Play Bigger, Book Review

In an older post, I claim most marketing books suck. I stand by this; Most marketing books are garbage, rehashing other, older books, written to convince big companies who can hire consultants, to hire the authors.  In that post, I quote Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets — because it’s the most recent marketing book fitting my description that has crossed my path.

The premise of Play Bigger is that you have to define a category to be successful. The authors of the book attempt this in their work by rebranding old marketing concepts. Positioning by Al Ries and Dr. Philip Kotler is a far better book. Positioning came out nearly 40 years ago and is relevant still.  By contrast, Play Bigger was published in 2016 and feels outdated.

Play Bigger is written by four people (Al Ramadan, Christopher Lochhead, Dave Peterson, and Kevin Maney), and it feels like it. The book is written with multiple, distinct voices, some of whom own a company that offers a “…standardized category design process that is tailored to meet the needs of companies of all stages.”

This is not the worst book I’ve read on marketing. Also, the authors seem to be well read; I respect that. Many of the books referenced by this book are worth reading; This one isn’t.

It Reads Like an Infomercial for Something I Already Own

Not unlike an infomercial showing a crappy version of a product you already own, the book stretches reality a bit with some claims to make its point. Bing in 2017 held 18% of the search market share in the US earning 3.2 Billion in revenue (1.3 billion in profit), but it’s a failure because it doesn’t define its category.

Another example. This book gives a possible explanation of why Apple’s iPad was a success while Microsoft’s tablet PC’s failed. The reason, Apple defined a new category sitting between a laptop and smartphone. Microsoft just made a tablet that ran Windows XP. I inferred from the book the Tablet PC was also an unholy abomination to both god and man.  But the book is steadfast that products don’t matter, its all about positioning… I mean “category design”.

The creation of a new category was the reason for Apple’s success and Microsoft’s failure. The cult of personality surrounding Steve Jobs, the fact iPads were a better product (at the time); Apple being very much a status symbol, closer to a luxury brand than a tech company, etc. Those weren’t factors, it was all about the category. Maybe Microsoft should hire the consulting firm behind the book?

Selection Bias

As with most marketing books, companies analyzed in Play Bigger are (almost all) already on top. If you pick the biggest companies in a market segment, are they the “category king” because they defined the category at the start, or do they currently define the category because they are the top dog?

To the credit of Play Bigger, they do provide analysis that proves their points. However, the probes into the success of Google, Facebook, Salesforce & Apple at the very least, feel to me like a bad marketing report. In a bad report you:

  1. Create a narrative
  2. Find examples that support that narrative
  3. Ignore nuanced arguments against the narrative you created
  4. To seem fair, address strawman arguments that contradict your narrative

The author defined categories major companies occupied are also a substantial fudge factor influencing the book’s conclusions. Bing, could be a non-successful search engine, or the first ever “decision engine”, dominating the space it is in with 100% market share. DuckDuckGo, a profitable but small company, could be called a failed search engine, or the dominant player in privacy-conscious search. I could category define all day, and crown nearly any company a “category king”.

Who Likes This book?

The best thing I’ve found said about this book was said by Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce a company consistently praised in the book. Benioff said “Every entrepreneur looking to alter the landscape and every CEO looking to reimagine their business can learn from this book. Play Bigger provides inspiration and a framework for building companies that transcend gravity.”

Of course, Benioff loves the book “Salesforce” and “Marc Benioff” are mentioned 80+ times in this book. If I and my company had been praised on this level; I would give highlighted copies to all the stakeholders, my mother, and all relationship prospects. I may even have hired its authors as consultants.

And now; Now you have the information to understand why most marketing books are crap.

I’ll Now Defend This Book, a Little

The book isn’t all bad. The advice is something any savvy company will think of as market positioning. Every single company that isn’t doomed to fail has to think about positioning. Many companies will create new categories, but it’s not an automatic failure when a company doesn’t create a new category. I’m sorry, that’s just a flawed idea.

A point this book raises, validly, I’m sad to say. Is that markets seem hungry for one major player in each category. That’s true, in part driven by access to capital. VC’s seem less willing to invest in ideas when a hugely successful company already dominates a category. And, Investors will sell stock in publicly traded companies, the second Amazon sends out a press release hinting the giant may step into an industry.

The handful of insights, like the one above, aren’t worth slogging the swamp of self-promotion. If you want those kinds of insites you’re better off reading The Four by Scott Galloway.

At one point, the “players turned coaches” bemoan the days before “category design”. The days they speak of, are days when positioning, and market placement were taught in business schools.

