Monday, February 21, 2011

The Great Injustice of Tenure

Tenure is a much debated topic in the world of education. Proponents argue that it gives young teachers and professors a long-term incentive to improve. Those who argue against tenure, though, would say that giving tenure takes away the incentive for improvement and leads to poorer quality education. Professors and teachers stop caring. When you take away the threat of failure, success is impossible. Productivity ends without the motivation to produce.

Giving tenure to teachers and professors, then, does a great injustice to students. Questions go unanswered. Topics go unresearched. Lessons go unlearned. I would suggest, though, that the greatest injustice is not what is done to the students of those teachers. The greatest injustice is what is done to teachers themselves.

Tenure rewards complacency. Accepting tenure is resigning oneself to a lifetime of untapped potential. No personal development. No progress. No growth. What is the point of living if you aren't constantly becoming better at what you do? Sure, tenure can have a negative effect on the quality of education received by students and it can also keep qualified candidates from getting jobs. However, I still say that the greatest injustice of tenure is that received by those to whom it is paid. Rewarding someone for complacency is sentencing them to an unfulfilled life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

On the iPhone

So I am one of those Verizon customers you read about on the news that flocked to the stores when the iPhone4 was released to the network earlier this month. Unlock most subscribers, though, I did not have a smartphone before. I went straight from talk-and-text to ultimate PDA. Much of what I have to say, then, will probably apply to other devices and software such as Droid and the Blackberry.

In the week that I've had the iPhone, I have downloaded 151 applications...and counting. I can read a lifetime's worth of out-of-copyright literature, keep up with all of my social networks, record my fitness routine, keep track of my calorie consumption, listen to virtually any radio station, watch virtually any video on the web, read news from sixteen different sources, check the weekly ads at my favorite retail stores, convert currencies, translate languages, edit phots, check sports scores, track packages, read blogs, play games, keep up with the stock market, and configure my drink for Starbucks so that it isn't awkward when I'm standing at the counter trying to figure out how to say it.

The point is that I can do virtually any time! This device is revolutionary! Information is the most powerful tool for decision-making and it is now literally at my fingertips. I never have to wait to find something out. Time is always of the essence. A client of mine is talking passionately about something that I have never heard of? I have a Wikipedia App. for that. How long does that sale on DVDs last? I have a Target App. for that. What are the specs on that new BMW? I have a Car and Driver App. for that. "There's an app. for that," is becoming a cliche in my vocabulary. It's becoming difficult to find things that I can't do with my iPhone.

One thing about the iPhone that actually complicates my life is the flipside of the very same thing that simplifies it--the excess of information. As I mentioned before, I currently have 151 applications on my iPhone. However, I don't think that I can number 151 tasks that I perform throughout the day, week, or possibly even month. Why so many apps? Well, I have apps from 16 different news networks, 12 different automotive research organizations, 10 different retail stores, 7 different book collections, 5 different radio stations, 4 different search engines, and more. I have several applications, in other words, that do the same thing.

I plan on narrowing down the amount of apps I have on my iPhone as I explore each one. Which news source provides the most thorough, up-to-date information? Which radio stations most consistently play my favorite songs? Which retail stores do I actually shop at? These brings up an interesting point for applications developers: he who creates the most powerful app. can control the future. So, maybe that's a bit overstated, but I think that if there is a single application that can seemlessly organize a person's activities and interests, that person will be a customer for life.

I never thought I needed a smartphone, but I now am convinced that I can't live without it. This technology is mind-boggling. How can I do anything, anytime, from a single device? I don't know, but I'm sure glad I live in the 21st century. I'm hooked on this thing for life! I may have to sign up for a session of Appleholics Anonymous.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Of Land Iguanas and Market Leaders

In BBC's Blue Planet series, there is a short segment on land iguanas. Apparently, land iguanas travel a great distance to nest in burrows along the shoreline. When one land iguana arrives too late and all of the burrows are taken, she must challenge another land iguana in order to have a spot to nest. The loser must then leave the burrow and find another place to nest...or another iguana to challenge.

Market leaders are the first iguanas to the burrows. They innovate. They come out with the first products or services and secure their spots in the marketplace. They don't have to worry about there being no market, because they create the market. The challengers are those that follow the market leaders and try to steal their nests. They arrive too late and have to fight in order to steal the market leaders' customers. They create knock-off products or services with different labels but the same functions. If they can outsell the market leaders, they can take the nests for themselves.

