Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Remarkable: Seth Godin on Standing Out

At a CAJE conference long, long ago at a campus far, far away, I gave a session about using the principles of Seth Godin's Purple Cow and Unleashing the Ideavirus books to re-frame our work as educators and institutional leaders. It was well-received, but I think the time has come to continue the discussion. So what I offer is a video and transcript of Seth Godin teaching about what it means to have your product stand out. As I mentioned at that conference, it took Moses from among all the other shepherds of Midian to notice not that the bush was burning, but that the branches were not being consumed by the flames. Most of us and our constituents are NOT as observant as Moses. We only see a bush on fire. Nothing remarkable about that in the wilderness. 

And I have some questions I hope you will attempt to answer in the comments section below:
  1. Whose attention do we need to attract? Children? Their parents? Adult Learners? People who are not members of the congregation or institution? The Usual Suspects?
  2. What are their needs, in terms of what will get their attention? What are the barriers that prevent them from noticing that the bush is burning unconsumed?
  3. What can we do with the settings and structures we have to make Jewish learning remarkable?
  4. What can we do that goes outside or beyond those settings and structures to make Jewish learning remarkable?
From TED February 2003
In a world of too many options and too little time, our obvious choice is to just ignore the ordinary stuff. Marketing guru Seth Godin spells out why, when it comes to getting our attention, bad or bizarre ideas are more successful than boring ones.

I'm going to give you four specific examples -- and I'm going to cover at the end -- about how a company called Silk tripled their sales by doing one thing. How an artist named Jeff Koons went from being a nobody to making a whole bunch of money and having a lot of impact, to how Frank Gehry redefined what it meant to be an architect. And one of my biggest failures as a marketer in the last few years, a record label I started that had a CD called "Sauce."

Before I can do that I've got to tell you about sliced bread, and a guy named Otto Rohwedder. Now, before sliced bread was invented in the 1910s I wonder what they said? Like the greatest invention since ... the telegraph or something. But this guy named Otto Rohwedder invented sliced bread, and he focused, like most inventors did, on the patent part and the making part. And the thing about the invention of sliced bread is this -- that for the first 15 years after sliced bread was available no one bought it, no one knew about it. It was a complete and total failure. And the reason is that until Wonder came along and figured out how to spread the idea of sliced bread, no one wanted it. That the success of sliced bread, like the success of almost everything we've been talking about at this conference, is not always about what the patent is like, or what the factory is like, it's about can you get your idea to spread, or not. And I think that the way that you're going to get what you want, or cause the change that you want to change, to happen, is that you've got to figure out a way to get your ideas to spread.

And it doesn't matter to me whether you're running a coffee shop or you're an intellectual, or you're in business, or you're flying hot air balloons. I think that all this stuff applies to everybody regardless of what we do. That what we are living in is a century of idea diffusion. That people who can spread ideas, regardless of what those ideas are, win. And when I talk about it I usually pick business because they make the best pictures that you can put in your presentation, and because it's the easiest sort of way to keep score. But I want you to forgive me when I use these examples because I'm talking about anything that you decide to spend your time to do.

At the heart of spreading ideas is TV and stuff like TV. TV and mass media made it really easy to spread ideas in a certain way. I call it the TV industrial complex. The way the TV industrial complex works, is you buy some ads -- interrupt some people -- that gets you distribution. You use the distribution you get to sell more products. You take the profit from that to buy more ads. And it goes around and around and around, the same way that military and industrial complex worked a long time ago. And that model of, and we heard it yesterday, if we could only get onto the homepage of Google, if we could only figure out how to get promoted there, if we could only figure out how to grab that person by the throat, and tell them about what we want to do. If we do that then everyone would pay attention, and we would win. Well, this TV industrial complex informed my entire childhood and probably yours. I mean, all of these products succeeded because someone figured out how to touch people in a way they weren't expecting, in a way they didn't necessarily want with an ad, over and over and over again until they bought it.

And the thing that's happened is, they canceled the TV industrial complex. That just over the last few years, what anybody who markets anything has discovered is that it's not working the way that it used to. This picture is really fuzzy, I apologize, I had a bad cold when I took it. But the product in the blue box in the center is my poster child. Right. I go to the deli, I'm sick, I need to buy some medicine. The brand manager for that blue product spent 100 million dollars trying to interrupt me in one year. 100 million dollars interrupting me with TV commercials and magazine ads and spam and coupons and shelving allowances and spiff -- all so I could ignore every single message. And I ignored every message because I don't have a pain reliever problem. I buy the stuff in the yellow box because I always have. And I'm not going to invest a minute of my time to solve her problem, because I don't care.