Final Thoughts

The authors of this book did not create a new discipline. The book teaches little or nothing new. Certainly nothing so original that you couldn’t find it elsewhere. It suffers heavily from bias analysis and it reads like a sales pitch. Play Bigger isn’t the worst book on marketing, but it’s still an archetype of a bad marketing book.

This is only my opinion. It’s possible for knowledgeable and intelligent people to disagree with me, but I think most won’t. The idea that people don’t have to agree with you, is something Play Bigger would have done well to acknowledge in the book; Instead, it takes the hard-line stance that anyone on your team who doesn’t buy into the concept of positioning (as defined by this book) should be fired from the team.

The above, almost cult-like stance is especially odd since most of the examples in the book touted as success did not follow the category design prescribed by Play Bigger. I’ll combat this book one last time. Elvis isn’t necessarily the king of rock and roll because he created a new category, a solid case can be made that he stepped into a spot Chuck Berry created.

Did Elvis dethrone a “category king” rather than creating a new category? I don’t know, but I also didn’t write a book claiming that category creation is the only way to succeed.

Header Image by Editor B

Not Every Company Is A Tech Company

MIT, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, and others are declaring every business is a tech company now.

Technology is pervasive in all businesses and saying “every company is a tech company” makes a sexy headline. It’s like the new version of pronouncing email dead; while untrue, it’s easy to build a case for the claim.

I’m sitting here with a several-year-old Laptop and phone. Either device gives me way more computing power than NASA had in 1969 when they successfully sent a manned mission to the moon.

If I could go back in time with fully working, (magically internet connected) technology of 2019, I would be beyond the level of any computer scientist in the 40’s. I could do things none of them could dream of…

“Mr. Turing I’m just letting the Watson API figure out this code, you can take a nap.”

That’s not because I’m a technical wizard. A toddler can work an iPad, but Sir Isaac Newton certainly couldn’t have built one. The fact technology has progressed does not mean everyone is a computer scientist. We all have access to huge amounts of data, but we are not all data scientist.

IT Spending Will Increase

Yes, IT spending is going to increase, more companies will hire CTOs, CIOs, and consultants to pick the right technologies. Review sites and programmatic technology suggestions will be important to businesses of every size. But I can’t imagine it’s that different from every historic change resulting from new technologies, like the telegraph or the phone.

We have examples of businesses in most of recorded history. In most of that time, no examples of phones exist. After Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, a period of time when every business had a phone. And now we have reached a point where some business is don’t like giving their phone numbers out.

The most tech-savvy of companies seem to force contact through layers of automated chat systems. Eventually, perhaps a text conversation with a real person and maybe a phone call if at some point that person gives you their number. It probably will be their number, and it will leave the business with the employee. As more companies support a bring your own device plan.

If you mean every company is a tech company because they all have access to so much technology, that’s true. Every company has access to technology that could strike a 22-year-old Philip Emeagwali with awe. But most of that technology works with shockingly little training or original development.

Technology is Getting Easier

You don’t have to become an engineer to drive a car, and you don’t have to be a developer to build a website. In 2019 we have a plethora of what you see is what you get site builder options. I’m not a fan of most of them, but compare any website builder with an early 90s hand-coded HTML website. Not only are the sites easier to build, they are also notably better.

Not every company is now or needs to become a tech company. Everyone can use technology and have it be surprisingly painless. A toddler using the iPad is not a result of extensive training. The child is not a computer scientist. And even when companies in retail, real estate, and oil & gas invest in technology, they do not automatically become tech companies.

Header image by rawpixel / Pixabay

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Should I Give Up Foods Tom Brady Does Not Eat?

I was sent an article about Tom Brady’s diet, with the question; “should I give up the foods Brady doesn’t eat?”

Listen to this post read by Mason Pelt.

Judging from the article, Tom Brady doesn’t eat a lot of things. Some, like white sugar and white flour, can be cut from most diets and be an automatic positive. But dairy, nightshades (like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers), and mushrooms don’t make as much sense to cut out. For example, eating mushrooms may reduce the risk of cognitive decline in seniors, but I digress.

Are Your LifeStyle & Biology Identical To Tom Brady’s?

Elite athletes do things normal people don’t. Not everything they do is the reason they are elite athletes. Floyd Mayweather drinks a lot of soda. There is some merit to drinking something high on the glycemic index and rapidly bioavailable after intense cardio. But a Pepsi after I workout is change number 403 on the list of things Mayweather is doing I’m not.

