Lauren Mayer: What War on Christmas?

Bill O’Reilly et al. like to paint themselves as victims of a secular conspiracy to destroy the meaning of Christmas.  To hear them tell it, our founding fathers based the Constitution on a mashup of the bible (only selected portions, mind you, none of that keeping kosher stuff) and the Burl Ives ‘Frosty The Snowman’ TV special.  So any attempt to reflect the diversity of our country around this time of year is not only unAmerican, but it threatens the very existence of the holiday they are thus compelled to defend.

Maybe if they got out of their studio once in a while, they’ll get a sense of just how well Christmas is doing versus any other holiday.  Even here in the godlessly liberal/socialist Bay Area, every mall, business, or residential street looks like an elf’s wet dream, festooned with tinsel, red & green baubles, and enough mechanical reindeer & inflated lit-up snowmen to completely confuse my dog every time I walk her.  (Not to mention the fact that Christmas has totally taken over Thanksgiving, and is probably going after Halloween and Labor Day next . . . )

Meanwhile, Bob Geldof has trotted out yet another rendition of his classic/monstrosity (depending on your perspective), “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” this time to raise awareness of Ebola, but continuing in the same vein of overblown rock anthem as expressed by patronizing Westerners.  (Apparently, just in Nigera there are 3 times as many Christians as in England, so it seems like they don’t need Geldof’s song to enlighten them.)  So in that same spirit, here’s my own overblown anthem in an effort to raise awareness of the existence of other holidays.

Saul Kaplan: Innovation Lessons From Taylor Swift

photo-saulI’m not a fan of pop music but I am an innovation junkie. My daughter Alyssa, a self- professed Swiftie, has been pestering me to pay attention, if not to Taylor Swift’s music at least to her business model. She wore me down. Turns out, there’s a lot we innovation junkies can learn from Taylor Swift. Whether her music is your thing or not (I have to admit its growing on me!), you can’t help but be impressed with Taylor Swift’s business savvy during a time when the music industry is being disrupted to smithereens. I’m most impressed with her social media presence to catalyze a growing army of Swifties and her aggressive stand against Spotify as the business model war between mp3 sales and streaming services rages on.

The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. They create an emotional connection through storytelling. Not stories to be enjoyed passively but stories we see ourselves in, stories we can actively participate in. What Taylor Swift realizes, that most businesses haven’t figured out, is that “social” isn’t an extension to an existing business model, it is an entirely new business model. Social isn’t a bolt on, its central to how movements start and grow.

Over the last two years the bottom has fallen out of the U.S. album market with sales plummeting 20%. Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 defies gravity with amazing launch week sales of 1.28 million copies exceeding all expectations according to Nielsen SoundScan. Swifties everywhere mobilized to make it so. My daughter, the fangirl, drove this innovation lesson home for me. Alyssa maintains a tumblr site dedicated to all things Taylor Swift. I didn’t pay attention until the day she called home proclaiming that the pop star had followed her and had actually responded to her question about all important lipstick choices. My daughter was so excited you would think it was a national holiday! That’s what I call fan engagement.

As if that wasn’t enough to lock in a fan for life, my daughter’s next post was a video of her 3 year-old twin nieces (our granddaughters) dancing to Shake It Off. Cute, aren’t they? When Taylor Swift tweeted out the video to her 46 million followers, our granddaughters went viral. Now everyone in our family is a Swiftie!

Multiply the ripple effect from this example of personal engagement thousands and thousands of times and you begin to see how social isn’t about pushing a message out to potential customers, its about pulling people into a movement. Talk about force multipliers. Social business is redundant. All business is social.

There is also an important innovation lesson in the way Taylor Swift has staked out her position in the music industry business model wars. Album sales are declining rapidly because consumers are flocking to free streaming services like Spotify with over 40 million active users. Only about 25% of those active users pay for a premium service without ads, the rest stream for free. 40 million streamers can put a serious dent in album sales. Spotify pays per stream royalties of between $0.006 and $0.0084 which is significantly less than an artist can make through mp3 sales.