Here's a magazine called Hydrate. It's 180 pages about water.

Right. Articles about water, ads about water. Imagine what the world was like 40 years ago when it was just the Saturday Evening Post and Time and Newsweek. Now there are magazines about water. New products from Coke Japan -- water salad.

OK. Coke Japan comes out with a new product every three weeks. Because they have no idea what's going to work and what's not. I couldn't have written this better myself. It came out four days ago -- I circled the important parts so you can see them here. They've came out ... Arby's is going to spend 85 million dollars promoting an oven mitt with the voice of Tom Arnold, hoping that that will get people to go to Arby's and buy a roast beef sandwich.

Now, I had tried to imagine what could possibly be in an animated TV commercial featuring Tom Arnold, that would get you to get in your car, drive across town and buy a roast beef sandwich.

Now, this is Copernicus, and he was right, when he was talking to anyone who needs to hear your idea. The world revolves around me. Me, me, me, me, me. My favorite person -- me. I don't want to get email from anybody, I want to get "memail."

So consumers, and I don't just mean people who buy stuff at the Safeway, I mean people at the Defense Department who might buy something, or people at, you know, the New Yorker who might print your article. Consumers don't care about you at all, they just don't care. Part of the reason is -- they've got way more choices than they used to, and way less time. And in a world where we have too many choices and too little time, the obvious thing to do is just ignore stuff. And my parable here is you're driving down the road and you see a cow, and you keep driving because you've seen cows before. Cows are invisible. Cows are boring. Who's going to stop and pull over and say -- oh, look, a cow. Nobody.

But if the cow was purple -- isn't that a great special effect? I could do that again if you want it. If the cow was purple, you'd notice it for a while. I mean, if all cows were purple you'd get bored with those, too. The thing that's going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is -- is it remarkable? And remarkable's a really cool word because we think it just means neat, but it also means -- worth making a remark about. And that is the essence of where idea diffusion is going. That two of the hottest cars in the United States is a 55,000 dollar giant car, big enough to hold a mini in its trunk. People are paying full price for both, and the only thing they have in common is that they don't have anything in common.

Every week the number one best selling DVD in America changes. It's never "The Godfather," it's never "Citizen Kane," It's always some third rate movie with some second rate star. But the reason it's number one is because that's the week it came out. Because it's new, because it's fresh. Because people saw it and said -- I didn't know that was there -- and they noticed it. Two of the big success stories of the last 20 years in retail -- one sells things that are super-expensive in a blue box, and one sells things that are as cheap as they can make them. The only thing they have in common is that they're different.

We're now in the fashion business, no matter what we do for a living, we're in the fashion business. And the thing is, people in the fashion business know what it's like to be in the fashion business, because they're used to it. The rest of us have to figure out how to think that way. How to understand that it's not about interrupting people with big full-page ads, or insisting on meetings with people. But it's a totally different sort of process that determines which ideas spread, and which ones don't. This chair -- they sold a billion dollars' worth of Aeron chairs by reinventing what it meant to sell a chair. They turned a chair from something the purchasing department bought, to something that was a status symbol about where you sat at work. This guy, Lionel Poilane, the most famous baker in the world -- he died two and a half months ago, and he was a hero of mine and a dear friend. He lived in Paris. Last year he sold 10 million dollars worth of French bread. Every loaf baked in a bakery he owned, by one baker at a time, in a wood-fired oven. And when Lionel started his bakery the French pooh-pooh-ed it. They didn't want to buy his bread. It didn't look like "French bread." It wasn't what they expected. It was neat, it was remarkable, and slowly it spread from one person to another person until finally, it became the official bread of three-star restaurants in Paris. Now he's in London, and he ships by FedEx all around the world.

What marketers used to do is make average products for average people. That's what mass marketing is. Smooth out the edges, go for the center, that's the big market. They would ignore the geeks, and God forbid, the laggards. It was all about going for the center. But in a world where the TV industrial complex is broken, I don't think that's a strategy we want to use any more. I think the strategy we want to use is to not market to these people because they're really good at ignoring you. But market to these people because they care. These are the people who are obsessed with something. And when you talk to them they'll listen because they like listening -- it's about them. And if you're lucky, they'll tell their friends on the rest of the curve, and it'll spread. It'll spread to the entire curve.

