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justin foster

The 3 Shifts of Modern Branding

By | Branding, Entrepreneurism, Leadership | No Comments

I (and we at Root + River) have written extensively the past few years about the end of the old world of branding and marketing. No more pretense. No more construct. No more shiny candy wrapper with a crap center. No more fear, manipulation, persuasion, coercion.

I believe most leaders understand this era is over. There is no more Mad Men. They understand and accept the importance of culture, customer experience, visual appeal. But as Hank, Jr. once moaned “Old habits … are hard to break.” To break these old world habits (or mindsets) requires a conscious choice.

I think there are three shifts a leader needs to have – first inwardly, then in his/her business …

  1. Shift your brand from being business model driven to being mission driven. In the 21st century, brand, mission and business model are really the same thing. Yet many leaders still have the mindset that brand is an external wrapping and that mission is either a passive awareness or a get-to-it-later. The present and future of being a brand is to have mission at the center of the brand. And then the business model supports both. Big brands like Patagonia, Chick-fil-A, Nike, Virgin get this. In fact, I would say that all four were born of mission that became a brand that became a successful business model. It’s just even more obvious in this modern era where you can’t pay for the kind of attention these brands get. In order to organize your brand around your mission, you must also know your personal mission – the thing you are here to do that only you can do. This requires inner work, EQ and discipline – and won’t be found in a book or on a spreadsheet.
  2. Shift your thinking on who your audience is. “Target audience” remains a common term that rarely has actual usefulness. It’s a term from the bygone era of predictable demographic behaviors, less media choices and less overall product and service choices. Consider this instead … your audience is not who you are looking for. It’s who’s looking for you. Your job as a leader is to get the brand out there – be findable. This means first diving deep into the soul – or root – of your brand. Brands that do this learn something almost magical: when you build your brand from the soul, you find the people that are looking for you. This doesn’t mean a build-it-and-they-will-come mindset. Nor does it mean that you shouldn’t market. It simply means that you need to get out there in different and unique ways. And this is highly contextual to your marketplace. Red Bull built their brand by going to skate parks and extreme sports events. They didn’t advertise to a “target audience”. They went to the people that were looking for them but didn’t yet know it.
  3. Shift from head-based messaging to heart-based messaging. Head-based messaging is also a relic. It assumes through saturation, purchased brand awareness and repeated calls to action that you can take up a position in the mind of the buyer. This is no longer true. While certainly some of the principles of positioning still apply, the conditions have changed dramatically. Here’s another way to look at it … head-based messaging is for the conscious mind. It requires people to pay attention. Yet most Americans are in a perpetual primal state of flight/fight/freeze. They’re tired, over-booked, over-worked, over-extended. They don’t have the conscious mind resources to pay attention to you – unless you are solving their current and present issues. But these same people have plenty of room in their hearts. In fact, they crave meaning, authenticity, realness. This means that messaging is really what your heart has to say to the world. It’s a message from your heart to their hearts. But like discovering your personal mission, it requires the inner work of connecting to your heart – a process many leaders still avoid.

Modern branding is ultimately about two things from a leadership perspective: 1) Letting go of old beliefs, habits, systems, concepts and 2) letting in new feelings like love, trust, joy, delight, purpose, failure, triumph. And no one can make you let go or let in. Only you can do that.

Ego, What is it Good For?

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“War (What is it Good For?)” was a famous anti-war song during the Vietnam War era. Originally written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for The Temptations, it was first a hit for Edwin Starr. It was made even for famous when it was covered by Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock in 1969 (image above).

The first verse …

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all

This song and these lyrics came to mind recently after I expressed to a friend that it seems as if there’s a daily war between Ego and Soul — both internally and externally. This got me thinking about Ego and it’s purpose.

What is the Ego good for? Well not “absolutely nothing”. Ego has a specific purpose. As I posted the other day in one of my musings, the Ego wants us to be safe, not happy. It is an extension of the evolution of humans and our remarkable tenacity. It is designed to protect us. It craves form, identity, a role. I often refer to my Ego as a “herd dog” because it just needs something to do, something to protect, something to give it purpose.

It appears that the Ego has at least four specific purposes in helping us function and survive as humans.

