First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

John Ferling: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

Ferling1Throughout his long career, historian John Ferling has specialized in the American Revolution. He taught numerous courses on the Revolution, America’s Founders, and U. S. military history. He is the author of thirteen books, the latest of which is Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It (2015). His other books include biographies of Washington and John Adams, and a history of the Revolutionary War, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (2007). Here is a portion of the brief autobiographical statement that appears on his website.

* * *

My parents were from the same small town in West Virginia. My mom graduated from West Liberty State College and taught elementary school for several years. My dad briefly attended the same college, but dropped out during the Great Depression. He eventually found work with Union Carbide and continued to work for the company for 40 years.

I was their only child and when I was one year old my father was transferred to Texas City, Texas, and that is where I grew up. I graduated from Sam Houston State University with a BA degree in history in 1961. Later, I received an MA from Baylor University and a Ph.D. from West Virginia University.

Early on I taught in Texas, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, but I spent most of my career at the University of West Georgia in suburban Atlanta. I retired from teaching after a forty-year career.

I was always interested in writing. As a kid, I devoured the sports section of the Houston Post, as much interested in the writing as in the scores. In college, I discovered good books written by good historians and decided that I wanted to become a historian and to write history.

I still love sports, however, especially baseball, and I have been a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My wife, Carol, and I live in metropolitan Atlanta.

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Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of John.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing your latest book, Whirlwind, and other works, here are a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Ferling: My parents. My mom was a teacher who understood the value of education, while my dad taught me the value of hard work, diligence, and listening to my teachers.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Ferling: I came out of graduate school well prepared for a career as a professional historian. West Virginia University had a small graduate program in the 1960s, but it was excellent for my needs. The faculty took its teaching responsibilities seriously and made time for the students, but they were historians as well and all were actively engaged in research. Three professors had a profound impact on me. Kurt Rosenbaum, who was a German and European diplomatic historian, provided crucial guidance in my development as a critical thinker. William Barnes, an American historian and economic determinist, helped to shape my outlook. My mentor, Elizabeth Cometti, who specialized in early America, was important in my development as a researcher and writer.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Ferling: I started college with an interest in history, but found my courses to be so boring that I decided not to pursue it. Fortunately, in the last required course that I had to take, a Western Civilization class during my sophomore year, I took Dr. William Painter. He didn’t lecture. Instead, he had us read assigned books, which we discussed in class. I found it to be an electrifying experience, one that for me opened an entirely new way of thinking about and studying history. By the end of that semester I knew that I wanted to teach history in college and to write history.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Ferling: College was pivotal for me. It broadened my horizons, taught me to think and question, and introduced me to many things — such as art and classical music — that had not previously been part of my life. I went to college thinking that I might teach history in high school or that I might seek a career in the retail industry, probably working for a department store, something I had done during the holidays while in high school. I came out of college with plans to do something that had never crossed my mind four years earlier.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Ferling: My dad graduated from high school just as the Stock Market crashed in 1929. His advice to me was to never risk investing my money in anything aside from U.S. savings bonds. When I went to work following graduate school I was thirty-one years old and penniless, so I couldn’t immediately invest anything. In time, things stabilized, but as I knew little about business or the stock market, I invested mostly in mutual funds and certificates of deposit. Sometimes, I wish I had taken the time to learn more about investing.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes an especially event, development, or period in history? Please explain.

Ferling: Two movies – The Thin Red Line and Paths of Glory. Neither romanticizes war and the latter, while dealing with an army, demonstrates the terrible ruthlessness to which those in power will resort in order to maintain their control of power.

Morris: From which other history book have you learned the most valuable lessons about studying history? Please explain.

Ferling: As a professional historian, I have read so many works of history over the past fifty years that it is difficult to pick a handful. But here goes. Alan Bullock’s Hitler, which I read while an undergraduate, demonstrated the means by which evil can come to power and how it is possible to carry out the most grotesque malevolence on a mass scale. Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution provided a wonderful lesson in how ideas can shape behavior. Bruce Catton’s many books on the Civil War — which I read while a young student — James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, and David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride and Washington’s Crossing were so gracefully and provocatively written that they influenced me as a writer.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Ferling: I think leadership comes from the top down, but a great leader knows when the time is right to act, and leadership involves the ability to mobilize and galvanize the people, and to inspire the people to follow.

