Larry Mannino's Blog

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Why I’m Glad I Broke My Guitar.

I’ve been trying to learn guitar for years. I’d  pick it up, learn for a stretch, get into it, stop making progress, forget about it, lose my callouses Rinse and repeat. When Covid hit, I had more time and decided to, once again,  take another stab at learning the guitar. Fender made this easy by offering all of us shut-ins free lessons.

A few weeks in I was still at it, and decided I wanted to try and  change the strings on my favorite guitar. I’d never done it by myself before, so I asked Olivia, my oldest daughter, if she wanted to do it with me. She’s getting older and, though still a couple of years away from college, I already see the writing on the wall and sometimes feel pre-wistful about her eventual departure. I may be Superman to the outside world, but my girls are my Kryptonite, so whenever I get a chance to spend time with them, I carpe that diem.

Anyway, she said sure, we sat down on the floor, pulled up a You Tube video, and got to the step-by-step work of replacing the strings.

Just me and her trying to figure it out. Laughing, talking…just being. It was simple and effortless and breathtakingly fulfilling in the way that only maybe a parent can understand. At one point we couldn’t loosen one of the bridge pins that hod the strings down. I tried to use a pin-puller tool, slipped, and put a pretty good ding in the top of my otherwise near-perfect Guild D50.

No, not a hole, but, well...Aaargh!

“It’s alright” I said, and we got back to the business of changing the strings. And talking and listening and learning and just just having great time together, me and my 16-year-old buddy.

Finally we finished, tuned up, gave each other a fist bump, eventually put it back in the case, and left.

A few day later Olivia asked me if I was going to get the ‘ding’ fixed. I shrugged “I don’t know” I said.

Later that night I pulled it out to play and ran my fingertip over that chip in the finish. But when I looked at it all I could see, and feel, and relive was a great, warm, fun time with my daughter.

Not a now-imperfect  guitar. Not a ham-handed mistake that I regretted. Nope, that ding will remain forever, because every single time I think about it, or see it, a smile comes to my face.

I will never fix it.

As a brand copywriter and strategist, a lot of my time is spent shaping perception. One thing I’ve learned is that the meaning we assign to things is, in large part, more real than the objective thing in and of itself. Long story short, we have a choice about how we see the world. How we respond to everything that affects us. And how we feel.

We can choose to define something as good or the bad by what we associate with it. The meaning we choose means everything.

How we choose to see becomes our truth. Our truth becomes our Life. And our Life can be made better or worse, painful or joyful as a result.

When we remember this, even in these odd times, we realize we have all of the power to be happy or otherwise.

Every time I pull out my guitar, I see that chip in the finish. And I smile.

Choose wisely.

The Antidote – A Poem For 03/28/20

Everyone Breathless in Panicky State
Is there nothing to do now but just Sit and Wait?

And to TV and Phone
Check for Constant Update?

To Confirm More Bad News,
Addict’s Itch must we Sate?

Forget not that all ‘News’
Is not Kind Service Free

But most Business of Profit,
That gains each time we See.

For each Tidbit or Promise
Or Lead they do Tease

Brings more Money to Them,
But to Us more Unease.

In a country of Millions
Are thousands Infected,

And while Prudence is Wise
Still to Fear we’re Directed

No, I Do Not make Trivial
This Dire Heath Threat,

But also do Caution
World’s End is Not Yet!

‘Twas just Few Weeks Ago
You said ‘I Need a Break’

And while NOT one like This
Still Advantage should Take!

Yes, This Too Shall Pass –
Yes it Certainly Will

And when does Don’t Be One
Who asks ‘Why’d I Sit Still?’

Yes I Hope that you’re Healthy
And Hope You Are Well,

But Caution you Not
To Fall under Fear’s Spell.

No, I Do Not Belittle
What we’re Going Through,

But how You Respond
Still Remains Up To You!

Remember All Those ‘Things’
Always ‘Want To Get To’?

That ‘If Only Had Time’
You Wanted To Do?

Guess What? You’ve time NOW
But Forever t’won’t Last

And Soon, I Do Hope,
This ‘Stop Time’ will have Passed!

So let’s All Take a Breath
See this Unwanted Gift

Of a Break in Routine
Chance to Take Stock and LIft

Your Future Life to
Better Place You CAN See

You’ve Time Now to Take Steps
Toward you YOU Want To BE!

Every Day, Even Now
Presents Each with a Chance

To Sit on Sidelines
Or Partake in The Dance!

I do Urge you the Latter
If Music you Hear,

And if NOT do Suggest
That You Q-Tip your Ear!

Make the Most of this Time
It Won’t Always Be Here

Know that Seeds you Plant Now
Will Bloom later This Year

To come from this State
Might seem There’s Nothing Good…

But with Courage and Purpose
Say I Something Could!

So Turn Off Those Screens
That Bring Fear Through the Air,

And Remember Action’s ALWAYS
Antidote to Despair!

