September 27, 2010

Heart, Head & Hand: An Advanced Approach to Persuasive Communication

For the past three years, I've been coaching smart leaders and training whole organizations in persuasive communication, using an approach I call Heart, Head & HandTM. I've just published a short essay outlining the approach. I invite and welcome your thoughts.

September 26, 2010

"... help create the fact"

"Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact."

- William James (1842-1910)

September 25, 2010

on the air

"Fresh air is good if you do not take too much of it; most of the achievements and pleasures of life are in bad air."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841 – 1935)

September 24, 2010

I was wrong.

I was wrong about that filter. I've learned that the "built-in" 3-stop neutral density filter in the new Fuji FinePix x100 is not always on. My mistake. Sorry for being stupid. Sorry for any inconvenience.

However, I have learned of another problem with this retro $1000 camera with an APS-C size sensor: It oozes. Evidently, "....the FinePix X100 combines all the latest technical digital innovations in a beautiful, traditional chassis which oozes class and prestige."

Not sure I'd want a camera that oozes.

wonders of the marketplace, continued

We stand by our earlier statement agreeing with Fuji that their new thousand-dollar FinePix X100 camera is "in a class by itself" – as long as you realize that building a piece of dark grey glass into the lens makes that the class of cameras that are expensive and stupid.

But what about the new Leica M9 Titanium, which costs thirty-two thousand dollars? Is that expensive and stupid? Nope. That's just stupidly expensive. And stupidly expensive is not the same as stupid.

Note: The above reflects only my opinion, which could be wrong, but which does reflect my honest understanding per this grab from the FinePix x100 website:

Got that? "A built-in neutral density filter (equivalent f-stop reduction of 3)." That means that seven-eighths of the incoming light is absorbed by the filter, and never gets to the sensor. Evidently this camera is designed exclusively for bright days & waterfalls.

What were they smoking?

While we love photography, we don't generally review cameras here. However, there's a new camera that is "in a class of its own". Fortunately.

Several manufacturers offer small digital cameras with fast (large-aperture) prime (fixed focal length) lenses. These small cameras have image sensors that, while not as large as a "full frame" sensor, are larger (and thus more sensitive) than those typically found in pocket-size point-and-shoots. Examples include the Sigma DP2, the Leica X1, and the Ricoh GR digital. The idea is that by giving up zoom, you get a (somewhat) faster lens & a (somewhat) bigger sensor. And, it seems, because these are considered "prestige" cameras, the manufacturer gets a bigger profit.

The newest member of this family is the almost-released Fuji Finepix X100. And it has one "feature" that's just wack. Namely, it has a built-in non-removable neutral density filter.

A neutral density filter is a piece of grey glass. Like sunglasses. Sometimes (if infrequently) called "smoked" glass.

Now, why would you want to put sunglasses on your camera? Well, suppose you were shooting in bright daylight, and you wanted to use a large aperture, to achieve a very shallow depth-of-field, in order to isolate your subject by blurring the background. Doing so might require a shutter speed much faster than the camera was capable of. So, under those conditions, adding a neutral density filter solves that problem, allowing the use of large apertures in bright daylight. That's why many photographers carry neutral density filters, to use under such conditions.

But. Why on earth would you want to build in a dark neutral density filter that can't be removed? No matter how little light there is, when you're trying to take a picture? A non-removable neutral density filter equivalent, Fuji says, to three f-stops. That's seven-eighths of incoming light, absorbed by the dark filter!

Fuji built a piece of dark grey glass into the lens, and claims that "The FinePix X100 FUJINON lens really is in a class of its own." And they're right. The class of expensive and stupid.

If, NeuroCooking friends, you are interested in purchasing a new Finepix X100 (MSRP about $1000), we would urge you to wait until the release (perhaps early in 2011?) of what is sure to be the 'updated' & 'improved' model, featuring glass that is clear.

[Image credit: Fujinon].

[Late edit: I was wrong.]

September 23, 2010

"deny & imply"

A brief passage from Gary Shteyngart's remarkable new novel, "Super Sad True Love Story":
.... A tank rolled over to us, and the nine first-class Americans instinctively raised our hands. The tank stopped short; a single soldier in T-shirt and shorts popped out of the hatch and planted a highway sign next to it, black letters against an orange background:


– American Restoration Authority,
Security Directive IX-2.11
"Together We'll Surprise the World!"

