Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Rhythm of Persuasion

A properly persuasive writer writes in such a way that people are persuaded without knowing what you're doing. People have to trust you, think you virtuous, and so you have to show you have the facts and that you've done your homework. People have to see your logic. People have to feel deep sympathy and empathy and love and hate with you. You have to paint a picture, make the picture vivid, full of things and people they can visualize. You have to tell a story.

I once presented a hypothesis about the nature of the universe and human nature to the Dallas Philosopher's Forum. I had only a week to write, prepare, persuade. I organized the theories I'd been working on for years into a world-hypothesis I knew would be quite controversial. After all, this was to be presented to philosophers, a group that's hardly known to all agree on everything (or anything). But I decided to use something from my bag of neuro-literary tricks. I wrote the presentation in iambic rhythm so the rhythm would sync up their brains and make my words persuasive well beyond the words' abilities. Thus, in a group that always questioned everyone, I did not receive a single challenge; rather, I received responses asking me the implications my ideas would have on art and literature, on ethics and society. So primed were all the brains there in the audience, my answers met with general agreement.

If you found this post to be persuasive well beyond what you perhaps, reflecting, think it should, perhaps that is because I told a story. And I wrote this post with rhythms most iambic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Postive Brain Learns Best

Knowing about how the brain works -- and learns -- is valuable no matter what you want to teach. Of course, different subjects will have slightly different requirements, and writing is no different here.

In an interview, Judy Willis observes that a positive mindset makes learning much easier. This is true whether we are talking about writing or a new job's requirements.

One of the things she mentions is the inefficacy of "drill and kill." Too many interpret this as eliminating any and all repetition. However, without repetition, you cannot learn much of anything. Repetition is the soul of education. You repeat until you get it right. That's what it means to practice something. You have to repeat the same song(s) over and over and over and over and over until you learn the songs completely. Unless you do that, you will not and can not learn how to play the piano.

The issue is that learning has to be a positive experience if you want people to learn quickly and best. The right program will allow for the right kind of repetition and a positive learning environment. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Steven Pinker on Writing

Steven Pinker makes many of the same arguments I have on this blog about how to write well in an Edge interview. He points out that in order to write well, you have to be a reader and to learn, through reading, how to write well.
The first step to being a good writer is to be a good reader: to read a lot, and to savor and reverse-engineer good prose wherever you find it. That is, to read a passage of writing and think to yourself, … "How did the writer achieve that effect? What was their trick?" And to read a good sentence with a consciousness of what makes it so much fun to glide through.
There is much that writers can learn from psycholinguistics. The existence of rules is one. The flexibility of rules over time is another. Yet that flexibility is exactly that: over time. The rules are what they are at any given time. And, more, there are different rules for different audiences. Knowing what those are matter.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Khabele + Strong Incubator

There is a new school in Austin, TX that I hope will become the model for schools around the world. It is called the Khabele + Strong Incubator. It is being run by Khotso Khabele and Michael Strong, and the school is in fact part school and part entrepreneurial incubator. The school is all about both expanding students' minds and students' experiences.

So why am I talking about a new school in a consulting blog?

Because this school is -- or, should be -- the future of not only education, but of each person's continuing education. Businesses need to foster such an environment if they are going to be successful. This school is a model for what businesses ought to be doing within the businesses themselves, for their employees, if they want to be successful innovators in a rapidly changing economy with rapidly changing technology.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Innovators are Rare

In Wired for Culture, Mark Pagel observes that the vast majority of people are not truly creative or inventive, but rather are copiers of others. And by vast majority, we mean something like 98-99% of the population mostly just copy what others do. There is certainly nothing wrong with this -- it is what makes humans so hypersocial -- but this does have implications for the contemporary work place.

If we are currently in a creative economy, this suggests that most of the work being done is going to be done by 1-2% of the entire population. And perhaps not even that many, since there are bound to be a high percentage of those people who are academics or autistic (and thus have a hard time holding down a job) or artists (or all of the above). So businesses are really looking at a much smaller percentage of the population who are going to be creative or innovative. This would suggest that they ought to be more open to tolerating the quirks of the creatives they need to succeed.

Think about it. To be creative or innovative, you have to challenge the way things are typically done. Most people hate that. This is why the most successful innovations have appeared to be mere slight changes in the way things are already done. Movies initially were filmed plays. Movie makers took something people were familiar with -- plays -- and filmed them. Once people were used to that, film makers could gradually turn films into what we now enjoy. And still, most movies still have play-like elements. And cinemas still look like theaters.

A firm full of innovators would likely fail. You need people who are just going to do what they are told all the time to do the day-to-day work and to keep the innovators from running off the rails with their new ideas. You want innovators working on the latest technology, not in the accounting department (innovators in the accounting department will get themselves, if not the entire company, in real trouble). But you have to expect your innovators to be different in their behaviors (such as being less social) from the vast majority of your employees.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pattern Language for B2B

The world is full of patterns. With humans, many of those patterns can be quite complex. The economy, for example, exhibits pattens so complex that we have yet to fully understand them -- and we could never replicate them on purpose. Businesses also have patterns. We try to design certain patterns, but other patterns emerge naturally through human interactions. In organizations like businesses, we try to strike a balance between the two.

At Authentic Organizations, there is a great piece on Pattern Language for Generative Interactions in business. If there are patterns in businesses -- and there are -- then there will necessarily be both good and bad patterns. It is then important that we understand the good patterns, to encourage them, as well as the bad patterns, to discourage or redesign them. And we need the right language to discuss these patterns.

What do you think of their suggestions?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Interdisciplinary Teams

A popular thing for many companies to do is to create "interdisciplinary teams." I have noticed, however, that many of these so-called interdisciplinary teams are rarely in fact interdisciplinary.

For example, if you have a team that has a mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer, that is not an interdisciplinary team. To be an engineer, you have to master math and physics. The other two may bring in a few more details from their fields, but these three people are in fact all talking the same language and using the same basic methods. They are not an interdisciplinary team.

But let us say you have a team consisting of a psychologist, an economist, and marketing specialist. Now we are closer to having an interdisciplinary team. Here we have three people who in their narrow specialties may not have the least idea what the other two are talking about. However, this team is still not necessarily interdisciplinary.

What will make this team interdisciplinary? Integration. Without the ability to integrate the knowledge provided by each, you only have a multidisciplinary team. You can get some things done with a multidisciplinary team, but you will get far less than you could if you had someone to integrate their knowledge.

One way of integrating is to make sure at least one person on the team is an interdisciplinarian, having sufficient knowledge of the other two members' knowledge to be able to do the work of integrating. While such a person is in many ways ideal, they are also rare.

Another way of integrating is to bring in an interdisciplinarian -- someone who is trained to integrate knowledge from different sources and understand the different methods being used by each of the team members. This person acts both as a bridge among the different individuals and as an integrator of ideas and knowledge.

