We’ll get through the latest round of all-consuming agita just like we did in 2008, 9/11 and World War II.


Power of negative thinking, constructive pessimism, Paris attacks, Julie Norem, Kate Sweeny

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Your First Draft Sucks—So What?

Eighteenth century French philosopher Voltaire famously said “perfection is the enemy of good.” I bring this up because many of you are starting to set your BHAGs for 2016 (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and have asked about writing a book, white paper, regular blog or newsletter column.

Take the writing process seriously, but don’t be intimidated. If you can tell a great story and/or have great expertise to share with your centers of influence, then the words will eventually flow.

According to Marketing Profs copywriting guru, Daphne Gray-Grant, “A crappy first draft will not only help you write faster, but it'll also give you time to improve the quality of your writing.” Why? Because the best writing always comes from editing, “and the sooner you write your first draft, the sooner you'll be able to edit it,” added Grant.

We’ll let you in on a little secret: It doesn’t matter if you’re a do-it-yourself author or if you have hired a coach or ghost writer to help you. You need to revise, revise and revise. There is no secret formula to great writing. There are no shortcuts. It’s just a lot of trial and error and grinding it out until you start stringing together thoughts and phrases that seem to flow and make sense. You’ll recognize it when you see it, but there is no road map for getting there. By the way, you’ll never have a truly perfect FINAL draft---just progressively better versions of what you started with.

That’s why a first draft is so often called a “rough” draft—it’s directionally on the mark, but nowhere near ready for publication. But, the sooner you get your rough draft started the sooner you will feel better about yourself. You will start to feel the momentum building even if you were a perennial C student in English.

If nothing else, you should never be ashamed of a lousy first draft as it’s the first step toward solidifying your ideas and helping you write faster, more fluently and more confidently.

Blogger Bryan Hutchinson noted in a recent post (Why Your First Draft Isn’t Crap) that every book, every article and every blog post starts off with a first draft. “A first draft is special. It’s when you first pen an idea in some coherent form, it’s when you've assembled ideas from notes collected on napkins and scraps of paper or from your voice recorder,” observed Hutchinson. And it’s probably the most important step to completing your project. “The first draft is the one that matters most. No one's ever gotten to the last [draft] without the first,” added Hutchinson.


So, have the courage to commit your ideas to written form. Put them in some kind of an outline. Come up with a big, bold headline to announce the codification of your ideas. Then take that final important step……by { fill in your real name}. That’s right. Placing your byline on a published body of work—no matter how long or how short—puts you in select company in today’s increasingly anonymous online culture. You’re a thought influencer who’s not afraid to come out from behind the safety of an on-screen account and stand behind an original idea no matter how well (or not) the prose actually flows.

Again, don’t let pursuit of perfection be the enemy of progress. Even Voltaire didn’t come up with that pearl of wisdom on his first try. Go for it!

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


Voltaire, writing process is difficult, first draft sucks, Bryan Hutchinson, Daphne Gray-Grant

Monday, October 19, 2015

11 Tips for Shooting Professional Video on a Budget

No matter how much you read and how well you write, you can’t deny that we live in a screen-dominated age. So many screens are vying for our attention--and your clients’ attention—that you need to start sharing your expertise visually. Many of you get it and have asked about shooting your own videos since you don’t have the budget to hire professional video crews. At the same time, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. So how do you get a good result?

It reminds me of that poster hanging in the back of my lawn mower repair shop: “We do three types of jobs here: Good, Fast and Cheap, you can choose any two.” In other words…

   If it’s Good and Cheap--it won’t be Fast

   If it’s Good and Fast--it won’t be Cheap

   If it’s Fast and Cheap—it won’t be Good

Until recently, that summed up your thought leadership video options, but now we’d like to add a fourth option:

   If you’re Smart and Well Organized, you can get a solid result that won’t break the bank.

To that end, the folks from Marketing Profs recently published a post chock-full of tips to help professionals like you create high quality videos. The tips are pretty basic, but our colleague Brooke Sessions, a New York-based network TV director who helps us out on special projects added a few of her own.

1. Shoot during the day,
especially if you don’t have a professional lighting set up. According to Marketing Profs, natural lighting will complement your skin and won't typically make you look washed out or grainy.
2. Don't shoot backlit or with a window behind you. People want to see your face and a backlit light source will leave your face dark.

