Monday, October 26, 2020
Monday, October 19, 2020
Thursday, Lord willing, will be my 69th birthday. There are ample sources of quotations to inspire us as we journey in life. Obviously, some resonate more than others on a personal level. It is with that in mind that I’ve decided to share of few of my favorites that give me pause to reflect and, in several cases, act upon.
I’ll begin with a treasure from William Gladstone, who was a British statesman and politician. During his 60 year career, he served for 12 years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His four terms began in 1868 and ended in 1894. Here was an example of his wisdom:
"To comprehend a man’s life, it is necessary to know not merely what he does, but also what he purposely leaves undone. There is a limit to the work that can be got out of a human body or a human brain, and he is a wise man who wastes no energy on pursuits for which he is not fitted; and he is still wiser who, from among the things that he can do well, chooses and resolutely follows the best.”
Next is a powerful reminder from John Newton. Having had early religious instruction from his mother, who passed when John was a child, his religious convictions had faded. His father was fond of sailing the seas, and young John followed in his footsteps—eventually becoming captain of his own ship profiting from the slave trade.
On a particular voyage, while attempting to navigate through a violent storm, Newton would experience what he termed as his “great deliverance.” At one critical moment all seemed lost. Confident that the ship would surely sink, he cried out, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” His journal tells us that later reflection about his mercy plea led him to believe that God had reached out to him through the storm and that grace had been bestowed to him. Newton’s conversion was dramatic, calling him out of the slave trade. He is known for penning the words to the song, Amazing Grace. I love this quote from John Newton:
"If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, his arm is over us, His ear open to our prayer, His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.”
Les Brown is given credit for this next gem. Leslie Calvin (“Les”) Brown was born in 1945 and held a variety of jobs. He’s a former Ohio politician having served in their House of Representatives, also an author, a radio DJ, and former host of The Les Brown Show. Brown is also a motivational speaker, often using the catch phrase, "It's possible,” as he encourages people to follow their dreams, as he had learned to do. This quote reveals the way he sees life…
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry our their dream.” Love it.
I’ve been unable to trace the source of this next maxim—but I’ve pondered the significance of it on many mornings.
"All men are created equal. At birth and at death all men are the same, all are equal. It is life that is not equal. Life is the time given each one of us from our first breath to the last. To live life all we have to do is to decide what to do with the time given us. Will you live life or let life live you?”
I will end with this one. It is, in essence, something of a life verse I recite almost every day. It gives me hope: "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8 (ESV)
Perhaps you will agree with my assessment of the quality of these quotes. Pearls of wisdom can take us a long way.
May you be blessed.
Monday, October 12, 2020
“Oh look, honey, somebody is sending free money!” And indeed! Sometimes it happens. For example, I recently received a check from Melania Trump. Unfortunately, it wasn’t made out to me. The $45 was to be endorsed by the political party of her husband. Dang it.
Occasionally, we get an envelope with a crisp, new $1 bill tucked inside. This is an “incentive” gift encouraging us to multiply it many times over and support some charity. The smaller version of this comes from the March of Dimes which sends us—you guessed it—a dime.
We’re thankful for this free money. And we graciously keep it. Helps to pay for our coffee habit at Starbucks.
And then there are the address labels. I think at last count I have 8,327. Unfortunately, some company got my middle initial wrong so I now have 1,641 of those with an “R” instead of a “J.” But I save them. You can never have enough return address labels. Or note pads. Gobs of note pads.
’Tis also the season for free Christmas cards to arrive. Just received a package the other day. Useless. They’re from a respected charity—one to which I have previously contributed. Three of the cards say “Seasons Greetings.” One says, “Let it snow.” (Please, no.) Another has a quote, “The ornament of a house is the people who frequent it.” None of them said… “Merry Christmas!!” Watch my lips, “No moolah for you!”
The most extravagant freebie mailing came a week ago. It was from a national organization whose mission is “saving children and healing families.” I like that. To my recollection, I’ve never given them a dime. (Not even the one we got free in another mailing!)
Inside the 1 1/4 inch mailer was a treasure trove of un-requested items. There were eight cellophane wrapped Christmas cards. All but one offered true Christmas greetings. There were multiple calendars of various sizes. A crossword puzzle booklet was enclosed. More mailing labels. And…a partridge in a pear tree. (Okay, slight exaggeration.) I have never received so much free stuff to tempt me to give. But I resisted.
Why? Is it because I am a heartless penny-pinching heathen? I hope not.
No, it’s because all of these gimmicks—and that’s what they are—are intended to create an implied obligation. Since the organization has blessed me freely, perhaps I should pony up a return cash gift to say thank you. Plus, my name is now added to the Mailing Lists From Hell which are sold or traded among these groups. That’s why I keep getting offers to Mark “R.” Elfstrand!