Morris: From Michael Porter: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

Ferling: An effective strategy almost always involves both doing something and not doing something, and knowing when to choose the right alternative. To succeed, the strategy that is chosen ultimately depends on the acquisition of as much information as possible.

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Ferling: Almost always true, though I would add that what was once a dangerous idea can become dangerous yet again when, after becoming orthodoxy, it becomes harmful and needs to be replaced with another “dangerous” idea.

Morris: From Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Ferling: So true. If only Jefferson, who thought slavery abominable, had acted with greater courage to destroy the institution.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Ferling: I spent an incredible amount of time during my teaching career serving on committees. I now regard the lion’s share of the time spent in committee work as having been wasted. One of the great lessons learned by those who achieve is how to manage time.

Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Ferling: Ultimately, someone has to make the final decision, but the wise leader gathers information and seeks counsel – after deciding who among those surrounding him provides consistently wise advice – before making that final decision.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Ferling: This might be correct for companies, but as a historian who has spent a career writing about military and political leaders, my sense is those individuals do not have the luxury of making mistakes. That said, no one profited more from his mistakes more than did than George Washington. As a young commander of Virginia’s army in the French and Indian War, he made one mistake after another, leading to open criticism of his leadership and character in the colony’s only newspaper. Washington took the criticism to heart and did not make the same errors during the War of Independence.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Whirlwind-1Ferling: Washington, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Jefferson, FDR, and Martin Luther King were not great storytellers, but, as I indicate in Whirlwind, they did alright as leaders.

* * *

To read all of Part 1, please click here.

John cordially invites you to check out the resources at his website by clicking here.

Sunday, July 5, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Every Hill and Molehill, Let Freedom Ring – (We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident – Yes, We Do!)

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…


mlkihaveadreamgogoAnd this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a DreamThe March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 23, 1963


Warmth of Other SunsThe actions of the people in this book were both universal and distinctly American.  Their migration was a response to an economic and social structure not of their making.  They did what humans have done for centuries when life became untenable – what the pilgrims did under the tyranny of British rule, what the Scotch-Irish did in Oklahoma when the land turned to dust, what the Irish did when there was nothing to eat, what the European Jews did during the spread of Nazism, what the landless in Russia, Italy, China and elsewhere did when something better across the ocean called to them.  What binds their stories together was the back-against-the-wall, reluctant yet hopeful search for something better, any place but where they were.  They did what human beings looking for freedom, throughout history, have often done.
They left.

In the end, it could be said that the common denominator for leaving was the desire to be free, like the Declaration of Independence said, free to try out for most any job they pleased, play checkers with whomever they chose, sit where they wished on the streetcar, watch their children walk across a stage for the degree most of them didn’t have the chance to get. They left to pursue some version of happiness, whether they achieved it or not. It was a seemingly simple thing that the majority of Americans could take for granted but that the migrants and their forebears never had a right to in the world they had fled.

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

Friday, July 3, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | 1 Comment

Fascinating Facts about the Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence

Above is John Trumbull’s famous painting that records the event.

One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence so I have a special interest in the circumstances within which it was created. Here are some fascinating facts provided by

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There is something written on the back of the Declaration of Independence, but it isn’t a secret map or code. Instead, there are a few handwritten words that say, “Original Declaration of Independence/ dated 4th July 1776″. No one knows who wrote this, but it was probably added as a label when the document was rolled up for storage many years ago.

* * *

Once the Declaration of Independence had been written and signed, printer John Dunlap was asked to make about 200 copies to be distributed throughout the colonies. Today, the “Dunlap Broadsides” are extremely rare and valuable. In 1989, someone discovered a previously unknown Dunlap Broadside. It was sold for over $8 million in 2000. There are only 26 known surviving Dunlap Broadsides today.

* * *

Although Thomas Jefferson is often called the “author” of the Declaration of Independence, he wasn’t the only person who contributed important ideas. Jefferson was a member of a five-person committee appointed by the Continental Congress to write the Declaration. The committee included Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.

