Author Archives: Mark Jordan

What a Boxwood Can Teach Us About the Red Road

There’s an overgrown boxwood outside my window. Boxwoods, in case you didn’t know, are what make up those neat little hedgerows that populate English gardens and stairways to Heaven. They grow in tidy little packages that look marvelous when properly sculpted by somebody who understand topiary or at least basic gardening.

I learned by watching Jim, who also served as my local historian when we lived in Clarkston, just outside Glasgow, Scotland. It was Jim who told me that Rudolf Hess crashed his plane just a couple miles from my house. It was also Jim who taught me how to cut the lawn so we could reenact Wimbledon each summer. And it was Jim who showed me how a hedgerow should be cut.

Obviously the groundskeeping crew that my condo complex has hired never learned from a Jim. My guess is that the only real requirement for employment is a willingness to show up for work at minimum wage, and maybe some experience cutting grass or blowing leaves. But my beef isn’t with the guys who slog away in the hot sun for the price of a Jimmy Johns sandwich. It’s with the people who won’t pay to train them.

And there’s one simple reason why nobody wants to train people. They just don’t really care about the quality. All they care about is price.

I believe that we, as a culture, have lost respect for quality. This, more than anything in my mind, is why we’re up a creek in a chicken-wire canoe without a paddle. We choose cheap and loud over quiet quality almost every time.

That’s how we choose our leaders, our celebrities, and our role models. It’s how companies choose their vendors. It’s how we choose what we watch, what we buy, and where we shop.

For the past 15 or more years, immediate results have been gold, with cost taking the silver by a nose over sizzle. Unfortunately, quality barely makes the top 10. We want it now, next quarter is too late. That’s why people get rewarded for outsourcing jobs to save a couple bucks, while consumers begrudgingly accept inadequate quality because it’s the only way they can afford it at all.

Our acceptance of just barely adequate is how we have dug such a deep trench that we can’t find a way out. We’ve allowed ourselves to become complacent with mediocrity. Mediocrity is safe. It often feels comfortable. And, in my mind, it’s why we accept mediocrity (or less) in the people we elect to represent us. The problem is that we’re so far down the mediocre road that we’re afraid of even good. Never mind excellent.

In Lakota culture, they talk about the Red Road and the Black Road. The Black Road is the easy road. It’s wide and alluring. The Red Road is tough. It demands your best. It’s the good road, the road of quality. Mediocrity is the Black Road, and when the majority of a culture chooses the Black road, the Lakota believe that the culture dies.

Interestingly, in the Lakota culture, they don’t elect the most boisterous, the loudest, or the wealthiest person to lead. Those people rarely get more than a handful of followers. Instead, the Lakota look for the humble person who has proven him or herself, and ask them to assume the mantle of leadership.

“A humble person rarely stumbles, the old ones say, because such a person walks with face toward the Earth and can see the path ahead. On the other hand, the arrogant man who walks with his head high to bask in the glory of the moment will stumble often…” says Joseph M. Marshall, III, in The Lakota Way

Crazy Horse, one of the most famous Lakota leaders, walked through the village with his head down, even though he was considered one of their greatest warriors. He never told of his exploits — others had to do that. He, like most Lakota, believed that leadership meant putting the welfare of his people ahead of his own. And this is why people followed him.

Imagine if we had people like that leading our country. Not one or two, but the vast majority of them.

Had we chosen the Red Road, somehow I have to believe that we wouldn’t be on the brink of class warfare while adding to a multi-trillion dollar deficit. And we certainly wouldn’t have so many overgrown boxwoods.

Scooping the Media

On Monday there were a couple of articles about how Twitter scooped the news media by almost half an hour with news of Whitney Houston’s death.

Does this really surprise anybody?

Those who Twitter (and I am one) don’t have to verify news before they release it. Someone with a large following could report a rumor and it could be read by hundreds of thousands before the news media has a chance to verify it.

As Winston Churchill said many years ago, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Now I’m not saying that any of these tweets were lies — in fact, they were true. I’m pointing out that stories hit social media without any corroboration or fact-checking. That’s why it’s pretty easy for folks to scoop the news media. I’m willing to bet that the media had the story at the same time, but when through the rigors of actually verifying it before reporting the singer’s death because they have a responsibility to do that.

It’s called trust. If any credible major news outlet reported every rumor that was tweeted, it wouldn’t take long for most people to dismiss that outlet’s news reports. They would probably also go bankrupt with all the lawsuits.

Of course the tabloids do this all the time. They turn rumors into “news” and then have to retract it (usually well after the damage is done and in a much less well-read medium than the one used to set the story on fire). They also have massive legal teams.

So what does that mean to everybody else?

Think about your personal brand before you spread a rumor. Will this hurt it or help it? Are you willing to trade your reputation as valuable source of information for a lot of retweets? Will all those new followers continue to follow you once the truth comes out? Or will they feel that your lack of fact checking also cost them some credibility?

It’s great to scoop the media. But be responsible. Don’t spread it until you (or somebody you trust) verifies it.



Letting Go

Have you ever noticed that when you stop focusing on something, it comes to you? Give up on meeting that special person, and there he or she is. Give up on trying to solve a problem and the answer just comes to you. The list of examples goes on and on.

I’ve heard a lot of reasons why this phenomenon happens with such regularity. Some say it’s because you free yourself from trying to solve the problem with normal means. Some just say it’s the way the world works. Some say it’s the Law of Detachment (like the Law of Attraction, but more about not caring how it comes about), some say God works in mysterious ways.

For me this phenomenon shows up in copywriting and developing concepts almost every time. I go for a walk, grab some lunch, or even go to the bathroom and the idea hits. I attribute this to the first reason — the unrelated activity frees my mind from the normal constraints, and allows in some less-than-obvious ideas.

But what about the phenomenon that all of my single friends talk about — as soon as you stop looking for a romantic partner, one appears? This can’t be about freeing your mind to find loosely connected ideas.

I believe this has to do with letting go. You let go of micromanaging the outcome. You relax, you accept that maybe you’re alright with just being by yourself, and you stop trying to create impossibly stressful and unnatural ways to meet somebody. And when you’re relaxed and okay with being on your own, you’re more attractive. It creates an environment that is ideal for growing a relationship.

Interestingly, this is also how I’ve been able to get the best work from people. I give them the assignment, the creative brief, and trust them to do their best work. Often, I’ve been so surprised by the result that it took courage on my part to approve it. The work was so creative, so innovative that I would never have seen their solution as an option. It was breakthrough work — which in advertising and marketing is the Holy Grail.

When I have micromanaged or been micromanaged, the best result that anybody could create was a watered down version of the micromanager’s vision. Nobody was happy with it (unless they really had no idea of what constitutes good), and the experience of creating it was invariably awful.

My dad used to say that the key to great management is to set the course, then invite good people to exceed their own expectations. He said that they’ll always do a much better job than you would.

Set the course, do your work, and let go of how you expect it to look at the finish line. The results may just surprise you.