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Protected: HOW CORONAVIRUS HIJACKS YOUR BRAIN’S LIMBIC SYSTEM

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Header image via wikicommons. Do you doomscroll frequently? Read to the end; I promise you’ll leave the page with at least one tool to help make you a calmer person during this global crisis and the election. You’re stressed about the coronavirus or the election. You jump online and start scanning headlines on your favorite news website or social media. With each headline, you’re feeling more stressed, not less. What is going on? This article will tell you. If you clicked through to this article, you’ve proven the central thesis of the article—scary headlines hijack your executive reasoning. THE HIJACK It is objectively false that most of the information you’re consuming during this crisis will help you deal effectively with the crisis. In fact, most of it is making you less able to deal with it. News organizations (and bloggers) grab your attention by deliberately hijacking your brain’s limbic system. Writers and editors are in an hourly arms race to see who can most quickly heighten the arousal of fear in the brains of their readers and TV watchers. It’s actually quite easy to bypass the executive part of the brain that is responsible for judgment and directly activate the emotional limbic system (also known as the paleo-mammalian cortex) without your awareness or consent. The simplest way to do this is to arouse FEAR (even putting that word in all-caps can arouse the limbic system of sensitive people). The human brain evolved to pay more attention to threats than to signals of safety. Paying attention to that which scares you will keep you alive. (Scandal and sex work really well to grab your attention too but that’s a different post.) “Yeah but this crisis is real!” Of course it is. But if you can’t be discerning about the information you consume, you’re putting your health and that of people you love at risk. There is a way to be more discerning and I’m going to share that later. ALL HEADLINES ARE CLICKBAIT I can hear you now: “I ignore clickbait headlines.” Umm, no you don’t, and I can prove it—you just clicked the headline of this article. Even I have a hard time ignoring hair-on-fire headlines, and I know how they work. All headlines are clickbait because they have to be. Your attention span is measurably shorter than it was before the advent of the web and the competition for your attention is savage, even on a single page. A check of one digital newspaper’s front page today revealed one hundred headlines. News is a business and the business is selling advertising. Informing the public is not a metric for determining how well ads perform—eyeballs are. By arousing your limbic system with fear and anxiety (or with a promise of reassurance about an issue that already has you aroused), writers and editors know you’ll feel compelled to click. The amount of noise that must be overcome to be the one that gets clicked is overwhelming. The headline that most arouses your fear usually wins. Great journalism performs a vital service in a healthy democracy. But today, Job-One is revenue. Journalists are not in a conspiracy to deceive you. It’s just that they want your constant attention so they can stay in business and attention is in very short supply....

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Maloca Thoughts

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Ceremonial Maloka, Nimea Kaya, Peru Maloca Thoughts This is my gift to you all. I hope it’s enough. If it’s not or if it doesn’t resonate, then my gift to you is the vulnerability expressed in the giving. As we leave, let us not long for the protective, warm embrace of Nimea Kaya. Let us not seek only harbors. Instead, let’s carry the following. Let the sounds and feel and smells of the jungle seep into you. Don’t grasp at them or try to hold them fast. Open yourself to them and let go of remembering. In the days ahead, let your tears be agua de florida being gently streaked down your cheek by the shaman. Let your ears hear icaros in a birdsong, in the creaking of a floor beneath your feet, even in the whisper of a passing car. Let your pain remind you that the work is ongoing but that you already initiated it with intention and courage. Remind yourself frequently of the astonishing improbability of the fact that, between the infinity behind us and the infinity ahead, we are conscious in this singular moment. Remember to breathe. In the incomprehensibly vast history of the universe, there has never been a night exactly like last night in ceremony—and there will never be another. But we lived that one. We lived it. Our living it and our sitting this circle together today is our collective song to the universe—our...