Unfortunately, while integrationists are necessary for your interdisciplinary team to be most successful, it is rare to have such a person on such a team. People talk about being interested in interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, but rarely do you see people act on them. And when they do, more often than not they put together a multidisciplinary team rather than an interdisciplinary one. This may also be why there is less actual enthusiasm for interdisciplinary teams than the rhetoric would suggest. Multidisciplinary teams are not going to be very successful precisely because of communication problems among the specialists; unless you have an integrationist on the team, you cannot solve those communication problems, meaning your team will not be as successful as it could be.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Self-Managed Workers Work Best and Most Efficiently

What is the difference between a good employee and a good worker? Too many people think the two are synonymous. They are not. A person can be a good employee and not a good worker, and vice versa. A good employee is someone who shows up on time, rarely if ever takes sick days, does everything exactly as they are told, etc. However, that does not mean that the person is a good worker. A good worker is someone who is productive, who returns more value to the company for which they work than they get out of the company, who does what it takes to get the job done right, etc.

Most management styles favor employees over workers. However, there is a new management model that favors workers over employees.The bottom line is this: provide goals, and allow the people who work for you to figure out how to achieve those goals. Rather than requiring everyone stick to a strict schedule (other than for things like opening the business at a given time), let people figure out the best way to become profitable. Rather than micromanaging everyone, give people the freedom to find the right (or wrong) paths.

The funny thing is, I am willing to bet that any company's managers who did this would find themselves quite surprised at how many of their great employees are in fact terrible workers -- and vice versa.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Daydreaming Your Way to Greater Productivity

Annie Murphy Paul has an insightful blog post on how to be more productive. It turns out that the answer is not to work harder -- we already work extremely hard -- but, rather, to give ourselves time to daydream.

Now, you're probably thinking, "My employees are caught daydreaming quite enough, thank you! And not a one of them is more productive!" Well, those employees are probably not actually daydreaming; no, they are probably in fact just thinking of something else rather than their work. They are not daydreaming, but rather engaged in focused thinking -- they are just not focused on their work.

No, when you are in fact daydreaming, you are allowing your brain to go into "automatic" mode. Your brain is quite active during this mode, but quite different parts of the brain are active vs. when you are focused and concentrating. When you are focused, you are less likely to make creative connections. Creativity requires your brain to be allowed to wander and connect bits and pieces that are anything but obvious.

It turns out that nondirected meditation works similarly and, therefore, is a better form of medication than is directed meditation.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Poetry and Storytelling Services

Here at Camplin Creative Consulting, we are, well, CREATIVE! Many of my posts have emphasized my ability to write and to teach others to write, but what I have perhaps not emphasized quite as much is the fact that I am an artist -- a poet and a playwright and a short story writer -- and that I therefore bring these things to the table as well.

In other words, I can tell your story. As a storyteller, I understand the most important aspects of storytelling -- what will get people's attention, what they will remember, and how they can remember. The story of your company is important to tell. It is how you attract customers. It is how you motivate employees. A story can thus be an external story, meant to attract business, or an internal story, mean to coordinate and inspire employees. The latter is important to your business culture. All cultures have foundational stories. What is yours? What would you like it to be?

I also mentioned that I am a poet. Now, it is important to note that I am not some sort of free verse, experimental, postmodernist poet that will run off readers -- and customers! No, I am a formalist poet. I write with a regular rhythm and often with rhyme. These things in fact attract readers and customers. The most successful jingles are, of course, written with rhythm and rhyme. Why? People remember them more readily. And that's exactly what you want. So if you want a slogan or a jingle, this is something I can most certainly help you create.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Speaker Topics

Given my diverse and unusual background, I am available to speak on the following topics:
  • Spontaneous Order theory -- the economy, culture, the sociology of artistic/literary production, the sociology of technological innovation, the structure of scientific discovery, etc.
  • Autism and Asperger's -- my older son, Daniel, has autism, and I discovered I have Asperger's as a result of my research into autism; I can speak on a variety of topics on autism, including various theories of autism and my own personal discovery; my wife, Anna, can also speak on being a wife to a husband with Asperger's and a mother to a son with autism.
  • Writing -- I love writing, and I can talk on a variety of topics, from writing instruction to poetry to play writing.
If you're within driving distance from me, we're happy to come to you for free. If you're not, you might at the very least have to get me there!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What I Offer as a Writing Consultant

Whenever you decide to start a business -- including a business like Camplin Creative Consulting -- you have to ask yourself: what is your value added?

There are plenty of consultants out there. There are plenty of writing consultants out there. So what, exactly, is my value added?

In the area of writing, editing, and proofreading, I would argue that my value added is my interdisciplinary background. I have degrees in molecular biology, English, and the humanities, and I have peer reviewed publications on cognitive psychology, morals, economics, technological innovation, organizational structures, culture, sociology, literature, game theory, and evolution. I also have a philosophy book out, titled Diaphysics. And I was reviews editor for the journal Philosophical Practice.

For anyone doing any sort of academic work, there is a good chance that I can read your work with understanding, and help you to not just edit your works, but perhaps even provide feedback for revisions. Sometimes questions raised out of ignorance of a topic can stimulate the expert; sometimes questions raised from an interdisciplinary perspective can stimulate the expert. If I cannot provide one, I am sure I can provide the other!

In addition, I am very detail-oriented, highly analytical, and very good at seeing and understanding patterns. All of these are qualities you should want in a writing consultant.

In addition to all of this, I am a short story writer, a poet, and a playwright. This means I also bring to bear a strong narrative sense and a strong sense of structure and meaning. Bringing poetics to bear on a work can make the work even more persuasive. And that, too, is  something I can provide.

These are a few examples of what I consider to be my value-added -- this combination of skills and perspectives. It is possible to find a large number of people who can provide one or two or maybe even half of these aspects; however, few can bring them all together. This is what I can do for those in need of a writing consultant.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Complexity Economy

Steve Denning has a piece in Forbes in which he asks Is the Creative Economy Also in Trouble?

There is much more going on in the piece than first meets the eye. It must be read to the bottom. Part of the problem of understanding economic growth is that most people do not really understand the dynamics of complex network processes, like economies. If you are working with an equilibrium model only, growth itself really doesn't really make that much sense.

In dynamic, complex network processes, you get s-curve growth. That means you go from essentially flat growth, through an exponential growth phase, to another period of flat growth. The three industrial revolutions mentioned in the article are periods of s-curve growth. Another term for it is "punctuated equilibrium," which emphasizes the two equilibrium points. What happens with punctuated equilibrium is there is a lot of change happening without much growth taking place. Then a tipping point is reached, and there is massive growth. We see this happening in biological evolution, in climate changes, in social changes, and in human learning. One result is the appearance of an apparent "lag" between innovation and economic growth. Denning observes one lag happening 1906-1928 -- the dynamics of punctuated equilibrium solve this problem. Another result is the lag Denning argues we are seeing now in relation to IT innovation vs. economic growth (indeed, one hopes it is indeed such a lag and not the result of another tipping point being reached: enough regulatory weight on the economy to cause a new economic equilibrium to emerge).