  • Cataloging — The Ego has an enormous database and details-obsessed memory. The Ego helps our brain catalog experiences, sensory input, interactions. We quickly refer to these files in unexpected moments or dangerous (perceived or otherwise) situations. As an evolutionary tool, the Ego helped catalog what to eat, where to find food, what animals and plants are dangerous, where to find shelter — and most importantly to survival of the species, who to reproduce with. The main issue we have today with the cataloging feature of the Ego is our strong tendency to mis-remember things — that manifest in over 300 biases. We have also over-saturated and over-stimulated the cataloging function which causes our mind to go in to reactive state (another survival mechanism). In short, cataloging makes us stop thinking and only react — i.e. road rage.
  • Compartmentalization — The Ego is excellent at shutting down, walling off and otherwise protecting the core self from outside danger. Compartmentalization is a feature designed to help us survive severe trauma and protects us through horrific situations and condition. It makes us efficient and deadly fighters, productive workers and even contributes to the role of parenting. The main issue with this feature for many of us is that most compartmentalizing is unnecessary. For example, “leave work at work and home at home”. It most certainly doesn’t work that way unless in a truly high pressure, dangerous job. Yet many people build these false walls between their professional and personal lives. This split life can cause a deep disconnect from meaning; leading to depression, anxiety, addiction.
  • Comparison — All comparison is of the Ego — something to remember the next time you hear “should / shouldn’t” chatter in your head. As the only creatures with true Free Will, comparison is a necessary element for maintaining and using our power of choice. We can’t remember everything and we can’t choose everything. So we have to create a decision-making hierarchy — which runs on comparison. In addition, comparison was a necessary element for survival — for ourselves, our families and our communities. If you had more than me (food, weapons, status), the comparison drove me to achieve and acquire. Often by going to war with you! The issue with comparison today is that it is hugely manipulated by social pressure — especially in advertising and marketing. It is an extension of the “Keep up with the Jones’s” syndrome that grew out of the post-World War II expansion of the middle class and suburbia. Unless you are in a true survival situation, comparison will just make you work hard for things you really don’t need or want.
  • Competition — This one is essentially a composite of the above three but bears mentioning separately. The Ego wants to win. Its in its programming. Winning is an evolutionary trait that gives the Ego a sense of achievement and the identity of “winner”. People will say “I’m not very competitive”. If you have an Ego, you are competitive — just in different ways. Competition permeates all hierarchal systems — which pretty much includes every living thing. The hierarchy creates status, opportunities for power and wealth, tribal dominance and clear difference between “winners” and “losers”. As a libertarian-in-all-things and a free speech, free market advocate, I have no issue with competition. I do have an issue with the Ego’s tendency to use competition to hurt others, mis-use authority and fuel a if-you-are-not-cheating-you-are-not-trying culture in business and sports. My reminder to myself is: compete for what matters.

Ultimately, our Ego and Soul are intended to live in harmony. One needs the other. The Ego is needed for survival and the Soul is needed for happiness.But for similar reasons as to why we have a civilian commander-in-chief, the Ego makes a great employee but a terrible boss (unless you are in an actual life-threatening situation, then let the Ego do it’s thing so you don’t die!).

 

Things I No Longer Do

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This is tofu disguised as bacon. What’s more pretentious than that?!

The past 4+ years have all been about change. Massive changes. Tiny changes. Entering this new era of me has been a painful and mighty challenge. Each change turned the wheel of evolution; revealing new things and leaving some things behind. And there’s been so much new that I haven’t spent much time on thinking, habits, etc that I used to have; things I used to do.

After some examination, I found a few things I no longer do. All of which defined- in many ways — the last era of me. Some were personality based or motivating forces. Others were about survival and a craving for identity. Whatever the reason, I simple don’t do them any more. I’ve outgrown them — emotionally and spiritually.