* * *

Robert Livingston, one of the members of the committee who wrote the Declaration of Independence, never signed it. He believed that it was too soon to declare independence and therefore refused to sign.

* * *

One of the most widely held misconceptions about the Declaration of Independence is that it was signed on July 4, 1776. In fact, independence was formally declared on July 2, 1776, a date that John Adams believed would be “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” On July 4, 1776, Congress approved the final text of the Declaration. It wasn’t signed until August 2, 1776.

* * *

After Jefferson wrote his first draft of the Declaration, the other members of the Declaration committee and the Continental Congress made 86 changes to Jefferson’s draft, including shortening the overall length by more than a fourth.

* * *

When writing the first draft of the Declaration, Jefferson primarily drew upon two sources: his own draft of a preamble to the Virginia Constitution and George Mason’s draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights.

* * *

Jefferson was quite unhappy about some of the edits made to his original draft of the Declaration of Independence. He had originally included language condemning the British promotion of the slave trade (even though Jefferson himself was a slave owner). This criticism of the slave trade was removed in spite of Jefferson’s objections.

* * *

On December 13, 1952, the Declaration of Independence (along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights) was formally delivered to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where it has remained since then.

* * *

The two youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence were both from South Carolina. Thomas Lynch, Jr. and Edward Rutledge were both born in 1749 and were only 26 when they signed the Declaration. Most of the other signers were in their 40s and 50s.

* * *

Philosopher John Locke’s ideas were an important influence on the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson restated Locke’s contract theory of government when he wrote in the Declaration that governments derived “their just Powers from the consent of the people.”

* * *

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the vote to approve the Declaration of Independence.

* * *

Some of the most famous lines in the Declaration of Independence were inspired by Virginia’s Declaration of Rights by George Mason. Mason said: “all men are born equally free and independent.” Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Mason listed man’s “natural Rights” as “Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.” Jefferson listed man’s “inalienable rights” as “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

* * *

Nine of the signers of the Declaration died before the American Revolution ended in 1783.

* * *

In the summer of 1776, when the Declaration was signed, the population of the nation is estimated to have been about 2.5 million. (Today the population of the U.S. is more than 300 million.)

* * *

The oldest signer of the Declaration was Benjamin Franklin, who was born in 1706 and was therefore already 70 at the time of the Declaration. Franklin went on to help negotiate the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778 and the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War in 1783.

* * *

The only signer of the Declaration of Independence to survive beyond the 50th anniversary of the signing was Charles Carroll of Maryland. Carroll died in 1832 when he was 95 years old.

* * *

The copy of the Declaration of Independence that is housed at the National Archives is not the draft that was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Instead it is a formal copy that the Continental Congress hired someone to make for them after the text was approved. This formal copy was probably made by Timothy Matlack, an assistant to the Secretary of Congress. This copy was signed on August 2, 1776.

* * *

No one who signed the Declaration of Independence was born in the United States of America. The United States didn’t exist until after the Declaration was signed! However, all but eight of the signers were born in colonies that would become the United States.

* * *

The first public reading of the Declaration took place on July 8, 1776, in Philadelphia. A fictional story written in the 1840s suggested that the bell now known as the Liberty Bell was rung that day to bring the people together. However, historians now doubt that this happened. The steeple that housed the bell was in very bad condition at the time and the bell was probably unusable.

* * *

Although August 2, 1776, was the date of the official signing ceremony, there were several people who signed on later dates. Some of these late signers included Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean and Matthew Thornton.

Friday, July 3, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Words, and Maybe the Old Books, Are Best of All

Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again.
Lyrics by Peter W. Allen and Carole Bayer Sager

“… the old words are best of all.”
Winston Churchill


I read quite a few books, and a whole lot of sample pages of books.

(In the old days, I would sit in a bookstore, and read a few pages in each of a whole stack of books I would collect from my browsing. I almost always bought one or two of the books).

These days, from the Amazon site, I tap my iPad screen, and get the sample pages into my kindle app in a matter of a few short seconds.