Euel Elliott and I suggest that technology and the economy are both dynamic network processes which, when they interact, can feed into each other and drive exponential growth. Still, there are bound to be upper limits. For example, how much is there left to be done with simple physics? Perhaps more than can be imagined, but at the same time, physics is the simplest level of reality, and that means we will sooner or later exhaust what can be done with physics-based systems. We have perhaps only touched on the possibilities in chemistry -- especially given the literally infinite ways of rearranging carbon. But what we have really only just barely touched on, if we can be said to have touched on it at all, is complexity-based technology.

The internet is certainly a complexity-based technology. True, the basic components of it are rooted in pure physics, but the overall structure is an extension of human social networks, making it a cyborg technology of high complexity. Yet even so, we have not tapped into the incredible potential of biotechnology. We have done a few small things in biotechnology, when we can treat living things like physics objects (where one gene has one effect, and no complex interactions at all), but we have not been able to scratch the surface of possibilities. We would have to understand a huge number of complex interactions to fully harness the possibility of biotechnology.

Indeed, the next biggest leap in technology -- leading to another huge industrial revolution -- will be when we are able to create complex technologies. The technologies we create now are simple. Incredibly simple. The great innovators of the future will be those who are able to harness complexity and to create complex technologies that behave in complex manners (which does not mean "unpredictable," though it can appear to be to the untrained eye).

But what we see now is a steady decline of startups. Why is that? Startups need new ideas, and if there are not many new ideas, you will see fewer startups. Also, startups need a good environment; the increasing regulatory burden in the U.S. may be slowly decreasing the number of startups, meaning we are seeing the top of an S-curve. If that is the case, we are just waiting for the regulation that will act as the tipping point to collapse the entire economy.

It may be ironic that the more hopeful interpretation is that we are running out of ideas, and that's why we're seeing fewer startups. But what that really means is that there are entrepreneurial opportunities out there. I mean, are we really running out of ideas? Or are we running out of things we can do at the level of mere physics? This means that the creative economy will become ever-more important. And ever-more difficult. More, it will mean relying more and more on those capable of seeing and understanding complex patterns.

These aren't the only things discussed in the article. Denning also lists four major changes the internet has had on the economy. All are worth taking the time to truly understand. Especially the fourth one about customer sovereignty, which is now truly here in all its glory. Meaning marketing is now itself more complex than ever.

We are moving into the complexity economy. Are you ready?

Have Patience With "Problem" Workers

Yesterday I discussed some of the problems inherent in creative people. I have also discussed some of the problems with employing autistic people. Both of these groups of people are what many would consider to be "problem" employees.

But what kinds of problems are we really talking about here? What are the trade-offs? Are those trade-offs worth the trouble? Are there ways of reducing the problems without getting rid of the workers?

The more and more we move toward a creative economy, the more and more we need creative people. And the more and more we move toward an information economy, the more and more we need autistic people (who seem designed to interface well with computers). Since the economy is increasingly creative and IT-based, your businesses ought to be full of creative and autistic people. And many autistic people are quite creative, so with the right hire, you can get the benefits of both.

Of course, these kinds of people do not fit in well with our old notions about how to run a business. You are supposed to show up to work and work in your cubicle. You are to socialize with everyone, be friendly with everyone, and be sure to be especially friendly with those above you in the firm's hierarchy. You are to think strategically -- especially if you don want to get fired. Most especially if you want to move up in the company. Work takes place between 8am and 5 pm, with a half hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks. And you have to look busy to be working.

Such an office is easy to manage, but you won't get any creativity out of it. And you will have fired your most efficient workers. And you will have fired your most creative workers.

Your autistic people are not going to play office politics. They will get run over by office politics. They need to be protected from office politics.

But why bother? Because your autistic workers are going to be your best workers, your more analytical workers, your most obsessively focused workers. They are also going to be your most honest workers. And they will lay bare to you the nonsense and hypocrisy surrounding them. If you let them -- if you don't fire them for doing so.

Your creative people are going to play. They won't always look like they're working. They will likely be moody -- annoyingly friendly one day, depressed and withdrawn the next. The firm's hierarchy means absolutely nothing to them. They will speak to the unpaid intern the same way they speak to the CEO, and vice versa.

You have to put up with these behaviors because your creative workers are going to be the ones keeping your business afloat. When someone creates a new thing to compete with your product, you need to have had the answer to their new product yesterday. Your creative people would have been the ones to have found a solution to a problem before you even knew there was a problem. And they likely did it when they were "goofing around."

Both of these groups of people are hardly anyone's idea of an ideal employee. But if you want to run a successful business, these are precisely the kinds of people with whom you need to surround yourself. The businesses that are more flexible about their hierarchies, that downplay office politics and pay more attention to the work being done (are more meritocratic), and that are willing to take risks with "odd" people are going to reap the benefits.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Trouble With Creative People

Creative people can be a royal pain.

Edward Platt points out that:
A few months back, Andreas Fink at the University of Graz in Austria found a relationship between the ability to come up with an idea and the inability to suppress the precuneus while thinking. The precuneus is the area of the brain that shows the highest levels of activation during times of rest and has been linked to self-consciousness and memory retrieval. It is an indicator of how much one ruminates or ponders oneself and one’s experiences.
For most people, this area of the brain only lights up at restful times when one is not focusing on work or even daily tasks. For writers and creatives, however, it seems to be constantly activated. Fink’s hypothesis is that the most creative people are continually making associations between the external world and their internal experiences and memories. They cannot focus on one thing quite like the average person. Essentially, their stream of ideas is always running—the tap does not shut off—and, as a result, creative people show schizophrenic, borderline manic-depressive tendencies. Really, that’s no hyperbole. Fink found that this inability to suppress the precuneus is seen most dominantly in two types of people: creatives and psychosis patients.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that this flood of thoughts and introspection is apparently vital to creative success.
Borderline psychosis is not the only problem associated with creative people:
Although this stream of introspection and association allows for creative ideas, the downside is that people with “ruminative tendencies” are significantly more likely to become depressed, according (PDF) to the late Yale psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. Constant reflection takes a toll. Writing, editing, and revising also requires are near obsession with self-criticism, the leading quality for depressed patients.
 And as if all of this weren't bad enough, Annie Murphy Paul points out that creative people have a tendency to pull pranks. A company with a policy of not tolerating such shenanigans is likely stifling creativity -- and is likely to have fired most of their most creative people.

So, what are you supposed to do? Just put up with a bunch of out-of-control, manic-depressive, borderline-psychotic jerks? If you want to have a culture of innovation, the answer is, yes.

Heck, you might have a little fun yourself.