  • Posturing — I had a boss in the early 2000s that once told me, “Justin, you’re always working an angle.” That was true. I did want something from most people. Whether it was making a sale, validating my existence, affirming my value. I didn’t have the confidence to just be — I had to go get these things from other people. My posturing was a combination of flattery, insincere sincerity, self-deprecation and outright lying. I called it being “relatable” — when really it was about survival-based manipulation. I was using my God-given ability to connect with people for my own gain.
    No more. Sure, the old triggers and responses are still there. But each time I feel that urge to posture, I remind myself that I don’t have to be anything for anyone. And also, you can’t love people and also use them.
  • Pretense — I had a vivid and lively imagination as a child. One that got me through violence, boredom, loneliness. But it wasn’t until I was in my mid teens that I learned to pretend. I pretended to be confident. I pretended like I had my life in order. And back to posturing, I would pretend like I liked you if I thought you could do something for me. The more I pretended, the larger my imposter syndrome would grow. Because I was an imposter. I was pretending to be happy. Pretending to be successful. I was good at pretending — especially when social media came around. I had a good sense of image and perception — and how to pretend in order to build the image I wanted everyone to see. No more. I am me. No acting. No pretending. Which, deliciously, has brought back my childhood ability to imagine and think creatively. I will extend a few minutes of grace to a situation — but if it’s not for me, I give myself permission to simply leave rather than pretend to be there. This includes many social settings, small talk, closed society gossip.
  • Primal Dominance — I was a dichotomy. In many ways, I was a wuss. In other ways, I wanted to drink from the skulls of my enemies. Especially intellectually. I wanted to intellectually dominate you. To show you who was smarter. The same boss told me “You are way too quick to show people how smart you are.” I was always insecure about my not having a college education, so if I came across someone with a lot of schooling — especially from a prestigious university- I would preen and proclaim that my “street” education was much more useful. I was also insecure about my perceived lack of athletic ability. So I would show off how smart I was on sports, working out, physical challenges to overcompensate for my lack of worth in these areas. No more. Sure, there’s a time for decisive leadership. I still consider myself an Alpha but a secure, awake, contemplative one.

When these three things fell away, I noticed additional changes. I no longer give advice. This is a fairly new epiphany, but most advice I was giving was related to one, some or all three of the above. My advice was all of the ego — even if well intentioned and typically factually correct. Secondly, I no longer identify with any groups. I am a human man, that by citizenship, is an American. That’s it. When I removed posturing, pretense and primal dominance from my behavior, I no longer NEEDED to be in a group. Finally, I have learned joy. The joy of genuineness. The joy of discipline. The joy of suffering. The joy of empathy. I have learned that when you connect to the soul and its creator, your primary emotion is joy. And joy doesn’t need to posture, pretend or dominate. Joy just is.

The Return of Long-Form Content

By | Branding | One Comment

The old models of content delivery don’t work anymore, right? Everyone is busy. Everyone is distracted. We all have ADD. Way too much screen time. Media is too fragmented. Too many choices. So your content has to be short. Snackable. Chunkable. Bite Size. Drip. It’s gotta be easy to consume and easy to share. Packaged just right so that they can scarf it down like fast food from the drive through window.

Not. True.

Long-form content is more popular than ever. Some examples …

Hugely popular podcasters like Joe RoganAdam Carolla and Theo Von regularly air episodes that are 2 – 3 hours long.

Intellectual phenom Jordan Peterson has lectures on YouTube (1.3 million subscribers!) that are 2 – 3 hours long – and have 2.5 million views.

Black Panther, Jurassic World, Avengers: Infinity War are all top grossing movies of 2018 – and all are well over 2 hours long.

Isaacson’s incredible book on DaVinci is 624 pages long. Peterson’s million+ selling book “12 Rules for Life” is 365 pages long. Springsteen’s stellar autobiography is 528 pages long.

The two top grossing novels of 2018 are “The President is Missing” (528 pages) and “The Perfect Couple” (480 pages).

Serial shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime are hugely popular. With each episode much longer than traditional TV episodes.

How can this be? In a world full of fragmentation, saturation and too-much-information, how did long-form content become so popular.

A few thoughts …

The #1 factor is that we humans always love a great story. There’s something of the human psyche that is drawn to story. We are wired for it. A great story bends time. It makes time almost irrelevant. A great story is transcendent of current conditions. When enraptured by a story, we can escape from the pressures of life.

