Jordan Peterson and the Ancient Greeks

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Acclaimed, and controversial, academic Jordan Peterson has founded his own university, Ralston, with two campuses, one in Savannah, Georgia USA, and the other on Samos, a Greek island, home to the Goddess Hera, the philosopher Epicurus, the astronomer Aristarchus and the great mathematician Pythagoras. I suspect JP might also have a holiday home there.

The ambition behind this new humanities-focused university is the creation of a new unifying ethos (that is to say ‘character’ based on a coherent set of values) achieved by reconnecting with the Ancient Greek philosophers. Students are required to learn Classic Greek in order to study directly from the original texts of Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius et al.

I really like the sound of this. Indeed, if I was 40 years younger I’d be applying to enroll. There are sadly two problems with this wishful thinking. Firstly, 4O years ago I would have had no interest in philosophy, ancient Greek or otherwise, and having given up even Latin as soon as I could in my not-so-classical education the idea of having to learn Greek would too big a hill to climb. My interest in philosophy, Greek philosophy in particular, has grown slowly over the years as career gave way to time on my hands. If only we could live our lives backwards, starting with a lot more wisdom and some financial freedom and growing towards the youthful energy to make best use of both. Secondly, admission to Ralston is very limited and very meritocratic. I am not smart enough to get in I fear.

So I will just commend the opportunity to attend what sounds like a really interesting new, yet in terms of ethos, ancient University to those who are both younger and smarter than me.

I do admire Jordon Peterson and I am sure the personal one-on-one sessions students get with him will be a major draw card. Like the ancient Greek philosophers, he is trying to make sense of the world, to debate and  think his way through to a better vision for humanity. In the process he challenges intellectually weak thinking at either end of the political spectrum although it is the left who he seems most to antagonise. He walks head up, back straight (something he commends in ‘12 Rules for Life’) into the trans and feminist debates armed with the most irritating of weapons, well-researched facts and well-structured argument. Misogyny is only one of over 20 factors that explain the pay gap between men and women and by far the least important. There does appear to be a pattern of questioning gender when civilisations collapse as was the case with Greeks and Romans. Transgender and the right to self-identify is more of a decadent (my word) social contagion than a justified assertion of human rights by a significant and repressed minority (as was the case for homosexuals). He may or may not be right about the latter but he is entitled to air his opinions and his opinions are always worth listening to.

Yes, I’d love to be a student of his if I could go back in time but not so much Socrates. Challenging philosophical thinking might attract some very negative press and social media these days, as JP has discovered, but back in the day it got Socrates and some of his followers killed.

Falling in love with Bose – again

When it comes to ‘marketing and brands” I have a split personality. As a logophile (fascinated by the meaning of words) I must explain that the definition of personality is “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving”

One side of my marketing personality i.e. pattern of thinking, the dominant side in recent years, has been to think a lot about the fundamentals of brand adoption and brand commitment since this has been at the heart of my work on Deliberate Marketing, or ‘D-Marketing’ for short. My contention is that a great deal of physical waste and most of the wasted marketing spend, still roughly half of all spend, is due to there being no explicit agreement on what makes people buy things and keep buying them. There are lots of theories and models but very few businesses consciously identify through rigorous discussion which they agree on. If you don’t really understand why people buy/keep buying then how can you efficiently invest in marketing? There may never be a perfect and complete understanding but if you are not curious you never progress. So my message has been ‘Be deliberate, have a hypothesis, continually learn and improve”. This will save money and save the planet. If you want the full version or the fun version of this argument see the links in the last post.

The other side of my personality ito my pattern of thinking, pops up every now and again triggered by a personal experience of either falling in or out of love with a brand. From time to time it feels to me that I’m witnessing in myself something similar to the Hadron Colllider, a collision of brand protons that creates a reaction, either positive or negative. I blogged about one years ago (you can find it in ‘Big Fat Marketing Tweets’, the one about falling in love with BF Goodrich off-road tires having known nothing about tires or off-roading). This week I had another real time change of heart about a brand, in this case falling back in love with it, and again it was down to a particular collision of events and stimulus.