Friday, May 9, 2014

10 Reasons Content Goes Viral

How do you get your content to go viral? There are 10 reasons :
  1. Inspire awe, laughter, or amusement.
  2. Appeal to people’s narcissistic side (think BuzzFeed quizzes)
  3. Long-form content has less competition, and more shares on average.
  4. List posts and infographics are more likely to be shared.
  5. Make sure your article inspires trust. Have a byline, and bio. Make sure you have a professional logo and design as well.
  6. Mix text with visually appealing elements.
  7. Implement social metadata such as the Facebook preview image
  8. Reach out to influencers before you write your content.
  9. Promote your articles after it’s been published for a week
  10. Tuesday is the best day to publish and promote content
Read the entire article. They go into detail about why and how.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Hero's Journey

I have recently finished reading A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey by Jeff Sandefer and Rev. Robert Sirico. I highly recommend it.

At the end of each chapter are a series of questions. The ones at the end of chapter 2 are questions each person should ask themselves. They are also questions you might consider asking your employees.

  • What skills and talents do you possess?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What do you love doing so much that you lose yourself in it?
  • What do you hate doing?
  • Do you tend to rush into things, or hesitate too long?
  • Do you tend to save up for a rainy day, or does every cent burn a hole in your pocket?
  • Are you a perfectionist who always demands the best, or are you satisfied with better-than-before?
  • Are you a natural optimist, or do you tend toward pessimism?
  • What do you have to offer?
  • What can you do that no one else can do?
  • What needs do you see in the world around you?
  • Are you willing to take risks in the hope of great rewards?
  • Are you ready to use your resources---your natural talents, your ideas, your money---instead of burying them?
  • Who do you want to become?
  • What would you like to be known for?
  • What would you like to have accomplished?
  • What sort of person would you like to have become?
Some of these might be obviously useful, such as asking your employees what skills and talents they possess. Some, such as "What do you hate doing?" might be answered more truthfully if you can guarantee anonymity (it might be useful to find out what your employees as a group tend to hate doing). Some of these might be interpreted as being job-specific, but could also (if you are more specific in your wording) be used to learn "big question" aspects of your employees (E.g., "What do you have to offer?").

If you can get your employees to be more personally reflective, this will be beneficial overall. If you can get them to reflect on what they are doing, you will make them more mindful, and that will make them more productive. With these questions, you might be able to find people who would be better doing other things. Where might a natural optimist do best in your company? Where could you use a natural pessimist?

The entire book is worth reading. Consider making your entire business a "hero's journey" -- not just for yourself, but for all of your employees.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Learning Requires Motivation

You won't get good at anything you don't like to do. You have to have passion to become good at something. To become good at something, you have to be willing to do it over and over, to spend hours and hours doing it.

This makes it unlikely too many people are going to become great writers. Or even good writers. But even without passion, people can become better writers. It is a skill like any other skill. And with the proper motivation, you can gain writing skills. To become as good as Shakespeare, that motivation must be entirely internal, but to become merely competent, an external motivation is sufficient.

If you want your employees to become better writers, you have to decide what will best motivate them to do so. It has to be measureable. Simply telling them they have to sign up for a course or a seminar -- whether external or internal to the company -- will never be enough to get results. One does not learn anything by simply being present when someone is talking about something. To learn, you have to be actively present, mentally present. No one can teach -- not even the greatest teachers of all time -- if students are not interested in learning the material.

What is going to be their motivation to learn it? What can you provide?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Classes of Readers

Readers may be divided into four classes:
1) Sponges, who absorb all that they read and return it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtied.
2) Sand-glasses, who retain nothing and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
3) Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
4) Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Lecturers, 1811-1812)

Among those who read, most fall into categories 2 and 3. Categories 1 and 4 are the ones who can learn how to write. Only category 4 can learn now to write exceedingly well. This insight, though 200 years old, is lost on almost every reading and writing teacher today. We labor under the illusion that everyone can be in category 4. But great readers and great writers are as rare as are great basketball players and great chess players. Worse, many teachers are in categories 1 and 3, so tell people at a similar stage that they are good readers.

It is possible to move people from 2 to at least 1? Certainly. But what about non-readers, who not only retain nothing, but despise getting through the book? That describes most people, whether they admit it or not (their reading habits tell). Thus, we have to get people from that stage to category 2 to category 3 to category 1 (I won't fool either you or myself into believing such people can get to 4).

Category 1 is enough to get a good writer. But all of this only emphasizes the fact that you have to be a good reader to be a good writer, that you have to read  a lot to write well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cognitive Styles

Researchers have consolidated the cognitive styles research into a coherent, cohesive framework that should be of great interest to both educators and business.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Autism Talk at The Warren Center

On Saturday, my wife and I gave a talk at The Warren Center in Richardson, TX on our family's journey with autism. My son, Daniel, was diagnosed with autism almost a year and a half ago, and in my research on autism, I discovered that I have Asperger's. I am equally convinced that my maternal grandfather had Asperger's as well. Thus, autism seems to run in my family.

The audience at The Warren Center was mostly Spanish-speaking Hispanics, so my wife, who is Hispanic, spoke to the group in Spanish. That meant we few English-speakers needed translators. She told our story, relating a few anecdotes about me and my behaviors that now made sense in light of us understanding I have Asperger's (like my failing to greet people when I am introduced to them). But the audience, after a while, started asking me questions -- they were hungry to learn what's it's like to have autism "from the inside."

All of these people had autistic children, many too young to really tell them what it feels like.

Many of the questions expose a lot of misunderstandings about things we commonly hear about people with autism. For example, the issue with eye contact. It's not that we cannot make eye contact -- more, we can in fact learn to make eye contact -- but that when we do make eye contact, it makes us deeply uncomfortable. So we prefer to not make or maintain eye contact.

Similarly, there is a misunderstanding about our social anxiety. Yes, we will tend to try to avoid social situations as much as possible -- but that does not mean that we don't ever want to be with people or doing things with people we like. I was president of the Association of Undergraduate Geneticists because I was immensely interested in molecular biology. I will go to meetings if they are required for me to accomplish other things I want to accomplish; I do not go to meetings because I like meetings, though.

Engaging in small talk causes me social anxiety, but talking about a subject in which I am interested does not. Of course, in the latter case, I am so focused on the topic that I in a real sense forget that I am surrounded by people. And that was the case at The Warren Center. There was a question about my ability to stand in front of a bunch of people and talk; I pointed out that so long as I was interested in the topic (as I was interested in talking about autism), it didn't matter that there were a large number of people there in front of me. I could forget they were there because I was focused on the topic at hand. So speaking in front of people is in fact pretty easy for me. I do better speaking to an audience than I do being a part of the crowd.

One of the benefits of learning I am autistic is that my life now makes sense; one of the benefits of learning very late in life that I am autistic is that I could not use my autism as a crutch to avoid making changes. People were willing to point out this or that behavior, and I was willing to try to make the changes to the extent I could. This has allowed me to make a great many social adjustments I may not have made otherwise. It has not always been easy, but it has often been possible -- at least to a certain degree.