A second factor is portability. Podcasts, YouTube videos, audio books are – obviously – highly portable. This allows us to fill in the seams and crevices of time – like commuting, working out, flying. This also feeds our sense of accomplishment because we are double dipping on time.

Another factor is that self-care/personal growth is hot right now. And there are many ways to manifest this self-care and personal growth. For many, consuming long-form content is a type of self-care. It’s indulgent. It’s fulfilling. And if it’s intellectual or spiritual content, it also triggers a sense of achievement.

In analyzing popular long-form content, I’ve noticed three must-haves:

  • Originality. This is true in all aspects of life and business. There are way too many karaoke singers covering other people’s stuff. But this is particular true with long-form content. We want, demand, need content that we’ve not heard or seen before. We need to laugh, think, cry – all emotions that are most often triggered by originality.
  • Rawness. This varies based on the medium, but when it comes to podcasts and YouTube videos, we don’t want them too polished. We want to consume something that’s organic – where the content provider is speaking from their souls. Even in more structured content like a book or movie, we still want to connect to the soul of the creator. We want to feel the pieces of themselves they put in to their work.
  • Consistency. You can’t half-ass long form content. If you are going to do, you gotta do it again and again. This consistency comes in the form of frequency, quality and provocation. This means that the creators of content must always be learning and growing. They need to be aware to not get sucked into a formulaic approach in the name of consistency.

Long-form content works if you are rooted and confident in who you are and how you show up the world (what we would call your Brand). You have to truly believe in what you have to share. You have to be disciplined about presenting it in a compelling way. Both of which are the fruits of self-confidence. And you have to pick the platform that takes the most advantage of your natural gifts and talents. I don’t know that I would ever be able to craft a 400 page book. But I could definitely talk for 3 hours on a podcast!

What long-form content are you consuming? Reply in comments.

80% of Freedom is Internal

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Nelson Mandela’s cell

I believe the natural state of all humans is freedom. Anything less than freedom is on the spectrum of tyranny. I also have come to learn that 80% of freedom is internal. Whether it be a person, a family, a business, a community, a state, a nation, a global movement. Which leaves 20% as external conditions or circumstances.

While there are certainly more free societies, the government does not extend freedom. Because it can’t give what’s not its to give. It can protect the structure of freedom but is far more inclined to restrict freedom.

Religious doctrine also doesn’t extend freedom. It too is far more likely to restrict freedom. The freedom that Jesus (and others) spoke of was not a dispensation. It was a re-awakening of understanding the freedom we already contain within us.

A career rarely leads to freedom. The term “wage slaves” is painfully true. Consumerism and comparison also saddle us with soul crushing obligations and attachments. Which makes sense … you can’t purchase freedom.

I arrive at this 80/20 ratio through my own experiences but also studying the lives of others — especially those that have endured great suffering. Many survivors of suffering report a deep sense of freedom. A sense of meaning that extends far beyond the mind’s coping mechanisms. Noted psychiatrist, author and Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

In any situation, no matter how dire, we control our behavior, our language (inner and outer) and our responses. The level of sovereignty in these three areas is essential to re-claim inner freedom. To achieve inner freedom (which is actually re-discovering what’s already there) takes a series of courageous and often sacrificial acts.

  • Re-claim your identity. Our ego’s need for identity and form creates deeply unhealthy attachments. Most common is an attachment to the identity of “victim”. As I shared recently, victimhood is the easiest cult to join and the most difficult to want to leave. Martyrdom is also an identity that our egos love to attach to. But you are not your circumstances, your conditions, your experiences. You are you. You are the you in you that infinitely powerful.
  • Change your narrative. Our words form our realities. If we are using negative language, then our reality will become bleak. This doesn’t mean to be delusional or naive. It means that we must measure every word we use — first in our heads, then out of our mouths. When you begin to speak encouraging, positive, affirming words, the narrative changes. This may have zero impact on outside conditions, but you will still re-awaken freedom within.
  • Listen to the right voices. The voice of the soul is never wrong. It can’t be killed, squelched, muted. But it can be drowned out by darker voices. Our ego contains a dark shadow of self-loathing, blame, self-accusation. This same voice also breeds resentment. Which inevitably leads to violence. Nelson Mandela on his long awaited release from prison: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
  • Practice radical acceptance. There is a freedom and clarity that comes from fully accepting current circumstances or conditions. Without this acceptance, we remain in a comparative, should/shouldn’t mindset that creates false hope, expectations and assumptions. Freedom and truth go hand in hand. So lying to yourself about the reality of the circumstances actually contributes to your suffering. It’s also important to radically accept our feelings about a negative situation. It’s a fine line. We want to acknowledge these feelings as a form of truth — but we don’t want the negative ones to define our mindset and behavior. A common phrase in the military is “embrace the suck”. This exemplifies the radical acceptance of both conditions and the feelings we have about them.

