Go Buy “A Beautiful Constraint”

Check out this link to a brief talk by Adam Morgan, the co-author of a new book titled “A Beautiful Constraint”. Adam Morgan previously authored the hugely entertaining and formative marketing & advertising book “Eating the Big Fish”, that explained how “Challenger Brands” can compete with their monolith competitors and their deep pockets.

A Beautiful Constraint was co-authored by Morgan’s long-time collaborator and chief big-fish-eater in the U.S. my friend Mark Barden. A brilliant and entertaining guy who was kind enough to endorse my book a couple of years back. It’s a real pleasure to be able to return the complement and endorse a book that will help companies large and small figure out how to “play to their perceived weaknesses”, or leverage their limitations!

Go ahead and pre-order your copy at Amazon.


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Posted by on January 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Music Inspired By Second That Emotion

I must admit this is a first. I’ll also admit that Progressive Metal isn’t my first choice in music, but I’m nevertheless quite flattered that Second That Emotion inspired this composition from a young Singapore based musician.

More power to you Jerome Jeevan Pannirselvan! Enjoy.


Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


Why we cheer louder for Rory

images-1As we watched Rory McIlroy winning the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, becoming the third youngest golfer to win three majors behind only Nicklaus and Woods, I wanted to share a section from my 2012 book Second That Emotion, which goes someway to explaining why we cheer so loudly for Rory and why his success feels so right! In essence his talent provides a sense certainty which we actually enjoy in sport, and which has been lacking since Tiger’s troubles.

Second That Emotion: How Decisions, Trends, & Movements Are Shaped

UnknownFor most of a decade we knew who the greatest golfer in the world was, until that fateful evening of November 27, 2009, when Tiger Woods drove his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home, and his life and golfing career began to unravel.

Today the golf world appears to be struggling on some level, with the absence of Tiger as the game’s unquestioned dominant player.

Unknown-1And while it’s interesting to see who the world’s No.1 golfer will be on any given week— perhaps the brilliant young German player and 2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer, or the charismatic Englishman Luke Donald—the lack of certainty can also feel strangely disquieting.


imagesIn giving twenty two year-old Irish phenom Rory McIlroy a thunderous reception for his runaway victory at the 2011 US Open—after he led but ultimately fell short in the Masters—perhaps the audience were reacting in part to the possible return of certainty, as a new force emerged with the talent and temperament to dominate the game in years to come.


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Posted by on July 20, 2014 in Uncategorized


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BB&Tea. Why companies should be wary of mixing business & politics.

When I first moved to North Carolina almost twenty years ago, one of my first decisions was to choose a bank. Without much investigation I chose the one my employer at the time had as a client, as I thought it would smooth the process. That bank was BB&T (Branch, Bank and Trust), and for the past two decades I have stayed with them mostly because they gave me no reason to switch. Changing banks is one of those things most people only do as a last resort, because the perceived hassle and disruption involved is the equivalent of getting a root canal.

Although we transact constantly, our bank mostly stays in the back of our minds, something we are aware of but not engaged with, until some problem arises. Unlike your smart phone for example, people are less likely to have an emotional relationship with their bank. As I discuss in my recent book, Second That Emotion, people have a largely transactional relationship with their bank, and don’t consider switching unless something sparks an emotional response.

Unknown-1Recently my bank unexpectedly became top of mind, when it’s brand was associated with the dramatic and unexpected ousting of current House Majority Leader Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, by a little known Tea Party candidate David Brat, in the Virginia Republican party primary. Brat chairs the department of economics and business at Randolph-Macon College, and also leads it’s “BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism” program.

John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T who currently heads the Cato Institute, funds this program. Allison and Brat share an ideological affinity for the writings of Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged. Allison provides support for the Ayn Rand Institute, while Brat co-authored a paper entitled, “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand”.

imagesFascinating stuff, but what has this got to do with where I keep my checking account? As someone who considers himself a political centrist, fiscally conservative and socially liberal, like many voters my greatest frustration over the last few years has been the inability of our political leaders nationally and locally to take purposeful actions to address the big issues effecting most of us, notably jobs, education and infrastructure.

Instead way too much political focus and debate has centered on so-called wedge issues like gay-marriage that affects relatively few Americans, and which is an entirely personal matter that legislators have no business involving themselves in. Before the ouster of Eric Cantor I would have considered him a leading force in keeping divisive wedge issues at the top of the political agenda, I assumed to appease the Tea Party wing. Ironically it appears he hadn’t done nearly enough to appease them!

Unknown-3What it really comes down to is that while accepting that many of the companies and brands I choose support political and social causes I may not agree with, few of them choose to rub my nose in it! And while John Allison is no longer the CEO of BB&T and is free to fund and support whatever he wishes privately, the “Moral Foundations of Capitalism” at Randolph Mason College proudly carries the BB&T brand name. BB&T therefore implicitly supports a Tea Party candidate whose views I consider to be extremist. This crosses a line by bringing my banks political affiliation and bias into clear public view, and as a customer, it implies by association that I agree with those views.

images-1When Chick fil A’s CEO and founder Dan T. Cathy made a series of statements which many interpreted as implied discrimination against those in the gay and lesbian community, the company reportedly drafted an internal memo that stated, they would “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect-regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender.” If in the future however, Chick fil A’s brand appears to be used to support discriminatory groups and causes, I’ll be forced to forgo their delicious sandwiches!

