Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wanted: highly individualistic team players.

So I'm somewhere over Iowa, en route to Vegas to visit my grandson, when I realize that I haven't yet perused the latest edition of Sky Mall. For the uninitiated, Sky Mall is that large seatback catalog where you can quickly and conveniently buy things that no one needs, for just two or three times what such things would cost at sea level. Sky Mall products vary from the merely absurd (like the flying alarm clock, which hovers over you emitting a shrill sound until you're forced to get up and throw it through a window) to the obscenely self-indulgent (like the Cadillac Escalade golf cart at $13,995, plus optional equipment). Squarely in the "absurd" category is the ever-abundance of motivational trinkets that the Sky Mall braintrust must assume will resonate with traveling corporate honchos, who'll order them for the troops or merely glance at them to get themselves stoked at the start of each new empowered workday.

Among those offerings last night I found a motivational painting, titled "Synergy," which read as follows:

"The strength of the team is in each individual member...the strength of each individual member is in the team."

I leaned back as far as my torturous exit-row seat would allow, pursed my lips and digested that for a moment, and thought, OH COME ON!

I defy anyone, even the author (especially the author) to explain to me with a straight face what that could possibly mean. At best it's a paradox. At worst it's complete gibberish. Sure, it's seductively phrased gibberish, the kind of airy slogan that, were Stephen Covey or Tommy Lasorda to utter it in front of a large corporate audience, would provoke all manner of nodding and cheering and applause. But when you come right down to it, it's a bit like me saying, "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link...and a link is only as weak as its strongest chain." Sounds poetic, even profound. Except...does it mean anything?

(More pertinent question: Does anyone in the land of PMA even care whether it means anything? And if you're a fan of this stuff, do you care?)

Amazing. Just amazing.


Mary Anne said...

Translated it means, "shut up and don't make waves why you're being brainwashed."

Your PR Guy said...

The copy your question is both profound and simplistic –it’s a statement that resonates with readers.

For example, a team consists of more than one person, so their collective strengths (brawn or brain or both), as a team, with the right talent mix, is better than the lone individual. The statement is an excellent example of good copywriting. Not only is it poetic, but it reinforces a message twice in one sentence – it’s a typical “AB/BA” construction.

Our good President uses this all the time. We can catch him saying, “Terrorists are evil, they are evil doers.” This construction is a subtle tactic we use in PR to resonate because a message is subtly repeated, while the undiscerning ear misses the repetition.

Your example is bad. Your copy frames the nouns link and chain with the word “weak;” the magazine copy avoids framing team and individual. So you’re example classifies link and chain as weak, but weak is opposite from strong. So yours is illogical, while the magazine copy is neither logical nor illogical – it just is.

Your copy would be equally compelling if you used the same construction. If you said, for example, “the strength of a chain is in each link…the strength of each link is in each chain,” then yours follows the same “AB/BA” construction. The grand message you’re says (twice, mine you) is that “a chain is strong because it has strong links.” So the magazine copy is communicating that “a team is as strong as its members.”

Also, the copy in question has a lot of subliminal meaning, which is too complex to detail here. Check out Metaphors We Live by, or Contemporary Metaphor Theory – the latter is in Metaphor and Thought.

Cal said...

Have you heard the audio of some of LaSorda's rants on Youtube from his managerial days? Practically every other word is a curse one. It's hilarious to me. There is one famous diatribe to a question about his opinion of Dave Kingman's performance after he hit 3 home runs against the Dodgers.

Anonymous said...

I think this blog nailed it Steve, as much as any you've done. Good work.

I've also been amused and intrigued by the Skymall catalog, especially the products for pets. I never knew cats and dogs had so many problems in life that needed to be fixed with $300 gadgets!

Steve Salerno said...

Yeah, Cal, in fact, didn't we talk about the Lasorda/Kingman rant at one point? Im having major deja vu. I can still hear it in my mind's ear: "You want to know, what's my opinion of Dave Kingman?! I'll tell ya my opinion of Dave Kingman..." And then it's off from there....

Cosmic Connie said...

Good post, Steve, and it reminds me once again why I hate "motivational" products so much.

