Inspiration v. motivation

Listening to a Science Friday segment about New Year’s resolutions, I was struck by the answer to a caller who wanted to know what guest John Norcross thought about the difference between inspiration and motivation. (In this context, being inspired to make/keep a resolution, and being motivated to do so.) I was so struck I went back to hear Norcross’s answer again. Here it is:

Inspiration is short-lived. It’s typically emulating other people, and it’ll push us for a week or two. But inspiration begins to extinguish quite quickly. And as Henry Ford once said, after that it’s 90 percent hard work. Inspiration may get us started, but it never keeps us going. And that’s where motivation works.

And motivation doesn’t come in a bottle. Motivation is, scientifically speaking, a series of small behaviors.

He goes on to talk about how motivation entails tracking progress of the behavior change in question, rewarding yourself as you hit milestones, and the like. I don’t know if he’s relying on research when makes these distinctions, or not.

Anyway the reason this struck me is that I think there’s an awful lot of emphasis on “inspiration” in the marketing/design world of ideas. When I hear talks (more often via some online venue than in person) from this or that guru (and this includes people who call themselves “motivational” speakers, actually), their point always seems to be to inspire the audience. People are always asking me about inspiration, and conferences seem to revolve around inspiration, and basically inspiration seems to be a venerated concept.

Similarly, people are inspired by Obama’s call for change, but are they (we) motivated to follow through and do something real, something difficult? Inspiration is enough to submit your idea to, but it’s probably not enough to actually change anything. People with ideas are a dime a dozen; people who execute are rare. I don’t know about you, but when I look at my to-do list, I wonder where I fall on that continuum — will I be motivated to get things done this year, or merely inspired to add to add to my list?

Anyway, I guess I wonder if all the inspiration offered by gurus is a bit of a disservice. It’s like a jolt of caffeine; it won’t last. (It’s another variation of the instant-ness problem I wrote about the other day, maybe.) You’ll feel briefly like you’re on a new path, but it fades. You get pumped up and “inspired,” and then before long you’re right back where you were … needing “inspiration” again.

That’s good news for the guru industry. It may not be good for anybody else.

Does the New York art world have a problem with street art?

“Despite its American origins, Street Art is now centered in Britain,” announces The Guardian (via Arts Journal).

What this seems to mean is that the market for street art has been driven by Britain:

The auction houses here have been quick to sell it, and the media has turned it into a running news story. Faile’s comic-book inspired stencilwork will appear in the Tate Modern show, but founders Patrick McNeil and Patrick Miller, who talk over each other on speakerphone from their New York studio, say their art world isn’t as receptive. ‘New York has such a history of this art, but institutions are waiting to see what happens before they open the doors to it. The art is starting to surface in New York Sotheby’s and Christie’s, but it wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the excitement [in the UK].’

I’m not sure what to make of Faile dropping references to Sotheby’s and Christie’s. However, I do think it’s fair to say that for the most part the New York art world has not quite grasped the significance of the street art that started to emerge in the 1990s, and has grown throughout the 21st century. Yeah, some street artists have galleries and have done shows, but there hasn’t really been a sense of a big, important movement that’s been going for a decade, or longer. Why is that? Maybe it’s because of the earlier, late 1970s/1980s version of graffiti moving into the galleries (Haring, Basquiat, and a variety of Wild Style types), so there’s some kind of been-there, done-that attitude.

But I never could figure out why, for example, Beautiful Losers never got a New York venue. It should have been at MoMa, like three years ago. (Even if Moma did something similar tomorrow, I think it would feel very, very late.) And many of the street artists (or artists drawing on similar influences) who were in Beautiful Losers really made their name in the 1990s. Lots of new people have emerged since then (although not so many in the last few years, I’d argue), in New York, yes, but in L.A. and San Francisco and elsewhere as well.

So far as I know, only Banksy, of all people, has rated extensive mainstream notice in the form of things like a New Yorker feature. It’s weird.

Want to buy a napkin?

Back during the original 1990s Internet boom, when every billion-dollar idea had supposedly started with a sketch on the back of an envelope and/or in a garage, I used to joke that I was going to go into business selling envelopes and renting out space in huge office parks that consisted of acres of garages. Want be a Net millionaire? Rent a space in one of our garages, sit in in jotting ideas on the back of one of our envelopes, and riches are sure to follow. Etc.

I was reminded of this by an interview on Marketplace last night with a guy touting the power of napkins as the key to business creativity:

Why are napkins interesting? Because when you take a napkin and you just start drawing on it and start imagining what an idea that’s in your own mind looks like, all of the sudden, you’re opening up all kinds of channels in your own mind that, if you’re just working on a computer screen or just working with the shapes that are available, say, in PowerPoint, do not happen.