September 22, 2010

Presenting via Conference Call

Some initial thoughts on how to be an effective and engaging presenter via teleconference:
  • Announce yourself each time you speak. Not all listeners will remember the association between your voice and your name. People may have joined the call since you last spoke. And this simple, gracious act draws attention to what you are about to say.
  • Summarize your points after you make them. Most likely, listeners will be multitasking, and offering a summary focuses their attention. It also provides a strong conclusion to your communication.
  • Summarize the information to which you are connecting your point. For example, "Earlier, Jane said x. I am going to build on the idea of x by adding..."
  • If you are facilitating, take the time to summarize the ensuing conversation throughout the call.
  • Provide examples. Say, "Let me give you an example..." Research shows that listener attention is sparked by the announcement of a forthcoming example.
  • Share stories. Short and simple stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end.
  • Think radio. Good radio broadcasters paint a picture with words. Provide sensory details so that your listeners can picture what you are talking about.
  • Stand up! Again, think radio: you need to convey energy through the phone lines, and the best way to do this is to bring energy into your voice through your body. Stand up, move around. Invest in a good headset.
  • Smile! A smile conveys energy and passion. Try it: say "Hello" while smiling, and then without smiling.
  • Look at yourself. Catch your reflection on your computer screen, or in your window. Are you relaxed? Do you look like someone with whom you would like to speak? Provide your listeners with the same level of bodily engagement that you would if you were meeting with them in person.


Only in Milwaukee:

September 21, 2010

"the defining feature of humans"

"Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans – language, rationality, culture, and so on. I'd stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce."

"bar soap", "conventional oven", "film camera", and now, "task-fMRI"

Examples include "acoustic guitar" & "analog watch".

At the recent resting-state conference in Milwaukee, a new acronym was proposed: "T-fMRI", for task-fMRI, as distinguished from R-fMRI, for resting fMRI.

September 20, 2010

Synaptic Sandbags

The hardest part to sharing an engaging story is to find the proper balance of details. If you share too many details, your listener gets distracted, and perhaps loses an understanding of your plot. If you get sidetracked and share an abundance of inconsequential details, you may find yourself confused, and lose sense of both the path and the message of your story.

Think of the details of your story as synaptic sandbags. If you are sharing your story strategically, that is, as a tool for helping your listener better understand and engage with specific information, then you want your story to trigger select experiences and memories for your listener. The details you choose to share are the sandbags that help create a path of discovery in your listener’s brain: too few sandbags, and you risk tributaries, or your story being washed away. Too many sandbags, and you dam up your information, restricting the path that your listener needs to take through connections in their own mind, in order to join you at the close of your story.

Ethical Storysharing

Story is not a commodity, to be taken from someone and given to someone else. Often, I help people find and share their stories, so that they can better share their stories or the story of their organization. I call this “listening in the service of telling” – as opposed to listening to better understand and craft solutions to organizational problems, for example. This kind of listening presents unique ethical challenges. I’m hoping to explore these challenges in greater depth at an upcoming panel, Ethical Storysharing for Social Change, at the South By Southwest conference. In preparation, I’ve been thinking about the following:

  • Sometimes, the opportunity that you, as the story facilitator, are presenting to the storysharer may be his or her only chance to be heard.
  • You are the sharer’s microphone.
  • You may have more knowledge of the possible repercussions of a story being shared than the sharer does. You have an ethical obligation to protect the sharer.
  • You must be clear as to whether there are any differences between your goals and the goals of the storysharer.

Story is a Structure

When everything is a story, then nothing is a story. A message is not a story. A rhetorical frame is not a story.

A story is a structure for delivering information. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Usually, something happens to someone and something changes as a result.

Recently, a professional media relations specialist was bemoaning the fact that a newspaper journalist “did not get the story” that the specialist was attempting to relay. When I pressed the professional communicator, it became clear that he was delivering a message to the journalist. He had not offered the journalist a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, let alone characters, action, challenge, and resolution. He had not thought about how to make his message concrete or his complex data meaningful, or to provide a context for the message, all of which could be delivered through a structured and strategic story.

The journalist may not have reported the precise and desired message. But he did not fail in reporting the story, as he was not offered a story on which to report.

The Narrative Organization

Within an organization, story can be a useful tool for:
  • Leadership
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Advocacy
  • Fundraising
  • Sales
  • Change Initiatives
  • Branding
  • Project Evaluation
  • Product Introduction
  • Values Transmission
  • Conquering Complexity
  • Communicating Vision
  • Understanding History

This list is by no means exhaustive.

And the answer is...?