Another mail manipulation is the so-called free shipping. It’s explained in the article, “The Email Strategy that Made $47K+ by Giving Away Free Stuff.” Here’s an excerpt. “There’s no denying the power of the free shipping campaign when it comes to getting new new customers…People love free stuff. It’s why so many companies have simply priced shipping into their items and then claimed ‘free shipping.’"
Here’s a twist. A small item is offered to a client’s email list for free. The customer just needs to pay shipping. Say it’s a $5 “free” item. You charge $10 for shipping and handling—$3 more than the cost. You get the profit on the item AND $2 bonus on the shipping. As the writer explains, “the psychological desire for free stuff fuels incredibly successful sales campaigns.” A mind game in which you lose.
Even that “free test drive” invitation from your local car dealer is a quasi-obligation incentive. The dealer and salesman know they’ve not only increased the temptation to buy, but you’ve taken up their precious time and used their vehicle to drive around. Don’t ya kind of feel like you owe them? Most likely, they do!
Not all incentives are evil. But all “great offers” are designed to move your mind toward something you may or may not have been thinking you need or want.
Manipulation. Watch out! The wicked witch is calling. “Come here, children. I have some free candy for you!” Riiiiiiight.
Monday, October 5, 2020
Last Monday, my blog challenged the “wisdom” of some that manipulation in selling is a good thing. No one likes to be manipulated. Face-to-face sales transactions give us the most direct way of feeling sales trickery—if we’re aware of it.
The Internet, however, has given us a whole new world of abuse. A ministry friend passed along an eye-opening article on this topic from a technology expert named Tristan Harris. The article is titled, “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind—from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist."
Let’s start with the magician perspective—Scary Thought Number One:
“Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities, and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano. And this is exactly what (technology) product designers do to your mind.”
Harris now moves us along through specific ways this happens with his “Hijack” points. His article (linked below) provides details. Here is Scary Point #2: “They (site designers) give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose.”
Mr. Harris posits that app developers have mastered the skill of keeping people “hooked.” He sees it like you have become a form of slot machine. The tech designers create a link to a user’s action similar to a slot machine lever that offers a variable reward.
Tristan claims that an average phone user checks that phone 150 times a day. And when you check, who is feeding you the sites and links and data you see? It may seem like conscious choices are made. He argues it’s not so.
Humans are particularly vulnerable to social approval. Belonging, approval, and appreciation by peers ranks very high in human motivation. Today, this social approval comes through tech companies. Facebook, Instagram, or SnapChat can manipulate people getting tagged in photos by suggesting all the faces people should tag.
A second insightful glimpse into tech manipulation can be found in the Wired magazine article, “The Facebook Defectors Turning Trump’s Strategy Against Him.” James Barnes is with the political nonprofit Acronym. Formerly working on the Trump campaign, he now meets each week attempting to move voters away from Trump toward Joe Biden.
How does this work? Acronym uses a custom-built tool they’ve coined Barometer. With it “they micro-target ‘movable’ voters on Facebook, run randomized tests to see what kind of ads work best, and then adjust them to taste.” Sin
ce about 75% of U.S. adults use Facebook, it’s quite a political playground.
Barnes claims that two types of voters exist: Those who know whom they're voting for and those who don't. Most fall into the first category, committed long before Election Day. This means candidates must work hard to get their most dedicated to the polls. The bigger challenge is "to sway the very small pool of undecided, ambivalent, or otherwise out-of-touch voters that remains.”
Target messaging is what works here. A campaign might identify conservative voters with religious leanings by, say, mining the public records of hunting licenses, purchasing membership lists from mega-churches, and looking at home ownership in specific zip codes. Earlier research found that people who watched TV Land reruns were less likely to have a presidential preference.
The new tech platforms are precision driven. For example, today’s political advertisers use “geofencing technology” to locate Catholics who have been to mass at least three times in the past 90 days. Damon McCoy, a researcher at New York University's Online Political Ads Transparency Project puts this clearly in perspective: “It's very easy for these political advertisers to partition and very narrowly message and tell different people different things. It definitely has an element of manipulation.”
So there you have it, my fellow victim.
Manipulation may seem like dirty work. The techno types see it like a game. And you are the pieces with which they play.
(Next week: Manipulation in the mailbox.)
Monday, September 28, 2020
Did you know that there is a Sales Hall of Fame? Could you name any of the most recent inductees? Do you care? They’re definitely not household names.