I will close with this thought …

The best and highest another person can do for you is to change the 20% — liberate you from circumstances. No other human can give you the 80% of freedom that is inward. Only you can do that.

You Are Here to Create

By | Leadership, Life, Self-Worth | One Comment

We all start out as followers. Out of necessity for our survival and then for our identity, religious and political beliefs, career and to participate in society. Many of us stay in the role of follower — just with a different rank or slot on the hierarchy. Think a CEO is all powerful? Unless a CEO is the majority shareholder, even he/she is a follower.

I am more convinced than ever that being a follower was intended to be a temporary state of being. Books like “Iron John”“Wild at Heart” and “12 Rules for Life” emphasize the psychology and mythology behind the evolution of being; of the rites of passage of maturity.

Many a grown up hasn’t actually grown up. They are just aging followers — or as I say in my book “Human Bacon” about many Gen X and Boomer men, “they got old without every growing up”. I have some compassion for why this is. When you apply hard work with a clear role, you produce a lifestyle. This lifestyle is funded and sustained by being a good follower. Rocking the boat, speaking the truth, asking for what you want, etc are all a threat to the follower’s life. Thoreau said it more eloquently … “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.

Here’s the truth, however …

You are here to create.

The timing of moving from follower to creator is different for everyone. I have seen toddlers that are all about creation and have little interest in following. But I’ve also seen the transition from follower to creator happen with the elderly. The point is the same: there will come a time in life when you will be called to move from follower to creator. This calling could come in many forms. It could be a whisper in your soul. It could be a catastrophic event. It could be a spiritual awakening.

Most ignore this call. Repeatedly. And maybe it goes away and you remain a follower the rest of your life. Again, I have compassion for those that choose (and it is a choice) to ignore the calling. It’s terrifying. It often requires a massive change in how you do things. Answering the call to create can separate you from family. It can end marriages. It can end careers. Being called to create threatens everything your ego created around your identity, value and status.

If you choose to answer the call, know this: your way of creating will be unique and different from anyone else. All creative endeavors advance humanity and put a dent in the universe. But yours will be especially yours and no one else’s.

What you are here to create can be found at the convergence of three things:

  1. Your Mission. The thing you are here to do that only you can do.
  2. Your Beliefs. Not your adopted beliefs but the intrinsic beliefs that are part of your being.
  3. Your Talents. The combination of your natural gifts and learned skills.

Where these converge an artisan will be found. The artisan in you may not be recognized by others. But you recognize it. It was you as a young child. Before you became a full-time follower. When you lived by imagination. When you made art without fear of rejection. When you ran with the wind in your hair.

The (re)emergence and (re)acceptance of this artisan will bring with it fresh eyes. It will make your soul more nuanced. You will be sensitive about wasting time, shallow conversations, pretense, the trivial. You will see people differently — including even seeing their hidden artist that’s dormant and trapped beneath their follower persona. It will help you re-discover your inherent human super powers: choice, perspective, action, intuition, awareness — and creative energy.

When you embrace your becoming a creator, you will find that your creative purpose becomes an organizing principle in the chaos of the world. It will change your relationship with time and resources. It will become the most important and sacred part of being. And many of those that saw you as merely a follower will fall away. As will every aspect of the follower’s life you once led.

If you are still at the following stage, that’s ok. I encourage you to listen to the voice of your soul. It is never wrong.

If you are now a creator, what are you creating? I truly want to know.

What the Hell does “Let Go” Mean?