I have been loyal to Bose headphones for more than 30 years. It was through Bose that I discovered ‘noise-cancelling’ and at a time when I was starting to do a lot of long-haul travel it transformed my life. I could block out the world and relax. I think I am now on my fourth set of headphones having upgraded a few times as new features came along. My one criticism is that the lovely soft ear pads degrade over time especially if, like me, you have a sweaty head. The first time I took them back to the store in Regents Street to see if they could be refurbished I was told about their trade-in scheme. For not that much money I could swop my old headphones for a brand new pair with the latest features – brilliant and ahead of its time in terms of recycling (the old headphones were refurbished and resold apparently). I did this twice ending up with my current pair which offer brilliant sound, very decent battery life and are wireless. I’ve had them a few years but last week as I came off a flight my ears were covered in a kind of black dandruff, the ear pads had finally started to disintegrate. So I decided to go the Bose shop – in Cape Town – and see if I could get them repaired but knowing I might get tempted to trade up.

A lot has happened in headphones since I bought my first pair of Bose. Back then they were super expensive compared to anything else available but if you could afford them, and I could, they were the best. There were really only two ways they got used, either listening to music at home if you wanted the purest sound without disturbing anyone else or being disturbed by anyone else, or else for in-flight entertainment (my first pair had all the attachments, I’ve kept them, that allow you to plug into the socket on any aircraft when watching  a movie or listening to your own stuff on your i-pod/phone).

Now headphones are much more integrated into everyday life both work and play. People want to be connected to their music, pod casts, games, TV and social media anywhere anytime. Whether in the office or WFH headphones are an essential tool. There are now lots to choose from, from in-ear like air pods to over-ear like my own  ‘Quiet Comfort’ Bose pair (I can only use the bigger over-ear headphones, hate things in my ear) and noise cancelling is common place across all the brands.

Since I bought my last pair of Bose, probably 6 or 7 years ago now, two other things have changed for me and I think most people. Firstly I never buy anything important without checking the reviews on-line and secondly I feel more guilty if I make unnecessary purchases and don’t try to recycle (I said more guilty, not paralyzingly guilty, I still like buying things). Thinking I would get offered the chance to spend a bit more money and upgrade I thought I better check the reviews of the latest Bose headphones. Were they worth it, were there better alternatives? If there were then I’d treat myself knowing that I could recycle my old headphones.

The quickest of searches unearthed two very relevant pieces of information. Firstly, Sony had some new headphones that were getting better reviews than the latest Bose set. Sony were ‘more expensive but worth it if you can afford it’ was the general consensus, you have my interest. Was now the time to switch brands and end a 30 year-long love affair? Secondly Apple had bought Bose and were planning to merge them with Beats. Beats were the headphones American rapper Dr. Dre backed, he made a fortune when they were acquired by Apple for $3 billion in 2014. With the exception of some Eminem, I loathe rap music, in my view the ‘c’ is obviously silent. Headphones by rappers for rap are not for me. They could be the best, most durable and cheapest headphones in the world and I would not put them on my head let alone buy them. Sony make better headphones and Bose have sold out to Beats of all brands. Was it even worth going down to the Bose shop?

How differently this story might have ended had I chosen to stop there and buy on-line but I have recently had a few really bad experiences buying on-line and it was easy enough to go to the Bose shop and see if they could replace the ear pads and better still, check out the latest Bose headphones for myself. I like shops, especially specialist shops. I like talking to the kind of experts you get at a dedicated brand flagship store. Thank goodness I did and thank goodness Paul, the manager who had persuaded me it was worth trading up to my last pair of Bose, was still there. What did I learn from Paul?