Why You Can’t Get It Done – A Poem

When there’s a small thing
That’s been weighing on you

A task that you know
That you simply must do

One task in The Past
Perhaps you’d not embrace

But still needed to do
In your great Career Race

Yes a small and dull part
Of All that you do

When the much Larger part
Was to your own heart True

Back then you could do it;
‘Twas quick; you were done

And Free once again
To Pursue what was Fun

But now once-tiny thing
That with Ease could complete

Seems an out-of-reach Deadline
You cannot quite meet

A small taunting thing
With intent to Elude

You as if slippery,
Or does oil exude

You see now Time has passed
And that Unwanted task

Seems to be, more and more,
From you All that they ask

That ‘So-Not-You’ thing
That now smothers your day

Qualify to yourself:
‘It’s a Price I Must Pay’

And that hopeful career
That once brought you to life

Deep inside, loathe admit,
Brings just Wither and Strife

You Deny and say
‘Well I’m sure things will get better’

But over time sense
To Wrong Path, you’re now Fettered

No you no longer Leap
From your bed every day

But now Will yourself up
And go Just for The Pay

And though Dark it may seem
Hopeless Fear-Frantic Rut

I offer you Hope
In the form of a But

But maybe consider
The thing that they ask

That ‘just-not-you’ thing
(And now Primary Task)

May hold critical clue
Why upsets you so Deep

And may just Reveal
From Yourself secrets Keep!

See, if after some Time
Daily Smile’s mere Mask

And Heart never In-Step
With those things that They ask

Know if that is the case,
Well All parties do lose

And Clear Signal to You
That New Path you Must Choose

For the worst thing to do,
Once Inside you Do know

Is to let Fear Of Change
Force you same line to tow

Yes that pesky Task-Battle
That just can’t be won?

Could be  great flashing sign
That’s it’s YOU who are Done!

You say NO! You React!
‘No this simply can’t Be!’

But your pushback is Futile;
Truth Cannot One Unsee.

Yes this Race you’ve run well,
But now cannot be won

It’s Okay, Walk Away
Leave Old Shade, Find New Sun

Yes, now Gather your things,
And Bid All Kind Adieu,

Know that Everything Changes,
And Know That Includes YOU.

The Key to Sustainable Peace and Fulfillment, or How to Become So Much Less in 2020

How did you get to where you are? If you’re in a good place, and generally happy, you probably don’t think about this sort of thing, and good for you!

But if you’re somewhere on the spectrum between blandly-existing-and-not-too-happy-about-it and holy-crap-if-I-don’t-do-something-about-my-miserable-existence-I’m-going-to-explode, well, this post is for you.

I’ve been working on my own life quite a bit lately (and to be honest, like most of us,  for years in some way or another), and somewhere between existential navel-gazing and more focused journaling to figure out my next steps, I think I’ve found at least one key that will unlock maybe one lock on the path to – or even better, path of –  fulfillment and peace.  And no, I didn’t say happiness; in my experience, the state of being happy, though welcome, is an ephemeral sort of thing, and maybe simply a by-product of being fulfilled and at peace, regardless of circumstance.

That latter part – fulfillment and peace – is what I’m shooting for. And what I’m hoping that, by sharing, I can help some other folks find their way to as well.

Anyway, here’s something I’ve learned that might help you: as we go through life, over time we kind of accumulate lots of things.  When we’re young and start out fresh, we run mostly on instinct and curiosity – and that’s a great thing.  We keep it simple and naturally pursue only those things that interest us and, maybe more importantly, energize us.  We’re pretty lean and unencumbered, in-motion and fueled by the energy of momentum and genuine interest in the world around us. We’re restless with ‘what-if’, and grow fidgety when we have to slow down or stop. When we’re young, we are simple and basic and true.

Having lived through childhood, some of that is rose-colored glasses stuff; it certainly wasn’t easy, just easy to see it that way from a later, more experienced perspective.  But there is truth to the power and fulfillment of the ‘lean’ approach – the not overthinking, trust-your-gut and just do it choices of your youth, because they worked.

Problem is, over time, life gets in the way.

In my case, it’s always been the saying yes to things that’s gotten me in the most trouble.  My motivation is typically either because someone asked me, and I’m wired to tilt at windmills, or — especially more recently over the past decade or so, and with the growing demands of caring for a family and employees and running a small business — our of FEAR.  Take the money as long as you’re doing no harm. Bills to pay, mouths to feed…it’s an easy justification.

But when you do this, you are doing harm.  To yourself.  But unlike a useful and immediate pain response – like take your hand off the hot stove, dummy – this type of harm is considerably more insidious.  The damage happens over time, and by the time you finally figure it out (journaling helps with that, btw), you’ve got a real and complicated problem on your hands.

When you keep taking things on that aren’t aligned with your genuine interests, talents, or passions, you are growing bigger and slower and more encumbered. You’re like a snowball that keeps rolling along, picking up twigs and stones and rocks and garbage until you reach a point where you no longer resemble snow at all – just a rough and immobile pile of unrecognizable things, most of which are not you at all.

At a certain point, you become too big to move. There is no energy to you. And the real you is buried inside.

The good news is that last bit: you’re still in there.  But you have to unbury.  You need to unearth that genuine and entombed bit of you that, when you consult your own inner voice — you know, the one that you ignore, but that’s ALWAYS right and that you’re generally too chickenshit to act on – tells you the exact thing you must do, and the path that you must take.  The one that is natural to you, and aligned with your interests and talents and just feels right.

You know that path, that one you don’t overthink – or even consider, but just ‘do’. And when you do, time disappears. THat’s the one you have to dig out.  And muster up the courage to walk.

Yes, reality is reality. You’re not going to return to childhood, and probably really don’t want to.  You have responsibilities and they’re quite real.  I get that – I have them too.

But you ALSO owe it to yourself and your family and the world to be the best version of yourself, and this is how you start: you chip away.

That mass of everything you’ve said yes to over the long haul – that thing that is big and immobile and sedentary and sad and that can’t even bear its own weight anymore – that thing needs to get smaller.  And it gets smaller by willfully discarding all of those things that are not you, and by saying no to even the seemingly best opportunities and possibilities that are not aligned with those few simple things that you really are. It is like a sculptor chipping away at a block and removing all of those things that are not the exact thing they want to realize. When successful only the Art remains, nothing else.