What are you? Are you a market leader or a challenger? I don't mean necessarily in business but in all aspects of life. Do you lead or do you follow? Are constantly innovating and developing your skill set or do you simply mimic others and hope to get by? I think we can learn a lesson from land iguanas. Never wait for someone else to get there first!

Don't be afraid to lead. True leaders will never really be challenged, because they will always be one step ahead of the fight. They'll be seeking out a better burrow before the challenger even gets to them. They don't leave the market because they lost but rather because they found something better. True leaders are always on the move. Do you want to be a market leader? Don't wait for someone else to define a market for you. Be the first. Create your own.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

We're Getting What We Paid For.....and It Isn't Enough!

What's your favorite brand of pinto beans? Where is the best place to get a gallon of milk? How do you decide which package of printer paper to purchase? The answer to all of these questions will most likely be the same--whichever is cheapest! These items are commodities. One item within the category is the same to us as all other times within the category. So, all things being equal, it makes sense for us to opt for the lower price.

We as consumers are very price-driven, sometimes to our detriment. We tend to look at all items within any given category as being the same. We have a tendency to commoditize everything. It's one thing to pay the lowest price for a can of beans or gallon of milk, but what about more complex transactions? What about car insurance? Do you go with whoever gives you the best quote? Is car insurance a commodity to you? For most people, I would say that it probably is. All car insurance companies do the same thing, right? They're all more or less cans of beans.

Or are they? How much time have you spent on hold for customer service with your car insurance ageny? How quickly do they respond to claims? How pleasant are they to deal with? All things things factor into the differentiation within the category of car insurance companies. We can carry this same idea into any industry: banking, automotive sales, lawncare, construction, childcare, you name it. When you bid for the lowest possible price, chances are you are going to get the lowest possible return.

Why do you buy things? Is it to save money? Or is it to improve your lifestyle? Do you want the value you get from all of the money you spend to be mediocre? Imagine the aggravation that could be removed from your life by spending just a little more in every category of your life. Services you pay for would most likely be a lot more pleasant to deal with. Products that you pay for would most likely enhance the pleasure you get from those products. I don't know. Maybe Bush's Pinto Beans are better than the knock-off brand. If you want a better life, you're going to have to invest a little more.

Why does paying a high price generally result in a better experience with products and services? Well, let's do a thought exercise. Suppose you shop five or six local dealers when you are buying a car. Since you are such a savvy negotiator, you manage to play the dealers off against one another to the point that one dealer finally agrees to an absurdly low price for a car. You get the car, but the process is terrible! You don't get floor mats. You don't get a coffee mug or a t-shirt. You have to wait three hours before getting into the Finance office. The salesman tries to be pleasant enough but you can tell throughout the transaction that he isn't happy with you. Congratulations, you got a good price.

Maybe that's all you wanted. Maybe you don't care about the livelihood of anyone else as long as you are saving money. That's fine if that is who you are. I would venture to say, though, that most of us aren't like that. We want people to be successful so that they will be more well-equipped to turn out a better product or service. We want to pay the salesman a little extra so that he will go out of his way to provide us with the perfect car buying experience. This principle applies to everything that we buy.

Why should we pay a little extra? Because we incentivize companies selling us the products and services to improve their products and services. We reward those who reward us. We'll always get what we pay for. The question is, 'do we want to invest our money into a marketplace that provides the worst possible products and services or the best possible products and services?' When it all comes down to it, the purchase is not the end of the game. A purchase is also an investment in the quality of future purhases.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The "How Does That Make You Buy" Super Bowl Ad Awards

So, in case you hadn't noticed, the Super Bowl is a big deal. Even if you don't care about football, this seems to be a cultural event in America that captures the attention of millions. According the my local newspapwer, 106.5 million people watched the Super Bowl last year--nearing the 132.6 million who voted in the last federal election. Countless celebrities can be spotted in the stands, the biggest names in music perform the national anthem and halftime show, and--last but not least--advertisers save their best commercials for this one day each year. As a matter of fact, while only 39% of viewers remembered who won the Super Bowl last year, 66% remembered their favorite advertiser. The Super Bowl isn't just about the game; it's about the commercials.