So, early this morning, I read the sample pages of a just-published book. It was… ok. I probably will not read the full book. I don’t want to name it – because I want to say something negative about it.

amusing-ourselves-to-deathHere’s the problem. Practically everything I read in the sample pages I had already read – better said, with more depth and substance, in a book I read about thirty years ago. Admittedly, that book was a true classic: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. But I so wanted the author of this new book to just say: “stop what you’re doing, go read Postman’s book, and then get back to me.” But, alas, no mention of Postman’s book. Maybe he quotes it or refers to it later in his book. But not in the introductory pages (the sample pages I read). And, he should have.

Years ago, I read a new introduction to a reissued Elton Trueblood book. Dr. Trueblood was a prolific author, and I read many of his books. In this new introduction, he stated that a curse of the modern age is that we treasure everything new and ignore and almost ridicule that which is old. In his view, that was a big mistake! I agree.

I encourage my students to develop and keep a serious, life-time reading list. And, I generally recommend putting Neil Postman’s books on that list (especially Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly).

But, for this blog post, I simply say – the author of this new book should have referred to Mr. Postman. It would have added something good to his introductory pages.

(Maybe he hasn’t even read Neil Postman’s book. I hope that is not true. If that’s the case, he didn’t finish his research).

Thursday, July 2, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

You Want Proof That We Live in a VUCA World? – Just Check the Latest Supreme Court Decisions; or, Consider Apple Music

In a VUCA world, prediction and control are impossible, but preparation is possible, and immersion experiences are the most efficient Get There Earlyand effective means of preparation.
Bob Johansen, Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present (Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation)


There are these frameworks, these ways of thinking, that come back to front-of-mind rather often… Like the VUCA framework. I first read about it in the book Get There Early (see quote above). The VUCA world (VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College – the graduate school for Generals-to-be):

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity

Here’s a brief description of VUCA from the Wikipedia article:

  • V = Volatility. The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty. The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity. The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity. The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

Maybe we can put it this way:

Volatility – Everything seems always just a little “unsettled”
Uncertainty – Everything always seems to be “up for grabs”
Complexity –it keeps getting harder and harder to keep things simple
Ambiguity – what we just knew was “right” yesterday may not be “right” tomorrow

I’ve thought again about this VUCA reality in the midst of the changes thrust upon our society in the last few days. Marriage is now legal for any two people who want to get married. That was definitely not available for all such couples before — ever before. The Confederate Flag is now practically impossible to defend. That is another new “reality” for our nation.

And, in one fell swoop, with the arrival of Apple Music, I may never purchase another music album (I almost typed “record album” – now that’s a phrase from the past).

In other words, everything is changing; everything really may be up for grabs.

This is the VUCA world we now live in. And it is an understanding, a framework for thinking, what we probably should all adopt. Because, I’ve got a hunch that the volatility is just beginning…

And so, in your company or organization, in your nonprofit, or church, in your city, your state, your country, volatility is the name of the game. But, as author Bob Johansen put it, preparation, getting ready for that volatility, is possible. And, maybe, an absolute necessity.


Here’s a graphic of the VUCA way of thinking from What VUCA Really Means for You by Nathan Bennett and G. James Lemoine.

Click on image for full view

Click on image for full view


Thursday, July 2, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Thoughts Prompted by the Focus on Self-Interest, and the Confederate Flag

I love me,
I think I’m grand.
When I’m with me,
I hold my hand.
(from a vague childhood memory of a little ditty from Mad Magazine)


(I’m just kind of thinking through some things with this post)…

Here’s an ever-true insight – people act out of their own self-interest. Thus, it has always been, and always will be…

I’ve done a lot of reading about the Confederate Flag issue in recent days. One of the paths I have chosen to take is to read the “original” documents. I’ve re-read The CornerStone Speech by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, delivered in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861, and I’ve carefully read the official secession document from my own state, Texas: The Texas Ordinance of Secession, February 2, 1861. (I perused the documents of secession from a few other states also).

Here’s my conclusion. There is no way to escape the fact that the Confederate States of America, and thus the flag(s) of the Confederacy, were born under, and fully communicated, the idea of white supremacy; including the commitment to the idea that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” To do away with slavery was a threat to an entire worldview on the order of things, and thus the catalyst for the war.