I think it would benefit a great many people to hear about what it's like to be autistic "from the inside." Because of my experiences, because of what I have learned about autism, because I learned late in life I am autistic, I had the distinct advantage of knowing both what autism looks like from the inside and the outside. I think people need to understand the disconnect between those two things. To audiences interested in learning about autism, I would argue that that is my value added.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Playful Learning

Playful learning is central to business success and prosperity. The piece by Forbes primarily discusses the importance of play for children, but a time for play is important for adults as well.

We too often associate play with wasting time and frivolity, but play is in fact much more serious than that. Johan Huizinga defined play as "a non-serious thing done seriously." By this definition, writing plays and poetry, drawing and painting, engaging in scholarly work, and working as a scientist are all forms of play. One might even argue that any activity that is not directly related to issues of finding food and drink, creating clothes and shelter, and ensuring one has progeny is in fact play. In this sense, we often engage in play -- and very often do so to get those things that are truly serious pursuits.

If you want your employees to be more creative, you need to give them time to play. If you want more creative meetings or more creative groups, give your groups time to play. Get them in the creative mindset by giving them a handful of objects and asking them to come up with 3-4 different things they could do with those objects. Then start the meeting. You never know what new ideas might emerge.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Forbes Piece on Autistic Workers

Forbes has a nice piece on hiring people with autism. In the piece they highlight Specialisterne, a company founded by a man whose son was diagnosed with autism.

People with autism are potentially great employees -- so long as you expect them to work and do not expect them to be social and engage in office politics.

More, people need to realize that when someone with autism fails to engage with people, that does not mean they are not interested in the job, in the situation, or even in getting promoted. It's not that a person with autism doesn't care whether they are there or not, as too often neurotypicals misinterpret the behaviors of those with autism, but rather that they are more engaged in the work than in talking up the work. Neurotypicals understand that you have to talk up your work, because otherwise your work won't speak for itself; those with autism think the quality of their work is self-evident.

The ideal situation for someone with autism is to have a place where they can work without interruption, with someone to bring things back and forth. For someone doing data entry, for example, just let them work and have someone bring the data to them, and you will have a data entry machine. But if the data stops coming, there is a certain probability that your autistic employee won't think to ask for more. They'll mostly just wonder what to do next.

If this sounds like a lot of hand-holding, you might consider the degree to which you have to deal with all of the social needs of your neurotypical employees. You may not recognize the degree to which you have to deal with such things, and the amount of time it takes up, precisely because you, too, are neurotypical, and such hand-holding seems more natural and less forced. But, if you see things from the autistics' standpoint, most social interactions are a bunch of time-wasting nonsense. This, of course, highlights the difficulties between autistics and neurotypicals.

Still, if you want employees who are powerful bottom-up, analytical thinkers with strong pattern recognition skills and attention to detail, you can't do better than someone with autism.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Creating a Work Environment Conducive to Creativity

Cubicles are not conducive to creativity. Bare, white walls are not conducive to creativity. Florescent lights are not conducive to creativity. In other words, the typical office environment is not conducive to creativity.

At the other extreme, you don't want our office to be too busy -- whether that be the wall paper, human activity, choice of background music, etc.

It's about balance. Interesting pictures, bright colors, natural light create an environment more conducive to creativity. Real plants and flowers feed into our biophilia and make us more comfortable, relaxed, and mentally active. Animals, too, contribute -- fish tanks are known to make people more relaxed. And more relaxed, less tense employees are happier, more productive employees.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Creativity and Innovation in the Workplace

Having creative employees is not enough. You also have to have managers who can recognize that creativity and foster it and turn it into something -- to translate it into innovation.

When are people most creative? When they are given the opportunity to be creative. Some people are creative under pressure; some are creative only when the pressure is off. But in either case, you need the time and freedom to be creative.

Google gives employees Fridays to work on personally interesting projects. If you think you cannot afford to give a full day every week to letting employees "goof off," let me ask you one simple question: are you as profitable as Google? If not, perhaps some lessons could be learned.

Businesses today need to be creative and innovate more than perhaps ever before. The world is moving faster and faster. And that means you need more creative people. Those creative people may already be in your company. But perhaps you need to think more creatively about who you hire. Consider hiring more creative people -- people in the arts, in philosophy, in the humanities. Oftentimes these people will have ideas they have no idea how to implement. Yet, you will have people there who are fully capable of implementing their ideas, but rarely are all that creative on their own. These are the people you need to pair up.

Which gets us back to the importance of having good managers, who can recognize when two or more employees need to get together and work on something. Your managers need to be people-connectors. They need to see the potential inherent in an idea, in two people getting together to create and innovate. It's not about egos -- it's about benefitting the company first and foremost. Those are the kinds of managers you need.

With an environment of creativity and innovation, your company will continue to grow and be healthy. But you have to create that environment. You have to take the risk of making it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

You Learn to Write by Writing, Not by Typing

In the age of computers, most of our writing is done on computers. But typing on computer keyboards may be one of the very things preventing us from writing well.

When we write with pen on paper and make the shapes of letters and words, we are more directly helping to build up the reading/writing portion of our brains (developed by adapting portions of the face-recognition and shape-recognition portions) through which all reading and writing must pass on its way either to or from the language processor. There is a big difference between mere recognition of shapes on a keyboard (or, worse, once you memorize where the letters are, mere finger movement/positions) and the movements needed to write and thus create letters, and to make those letters into words, those words into sentences.

We learn to write by writing, not by typing, sentences.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Passing the Writing Buck

Where does the buck stop when it comes to students learning how to write? Nowhere, it seems. Every university department complains students don't know how to write, but nobody wants to teach anyone how to do so. Businesses need people to write well, but universities are too busy passing blame to teach anyone how to write. So don't count on universities or community colleges doing the job of teaching writing. They are using methods that have proven over and over not to work unless you already know how to write well.

Writing is a skill that must be developed over time. And it has to be consistently developed, and developed in conjunction with what is being read.

Businesses that want employees who can write will have to take it upon themselves to hire people to come in and teach those employees how to write. It's not going to be a quick fix. Learning any new skill is never quick. But it can be done with enough devotion and dedication.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Advice from Stephen King

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

It really is as simple as that. If you don't read, you cannot write. Writing programs around the U.S. have things exactly backwards. If you want people to learn how to write well, they have to read more. And they have to read well-written works.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Movies Synchronize Brains

If there is something you want all of your employees to do or think the same, make a film and have them watch that film together. As it turns out movies synchronize brains. What that means is you can get all of your employees thinking and feeling the same things at the same time. An empathetic character can move your employees to feeling and thinking the same way. And since all of your employees will be synchronized through the film, those same employees will feel more unified. The more unified employees are in regards to the goals of the company, the more productive they will be, and the more prosperous the company will be.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Advice for Autism Awareness Month

Since this is Autism Awareness Month, I thought I would give some advice regarding those with autism: you should hire them.

