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“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

– Albert Einstein

Perhaps Albert Einstein said this.   It seems like a worthy ideal.  Except it really doesn’t work out.  At all.

Here are just a few straightforward, well known concepts that don’t give up to simple explanations even though we all assume they do.


what:
e = mc^2

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass%E2%80%93energy_equivalence

why:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002TJLF7W?btkr=1
http://www.askamathematician.com/2011/03/q-why-does-emc2/


what:
1+1 = 2

why:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principia_Mathematica (300+ pages of proof required)


what:
this is the color red

why:
http://www.crayola.com/for-educators/resources-landing/articles/color-what-is-color.aspx
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/color/#ProCol


Simple explanations are usually very broad strokes and at a minimum only indicative of what might be going on.  Any serious and remotely accurate explanation about anything is nuanced, open ended and will inevitably be amended in the future.

There’s pressure in this culture, in the US, to make everything simple.  This devotion to simplicity is a trap and often a very dangerous one.  It rears its head in politics, business, social situations, religion and pretty much every other facet of our culture.

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Today i was challenged to write like i talk about the things that i wax academic about. so here’s an attempt to do that as much as i or anyone can do to write as i talk as i want to be heard. i still maintain that it’s not really a useful thing to go making a specific attempt to speak to an assumed audience in an assumed style of language (or whatever we mean by speaking to an audience). the advice to do this comes in these statements:

dumb it down
fit the audience
read your audience
speak like me
laymans terms
talk to regular people
don’t be exclusive
you’re elitist

and many other variations.

What i really think?

the truth of things are what they are. that is… you speak, write, paint, pant, act, dance, work, do nothing, exactly how the situation demands. to try to represent something as something it isn’t is just stupid and delusional.

don’t try to make a really fancy physics theory into a childish song. don’t make jazz into some crappy magazine article about music. things exist as they are. let the perceiver, ok, sorry, the AUDIENCE, come to it as they will, when they are ready.

not everything… in fact, most things… aren’t about selling a ticket or a download or monetizing an eyeball.

no bullshit.

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I recently watched the PBS documentary, art and copy. it’s a feature about advertising focusing mostly on the big agencies and agency personalities. absolutely fascinating. partly because these are big personalities but mostly because the campaigns featured are ones almost all of us know well and probably love.

there’s a stat at the end… 186000 employees at ad agencies worldwide. 26000 agencies. but 4 holding companies produce 80% of the advertising spend.

what that implies there just isn’t that much advertising that gets big, mass consumer popularity (and likely nor does the products behind the advertising).

so the questions for me:

is most advertising unappealing? just noise?

do people only have so much attention to give? the populace can’t support more than a few campaigns getting big?

are most folks in advertising biz just not very good?

is the ad biz really about unglamorous, small campaigns that work for small companies?

is the old ad model going to last? more and more big brands didn’t need an agency and an ad budget at all to go big (google, facebook, twitter, crocs…)

when should a biz use a big traditional campaign?

I don’t question whether a well capitalized, well executed branding campaign works. they do. I think it’s hard to get all the right things to make it happen and only those with the deepest pockets, best products and most aggressive teams will ever have a shot.

I think that’s why other advertising approaches are more appropriate for most businesses and growing in spend online advertising, for the most part, isn’t artful. it’s math. it’s about getting frequency and follow up and flow just right. science based advertising works better for the majority of products and services where there’s little differentiation or brand value between competitors. price and location (at time of purchase) are the keys, not artful impact.

also worth noting is that the current context in which online is viewed doesn’t lend itself well to bigger more potent messages like tv or radio. I think some of that has to do with the fact that tv and radio are more passive consumption around visuals and sound of people rather than text about the world. and tv and radio are usually consumed with others generating more shared experiences. the built in fragmented personalization of the web means known of us ever have the same basic experience.

I’ve worked on a lot of online campaigns that tried to do the big budget big branding thing. no shortage of good ideas and mostly good execution. the consumers just never respond.

there are no best way to do it.

one thing I think the folks in the documentary have in common with the successful math based online advertisers and agencies is a willingness to try and be wrong. too many folks think there’s a best way to do it and that you can know that a priori. you can’t.

as one of the agency celebrates. fail harder.

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Isn’t one that solves a particular problem but instead opens new opportunities….

Just a thought.

Especially with the internet. Not everything has to be about faster, cheaper, more targeted.