And I am somehow also reminded of a scene from the Monty Python movie, "Life Of Brian," in which Brian, the would-be Messiah, tries to convince a crowd of followers that they don't NEED to be followers:

Brian: Please, please, please listen! I've got one or two things to say.
The Crowd: Tell us! Tell us both of them!
Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, You don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for your selves! You're ALL individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
The Crowd: Yes, we ARE all different!
Man in crowd: I'm not...
The Crowd: Shhh!

Excellence_4_Sale said...

Achieving a cohesive consciousness through the empowerment of its individual contributors, a team gains the necessary synergy to "think outside of the box" and to establish a win-win-win situation, whereby not only the individual succeeds, but the team and the organization experience rapid, nourishing growth.

If this resonates with you, I have a CD to sell you once I quit my job and start my new career as a motivation peddler on SkyMall. :)

gregory said...

you must a been strangled by a cheerleader in your last lifetime, you really hate the pep talk thing.. lol...

Mary Anne said...

I was reminded of this blog at a meeting I had to go to for my internship. The guy who was doing the meeting had obviously gone to one these "together we are one" such seminars. He even used the new catch word "proactive." Anyhoo, he brought up the "conspiracy theory." This is where you go around telling people what you want to be, but not what you are-yet. I call it "lying," but it is now a motivational tool. For example, say I am a janitor who wants to be the top janitor, I tell anyone who will listen that I am the top janitor. Their thoughts make my reality. Say I want to be head of an organization, I write down this goal and tell others that it has already happened. This is not the first time I have heard of this idea. I mentioned that the Hicks did this with THE SOURCE, but I have heard it in a few other seminars. Just wondered if you had heard of this too.

Cosmic Connie said...

Mary Anne, are you referring to Esther and Jerry Hicks and their take on the Law Of Attraction, which was the basis of "The Secret?" Lots of the New-Wage gurus are into some sort of "fake it till you make it" philosophy. Before "The Secret," and before Esther Hicks, there was Shakti Gawain and "positive visualization." And before that... Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill, Wallace Wattles, and on and on and on...

There are all sorts of variations on this stuff; it's been around for decades.

In my opinion there is some merit to "acting as if," as long as the person doing it is fully aware that it is just an exercise. But there's a huge difference between "acting as if" for your own benefit, and living in denial -- or, worse, lying to others.

Needless to say, many New-Wagers (e.g., some of the followers of Abraham-Hicks and "The Secret") carry it way too far.
They honestly believe that if they keep *saying* they're rich or beautiful or successful, or they've found the man or woman of their dreams, the Universe will eventually get wind of it and their wishes will be granted.

That's when a potentially useful exercise becomes nothing more than magical thinking -- or, at worst, delusion.

Mary Anne said...

Yes, Connie it was Abraham-Hicks that I was speaking of. I blogged about how I read the Hicks THE SOURCE when I was 25 and in love. I tried their experiment with a guy I "thought" I wanted to marry and it backfired on me. I just keep hearing this idea repeated and I think it can be quite harmful. Thinking positive is one thing, but lying to others is another. A lot of what I have been hearing is basically lying.

Anonymous said...

I am a middle manager in a mid sized corporation. I have been subjected to many self help teachings. I find the higher you climb in a company, the more ignorant of the lower levels you become. So when you want to help, you take the easy motivational road. My CEO in fact has a hard time saying just "Hi". Feels he needs to motivate you while on the elevator.

So when things get tough and the employees are in the "$%&#", they come calling with their ra ra motivation and "Just do it" commands. When they ask me, "What will it take?", I say the one thing they don't really want to hear. And that is "Hard work". We have a plan to execute, we have mitigated the risks as best we can, we have the resources in place, and it will get done when it gets done. How did we get here? Hard work. Putting a plan together, seeing the risks, working the issues, training people.

The exec approach is set a customer date, scream at everyone to meet the date, and then bury your head and pray. And when we don't meet the date, have a post mortem meeting to figure out why.

If a CEO wants to pump up his team, have the customer show them what they are working toward. Show them the end product. People just want to see what they did made something. No cheap $50 gift for hard work. Show them they are part of the solution.

Then let them get to work, because it's what they do best.
Middle Manager

Mary Anne said...

Middle Manager, brought up the dreaded phrase of corporate America "hard work." That phrase has been put into the seventh circle of Hell for most CEOs. Most CEO's don't trust their own employees to do "hard work" so they bring out these "cheerleaders" to pump nonsense down their throats. It reminds me of how monarchs are afraid of the peasants.