3. Be wary of background noise, especially when shooing outside. All too often a plane, train, car alarm, or annoying pedestrians having a conversation will come out of nowhere to disrupt your shoot. “If you do have to shoot outside, try to pick a quiet spot,” recommends Sessions.

4. Don't shoot in a car—even if you're busy.
According to Marketing Profs, shooting in a moving vehicle adds a new layer of sounds to deal with. No road is perfectly smooth and your video will be bouncy

5. Acknowledge you have shaky hands. “
ALWAYS use a tripod,” recommended Sessions. You don’t have to break the bank to find a good stable tripod that will save you countless hours (and dollars) of editing time.

6. Silence your devices while shooting. Even if your phone is on vibrate mode, that sound can get picked up by the microphone.

7. Be aware of where the camera lens is. According to Marketing Profs, if you're looking at your face on the screen, you're not looking at the camera—and not looking at your audience. It just feels awkward to watch a video in which someone looks like he or she is peering behind you. When we shoot with Sessions, we don’t use teleprompters, but we have summary bullet points taped right beneath the camera lens. That helps us keep our focus on the lens.

8. Always review and edit your video before posting. Watch for any weird lighting changes, advises Marketing Profs, as your phone tried to decide on a light source. Listen to the video with headphones on—did you capture a lot of background noise, such as people talking or phones buzzing? You may have to re-shoot.

9. If you are using a Smartphone or iPad, “hold it horizontally, NOT vertically. “No one wants to look at vertical video,” lamented Sessions.
10. Use a microphone. “The audio quality will be far superior,” recommended Sessions. Mary Shaw, of Shaw Media Group agrees. “I think audio is THE most important production element, even though it’s video. You’ll have a much better chance to attracting and holding a viewer’s attention when the visual content can be heard clearly by using a high-quality microphone.”

11. Watch your framing. “Is there too much headroom (i.e. the space between the top of your head and the top of the screen)? Is it centered? These are concepts from still photography that must be considered when shooting video,” said Sessions.


Keep these 11 tips in mind and experiment with video before you go live. At first you may be surprised by how you look and sound on camera, but learn to embrace your new onscreen persona, even if you don’t think it looks and sounds exactly like you. It’s a whole new way of communicating with clients and prospects, but it’s what many are expecting, especially the next generation.

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

App Overload Got You Down?

Are your app-infested mobile devices starting to look as cluttered as the outside of a Nascar stock car or the back of 5K fun run t-shirt? If so you’re not alone.

According to a comprehensive study by the folks at Kaizen Research in the U.K., more than 1,000 new apps hit the market every day and more often not they start to gather digital dust after the initial wow factor wears off. Here are some highlights of the study:  

  • The average, overall app retention rate, is highest in the first month of installing an app at 36 percent. Only 1 in 10 people keep an app for 12 months.
  • Over half of the 4,000 respondents surveyed (50.6%) of said the primary reason they uninstall an app is because it takes up too much storage.
  • More than two in five (40.6%) blamed intrusive advertising.
  • One in three (33.8%) cited the fact that the app kept freezing up.

As Kaizen’s clever infographic shows, when it comes to uninstalling business apps, the top three reasons are :
1.      Users found a better quality app that does the same thing (28.4%)

2.      Poor user experience (27.0%)

3.      You have to pay extra for the features you need (24.6%)


When we’re talking about work-related apps, only use the ones that truly save you time, make you more productive, or better informed. Junk the rest. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about developing apps for your clients or customers. The cool factor only takes you so far. Keep the design and registration process simple. Don’t hog the user’s bandwidth and respect their privacy. As with any other product or service, sooner or later the user gets frustrated or bored unless you’re delivering true and long-lasting value. And above all else, make your app interesting and engaging and don’t try to charge users for features that come standard with your competitor’s offering.

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Do You Rule Your Devices or Do They Rule You?