I found the website for these honorees. Here’s how you get in: “Here at the Sales Hall of Fame, we honor some of the most distinguished professionals who continually inspire people with their cutting edge insights and intellectual influence. The Sales Hall of Fame is the only award that recognizes these innovators in the field of sales while encouraging future generations to take after them.”
Impressive, eh? Little did you know that when you bought that last used car you might well have been dealing with someone who has “cutting edge insights and intellectual influence.” Or…maybe not.
The best sales person I ever knew personally, who is also known around the world, was Zig Ziglar. Given enough prep time, I’m pretty sure he could even sell me an alligator suit. He definitely mastered his craft.
The weird thing about sales is that it can easily cross the edge into manipulation. But wait! There’s more! Did you know that manipulation is actually—get ready—GOOD?
So says Margo Aaron in her article, “When manipulation becomes deception: Where should salespeople draw the line?” found on the website nutshell.com. (Not nuthouse—nutshell.) And apparently, she is SOLD on this idea.
Here’s what Margo believes, “Manipulation entails pulling persuasion levers to encourage someone to act in their own best interest. You can think of it as taking someone from “interested, but maybe later” to “must have this now!!”
As for the techniques, Margo adds, “When you use things like scarcity, urgency, and exclusivity, you hijack the brain’s rational decision making abilities and get people to take action.” Now you understand. These sales intellectuals are hijacking your rational decision making to line their pockets, while providing you with something you may neither really want nor need.
Among the non-intellectual crowd wooing your buying appetites are retired athletes and respected actors. Former football great-turned-pitchman Joe Namath is trying to convince the elderly crowd about how his Social Security plan is so helpful to him. Right, Joe. Let me jump on that deal!
The star of the Bluebloods television series, and another senior, Tom Selleck, is hawking some financial program or service. I find him just a step up from Broadway Joe. A very small step.
Frankly, I’ve never considered manipulation an honorable achievement. No doubt I’ve used it myself. In my earlier life, I held several sales and sales management positions. However, learning how to “close” a sale, or techniques to draw interest in a product or service, generally rises above the line of manipulation.
Steven Covey is known for creating his list of habits for highly successful people. One of them is win-win. I would even add a third “win.” A truly healthy transaction benefits the sales associate, the purchaser, (assuming it’s not the end user) and…the end user. Anyone who loses in the deal will eventually figure it out and not be happy.
The marketplace needs skilled, honest, and hard working sales people. The marketplace is not served well by manipulative tactics however they may be glossed over. The frequently offered “secrets of selling” perhaps should stay as secrets if they abuse the customer relationship.
There is probably no simpler guide on this than what we often refer to as the Golden Rule. In Jesus' words, “Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” Luke 6:31 (
NLT) Clear as a bell.
Next week, a look at the manipulative ways technology plays with your mind!
Meanwhile, anybody interested in a great deal on Ginsu knives? I’ll throw in a poster of Joe Namath.
Monday, September 21, 2020
Tomorrow at 8:31 AM CDT, Fall begins. The greens of spring and summer will be steadily disappearing. Temperatures will begin their decline. Pumpkins will arrive at our neighbors' houses. And…we’ll have an election. Ugh.
My wife Rhonda recently purchased a new t-shirt with an Amazon-like one-star rating and the message: “2020: Horrible. Would not recommend.” The general opinion of my men’s 55+ group that met last Saturday left NO positive language on the table in descriptives for this year. Overall, I think Americans, en mass, believe that 2020 has been a loser. And this is before the election!
Restaurants in our area are simply, to use an odd expression, fed up. They’re tired of being told when they can open and when they must limit access. Their customer base has been drying up. Of course it has. And with colder weather coming, they pray that mandatory outdoor-only service will not return.
Lawry’s The Prime Rib in downtown Chicago has been delighting patrons from around the world for 46 years. They’ve just announced they’re closing at the end of the year. And they may never re-open in the city. Their lease is up, but that’s easily fixable. The other reason they gave for their decision isn’t so easily fixed: civil unrest—which has reared its ugly head multiple times over the summer months.
Several airlines have found 2020 to be the worst year in their existence. United recently threatened to furlough a mass of pilots and workers if the federal government didn’t come to their “rescue.” Many airline seats are vacant on the majority of flights domestically. And, frankly, what fun is it to be zooming around the country in a mask?
And speaking of zooming, should not “Zoom” be the word of the year? Like it used to be said of irresponsible sexual behavior, “everybody’s doin’ it.” School classrooms now meet via Zoom. So do business meetings and church gatherings. But at least you don’t have to wear a mask…usually.