At the recent excellent resting-state conference in Milwaukee, a question arose over dinner: Is the brain a machine for turning the past into the future, or a machine for turning the future into the past?

Identifying Narratives & Finding Stories

Sometimes, you first need to identify the underlying narrative, and then go about finding the small stories that support it.

Sometimes, you need to examine lots of small stories in order to find the underlying narrative.

September 13, 2010

All of 'em!

I read recently that the number of automobiles in operation on this planet is estimated to be 825 million.

Of course, each one is driven by someone who thinks of him-or-herself as an above-average driver.

September 11, 2010

"Never"? Hardly.

With the growth of the PLoS journals, there's recently been a rise in discussion of alternative forms & variants of scientific peer review. In this context, we'd like to raise the big question: What good is peer review, anyway? To do so, we'd like to use as an example, not a journal article, but rather a book.

In 2002, Stephen Wolfram, founder of Mathematica (official corporate motto: "No, we're not MatLab."), self-published a big book, modestly titled "A New Kind of Science". The following appears on page 443 of that book:
"… [a] systematic decrease in randomness … would certainly in principle be possible … But somehow it seems that [suitable] initial conditions … never actually occur in practice."
"Never"? In fact, the appearance of order out of apparent randomness, due to carefully crafted initial conditions, occurs (conservatively) billions of times every day, in the world's MRI scanners, as NMR spin echo formation is essential for much of MRI.

What else in the book would have surprised (and been corrected by) peer reviewers, we cannot say.

September 8, 2010

Hooray for the Harbor Tunnel!

Did we mention the major downtown tie-ups caused by road-work in preparation for next year's Baltimore Grand Prix?

One day last week, a colleague said that, coming in, he takes Russell Street to avoid I-395 congestion.

That same day I got an email about a new website with suggestions for dealing with the roadwork. So I checked it out. And the first recommendation I found was to take I-395 to avoid Russell Street congestion.

[Note: NeuroCooking recommends the Harbor Tunnel!]

September 7, 2010

Baltimore Grand Prix 2011!

With Labor Day 2010 freshly behind us, let us look ahead to Labor Day 2011,
which will feature the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix,

Yes, those are the same streets of central Baltimore used daily by many commuters, especially those trying to get from the South to an esteemed hospital complex on the Eastside. And yes, as you might imaging, some renovations are required to get those funky old downtown streets in shape for race cars. So... Guess when the renovations start? A month before the race? Three months before? Six months before?

Actually, the renovations, with plentiful lane closures along major routes, started months ago.

Yup. Tens of thousands of people – make that hundreds of thousands of people – will be inconvenienced for more than year, in order that, during a few hours of racing over two days of the Labor Day 2011 weekend, a few dozen people can drive real fast.

Makes sense to me!

[Note: NeuroCooking recommends the Harbor Tunnel as an alternative!]

September 5, 2010

The future is here, now.

We've all heard the complaints:
"Where is my jet-pack?"

"Where is my personal heli-car?"

"Where is my robot dog?"
It would appear that the future of the past has not arrived.

However, recently, three things have convinced us that, in fact, the future really is here.

Those three things are: The iPhone, the iPad, and spray-on sun-screen.

September 3, 2010

what kind of threat?

Recently, we were talking about the situation in Iraq, and how the Iraqi politicians still haven't formed a government, five months after their elections.

I said that in the US system, we think that people who lose elections can just wait till the next election to try again. However, in Iraq, things are quite different, in that people who lose elections might have to go into exile to protect their lives. The phrase I used for this was "existential threat", as in, those politicians are afraid to compromise because they, perhaps correctly, perceive a loss as an existential threat. And when I said that, she let out a little inappropriate laugh.

So, later, I asked about that little laugh. I asked whether, in response to the phrase "existential threat", she had visualized a little man in a beret threatening to hit someone over the head with a baguette.

And, at that, she laughed so hard that she had to stop to catch her breath.

[Note: Yes, it's not funny if you have to explain it, but the point is that the word "existential" can refer to, um, existence, or to the philosophical school of existentialism, which might be best known for its proponents who are, yes, French.]

September 1, 2010

Everyone wants to be a Hero

My new essay is up at PhilanTopic, Everyone Wants to be a Hero.

Here's an excerpt:

Everybody wants to be a hero. Smart leaders and organizations know that. You also know it's natural for people to align themselves with solutions rather than to associate themselves with problems. You want the audiences for your stories to relate as much as possible to the protagonists in the stories you choose to share and to empathize with the protagonist’s heroic journey.

Here's an example...


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