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Credit: Ronald Binge

You know if a phrase starts to appear on Instagram feeds, casual conversations and as coffee shop/Christian bookstore/strip mall yoga studio chotchkies, it’s become a cliche. Such is the the case with the now reduced-to-pablum phrase of “let go”. “Let go” has joined the ranks of “everything happens for a reason”, “YOLO!” and “follow your arrow”.

“Let go” is often well intended but poor advice (as most advice is) that encourages the recipient to suppress emotions and experiences — all in the name of “moving forward”. But you can’t let go of memories. Our brain doesn’t work that way. You can’t let go of feelings. Our heart doesn’t work that way.

Of course, I get the intention of “letting go”. We shouldn’t hold on to things. It’s part of being human. But “letting go” has also contributed to the mis-understood concept of non-attachment. Non-attachment is also humanly impossible. Like wearing wool socks through a sticker patch and not picking up stickers. We attach to people, ideas, things, beliefs, symbols. (The solution is aware attachment — but that’s a different post).

So what the hell does “let go” actually mean?

Let’s introduce a metaphor that will help explain a healthy, realistic type of letting go …

The physical world is made up of solids, gases and liquids. Metaphorically, universal truths are solids. Everything produced by the ego is gaseous. And feelings are fluid. In their liquid state, feelings follow the same laws of fluidity as in nature. When held on to, water becomes first still, then stagnant, then toxic. Feelings are the same way. They are meant to pass through; to flow. But we hold on to them (that whole attachment thing, again).

Let’s examine this further with common emotions and feelings …

When suppressed or contained:

  • Anger becomes resentment. And by my observations and internal wars, resentment is the most destructive of human emotions.
  • Desire becomes destruction which becomes shame or regret.
  • Hate becomes apathy which becomes violence.
  • Pride becomes loathing which becomes arrogance.
  • Envy, fueled by comparison, becomes greed.
  • Worry starts off as control and becomes anxiety.
  • Loneliness begets isolation which begets madness (and extremism).
  • Boredom produces numbness which then leads to the death of joy.

Even positive feelings are meant to pass on through …

  • Happiness trapped in a holding tank becomes lost expectations.
  • Reverence retained becomes idol worship (and when given a business model becomes a literal or figurative religion).
  • Gratefulness gathered becomes unworthiness.
  • And love (not Love, that’s different) can become obsession.

So a much more accurate use of “letting go” is this …

Feel it all.

But don’t hold on to the feeling.

Let go of the holding on to the feeling.

If it’s a negative feeling, it will pass. If it’s a positive feeling, another one will soon come.

5 Ways to Reduce Marketing Fails

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Marketing fails. In fact, it may fail more than any other part of your business. The reasons for failure are endless – starting with the increasingly relentless number of options and tools and highly fragmented, overly-stimulated audiences. Failure is often unavoidable. By its very nature, marketing is an experiment of both science and art. But many of marketing’s failures are completely avoidable if you are aware of these things:

  1. Have a great brand. As we frequently say at Root + River, a great brand solves a thousand business problems. One of the problems a great brand solves is withstanding marketing failure. A great brand allows you to experiment with a wide variety of marketing tactics to see which resonate and which don’t. A great brand reduces the pressure on marketing to produce some tangible (and often immediate) results.
  2. Razor-sharp messaging. A boring, uninspiring message turns pretty much any marketing tactic into a dull blade. To sharpen the message, speak to and from the heart. Don’t BS, manipulate, persuade, coerce. Just speak the truth directly and succinctly. And keep that blade sharp by frequently re-examining your messaging. Make sure this message can be communicated in any medium – especially off-line conversations.
  3. Remove tactical bias. Every marketer brings to the table a set of knowledge from past experiences and efforts. Some of those tools and tactics worked and, because marketing is about failure, many did not. Your brain remembers both the things that worked and didn’t work and applies that knowledge to current situations. Start from scratch. Look at each marketing scenario with a fresh set of eyes and ears. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Put word-of-mouth at the middle of your strategy. Word-of-mouth (WOM) is often viewed by marketers as an after-effect or a hopeful outcome. While that’s true, putting WOM at the center of your marketing strategy aligns all of the marketing tactics to serve the same goal. If you create delight in the customer experience, you increase the number of conversations. If you increase the number of conversations, you increase the number of leads. If you increase the number of leads, you can put your marketing resources into more long-term initiatives.
  5. Implement agile marketing principles. Just like in software development, agile principles allow you to move faster and smarter. This is one of the reasons why we don’t create year-long marketing plans for our clients. It’s a waste of energy and resources to make a series of assumptions about the marketplace. Instead, we focus on 90 day cycles and a rolling Top 5 of marketing initiatives. We also focus on role clarity – making sure everyone knows who is doing what. Of course, we also align the marketing tactics to expected outcomes/KPIs/metrics. But we build in failure knowing some stuff won’t work. That’s why we never take our eye of the brand (see #1 above).

