Po Bronson just published a thorough and fascinating article in New York Magazine called How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise. It zeroes in on “gifted kids” and how being labeled and praised as such can negatively affect their development. Put simply, it can make them lazy.

If you’re told over and over again that you’re achieving well because you’re smart (as opposed to “because you worked really hard”), you begin to divide tasks into two categories: things you’re good at, and things you’re not good at. You earn praise by appearing perfect, and you learn to make choices that support that image. Discipline and effort fall by the wayside, and you do only what comes easy to you.

It’s no secret that this is my story. Put into gifted classes as early as second grade, I was identified as “a smart kid” and treated differently. I knew that I was above my peers, above discipline, and above many aspects of the education system. I learned how to play the game of performance without effort. I aced tests without studying and wrote exceptional comparative literature term papers without reading books. I also avoided anything that was hard. For example, sports.

Hitting the “real world” where I actually had to work was an agonizing process of disillusionment. I’m fortunate that it started in high school when I was finally put in mixed classes with students of all skill levels. I had to collaborate in group projects with peers who didn’t grasp concepts as quickly as I did. At the time, this was excruciatingly hard work. For a full year, I was utterly resentful at the system for not giving me special treatment. Eventually, though, I started to appreciate what I could learn from people with different backgrounds.

By the time I was inducted into the National Honors Society, I was starting to embrace my normalcy and no longer wanted to be seen as elite. Within six months of my membership, I wrote a scathing letter to the organization, informing them that I was fundamentally opposed to their principles and that I wanted nothing to do with their false sense of superiority. This was my version of “wild teenage rebellion,” and my mother was horrified. Yes, I am an NHS drop-out, and I’m darned proud of it, too. But I still kept my record of straight A’s.

As an adult, I’ve had to consciously (and with great effort) learn how to work. I still naturally gravitate toward things I can do impressively without effort, but I also force myself to put time into things I know I can’t “be the best at.” For example, cleaning my kitchen (I am so not smart at that…). To achieve some balance in my life, I’ve done mountains of work on learning how to deal with (what I perceive as) failures. The “smart kid” answer to failure is to give up and do something else. The “real world” answer is to learn from it and try again. And again. And again. And yes, that’s counterintuitive for me, but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s worth it.

And it makes me wonder… would this process have been easier for me if IQ tests, grades, and the concept of “smart” had never been present in our culture? Yeah, I think it would have. But then again, so much of our culture hinges on intellectual hierarchy that everything would be radically different without it. (Can you even imagine it?)

Thankfully, even within the system and after a lifetime of praise-junkie programming, I am able today to step back and recognize that there’s a lot more to life than being smart.

(So praise me for that, damnit!)

This news article is giving me nightmares. In China, they are treating Internet addiction like drug addiction, and addressing it with mental health instititions and electric shock therapy. From a syndicated Washington Post article (this stuff quoted from the Boston Globe)…

‘The Chinese government in recent months has joined South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam in taking measures to limit the time teens spend online. It has passed regulations banning youths from Internet cafes and has implemented control programs that kick teens off networked games after five hours.’There’s a global controversy over whether heavy Internet use should be defined as a mental disorder, with some psychologists, including a handful in the United States, arguing that it should be. Backers of the idea say the addiction can be crippling, leading people to neglect work, school, and their social lives.’But no country has gone quite as far as China in embracing the theory and mounting a public crusade against Internet addiction. To skeptics, the campaign dovetails a bit too nicely with China’s broader effort to control what its citizens can see on the Internet. The Communist government runs a massive program that limits Web access, censors sites, and seeks to control online political dissent. Internet companies like Google have come under heavy criticism abroad for going along with China’s demands.’In the Internet-addiction campaign, the government is helping to fund eight in-patient rehabilitation clinics across the country.’

And then, looking at one of the clinics…

‘Led by Tao Ran, a military researcher who built his career by treating heroin addicts, the clinic uses a tough-love approach that includes counseling, military discipline, drugs, hypnosis, and mild electric shocks.’

