Why I Hate Teaching

I love education. But I hate teaching. Far too often we confuse the two, and I think that’s a big reason the US education system is the battered & bruised behemoth it is. Well, that and demagoguery by pusillanimous politicians.

If you look at how the US education system evolved, there are striking similarities to how our workforce evolved. The industrial revolution turned farmers with broad skill sets into incredibly specialized factory workers. Schooling moved from truly individualized curriculum in the living room, to a rigid, standardized, curriculum-driven classroom. Mass production meant less variation. Mass education meant we could educate more kids in a standardized system, as long as they fit in within the system. It meant less tolerance for “abnormal” kids.

Back in the day, Horace Mann thought that “public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” He thought a standardized approach to education would level the playing field for kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Give them all a fair shot at the American dream. Lofty goal. A goal I agree with. But what happened was factory farms and factory education.

And it’s not that people haven’t been trying to make reforms– they have. For a long time. Back in the early 1900’s, John Dewey was pushing the idea of “Progressive Education.” He argued (rightly, I think) for a more balanced approach to education. According to Wikipedia, “The problem was that Dewey and the other progressive theorists encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration that in general was not receptive to new methods.” That rings true today, too. Massive, entrenched institutions are structured to preserve the status quo.

A more balanced approach to education?

But the status quo isn’t working. Obviously. Something needs to change. Just like Dewey, and Maria Montessori before him, I’m arguing for a more balanced approach to education. Rather than teacher-centric, vs. content-centric, vs. student-centric, it ought to be more collaborative. Maria Montessori put it best: “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” There are people pushing for this today. Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote an article on RWW about how How YouTube is Part of a Global Economic Transformation. From the article: “It has become increasingly evident that to realize human potential in today’s societies and economies, lifelong learning is required, not just an initial period of formal schooling.” Hell yes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the US education system has failed. Or that it’s terrible. Or that I hate teachers and textbooks. On the contrary. I think that on the whole, we’ve tried our best. But we can do better. Because in our attempt to give our national treasures an equal shot at success, we forgot that “equal” doesn’t mean they should be treated like so much carbon in a diamond factory.

Our children are not factory-made. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Each has unique experiences that will inform their learning. If we can minimize the demagoguery and leverage some of the amazing technologies (iPads, serious games, the friggin internet) to create mass-customized learning, we can help each of our precious stones polish themselves into the gem they can be.

 

 

A Musician’s Opinion on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

I am a musician. I write, record, and play songs. I spend months pouring my deepest feelings into a dozen or so 3 minute tunes.

In the good ol’ days, I could’ve signed a deal with some huge record label, borrowed a ridiculous amount of money from them to record those songs, and end up putting 2 good songs, 5 mediocre songs, and 3 terrible songs on an album.

Then, I could have signed a distribution deal with some other company, where they’d promise to get my darling little album into those beacons of art-loving culture everywhere: Walmart, Best Buy, and Target. Of course, the distribution company would have charged me a “breakage fee” that is the same percentage as when they were distributing vinyl records, not virtually indestructible CDs. Oh, they’d also charge that breakage fee on digital downloads.

Then, if anybody bought my 2/5/3 (good/boring/bad)  album, the retailer takes a cut, the distributor takes a cut, the label takes a cut and repays themselves (with loan-shark-level interest) that fat loan I took to record. Then, if there’s anything left, I’d get about $0.50 an album. That’s $0.05 per song, for you non-math types. Seems like an awful lot of hullaballoo for me to earn $0.05 per song.

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Stop SOPA and PIPA

As a musician, I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by litigating their customers into obedience. I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by censoring the Internet with asinine, heavy-handed legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

 

SOPA and PIPA would let a company effectively obliterate a website if it contained a link to a download copyrighted material. Or if a site visitor posted a copyrighted picture or quote. No due process. No nothing. Just, pow! Gone from the DNS. Gone from the DNS, but not gone from the Internet– anyone could still get to the “offending” website by typing in the website’s IP address. So gone. But not. And you and I both know that the “pirates” will just type in the damn IP address.

I don’t need that huge loan to record some songs anymore. I can do it with my computer and less than $500 worth of gear in my basement.

 And I don’t need that distribution deal anymore. I can effectively and efficiently deliver my music to anyone in the world who has Internet access.

And I don’t need those retailers anymore, either. I can use places like AmazonMP3. Or iTunes. Or Bandcamp. Or Soundcloud.

 

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People who pirate music are actually just an under-served market segment. Music pirating is the market telling me it doesn’t value recorded music the way it used to. It’s my job as a business owner, then, to shift my unit of value to something the market is willing to pay for.