Why? What is the why behind this unbending demand to maintain slavery? It is pretty clear that it was the incredible dependence on slavery for the economy of the Southern states. It was the “Empire of Cotton,” and without slave labor there would have been no such empire.

In other words… self-interest.

And, if we pay close attention, we see this time and again. For example: Why are there so few women at the top of the corporate hierarchy? (Of the Fortune 500 CEOs, the latest count was 21 women – barely over 4%). Why is this the case?

One answer has to be this: the people in such positions seem to be very good at making sure the next CEO is another male CEO. One would almost think that men, especially white men, see protecting their percentage of places at the top of the ladder as a matter of survival in the “proper order” of things.

In other words, self-interest.

But what happens when one group’s self-interest leads to the harm of another group? That is what has happened in the aftermath of the murder of nine Charleston church-goers by a young, white supremacist, draped in the Confederate Flag. The truth of that symbol becomes inescapable, doesn’t it? (Although, in reality, the horror done under this flag has been long-lasting. Lynchings in the thousands (read this New York Times article, if you can handle it); Alabama Governor George Wallace standing in front of the Confederate Flag proclaiming “segregation forever”).

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think we are not looking at self-interest properly. I think it is in our self-interest to become much better at accepting, and promoting within our corporate and other circles, all kinds of people. Diversity is not just a good idea – it is a survival strategy for an ever-increasing diverse world.

There should be no symbols of white supremacy, male supremacy, or any other kind of supremacy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Linda J. Popky on “Marketing Above the Noise”: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

PopkyAward-winning marketing expert Linda J. Popky, the founder and president of Redwood Shores-based Leverage2Market Associates, transforms organizations through powerful marketing performance. Her clients range from small businesses and consultants to mid-sized companies and large Fortune 500 enterprises. She’s been involved with many of the Silicon Valley companies who developed and deployed the technologies that have changed the world over the last twenty-five years, including Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, NetApp, PayPal, Plantronics, Autodesk, Applied Materials, and others.

A consultant, speaker, and educator, Linda has been named one of the top women of influence in Silicon Valley and inducted into the Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame. She is the past president of Women in Consulting and is a member of the Watermark Strategic Development Board. The first marketing expert worldwide certified to offer the Private Roster™ Mentoring Program for consultants and entrepreneurs, Linda has taught marketing at San Francisco State University’s College of Extended Learning, University of California Santa Cruz Extension in Silicon Valley, and West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communications program.

Linda holds an MBA and a BS in Communications from Boston University. A classically trained pianist, Linda has also produced Night Songs, a CD of classical piano music. Her latest book, Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters, was published by Bibliomotion Books+Media (March 2015).

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Linda.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write Marketing Above the Noise?

Popky: Over the last several years, I saw an increasing focus on technology and new marketing techniques. Yet many of these efforts weren’t successful because the basics of good marketing were being left by the wayside. Furthermore, the opportunities for reaching customers through marketing continued to multiply nearly exponentially. It was obvious something was out of control and that fascinated me.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Popky: I began to realize that many of the core concepts of marketing, what I now call the Dynamic Market Leverage factors, haven’t changed in thousands of years, and they aren’t likely to change in the future. Of course, there are some key areas that have changed. Success requires working within that dichotomy to come up with the best marketing campaigns and programs as possible.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Popky: I actually didn’t start out thinking about noise and the musical metaphors, but as I got in to writing the book this became more and more evident to me. Then I realized that noise was a factor inside the organization as well as externally, which leads to the Momentum Factors and the concept of static.

Morris: What did you learn about yourself while writing it that you did not know – or fully understand – before?

Popky: I’ve been a writer my whole life, but it’s a very different process to create a book of this sort vs all of the short pieces or marketing copy or white papers I’ve produced for years. It’s not just about having a great book concept, it’s applying the discipline to get those ideas out of your head and into a form that readers will be able to access and appreciate. You asked about storytellers previously. I also rediscovered my storytelling ability, and how important it is to tell effective stories to get key points across.

Morris: As I read this book, I was again reminded of the final scene in a film, The Pawnbroker, when Saul Naserman (played by Rod Steiger) “screams” in agony after a friend has been killed. Actually, it was a silent scream. I think some of the loudest “noise” is in our heads. What do you think?