I’m sure there are some really thoughtful responses to this article somewhere deep in my brain, but for right now… I have no words. Well, I have a few. But I try to keep this a family-friendly site.

I have some old Writ buddies in town visiting right now, and they were asking about local culture. I told them about Chinatown, the Golden Gate Bridge, the pirate store….“The pirate store?””Yeah. The pirate store. 826 Valencia. You know, where you can pick up an extra wooden leg, eye patches, parrot food…”::blank stare::”Well, we’re a port city, you know, so it makes sense to have a pirate supply store. You can’t get everything via your looting and your pillaging. Sometimes you need to swing by 826 Valencia for your collapsable telescopes and such.” “So… there’s a pirate store in San Francisco.””Yeah… but maybe you know it better as the sister store to the superhero store in New York City.””Let me guess. Where you can pick up an extra cape?””Exactly! Sometimes they get tattered by passing airplanes, you know? It’s really a nuisance.””Of course… So let me get this straight. There’s a pirate store in San Francisco?“”Yes!“”You guys really do live on another planet, don’t you…”

Chris Heuer recently blogged about a nifty idea — help me spread it around!He’s talking about a sales and marketing plan for people who are trying to sell software, conference tickets, or really anything else that has value to a broad spectrum of economic statuses (sidenote: I really want to say stati instead of statuses — would you still love me if i did?). Basically, the suggestion is to create a sponsorship program. For every software license you sell to a corporation, you give a free one to a nonprofit. For every successful businessman who buys a ticket to your conference, you give a free one to an independent artist or college student. The folks with the money could even choose their buddy recipient from a list of candidates. The benefits are clear:

  • The word and experience of your product spreads to a bigger audience (also remember: the underfunded demographic is sometimes the more creative and influential demographic).
  • As Chris points out, “some non-profits who really want the software in question would become evangelists, trying to find others who would also benefit from the software.”
  • You’re doing a service to the have-nots, which is noble in and of itself, and is also a selling point for your company’s public identity.

Tell a CEO about this strategy today!

Watch out everybody! Jenka is getting busy tearing down misconceptions about ad agencies and new marketing standards (and is doing a damned good job at it, too). Check out her recent article, “How Your Ad Agency is Sabotaging Your Campaign“. This woman is ruthless without being wrong, and makes point after point about what to look for. Here are the points I’m most concerned with:

‘User-generated content means audience engagement, message relevancy (if it’s not you’ll hear about it right away), authentic endorsement, and even the enablement of culture and identity expression. You should be excited. This is all pretty awesome stuff! But if consumers are making the “ads” for free, then how does the agency validate its cost? There’s a bit of a conflict of interest going on, for sure.’

Takeaway: Don’t poo-poo the free options out there. They are often more valuable than the paid options. You just have to approach them strategically. And that takes target audience research and knowledge of the mediums.

‘…if the audience isn’t getting involved then the traffic doesn’t mean all that much. ‘Engagement does. From click-thrus, to subscription rates, to form submissions, the measures of a campaign’s success are revealed through audience interaction patterns.’

Takeaway: Did you hear that? She said traffic doesn’t mean all that much. Stop bragging about your hit count and start bragging about your conversion rate and sign-ups. Get Google Analytics running on your site and spend a day learning what the reports mean. Don’t spend bags of money on pulling people into your website (SO easy to do) before you know what they’re likely to do there. Mass traffic doesn’t matter, quality traffic does.

‘Agencies … are so stuck in doing things the way they always have that their approach to new options is still, unfortunately, through the same old processes (uploading a TV spot to You-Tube, anyone?).’

Takeaway: I want to add to this point with something Jenka has emphasized before: some things are changing, others are not. The need to research your target audience, for example, is not going anywhere. How and where you reach that audience, on the other hand, is changing all over the place. And in such a rapidly changing time, you can’t afford to be making assumptions about any step in the marketing process. You have to step up, pay attention, see what’s working, and avoid what’s not. And the next time you do it, you need to assume that a whole bunch of things have changed yet again. Change, change, change, change, change!