I actually do still purchase music– but not  nearly as much as I did before I signed up for Spotify. And if someone still wants to charge to sell their music, that’s fine with me– I just think it’s a stupid business decision. Instead, give the music away as a marketing campaign. Give it away in exchange for signing up for a mailing list. Or, give it away to anyone who comes to your show (give them a little card with a download link/code/something). Or, give it away to anyone who promises to share it with their friends. Use your recorded music as a way to get people to your shows, where you make money on ticket sales, merch, and a cut of the bar sales.

 

******

If you’d like to learn more, watch the video below. Then, once you’re sufficiently pissed off, do something about it.

Sign Google’s petition to End Piracy, Not Liberty.
If you’re an artist, sign this letter to Congress from Fight for the Future

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Top 5 Reasons I Hate Marketers

First, let me be clear: I’m talking about what you do, not about you as a human. Second, I’m a marketer, so I’m just as guilty as you from time to time. Speaking of which, you should listen to some of my music or even come to the Columbus Songwriter Circle. See what I did there? Anyway, here they are, the top 5 reasons I hate marketers:

  1. You typically over-promise and under-deliver. It’s like you’re afraid nobody will want your product unless you make outrageous claims. The consequence: nobody believes the marketing claims, and you have to make even more outlandish claims next time to catch attention. You’re making my job harder every time you stretch the truth. Stop it. Learn the difference between True stories and Truth Stories, and tell the latter.
  2. You typically don’t have a shred of actual empathy for the user. Sure, you’ve got your demographic research, feedback from vocal sales people. Stuff like that. You have generalities. Averages. The problem is, there actually is no average user. What if you flipped that thinking on its head? There are no average customers, but there are common trials and triumphs– understand those and your marketing will improve exponentially. Please do this one, k?
  3.  You hock stupid stuff. Let’s face it, most of the products you develop strategies, ads, and PPC campaigns for are pretty mediocre. That’s why they need you– they’re not good enough to spread through organic referrals. Or they are, but only to a niche market… and your client is bent on total world domination. Stop it. I understand needing a paycheck (and I’m fortunate enough to love what I do and get paid for it). I understand that you have to take clients that you’d rather not. But what if you refused to do work for 1 out of 4 new business prospects that you thought kinda sucked? Maybe some of you already do. Maybe more of us should.

Have you spotted the irony yet? A Top 5 list that’s actually only a 3 point rant (over-promise, under-deliver) about how there is no average user… directed at the average marketer. Look, I don’t actually hate you. I hate what you (and I) do from time to time. I’d just like to see more product marketing treat users like human beings.

3 Predictions About the Future of “Social”

The Future

In the US, there are  tens of millions of searches every month for things related to social marketing, social media marketing, and the like. But, if you look at Google Trends, it also looks like that search traffic may have peaked (for now, anyway). So have searches for Facebook, by the way. What that tells me is that, as George Colony from Forrester Research put it at Le Web (to paraphrase), social is running out of people and it’s running out of hours. So, here are my 3 predictions about the future of social media and social marketing:

  1. Social won’t die. But it will become a zombie mutant. When the printing press came along, written stories didn’t die, they mutated. When TV came around, radio didn’t die, it mutated. People are predicting “the end of social” and I think what they actually mean is “the end of social as we know it.”
  2. You won’t care about social media anymore. “Social” will become a parallel offering– not a differentiator. Oh wait. That already happened– even this novelty “flatulence gift underwear” company has a “social” presence.
  3. I lied, I only have two predictions, but who wants to read a post titled “2 Predictions About the Future of Social”?
  4. Psych! Here you go, Prediction 3 about the future of social: in 12 months, all the predictions made by talking heads in fancy suits skinny jeans, flannel shirts, and stocking caps, will look like the intro to the Jetsons. Speaking of which, where is my flying car?

Ok, here’s the point: calling something social doesn’t make it social. Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t make your brand social. On the other hand, we humans are social people, so everything is social already. The trick is figuring out what part of your product/service/experience we humans actually care about, and building a clear, compelling, consistent story around that. Easy.

Failure Sucks

You know what? Failure friggin sucks. Seems like there’s been a lot of buzz over the past few years about Failure Chic– how it’s ok to fail. It’s ok to crash & burn. But it seems to me that most of these blog posts and articles are written by people who’ve never experienced true failure. The kind where you’ve put in everything you have (and then some!)– money, emotional energy… even years of your precariously short little life– and yet you find yourself holding the shattered scraps of a once-vivid dream. There are no redeeming qualities about failure. Saying “but I learned from it” is just a lame attempt to rationalize that steaming pile of cognitive dissonance slopping around in your brain. I think our recent glorification of failure is an #EpicFAIL. Like cat-stuck in-a-birdcage-fail

Because we can learn from our successes just as much as we can from our failures. So, what I’d rather see is a switch from Failure Chic to Learning Chic. Steve Jobs said he realized after he was ousted from Apple (sorry, obligatory Apple reference) that making awesome stuff in an awesome company should be the goal rather than profits. Success should be a byproduct of a lifelong love of learning.