Here are all the reasons you should hire people with autism:

  1. They are great workers; they will obsessively do their jobs.
  2. They will not play office politics; they don't care what others think or do, so long as they are allowed to do their work.
  3. They are loyal.
  4. They do not lie, even to save people's feelings.
Of course, this isn't to say that there aren't problems:
  1. They do not play office politics; they don't care what others think.
  2. They do not lie, even to save people's feelings.
  3. They tend to take anything you say literally.
  4. They need the "big picture" explained to them.
If you want employees who play social games and backstab each other, don't hire people with autism. That is my advice. But if you want people who will be loyal and who will do their jobs and do it well, who are very analytical and tend to have high I.Q.'s, then you might consider hiring some autistic employees.

Just don't let their honesty throw you off.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Learning How to Do Something and Tacit Knowledge

In order to learn how to do something, do you actually have to do it? Can you learn something by simply reading about it?

The answer is, quite simply, no.

If you went and read several dozen grammar books, would that make you a good writer? Absolutely not. You will learn the rules, but in such a way that you will know what the critic means when he points out that you are missing a gerund. But you still failed to include your gerund.

Could you learn to code by only reading books about code, but not actually coding? No, you have to actually try your hand at it, to find out how things in fact interact. You can learn a great deal of conscious knowledge by reading, but in order to gain tacit knowledge, you have to actually do it.

This is true of everything you learn. What you hear in a class, what you hear from a teacher, what you read in your textbook, what you read in a writing handbook, those are all ways we consciously learn. Yet, the tacit knowledge that comes with experience and expertise can only be derived from doing the thing, and doing it often, and doing it well.

For example, I read a great deal of poetry -- mostly formalist verse -- before I tried my hand at writing formal poetry. My earliest attempts at writing in a regular rhythm were failures. As I wrote more and more poems with regular rhythms, it became easier and easier to do so. Now I can write in a regular rhythm without even thinking about it. I had to develop how I understood how to write that way. It did not come with instruction per se, and it did not come with reading formalist verse. No, it came with practice. Now, the other elements are necessary; however, they are hardly sufficient.

If you want your employees to learn how to write well, you have to provide them with good instruction, but you even more importantly have to provide them with time to write.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Arts Venues and Social Values

While we are mostly focusing on writing consulting here at Camplin Creative Consulting, there are also opportunities for arts organizations to receive our help. My Ph.D. is in the Humanities, and, more, I have published on the sociology of artistic and literary production and on the difficulties inherent in running a theater.

The latter article on how theaters have to negotiate the different values of different social orders -- with an emphasis on the conflicts among economic pressures, artistic needs, and political pressures -- in particular shows how well I understand the pressures on theaters. Negotiating these values makes it difficult for theaters to succeed. I believe I can help theaters and other artistic venues improve their odds of success.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Johnny Can't Write, and Employers Ought to be Mad

Back in November, CNBC had a piece discussing the complaints companies had about their employees' lack of writing ability. The easy thing to blame is "technology," but in the rise of technology and the rise of bad writing habits is a mere positive correlation. The real cause of bad writing habits is the lack of real writing education.

More, our technologies are increasingly text-based. We ironically write each other on our phones more than we call each other. We write emails, we write each other on Facebook, we write blogs -- we write all the time. And we read all the time online as well. That would suggest that we should see improved writing skills. If writing well requires more writing, and people are writing more than ever, we should see writing skills improving.

This mystery can be uncovered if we realize that most of the reading done online is skimming rather than close reading. People skim to get the main points, read only a little bit of a piece to get the gist of things, etc. These are not the reading habits that will lead anyone to writing well. To learn to write well, you have to read good writing, and you need to read it carefully. And it needs to be higher than the 5th grade reading level we find in American periodicals (including online periodicals).

More, much of what we read are the posts of friends, who are themselves often bad writers. If you read bad writing, you will turn into a bad writer. A common complaint among university professors is that their own writing gets worse from having to read students' writing. Now imagine what will happen if your writing is already bad. Bad habits get reinforced. This isn't to say that you should defriend all the bad writers you know on Facebook; rather, this means you need to supplement their writing with Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, and Shakespeare.

You have to encounter good sentences to learn how to write good sentences. And, if you want to become a truly professional writer, you then have to learn why those good sentences are good sentences -- you have to learn the rules of the game explicitly and not just tacitly. You have to have people explain to you why the good sentences are good sentences. Learning postmodern theory in the university isn't going to do that.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ambiguity or Literalism in Language?

What do you want your words to say? Do you want your words to be ambiguous, so they can be interpreted in a variety of ways? Or do you want your words to be clear and unambiguous, so they can be understood in only one way?

This matters a great deal. For example, if you say that you are going to assess an employee in an annual review, what do you mean by "annual"? What is a "year"? That may seem obvious, but is it? Does the year begin on January 1? Or do you mean a year from when the person was hired? Then there is the fiscal year. When does your fiscal year start? And for schools the "year" begins on the day school begins. You had better be clear what you mean by "year."

Now, there may be areas in which you intend there to be some ambiguity in order to ensure that people can have some freedom to make their own decisions. Here one has to be careful. If you use the same terms in two places, one where you intend ambiguity, another where you intend clarity, you can create confusion. For example, if you have that employees need to demonstrate "effectiveness," and you intend for it to be sufficiently vague as to capture a variety of ways your employees are effective, you cannot then later use the term to be specific unless you specify that -- for example, including the phrase:
here "effective" means...

You must also keep In mind the fact that you are bound to have some employees who take language more literally than do others. In fact, if you keep these employees in mind, you can avoid any number of problems not just with them, but with the rest of your employees.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hierarchy and Competition to Create Successful Groups/Businesses

Here is a little something I found that business owners should find of interest. In evolution there is a concept known as "group selection," which should be of interest to anyone who runs a business. If you understand your business to be a "group" competing in the market environment, you definitely want your group to have the traits that will allow for positive selection and not negative selection.

So what makes for the most successful social groups? Hierarchical structures and inequality among members. Strong competition within the organization at the top benefits the group by reducing the number of free riders who benefit from collective action, but do not contribute to that action. The worst thing that can happen to a for-profit business is for free riders to take over.

Certainly sometimes you need people to work together in groups. However, you also need to create the conditions such that people will neither free ride nor succumb to group-think. Both are anathema to creativity and health. Competitive groups would be a good way to encourage creativity and healthy growth in your company. The key there is to only reward the winner and to not in any way punish the loser. Desperation results in bad ideas -- scandal-creating ideas. Good-natured competition where there are only winners and there are not losers, where people are not concerned about losing their jobs if they don't come up with the best ideas, is how you keep the good ideas coming. Even if you have two groups and only one group (A) ever succeeds, that group will be kept sharp by the very presence of the other group (B). It is probably worth the money to pay B to keep A sharp.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Unless You Know You Don't Know How to Write, You Can't Learn How to Write

I know I have recently argued that colleges don't know how to teach people how to write, but when students come into college with the attitude that they have mastered writing, we have to admit that the odds are against teaching them much of anything.