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Making the Web More Webular

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Making the Web More Webular

Meine Freunde, the web is a big sinkhole of the horrible (must be spoken with French accent, especially the German part). This is not news to you but we’ve become rather inured to it all. There is a solution for bad websites. It’s to make them more webular. Webularity is the quality of design and writing that characterizes those websites that help users answer questions and solve problems. In other words, your website’s value to your customer. There are many ways to create this value but it always start with the audience. This is hard, I know. It’s one of those things that few of us like to think about. It’s like trying to figure out the opposite sex, or even the same sex if you’re trying to have a relationship. But the reward is commensurate with the effort put in to understand them. Understanding an audience can begin with thinking about why you started your company or why your employer exists. It’s always about solving a problem. They don’t have to be this obscure: Let’s examine what problem solving is all about. Think about your own behavior on the web. When you do a search, you’re essentially looking for information or a product to solve a problem. Even when you’re looking for something funny to Tweet, you’re in a problem-solving mood. You’re goal-oriented. The same is true with anyone coming to your website. Problem solving When you conduct a search, you follow pretty predictable behavior, even if you’re a pretty unpredictable person. Google and Bing know this quite well. It’s not just the search algorithm looking for patterns. It’s search algorithms based on billions and billions of tracked behaviors and an understanding of how people conduct searches. In my book, I tell writers over and over to observe their own web behavior and buying behavior. Doing this will tell you a lot about human nature and will give you clues to how your commercial audience behaves. There are so many ways to search for something using words in a browser window. Let’s search for information about a vacation to India. travel to india traveling to india travel india travelling to india traveling india travel to india from usa immunizations for travel to india travel agents to india cdc travel india travel to india shots travel to india visa vaccines for travel to india cheap travel to india travel visa india travel agent india travels to india travel agency india That is just a small sample of things a potential visitor to India might type into Google or Bing. If you examine them closely, you see different intentions. Someone searching the CDC website for disease information has a very different intention than someone searching for a visa. Those two people are likely in different places in the buying process (or conversion funnel). The person searching CDC warnings may not even be sure about going to India while the person looking for a visa is already packing their bags. This is something we all need to examine when thinking about our customers. Benefits and differentiators Here’s another example. I recently went looking for a better social media aggregator. I use three services: Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. I use them all for different reasons but I get tired of flipping back...

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Putting Books in Your Head

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Putting Books in Your Head

I know this might hurt your sensibilities, and I’m really sorry for that, but let’s say it out loud…there is nothing precious about paper books. It doesn’t matter what form a book is in before you put it into your head. What happens as it goes into your head is what matters. It’s just gross to romanticize paper books. Millions of trees are slaughtered, habitat destroyed, and dead dinosaurs spilled (ink). They take up a lot of room and they eventually fall apart. Saying you can’t make the move to e-books because you “…love the look and smell of a ‘real’ book in my hands” is like Guttenberg saying, “I love unrolling a scroll, and the crinkle and smell of papyrus. To hell with this press idea. It will ruin books as we know them.” Real books are in your head The reality of your relationship with a book is what happens in your head. Most of the time, if the writing is compelling, you don’t notice the way the content is delivered. The only way you notice the form is when your hand cramps and you have to switch to the other hand (unless the book is too big for one hand). I’ve been a convert to electronic print for over a year now. I used to be one of you. I said all the same things I hear over and over now from friends and family about their unwillingness to give up paper books. “I love the look of real books. I love how they smell and how they feel in my hand.” Now I hate paper books. They’re heavy. They cramp my hands and arms. I’m loathe to mark them up with a highlighter or pencil. I can’t search inside them quickly. I can’t take 20 paper books on holiday. I never thought it would come to this. Books have been a huge part of my life since I was able to read. Before then, I mostly used them to reach my brother’s toys so I could break them. I still own over 300 paper books that look nice on the shelves but rarely get opened. E-books are real books. Books happen in your head. You read a novel differently than your neighbor does. (But that doesn’t really count because your neighbor only reads pictures on the Interwebs. I looked through his window one night.) Great authors rely on your imagination, which currently resides mostly in your head, to fill in details about plot, story, and character that would be ridiculous for them to write for the same reason that we hate exposition in movies. It’s unnecessary. Write the story well and the viewer fills in the details for themselves. With a book, that is truly a huge part of the thrill of reading. What happens in your head. Not on the page. Again, how it’s delivered to your head is irrelevant. Why hasn’t Big Publishing embraced this yet? It’s about profit margins The cost of a hard bound book has little to do with its value and lots to do with the publisher’s profit margin. The resistance on the part of publishers to moving to e-books has to do with margins, not the cost or  effort it takes to produce a book. In the 1930s, the introduction of...

