Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Creative Inspiration for December - To Sell is Human

Each month I take a quote from a book I've read as a useful reminder for the comming weeks of work. 

This month it's from a book a read recently kind of by accident. To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink looks less at the innate function of humans selling and more at the idea of how "selling" has changed over the years. He sometimes refers to it as "moving people" and in a way, as creatives or marketers, that is what we doing. And, we should accept that. 

"All of you are likely spending more time than you realize selling in a broader sense – pitching colleagues, persuading funders, cajoling kids. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.” 

From page 2 of To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink

Monday, 2 December 2019

I started work at 11 years old

I started work at 11 years old. Every Saturday for nearly 8 years I would ride around on an electric milk float delivering milk to locals in the neighborhood.

I got very good at running in all types of weather and very good at talking about all types of weather. I got to know the people really well from only seconds of chatter on their doorsteps.

It was probably the best job I ever had.

What I do now is so simple that the same 11 year old could do it. I ask questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?

And I do it often. Now that could make me sound confused or nosy. It might make you ask how I’ve even made a career.

Because I listen to the answers.

When I write copy I know the facts and message will be clear and correct.

When I speak I share the moment with the whole crowd to create a great experience.

When I pick up the phone I empathise with the other person on the line.

I’m a copywriter, compere and compassionate listener. I’ve work as freelance copywriter and content marketing consultant. In 2016 my hobby made me enough money to go on holiday. Two years ago I stopped having an ‘awareness’ of mental health issues and joined the Leeds Samaritans Branch.

I believe in listening. And will make time for listening because there is power in patience.

And if that isn’t true, then I’ll start delivering milk again.

I wrote this a couple of years ago as my Linkedin intro. I've changed it since then but I was complimented a couple of times on this "piece" so I've shared it here. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

A "business" book that makes a great bedtime read

I don't believe in these "wake up to success" routines, but I just finished this one over a morning coffee so I think I'm doing pretty well.

Here are my thoughts on the book below.

TL;DR - You should actually read the book.

The Art of the Click: How to Harness the Power of Direct-Response Copywriting and Make More SalesThe Art of the Click: How to Harness the Power of Direct-Response Copywriting and Make More Sales by Fisher Glenn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even if you're a confident copywriter I would recommend checking this one out. This has quickly become one of my fav "professional" books. I say "professional" in speech marks not as a dis, but because it was such a delight to read! Business books are not normally bedtime reading. And yet I've read most of this in my pjs.

"The Art of The Click" was supposedly written as an introduction to copywriting. But, even as a professional copywriter, I got so much out of it - and I've worked in this job for about 6-7 years. It's jam packed with titbits, practical advice and memorable examples. Even though the author covers topics that I'm familiar with - features/benefits, addressing the reader, structure - he always adds a new perspective or an example that I hadn't considered before.

I would go so far as to argue that this book has helped me to take my writing to the next level. I say this for two reasons:

1) The author comes from a direct-response background. This means he's not afraid to discuss the selling aspect of copy as well as the creative aspect. Now, this is something that I have appreciated for some time - striking that balance between creativity and selling. And, I like this because I think it is an underappreciated skill. But I also like this because he takes quite a nuanced approach to the matter. In some copywriting books - particuarly classic texts - there is a hardcore "copy is selling" philosphy, which is important but not as relevant these days. Here, the author discusses the topic in an intersting essay/chapter near the end of the book. It's quite rare for folks to take such a reasoned approach to this topic and I've found it's increased my appreciation of conversion-focused copy.

2) He encourages rote-learning, something I don't think I've ever tried before. But it is really beneficial. It's an exercise that happens early on in the book. And, I found it oddly fun. And, it's something that I'm trying out more to develop my writing skills. It's such a simple technique, yet rarely employed because it's not particuarly sexy or thrilling.

So, it's a great read, it's jam-packed and it coaches you to take your skills to the next level.

View all my reviews

Friday, 15 November 2019

If you read this book, you will look like a psychopath

I recently finished a book that's taken me about a year to read. You can see why below, here is my review from Goodreads.