You simply cannot teach anyone anything if they think they are already a master. I have experienced this problem myself as a college composition professor. Students think they know how to write, and they often cite their teachers' praise for their writing as evidence. The students who have done so demonstrate with their writing skills that our high school teachers have no earthly idea what good writing looks like. So the problems go deeper than college. But colleges don't improve the situation by then offering writing classes designed for advanced writers who need other advanced writers to help them fine-tune their work.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Time for Creativity, a Time for Focus, A Time for...

When is the best time to be creative? According to Kevan Lee, there is an answer, and that answer has scientific backing.

Of course, with anything involving the brain, the real answer is "it depends." There are those who are morning people and there are those who are evening people. And morning people are -- and this may at first seem odd -- most creative later in the day than they are in the morning, while the reverse is true of evening people. Why is that? Sharp minds are not always the most creative; creativity is always a bit on the fuzzy side, and if your thinking is a bit on the fuzzy side, you'll be more creative. Your brain is making associations without the censor working all that well, and that's when creativity happens.

Lee also notes that will power decreases over the day. This is well established. So if there is something you want your employees to do that requires a great deal of will power and focus to do, have them do it early in the morning. Have them be creative once you've worn them out, toward the end of the day.

There are optimal times for everything -- creativity, analytical abilities, and focus. If you maximize the times when those are most optimal for most of your employees (of course, ideally one would differentiate for groups of employees with similar tendencies), you will get the most out of them.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Economist on Grammar

You know if The Economist has a piece on grammar, there is a problem.

Indeed, the piece points at many of the problems with teaching English in general, and teaching writing in particular. But it also misses several points.

The author is right to point out that the separation of linguistic off from English has in no small part been a problem for teaching English. The result is that grammar has gone off to live in linguistics departments. Worse, the way linguists understand grammar is not how it needs to be understood in order to learn how to write well. I have had discussions with linguists before, and they are universally perplexed by my argument that to write well you need to learn grammar. They think of grammar as linguists, not as practitioners of the language, and that makes a huge difference. The writing teacher wants to teach style, using the rules of grammar and syntax as they have emerged in the English language. More, they want to teach a particular style of English, which is different from the spoken Englishes which have emerged in different places around the world. The linguists understand that using language is impossible without grammar, that you literally cannot create ungrammatical sentences, so they are perplexed that we want to teach the rules. The English composition teacher needs something different from teaching grammar and syntax than the linguists provide -- they talk past each other, meaning different things.

So the solution is not to talk to the linguists. Strangely, they are not the best way to learn grammar -- from the point of view of writing well.

What people need to do to learn how to write well is, again, to read. They need to read a great deal, and they need to be taught how to read well. That means close reading. Once people are familiar with sentences, teach them the rules of those sentences. Show them how meaning emerges in a sentence -- and how if they do not word things just right, their meaning may be unclear, or even the opposite of what they intended. Learning the rules of grammar and syntax allow one to fine-tune one's writing; it does not allow one to learn how to write well in the first place.

Let me give an analogy.

Suppose we have three children, A, B, and C. Children A and B have watched basketball all their lives. Child C has never seen a basketball game, but has been taught the rules. Child A is taught the rules of basketball, but child B has not. Which child do you think will play basketball better? My guess is that child A will play it best, then child B, then child C. Knowing the rules of something are almost useless if you are otherwise unfamiliar with the game itself. Watch enough games being played, and the rules start to become evident. But then make those rules explicit, and your play will become more fine-tuned, much more improved.

The same is true of writing. The reader will do better than the non-reader, even if we teach the non-reader the rules. And the reader who knows the rules will be a much superior writer.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Want Better Writers? Don't Send Them to College

Once, when I was an adjunct English professor, the assistant dean of the college at which I worked told me I needed to dumb down my classes. Well, to be honest, she said, "Now I don’t want you to dumb down your classes, but . . ." and then she proceeded to tell me I needed to dumb down my classes. The reason? Because she did not want students coming to her to complain that they did not get an "A", though they had not done the work to get an "A". She told me that since community college students typically did not come to community college to learn anything, but rather to receive an "A" and credit for the class, that I should teach in such a way that the students would not have to learn anything, but could rather just be granted their "A" and their credit. Further, she proposed that I attend a workshop the community college offered that would teach me the best way to provide my students with this kind of contentless education.

Here is the crisis in education. It is taking place in not just community colleges, but in practically every university across the United States. Administrators do not want students to fail, because if they do fail (or if they do not get an "A" even), the school loses money. So students get passed, even though they learn nothing. In community colleges, the threat is more direct, since if students fail, they will not want to come back to that community college, complaining that "it’s too hard there." And fewer students also equates to fewer government dollars as well. Government dollars are attached to the number of students in each class, so there are incentives to not just retain students, but to create large classes -- wherein students are less likely to learn anything.

Ideally, teachers should be using grammar, rhetoric, poetics, and logic to teach students how to read, write, and think, but most professors use textbooks that downplay or even ignore all of these things, except very superficial discussions of rhetoric. But then, how deeply can you cover rhetoric if you do not cover grammar, poetics, and logic? For example, I have used the book, The Aims of Argument, which only teaches students about different kinds of arguments. You do not have to learn how to construct good sentences, you do not have to know logic, you do not have to write it well at all. All you have to do is be persuasive. Though the protagonist of "Thank You For Smoking" is a rhetorician’s rhetorician, he does at least know what the truth is. The community college I taught at wanted me to make my students unable to be able to do even that. I am not to challenge my students’ opinions, but only consider whether or not they have an argument. It is no wonder that one of my students told me that she loved my class because I did something the teacher in the English class she had before mine had never done: critique her writing for errors in grammar, facts, and reasoning.

If your employees are bad writers, this is why. When they went to college, this is the education they were receiving. Even when professors want to teach their students well, the bureaucrats won't let them. The choice is to conform and pass every student no matter what, to keep them in school, paying their tuition, or to get fired. One can imagine what most professors do.

Only if you understand what is going on at our colleges can you understand the problems you are having with your employees' skills you rightly think they should have. More, it shows that sending them back to college is hardly the solution.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Advertising, Creating False Memories, and Rhythmic Language

Did you know that advertising can create false memories?  False memories have gotten mostly a lot of bad press from their association with accusations of child abuse. More, false memories are seen as some sort of "defect." However, the fact of the matter is that false memories are not a defect; rather, false memories are an artifact of how our memories work. And, as the article notes, the smarter you are, the more likely you are to have false memories.