My business partner and co-founder of Root + River, Emily Soccorsy frequently says, “marketing isn’t rocket science. It’s clarity of message delivered consistently over time.” There are thousands of things you can’t control in marketing. But Emily’s quote contains the three things you have absolute control over: clarity, consistency and patience. These three eliminate a bevy of “ifs” and “shoulds” and “hopefullys” from marketing efforts and properly set expectations for marketing’s performance. And if you are in internal marketing person, the methods presented here will help you hold fast against unreasonable expectations and outlandish assumptions.

 

10 Signs You Might be an Extremist

By | Life | No Comments

 

Extremism is the single biggest threat to liberty. As 10,000 years of history indicates, this is not a new concept. What is new are the types of extremism. Regardless of their source, extreme views and extreme behaviors rise from the dark parts of humanity to produce the Herods, the Hitlers, the Stalins, the Maos of the world.

Extremism exists in every society in a variety of ways. But for the sake of this post, I’m focusing on extremism in America. Extremism in the US can be loosely divided into two groups:

  • The Far Right- Primarily comprised of “religious right” evangelical groups and Republican loyalists. It also has its own fringe — the alt-right as an example.
  • The Far Left- Primarily comprised of the secular left and “social justice warriors”. They, too, have a fringe — Antifa, militant fill-in-the-label etc.

Although worthy of deeper examination, the purpose of this post is to explore the mindset of extremists. Put in very simple psychological terms, extremism appears to be a type of mental illness. When you consider such conditions as cognitive dissonance, group polarization, paranoia et al, the profile of mental illness emerges.

It’s been said that if you know you’re crazy, then you’re not actually crazy. In that spirit, here are 10 signs that you might be an extremist:

  1. You are disconnected from humanity. This starts with disconnection from your own sense of self and your own value. For if you are disconnected from your own humanity, then its quite impossible to be connected to the humanity of others. This is most manifested in isolation, joining closed groups and committing acts of violence.
  2. You live in a closed society. Closed societies are the stagnate ponds of humanity. They sit closed off from the rest of society and become corrupt. A closed society could be a family, a community, a religious sect, a political group. But they also exist in more large scale cultures such as academic institutions, corporations and non-profits. If everyone around you looks like you, talks like you and thinks like you, you are in a closed society.
  3. Your knowledge is static. When your knowledge set doesn’t grow or evolve, you become highly attached to the structure of what you already know. And new information and ideas are seen as a threat. Most common in academic models, religious dogma and ideology (which the very definition is that you think your ideas are more right than every one else’s). This is also why extremists have their own language separate from reason, logic or science.
  4. You are obsessed with image. Osama Bin Laden would watch hours of recorded news shows and rant to others about how he was portrayed. Despots erect giant shrines and statues to themselves. This also includes an obsession with appearance: dress codes, approved language (political correctness), unwritten rules of conduct amongst members of a group.
  5. You have no sense of humor. Or more accurately, you are part of a group that has an approved sense of humor. As such, there are only forced smiles and fake laughs.
  6. You’ve become what you hate. The Law of the Seed is quite evident in extremism- if you plant hate, you grow hate. Very much related to this is condemnation by comparison, shaming those that leave your group and behavior that is radically misaligned with what you say you believe.
  7. You are wildly inconsistent with your moral code. This is similar to #6 but is more related to the dissonance between assumed beliefs and actual behaviors. You especially see this in extremist religious groups — like the befuddling fawning endorsement of Trump by the evangelical right and Islamic terrorists’ prolific consumption of pornography.
  8. You’re reaaaaaaly in to conspiracy theories. It would be quite convenient to believe that your life sucks because some outside force is stacking the deck against you. You wouldn’t have to own your own life or your behavior. After all, you are a victim and victimhood is the easiest cult to get in to and the most difficult to get out of. This is quite common in the political arena. Remember Hillary Clinton’s “vast rightwing conspiracy” comment? Or the far right’s obsession with Obama’s birth certificate?
  9. You are incapable of seeing the merits of opposing ideas. Mark Twain once opined “The only cure for narrowness is travel”. That’s the thing about extreme ideas. They don’t stay that way if you get out and see the world and talk to people with a curious mind. That’s why most extremists stay in closed societies. It makes them feel safe and gives them a sense of belonging.
  10. You don’t know you are an extremist. Which means if you are reading this and you are outraged, offended or otherwise in a tizzy then … well, you know the Foxworthy bit.