Against Empathy: The Case for Rational CompassionAgainst Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, this book isn't a rallying cry for psychopaths.

It may seem like it, with a title like "Against Empathy", but it isn't a 'we should all be selfish, greed is good' kind of book. But the title did make me feel a little weird at the till in Waterstones (also, because I bought this with a bunch of other books on empathy!).

Anyway, before I discuss my thoughts on the book I want to explain my reasons for reading it. I work in marketing as a copywriter/content creator. In this industry, 'empathy' is one of many buzzwords we love to blurt out every now and again (it gets big likes on Linkedin).

When an 'expert' discusses engaging audiences and servicing customers they often recommend 'using empathy' as if this is the silver bullet to all of your problems. They also often say this with a self-congratulating tone believing that they are the ONLY ONE TO HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT IF BEFORE.

The other problem I had with this that when discussing 'empathy', folks rarely define what they mean. They usually assume everyone knows. And we do...sort of. It's like 'love' or 'creativity', we get it, but we can't always explain what it actually is. But it often helps if we can define these things.

So, I read this book as one of many books to address these issues. It was all part of my research for a short talk 5 min I did on 'Empathy and Communication'. Now, I'm not "Against Empathy" but we're often not very good at being empathic. And that was basically my argument, we're not naturally great at empathy and if we work on it, this will help us communicate better.

I did this talk over a year ago. And it's taken me about a year to actually finish this book.

Firstly, it's a heavy topic. And, inevitably it goes into many places, and also covered a lot of areas. There was a lot to take in. So, it wasn't an easy read because of that.

Secondly, I also found it a little difficult to read due to the writing style. I felt it was a little discombobulated. Although many of the arguments were compelling and interesting, they lacked a flow. I often felt that the author made a really interesting point, and could've clarified it further, but then leapt to a different point. I often left me feeling a little high and dry.

Because of this, I felt unconvinced by many arguments, even though I found them really interesting critical points. One point this book highlighted that empathy is like a spotlight, we can only really empathise with one or two people at once. I actually agreed with this. But other arguments about the limitations of empathy were discussed for one to two paragraphs and then moved on to something else.

Also, there was a lot of "this doesn't mean this" and "I'm not saying this". It often focused on semantics (which are important, as we need to clarify what we mean sometimes). But because of this, it felt like learning from someone who was too defensive, rather than boldly sharing an idea they felt passionate about.

Now, this is just my personal interpretation. I actually liked the author. There were occasionally some moments of pure honesty, transparency and humour.

I know it may seem like I'm focusing a lot on the writing style, but that's for two reasons 1) I write for a living and so often find it hard to turn of the 'analyse' function in my brain 2) it's really important. If you are putting across an argument (especially one as bold and divisive as this) how you put forward your argument to convince others is everything. If you 'sell' the idea, you should be decisive about it. Show people the possibilities. Now, there was plenty of evidence to support the arguments. But, they were just left there like that was enough. The author could've illustrated these more and breathed more life into them.

But the main reason why I give this 4 stars is that it has an incredibly strong ending. The last chapter is a great piece of writing, with some fascinating arguments about modern scientific theories.

Despite it not explicitly discussing the concept of "rational compassion" like it said it would, it was a great piece of writing criticising the common belief that we are irrational creatures. It argues we are rational and quite good at being rational. In fact, worth reading just as an individual essay.

Anyway, I wouldn't put this on my 'must read' list, but definitely recommend for those who are interested in a more critical debate on empathy.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Is it weird if someone in your office never returned the favour if you got them a drink?

Is it weird if someone in your office never returned the favour if you got them a drink? Is it weird if they ignored you every time you said hello? Is it weird if they typed nonsense on your computer while you went away? Is it weird if you got up and they sat in your seat? Is it weird if they knocked on the door when you went to the toilet? Is it weird if they sat on you, feel asleep, grumbled at you when you tried move, refused to get you a cup of tea when you asked, then bit you when you tried to physically move them? Is home working kind of weird? Because the only person I can ask at the moment is a cat and he's too busy to answer my questions.