This is not easy. It requires mindfulness, courage, skill and spine. It is a daily practice, but like a sensible diet should not be an extreme or overwhelming one. More of a lifestyle change that reveals its benefits over time.

Yesterday I was offered a new and lucrative opportunity. But I am busy and, more importantly, yearning toward the new, not the more of the same. And as this new opportunity has nothing to do with writing, creativity, brand communications, strategy, helping others or, as Neil Gaiman so aptly put it, will allow me to “Make Good Art“, I will pass.  Someone else is a better fit for this. And yes, I could use the money.

But I will say no, politely, to this one.  Because I already have too many rocks and sticks on my snowball.

And I really want to see just the snow again 😉






How to Start Being Happy Forever (or Who Cares If It’s Supposed To Rain Today?)

Many of us are miserable. Exhausted, unsatisfied, longing and unhealthy. A quick walk through your local Target 2 days before Christmas is pretty much all the proof you need of this.  Haunted faraway looks, frenzied actions, stress-pallored and with an almost robotic demeanor.  Even the Santa with the Kettle outside had one hand on the cell while ringing the bell.

We’re no longer where we are, but always somewhere else.

Ho, ho…no, this is not my holiday message. But it does seem to be the unfortunate truth of our supposedly gilded – or maybe that’s just veneered – age.

Maybe we’ve lost that in the age where value and worth are solely determined by quantifiable and commercial factors, but maybe, just maybe, we can push back and be reminded that there is another way. Maybe that’s why I’m blogging again, at least in part – to remind us that we are all so much more more than this, more than just consumption machines playing our role in the economy. And that maybe by yearning for less, perhaps we will find ourselves and that quicksilver of happiness that we continually seek by pursuing the more.

I’m beginning to suspect that we ourselves are quite enough, and less is a worthy pursuit. As a brand communications strategist, I realize that is marketing blasphemy.  But because I take a long term view of everything, I also do not care.

“Hey,I just want to be Happy Forever.  That’s why I read this far…and what’s this Rain business?” 

I learned a long time ago that everything I need to learn my kids already know.  Now I realize that maybe what I need to really do is unlearn.

Here’s an example: I was sitting outside on my deck the other morning doing my usual bit of journaling to see what was in my head.  It was warmish and greyish and niceish – the day, not my head –  and not too cold for December.

My youngest daughter, Gabriella, was running and jumping.  She’s always running and jumping. In fact, for the past 11 years, that’s pretty much been what she does.  Sometimes on a horse, but no horse, no worries. She gets bored in front of screens.

I’m so grateful for that.

Anyway, there I was, trying to figure out my life I suppose or appreciate it more. Sketching away, jotting down ideas, doing some freeflow,  Getting things on paper is how I make sense of things, so I’m humming along and hearing Gab’s footfalls and at one point I happen to glance up and see some clouds rolling in.

Jump Jump. Over to my left.  Jump Jump.

“Hey,” I call over to her, “Supposed to Rain today?”

And. just as I say it, I pull away from the moment, no longer see anything of the wonder right in front of me as my head hits turbo:

She’s going to a friend’s house today. Rain.  If I knew about rain, would she have to change her outfit?  What would they do? Should I approach the day differently?  Will they be inside?  Will That shorten the day?  Will I have to pick her up earlier than I’d planned?  How will that affect my day?  Will My schedule change?  Will My wife pick her up after work?  How much rain will we get?  Will That gutter that was a problem during the last storm hold?  Is the basement going to leak again?  Did I leave my guitars near the wall down there where it leaked last time…

“I dunno” she chirped with a happy shrug.  She didn’t lose pace or break stride.  She said nothing more.  She didn’t care one bit, because it didn’t matter one bit.  Not to her.

Jump jump.  Run Run. Breathe breathe. Smile Smile.

It didn’t matter at all.  Not one bit.

I sat there and let the powerful simplicity of that moment sink in.  “Girl’s a genius”, I thought and told her as much.  She looked at me, made a goofy face.  And kept running and jumping and playing.

I watched her, always taking it as it comes.  Light as a feather.  Happy and untethered.

I was envious. Her instinctive simplicity is genius; my learned complexity is stupid.

Only one of us is truly happy, alive and engaged most of the time.

Guess which one.

We live in an attention economy.  Not a consumer economy – that’s become secondary –  an attention economy, first and foremost.  And beyond the economy, we live an attention existence.  Our friends are not in the room, not often, but instead on a screen.  It requires attention to seek them out.   Attention to decide how to present ourselves before we see them.  Attention to determine in advance every single moment of every single day just how to present ourselves to a world that really is not a world at all, at least not in the sense of that which the fabric of actual reality is made. Attention to respond to the constant and smothering stream of pokes and prods and information that is constantly hurled at us.

There is no such thing as multitasking, only micro-tasking. We can only put our effort in one place at one time.  Only be in one place at one time.  And what we’re thinking about – where our attention is invested –  is where we are.  And someone is always pulling at your attention.  Think about it: we are constantly being baited to think about certain things. This is how money is made – at the expense of our attention and self.  And money has somehow been insidiously placed at top of the altar of all that is deemed important and worthy of pursuit.

Yes, I’m a marketing blasphemist.  Or an unapologetic humanist. I’m okay with either.