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25 Things Over Which to Despair About Your Lack of Influence

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25 Things Over Which to Despair About Your Lack of Influence

Business bloggers, why do you hate America? I know you have deadlines and a paycheck to justify but you’re creating fear in the damaged psyches of the easily influenced. A better solution for your readers is right here and nearly any writer can achieve the goal. Forbes has an article about 25 Things Influential People Do Better Than Anyone Else. This kind of article hurts the Interwebs and also my head as a writer and thinker. (I don’t necessarily do both of those at the same time. It’s hard. Like the Maths.) It’s one of those “list posts” that web writers have learned to conjure up when they can’t think of anything else to write. I shouldn’t slam lists, I use them myself and even recommend them in my book. But they’ve become a kind of “go to” post that often doesn’t do anything to help the reader. They’re just there to take up bandwidth and the world is rapidly running out of bandwidth. We are heading toward a global bandwidth crisis! If I had any influence, this paragraph would scare the shit out of you. List posts are…listful The best thing about “list posts” is that the headlines offer the reader the promise of easy consumption of the content. You know the article is offering steps that are easily scanned and might be capable of implementation. Although a list of 25 or a 101 of anything is generally more than the twitchy Internet audience wants to read. Seriously, if you can sit through reading a list of 101 of anything, you are desperate, my friend, to find SOMETHING to make your life better. Anyone offering you a list of 101 things is really reaching, really stretching their ability to…list things. There is unlikely to be much there that will change your life or your level of influence (or the specific gravity of nickel, which as we all know would benefit almost no one. I have no idea what that means but I like how it sounds on the page). You need to re-prioritize your methods of gathering useful information. In fact, Forbes’ list of 25 doesn’t really fulfill its promise. It provides few usable examples for each of the 25 characteristics of influential people. But it probably does achieve the goal of getting clicks because the target demo for the article is…people who don’t have influence but crave a portion of it scooped up like non-fat ice cream and delivered to them for free. That’s not how actual influence works. Real influence arises from having something useful to offer a specific audience. People like to say that someone like Guy Kawasaki is an influencer but how much influence does he have in the sport of tennis? Kittens, however, are way influential on The Webs. Scaring your eyeballs Note that the subhead above refers to your eyeballs being scared, not scarred. Important distinction. Although sometimes my eyes do feel scarred after reading some of the headlines on The Webs. The headline of the aforementioned Forbes article is designed to get you to read by scaring you into believing you’re missing out on some great Interweb secret about how to gain influence. No. Not so much. Do you really believe that anyone has the secret to such a thing? There are only...

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Why Negative Reviews Are a Goldmine

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Why Negative Reviews Are a Goldmine