(This was originally posted on Linkedin. It got a good response so I thought I would share this here for fun)

Monday, 28 October 2019

Struggling to develop a creative project? Try walking through the 5 Steps of Creative Decision Making

We make decisions all the time. They happen so fast, we don't even see them happen as several steps - they just happen.

Fortunately, there are clever (and patient) people out there who have

No one counts the steps.

Stuck trying to develop something go through and take them on.

It is only through practicing effective thinking that we can master it, merely reading or thinking about it is not enough. There is a cycle of 5 phases that was proposed by Edgar, McCann and McCann in 'Creative and Critical Thinking.' This represents a set of steps for applying creative and then critical thinking to any problem. All the steps are not always necessary for every problem but going through them will result in a sound decision. The details of each phase will vary with the problem, but the general principles apply to all situations.

The 5-phase Decision Making Process is an effective tool that combines creative thinking and critical thinking to help we make a decision.

Phase 1. Recognizing and Defining the Problem.

Phase 2. Gathering Information.

Phase 3. Forming Tentative Conclusions.

Phase 4. Testing Tentative Conclusions.

Phase 5. Evaluation and Decision.

Phase 1, Recognizing and Defining the Problem. Recognition of a problem is the first step in solving it. Many problems are not solved because they are never adequately recognized. the problem should be carefully defined, because this helps to reach correct solutions. Phase 2, Gathering Information. Once you have defined your problem, you should begin to collect all the available information about it. When solving a crime, a detective collects 'clues,' both tangible ones like fingerprints and intangible ones such as testimony.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsSimilarly, you must collect adequate and accurate information in order to make a sound decision. Of course, the more information you have, the more reliable your decision will be. Phase 3, Forming Tentative Conclusions. When you have enough information, you can begin finding solutions to the problem. The ideas must be creative and it's important to allow your imagination to go ahead without disturbance from critical thinking. The objective at this stage is to gather as many ideas as possible. The more ideas you have the higher the chance of finding a sound solution. Phase 4, Testing Tentative Conclusions. The objective of this phase is to criticize all the tentative conclusions, and assess their reliability.

Skip to 2 minutes and 26 secondsAll tentative conclusions are reached through some kind of inference from by evidence or available facts. A conclusion is only completely reliable when it is known conclusively to be true. For this to be the case, evidence must be completely reliable and and all the inferences form it must be logically flawless. Phase 5, Evaluation and Decision. The objective of this stage is to determine whether you have found any workable solutions. You should assess the reliability of solutions based on the testing done in phase 4. While reliable solutions are important, it is also imperative that we do not dwell in a state of indecision.

Skip to 3 minutes and 11 secondsIf evaluation of your tentative conclusions shows that none of them is sufficiently reliable, you should repeat the cycle until you have a sufficiently reliable conclusion for your purpose. Combining creative with critical thinking in the decision making process is a helpful way to reach the best possible decision. Can you think of a time you have done this, whether while making an important decision or simply a small choice in daily life?

The 7 Steps of Creative Thinking

Source: TEDxDirigo - 7 Steps of Creative Thinking, Raphael DiLuzio (2012)

This Ted-Talk video begins with the author’s experience of recovery after a car accident. The “eureka” moment hit him and gave him an idea of how to train his once-lost speaking ability; it also produced his idea about the 7 steps of creative thinking.

The author divided the creative process into 7 steps.

The first step is merely to notice a problem or have an idea or a question.

The second step is the “research stage”. One should gather information from the world that might be related to the topic in the first stage.

The third step is what the author calls “basta time”, from the Italian word meaning “enough”. It is time to stop gathering ideas.

The fourth step is “distraction”. In this stage, one should think of something totally irrelevant to the original topic, and try to connect the two.

The fifth step is the “eureka moment”, is the moment that people are familiar with, when one is hit by inspiration, though this event can easily be ignored or underrated.

Making” is the sixth step. No matter how creative the idea is, it is no use without being put into practice.

The last step is “testing the prototype” and accepting the criticism and comment that the world gives it.

Although the steps are listed in order, the procedure may not always follow the same sequence. For example, if someone has an idea popping into his head, he might go directly to the fifth stage. The steps are for instruction and point to what may happen in a creative thinking process.