Popky: We need to differentiate between the times when the noises in our head are distractions or obstacles and when they’re telling us something important. Too often we allow ourselves to get in our own way. However, there are times when that scream inside our head provides more important insight than anything anyone else could tell us. And I think that what’s probably even louder than the noise in our heads is the noise in our guts. Whenever I’ve listened to my head and not my gut, I’ve always regretted it.

Morris: Many people today seem to have the attention span of a Strobe light blink. How do you explain the fact that there are so many poor listeners?

Popky: We are now conditioned to receive very short messages. There was a time when advertisements were 60 or even 90 seconds. Today, it’s rare to find a 30 second commercial. Quite often we see only 10 or 15 second spots, and our attention to web advertising is even shorter—only a few seconds.

We are also now much more internally focused. How often do you walk down the street and see people about to walk off a curb into traffic because they’ve got their head in their mobile device? Furthermore, the ability to contribute and join conversations in online communities and social media is wonderful, but too often we focus on talking without considering how important it is to just sit back and listen once in awhile.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, there are dozens of passages that evoke especially important questions. Please respond to these. First, The Dynamic Market Leverage Model (Pages 10-12): What differentiates it from other such models?

Popky: The Dynamic Market Leverage Model looks at those key marketing factors that are timeless—they don’t change from year to year or with the introduction of new technologies or marketing methods. It gives marketers a way to look at the key aspects of their marketing efforts and ensure that they are covering these key areas.

Morris: Change Is the New Constant (15-18): Where and when is this most significant in a competitive marketplace?

Popky: If you wait a moment in this marketplace, something will change—products or services, customer needs, technology, etc. As marketers, we can’t reach to every new stimuli, but we also can’t sit back and wait for everything to be in perfect alignment either. That’s why it’s so important to have a core foundation. If you know where you are and where you want to go, you can find the right vehicle to get you there—and that vehicle today may be very different than it would have been a couple of years ago or it will be in the near future.

Morris: The Five Stages of the Purchase Process (27-30): Which seems to be the most difficult to complete? Why?

Popky: That’s a great question. Without Awareness, nothing else happens. Your prospects and customers need to know you’re out there before the can even consider you. However, I think the most difficult stage to achieve is Loyalty. So many organizations get you to Purchase and maybe even to Preference (where all else being equal, you prefer to buy one brand over another). But very few brands acheive that strong Loyalty where customers will turn down other alternatives that may be less expensive or have additional features and benefits because they are loyal to that brand. The reason we hear about Apple so often is because they are one of the few that does this so well. Yet there’s no reason why others can’t achieve this status if they’re willing to invest the time and resources to make this happen.

* * *

To check out all of Part 2, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

Linda cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Leverage2Market Associates link

Linda’s Amazon page link

Marketing Thought Leadership link

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If You take “No” for an Answer too Easily, You May Need to Make a Change – Insight from Elon Musk

There’s always a fine line. You’ve got stubborn people, obnoxious people, and then people with genuine resolve who simply will not give up. Their actual behaviors may look about the same. But, when the motivation is not stubbornness, or plain old obnoxiousness, then true persistence and resolve can be a wonder to behold.

ELON-COVER-BOOK-LARGEAshlee Vance is the author of the new book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. (I’m presenting my synopsis of this book at the July 10 First Friday Book Synopsis next week).

Ashlee Vance, a respected journalist, decided to write a serious, thorough book about Elon Musk. In case you do not know, Elon Musk’s endeavors include PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX (SpaceX had quite a set-back this week), along with major involvement with Solar City. So, Ashlee Vance asked for time with Elon Musk himself. He was turned down. More than once. He then proceeded to work on the book anyway, and talked to everyone he could find who knew or worked with Elon Musk. Finally, Mr. Musk granted a visit, over dinner.

In the visit, Elon Musk acknowledged that Vance was intent on actually writing the book, so he asked to read it in advance, and submit footnotes for correcting any errors or false impressions. Vance said no: And then, Musk said OK, and agreed to a series of meetings, with full cooperation, anyway. From the book:

Musk cut me off after a couple of minutes and simply said, “Okay.” One thing that Musk holds in the highest regard is resolve, and he respects people who continue on after being told no.