They have something I call otaku -- it's a great Japanese word. It describes the desire of someone who's obsessed to say, drive across Tokyo to try a new ramen noodle place, because that's what they do. They get obsessed with it. To make a product, to market an idea, to come up with any problem you want to solve that doesn't have a constituency with an otaku, is almost impossible. Instead, you have to find a group that really, desperately cares about what it is you have to say. Talk to them and make it easy for them to tell their friends. There's a hot sauce otaku, but there's no mustard otaku. That's why there's lots and lots and lots of kinds of hot sauces, and not so many kinds of mustard. Not because it's hard to make interesting mustard -- you can make interesting mustard -- But people don't because no one's obsessed with it, and thus no one tells their friends. Krispy Kreme has figured this whole thing out. Krispy Kreme has a strategy, and what they do is, they enter a city, they talk to the people with otaku, and then they spread through the city to the people who've just crossed the street.

This yoyo right here cost 112 dollars, but it sleeps for 12 minutes. Not everybody wants it but they don't care. They want to talk to the people who do, and maybe it'll spread.

These guys make the loudest car stereo in the world.
 It's as loud as a 747 jet, you can't get in the car's got bullet proof glass on the windows because they'll blow out the windshield otherwise. But the fact remains that when someone wants to put a couple of speakers in their car, if they've got the otaku or they've heard from someone who does, they go ahead and they pick this.

 It's really simple -- you sell to the people who are listening, and maybe, just maybe those people tell their friends. So when Steve Jobs talks to 50,000 people at his keynote, right, who are all tuned in from 130 countries watching his two-hour commercial -- that's the only thing keeping his company in business -- is that those 50,000 people care desperately enough to watch a two-hour commercial, and then tell their friends.

Pearl Jam, 96 albums released in the last two years. Every one made a profit. How? They only sell them on their website. Those people who buy them on the website have the otaku, and then they tell their friends, and it spreads and it spreads.

This hospital crib cost 10,000 dollars, 10 times the standard. But hospitals are buying it faster than any other model. Hard Candy nail polish, doesn't appeal to everybody, but to the people who love it, they talk about it like crazy.

This paint can right here saved the Dutch Boy paint company, making them a fortune. It costs 35 percent more than regular paint because Dutch Boy made a can that people talk about, because it's remarkable. They didn't just slap a new ad on the product, they changed what it meant to build a paint product.

AmIhotornot.com -- every day 250,000 people go to this site, run by two volunteers, and I can tell you they are hard graders, and
they didn't get this way by advertising a lot. They got this way by being remarkable, sometimes a little TOO remarkable.

And this picture frame has a cord going out the back, and you plug it into the wall. My father has this on his desk, and he sees his grandchildren every day, changing constantly. And every single person who walks into his office hears the whole story of how this thing ended up on his desk. And one person at a time, the idea spreads.

These are not diamonds, not really. They're made from cremains. After you're cremated you can have yourself made into a gem.
 Oh, you like my ring? It's my grandmother.
 Fastest-growing business in the whole mortuary industry. But you don't have to be Ozzie Osborne -- you don't have to be super-outrageous to do this. What you have to do is figure out what people really want and give it to them.

A couple of quick rules to wrap up. The first one is: Design is free when you get to scale. And the people who come up with stuff that's remarkable more often than not figure out how to put design to work for them.

Number two: The riskiest thing you can do now is be safe. Proctor and Gamble knows this, right? The whole model of being Proctor and Gamble is always about average products for average people. That's risky. The safe thing to do now is to be at the fringes, be remarkable.

And being very good is one of the worst things you can possibly do. Very good is boring. Very good is average. It doesn't matter whether you're making a record album, or you're an architect, or you have a tract on sociology. If it's very good, it's not going to work, because no one's going to notice it.

So my three stories. Silk. Put a product that does not need to be in the refrigerated section next to the milk in the refrigerated section. Sales tripled. Why? Milk, milk, milk, milk, milk -- not milk. For the people who were there and looking at that section, it was remarkable. They didn't triple their sales with advertising, they tripled it by doing something remarkable.

That is a remarkable piece of art. You don't have to like it, but a 40-foot tall dog made out of bushes in the middle of New York City is remarkable.

Frank Gehry didn't just change a museum, he changed an entire city's economy by designing one building that people from all over the world went to see. Now, at countless meetings at, you know, the Portland City Council, or who knows where, they said, we need an architect -- can we get Frank Gehry? Because he did something that was at the fringes.

And my big failure? I came out with an entire
record album and hopefully a whole bunch of record albums in SACD format -- this remarkable new format -- and I marketed it straight to people with 20,000 dollar stereos. People with 20,000 dollar stereos don't like new music.

So what you need to do is figure out who does care. Who is going to raise their hand and say, "I want to hear what you're doing next," and sell something to them. The last example I want to give you. This is a map of Soap Lake, Washington. As you can see, if that's nowhere, it's in the middle of it.