Now, there were several deep, philosophical aspects of Super Bowl XLV that I could write about. The passion with which players play the game. The strategy involved in advancing the ball upfield. The psychological pressure players face from performing in such a large-scale event. The list goes on. I thought it would be more fun, though, just to pick my favorite ads. So, here they are.....

Best Movie Preview: Dreamworks' "Kung Fu Panda 2." The opening line: Jack Black's Panda Bear character says, "My fist hungers for justice." When then hear his stomach rumble violently to which he responds, "That was my fist." We then see him and the rest of the Kung Fu Panda gang fighting random opponents while the tune from Queen's classic plays in the background and the words, "We will, we will WOK you" are super-imposed on the screen. Makes me want to see it.

Best Car Ad: Kia Optima's "Epic Ride." A series of powerful creatures steal the Kia Optima throughout this commercial. First, a police officer steals the Optima from a couple. Then a wealthy man on a yacht has it stolen via helicopter, forcing the police officer to leap into the water below. Just as the Optima is about to land on the rich man's yacht, Neptune arises from the waters and snatches it. But he has competition. An alien mothership comes down from the sky and abducts it. As the aliens are joy riding, a dimensional portal opens up and sucks the car into it just as the aliens teleport away. The car ends up beside a pyramid in some ancient civilization as tribal warriors raise a victorious cheer. Clever stuff.

Best Budweiser Ad: Bud Light's "Product Placement." Let's admit it. Budweiser deserves its own category and this year's winner in my book is the product placement ad. The scene opens up to a film producer capturing a swashbuckling, damsel-in-distress scene for a movie while a bottle of 'Brush-X' disinfectant sits oddly on the counter. He asks what it's doing there and the assistant informs him that it's product placement and, if they do product placement, they'll get a lot of free stuff. The next several scenes are shown with product placement of Bud Light in excessive proportions. A musketeer crashes through a stained-glass window with Bud Light painted on it, banners displaying Bud-Light fall from the ceiling, the hero frees his lady but pelting his opponent in the head with a Bud Light, and a Bud Light truck crashes through the wall at the end. It's funny to see marketers playing up the absurdity that sometimes surrounds product placement.

Best Story: Chrysler's "Eminem Detroit." Chrysler's revamped and rebadged Sebring, the Chrysler 200, is shown strolling through the streets of Detroit. Images are displayed of workers going about their daily routines, athletes practicing in the streets, and old buildings standing in post-industrial decay. The voice reminds us that this is where true luxury comes from. Toward the end of the commercial, we see Eminem (who grew up in Detroit), get out of the car and walk into a building. The narrator admits that Detroit isn't New York City, the Windy City, Sin City, or the Emerald City. But when Eminem gets out of the Chrysler and walks into a building for his performance, he says, "This is the Motor City and this is what we do." The images of post-industrialization, the extentions of the meaning of luxury, and the cadence of Eminem's hit song playing in the background tell a powerful story for the Automotive industry in America.

Funniest Commerical: Doritos' "Healing Chips." A guy house sitting for his friend is supposed to feed the fish and water the plant. A few days later, he realized that he forgot and the fish and plant are both consequently dead. He then proceeds to crumble up Doritos and sprinkle them into the fish bowl and onto the plant, bringing both of them back to life. In the process, though, he accidently knocks over and shatters the urn of his friend's deceased grandpa. The next scene, we see the friend walk in to see his grandpa sitting on the couch with his friend, both of them eating Doritos. The implication: Doritos brought Grandpa back to life. Very clever.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Power of Certainty

How certain are you? "About what?" You may ask. I mean just in general. How certain of a person are you? How sure are you about yourself and the things in which you believe? Some people dwell a long time on a decision, agonizing over alternatives while others go unapologetically with their gut feelings. Which kind of person are you? Are you wishy washy or are you resolute? Hesitant or confident? Indecisive or certain?

I suggest to you that there is a better way to be--one that will make you happier with yourself and more effective with others. As a matter of fact, if there is one thing that will make you successful in life, it is the level of certainty with which you live. If you are sure of yourself and your beliefs, you will not experience 'buyer's remorse.' You won't regret your decisions upon making them. Also, if you have confidence in yourself, others will have confidence in you as well.