When was the last time you carved out even 5 minutes of silence?  No phone, no internet. Alone with your thoughts?

Five minutes.  Stop now and try it and realize just how long five minutes is when you are only focusing on them.  It’s a comparable eternity.  Comparable to what?  Spend five minutes on YouTube, and I’ll see you in an hour when you get back.

My point is this: when faced with a question about something that may or may not happen, but which will demand your attention, take my daughter’s advice. Shrug and keep doing whatever you were doing.  You’ll find that whatever seemed so important was not – not to you anyway.  And that your world will not only not end, but will actually be richer and more interesting.  Just be here. And Now.  Not There, or then – even if it’s only in your head.

Remember, this is a process of mindfully choosing Less. Of ironically, being aware and choosing not to engage.  Maybe it’s sort of like meditating: see the ‘must must must’ but choose to let it go.  Over time, this will become not an exercise, but simply the way you are.  This is not a quick fix, but a gradual one.  This is the difference between taking on a crazy unsustainable diet or gradually changing your eating habits toward something healthier over the long term.

Only one lasts over time and makes you healthy inside AND out.

Disconnect. Start a silent rebellion against the perceived inevitability of a questionable future. Shrug and be happy.

You owe the world nothing except the best version of you — which is also what you owe yourself.

And this is a good way to start.

My 2 Cents – and a Happy New Year to All.

Are You Doomed by Definition?

Yesterday morning I was reading “The Ten Best Books of 2019” in The New York Times‘ Book Review to see if I was on it (spoiler alert: nope). Anyway, the article contained a brief synopsis of each the NYT’s top 10 picks, one of which was The Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. I was drinking my coffee and skimming along and Mr. Barry’s book sounded pretty interesting – until I got to the last line of the review, which reads as follows:

“Their banter is a shield against the dark, a witty new take on “Waiting for Godot.”

And with that, I was done. No longer as interested as I had been. Maybe I’d pick it up, maybe I wouldn’t.


Because, I realized, while I’m not familiar with Mr. Barry’s work, I am very familiar with Samuel Beckett’s – especially on the Godot side.

As a writer, reader and former English major, I know that play.  A lot of people know that play – even if they haven’t read it, or seen it performed, they pretty much get the gist of it.  And, I’ll wager, a lot of Book Review readers are also familiar with Godot.

And because of this familiarity I immediately – and probably pretty unfairly – filed The Night Boat to Tangier away in the ‘this is like Waiting for Godot’ section of my brain.  Sure, I know they’re not the same work, but in an instant that brief description defined the entirety of the book for me from now on out.

And pretty much killed my chances of reading it because, well, I already know Godot.

Yes, I know that I am a shortsighted, impulsive, largely uninformed idiot to take this position,  and I know that I’m missing out on something here, but it doesn’t matter. You see, right or wrong, because I now have such a short and resonant snapshot of Mr. Barry’s work in my mind  I probably won’t pick it up — at least ahead of other choices of which I know less.

In my brain, the equation now reads as follows: Night Boat To Tangier = Waiting for Godot lite.

It’s a stupid position to take, but maybe I have no choice. And neither do you.

In my defense, this quick-take approach is simply a result of the way we humans are wired: our brains are designed to keep things neat and efficient, and intentionally only focus on specific things at the expense of others. It’s a survival mechanism, because if we didn’t do this we’d be overwhelmed by all of the sensory data that’s constantly bombarding us.  So when we get an idea of what something’s about, we immediately decide whether it’s relevant and then quickly package it and tuck it away on whatever mental shelf it belongs. In the Night Boat’s case, because of that easy framing, it’ll get filed on my mental shelf under ‘I already know what this is about, so no further exploration needed’.

And that’s not only a shame, but also the risk we all run when deciding how to present ourselves to the world.

Sure, I recognize Mr. Barry’s work is almost undoubtedly so much more than this simple connection I’ve made via a brief definition (it is ‘Top 10’ after all) and that I’ll definitely be missing out on a great opportunity that is likely far richer and even, perhaps, better than the work with which it is pithily coupled.

But there it is: the danger of the short definition.

It’s the kind of thing that kills opportunities, careers, brands and relationships.

So why did this idea of definition all jump out at me?  And why, right now?

We live in a world that is frantic.  We are all running and don’t seem to have time for anything.  We are all constantly taking it all in, making myriad decisions based on scant information, and somehow have convinced ourselves – or perhaps been conditioned to think –  that having the time to explore something in greater depth is a luxury.

And while I think this is (or perhaps leads to) insanity, there is a truth to it.

In my case, it’s something I’ve struggled with for years. Professionally, I identify as a Writer and Brand Strategist. But I am also an Author, Father, Husband, Copywriter, Photographer, Poet, Artist, Communications Expert, Gamer, Business Strategist, Surf Caster, Pumpkin Grower, lover of all things Halloween, Principal at LGM Creative,  Storyteller, creator of the Brandphilic method, Hater of Soulless Consumerism, and nascent Screenwriter and Videographer.

And that’s not even a complete list.

Like so many of you, for years I too have wrestled with the “how do I present myself” question. And it has been paralyzing.

On the one hand, I get it: on the professional side, efficiency can be helpful – especially if you’re a business or recruiter looking to fill a job. So maybe on Linked In you make it clean and lean: For your convenience, I am these, and only these, specific things, these are my specific keyworded skills and here’s a tidy summary of my proactive,  results-driven (retch) existence. Please pick me.

Yes, I get the convenience of quick Definition.

My business card – at least the unedited version (see pic) only says Writer and Brand Strategist.