What he’s doing is selling a book on this subject, but I think he should be selling the napkins. In fact I think this is a great idea for some Etsy seller: Really cool napkins to use in solving problems or dreaming up new business models. Or maybe that will be my next move for, maybe I’ll start making and selling branded napkins. If anybody wants to invest, let me know.

It’s been pointed out to me in the comments and via email that there is already a napkin-idea product on the market. And a napkin-marketing product, too.

Empirical proof that empirical proof bolsters bullshit explanations

Probably I should wait until later when my head is clearer to post about this, but it’s just too awesomely meta for me to wait.

You know how you read things that back this or that point about human behavior by citing fMRI pictures of neurons firing in some section of the brain? I’ve written stuff like this myself. It sounds so impressive: A picture of what’s happening in the brain! That proves … something! It’s a classic example of deploying rational empirical expertise, or something that certainly looks/sounds like it, to make a point sound more convincing.

Well. Some delightfully wiseacre academic types have apparently done a study about how the citation of neuroscience “evidence” affects the reaction of the reader/listener. The upshot is: stuff that seems picture-of-the-brain empirical is often rewarded with more credibility than it might actually deserve.

Now, I say “apparently” because — hilariously — I haven’t read the paper (seems you have to be a subscriber to the journal to get access to it, and I haven’t had time to investigate further). I’ve read the abstract, and two blog posts about it.

The paper is called “The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations.” From the abstract, it seems that the researchers tested three different groups: “naive adults,” students of neuroscience, and neuroscience experts. Each was presented with a description of some psychological phenomenon, and an explanation for it — sometimes a logical explanation, sometimes bullshit. In some cases, each sort of explanation cited neuroscience data. “Crucially,” the abstract says, “the neuroscience information was irrelevant to the logic of the explanation.”


Subjects in the two nonexpert groups … judged that explanations with logically irrelevant neuroscience information were more satisfying than explanations without. The neuroscience information had a particularly striking effect on nonexperts’ judgments of bad explanations, masking otherwise salient problems in these explanations.


The pointer here comes from the blog Neuromarketing, whose author humorously sums up the implications: “Cloak BS in neuroscientific jargon, and people find it more plausible!”

(The author also kids: “Those are interesting findings that would be a lot more credible if backed up with fMRI scans.” It says something about me that I find that to be a truly amusing joke.)

The other blog post I read is this, which gives a more detailed summation of the study itself.

In the future, everyone will consult

I was interested to learn (via Marketplace last night) about this Ad Age report on jobs on the marketing and media sectors. While the headline is about media jobs declining (shocked?), I was drawn to the stuff about commercial persuasion jobs.  “Employment in advertising/marketing-services …  broke a record in November,” rising to 769,000  jobs,  the piece says.

Among all the ad-related job sectors, the hot spot is marketing consulting. Employment in that field in December reached a record 148,500, accounting for the lion’s share of job gains over the past year in advertising and marketing services.

In fact, the article indicates that consultancy jobs are growing so sharply that they’ve made up for job  losses at ad agencies (down 10% from 2000) and PR agencies (down 11.5% since then).

Lessons of “Simpsons” marketing: Clip and save

I’ve been reading with great interest the various marketing gurus talking about the brilliant campaign preceding the movie version of The Simpsons. I make no predictions about anything, such as whether the film will actually do well. But if it does do well, here are a few secret ingredients that — so far as I know — the experts haven’t mentioned yet. These, in other words, are the “lessons” you can apply to your film or brand. I’m revealing them to you now! Are you ready? Here goes! You heard it here first!
1. Prior to the release of your film, create a successful television program.

2. Do this many years before TiVo, or the widespread availability of 200-channel digital cable packages, or Mosaic (that’s Netscape kids; do people still know what Netscape was?) and all that it begat.

3. Enlist an authentic creative genius to actually invent your show.

4. The creative genius should be a known (and revered) quantity among certain audience members because of his work in something that was called the “alternative press,” which was kind of like the “niche culture” thing that today’s gurus talk about, but back before it had made its way into the marketing lexicon.

5. Make sure the show stays consistently strong — for 18 years.

6. Do this in a way that continues to attract new generations of viewers who have absolutely no idea what pre-Web culture was like — but without alienating those viewers who do.

7. By the time your film/product is released, make sure that the above-mentioned groundwork has woven your TV show deeply into the American pop psyche, so that its various catch phrases and references can be used universally, and without explanation, in almost any situation.

That’s it!

Once you do those seven things, you should be set. Good lessons! Apply them well!