Pity building owners who are saying goodbye to tenants—at least the ones who are paying! The governor of Illinois just offered another reprieve to those renters who simply can’t pay for their living space without jobs. Why didn’t he offer a reprieve to the building owners who have to continue to pay the banks for loans on those places? Of course, he’s a billionaire.
Churches are changing. I just read that a sizable Baptist church in Tennessee is re-thinking their entire program of ministry. They might even hire a full time pastor who serves only Internet-based meetings of the church. And they’re developing small groups and fellowships in states 2000 miles away! Many churches are not making their pre-COVID-19 budgets.
Oh. And then there’s the political season we’re facing. One that just got more complicated with the passing of a Supreme Court justice. What will the process of replacement be like in the future now that we know to bring spirited accusers to destroy the credibility of the candidate—whether truth is told or not. Some honor!
And about that upcoming election. Threats have been made of violence unless a certain candidate wins. Mail in ballots, the hot item of 2020, will no doubt delay final results into 2021. Just in case you thought relief was coming.
We mustn’t forget the west coast fires destroying millions of acres of trees and leaving many people desperate for recovery. The same for victims of hurricanes and flooding. Their challenges abound.
And then there’s that nagging virus—about to get even more complicated by something called "the flu.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d be depressed! But I do know better. I know these aren’t the worst of times. Or the worst of circumstances. I know there’s a better world to come. Jesus promised it. Revelation 21:4 reads, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV) Christ followers have that promise for their future.
Until that day, we must realize we live in a fallen world. And unless the hearts of Americans seriously change, I’m not so confident we’ll get up again.
Monday, September 14, 2020
Since childhood, I’ve heard the line that “too much of anything is not good.” But there is a parallel version of this idea that hits a bit harder. It goes, “too much of anything is good for nothing.”
I feel we could well be reaching that point with sports and the racial equality and social justice movements. Of course, I would not be allowed to say this if I worked for any major media—be it radio, newspapers, or television. I could not likely say it if I had major sponsors for any of my writings. The pressure companies face is too great.
All sporting events seem to have taken the pledge to make some form of a diversity statement show up in a myriad of ways. It’s more pronounced, of course, in sports where black athletes are highly visible. Hockey and golf pay homage to the issue, but it has not become the dominant conversation point.
In baseball, the NBA, and now football, we find ourselves in their version of re-education camps. In watching a recent Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins contest, a huge banner now sits at the right field wall at Target Stadium. It is there to “honor” George Floyd. Even the Minnesota music legend Prince did not receive such a tribute!
Thursday Night Football on NBC was a steady stream of discussion and commentary from the announcers and in features both in pre-game shows and the actual game itself. (It’s always helpful to hear two white guys paid to make their pitch on the importance of social justice. Yawn.)
The game itself took on a bizarre moment related to pre-game song performances. The Kansas City Chiefs had all their players lined up and locking arms to the tune of “Lift Every Voice.” This was followed several minutes later by a performance of our national anthem in front of the same display of “unity” from Chiefs players and coaches. Minority artists performed both songs. A must.
But what made the showing a bit bizarre (as I noted) was the absence of the Houston Texas team for either song! They chose not to make a “statement,” which they felt would be distracting to the game. And as a result, their team was booed by KC fans in the stadium. Something that apparently bewildered Houston player J.C. Watts!
Saturday now has some college football being played. I switched on Fox for their pre-game show on Saturday. Lo and behold…what should I see? Lots more chatter on the same topic. And watching a few players warm up, t-shirts with messaging related to the issue as well. In other words, it’s everywhere!
Like many of my caucasian brothers and sisters, I support the idea that black lives matter—but not the organization by that name. Two inspirational black leaders of our day— Tony Dungy and Ryan Bomberger—dare speak up on issues like abortion and homosexuality in ways that put them in media peril. Ryan goes further.
Bomberger, whom I’ve interviewed, wrote a superb article earlier this year titled, “Top Ten Reasons I’ll Never Support the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” Read it…and weep. Weep, because of all those souls who cannot separate the movement from the evil backside it reveals. (story link below)
If the souls of all these Americans who are suddenly socially conscious were bared for all to see, shame would be on many faces. Racism is a sin of the heart. Preaching to darkened souls the “radical” idea that every person created by God is of great worth is lost on most people. Just look at the way the false gods of Hollywood and sports are idolized for their “worth” compared to you and I.
Jesus followers KNOW the following statement to be true (if they are genuine): “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” Galatians 3:28 (CEV) We are to believe it and live it.
Attempting to press the message of equality and value of our fellow human beings is a lost cause on lost souls. And in the massive attempt to do this, I fear it’s going over the top. Instead, it’s creating tune-out.
Just don’t tell anyone I said that. Well, except Dungy and Bomberger.