But, I’ll argue, because it can’t say everything, maybe it should say nothing.

Perhaps this is something specific to creatives – I don’t know – but all of those things that we are beyond the quick definition with which we are tagged are those very things that inform our work.  They are the creative well from which we draw to do our thing.  And while it would be easy to suggest that if I were, say, a programmer, a tight list of all of the programming languages I knew would be all that matters, I think that that too is untrue.

Every profession needs to create and evolve and contribute and – until we’re replaced by our AI-driven robot overlords – that very messiness of definition is where our true value lies, not in the sanitized and short and concise one.

As I mentioned, I’ve been paralyzed: do I set up two sites – one as a brand communications writer strategist, and the other as a fiction writer, creative and all the rest of me?

Seriously, it’s tricky. You don’t want to be perceived as either an unfocused flake or a very basic cog or robot. And the same holds true for your business, or your brand. You don’t want to confuse people, but you also don’t want to present yourself as a parity provider either, because the latter is far more dangerous over the long haul.

If you decide to present yourself too tightly and for the perceived convenience of others, you are running a very real risk of making this two-dimensional version of yourself easily dismissed. Worse, if you do succeed in, say, attracting what you want as a result of this thin and tight definition, you may be perceived as only that, and will likely find yourself struggling for something more rewarding, fulfilling and true to yourself in a very short time.

So for me, I’m going all in and hopefully, the people and projects I want to work with will find me. Sure, I’m busy as Hell, but as of late I find myself restless and looking for new creative challenges and partnerships, and it doesn’t make sense for me to try and pigeonhole myself while looking to broaden my horizons.  If nothing pans out, that’s fine, but if it does, I want to make sure the ‘me’  I’m putting out there attracts what I actually want.

And the same holds true for how you present yourself, your offerings or your business. Quite frankly, I think that’s why branding interests me so much because, for me, your brand is simply the way people think about you. How you shape and manage that is critical, because if you present yourself in a manner that will definitely produce higher ‘engagement’, but is in some manner false to what you really are, you’re going to attract clients that may not actually value what you really offer, and the resulting relationship with be brief and likely painful. Same holds true for humans. Like I said, it’s a tricky business.

I guess my counterculture advice would be this: present yourself as big and messy hopefully also as interesting and curious and passionate as you really are, and without apology. Be clear and professional, but maybe don’t be too easily digested; instead, be interesting.  Pique curiosity. Be human.  And be true to you, and others.

If not, you may wind up being thought of as just another commodity, a one-trick pony to be used or quickly dismissed.

And that does us all a disservice.

Is putting it all out there a safe approach? No. And Yes. The safe route says work passively in the system, hold on and don’t make waves, but that doesn’t feel much like living, does it? Plus any system that values that approach does not value you, so just how ‘safe’ is it, anyway?  For me at least, if I put myself out there as thoughtfully and honestly as possible, then wherever I do land, and whatever new paths open up as result have a much better chance of being the just the right paths for me.  ALL of me, and that’s pretty cool.

Y’know, I may just read Mr. Barry’s book after all.



How To Be Young Again

Some people say getting old is a choice. I used to think that was big, fat happy load of…ahhh… self-deceit. Now, I don’t.

Yes, you can be young again.  Young with a spark in your eye and spring in your step. Young in the way you remember feeling as a kid. Really. You just need to know what to do.

If you’re at a point in your life when this idea seems foreign – impossible even — I get that. And you may not even be what is, chronologically anyway, considered to be ‘old’. In fact, a lot of people seem to be ‘old’ when they’re in, say, their mid-thirties, while other people seem to be ‘young’ when they’re in their mid-eighties.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

When you’re a kid, everything’s new. Everything. It’s the nature of being a kid, and new to the world. Which is why you can spend hours looking at, and playing with, the simplest toy. Because it’s new to you. Completely.

Which means you don’t know what it can do.  And that means it can maybe do anything.

And, when you’re a kid, you move on. Quickly. Without thought or consideration. To explore the next thing you’ve never ever seen before.

And the wonder begins anew.

Again. and again. And again.

Never ending, always exploring. Time falling away and lost in joyful discovery without assessment. Until…

One day you circle back to something you’ve already seen. Explored. Become familiar with. Even loved.

But because it’s no longer fully and completely ‘new’, when you come back to it this time, you bring experience too, and with that just the slightest knowledge of its limitations.

This thing, let’s say it’s a red-and-silver shiny rocket ship, is no longer unlimited as it once was.  Maybe you’ve learned something that it can’t do – just one thing is enough to create a corral for the possibilities. Maybe it’s still a huge space where your imagination is free to roam, but now it’s walled in just a little bit.  This is inevitable; neither good nor bad it is simply the natural order of things and the progression of learning.

But the net result of this progression is that your imagination has become limited —  just a little — by experience.

How? Well, when you first came to it, you came to it not knowing anything, and in not knowing anything, that rocket ship could do absolutely everything. So you became lost in the possibility and the joy of exploration without even realizing it.

And that is where you were most young, and in the best way.

But with experience, you lose just a little bit of wonder.  It’s okay, and it’s natural for this to happen.  But each time, with even more experience with the same thing – and that part’s important – your initial blissful unthinking wonder ebbs away a little more. Now you’re more familiar, maybe more comfortable, likely less excited but soon you may find that yourself getting pulled into a routine.

And you can’t spell routine without ‘rut’.