I am admittedly cranky at b2evolution right now. It’s taking way too much work post-upgrade to make my template functional again and to get my settings back to the way I want them… but I’m trudging through it, and it’s getting closer, and at the very least it’s no longer PINK!This was the temporary template:

1: It’s possible to blog anonymously. …plus 1: Blogs are increasingly useful sources of opinions and reviews, helping people to determine where to spend their money. …equals 2: Some businesses have discovered that they can blog anonymously as fake customers, saying wonderful things about themselves and increasing their business. It was bound to happen. Some people call it creative marketing. Some people call it evil. I call it a grey area in a set of new standards that are still being defined.A great example of this was the 2006 Wal-Marting Across America blog. Basically, a couple travelled across the U.S. staying in Wal-Mart parking lots and writing about how wonderful Wal-Mart is. It was a beautiful creation until word broke loose that Wal-Mart was secretly paying for the blog. The public, as you might imagine, got rather angry about the lack of disclosure. Now, if you go to the site, all you’ll see is a letter from the writers to their angry audience. I’m particularly fond of the line, “Even these personal attacks wonÂ’t sour my feelings about Wal-Mart.” The writers may be genuine Wal-Mart fans, but the fact that they didn’t disclose their corporate sponsorship is going unforgiven by the Internet at large. In Europe (but not the United States?), they’re passing laws that will subject businesses with false blogs to criminal prosecution. The laws will go into effect Dec 31. This also applies to fake reviews on Amazon.com and other review websites.Hint: Now might be a good time to tell your favorite under-handedly self-promoting business that they should knock this kind of behavior off for their own good.

I just upgraded my blog system (b2evolution) and everything’s rather different. I want to tell you how great b2evolution is with such a seamless installation/upgrade process… but now that it’s done, I’m left with a brand spanking new system that doesn’t work with my old design and is mysteriously different in the admin panel (where did my “upload images” button go?!).The pink is temporary until I get my bearings. My motivation to upgrade? So I could install the hack that allows me to embed youtube videos. That’s like the tech geek equivalent of maintaining a good diet and exercise for the sole purpose of looking good in a bathing suit for a 4th of July party… I’m so vain!

This is a really incredible video essay on the fast-paced evolution of the internet and how it’s necessitating that we redefine major aspects of our lives. It’s also interesting and beautifully executed. It artfully illustrates what I’m so passionate about right now. Please watch it. For me?[cvideotube=6gmP4nk0EOE]Added Guilt Manipulation: Being able to show this to you was so important to me that I bothered to go through the stressful hassle of upgrading my blog system and destroying my precious design template just so i could install the b2evolution embedded youtube plugin hack (which, by the way, works great). So watch the movie, okay?

“i donÂ’t have a hipster pda. the hipster rule of law requires that one must never declare oneself a hipster. paraleptical, yes. but i donÂ’t have a hipster pda; i have a bunch of 3 by 5Â’s held together with a clip.” –Alicia Dattner, Getting Shit Done: Productivity for Unprofessionals

Okay, so I don’t have a Hipster PDA (hPDA), either. I have an ultra-techie 1-year-out-of-date Palm OS Treo 650 phone. But that doesn’t make me any less fascinated with how people more creative than myself are organizing their lives with flare and attitude.The Hipster PDA is truly a beautiful thing. Merlin Mann (one of my heroes) popularized a cool renovation on David Allen’s Getting Things Done system which involves a handful of notecards, a paperclip, and your back pocket. Whoever said “getting effectively organized costs lots of money” has obviously never been introduced to this little miracle.I thought it stopped there. We all did. But oh, how wrong we were. I don’t think any of us saw the Hipster Shuffle coming…The formula is simple (in the true spirit of Hipster PDA culture): replace the paperclip with a new iPod shuffle, and dance all night long to the rhythm of true synthesized style and organization. The blog post that introduces the idea, and its corresponding youtube video, are absolutely hillarious.