Notice again: “He respects people who continue on after being told no.”

In other words, Elon Musk recognized and respected and honored resolve.

I remember similar stories about Steve Jobs from the Walter Isaacson biography, and from Ed Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc. They both Creativity-Inc.-Covercommented that people who worked with Steve Jobs had to learn when his “no” was something to ignore and work around. In other words, Steve Jobs also respected genuine resolve.

We all know the time-honored wisdom. Probably the most famous quote comes from Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

For Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs, resolve, the ability to “ignore the no,” signaled genuine inner character and resolve.

So, do you have such resolve, such persistence? Or do you take “no” for an answer too quickly, too easily?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

Ego vs. EQ, insight from Jen Shirkani – (or, maybe, it is a real fight with your JQ – your “Jerk Quotient”)

If you watch, you will see a number of articles popping up dealing with some version of this issue: “does a great leader have to be something of a jerk?”

Over time, such articles usually referred to Steve Jobs, and these days Elon Musk are creeping into the conversation. And both of these leaders had pretty high JQs (Jerk Quotients).

But, I think it is a pretty big mistake to even have this conversation. It is certainly a dumb idea to say “since Steve Jobs was something of a jerk, then I will be more of a jerk, and thus, maybe more successful.” In my opinion, it doesn’t quite work that way. I think Steve Jobs, and maybe Elon Musk, were just superior leaders, who also happened to have high JQs.

In other words, maybe being a jerk, or not being a jerk, has little to do with actual success.

Yes…, not being a jerk has plenty to do with building a workplace that people want to be a part of. (Although, truth be told, the people who “survived” Steve Jobs, and the people who “survive” Elon Musk, seem to be pretty loyal. They generally believe that they got more accomplished than they could have/would have, because of the unswerving focus of these leaders).

I think that leaders who succeed have qualities unrelated to the JQ spectrum. Mainly, they have an uncanny ability to sense what people really want/need, and then they have the equally uncanny ability to marshal teams and resources to turn that into reality.

Let’s put it this way: there are some jerks who are great leaders, and plenty of jerks who are not at all much of a leader. And, there are some really “nice” – i.e., high EQ) people who do not lead very well, and a few who do.

In other words, great leaders are rare, regardless of their EQ and JQ.

Ego vs. EQBut, let’s pretend that you would like to be successful, while lowering your JQ. In other words, let’s imagine that you want to be a good leader, a successful leader, and not much of a jerk. (A worthy goal, in my opinion).  Here’s a little help from the book Ego vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps with Emotional Intelligence by Jen Shirkani.

First, a key quote/excerpt from this book — part of Ego Trap 1 (see below):

It’s easy to end up at the top of your organization with certain blind spots that fewer and fewer people are willing to call to your attention….
Maybe people have tried to give you feedback, only to see you ultimately ignore it. So they stop. (emphasis added).
“Blind spots that fewer people are willing to call to your attention.”

That’s a nice way to say that:

you do have blind spots
nobody is willing to call you on them
partly because
you are unwilling to let anyone call you on them.

In other words, you are not just blind regarding your own blind spots, you are also deaf when it comes to listening to correctives. In other words, you are something of a jerk, and you don’t own up to it; you don’t even listen to anyone willing to tell you about your problem. Thus, guaranteeing a lower EQ, and a higher JQ.

So… whatever else your job is, the closer you get to the top of any hierarchy, the more important it is to put someone (maybe more than one such someone) into your inner circle to tell you the truth. And then, you have to listen to their warnings and correctives, and do something with what they have the courage to tell you. Otherwise, your JQ goes up while your EQ goes down.


Here are all 8 Ego Traps from the book Ego vs. EQ.   You might want to read them carefully; they set quite a challenging agenda for the leader. And Jen Shirkanithen read the book for a deeper dive into these 8 ego traps. Here they are:

Ego Trap 1: Ignoring feedback you don’t like
Ego Trap 2: Believing your technical skills trump your leadership skills
Ego Trap 3: Surrounding yourself with more of you
Ego Trap 4: Not letting go of control
Ego Trap 5: Being blind to your downstream impact
Ego Trap 6: Underestimating how much you are being watched
Ego Trap 7: Losing touch with the frontline experience
Ego Trap 8: Relapsing back to your old ways

But, as with most genuine challenges, it always starts with Step One: “Hello, my name is ____, and I admit…”

Monday, June 29, 2015 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | Leave a comment

A conversation with Grant McCracken on how to build “a living, breathing culture”

McCrackenTrained as an anthropologist (Ph.D. University of Chicago), Grant McCracken has studied American culture and commerce for 25 years. He has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and worked for Timberland, New York Historical Society, Diageo, IKEA, Sesame Street, Nike, the White House, and Netflix.

