August 19, 2018


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we offer tips on the importance and use of visuals in marketing, how to be a responsible idea generator, criteria for recruiting new board members, and how emotional and trust factors affect use of smart devices. Enjoy!


1. Beyond Words In Marketing

Words, words, words. We turn to them instinctively in marketing.

But marketing consultant Al Ries has argued for the superiority of visuals over verbal. In an article on Ad Age, he combines both notions, arguing that you need to make your words have more impact through “verbal imagery.”

Take the common journalistic phrase when somebody prominent retires: Steps down. “When you read the words ‘step down,’ the left ‘aural’ side of your brain understands the words and the right ‘visual’ side creates a mental picture of a person stepping down. Engaging both halves of your brain literally doubles the impact of the idea of ‘retirement,’” he notes.

In essence, he says, there are two kinds of words: Verbal words and visual words. The more abstract the idea, the more likely it is expressed with verbal words. The more specific the idea, the more likely it is expressed with visual words.

“Big, conceptual ideas like high-quality products, state-of-the-art technology, customer-oriented sales force, world-class service and many other concepts are almost useless in marketing. Yet companies tend to use such lofty ideas in their slogans,” he states.

BMW might have used the slogan “the ultimate performance machine,” but he points out “the ultimate driving machine” can be visualized whereas performance can’t. Subaru promises “confidence in motion,” alluding to its dominance in four-wheel drive vehicles, but he says they would be smarter to pitch “leader in four-wheel drive.”

So put visual words into your own marketing.


2. How To Be A Responsible Idea Guy

Idea people sometimes run into push-back from those who prefer sticking to the knitting, but ideas are vital to progress. On his blog, consultant Nathan Magnuson offers these suggestions to help:

  • Find a time and place to let your ideas flow: Without intentionality, the complexity of life can choke off ideas. He suggests having a time and place to let them flow, like taking a walk at a certain time each week.
  • Record your ideas: A mental note can easily be forgotten. “An actual note not only provides your idea with a reference point, it forces you to better articulate the thought itself,” he says.
  • Set idea goals: A musical classmate in college had a goal of writing one song per week. Not all were great but it kept him generating songs. Similarly, Magnuson suggests a goal of one idea a day.
  • Pick your ideas carefully: At the same time, you need to be very selective of which to pursue, since you can’t implement them all.
  • Share with the right people: Fellow idea people can help you brainstorm and build on your ideas. Critical thinkers can help you evaluate them better. Cheerleaders can help encourage you and teammates help to implement.
  • Separate your ideas from your identity: You are not your idea. If somebody trashes it or you find it doesn’t work, move on.
  • Treat detail people like royalty: You need them. They complement your strength at generating ideas.


3. How To Support A Decision You Don’t Agree With

Sometimes the higher-ups make a decision you disagree with. But you still have to carry it out — and if a manager, cheerlead for it.

University of Texas Professor Art Markham urges you to resist a temptation to communicate your concerns to your peers and supervisees. “Your job is to help your organization succeed. You won’t be fulfilling that role if you — intentionally or unintentionally — undermine the decision,” he writes in Harvard Business Review.

  • If you generally trust the organization, try to convince yourself the decision is solid. Ask yourself why someone would make this choice. Look for factors you may not have considered before that would make the option a good one.
  • He also suggests you should be explicit about all of your objections. Thinking about those concerns can help with implementation, highlighting some of the difficulties you will need to figure out and how to surmount them.
  • And share this approach with others since some day they might struggle with one of your decisions.


4. Handling The Alliance Builder From Hell

“Alliance Builders” are colleagues who spend their time networking, schmoozing, and building alliances. That isn’t as positive as it seems since often it involves negative talk about others and too much gossip. You may not want to cross them, but consultant Mike Belding in his Winning At Work newsletter advises you to:

  • Be yourself, rather than participating in his discussions.
  • Focus on your job and being good at it.
  • Be friendly to everyone.
  • Never gossip about co-workers.
  • Avoid him as much as possible, but when you have contact, be friendly so that you don’t become a target.