Not many artists have Taylor Swift’s market clout but when she announced she was pulling her music off of Spotify it sent a clear message to the market. Content matters and should be paid for. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed and in a Yahoo interview she makes her point of view clear.

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for”.

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music”.

In a world where content can be digitized and the marginal cost of global distribution is virtually zero consumers have been conditioned to get content for free. It’s a business model free for all. Content producers have been squeezed mercilessly. Journalists, authors, and musicians are being decimated. Newspaper and magazine journalists have been let go in droves left to scramble to make ends meet as free agents. Authors bear the brunt of collateral damage from the battle between Hachette and Amazon. Fewer and fewer musicians can make a living pursuing their passion.

A dangerous narrative has emerged in which content creators are supposed to just accept that their content will be free. Authors are expected to write articles and books for free so they can make money giving speeches and doing consulting work. Musicians are expected to release music for peanuts so they can make money on the road doing concerts.

I have personally fallen into this trap as a steady content producer including tweets, blogs, articles, and even a book. How many of us keep pumping out content for free or very little money in the hopes that it will translate into value in other ways? Taylor Swift is taking an impressive stand. Yes it is in her best interest to do so but it is also in the interest of content creators everywhere.

Many new business models will emerge in the digital era. It will be messy while the market sorts out and balances consumer, platform, and content creator interests. Business models that don’t recognize the power of customer engagement and fully value the contribution of content creators are unsustainable. This new Swiftie is rooting for Taylor Swift’s continued success.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Stones

jyb_musingsI used to think the professional life span of a rock and roll group was about the same as an NFL lineman. 4 or 5 years on average. In a few exceptional cases maybe a little longer. But never more than the culturally transofrmative Beatles who survived together for a stunning 10 consecutive years. Longevity was never a concept that seemed applicable to rock and roll.

At least that is what I believed as a boy who was born in 1963 and watched rock legends and one hit wonders whizz by me like cars passing through a busy intersection. Whatever flashy car caught my attention was soon gone and replaced with a new flashy car –and so it went.

But there was one exception even tben. The Rolling Stones were formed in 1962 and several years after the Beatles disbanded, I read an artcile in Rolling Stone about how remarkable it was that the Stones were still standing the test of time — rocking into their 12 consecutive year. Nearly unthinkable in 1974.

But that was 40 years ago. And now as the Stones rock into their 52nd year (longer than my entire life) — they are still the gold standard for all rock bands — and they have helped make the concept of longevity in the context of rock and roll wholly compatible. Thankfully.

Lauren Mayer: Costco Vs. Walmart

I often struggle to reconcile my progressive values with my love of shopping.  I don’t want to patronize companies whose policies are at odds with the environment, LGBTQ rights, fair treatment of workers, and so on, but I also love a good bargain.  (My ultra-liberal husband gets weekly updates on which businesses we should avoid based on a wide variety of criteria, making it almost impossible to find an acceptable retailer or gas station!)

But fortunately, it turns out that there is a retailer which is ‘good and good for you,’ where we don’t need to sacrifice our own needs for those of the community – and it even manages to make great profits while espousing progressive values. In any head-to-head comparison with Walmart, and Costco comes up on top regarding employee benefits & wages, ratio of executive to average worker pay, overall customer satisfaction, AND profit.  Meanwhile, there are all the stories lately about Walmart forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving, spending a fortune on lobbyists while paying employees poorly, and making taxpayers pay to compensate for those lousy wages and huge executive bonuses, not to mention the pitifully small fraction of a percent the Walmart heirs contribute to any kind of charity, and the Scrooge-like requests for employees to donate canned food to their equally underpaid colleagues.

Isn’t it great to be able to feel morally superior while getting a great deal on everything from toilet paper to tires?

Lauren Mayer: Weren’t We All Immigrants, Once?