  • The story of Apple buying Bose is bollocks, a false internet trope to put it more politely. MIT (the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have a significant stake in the business which they use to fund leading edge research into acoustics technology and the business is proudly private and independent.
  • Bose were, and thanks to their MIT connection still are, the pioneers in noise-cancelling and many other areas of acoustics.
  • The latest headphones are better only in the sense that they have been optimized for both work and play. Bose offered the equivalent to the latest Sony product with, for example, more than one setting for noise cancelling and slightly longer recharge intervals.  For how I use headphones my set were still as good as any.
  • Bose have tried hard to find better material for the ear pads but can’t. More durable means less comfortable so they have accepted that they need to be replaced every few years and offer a replacement set at a reasonable price. Swopping them over takes just a few minutes and could be done while I waited.
  • They no longer offer the upgrade policy, but I guess they don’t need to if the headphones can be refurbished while you wait and your last pair are still excellent.

I have checked all this out. The Apple rumours are indeed fake news that started with an April Fool Tweet from an Apple employee. The founder of Bose, Dr. Amar Bose, donated some of his shares to MIT of which he is an alumnus. And having listened to the new, top-of-the-range Bose headphones I could tell no difference to the set I have which they still sell alongside the newer more expensive model. I’m fairly sure it would be the same with the Sony equivalent. So, I paid a fraction of the price of a new set of headphones and walked out with my old headphones looking, feeling and sounding as good as ever. I felt really good about this, I’d saved myself a lot of money and done the responsible thing. I also felt a lot warmer and better informed about the Bose brand. I’d fallen in love all over again on the basis of new information:-

  • Bose were driven by the passion and expertise of a founder, Dr. Amar Bose.
  • They work and innovate with the best people, MIT.
  • They strive to be the best not the biggest or most profitable.
  • They are proud of their products and only too happy to restore them rather than just try to sell you a new pair.

What’s not to love? And by the way check out their sunglasses with inbuilt speakers, brilliant sound, audible only to the wearer and yet you can remain aware of what is going on around you. Bought a pair of those too.

What learnings do I take from this? What has been re-affirmed in my mind?

the combination of Macro/micro marketing insight is imporant. Learn from looking at a market, examining the data driven models, the top-down analysis but also learn from personal experience.

Love/delight/positive emotion are the key driver for some brands. I did not want to buy Sony, I love Bose, I was looking for positive affirmation of my brand choice, a reason to stay with them.

Because, alongside the emotional connection, it is what you do that counts, not what you say or project. The products are brilliant, the service first class, the repair/refurbish/re-use ahead of its time.

Making people aware of waste is the goal, that will change behaviour. I am informed about, and now sensitized to, the issue of excessive waste and unnecessary purchases. A few years back I would have looked for every excuse to buy some new headphones I did not really need and not thought twice about it. Now I am responsive to doing the responsible thing, if it’s made this easy.

On-line shopping is potentially very bad for society. There are some occasions and some purchases when on-line ordering makes sense, for example if you know precisely what you want or cannot get to a store. But on-line research and peer group reviews cannot be totally relied on, the ability to just click and buy, thereby missing out proper consideration and first hand research, is what creates the very wasteful ‘reverse supply chain’ where one in three products get returned and often scrapped.

Much as I love Bose there are some lessons for them. Firstly their range architecture is not great in terms of how they position each product. It’s fine if you are talking to a knowledgeable Bose person like Paul but just looking at the names and features does not help you navigate their range as well as they could.

The Apple buying Bose rumour was very high and prominent on the list of search results – they need to fix that.

Bose is one of the few brands that I allow to have and use my email address – so use it, communicate some of the useful information I only found out once in-store. For example, scotch the Apple rumour, let me know about the replacement ear pad kit.

Finally, I’m not sure Bose have nailed their over-arching positioning. I think it’s something around “The art and science of getting much more from less” but what do I know?

One-eyed Dan – Doing more with less

The D-Marketing eBook is now live and can be downloaded here. I warn you, it’s over 90 pages long and important as the topic is – saving the planet by reducing waste and wasted marketing – it’s a chunky read with my usual clunky writing style. There is an ‘In a nutshell’ section and in fact all the sections can be accessed directly from the index page so the reader can skip any bits they want and get straight to what takes their fancy. But still, 92 pages, it’s a lot especially since I have always been of the view that far more business books are bought (or downloaded) than are ever read.