5. Zingers

  • You need it when?  Don’t make assumptions about when proposals to clients or decisions need to be made. Ask. You may have more time than you think. (Source: HR Bartender)
  • Don’t move on too quickly:  Recent research shows that people who allowed themselves a brief wallowing period after failing on a task — to the point of self-pity — were more successful in the future than those who tried to rationalize and move on immediately after what happened. It has to do with taking the time to learn. (Source: The Ladders)
  • How do you work?  Writer Sara Saddington suggests studying the different frequencies for your work. For example, she has two primary modes, creative and administrative. She has noticed that creative work always takes longer than she expects and requires a more expansive mindset. Administrative work, on the other hand, takes less time than she plans and can be completed when she is feeling low energy. (Source: Thin Difference)
  • Throw away your sales brochures, says consultant Colleen Francis. Far too many sellers and companies default to using corporate marketing materials when pitching in a first meeting. Instead, go to the meeting armed with questions you need to ask and relationship-building skills needed to continue to make inroads with the prospects. (Source: EngageSelling.com)
  • Help listeners hear:  In conversations and speeches, communications coach Nick Morgan advises you to use more contrast and “ordering devices” to help listeners sort out what they are hearing. These include “for example,” “first, second and third,” “not this but that,” and what he calls the best — “on the one hand and on the other hand.” Those devices help your audience hear, process, and file away what you’re saying. (Source: Public Words)


6. Q&A With 8020Info:
    Picking Board Members

Question:   What criteria should we use in recruiting and choosing board members?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

I’d start with wisdom, judgment, candour, and an ability to work with others.

These days boards develop Excel spreadsheets that try to slot board members into pigeon holes of expertise. And that certainly beats past practice of just picking people who get along with — and who will be subservient to — the CEO.

There are certain skills your board will need. At least one person should be adept with the numbers. And if you’re very small, without staff expertise in certain areas — no HR officer or marketing maven, for example — for a while you can try to compensate for it at the board level, at least to some extent, but remember this is only part-time help; no matter how experienced the board member may be, they are not deeply immersed in your business and over the long haul you need full-time, in-the-office help.

In some situations, your board will include stakeholders — representatives, formally or informally, of the groups you serve or who provide your revenue. In business, of course, if there is not a sole owner, the board is considered representatives of the shareholders. Businesses can be more effective when they have voices on the board attuned to the customers, and the employees.

But back to wisdom, judgment, candour and an ability to work well with others:

Wisdom and judgment are related and not easy to quantify. You probably know people who can provide it and those who can’t. Wise is different from smart. Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis in their book Judgment say the difference between failure and success is judgment. They add that with good judgment, little else matters; without it, nothing else matters.

Candour is critical. Even if you fully own your own business, there’s no point in having a board of advisors that hesitates to give you their honest assessment of situations. If they hold back, you might suffer. Diplomacy and tact are prized these days and have their place. You want board members who can get along with others, but above all, you want their candour.

And their time. Board members will always be giving you limited time. But a board member who never reads the preparatory material, skips meetings or arrives late, and who doesn’t have time to keep in contact with key employees of the company is probably not worth keeping.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
    Using Smart Assistants

As intelligent assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant become more common in our lives, many organizations are beginning to think about how they might be used in their own operations. There’s been plenty to read about their technical capabilities, but not so much on the human interaction and emotional elements.

On this point, The Nielsen Norman Group shared some findings from a study on users’ attitudes and feelings towards these devices.


Many participants pointed out that personal assistants were bad at detecting emotions and could not understand frustrations or adjust to tone of voice or word choice (the way humans would) — leading to inaccurate responses.

Study participants did not believe the devices do much to tailor their behaviour to better serve users, and were highly aware that these devices are not yet fully intelligent (and should not be referred to as artificial intelligence).

The study found there were two categories of users:

  • People who use the same language/sentence structure as if they were talking to humans (using words like “please”, and “can you…”)
  • People who try to adapt their language/queries to make the device more successful at giving the desired response. (“Kingston weather this Friday” instead of “What is the weather in Kingston going to look like this Friday?”)


The interpretation, judgement, and opinion of devices generally weren’t trusted by most users, and participants had most trust in the assistant when asking questions with fact-based answers (like “what was the score of the Leafs game last night?”)

People generally don’t trust them enough to be successful for important tasks (such as locking the house door).

So, despite all the progress in the capabilities of smart devices, earning our trust might be the bigger challenge for more complete integration of devices in our lives and workplaces.

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8020Info helps senior teams develop, clarify and build consensus behind their strategic priorities. Our services support research / stakeholder consultations, strategic planning processes, change and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8. Closing Thought:

“In many ways, naps are Zambonis for our brains. They smooth out the nicks, scuffs and scratches a typical day has left on our mental ice.”

— Daniel Pink