Brady is a great athlete, training hard, spending time in the sauna and focusing on sleep. So, are you Brady’s biological clone? Do you train as hard, sleep equally well and activate the same heat shock proteins as Brady? Are you still unable to match Tom Brady? Eggplant may be holding you back. For the rest of us, probably not.

With Brady’s, Mayweather’s or any other popularised diet or training plan, people want to try flashy bits that stick out. Fasted cardio, hours in the sauna and ice baths, bearly sound fun to a masochist. Huge gains drinking a soda after a workout and cutting out foods that are a small percent of your daily caloric intake gets people wanting to signup.

Should Tom Brady Avoid These?

White sugar, white flour, MSG, dairy, mushrooms, and nightshades are all off the Brady diet. The reported reason Brady avoids these foods is that they aren’t anti-inflammatory. inflammation is one of those words, people toss around under the assumption that all of it is bad. However proinflammatory cytokines appear necessary to build muscle.

The long-term use of OTC anti-inflammatory drugs can inhibit muscle growth in young, healthy individuals engaging in weight training. For the elderly, there was some evidence that NSAIDs improve muscle performance. This suggests there is some ideal level of inflammation for human athletic performance.


Ideal levels of inflammation aside, no evidence exists showing nightshades cause inflammation in humans. Some studies suggest some Solanaceae (the scientific name of nightshades) can lower inflammation.

Bell Peppers are known for their antioxidant properties. Apparently cooking bell peppers increases the antioxidant effects.

A meta-analysis of tomato consumption found that:

Among 72 studies identified, 57 reported inverse associations between tomato intake or blood lycopene level and the risk of cancer at a defined anatomic site; 35 of these inverse associations were statistically significant.

JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 91, Issue 4, 17 February 1999


Mushrooms, are anti-inflammatory and are known for neuroprotective and gastroprotective effects. I don’t fully understand a reason for Brady or anyone else to avoid all mushrooms. But allergies or taste preferences could be the reason.


Dairy is associated with some inflammation, (again, not inherently bad). But let’s put that inflammation on a scale against this meta-analysis of 29 cohort studies, with 938,465 participants (93,158 mortality) finding lower all-cause mortality among those who eat dairy.

White Sugar & White Flour

Cutting something from your diet and replacing it with something worse, won’t help you. Removing white sugar and white flour from most peoples diet only helps if they are replaced with a. Nothing or b. Something better for you.

I tend to avoid sugar that isn’t in a fiber matrix (such as fruit) and I don’t eat white flour often. But if you control your calories, eat adequate protein and fiber, average people shouldn’t worry about eating a small amount of processed, nutritionally devoid foods that are highly enjoyable.

Header Image by made by light 

Should I Use Twitter? A 2019 Risk-Benefit Analysis Of Using Twitter

Periodically I try to make Twitter work for me, a productivity tool! Or if not productivity, a way to be informed, entertained… just to promote things I care about, perhaps? It’s failed for me, at the very least the way I was using it has not been working to any of these ends.

Productivity on Twitter

A Venn diagram of productivity and Twitter would have virtually no overlap. Not to say no upside exists from Twitter, I’ve made friends and had a few good conversations. But most interactions with any meaning or positive impact are a result of leaving the Twitter platform.

Like meeting someone in a crowded, unpleasant place full of angry people, but later chatting over coffee. Twitter is a meeting ground, not the place for discussion. It’s not even a good place to become informed.

Twitter is Real-Time (Irrelevant and Unreliable) Information

Being informed is a productivity tool; only when the information is correct and impacts your life or contains a truth that expands your mind in some way. Some of this exists on Twitter. But, I’ve forgotten how many times I learn something with no impact on my life is true, only to later discover it was false and feel a pressure to understand how everyone was duped.

An example I always point to; CNN did not accidentally air Porn during Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.Within about 4 hours of a random account tweeting a photo depicting porn broadcasting on CNN it was reported in 20+ mainstream news outlets, and about 10 hours later pronounced a hoax.

I learned something, learned it was fake and learned why, all in real-time. Not only does this three-stage fake news cycle not improve my life, CNN routinely broadcasting porn, would not matter in my day to day life.

Because of the sources, expanding verification wouldn’t have prevented this story from spreading. Traffic-hungry websites benefited, they got the initial outrage clicks, and later the retraction & explanation of what happened clicks. Good reporters, who waited for comments from CNN, or the local broadcast hub, earned no traffic. Bad reporting got rewarded with eyeballs.

Be informed or be entertained? 

Nuance is the enemy of the humorous hot takes pushed by the Twitter algorithm. This Tweet from Jesse Walker sort of sums up this point.

