Who knew that when the Royal Patent Office in London in 1698 issued a patent for “Raising Water by the Impellent Force of Fire” (the idea to which the title of this book refers) it would set in motion a chain of events whose impact was unprecedented in human history? The scope and depth of William Rosen’s narrative embrace a number of separate but interdependent disciplines that include law, natural science, economics, anthropology, history (i.e. of people, societies, events, and ideas), mathematics, physics, and politics. I cannot recall a non-fiction book I have read in recent years that I enjoyed more than this one. There are so many reasons. Where to begin?
Here are three. First, I greatly appreciate the scope and depth of his coverage not only of a subject (the development of steam-powered machines) but of an entire era prior to and throughout the Industrial Revolution. His narrative tells a riveting story, replete with a cast of memorable characters (e.g. Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, James Watt, Abraham Darby, Richard Arkwright, George Stephenson and son Robert, and John Allen and Charles Porter. If most/all of those names are unfamiliar, all the more reason to read this book.) Rosen’s story also as dramatic conflicts, plot developments on multiple levels and in multiple areas, and a brilliant analysis of an on-going process of industrial innovation in the 19th century, sustained failure-driven discovery.
I also appreciate Rosen masterful explanation of the interdependence of steam-powered machines with coal, iron, and cotton. Machines made of iron pumped water out of coal mines to produce the fuel the machines needed to transport it to steam-power ships so they could transport cotton that would finance the entire enterprise. There are passages in the narrative when key multi-disciplinary issues embrace history, economics, sociology, history, psychology, and commerce.
My third reason is personal: Prior to reading this book, I knew almost nothing about – nor had much (if any) interest in – most of the subjects that Rosen discusses with eloquent rigor. I had the same reaction when reading two of Steven Johnson’s books, The Ghost Map (2006) and The Invention of Air (2008). I am grateful to both Rosen and Johnson for writing books that are, for me, magic carpets that transport me back in time to experience (albeit vicariously) not only what would be otherwise be inaccessible but also, more to the point, to experience would otherwise be unknown to me.
Gerald McBoing Boing is one of my favorite cartoon characters. Presumaby he served as the inspiration to Mark Frauenfelder and Carla Sinclair to launch Boing Boing as a zine in 1988. (Issues were subtitled “The World’s Greatest Neurozine.”) It became a website in 1995 and was then relaunched as a weblog in 2000.
If you have not as yet checked out Boing Boing, you’re in for a treat. In fact, you can now have a special treat by checking out the most popular posts on Boing Boing this year.
Two by Cory Doctorow:
Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)
One by Maggie Koerth-Baker:
Frazil ice: Fascinating forest hazard (a 7-minute video)
Here is an an excerpt from an article written by Sandra Stahl that appeared in Advertising Age magazine (November 2, 2010). To read the complete article, please click here.
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About five years ago, Michael Markowitz, former chief brand officer at Panera Bread, approached us to help create meaningful intersections for the brand at key moments in its customers’ everyday lives. These “gentle collisions,” as he called them, some as simple as “Welcome Wagons” of Panera products to new residents in key communities, would be the centerpiece of the brand’s communications strategy together with local advertising and promotion for new and seasonal menu items. Unlike their competitors, there would be no national TV or print advertising. It proved to be a gamble that paid off.
Today, while the flickering signs of economic recovery are heartening and marketing budgets are starting to loosen up, it’s more important than ever for CMOs to look for alternate ways to connect with customers rather than return to pre-crisis form with mass brand awareness tactics with the “hard” ROIs they rely on. Recent surveys reveal cranky consumers who don’t trust advertising, and they don’t hesitate to show it by regularly posting snarky tweets about campaigns they dislike. Consumers say they don’t want to feel “marketed” to. Reading between the headlines, what consumers are saying is they don’t want brands to be only in their faces; if a brand wants their trust, their loyalty, and ultimately their dollar, it needs to also get into their lives.