One of the best scenes in Blazing Saddles is when the railroad workers negotiate with Rock Ridge to help build the ‘false front’ town that will fool Hedley Lamarr’s evil army.  The racially mixed workers want to be repaid with land in town, and at first the townspeople object to including various ethnic groups.  Eventually they agree to accept the Chinese and African Americans but “we don’t want the Irish.”  However, when Sheriff Bart insists, the group’s leader finally says, “Oh, prairie sh*t, everyone!” and a happy ending ensues.

Apparently, not much has changed in 40 years (I know, those of us who remember when that movie first came out are OLD), as far as some people’s reactions to President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration reform.  Right-wing stalwarts like Michele Bachmann and Steve King project a ruined country overtaken by illiterate criminals, and even saner politicians are accusing Obama of acting like a tyrant, emperor, king, or dictator, when multiple Republican presidents (including ‘Saint Reagan’) did basically the same thing without any protest.

Meanwhile, there are very few of us in the country today whose anceestors weren’t immigrants at one time, so to help everyone chill out a bit, here’s a relaxing musical tribute to immigration . . .

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Cancelling a Concert Tour

jyb_musingsI have some idea now what it feels like to cancel a concert tour.

The past week I have been listening to Pearl Jam every morning.

It has become too exhausting for me to tap into my inner Eddie Vedder every morning for an entire week.

This morning I decided I needed to take a break from listening to Pearl Jam due to exhaustion.

I am going to listen to Paul Simon instead. Who is smaller and has a much softer persona to tap into than Eddie Vedder. I am not cancelling the entire Pearl Jam tour, so to speak. I just need a few days of Paul Simon to rest and recuperate.

I may be ready to listen to Pearl Jam again as early as next week — especially if I focus on listening to Simon’s later works, which are akin to eating chicken soup. And may help restore my voice which has become a little scratchy from the Pearl Jam singing this past week.

Lauren Mayer: Music Hath Charms To Soothe The Defeated Political Party

While I have the utmost respect for this site’s bipartisanship, readers know my views skew quite left.  However, I like to think that humor and music have bipartisan appeal – I grew up in Orange County (the red state in the middle of California . . . . cue rim shot), and even my most rabidly rightwing classmates will tell me they enjoy my videos, even if they know I’m totally wrong about everything.

So in that spirit, this week’s song, while still partisan, is an effort to please everyone.  Republicans can gloat over the political mistakes by Democrats I cite, Democrats can appreciate the strategic advice going forward, apolitical types can enjoy the bouncy catchy tune, and everyone can laugh at this middle-aged suburban Jewish mother imitating an adorabale pop star who is only 20.

Lauren Mayer: Bipartisan Nostalgia

In this hyper-partisan era, many writers wax nostalgic about when politics were more civil, when Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan could work together despite their differences, when people disagreed politely.  That’s the great thing about nostalgia – you only have to remember the good parts (like how I love 1930s clothes and music but wouldn’t want to restore that era’s sexism, racism, or economic inequity).  Likewise, there was plenty of political ugliness in the past – but I do think the op ed pieces have a point, in that these days we have lost even the superficial veneer of civilized disagreement.

With that in mind, this week’s song is a hybrid of my own admitted fierce partisanship and an effort to emulate the 1930s, by adopting the gracious tone and witty wordplay of a Noel Coward song.  I may be totally one-sided here, but at least I can do it with grace and style!

Lauren Mayer: The Sound of Marriage Equality

Whatever you thought of the live ‘Sound of Music’ starring Carrie Underwood, it was still commendable for a number of reasons, including exposing country fans to musical theatre, and showing people who’d only seen the movie the numbers & scenes that were cut from it. (Not that Julie Andrews wasn’t adorable, but in the movie the Captain dumps Baroness Schraeder just because of one dance with his employee, which is sort of creepy.  In the actual musical, Schraeder turns out to be a Nazi appeaser, and possibly a sympathizer, which is a slightly better reason . . .)
I was reminded of this song by Louie Gohmert (and a few other wingnuts) remarking that the spreading tide of marriage equality was just like the spread of Nazism . . .