The first time you grabbed that rocket ship without thinking or knowing you let out a whoosh and in your mind you were going to Mars and there’d be aliens and lasers and things and maybe your carpet was the Earth, and you discovered that your rumpled blanket and pillows were the perfect Martian landscape, and who knew what creatures lived in the cracks?

But when you go back, maybe not the first time, but over time, now you start out with your pillows and blanket as the default Martian landscape. You now set up based on what you already know, rather than create anew each time from the now. Sure you play, but you’re playing within parameters now, even if you don’t realize it.

Repetition may be the mother of learning, but if that’s all you do it becomes the father of aging, too.

While that seems sad it is not. It is Life. And it is not a perpetual downward slope because in understanding how it works, there is actually Hope.

And that is quite wonderful.

Fast Forward to Today.

What Fully and Completely New Thing have you Experienced for the First Time Today?

For many of us, the answer is Nothing. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves and take stock, our Today is pretty much our Yesterday. And the day before that. And our Year, possibly, the same as the Year before that. Ad Nauseum.

Think about it: it’s Sunday as I write this, and if I look ahead to my week, I pretty much know how it’s going to go.  I know what clients I need to take care of, largely what I’ll eat, when I’ll work out, what shows I’ll watch, what time I’ll go to bed and so on.

Could you imagine doing that as a kid?

Of course not! In fact, for a kid that’s the worst possible thing about being an adult.

It’s soooo Boring!

It’s the cliche of an adult’s life from a kid’s perspective. And they’re right.

The adult usually defends this choice of non-existence by saying, ‘Well, that’s the way it is. I’ve got bills to pay and responsibilities and yada yada yada” knowing even as they say it that it’s a lie. But the most effective lies are based on partial truths, which makes this particular one especially dangerous. 

The reality is that, as we get chronologically older, I think most of us yearn not to have better indestructible limbs and joints and the smaller waistlines of our youth, but instead for the unbridled, unthinking joy of possibilities without limitation. Of exploring and having hope and being driven by that energy toward the new so that time falls away and we don’t know in advance what’s coming later, or tomorrow. Or next week or next year.

That’s what being young is. And you can be young again starting right now.

Here’s how you do it:

Fear is going to be your biggest enemy. It always is. Fear will try to drive you back to the comfort of the routine, so you need to solve the fear equation first.

The fear-driven stories you make up in your head in the middle of the night are never accurate. Fear, as always, is something you create. Why? Because Fear is simply an anticipation of the worst case scenario that which has not happened.

Fear is paralyzing, but it is unnecessary pain in advance. And it is a lie. Every time.

Because in reality, if that wholly unlikely scenario — that imagined worst result of whatever change you need to make that you’ve painstakingly created in your head — actually does begin to happen, then something you haven’t anticipated will also happen:  you’ll immediately begin responding to the situation. You become lost in the moment, not thinking, just doing.  And because of this, not only will it not turn out the way you fear, but you’ll likely be so focused in that adrenaline-pumped state of survival that fear will cease to exist because the moment is here, and that is what we do automatically. It is our hard-wired survival instinct.

When we take action, fear — imagined or otherwise – immediately dissolves in the face of reality. Every time.

So, first, put Fear right out of your head. It ain’t gonna happen the way you think. It never does,

And second, start small. Baby steps.

Take a chance. Do something – one thing – different. One thing outside of your routine.

Take a different road to work. Go see a movie you know nothing about. Order something different off the menu. Miss your usual train, or get on an earlier one.

Say yes to the next opportunity you’d normally say no to.

Go talk to someone you’ve never met. Join a pickup game. Ask that question, or speak up and say you disagree, instead of nodding and thinking about what else is on your plate after the mid-afternoon meeting.

Or skip the soul-sucking meeting entirely. And don’t tell anyone. Leave your phone behind and go for a walk instead.

The world will not end if you do any of these things. And you’ll begin to see things for the first time. Again.

You need to find that child’s sense of Wonder again. And Wonder comes from experiencing something entirely new. Wonder is the fuel of childhood.

Your day-to-day environment is key. When you go home, throw some crap out. You’ve got too much stuff just accumulating like barnacles on the ship of your life, and it’s slowing you down.

PIck something. If you haven’t used it in 6-months, toss it. Just pick one thing.

Maybe that’ll get you going. Momentum makes everything easier. The thing is, you’ve got to make it a practice, not a one-off.

If your rut is more serious, you’re feeling ancient and dead inside and you’re dying to feel alive again, try this:

Set aside an entire day and do NOTHING you’ve ever done before.  Get up and go and retrace none of your usual steps.

Get in the car and drive somewhere completely new and unscripted. Pick a direction – don’t go to Google maps first – and drive for 2 hours. That leaves you plenty of time to get back, and it’s far enough away to be unfamiliar. Stop whenever you see something that looks interesting. Find a place far enough away where you can be anonymous, so that you can decide how you want to present yourself and what you want to do based on your immediate impulse without fear of judgment. Order the exact opposite of what you’d normally order or, better yet, order something that you have no idea what it is. If someone catches your eye, go talk to them, because who knows?

And that’s the point. Entirely.

As soon as you lose track of time, you’ll know you’re on the right path. You’ll be so immersed in the moment that you’ll start seeing things with new eyes. Perhaps finding new directions. Hopefully walking new paths.

Stop living the rerun and start living the new.

And before you know it, blog posts like this won’t attract your attention anymore.

And wouldn’t that be the Best Thing? 🙂






How to Save the Movies. And Maybe your Business.

When I used to go to the movies it was an Event. Two hours away from more of the same, and transported to somewhere new.