I’m not highly religious, but I try to attend synagogue during the Jewish “high” holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It’s a combination of guilt, lifelong habit and trying to set a good example for my half-Jewish sons that drives me to show up every year.
Do I enjoy attending services? Not really. Even though our temple is architecturally striking and the choir is first-rate, the timing of the Holidays always seems inconvenient. While my schedule blows apart in the secular world, time slows to a crawl in the sanctuary as we await instructions to rise-chant-sit-rise again-chant-and-sit, half a dozen times over a two-hour period before more lengthy passages of Hebrew ensue.
My watch seems frozen in time. The clouds filling the overhead skylights seem not to move. And it always feels like two pages backward for every page forward as we slog our way through the prayer brook (in the Hebrew tradition of right to left). How could time move so slowly in this fast paced world?

As is probably the case in your house of worship, cell phones and mobile devices are forbidden. My sons, like most of the congregants under the age of 80 start to get physically ill as they Jones for a little hit of electronic stimulation to make the time pass. Like most congregants, they don’t want to miss a critical tweet, post or text from the rest of the “gentile” world that’s enjoying a day off from school or a slow day at work.

But I’ve grown to like the technology deprivation tank most people call the synagogue. First of all, it’s the only time of the year in which I don’t feel like I’m racing the clock 24/7, feeling hopelessly behind schedule. It’s also great to go 120 straight minutes without having to react to a message, make a decision or put out a fire. I do some of my best thinking in the sanctuary, too. It may not be about my faith, or atoning for my sins or communicating better with the spouse and family….but some pretty good ideas have come out of my High Holiday sits. For more on this topic see our recent post I Do My Best Thinking in a (MRI) Tube.

Finally the Shofar blasts. The congregation sings Adon Olam, we shake hands with those in neighboring seats and we’re “released” from the temple. I have a renewed sense of energy and fulfillment. I wish I could attribute it to reconnecting with my faith and the inspiring chants and life lessons. Truth be told, it’s more about getting the battery recharged.

I sense I’m not the only one who feels that way. Our rabbi is a superb orator with a keen sense of humor and timing. He knows most of us are not regulars at the temple and he often finds a way to connect with us. Last week, while we were anticipating a moving sermon about the state of Israel, tensions in the Middle East or how to our young people more involved in the temple he threw us a curve ball and talked about the tyranny of technology. He also told us about the annual National Unplug Day in early March which is all about slowing down our lives in an increasingly unplugged world and taking a Sabbath from the wired world.

Rabbi proudly wears an Apple watch, but he showed us how technology has blurred the line between work and family time. Technology has unchained us from our desks and cubicles, so we can get work down anywhere we happen to be any time of the day. By the same token, it has OBLIGATED us to get work done 24/7/365 wherever we happen to be at any time of the day. There are no more boundaries between work and family life the rabbi lamented and he also said that thanks to technology, our communication with each other has become too superficial. Electronic communication is more convenient, sure, but us the rabbi pointed out—sending a quick text or email, takes a lot less effort and emotional commitment than making a phone call, writing a litter or heaven forbid, seeing each other face-to-face.

We want to meet you in person

To that end, we’re doing our best to meet each and every one of your in person, and we had some great meals and meetings over the best month with clients in the Bay Area, Boston, Portland Maine and New York City. Next step is Denver.

Yom Kippur starts tomorrow night. Most years I do try to fast for 24 hours (with moderate success) but I’ve been experimenting with a 24 hour technology fast every weekend since last fall—usually from mid-day Saturday to mid-day Sunday. I recommend you try it some time, regardless of your faith.

Have a great week and a wonderful new year. Get unplugged, call your mother and start living life.

Our blog has more about this and related topics.


TAGS: Tyranny of technology, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, best thinking in unlikely places

Monday, August 31, 2015

It’s the Economy, Smarty

As the old joke goes, economists have successfully predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions—and the stock market probably more. If you have clients worried about the U.S. sinking into economic quicksand, tell them to turn off the news, look at the facts and stay disciplined about their long term objectives.

Sure, the markets dropped 10 percent over 5 recent trading days between August 17 and 24. Statistically experts say that qualifies as a “correction” which can be either healthy or foreboding depending on your point of view. According to Yardeni Research, there have been almost 30 corrections of 10-plus percent since 1950, but not always followed by a bear market or economic recession.

We’re not in the financial advisory business, but many of you who are, have assured us that last week’s market volatility is little more than long overdue waves in a long stretch of smooth sailing.