Jen Bekman 20X200: The Q&A

Murketing noted with interest the recent announcement by Jen Bekman, founder of the jen bekman gallery, that she was planning a new project called 20X200 — “prints in limited editions of 200, for $20 each.” The concept raised some interesting questions, about the value of art, the boundary between the inclusive and the exclusive, the state of cultural expertise these days, and the possibility that as products become more like art, art is becoming more like products.

So, I posed these questions to Ms. Bekman, who graciously answered them.

Q: I noticed in the comments to your announcement somebody said something like, “This is great, an alternative to Target/Ikea blahness.” Is this project a more exclusive alternative to mass-ness, or a more inclusive alternative to the rarified high art world?

A: It’s both really, which is why it’s so exciting to me. It’s radically different than typical artworld fare because the work is so inexpensive and the editions are big by normal standards, but how can an edition of 200 of anything be mass market? 20×200 is bigger in scale than most fine art editions, but I’m not selling posters at the Met.

You mention TinyShowcase as inspiration — how is this different?

It’s very similar, really. Our aesthetics are slightly different, although I am consistently impressed with the TS choices and there’s definitely overlap. (Amy Ross, the painter who just had a solo show with me, recently did a TS edition that sold out in three minutes, literally.)

The biggest differences:

* I’m doing photo editions in addition to mixed-media and print editions, which is a natural for me since my photography program is strong.

* They’re artists, I’m a gallerist. We’re all curators, but there are some fundamental differences in how we approach things.

One of the things that’s so cool about TS is their whole DIY approach, artists doing something cool with other artists, with no pretense and a very laid-back style. My style is different, by virtue of my background as a business person and the fact that I own a gallery. I’m certainly not uptight, but I’m definitely trying to figure out how to make a business out of this — I see 20×200 as something that supports my gallery’s program and will definitely use it, in part, to market shows and existing inventory. Read more

It’s really different this time

During the dot-com bubble, you needed $5 million to do stupid ideas. Now you can do stupid ideas for 12 grand.

— Guy Kawasaki, for whom I have newfound respect and admiration after reading this interview.

Event marketing

Having developed an interest in the conference/guru/expertise industry lately, I was not surprised by this, but interested to see it get an airing in public on PSFK:

Apparently payola is a common practice in the conference business — a sponsor pays, a sponsor gets to speak. And we thought the whole conference business was a big scam already. I suppose we were naive to think that conference organizers were curators of the best content available for the attendees. Turns out, that attendees are being charged a lot of money to listen to the speakers who pay the most sponsorship money.

There are many variations on this out there in the conference world. On the other hand, it’s not particularly clear to me what the motives and expectations of conference attendees are. Are they interested in hearing from famous names? Are they interested in hearing things that confirm their existing biases and points of view? Are they interested in things that challenge their existing biases? Are they actually more interested in the other attendees than the presenters?

“Blogola” and other ways of skirting those pesky elites

The WSJ has two interesting articles today on the empowered grass-roots culture that’s replacing those annoying gatekeeper elites we’re all so sick of. The first is available here. It’s about TV networks blowing off critics and newspaper writers and buttering up bloggers — sorry, focusing on “blog outreach.” After all, as the Journal notes, mainstream media writers a often restricted from accepting freebies that might influence their coverage. Happily, the honest and transparent grass roots have no such rules.

Giving away DVDs is a cheap way to curry favor, but some networks are courting bloggers with Hollywood’s true currency: access. Fox News Channel says it recently thought about trying to flatter a New York Times writer with an invitation to an industry dinner hosted by President Bush. Instead, Fox says it sent invites to several New York media blogs — outlets it considered to be of more strategic importance.

Bloggers often return home with pinwheels in their eyes…. Indeed, some blog writers are even happy to let networks play editor. “I hope you like it,” wrote [one blogger who had been invited onto the set of a sitcom] in an email to CBS to flag her “Old Christine” posting. “If there’s anything you’d like me to add, just tell me and I will.” She signed the note, “XOXO.”

The best part? “Network PR experts say blogs are important because they often serve as idea farms for professional reporters.”

And why shouldn’t they, hm?

To all of this I can only add that the same basic practices are, I suspect, extremely common with product and cool-shit blogs. When not busy trumpeting the new transparency, I have a feeling that many such bloggers are positively raking in the free merch. It’s hard for me to say for certain, of course, since they very rarely disclose policies regarding such matters. (Allow me to transparently reiterate that I obviously do not accept freebies.)

Anyway, the other story is about “features like most-viewed, most-popular and most-emailed lists” that theoretically “democratize news and information, advocates say, letting consumers play a role in what’s deemed worthy of others’ attention, taking it out of the hands of an unseen editorial elite.” Not surprisingly, these features can be gamed.