Thoughts on Anxiety

By | Life, Self-Worth | No Comments

The title of this post is intentionally ironic. Considering that thinking is exactly what causes anxiety. None the less, this is an important topic because anxiety effects roughly 40 million Americans over 18.

I am one of them. I didn’t know what to call it until later in life, but I’ve dealt with anxiety as far back as I can remember. Varying from gripping panic to the constant hum of unease, anxiety has been a frequent visitor. I remember having panic attacks so severe that I would pass out. I’m certain that my anxiety comes from being born into a situation that constantly immersed me in hyper-threat alert mode.

So I don’t arrive at these thoughts on anxiety lightly and without experience. I have been my own lab, my own research project, my own source of empirical data. To be clear, these thoughts are what have been of help to me and those I coach and mentor. They may not work for you. I am not a therapist, psychologist or any other sort of mental health professional.

  • Anxiety is yours. You own it. And if you begin thinking it’s someone else’s responsibility to fix it, you become its slave.
  • No one or no thing actually causes anxiety. Anxiety is entirely an inside game; a construct of the mind/ego. As I overheard recently, “the ego believes all of its stories”.
  • Anxiety is trying to protect you. It comes from thousands (maybe millions) of years of evolutionary biology to protect, to survive. But it doesn’t mean something is actually wrong. True danger triggers several responses, but anxiety isn’t one of them.
  • You are not your anxiety. In Internal Family System (IFS) behavioral theory, anxiety is a “part” that your psyche created to protect your core self. As I mentioned above, this is why it is trying to protect you. I call this part of me “The Parameter Dog”. On occasion, it still barks at perceived threats — but mostly he just works (once understood, anxiety becomes a fairly decent motivator) or rests like any herding animal.
  • Anxiety’s only cure is action. You can’t think your way out of anxiety. That’s why when dealing with anxiety or apanic attack, you’ve got to move. This includes sitting/standing up straight with your shoulders back and your breath even. Or push ups. Or a punching bag. Just move.
  • Anxiety comes from the same part of the brain as addiction. So anxiety can fairly easily trigger addictive behavior — especially an addiction to coping mechanisms. This could be relatively benign coping mechanisms like NetFlix binging. Or highly destructive and corrosive mechanisms like drug abuse, excessive consumption of pornography, excessive shopping, excessive eating… to name just a few business models that rely on anxiety.
  • Anxiety is heavily influenced by our attachment style. This includes the spiritual aspects of attachment that were taught by Jesus and Buddha as well as the emerging psychological science of attachment. In essence, we have a pre-disposition to either anxious, avoidant or healthy attachment styles. Anxiety plays a major role in the lives of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this book.
  • Remember this mantra: Ownership > Anxiety. This loops back to my first thought I shared. You don’t choose anxiety but you do choose how you react to it. Own that you have anxiety. Own your current reaction to it. Own the action you want to take. Own the search for the root cause. Own how it effects how others interact with you.

If you deal with anxiety or love someone that does, I hope these thoughts are helpful. And if you have your own tips and hacks for anxiety, please share them in the comments.