It used to be that Corporate CEO’s were merely business leaders, but in today’s social media driven landscape they play the role of “Chief Disciple”, becoming the standard-bearer for a companies beliefs and principles. A point which Brendan Eich the former CEO of Mozilla recently discovered to his cost when he was controversially forced to resign, after his support for California’s ban on gay marriage came to light.

The fact that John Allison hold’s certain views and funds causes, and candidates I may not agree with, isn’t what would prompt me to switch banks after twenty years. It’s the fact that the bank’s current leaders seem happy to have BB&T publicly associated with causes that most centrists would consider to be extremist.

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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


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LeBron’s Social Contract with Cleveland

imagesBack in 2009 when LeBron James left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat amidst unprecedented acrimony, I wrote about the underlying nature of his social contract with the people of Cleveland. As rumors swirl of a unlikely return to his home state, it’s worth revisiting why his original departure caused such anguish, and what LeBron would be walking back into should be choose to rejoin the Cavaliers.

Below is a section from my book Second That Emotion that explains why LeBron’s decision was viewed as such a betrayal, and why he must tread carefully in allowing people to even speculate about possible a return!

Second That Emotion: How Decisions, Trends, & Movements Are Shaped

images-1The phenomena of social contracts aren’t just limited to the world of politics. Social contracts are equally present in the powerful connections that we form with our favorite celebrities and athletes.

In 2009, when his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers expired, LeBron James, like many NBA free agents, decided to explore other options of where to play basketball. James’s approximate understanding of his commitment to the Cavaliers and to the city of Cleveland stated: I will play hard, be a model ambassador for the NBA and the city of Cleveland, and try to win a championship.

UnknownHowever, LeBron James’s social contract with the people of Cleveland was somewhat different. It stated: You are a symbol that Cleveland is a city at the forefront, rather than a city in decline, and in that sense you represent far more than success on the basketball court—you represent hope for Cleveland’s renewal in the future.

Setting aside the indelicate handling of James’s decision to move to the Miami Heat, there was something unnatural and visceral about the outpouring of anger directed at someone who, until then, had been a model player in the NBA and a model ambassador for Cleveland. If he had understood the true nature of the social contract he had entered into with the people of the city—and the depth of emotion his decision would generate—he would surely have handled his departure differently.

When James chose to leave Cleveland, he took hope for the future of that city with him in a way that transcended basketball and left fans feeling abandoned and betrayed. The illogical leap stated: LeBron must understand what he represented to the city, therefore his failure to inform the Cavaliers before he announced his decision to join Miami in a one-hour television special must have been staged to intentionally embarrass the club, the city, and the people of Cleveland.

images-2In a logical world, James’s actions would have been seen as clumsy but not malicious. But the nature of social contracts is anything but logical. As consumers, customers, and fans we decide the terms of our social contracts, no matter how illogical those terms may be. Yet in the context of a social contract, just because people have a heightened level of emotional engagement doesn’t mean that they cannot still be forgiving.



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Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Five impossible ideas that could change everything

images-4When I first moved to the U.S. twenty years ago, what excited me most was the all pervasive “can do” attitude, suggesting anything was possible if we put our minds to it. Seemingly crazy ideas would be taken seriously if the upside could be proven.

It pains me that we seem to have temporarily lost the ability to imagine and execute collectively in the public realm, and that we seem to hold on to the entrenched status quo like those gipping the railings of the Titanic as the great ship went down. In this context I’m prompted to offer up five seemingly impossible ideas for change, which if implemented could just change everything!

1. A law compelling elected citizens to serve a single term in Congress

UnknownWe compel our citizens to do jury duty, so why not require selected individuals to serve a single term in Congress? It was Douglas Adams the English humorist that said, “anyone capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job”. At a time when Congresses approval rating stands at nine percent, these words were never more pertinent. We have extraordinary individuals in this country in both the public and the private sector that would choose to serve, but are put off by the seedy self-serving gridlock of modern day politics.

The technology exists to allow us to both select and elect the best and the brightest to serve in Congress, after all we manage do it with American Idol! And if this seems like a futuristic fantasy, consider that the premise largely mirrors what the Founding Fathers originally envisioned when they established term limits.

How would you like Senator Buffett guiding fiscal policy, or Senator Gates driving technology related commerce, or how about Senator Winfrey in charge of social services?

2. A high speed rail network spanning the East and West coasts

Unknown-1One thing we can all agree on is that air travel today has become a “Hogarthian nightmare”. If the uniquely dysfunctional European parliament can find the political will and necessary alignment to build a high-speed rail network spanning multiple countries, then so can we spanning the  East and West coasts of the United States.