There is a book titled, 'On Being Certain,' in which the author--a neuroscientist named Robert Burton--attempts to argue that the notion of 'being certain' is a state of mind like 'anger' or 'excitement.' It isn't something we can control but rather something that happens to us. We experience the 'feeling of knowing' just like we experience other emotions. Being certain is not a choice we make but rather an emotional state thrust upon us by our environment. We hear pattering on the roof and we 'know' it's raining. We see a small animal cross the street and we 'know' it's a cat. It isn't a conscious choice but rather a gut reaction.

This is not the kind of certainty I am talking about. I am talking about certainty as a way of life--as an approach to decision-making. I am talking about going into the job interview truly assuming you will get the job. I am talking about sharing your faith with someone because you know it can change his life. I am talking about buying that new CD because you are firmly convinced that you will love the music. If you are indecisive, you will not get the job, you will not convince your friend, and you will not enjoy the music to its fullest extent. Acting on conviction in areas of life that warrant decisions is the only way to get the most out of life--from yourself and from others.

'But what if I'm wrong?' I can hear you asking. Well, the short answer is that there is no 'if.' YOU ARE WRONG--at least to some extent. You are never perfectly right. You are always learning new truths, growing in your knowledge, and adapting your behavior toward maturity. You will never be perfect for the job. You could always improve. Your faith isn't 100% correct. You will get new insights into your faith even after you have shared it. And, of course, the music you listen to can never give you a complete level of enjoyment. You can always love it more. So, in a sense, you are always wrong.

The better way to look at it, though, is that you are right until proven wrong. Living a life of certainty should not foster arrogance. You should always be willing to test your beliefs, discover new ideas, and strengthen your convictions. Actually, never look at it as if you were proven wrong but rather as if you were shown how to be more right. Sales author Grant Cardone has said, "I would rather commit to the wrong thing all the way than the right thing half way." The simple truth is that none of us really knows completely what the right thing is. So we all have a choice. We can either live with fear or live with faith. We can either spend our lives on the fence or leap the fence in pursuit of what our convictions drive us toward. We can either live indecisively or certainly. As for me, I want to be sure.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Obedience of Faith

When Paul writes his letter to the Christians in Rome, he uses in an interesting phrase both at the beginning and the end. In his introduction, he states that his purpose is "to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake." In closing, he indicates that the message of Jesus has been revealed to all, "leading to the obedience of faith." What does Paul mean when he uses this phrase, "obedience of faith?" What was Paul trying to bring about with the Gentiles and what exactly did he believe the message of Jesus lead to?

I would suggest that Paul is talking about the same thing that another Biblical author, James, says when he declares, "faith without works is dead." James explains himself: "But someone may well say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'" He goes on to offer an example of Abraham demonstrating his faith by offering to sacrifice Iassic when God had promised that his descendents would come through Iassic. Abraham's faith, James indicates, is manifest in his behavior. When you believe something, James is saying, you behave in such a way that validates that belief. That is the same thing Paul is saying when he says, "obedience of faith." If you truly believe in the message of Jesus, you will follow his teachings. You will obey him. Your behavior follows your beliefs.

Have I gotten lost in the wrong blog? No, this is still consumer psychology. I think the Bible offers a potent example here applicable to all aspects of life. The decisions we make in every part of life demonstrate our underlying beliefs. No matter what we claim to believe or what we tell ourselves we believe, we don't really believe it unless we act like we do. You can't say that you don't believe in gravity and yet panic when you fall. You can't say that you do believe in a political candidate and then not vote for him. The decisions we make proof our underlying beliefs. We may want to believe something else, but our behavior tells us what we actually do believe.

What do you spend your money on? What is important to you? If you've answered these questions in two different ways, there is a logical inconsistency. Your 'faith' is not followed by 'works.' There is no 'obedience' in your faith. Maybe you say you believe in eating healthy, but how many bags of potato chips are in your cabinet? Maybe you say you believe too much TV is bad for you, but how much is your cable bill? Now, I understand there are things we value that are not necessarily monetary, but whenever we do spend money, we are casting our dollar vote. We are placing value on the purchase in a very real way. We are saying, 'this purchase is worth x amount of dollars to me.' We are demonstrating what we value by what we spend our money on. We are living out what our beliefs really are.