But they do have a lake. And people used to come from miles around to swim in the lake. They don't anymore. So the founding fathers said, "We've got some money to spend. What can we build here?" And like most committees, they were going to build something pretty safe. And then an artist came to them -- this is a true artist's rendering -- he wants to build a 55-foot tall lava lamp in the center of town. That's a purple cow, that's something worth noticing. I don't know about you but if they build it, that's where I'm going to go.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Emerging Voices in Jewish Education

Ever since Abraham and his father Terach, children have learned to overthrow the idols of their parents, to question their values, to challenge their operating assumptions and to recreate their institutions.Through this intergenerational process Judaism has evolved and devolved, it has reviewed and renewed itself and above all it has continued to live. Even though the story about Abraham destroying his father’s idol shop is legendary, it proffers a timeless truth, a truth unto which this issue of Torah at the Center attests.

Rabbi Tali Zelkowicz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Jewish Education at HUC-JIR’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education, initiated a correspondence and made a symbiotic proposal. In a course she teaches entitled “Sociology of Jewish Education” students are required to write an article for a publication to which reflective practitioners of Jewish education are invited to contribute. Each article strives to meet three criteria:
  1. Address a dilemma, concern or problem facing Jewish education
  2. Provide some social scientific context for the issue
  3. Offer a creative, refreshing, compelling analysis of the issue and propose a course of action and/or vision for change
Intrigued by the prospect of providing the students with a targil ratuv, a live simulation, so to speak, editor Wendy Grinberg engaged Tali in correspondence and conversation, perhaps a contemporary Pirkei Imahot, and as collegial partners they arrived at terms of agreement. We are grateful for Tali and Wendy’s inspired partnership and for the bikurim, the first authorial fruits of aspiring Jewish educational leaders. The students’ voices are included in Torah at the Center as new members of the educational choir. Accompanying them in the same issue are experienced and insightful mentors, educational practitioners with expertise in the areas the students are seeking to influence for the better.

The result is a harmony that leaves the integrity of each voice. Out of this conversation emerges a masechet, a type of web, a web that links dor holech to dor hemshech, the current generation of Jewish educators to the next generation of Jewish educators. The web intended to catch you, the reader, in it. Indeed, if the web stops within the pages of Torah at the Center, we will have
failed to accomplish a major aim. The web of Jewish learning should include you, your teachers, your colleagues and your students. At stake are not only our livelihoods as Jewish educators but also our lives as Jews.

When Abraham proverbially overthrew his father’s idols, he “created” Judaism. When the next generation of the Jewish people follows Abraham’s lead, they too will be [re]creating Judaism in their image. The process is sometimes painful and radical. It is always predicated on a measure of faith and trust. Terach could not control Abraham and we cannot control our children or our students. Instead, we have endeavored to keep the intergenerational conversation alive, to pursue a dialogue that is as respectful of our differences as it is of our commonalities (if not more so). We are truly children of Abraham when we question the wisdom of our predecessors, when we dare to think differently from them.

When our children and students do the same to us, may we have the ability to enjoy the process and love them for it. Eventually Abraham learned to engage in respectful dialogue, even when his partner was divine. When he had his own scion, Abraham learned to love and to realize that love and sacrifice are always intertwined. May the spirit of intergenerational correspondence in this issue prove to be worthy, not only for the sake of our students but also for the sake of heaven. As we approach Sinai once again on Shavuot and celebrate our students that confirm their Jewish identity, let us affirm the hope we have that the next generation will not only succeed us, but also exceed us.

Ken y’hi ratzoneinu! Ken y’hi ratzon Eloheinu! Kayitz naim! 
Have a lovely summer!

Rabbi Jan Katzew, Ph.D., RJE

Please click here to load the pdf of this issue of Torah at the Center.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First, And Then Help Your Children

Taking A Year Off
This past fall many Jewish educators encountered a newish phenomenon. Some families in our religious schools were “taking a year off” from Religious School and in some cases synagogue membership. If these were families whose youngest child recently became Bar or Bat Mitzvah, we might wring our hands and say “Ri-i-i-ight. Taking the year off. We’ll look for you next fall.”

But most of these families in my synagogue and in those of colleagues who have told me they have encountered the same conversations have children who are much younger. They tend to be in Gan (K) through Kitah Gimel (3rd). In fact, our enrollment from Kitah Chet (8th) through Kitah Yud Bet (12th) is at an all time high. If pushed, some parents will say it is a temporary economic decision. They indicated the economic realities of the fall of 2010 and a belief that their child’s Jewish identity will not be irreparably damaged by a break in their studies. And they absolutely did not want to discuss financial aid – either they were too uncomfortable with the topic or they didn’t feel things were that bad. They promised to come back. And in some of the conversations I am beginning to have with these hiatus families, they are telling me that they are absolutely coming back. From their mouths…

Linchpin: Are You Indispensible?

