Jan 262010

Context is King

Context is King

A small post with a good point.  I noticed in The Economist this week something that struck me.  They posted a correction to a prior article.  Publications do that all the time, but this particular correction was placed on a page in the same section of the magazine in which the error appeared a couple weeks before.  Most print publications tend to bury their corrections in the front or the back where they never get seen.  But this one was right in the middle of the magazine, saying “we made a mistake – right here.”  Noteworthy to me for its show of transparency, always appreciated but not seen frequently enough in “official” things.

Filed under: Business, Current Affairs


Jan 252010

Book Short: Not About Going With The…

Book Short: Not About Going With The…

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (book, Kindle), was a great read and a nice change from either strictly business books or my regular fiction/non-fiction reading. It’s basically about the process of achieving happiness through control over one’s inner life, but it’s far from a self-help book. It’s almost more of practical psychology deep dive into what brings about happiness and peak performance – a state the author calls Flow but others have called other things over time, like being “in the zone.”

The author talks about achieving this control as synonymous with the enviable ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks and transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of personality. This ability comes directly from ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. The normal entropy/chaos of the mind is the enemy. There were a few key moments or takeaways in the book for me.

1. When one’s experience is most positive – when one is achieving Flow – people cite the following conditions in this order of importance:

- Confront tasks we have a chance of completing

- Able to concentrate

- Concentration is possible because the task has clear goals and…

- …provides immediate feedback

- Act with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life

- Exercise a sense of control over actions

- Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the experience is over

2. Becoming more Autotelic – learning how to make experiences ends in and of themselves – coming from the Greek words for “self” and “goal,” this concept is savoring a given activity for its own sake, NOT for its consequences and is a key to achieving Flow. Whether you create a mental construct around beating a personal record, doing math or pattern matching in your head, or something else, being able to focus enough energy on the task at hand and not be distracted by the world around (present or future) is key. It’s a little like what I wrote a few months ago about how achieving mental discipline in the small areas of one’s life can lead to much greater things by building confidence and clearing mental clutter.

3. The concept of the “Flow channel” – as skill increases, challenges must also increase proportionally in order for us to continue learning, growing, and excelling – and achieving Flow.

4. Transformational coping is the ability to cheat chaos – transforming a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled and enjoyed and emerge stronger from…

- Unselfconscious self-assurance – ego absent but confident, not at odds with environment but part of it

- Focusing attention on the world – looking outward, not inward

- The discovery of new solutions – being able to perceive unexpected opportunities as a result

5. How to develop the autotelic self

- Set clear goals

- Become immersed in the activity

- Pay attention to what’s happening

- Learn to enjoy immediate experience

The book reminded me of a couple other things I’ve read, in case any of these resonate with you. First, Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game” books where he talks about “relaxed concentration,” basically the Flow state, and the inner conflict between focus on the event and focus on the consequences, between mental chaos and mental discipline, personified as Self 1 and Self 2. If you haven’t read these, any are good and give you the general idea, depending on which piques your interest the most: The Inner Game of Golf (book, Kindle), The Inner Game of Tennis (book only), and The Inner Game of Work (book, Kindle). Second, David Allen’s Getting Things Done theory about how a clear, uncluttered mind can do its best work. As Flow says, achieving an ordered mental condition is difficult – unless a person knows how to give order to his or her thoughts, attention will be attracted to whatever is most problematic at the moment.

I’m not sure this book short does the book justice. It’s pretty complex and is rich with examples, but Flow (book, Kindle) is well worth a read if you’re into the theory of self control leading to better results and more happiness in life. Thanks to my friend Jonathan Shapiro for this book.

Filed under: Books, Business

Jan 202010

The Beginning of the DMA’s Next Chapter

The Beginning of the DMA’s Next Chapter


As I wrote a few months back, I recently joined the DMA’s Board of Directors and its Executive Committee to try to help the association – one of the largest and highest profile groups representing marketers – advance its agenda in a few specific ways.  At the time, I noted that my interests would be on consumer advocacy and engagement, execution around interactive marketing issues and the internet community, and transparency around the organization itself.


Yesterday, John Greco, the association’s CEO, announced he is stepping down to make way for the next generation of leadership.  John has done some great work the past five years running the DMA and has advanced it materially from where the association was when he took over in terms of interactive marketing, but he recognized (the hallmark of a good leader) that it was time for a change.