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Higher order conditioning (you know, the stuff we’re really good at) involves the paradigm where previously successfully conditioned stimulus (CS) operates as the unconditioned stimulus (US) for further conditioning.  And, like classical conditioning in general, high-order classical conditioning is often linked to known biological predisposition of the organism trained.

But the implication of traditional classical conditioning are less obvious; a real hit in the head to those that insist that life should be about using ‘common sense’.

Take the instance of McDonald’s being sued (2010) to stop giving out toys with happy meals (used to entice kids and adults when paired with bad food) at least, one would claim in such a court fight.   Toys which are also reinforcers that keep the people coming back, (operant conditioning) not necessarily for the food but for the ‘free’ giveaways.   Is that really any different than places providing good service, clean restrooms, good food, social amenities, or cigarettes  being the delivery mechanism for nicotine, etc.?

Well, some obviously think so.

The food, an Unconditioned Stimulus (US), is paired with a toy, a Conditioned Stimulus (CS) and a potential reinforcer for the children (yea, a new toy to have and hold) and the children (yea, a new toy for them to have and hold and keep them satisfied or quiet, whichever is the case).  The parents buy the food (US) and get the toy (CS) at the same time and they become linked. There is also the gambler’s bet operating in this type of example.  The conditioning that takes place is rarely some part of the awareness of anyone other than the people in the delivery business, thus, proving once again, that you do not have to have awareness to be conditioned or to avoid conditioning.  The awareness is a irrelevant.

Soon the family or the child attends McDonald’s and is not hungry for the nuggets, burger or shake, etc. and wants just the toy!   Not going to happen so the spending entity — grandma, parent, older person… buys the kid’s meal to appease the kid (enablement) and someone ends up eating the extra food or the food that the kid didn’t want but was purchased to get the new (surprise) toy.   Great!  The kid isn’t going to get more rotund but the adults are because they are now stuck eating the kids meal and their meal… after all there are poor people starving somewhere in the world.   (huh?)

Anyhow, some parents and food focused groups are saying that they want McDonald’s to stop the practice which “hooks” the parents and the kids on going to McDonalds.  McDonalds’ is protesting the suit.

Basically, we are all conditioned and that example is no different than other types of conditioning.  Making is less or more obvious is not the substantive question other than for the media.  The real issue is better food with less fat for children from a distribution place that many are conditioned to eat at.  But that is not the prima fascia case being made. Any changes in delivery mechanisms will require changes in fast food services content [food] which, in some cases, neither the children or the parents (and certainly not the fast food distributors) want to consider.

The result is conditioned helplessness of the parents..  Something to consider when selecting a restaurant next Friday night… or a business where repeat customers are part of the planned strategy…

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Working the polls is always a great time.  Beyond meeting people and helping get out the vote I really enjoy all the discussions about politics and elections.   One of the discussions that comes up constantly is how we all need to improve how we conduct elections.  Most folks claim we need better technology – electronic voting, online voting, easier systems, voter alerts, better messaging, real time vote counting, digital fingerprints and what not.

These potential improvements may not be improvements at all and are pretty low on the priority list.

Our elections aren’t all that inefficient.   And they aren’t all that hard for the voter.   In fact, the election process is remarkably stable, resistant to complete systematic fraud, can still take place without a power source and takes less than an hour for most voters in a  typical election. Oh, and it is VERY INCLUSIVE to ALL TYPES OF PEOPLE – which is sort of the point.

What does need to get better is voter attitude.   We had a 25% turn out in my precinct and some of the 25% who turned out acted as if voting was some great burden.  Puhlease.

It is not too much to require citizens to show up, ink a ballot and slam it in a box.

Improving the technology isn’t going to magically make people care more.  That’s not a tech thing at all.

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There’s only so many times you can make that claim before people don’t really trust it.

the new iOS and iPhone doesn’t change everything.  the first iPhone didn’t change everything.  It shifted who made money in Silicon Valley and in media, but it didn’t change everything.

and it isn’t doing it again.

The oil spill.  That changed everything.  The iphone, it made Apple money.  9/11, that changed everything.  the new iPhone made Techcrunch write some blog posts.  Barack Obama’s election changed everything.  iPhone 4 is just another release.

This marketing has to get real.  at some point.

Then again, Apple will probably sell 10 million of these with this ridiculous message.

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