What if you could travel from Atlanta to New York in six hours, or DC to Boston in three hours? The process of boarding would be seamless with minimal security checks, there would be no weather or mechanical delays, you’d be sitting in relative spacious comfort and able work with high-speed wireless capability, or would you still rather endure the present dehumanizing airport experience?

Is this really impossible, just because the airline industry spends a bunch of money on K Street? What’s required is the kind of public-private partnership that Teddy Roosevelt championed.

Federal and State Government build the rail network and fuel jobs in the process, while private companies bid to run services on the routes, spending a portion of the massive capitol they are currently sitting on. I’d jump on the “Apple Express” from NYC to Raleigh in a heartbeat, rather than suffer another moment at La Guardia!

It’s the ultimate win-win. We enhance public infrastructure, make doing business more efficient, generate profits for private companies, lower our carbon footprint, and make travelling around this great country more pleasurable for current and future citizens. All that and the sense of national pride in having taken on and completed something of this scale cannot be understated.

3. Legislation penalizing religious extremism

images-3We already have the separation of church and state build into the constitution, something the Founding Fathers had the vision to instigate. In essence they were prepared to address head on the political taboo that is religion freedom, even given the challenges and sensitivities involved in doing so.

Religious extremism from all denominations is a source of discord, division and violence that we are afraid to debate, let alone act against for fear of appearing intolerant. A valid question is how would you create legislation that is able to define what we mean by religious extremism! Difficult I’ll grant you but here is a suggested starting point.

Religious beliefs and practices that advocate violence, force a minor into marriage, that tolerate gender or racial exploitation, or that preach hatred and bigotry would be outlawed! Draconian, not really when you consider we already have laws on the books banning these practices when they aren’t conducted under the banner of religious freedom. And as recently as 2009 we managed to enact a hate-crime bill, which was signed into law by President Obama so perhaps the underlying will does exist.

4. A movement to “half-size” food portions

images-1By any measure we are experiencing an obesity epidemic in the U.S. The next generation will be the first whose life expectancy is predicted to be shorter than the previous, with obesity related heart disease, diabetes and cancer as the leading causes of death. To share one related anecdote, I was on a plane recently that was unable to take off because the cabin crew had run out of seat belt extensions!

If that wasn’t enough in itself, per a 2012 NPR report, it’s estimated that forty percent of the food in America today goes uneaten. In effect we are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion worth of food each year, a chilling and immoral statistic in a world where 842 million people don’t have enough food to eat, according to the U.N. World Food Program.

Diets are not the solution in fact they are part of the problem. It’s estimated that only five percent of people who lose weight on a crash diet will be able to keep it off. The problem isn’t so much what we eat, but rather how much!

So how can we compel corporations to moderate their portion sizes? Don’t tell me it’s impossible to moderate consumption. We did it with cigarettes by placing effective warnings, in tandem with a national awareness campaign. It simply requires the will to do the same with obesity.

Corporations that advocate portion control could receive economic incentives, while those that encourage eating to excess would be penalized accordingly. And it’s good business, as those companies that are seen to be active in the fight against obesity would undoubtedly see a rise in profits from a combination of fewer raw materials, as well as heightened consumer advocacy.

This is not impossible to solve, and really, what could be more necessary.

5. A ten-year “opt out” clause on first marriages

images-2Okay so this last one is a little tongue in check but think about it for a moment. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce creating economic and emotional upheaval for parents and children alike.

Imagine if you knew that after ten years you could simply leave the marriage by law without a lawyer, without acrimony, and based on the terms established under a universal prenuptial agreement. It could go some way to limiting the economic and emotional turmoil involved, and might perhaps encourage some couples to wait it out for the ten-year period to elapse, and in the process discover that they were able to repair their relationship.

Why should this only apply to first marriages, when after all the divorce rate on second and third marriages is even higher than on first marriages? Well after one failed marriage you should have learned something, and be going into your second marriage with eyes wide open! If you chose to remarry well that ones on you, and after all divorce lawyers need to make a living too!

Of all these impossible ideas, this one would probably be the hardest to implement, as forty one percent of the current members of Congress are lawyers.

So all of this is fun to think about but sheer fantasy right! But think about it for a second, in one foul swoop we’d put the most talented individuals in government, dramatically limit our carbon footprint, eradicate the leading cause of division across all religious denominations, tackle our obesity epidemic, slash our burgeoning health care bill, and allow numerous people to walk away from their marriages without the pain and expense currently inflicted on their families.

Ask yourself whether all this is really impossible, or whether we’ve simply lost the ability to think and act against the status quo.


Second That Emotion Korean Style

The exciting news is that this article was published this week in the Maeil Business Newspaper, South Korea’s most read business journal, creating welcome publicity for Second That Emotion, and unexpected exposure for our dog Wally. The bad news is they didn’t forward a translation so I have no idea what is written in the piece that I did an interview for. If anyone can provide a translation I’d be grateful, and thanks to everyone for your continuing support of the book, stateside and internationally.