He started the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. He taught anthropology at the University of Cambridge, ethnography at MIT, and marketing at the Harvard Business School. He has been affiliated with the Department of Comparative Media at MIT and the Berkman School at Harvard. He is a student of culture and commerce and explored this theme in Culture and Consumption I and then in Culture and Consumption II.

Grant has also looked at how Americans invent and reinvent themselves. He had explored this theme in Big Hair, Transformations, Plenitude and Flock and Flow.

Six years ago, he published a book called Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation with Basic Books in which he argues that culture now creates so much opportunity and danger for organizations that they need senior managers who focus on it full time. He is hoping this will create a new occupational destination for graduates in the arts and humanities.

His latest book, Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas, was published by Harvard Business Review Press (2012).

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Chief Culture Officer and then Culturematic, here are a few general questions. First, in your opinion, what are the defining skills and characteristics of a great anthropologist?

McCracken: Anthropologists are good at reading culture and that gives them interesting powers of pattern recognition. Now that American culture is so dynamic, any such advantage n is a good thing.

Morris: To what extent can they be developed by formal education?

McCracken: Oh, I think they are entirely trainable. And it doesn’t take a formal education. All we need is a base of curiosity, intelligence, and creativity and it’s away to the races.

Morris: To what extent can they be developed only through real-world experience?

McCracken: I think a combination of formal education and experience serves best.

Morris: In your opinion, which of these skills and characteristics would be of greatest value to C-level executives?

McCracken: C-level executives have formidable powers of pattern recognition. The question is how we can give them the ability to read “soft indicators” in the study of contemporary culture, movies, trends, generations, subcultures. This is easier than it looks.

Morris: What are some of the core questions that anthropologists have in mind when preparing to begin a new project or assignment?

McCracken: Here’s one: “How to know what you don’t know…but think you do.”

Morris: How do you define “culture”?

McCracken: Culture is comprised of the meanings with which we define the world. And the rules with which we govern behavior.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent is culture a structure? Please explain.

McCracken: The meanings of culture come from within a culture. That is why we define each generation in terms of both its structure and its values.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent is culture an organism? Please explain.

McCracken: I don’t think culture is a organism in any useful sense, although goodness knows, it grows and changes as if driven by a genetic imperative.

Morris: What are the most common misconceptions about anthropology? What, in fact, is true?

McCracken: A lot of people think anthropology is about primates, or archaeology or small communities. These are all true in a way but it is also true that anthropology is very good at studying large, contemporary cultures.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Chief Culture Office. When and why did you decide to write it?

McCracken: Culture matters so much to the success of a business. Take for instance the artisanal trend that has been growing at least since 1971 when Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse. McDonald’s, Kraft, and Subway are now struggling to adjust to the trend but had they had a CCO, they would have had around 45 years of early warning.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

McCracken: How so much of economics appears just to ignore culture.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

McCracken: It’s pretty close to it’s original concept, again a bad thing.

Morris: As you explain in the Introduction to Culturematic, it is ” a little machine for making culture. It is designed to do three things: test the world, discover meaning, and unleash value…It’s still a little vague, isn’t it? Some of you are saying, ‘I’m not exactly sure of what he means.’ Me neither. I am still working it out. The idea will get clearer as you read the rest of the book.” To what extent are you now clearer about “what it means”? Please explain.

McCracken: There are a couple of simple techniques for making culture out of culture…and this is where innovations come from.

* * *

To read the complete transcript of the conversation, please click here.

Grant cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His blog website

His Amazon page

HBR link

Wired link

Psychology Today link

Twitter link

LinkedIn link

Sunday, June 28, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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