Gentle collisions do just that. They extend a brand’s reach through personal interactions that strike an emotional chord, meet an everyday need, or deliver something useful in a way that connects in a deeply personal way. Gentle collisions ideally take place in some kind of live forum; they can also be executed in other ways, but should not be confused with “engagements” typically associated with social-media marketing efforts such as Facebook pages, Twitter feeds or online advertising. Gentle collisions complement advertising and other marketing tactics and contribute to brand sales without leaving the customer feeling like they’ve just been sold.
Like Panera’s Welcome Wagons, some of the most effective gentle collisions seem almost retro with a decidedly current twist. In health care, for example, free screenings or health-assessment events still have the power — if planned and executed more as teachable moments than primarily on a cost-per-lead basis — to bring a campaign message directly home to a consumer as well as humanize the sponsoring product and/or organization. This is a goal that a projected $26 billion in advertising — according to Schonfeld & Associates 2011 projections for pharma — hasn’t been able to accomplish.
UnitedHealth Group currently has a program to improve diabetes awareness and management and, in so doing, reduce costs related to the condition and its complications and garner positive visibility for UnitedHealth Group. The effort includes a partnership with the YMCA and retail pharmacies, beginning with Walgreens, and involves offering screenings and information sessions led by health professionals as well as support from neighborhood pharmacists. Awareness and participation is driven by local and national communications. The whole operation could be straight out of the 1980s with the exception of an advanced health plan swipe-card technology introduced by UnitedHealth Group that enables Walgreens and the YMCA to be paid — critically, for the first time — automatically through a paperless system. UnitedHealth Group says the program is successful against all metrics and has brought meaningful diabetes management into people’s homes and into their lives.
Pairing gentle collisions with print, online and network advertising can be a powerful one-two in-your-face/in-your-life punch. Take the new Quaker Oats “Does your breakfast make you amazing?” campaign. I love the tagline and the concept as much for their upbeat appeal as for the potential for everyday-life brand intersections. To complement the planned print, TV and Facebook efforts, what if Quaker sponsored breakfasts at those life milestones when their customers really need to be amazing, say, in grade schools before statewide tests, or in high schools before the PSAT, or for teams before the big game? Now extend this idea to struggling schools at test time. The publicity and lingering good feeling would more than likely carry over to supermarket purchasing decisions.
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Sandra Stahl has been in PR and marketing communications for 25 years working on both the global agency and corporate sides, including at Ruder Finn and CDx Laboratories. Since 2003, she has been a partner in jacobstahl, a marketing communications consultancy.
“Good PR educates people” & “the most precious resource we all have is time” – Steve Jobs, from 1985
Here are excerpts from an interview that Playboy Magazine conducted with Steve Jobs in 1985. (Remember, the Macintosh was introduced in 1984). These are from the Huffington Post: Steve Jobs’ 1985 Interview With PlayBoy: The Juiciest Quotes – thus, their choice quotes from the original interview…
JOBS: the most precious resource we all have is time. As it is, I pay a price by not having much of a personal life. [...] Occasionally, I spend a little money to save myself a hassle, which means time. And that’s the extent of it.
The challenges are to figure out how to live with it and to reinvest it back into the world, which means either giving it away or using it to express your concerns or values.
JOBS: Then there was the time Wozniak made something that looked and sounded like a bomb and took it to the school cafeteria. We also went into the blue-box business together.
PLAYBOY: Those were illegal devices that allowed free long-distance phone calls, weren’t they?
JOBS: Mm-hm. The famous story about the boxes is when Woz called the Vatican and told them he was Henry Kissinger. They had someone going to wake the Pope up in the middle of the night before they figured out it wasn’t really Kissinger.
PLAYBOY: Did you get into trouble for any of those things?
JOBS: Well, I was thrown out of school a few times
JOBS: We attract a different type of person—a person who doesn’t want to wait five or ten years to have someone take a giant risk on him or her. Someone who really wants to get in a little over his head and make a little dent in the universe. [...] Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future.