Will Meyerhofer: Learning From Barry Manilow

Will MeyerhoferIt is remarkable how often I listen to clients worrying themselves sick over people who don’t even seem to like them.

The other day a woman complained she didn’t know how to handle a guy who’d treated her like something under his shoe.  He didn’t call, didn’t pay attention to her life or any of the issues she was facing at work or with her family.  He pretty much just talked, and cared, about himself.

But she couldn’t seem to get over him.

He called again, wanted to get together.

“Should I see him?”  She asked me.

The answer was obvious.  Every time she’d given in – and it had happened plenty – the same pattern played out.  He was considerate and nice for a week or two, then went back to the same old routine of ignoring her needs and focusing entirely on himself.

I told her she needed greater wisdom than I could summon.  She needed to listen to Barry Manilow.

You probably have some sort of opinion regarding the creative output of Barry Manilow – which is to say you probably either love his music or you hate it.

If you love it – really, really love it – then you’re a “fanilow,” a Barry Manilow super-fan.

A friend of mine visited Las Vegas last year with his two elderly aunts, and – mostly to humor them – went to see Barry Manilow play at one of the big resort hotels.  He posted his response up on Facebook:  “I’m a fanilow!”

He was wowed – like plenty of people who actually go to see this hard-working, talented performer who gives everything he’s got on stage.

Barry loves his fanilows.  He thanks them, he signs their programs, he tells them again and again that he owes them everything, that they’re the reason he can keep on performing and doing what he loves.  They love him – and he loves them right back.

On the other hand, I read an interview a few years back where the reporter got a bit snarky with Barry, hinting that his music was widely dismissed as camp, mere sugary trash.  I don’t remember Barry’s precise words, but he said something like this:  “I take my work very seriously, and if you aren’t going to treat it with respect, I’ll end this interview right now.”

He had a point, and he made it.  Barry Manilow does what he loves, and there are many people who celebrate him for it. He doesn’t need the haters.

You can learn from Barry Manilow.

Find your fanilows – and hold them tight.  Cherish them.  Celebrate them as they celebrate you.  Those are the people who deserve you in their lives.

The haters?  The critics?  The people who take you for granted or tear you down?  Push them away.

There are plenty of people in this world.  You can find some fanilows – starting with yourself.  No one loves Barry’s music more than Barry – and that’s exactly how it should be.

Here’s a good ground rule for dating (I call it “the Manilow Rule”):  Don’t even consider a relationship with anyone who isn’t a fanilow – your fanilow.  If the other person isn’t excited – thrilled – ecstatic –jumping up and down with enthusiasm about a date with you, push him aside and find someone who is.

Be your own biggest fan – and start a fan club.

If you’re hoping he’ll call, he’s not a fanilow.  A fan doesn’t leave you wondering – he lets you know you know he’s dying to see you.  That’s the guy for you.

Does surrounding yourself with fanilows sound a bit dangerous?  A bit too easy?  Would it turn you into a self-satisfied egomaniac, unwilling to hear criticism?

It doesn’t have to.  I’m sure Barry reads the critics, and he ponders their suggestions.  He takes everything into consideration – then he makes his calls, his own decisions about his music and his performances.

You can have a suggestion box, too.  And you can invite people to write down their suggestions and stick them in.  And you can read them, and consider each and every one on its merits.  If they have a problem with you, they can say so, and you’ll listen.

But at the end of the day, you have to make your own calls.  You decide who you want to be – your most authentic, best self.

Then you go out into the world, and sort through the haters – and the fanilows.

The haters you can listen to politely, and push aside.

But the fanilows are the ones who celebrate you, and make it possible for you to see what’s best in yourself.

Be good to the fanilows.  Treat them like gold.
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Postscript:

 

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My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance.

Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

(In addition to Amazon.com, my books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)

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