Oh No! You look on Yelp and your business just got a lousy review and two stars. Welcome to the age of consumer-generated content. This is not going away and that’s a great thing! As long as I’ve worked with businesses in the digital age, I’ve heard owners and managers speak with horror at the prospect of bad reviews. Some business owners even refuse to create social media pages, Google Plus pages, or Yelp listings because they’re terrified of their customers writing and reading negative reviews.   Why I love bad reviews Every bad review is a great opportunity to engage your customers and to turn a bad experience into a happy return customer. It’s actually really easy to do. The review sites generally provide a way to respond to negative reviews and this is a powerful way to engage online customers and prospects. But you must do it without any rancor or defensiveness. Consider the fact that even if the person writing the review has poor social and writing skills, their experience with your business was not happy. They may not express that in a way that is very nice, but you don’t have to get yer back up about it. It’s NOT PERSONAL. Your identity may be all wrapped up in your business but they don’t think about that. They just had a bad experience and they want to tell the world. Take a deep breath, tell yourself you’re going to get them back, and follow these simple steps. 3 steps to getting an unhappy customer back They don’t have to be gone for good. You, as a business owner or operator, can get them back. Here’s how: Publicly acknowledge their bad experience without defensiveness. Assure them their business is important to you. Offer to make it right. Here’s an example: John and Susan, I’m truly sorry that you had a bad experience at our restaurant last Friday. Once in a while, despite our best efforts, we stumble. It’s not fair to you that we stumbled on your filet mignon. Let me make it up to you because I want your business for a long time. Please call at your convenience and ask for me personally. We’ll set this right. Doesn’t that seem so human and approachable? Even if John and Susan don’t come back, everyone else reading that bad review sees your response. If John and Susan do come back, I guarantee they’re going to write another review that is stellar. This accomplishes two things. It can turn that disgruntled customer into a truly loyal customer and it can impress future review readers with your professionalism. People who read and write reviews of consumer experiences care enough to make their opinion known. They deserve your attention because they are helping you improve your business. Granted, the reviewer may just be an asshole. But if that’s the case, chances are most of your reviews are better. NOTE: If the reviewer is an asshole, just report them to the Internet Asshole Police. I think they’re listed on the NSA website. Think about your own behavior on the web. If you look at a review of a restaurant and there is a negative review with no response from the business owner, what is your impression? I don’t wanna do...

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Guest Post Motorcycle Infographic

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Guest Post Motorcycle Infographic

“Motorcyclist’s Guide to the Best American Ride” infographic brought to you by BikeBandit.

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Applying for Jobs on Beer

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Applying for Jobs on Beer

I applied for a job last night with the following text in an email. The job was offered by Six Foot Chipmunk to do community organizing for the film Inequality for All. Hi Steph, I am so close to being your perfect candidate for this position, except that I don’t really want it. Wait. That may be the wrong way to start this email. Let me start over. Hi Steph, I’m so close to being the perfect candidate for this position. Since I am an overachiever in three of the six Minimum Qualifications and I’m a huge fan of Robert Reich, I have an even better idea to offer you. I would be so willing to help you with your digital presence online for this effort. If you look at my ABOUT page and my Resume, you’ll see I’m way over-qualified to accomplish this and even more. In fact, believe it or not (and it will be even more difficult to believe while reading this email) I get paid a ridiculous amount of money as a writer. This is due to some weird crack in the cosmic order, I’m sure, but nevertheless, it behooves me to exploit that sh*t until I retire, which may be a very long time according to Professor Reich. If you’ve gotten this far without hitting Delete, I can only add that I’m sincerely interested in helping get the word out about the film and would work for minimum wage to do it. Not the real minimum wage, because no one can live on that. I mean the wage that you offered in the job listing. Only for writing instead of community organizing, which, as you by now realize, would be a disaster to have me doing. If this sounds at all fun to you and didn’t give you a headache, I look forward to hearing from you. Most sincerely, Brian It’s true that I really don’t want the job they were offering because I’m now the World’s First Certified Me-Lancer. But I’d had a couple of beers and at the time it seemed like a really good idea to just ask for the job I wanted. And I figured that a company named Six Foot Chipmunk would understand and not judge. Here was Steph’s reply: Brian, Thanks for the early morning chuckle. Alas, we only have the funds to hire community organizers. I hope you’ll turn out a huge group for our opening night in Seattle on 9/27! I think we’ll be at the Harvard Exit. Cheers, Steph...

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Why I’m Spending My Retirement NestEgg

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Why I’m Spending My Retirement NestEgg