So, forget failure. And forget success. Let’s learn how to make awesome stuff.

Process, People, and Sacred Cows

“I’m sorry. I can’t do that. It’s not part of our process.”

“I’m sorry we billed you three times for the same thing. Our process had some hiccups.”

“Sorry, but our process requires [insert absurdly long time frame] to make the changes you’ve requested.”

Milton, from Office Space, and his red stapler
I worked at a place once the had TPS Reports. For real.

Sound familiar? When we’re making the process, we’re doing it to make life easier. And it sure does work. It makes our life so much simpler. Don’t have to rethink every project. Don’t have to brainstorm an answer to every question. But then it becomes a real boy, and we focus on the process, rather than the people we built the process to serve.

Or, it could become a sacred cow. Maybe it’s time to make a steak out of that cow.

You’re Wrong

you're doing it wrong

When someone is clearly wrong about something, my first reaction is to tell them so. I’ve never really found that to be a great way to get someone to see the Truth, though.

Think about it this way: we make choices based on the information available. We used to know that the Earth was the center of the universe. Until it wasn’t. The speed of light was as fast as anything can go. Until it wasn’t. (Well, maybe).

So, if your customer is always right (even when they’re wrong), what’s a marketer to do? Help them feel validated and understood with some active listening. Ask questions about their assumptions. For this, I love to use IDEO’s Five Whys.

You can’t help shift their perspective until you truly understand it.

Truth(iness) In Advertising

Pacific Ocean Sunset
Pacific Ocean Sunset via jxb345 on Flickr

I had a poetry professor tell me once “don’t tell. Show.” We were supposed to write a poem about the color blue. I picked a trip to the California coast. She wanted me to show what that smelled like, felt like, looked like, sounded like. She didn’t want a true story– she didn’t want me to simply inform her. She wanted me to tell a story about the peace I felt watching the sun slink into the Pacific. She wanted a story about Truth. She wanted me to inspire.

When you tell stories about your product, are you informing or inspiring?

If you’re informing, you’re telling true stories about the product. But you’re not telling me why I should care.

If you’re inspiring, your product is telling stories about Truth. You’re making meaning, and connecting me with it. That’s way better than some lame feature dump.

The best stories inspire and inform.

P.S. If you’re not quite sure, you’re probably telling Truthiness stories– the kind of stories that give all marketers a bad name. So stop it.

P.P.S. Check out Tom Nies excellent Change This Manifesto about True stories, Truth stories, and storyselling.

Facebook Doesn’t Get It

Facebook has begun the The Inevitable Letdown. It was innovative. It was cool. It was fun. But Zuckerberg is so damned paranoid that some little startup is going to deflate his behemoth, that he’s clearly created a reactive culture. They are focusing on competitors more than customers (users). Let me count the ways:

  1. Geolocation & checkins: Facebook saw Foursquare and its ilk getting users to produce vast amounts of time & location data. Data that could be harvested to create revenue streams from partners & advertisers. Voila, Facebook Places. People predicted it was the death sentence for all the “smaller” players. Facebook would essentially be the schoolyard bully and squash them (by sitting on them, I guess). What they didn’t consider is who the average foursquare user is, and how they compare to the average Facebook user. The average Facebook user plays Farmville and believes Facebook will start charging unless they paste a stupid message (from their other stupid friends) to their wall. Ok, that’s a little harsh. How about this instead: the average Facebook user has a real life outside the interwebs, and they see Facebook as relatively passive entertainment experience. Checking in to a Place is not passive.
  2. Privacy and Google+: Ok. Most of Facebook’s moves lately [cough]Timeline[/cough] are me-too responses to Google Plus. Privacy, particularly. Sure, Facebook introduced new privacy control tools. But they don’t want you to be private. Their privacy strategy is a classic example of Confusopoly.
  3. Photo filters and Instagram: I can has filters? Apps like Hipstamatic and Instagram make even the most bland pic of a sleeping cat look artsy and fun. They’re kind of like autotune, but for pictures. Facebook wants in on this trend. Adding filters to photo uploads means more time spent on Facebook. Wich means more ad revenue. Here’s what I think they’re missing: using a third party app let’s me share to places other than Facebook– Twitter, Flickr, etc.

The list actually goes on and on. But here’s the point: sure, understanding your competition helps you avoid getting sucker punched by some startup. But if all you’re doing is dodging punches, you’ll inevitably lose sight of the one thing you have in common with your competitors: the customer. If you truly understand your customers’ trials and triumphs, you’ll be able to satisfy their unarticulated needs. And then the competition is chasing you!

Understanding your competitors is good. Understanding your customer is better.