There are all sorts of questions people have about this announcement, and I’ve already gotten a number of calls and emails from people trying to read between the lines and get some inside scoop.  Some of the questions have answers – others don’t at this stage or can’t given confidentiality agreements. 


That said, as a new Board member helping the DMA build some bridges to the interactive marketing community, I thought I would share a few perspectives on this situation:


-          There is not a final search committee yet, nor are there final search criteria.  That said, there is a strong commitment to find a leader for the DMA who is not only capable of running a broad-based $30mm+ trade association and running a world class advocacy operating in Washington, but who also has deep roots in the Internet

-          There are many, many initiatives in the works – some of which have been underway for quite some time now – for the DMA to evolve as an association to more effectively execute its mission in the interactive marketing arena.  These will start to unfold relatively quickly

-          The DMA’s Board and Executive Committee are fantastic groups with very progressive, committed volunteers who understand the things that need to happen.  “Reform,” which probably isn’t quite the right word anyway, isn’t being pushed on the association – it is coming from within

-          The DMA is committed in its search process, and in its new “operating system” going forward, to embrace not just its membership but the broader interactive and direct marketing community as it evolves its strategy, broadens its mission, and looks for a new leader


So the bottom line is – this announcement of one change is the first of many.  Stay tuned, and look for much more open and transparent communication from the DMA, including a lot more community-oriented dialog as opposed to just one-way statements, than you’ve ever seen before in the coming weeks and months.

Filed under: Business, Email, Marketing

Jan 142010

Jump Starting Start Ups



As I mentioned in some recent posts, I’ve really enjoyed sharing the Return Path story with the tech start-up community in New York through groups like the NYC Lean Startup Meetup .  


Next week I’m taking the Return Path story on the road to Silicon Valley where I’ll be presenting to Startup2Startup.  Startup2Startup is a group of Silicon Valley geeks, entrepreneurs, and investors dedicated to educating and helping the next generation of Internet startups. They meet monthly over dinner to discuss relevant topics in technology and entrepreneurship, connect with new people and companies, and share our knowledge and experience.


You’ll not only get to hear about Return Path’s 10 years in business but I’ll also be sharing some best practices to diagnose and resolve email deliverability problems.

Interested? Request an invitation here.

Stay tuned for more on this post-event.

Jan 052010

What Gets Said vs. What Gets Heard

What Gets Said vs. What Gets Heard

I’ve been on the edge of a few different situations lately at work where what seems like a very clear (even by objective standards) conversation ends up with two very different understandings down the road.  This is the problem I’d characterize as “What gets said isn’t necessarily what gets heard.”  More often than not, this is around delivering bad news, but there are other use cases as well.  Imagine these three fictitious examples:

  • Edward was surprised he got fired, even though his manager said he gave him repeated warnings and performance feedback
  • Jacob thought his assignment was to write a proposal and get it out the door before a deadline, but his manager thought the assignment was to schedule a brainstorming meeting with all internal stakeholders to get everyone on the same page before finalizing the proposal
  • Bella gets an interim promotion – she still needs to prove herself for 90 days in the new job before the promotion is permanent and there is a comp adjustment – then gets upset when the “email to all” mentions that she is “acting”

Why does this happen?  There are probably two main causes, each with a solution or two.  The first is that What Gets Said isn’t 100% crystal clear.  Delivering difficult news is hard and not for the squeamish.  What can be done about it?  The first problem — the crystal clear one — can be fixed by brute force.  If you are giving someone their last warning before firing him, don’t mumble something about “not great performance” and “consequences.”  Look him in the eye and say “If you do not do x, y, and z in the next 30 days, you will be fired.” 

The second cause is that, even if the conversation is objectively clear, the person on the receiving end of the conversation may WANT to hear something else or believes something else, so that’s what “sticks” out of the conversation.  Solving this problem is more challenging.  Approaching it with a lengthy conversation process like the Action Design model or the Difficult Conversations model is one way; but we don’t always have the time to prepare for or engage in that level of conversation, and it’s not always appropriate.  I’d offer two shortcut tips to get around this issue.  First, ask the person to whom you’re speaking to “play back in your own words what you just heard.”  See it she gets it right.  Second, send a very clear follow-up email after the conversation recapping it and asking for email confirmation.

People are only human (for the most part, in my experience), and even when delivering good news or assignments, sometimes things get lost in translation.  But clarity of message, boldness of approach, and forcing playback and confirmation are a few ways to close the gap between What Gets Said and What Gets Heard.