JOBS: We’ve never worried about numbers. In the market place, Apple is trying to focus the spotlight on products, because products really make a difference. [...] Ad campaigns are necessary for competition; IBM’s ads are everywhere. But good PR educates people; that’s all it is. You can’t con people in this business. The products speak for themselves.
JOBS: A computer is the most incredible tool we’ve ever seen. It can be a writing tool, a communications center, a supercalculator, a planner, a filer and an artistic instrument all in one, just by being given new instructions, or software, to work from. There are no other tools that have the power and versatility of a computer. We have no idea how far it’s going to go.
Maybe the best business lesson in these quotes: good PR educates people; that’s all it is. You can’t con people in this business. The products speak for themselves.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Stefan Stern for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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A Rolls-Royce engine blows up, and … silence — for four days. The great British engineering company took its time to find out what had happened to the Trent 900 engine mounted on the wing of a Qantas A380 superjumbo, which had to make an emergency landing in Singapore a few days ago. The company preferred to offer facts rather than speculation. Its brief statement on Monday, declaring that progress was being made in the investigation, calmed investors, initially. By Friday it had identified the faulty component. So not too much harm done. Probably. Rolls-Royce is still a trusted name. But most businesses cannot be so confident that their brands are equally bullet-proof. As if to remind us of this, the presidential commission into the Macondo well disaster is causing BP, Transocean, and Halliburton further reputational damage.
Trust is hard won and easily lost.
Lack of trust makes business life more complicated, pushing up the cost of transactions, and making it harder to win and retain customers. All over the world, as the Edelman trust barometer has shown, trust has been in trouble for years.
“There is this huge stuff about trust,” wrote Alastair Campbell, former director of strategy and communications for the British prime minister Tony Blair, in his diary at the height of the controversy over missing Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in July 2003. How our leaders behave, in politics and business, shapes public opinion and can boost or undermine levels of trust in society at large.
Britain’s new coalition government, elected in May, was greeted initially as a welcome new broom, offering trustworthy new faces to replace its predecessors. But as The New York Times has reported in minute detail, a cloud already hangs over it, and in particular over the figure of Andy Coulson, the new director of communications at the heart of government.
Questions continue to be asked over Mr Coulson’s behaviour when, in a former life, he was editor of the News of the World. In April 2005, when it was named newspaper of the year,
Mr Coulson was happy to boast about how carefully he operated as editor.
“We talk about our stories in great detail prior to publication,” he told the UK Press Gazette.
Journalists who had worked at the NotW and then returned “were surprised by the degree of discussion and analysis that goes on before we decide to publish a story,” he said.
But in front of a parliamentary select committee in July 2009, Mr Coulson denied knowing anything about the allegedly widespread phone-hacking (described at length by The New York Times) that was going on at his newspaper. This episode has done nothing to improve levels of trust in the British media or British society more widely.
Business leaders should be concerned about declining levels of trust in what they do. Talented employees will leave untrustworthy organizations. Suppliers may not do business with untrustworthy counterparties. Well-informed consumers will reject untrustworthy products.
No one should take trust for granted. Mark Thompson, director general (CEO) of the BBC, one of the world’s most trusted media organisations, put it well in a speech over two years ago.
“Trust in a given institution may be based on a great tradition and great inherited values, but it depends on what you do today,” he said. “It has to be earned and earned again. And the higher the trust, the higher the public expectation.”
Speaking on the BBC in 2002, the philosopher Onora O’Neill identified the source of mistrust in society and within organizations generally: “Deception is the real enemy of trust,” she said. “Deception is not just a matter of getting things wrong. Deceivers. . . mislead intentionally, and it is because their falsehood is deliberate… that it damages trust and future relationships.”
It is time for some straight talk in the battle to rebuild trust.
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Stefan Stern is the director of strategy in the U.K. for Edelman and was the management columnist for the Financial Times for four years prior to that. He is a visiting professor at Cass Business School in London.