One interesting excerpt:

Online video sites face challenges as well, as people try to game the “view counts” for clips by using automated software to repeatedly click on videos. Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, has spotted spyware software that hijacks individuals’ Web browsers and makes them view specific videos on YouTube. Other spyware Mr. Edelman has documented forces users’ computers to visit a clip on YouTube and give it a top five-star rating.

“Our computers are so good at counting that we treat their answers as infallible, but they’re subject to gaming both through ordinary counting errors and through systematic attack,” says Mr. Edelman.

Influence and reality

A little more than two years ago, I did a Consumed column about Splenda. In the few years it had been on the market, the stuff had become the top-selling sugar substitute, with annual sales of more than $175 million. The brand’s tag line was the mysterious “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” Among those unimpressed by this confusing claim were the makers of other sugar substitutes, as well as the Sugar Association. The makers of Equal had sued Splenda parent Johnson & Johnson, and the Sugar Association had started an anti-Splenda web site.

Right after the column appeared, I got an email from someone at a consulting company that tracks “online buzz,” chastising me for failing to check in with him before writing the column. Basically their data showed that the online buzz on Splenda had turned negative, largely as a result of the Sugar Association campaign. “The Sugar Association is really executing some effective reverse marketing….. What was once positive grassroots enthusiasm [for Splenda] seems to be turning negative.” The implication was that I’d made a fool of myself by writing about Splenda right when it was about to collapse in popularity, as the online buzz revealed. The “data,” I was informed, “underscore tremendously the crisis that Splenda is in.”

I checked back with this person six months later, in September 2005. I asked if there had been any decline in Splenda sales. “We don’t track sales – we only track the consumer buzz online among the hundreds of thousands of most engaged and influential food/nutrition consumers,” I was told. And the buzz among these people was still “very mixed,” with a lot of negative chatter about potential Splenda side effects, etc.

Interesting, I guess, but my editor is always pestering me for actual facts, so I forgot about the whole thing — until seeing a story in the WSJ on Friday. The Equal vs. Splenda trial is about to begin; the issue is whether Splenda marketing has misled consumers. And that’s an interesting issue, which maybe I’ll write about later.

But what jumped out at me was the fact that Splenda is still the top-selling sugar substitute, with sales of $212 million in 2006 – which is a 21 percent increase since I wrote that column.

Some “crisis”! Now I understand why that consultancy doesn’t track sales: Because the reality of what’s happening in the marketplace doesn’t sync up with the “influence” that it’s supposedly quantifying. After all, what do rising sales say about negative buzz among among “influential food/nutrition consumers”? If the “influential” consumers are buzzing negatively, and sales go up – then who, exactly, are the influential consumers influencing?

I’m astounded that consultancies can peddle this line that they’re collecting valuable, insightful, predictive data about online “buzz” — that ends up having absolutely no correlation to what happens in offline reality. But I probably shouldn’t be astounded. Maybe I’m failing to grasp how an “influential” consumer is defined. Maybe the key is to remember that they don’t necessarily have all that much, you know, influence. Except among certain consulting firms, and, perhaps, their paying clients.

Standards vs. “American Idol” voters

In a recent installment of the Murketing Journal email, I mentioned this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which argues that the show’s popularity partly reflects a desire for authority and arbiters of standards.

We might think that Americans are eager to celebrate talented young people who can thumb their noses at the older generation and thus exorcise the lingering resentment so many harbor from being graded and evaluated in the classroom. But what American Idol reveals instead is a veritable hunger for realistic evaluation. …. The show reveals a respect for expertise.

That struck me as an interesting point of view at a moment that, to me, seems pretty hostile to official sources of authority. Crowds are better than experts, open-source is better than anything involve a “gatekeeper,” and so on.

And today I see that the Associated Press has an article suggesting that nose-thumbing may be popular among American Idol watchers after all. Sanjaya Malakar, “who is considered to be one of the weakest performers” on the show, keeps avoiding elimination because he gets so many votes from viewers.

In the online community and in Malakar’s home state of Washington, the croaking crooner seems to have a loyal following of friends, family and fanatics who would like nothing better than to see him achieve the ultimate “Idol” success and be the last singer standing in May.

Simon Cowell has supposedly said he’ll quit the show if this guy wins. And:

One YouTube contributor in New York has launched a hunger strike and vows not to eat until the 17-year-old is ousted from the show.

Identifying herself only as “J,” the woman says she believes “other talented contestants” are being eliminated by those who think it “funny to try and sabotage American Idol by voting for a lesser contestant.”