I am nearly finished with a book call Linchpin by Seth Godin.[1] I am a Godin Junkie. I first met Seth’s work in the pages of Fast Company, another of my addictions. Both are from the world of business, not Jewish education. Both have taught me so many things about how to make Jewish education happen. I cannot recommend them enough. I could write ten articles about this book, beginning with how it was marketed. I am reading it with a small moleskine notebook next to me so I can take notes. Yes, it is that engaging.

At the heart of the book is a redefining of the American Dream: “Be remarkable. Be generous. Create Art. Make Judgment Calls. Connect people and ideas. And we will have no choice but to reward you.” He challenges the reader, regardless of your field, to be an artist, which he defines as “someone who changes everything, who makes dreams come true…someone who can see the reality of today and describe a better tomorrow…a linchpin.”

A linchpin. The pshat or plain meaning is the piece of metal that slides through the axle that keeps the wheel from falling off the wagon, or through the arm and the hitch to keep the trailer attached. It is a simple device yet it keeps things together and makes their proper function possible. Godin suggests that in our work, each of us needs to be a linchpin, someone who is indispensible to their company. Not a line-worker or a rule-follower, but an artist – someone who stretches possibilities to allow growth and change. He gives great examples.

Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur - Do Not Separate Yourself From the Community
So why am I bringing this up while talking about the interrupted life of our students? I believe we need to do a better job of making the school and the synagogue (and the Jewish educator) linchpins in the lives of our families. I think that twenty years ago, no one would have considered “taking a year off.” That generation might have considered the financial ramifications when joining a synagogue. Once in, though, I am convinced that like their predecessors, they would not consider leaving – at least not before the youngest child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I think that we have witnessed evidence of a paradigm shift in the mind of some of our parents. And because the synagogue is no longer a linchpin for some, they are making choices we have not seen before.

Much has been written about what needs to happen to make the synagogue and formal Jewish education more relevant. And some of it may be right on target. But before we go exploding all of our existing institutions, I have a thought. We need to be linchpins. By “we” I mean the synagogue, the school, the clergy, the directors of education/lifelong learning/early childhood/family education/programming/fill-in-the-blank, the teachers and the lay leadership.

In 1989 United Airlines ran a television commercial showing a conference room. “A manager announces they have just lost a major long-time client, one too many. It's time for a "face-to-face" policy, in other words, not just call the customer, but also meet him. He starts handing out plane tickets to the other employees...” [2]

They had the idea exactly right. We need to focus our energy on each adult, one family at a time. It’s not an easy task, given the size of some of our congregations. It is not a one-person job. I intend to become an evangelist, recruiting those who already feel that being a part of a congregation – learning, praying and coming together for ma’asim tovim (good works) and for fun – is not something to be weighed against other household expenses and youth activities. We need to get them join us in reaching out, one family at a time, and helping those families come to the same conclusion. We have to lose the model whereby the educator focuses on the children and that leads to families becoming more connected.

Put Your Own Mask On First…
Finally, I want to share the teaching of Harlene Winnick Appelman, the director of the Covenant Foundation. Harlene was one of the first winners of the Covenant Award, and was one of the first people to take the idea of family education and develop it into something more comprehensive than a special program on a Sunday morning. Her sessions at CAJE conferences were a must-attend for those who wanted to be on the cutting edge.

She reminded us of the safety speech that flight attendants used to give before takeoff (now it is usually on a video). They would say that in case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks would drop from the ceiling. After instructing us how to put it on and start the flow of oxygen, they would tell us that passengers travelling with young children should put their own mask on first and then help their children. Harlene taught us what should have been (and should still be) obvious: If you put the child’s mask on first, we might not be able to breathe well enough to take care of ourselves. And what if our children need us after getting the mask on?

We need to get the parents to put on their Jewish learning and living masks. Otherwise we will have a generation of adults with the Jewish identity and connection of at best a thirteen year old. We need to get them to understand that they need to belong to a synagogue and send their children to religious school (or day school) because that is something that is vitally important to them. And we can only do that through personal relationships. We need to be artists.

I have some ideas. More on this soon.

Cross-posted to Davar Acher

[1]Seth’s blog is at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/ and his books can be found at http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/books.asp. I have taught about The Idea Virus and the Purple Cow, and recommend them!

[2] Thanks to http://www.airodyssey.net/tvc/tvc-united.html" for the description of the ad and the link to the Leo Burnett Ad Agency site for the clip.