An escape.  Something different. I’d be excited, alert, aware. Fidgety even. Sitting in my seat. Waiting with anticipation.

There used to be a neat screensaver – oily, lava-lamp colors projected on the screen. Anticipation built. There was trivia sometimes; not GEICO trivia, movie trivia. Designed to speak to people who, well, loved movies. To encourage that love, even. The day-to-day fell away.

Then darkness. Then previews. Exciting, because I hadn’t seen them before.

Then the movie and I’d get lost in it.

Today when I go to the movies, it’s my living room transported to a public space with worse seats.

I see all of the commercials I see at home. They’re just bigger here.

Then too many previews I’ve already seen.

Then, finally, darkness, movie and larger-than-life screen – that part’s still exciting.

But if I miss it, I know it’ll be out on Netflix or DVD in the space of about 60 days or so, so if the experience is pretty much the same, but more costly and without added benefit, what’s the point?

Theaters complain. Hollywood complains.

But the simple truth of the matter is this:  they’re doing it to themselves.

They are no longer inviting us to escape. Instead, they’re asking us to experience exactly what we could otherwise at a greater cost and with less convenience. They are taking a short-term view of profitability, grasping at straws without a larger strategy. Nickel-and-diming and trying to extract every penny of built-in yet dwindling demand, instead of capitalizing upon – and amplifying – the incredible opportunity they already have.

In a world of people dying to get away, even for just an hour or two, they’re ignoring the obvious; they are uniquely positioned to succeed.

Instead, they see us as fish in a barrel; trapped and unable to get away, at least for a little while, from the old marketing game. For now, for that brief window of experience before the movie starts, we remain a captive audience. Rather than being creative with that opportunity, they ham-handedly exploit it .

The movie experience is fast becoming all too similar to what you can get somewhere – maybe everywhere – else. It is, essentially, neither special nor unique anymore – not really. It is the result of greed, fear of risk, and a lack of creativity on the part of the theater industry. And that is very sad.

As with all brands, if you do not differentiate, you die a slow and painful death. It is what I call The Rule of the Parity Provider: when you offer the same thing as everyone else, price becomes the sole differentiator.  Margins shrink as you try to compete and, eventually,  you simply go under. This is what’s happening here.

Twelve bucks for a ticket for two hours, OR twelve bucks for a month of Netflix?

If the movie theaters understood their opportunity to position themselves as a provider of escape, entertainment and respite from the world, this would be a magical ticket — a temporary pass to somewhere else —  that anyone would buy.

They have the opportunity to provide – and capitalize on – something truly unique. But they don’t.

They should. In fact, they must. There really is no alternative.

And when it comes to your business, and your brand, so should you.

What do you provide that’s truly different?  Be honest with yourself: What does your business do that’s the same as what your competitors do?

Once you figure that out, the important question becomes what do you offer that’s different?

What’s the one thing you can identify that you do Best, and that people can’t get anywhere else?

Build on that, and you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive. And also suddenly discover that you no longer have as much competition as you used to.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

That’s what the Movie Theater Industry needs to do. And pretty much everyone else.

Is Brand Loyalty Dead?

I was reading an article the other day in The Wall Street Journal about how major brands are finding it necessary to raise prices on consumer staples in large part, it seems, to meet profit and earnings goals.  For some reason this is being presented as news though, if you are the type of person who, say, shops for their own food, this is in no way surprising. Or news, actually.

The reality is that prices on consumer goods – despite (questionable?) inflation index reports to the contrary (if you’re getting less for the same or more, isn’t that by-definition, inflated?) – have been going up for the better part of the past three years.  The trick, it seems, has been to change the packaging dimensions and reduce the actual amount of product volume while keeping the price reasonably stable, with only incremental increases.

For example, the concept of “a gallon of bleach’ now seems somewhat nostalgic, if not archaic: things used to come in standard weights and measures like gallons, pints, quarts, liters and the like. As consumers, this was a matter of course, and not worthy of perpetual vigilance.

That is, like so many things, no longer the case.  In fact, if you buy a ‘gallon’ of Clorox bleach now – or really, any name brand – you are looking at not 128 fl. ounces, but instead, 121 fl. ounces.  And, in-step with this, comes the change in copy away from a traditionally defined unit of measure, like gallon, and toward a more subjective and slippery term, like “pack”. Curiously enough, off-brand and generics are still 128 oz, and far less expensive – a point brought up by the WSJ article as a factor with which the big name-brands must now contend. It seems that vigilance is indeed necessary.

The look and feel of the bleach bottle is about what it once was, though upon careful inspection, it’s a little thinner front-to-back, no doubt to keep shelf visibility high and create the illusion of traditional size.  If you use a lot of bleach, that 7 ounces adds up, especially when the prices creep higher.  And if you produce a lot of bleach, that skimming tactic also contributes handily to your company’s bottom line – especially when considered at a massive production scale wherein you essentially give the consumer 3{23224a7f521af97bae50b30e4728840741fbe348559ab868556c0274d88c7331}+ less product for the same price.

Now that this under-the-radar practice has become so commonplace, and repeated so often as to be accepted and made invisible to the average consumer, it appears to be safe for producers to more overtly raise the prices publicly, further exacerbating the value inequity.

And it’s not just Clorox, of course.  It appears to be every single, ‘trusted’ brand out there. Another example? I eat a lot of tuna – Bumblebee Solid White Albacore in water, to be exact. It’s quick, easy (I’m not a millennial and thus can wield a can opener) and has always been of dependably high-quality.  In fact, if you go to their website it was always pretty close to the so-called ‘steaky’ option on the right.