What the hell, WordPress?…oh…I was about to curse WordPress, which actually I did already. I thought it was balking on adding “Random Shit” as a category for blog posts. I’m offended that WordPress would even consider doing this but apparently it was spinning CPU cycles because it took perhaps five or ten seconds to add the category. But I digress and I haven’t even progressed far enough to justify a digression. Except maybe now. I’ve decided I’m going to call talk to my money dude about getting some of my retirement savings. I’m not old enough to retire but that money is not really helping me right now. I mostly want to get it now because I want to take on less freelance work so I can take on more me-lance work. In other words writing my own books. NOTE TO THE WEBS (my affectionate nickname for the Web): I hereby claim ME-LANCE™ a certified original word invented by me on this day, in the year of our Lord, August 30, 2013 at the site of the landing of the Her Majesty’s ship, Cliteracy, witnessed by the noble savages found upon these shores (which live entirely in my head in a post-racial America that could only exist in someone’s head). I am, ever yours, the first ME-LANCER™ in the history of history, and ever more shall be, Kingdom until end, amen. (As a side note, Amen was an Egyptian deity, known as the “hidden one” or the king of the gods.) I’ve got one nearly complete and it’s a doozy (Book! Keep up, will you?). The world will be shocked and empires will collapse. But not if they follow the 16 rules in my new book. The Dalai Lama has already promised to canonize me, which he can’t even do that shit but, for me, oh yeah. So I got that going for me. Speaking of books, I read THE FUNNIEST BOOK IN THE HISTORY OF THE PRINTING PRESS this week. It’s the only book I can ever remember making me laugh uncontrollably out loud in public places. I have a high bar for humor. I have a high bar for chinups too and they both make me stronger. The book is this one: If you don’t read Jenny Lawson’s blog, The Bloggess, drop what you’re doing right now and go read it! And then click the link above and buy her damn book, Let’s Just Pretend This Never Happened. I’m not arguing with you about this. You can thank me later while you’re chortling over your iced grande latte with light ice and two Splenda. Sort of sad non-sequitur Really, WordPress? You want to change my misspelling of sequitur to requital (meaning “retribution.” For what is said retribution being laid upon me?)? And you still think sequitur is not a word? Do you know that WordPress does not have “WordPress” in the WordPress dictionary? My father had a stroke two weeks ago and he’s never been quite the same. He was pretty fragile before and, of course, with strokes, you never know what deficits are temporary and which ones are permanent. For a very old guy, he came through it fairly intact, being about as unable to walk by himself as he was before the stroke. But he’s clearly...

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Marketing to the Masses

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Marketing to the Masses

I’m always astonished to talk to business owners who really don’t know who they’re selling to. You know a business is off track when, in response to a question about who their customers are, they respond, “Pretty much everyone.” If you think your customer base is everyone, you’re unlikely to reach anyone in numbers that matter. Likewise, if you sell a product with tons of features and benefits but don’t segment your audience into interest groups, your marketing will be off target. Let’s say you’re running an airline and you haven’t segmented your audience to the point where you can see that the bulk of your revenue comes from weekday business travelers (I don’t even have an airline and I know this much, and don’t call me Shirley). If you proceed to spend lots of marketing efforts on promoting your great weekend fares, your main meal ticket is not going to be interested. They’ll look to someone else to fill their need who speaks their language and differentiates their offering based on something that matters to the business traveler. I was in a meeting today with a vendor to a large company. They were trying to describe a project they’re bidding on for Large Company but it was clear that Large Company was entirely unclear as to who their target audience really is. The deliverable is a set of documents for Large Company’s sales team. After listening and asking some questions, I said that for me to be able to help them, I needed to know a few things. Who is the intended audience? Who is the competitor for this product suite? What differentiates this product from the competitor? I’m not saying that these questions are easy to answer. But they’re the point from which the discussion must begin. In this case, it turns out there are multiple audiences. You can’t pitch the benefits of a highly-technical feature to the C-Suite occupants that may be the right benefit to pitch to the person operating the system once it’s installed. You have to know who the audience is. Since this product, like airline flights, is something that is not unique, there has to be something that differentiates it from competitors or else why would anyone care? It either has to differentiate on price or benefits; there is nothing else. I remember asking a web design company owner who their company’s competition was. He answered, “Really, no one.” Think about this. Every time someone does a search for “web design companies,” there are nine other competitors on the search-results page before the searcher ever sees a logo or a page design. If you don’t know who your competitors are, you probably don’t really know what you offer. And you simply can’t differentiate in a way that matters to your potential customers unless you know what the competition is offering. All this to say that when it comes to writing about your business or creating messaging of any kind, the old aphorism applies: Know...

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