This was praying on my mind so I thought about the ‘business books’ that have been widely read, books like ‘The One-minute manager’ or ‘Who moved my cheese’. They are short, light with a bit of a story that makes you think. Then I thought about the most read books in the world – children’s books. I lost count of the number times I read the marvellous ‘Cops and Robbers’ by Janet and Allen Ahlberg to my kids (and lately to my grandson). Honestly I still know most of it off by heart.

Bingo I thought, I’ll write a short story that comes across as a kid’s book but which is in fact the summary of the arguments for D-Marketing. And so I did – you can download it here.

It’s the story of One-eyed Dan who saw more with less (get it?) and it breezes along in just over 20- pages including some illustrations. Enjoy, you’re welcome. Go change the world.

Consumer, Data Cow or Person of Interest?

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Along with many others I rail against the persistent use of the word ‘consumer’ by business, the media and even government. We are not, none of us, merely consumers, we are sentient, we are people. Consuming things is a by-product of our existence, not our defining characteristic or our purpose. Despite the confected faux regard for ‘consumer power’ or ‘consumer rights’ there is something inherently disrespectful and patronizing about referring to people as ‘consumers’. We are, on some occasions, customers, everyone is in some ways, on some days, someone’s customer. That’s fine, it conveys the idea of a willing transaction, an adult-to-adult relationship based on mutual interest. There is no context, in my view, where the word ‘consumer’ could not be more respectfully replaced by ‘customer’ and many where ‘person’ or ‘people’ would work just as well. Labelling people as ‘consumers’ implies that our only usefulness to the state is as units of labour to produce and units of consumption to justify ever more production. We’re just like the human batteries in ‘The Matrix’, Winston in Orwell’s 1984, put on earth to support the system, ‘Big Brother’.

Consumers? You might as well call us ‘eaters’, ‘breathers’ or maybe  ‘hungry, needy oxygen-users’.

If we buy into this idea of ourselves, even if only in part, as ‘consumers’ we are also giving license to a system that encourages us to consume more and more and more. Creating demand for ever improving products and services is the bedrock of liberal capitalism, a Western system that has done far more good than harm and as the old line goes, is better than the alternatives. Creating excessive consumption is bad. People know the difference, people have come up with the idea of a more circular economic system to limit waste pollution and over-depletion of finite resources. Consumers consume, just like gamblers gamble. People know when to stop.

So can we please confine the term ‘consumer’ to Room 101? Let’s just incinerate it. We are customers and/or we are people. Now we can turn to the far more dangerous threat to our humanity. Our real purpose is to provide data. We are fast becoming ‘Data-Cows’. Justin E.H. Smith is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris. In a recent article for The New Statesman he rather depressingly concluded that one’s job is irrelevant, whether professor or production worker, our role is to generate data.

………… it is growing ever clearer that the true job of all of us, now, is to be milked for data by the provisioners of online content.

What we do now, mostly, is update our passwords, guess at security questions, click on images that look like boats to prove we’re not robots. We are trainers of AI and watchers of targeted ads. 

Justin E.H. Smith: ‘Meritocracy and the future of work’ The New Statesman, April 2021

The logical conclusion of this is that when enough data has been milked from us it will all be uploaded to machines and humanity will have served its purpose. Sounds like a Sci-Fi plot – worryingly life has a habit of imitating art. And the on-ramp to the brave new, de-humanized world has already been unveiled and not just by Zuckerberg. On this very day the technology company, Improbable, has just raised £150 million to build M2, an infrastructure for the Mata-verse bringing together work and entertainment into a virtual, fully online world where all we will do is spew out yet more data for learning machines to manipulate.