We often mistakenly think of memories as video recorders, recording everything exactly. In fact, when we remember things, we are putting things together from fragments -- and sometimes our brains "grab" something close by, that is perhaps associated with another, similar memory. Thus, we misremember what happened when. This is a false memory.

In the context of advertisement, one can place one's own product into the memory of viewers by exploiting how false memories are created through association.

How many times have you been outside in the summer, in the heat, feeling refreshed by a drink. Do you remember what drink that was, exactly? Probably not. Now let me show you an advertisement of people outside in the summer holding a nice, cold beer. Do you remember that it was beer, now? If you are a beer drinker, probably. Make that beer a specific brand, and that brand will be put into the memory. And the next time you plan to get some drinks because you're going to be outside... well, the odds those drinks will be beer -- and, specifically, your brand -- has increased somewhat.

A slight increase in the chance that someone will buy your brand of a particular product multiplied by millions of viewers equals an increase in sales.

But are there ways to increase those odds a bit more? Yes. Rhythms and rhymes -- songs and poetry -- help people remember even better. Rhythms act as a carrier wave -- much like radio waves -- that carries information more efficiently into the brain. The brain is itself rhythmic, and can sync with the rhythms of your song or jingle. If you can get your product into the audience's heads more easily, you can rely on their memories to do the rest and associate your particular brand with memories involving those kinds of products.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning vs. Aquiring -- Speaking vs. Reading and Writing

More and more businesses are needing good writers, and more and more businesses are finding college graduates cannot write well. Is it the fault of the universities? In truth, yes. But the reason the universities are failing to teach writing is because most of the writing professors themselves don't understand the first thing about how different writing is from speaking.

One of the reasons humans can learn so much so quickly is because of the presence of adaptive modules -- really, instincts -- that both result in the creation of social knowledge and are developed from that social knowledge. Language is a good example of this. Without an instinct to language, humans could not use or make language. The notion that someone came along and decided, one day, to create language is utterly ridiculous. You cannot create language without a notion of language. It is thus an evolved instinct. However, the details of any given language are learned.

I say, "learned," but in fact the details of any given native language are actually acquired, not learned. There is a huge difference between acquiring something and learning it. You acquire your native language and any other language you encounter pre-puberty, but you learn any second language you have learned post-puberty. You can only learn how to read and write -- they are not acquired. But morals are acquired, not learned.

What, then, is the difference between something learned and something acquired? You acquire something for which you have the neural modules. You thus acquire the language you speak, the morals you practice, the aesthetics with which you judge works as beautiful. On the other hand, when you learn something, there are no naturally evolved modules to speed things along; more, the modules available in the brain have to be adapted to the task. For example, parts of the brain modules for recognizing shapes and for recognizing faces, which are right next to each other, are used for reading and writing in the creation and recognition of letters. Other modules are no doubt adapted for other uses as well. For example, we acquire music, but we learn to play a musical instrument.

Unfortunately, we use the same term -- learn -- when we talk about language acquisition and learning to read and write. However, the former is natural and acquired, while the latter two are learned technologies. The fact that reading and writing are learned technologies explains how it is that a person can speak more eloquently than they write, or write more eloquently than they speak. Yet, there is this expectation that, because someone can speak, that they should be able to learn how to read and write just as easily. However, our brains are not designed to read and write -- our brains merely adapt to learn to read and write. And that adaptation comes at a cost: literate peoples are less able to recognize faces than are illiterate peoples. Educators need to recognize these facts in teaching students how to read and write, and in our expectations about our students' willingness to read and write.

Think about it. We may think such a person impractical given contemporary circumstances, but we wouldn't wail and gnash our teeth if someone were to say they didn't like using computers and/or the Internet. There are people who don't like cars and don't like to drive, and drive as little as possible. Yet, too many of us (overeducated elites) are appalled when we come across people who (horror of horrors!) hate to read and are happy going through life not doing so.

At the same time, communication is increasingly written. We write tweets and emails and on Facebook and on blogs and send memos and have to write reports. How much more reading do people do because of the existence of the Internet? Of course, much of that reading is the tweets, emails, etc. of their friends, meaning common errors in composition make their rounds and build within textual communities. But I would venture to guess that even this is not the real problem with college students' writing.

The real problem is that the percentage of people attending college has been steadily increasing over time. Once, universities were primarily full of people who loved to read and had read a great deal. Those same people are going to college, but they are being joined by an increasing number of people who not only do not read, but actually hate to read. You simply cannot teach adult students who do not like to read, and thus have not been exposed to literally thousands of hours of good sentences, how to write well. The hours of reading and writing (and corrected writing) have to be put in well before college. There is no getting around this fact. Student writing is getting worse not just because our high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools are complete disasters at teaching these two technologies -- but because most of the students attending college are now non-readers.

So the first thing a business needs to do is to create a reader culture within the business. Actively encourage book clubs and reading groups. It could be literary fiction -- if you want your employees to write very, very well -- but it does not have to be. Well-written business and economics books will work as well. We can help set up such groups, and even facilitate them. This is the best way to begin to develop your employees' writing skills. Once they learn what good sentences look like, we can work on helping them to create good sentences themselves.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Want to Move Your Audience/Customer? Use Repetition

In Aeon Magazine there is a fascinating article on repetition and music. In it the author notes that people consider repeated sounds as more musical. More, repeated words become more like songs.  And by extension, more like poetry.

If you want to move your customer, use repetition. The writer who wants to successfully move his audience is one who will use repetition. If you want to make memorable works, you have to use repetition. If you want your work -- poem, prose, play -- to embed itself in the minds of your readers, you have to use repetition. With repetition, your reader, viewer, listener will go away with you forever in their minds.

Think of all of the most memorable commercials. What is repeated in them? Most of them have some sort of memorable jingle. A jingle is, of course, a small song -- usually quite simple, and usually using repetition.

Sonnets, for example, have repeated sounds in the end rhymes and in the iambic pentameter rhythms.

With ghazals there is the repetition of the end phrase.

Then there is the villanelle, in which we have entire lines repeated.

But if we take a poem like In the Multiverse, one may wonder how it is any different from prose simply cut up into lines. Well, first, the poem is in iambic pentameter lines, so there is that level of repetition. But it is blank verse, so sound repetition seems gone. But note that there are in fact several repetitions of sentence patterns:

"If there are..." is repeated. "In some," is repeated. And "And, [gerund]," is repeated. Parallelism such as this is a kind of repetition, and is not uncommon in poetry -- see for example the Psalms.

Poetry is repetition. It is repeated sounds, repeated rhythms, repeated words, repeated structures. This would also explain why some forms of poetry involve repeated lines.

The story, poem, song, jingle for your product will need repetition. Even if your story is told in prose and not using a song or jingle, you will need repetition. If you want people to remember your product, you will need repetition.

Repetition is how you keep your product or service in the minds of the consumers. And that's what you want when they are in the market for your kind of product.