About 6-months ago, that changed. At first I thought I’d gotten a bad batch; the tuna was yellow, watery, chunky and smelled strongly of fish (yes, I know it’s fish, but this wasn’t quite right). It wasn’t bad per se, but much closer to a lower grade of tuna.

The price had already crept up, first in can-size back around 2010 and more recently in actual (net) product — you needed to read the print to realize that the 5 oz. can was not only 4-ounces of actual tuna — but now, it seemed, we were also dealing with additional sleight of hand from the good folks at Bumble Bee; while I didn’t want to believe it, after repeated attempts it became clear that inferior tuna wrapped in a familiar and more premium package was the new norm.

Then, when I discovered THIS, it all became quite clear:

This isn’t just solid white tuna – oh no, this is Prime Fillet!

Ooooh. Take in the majesty of the gold can. The aspirational, pinkies-up font choice of Prime Fillet…. The far higher price.

I cracked open this golden can of wonder and, gasp! It was, as near as I can tell, filled with my old Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water!

Now, I don’t like to think bad things about anyone, especially corporations, which are apparently people, but the evidence would suggest that there was a bait and switcheroo going on here! I don’t know for sure, of course, but as a loyal consumer of Bumblebee Solid White Albacore Tuna – for years, mind you – and presented solely with actual tangible experiential evidence, I dare say the Good Folks at Bumble Bee might be playing games.

And testing my Brand Loyalty.

Is there any reason for Consumers to remain blindly loyal to Brands anymore?

It’s a good question, and as a someone who works with brands for a living, and helps shape the way people think about them, an important one.

From the consumer side, the short answer is no. And that should be frightening to brands, both large and small.  Sure, publicly traded companies have an obligation to their stockholders, but they shouldn’t think only in quarterly terms, and sacrifice consumer trust for shareholder profitability – that’s slow suicide.

It is my experience that, despite a million bits of content to the contrary, your Brand is simply the way people think about you, your product or service.  That’s it – everything else details.  And the details are important, the way that is accomplished and the strategy behind it.

The best thing you can do for your brand is to ensure that people (1) understand what you do, and (2) always have a genuinely positive association with it whenever and wherever they encounter it.  That little, deceptively simple piece of brand-philosophy forms the basis for a Brandphilic™ approach to branding. Brandphilic™ is a process I developed after years of working with brands and figuring out what works universally and consistently. Also, yes the trademark is real – as was the struggle to secure it 😉

Think about this:  if Clorox – a name synonymous with bleach – or Bumble Bee, a Brand similarly associated with tuna – cannot be trusted to deliver on their core value proposition, what does that mean for the strength and value of their brand?

It’s not a good sign. Trust is the key to a strong brand. Consumers are forgiving, but not stupid. And they communicate their approval or disapproval for a Brand and its actions with their pocketbook.

Now, this would normally be the place where, in the past, I might suggest that Brands need to shape up or they will eventually take a beating.  And, yes, that is true, but no, it will not change their behavior — not anymore.

I asked whether Brand Loyalty is Dead and, despite identifying the problems, I believe that we’ve moved into a new era. Bottom line: the corporations no longer care, and are brazenly overt about it.  They are no longer scared of – or really, even beholden to – the consumer, because they’re far more scared of the shareholder, and the potential blowback from missing e.p.s. estimates by a penny.  So they will continue to wring out and wrangle every drop of possible profit.

To the detriment of their customers.  To the detriment of their employees. But ultimately not to their detriment – especially if they are one of the last few conglomerates standing, because they will simply be Too Big to Care.

As I wrote at the end of Cogh and The Machine, we are fast moving into a future which will ultimately see merger and acquisition activity increase: it is a simple matter profitability through economy of size, a matter of their survival and a matter of time.  In the end, there will be a handful corporate behemoths to which we are all beholden – regardless of whether the vast majority of the populace – or perhaps even the government –  likes them or not.

It is a matter of scale, of economics and of – whether we say differently or not –  consumer behavior. Yes, the onus is on us. Every time we buy a product from an Amazon or a Walmart, we are choosing convenience, which is certainly understandable. But we are also voting for a certain future in which only the largest survive, and once the corporations become few and giant and the only choices, then Brand loyalty won’t matter because there ultimately won’t be that many brands left. And if a brand is really a matter of perception, and the brand no longer needs to care about how people think about them, then what?

The question then moves from ‘Is Brand Loyalty Dead’ to  “Does Brand Loyalty Even Matter?”

And in that future, the answer is still no.

The Good News? Please? Anyone?

That future has not been written yet. It’s still a 2-way street where the consumer can — and does — strongly impact the behavior of the corporations and businesses they choose to have a relationship with.  And the better news is that that somewhat apocalyptic economic scenario need not happen – but mindfulness is key.

Voice is powerful.  Action is necessary. And your Choices matter.

To passively accept the increasingly unacceptable behavior of many – though to be fair, not all — corporate entities is to allow this behavior to continue. Even encourage it. In an age where most people are treading water financially, it’s difficult to make the hard choice. But if you look downstream, and see where the path may lead, it becomes necessary to step back for just a moment and say Enough! And say it loudly, and rationally – don’t just scream, because no one wants to hear that.

And vote with your wallet, and encourage your friends to do likewise.

Perhaps then those Brands That Listen, when they respond appropriately to that particular line of financial reasoning, will have earned your Loyalty and it will begin to Matter once again.

Here’s to optimism, choice, discourse and dialogue in a world that sorely needs it – cheers!