Last time we checked, equities were still considered “risk assets,” not T-Bills, so there are going to be some ups and downs from time to time. “Even though people are asking themselves if prices are too high, they are slow to take action to sell,” explained renowned Yale Economics Professor, Robert Shiller, in a thoughtful piece in yesterday’s New York Times. But “when prices make a sudden drop, as they did in recent days, people tend to become fearful, even if there is a subsequent rebound. They suddenly realize their views might be shared by other people and start looking for information that might confirm belief,” added Shiller.

Makes sense. But, as William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York opined last week, “The stock market has to move a lot—and stay there—to have implications for the U.S. economy.”

Case in point. The Commerce Department said late last week that durable orders rose a healthy 2 percent in July on top of recent increases in U.S. consumer confidence and new home sales. That’s a sign the U.S. economy is at least reasonably healthy and solidly expanding. That tends not to be when recessions occur, or true market corrections. If nothing else, take a step back and reflect. Most major market indices right now are pretty much at the same level they were heading into Labor Day weekend a year ago. Not a substantial return, but hardly bear market territory.

Millennials' impact on the economy

If that’s not enough, Bill Smead, who manages the Smead Value Fund
pointed out Friday that there are 86 million people in this country between the ages of 19 and 37. They don’t own stocks, they do drive cars, and they want to buy a house. This is nirvana for “them” said Smead, because they haven’t lost any money in the market, gas prices are plunging and mortgage rates are likely to remain low. All of which is great for the economy.

Need more? Last Thursday, the Commerce Department announced that our nation’s economy expanded at a faster pace than initially thought in the second quarter as businesses ramped up investment. Gross domestic product, the broadest sum of goods and services produced across the economy, expanded at a 3.7 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate in the second quarter of 2015, the Commerce Department said Thursday, up from the initial estimate of 2.3 percent growth.

Still not convinced? Well, the latest figures on business investment—reflecting spending on construction, equipment, and research and development—are especially welcome. The category rose at a 3.2 percent pace, compared with an earlier estimate of a 0.6 percent decline, suggesting a degree of optimism about future demand. Corporate profits after tax, without inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments, rose at a 5.1 percent pace from the first quarter, the biggest jump in a year. On a year-over-year basis, corporate profit growth was 7.3 percent. As Business Insider’s Elena Holodny noted last Tuesday, the risk of markets plunging dramatically again in the short term are quite low without “certain economic conditions being met.”

John Higgin or Capital Economics noted that "Major declines in the S&P 500 — that is to say, bear markets in which prices drop by at least 20 percent, which is roughly twice the drop that occurred between 10th and 24th August — have only tended to occur in, and around, recessions. And we doubt very much that one of those is around the corner." 

Since 1950, the US has seen 9 bear markets and 10 recessions. And almost all of these bear markets have overlapped with the economic downturns. The one notable exception was October 1987's infamous "Black Monday" when the Dow plunged a shocking 508 points — or about 22.6 percent. Although stocks were in a bear market, GDP never went negative.

In light of that, Higgins pointed out that the even with the recent stock plunge, the US economy is currently looking pretty good. GDP growth expected to be around 2.3 percent this year, and 2.8 percent in the next, and policymakers are (still) considering hiking rates this year.

Finally, blogger Ben Carlson, CFA indicated that investing during periods of unrest usually pays off for investors. Three years out from a recession the annual returns showed an average annual gain of 11.9 percent, according to Carlson. Five years out the average annual gain was 12.3 percent. Only one time since 1957 was the stock market down a year later following a recession, which occurred during the 2000-2002 bear market.

During the actual recessions themselves the total returns look much worse as they were negative, on average (-1.5 percent annually).  But this average is made up of a wide range in results, as stocks have actually risen during 4 out of the last 9 recessions. And stocks were positive 6 out of the past 9 times in the year leading up to the start of a recession, dispelling the myth that the stock market always acts as a leading indicator of economic activity.


Bottom line, there’s no reason to make any hasty or dramatic changes to your investing or business expansion plans, and there are bargains to be had if your risk tolerance and time horizon allows you to explore those opportunities right now. Even Shiller, whose widely followed CAPE (Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings) ratio signals that stock prices are dangerously overpriced admits we’re in a “rare and anxious “just don’t know” situation.

blog has more about this and related topics.

TAGS: economy and stock market correlation, risk of recession, bear market, investor discipline, business investment, Shiller CAPE, William Dudley, Bill Smead, Ben Carlson CFA