To cut a swathe through history, we evolved from a repressive feudal economy to a more open, liberal capitalist economy though the ability to earn our own money and have control over how we spent it, overthrowing the Barons in the process. The new Techno Barons (or governments as in the case of China) can return us to subservience if we do not have control over the data we generate and how it gets used and monetized. We have to fight for this, we need to support the new platforms that enable us to own and transact our own data (you can check some of them out here) and in the meantime we need to resist any and every effort to get us to share our data with people who will exploit it to their, not our, benefit. Whenever you can, don’t give your email address, don’t sign up, refuse permission, block the cookies, use VPN’s.

We need to be able to hold up our hands, when we choose to, and declare ourselves a person of interest with opinions, ideas, preferences and purchasing power unique to us. We are all interesting because despite what the data & behavioural scientists tell you, despite what the algorithms predict, we make surprising choices and act out of character. We think, we have ideas, we create.

You are not a consumer, you’re more than a data-cow, you are a person of interest. Your data has great value, own it, and use it on your own terms.

Teaser: D-Marketing is coming

I have finished the first draft of my latest book. It needs more work but here is a teaser.

In every corner of the globe concerns over climate change, pollution, resource depletion and environmental degradation are now taken very seriously especially, but not exclusively, among the younger generation. Governments and the business world have had to respond to this and for the most part they have. We have green energy policies, more responsible and sustainable sourcing, production and distribution, recycling infrastructure, to highlight just a few aspects of sustainability. Maybe not as much as we need to meet the climate change targets but a lot more than we had and moving in the right direction. Sustainability is mainstream in almost everyone’s thinking almost all of the time. But we are missing something, quite a big thing – excessive demand. We are buying and consuming too much, not everywhere, not among the ‘other 3 billion’ who live in abject poverty, but in the developed world we buy too much stuff. We are, as part of the drive towards sustainability, aware of waste as an issue but we have not tackled the root cause of this – marketing.

$1 trillion a year gets spent on persuading us not just to buy but to buy more than we need and this causes enormous waste both physical and obvious and hidden, ignored. We have not tackled the demand-side wastage and marketing’s role in that, so we are fighting the climate change and environmental battle with one arm tied behind our back. This book tries to lift the lid on that and offer an alternative, Deliberate Marketing – a more responsible approach that addresses marketing generated wastage but not necessarily by reducing profits and enterprise value. Because we also waste a lot of money on unnecessary marketing so we can cut that out too.

My argument in a nutshell are as follows:-

  • Rooted in free-market economics, the purpose of marketing is to sell more, more, more. This produces vast amounts of excess consumption and waste. Some waste can be recycled but that takes 50% of the resources it took to produce in the first place. Less unnecessary purchases = less recycling.
  • Sustainability does not focus enough on the demand side.
  • It is possible to reduce excess, irresponsible demand and the waste it produces without necessarily reducing profits or enterprise value.
  • We are not looking to impose austerity and fight human nature or progress. Just 5-10% reduction would be game-changing and reducing wasted marketing can more than offset the commercial risk of doing so.
  • We need a better more deliberate and connected way of doing marketing and a better way to measure and account for all costs.
  • There are strategies to reduce waste and safeguard commercial success. There is a simple process a business could follow but it needs to be holistic, looking at the whole business model.

Deliberate Marketing – think of it as marketing that makes you proud, socially and professionally.

The book offers a point of view on how to reduce wasted marketing and reduce marketing generated waste. It highlights areas to focus on to achieve this and suggest a process for D-Marketing. The objective is to generate interest, to start the conversation and pose some challenging questions. It is not offering ‘an answer’ or ‘a blue-print’, that’s impossible without looking at a specific business in a specific category. But here’s an interesting thing about waste, once aware of it, a well-intentioned person or leadership team finds it hard to ignore. There is no study to back this up, merely a lot of circumstantial evidence, but the majority of waste is probably down to thoughtlessness, a feeling of powerlessness and/or an assumption that it’s someone else’s responsibility. As a species we are sentient and most of us have a conscience. If we are aware of waste, if we think we can do something about it and it is our responsibility to do so, we will. At the very least we will try.

The audience for this book is business in general, and marketers in particular. Its purpose is to make people think about waste and believe there is perhaps something they can do if they try.