With nearly any topic, you must choose, be funny or be informative. Doing both requires a level of wit and topical expertise most people don’t have when preparing a Ph.D. dissertation, or comedy album. This mix of skills is possessed by almost no-one using 280 characters, commenting on topics they know little about, directed to a general audience.

Twitter is not devoid of humor or information. But it seems Twitter as an organism, of users and algorithms. Favors, sensationalism, and attacks on famous people to thoughtful commentary or even pure jokes and photos of cute animals.

Distribution Roulette 

I have a small following, about 3,500, my average tweet (excluding when I tag others), receives about 130 impressions. 3.7% of your audience seeing something on a real-time platform is great when you have 100,000 or more followers. But 130 people are much less likely than 3,700 people to create follow on engagement that causes a substantial distribution.

The odds of anything I tweet receiving substantial distribution seems to require a. Tagging someone influential, b. Ads or, c. Luck. When I say luck, I mean that I tweet something, that resonates with several of the 130 people who will see it, at a time when they will have followers online who are also interested in the thing I shared.

The Story of My Top Tweets

  • Russell Brand Retweeted it.
  • Brent Spiner Liked and Replied to it.
  • Tim Ferriss Retweeted it.
  • Jack Dorsey Liked it.
  • The week Alex Jones was ban from Twitter, I donned an aluminum foil hat, and posted a video weaving a tapestry of conspiracy theories tying into every Twitter trending topic.

Yes, it’s possible to engineer some form of “viral” pickup, but why? Just getting impressions doesn’t translate to clicks or Followers, much less customers. It seems like Twitter is subject to the rich get richer, poor get poorer distribution in a lot of ways.

A Graveyard of Old Tweets May Dig Your Grave

Some portion of people dig up old Tweets to attack the author. I won’t say public shaming is never appropriate, but the looking for dirt in old Tweets seen with James Gunn, Sarah Jeong, and Kevin Hart offer seemingly little benefit to society. Certainly, the lives of Gunn, Jeong, and Heart would have been better Twitter-free even with the exposure and engagement the platform allowed them.

For, Kyler Murray, the University of Oklahoma quarterback who received the Heisman Trophy in 2018, homophobic tweets he sent in 2012 when he was 15 years old became a media frenzy. He apologized, his life seems unruined. But that unpleasantness was over a tweet I can’t imagine over a couple of dozen people saw between 2012 and 2018.

If these examples aren’t enough, Jon Ronson has a great Ted Talk, When Online Shaming Goes Too Far.

Times And People Change

In 2012, I lived 10 miles from Murray’s home town of Allen, Tx; there were a lot of adults in that area using gay slurs as an insult at the time. It’s not a defense of anything he said, but his tweet and subsequent apology reflect positive social change when it comes to LGBT acceptance. Look at the changing views on gay marriage over time as an example.

Some things are wrong and were always wrong even when commonly accepted. As an optimist, I think we are moving positively. I hope people 80 years from now, will be shocked by things today that are commonplace. The essay Virginia Woolf? Snob! Richard Wright? Sexist! Dostoyevsky? Anti-Semite! Does a better job of encapsulating my point than I think myself capable of here.

Going Forward

Twitter, doesn’t benefit my life at this moment, and I see far more risk of harm than possible benefit. This is without even going into the psychological harms like feelings of isolation associated with social media, and trolls.

It seems wises to use Twitter only as a sort of RSS and trackback tool since those have fallen out of favor. I’m sure I should never actively engage on the platform. I should probably just delete my account, But for some reason, I feel like sticking around. For now, I’m taking a break from Twitter, as I have with Facebook.

Header Image Twitter

The Four, Book Review

Written by Scott Galloway, “The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google” reads like the highest aspiration of the edgy business book genre. Flipping to any page, and putting a finger on any sentence gives you about a 70% chance of reading an (at least semi) meaningful insight, wrapped in a warm snarky blanket.

The book is a hodgepodge of fact, opinion, humble brags, and advice. I enjoyed The Four thoroughly, you may not. I was a fan of “Winners & Losers” a Youtube based finance analysis show hosted by Galloway, and this book is written in the style of that show. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

If you read the book and dislike it because it’s too edgy, you’re right. If you read the book and love it because it’s edgy, you’re also right. What I don’t think the book can be criticized for is a lack of multidimensional analysis. The T-Algorithm used as the bases to analyze the companies mentioned is thorough. None of the information is new (even in 2017), however, the book is a clear aggregation of facts with analysis that is well worth reading.

You may dislike the writing style, and may disagree with some claims. Example: every person I know working in cyber security for any entity other than the US government disagrees with Galloway’s assertion that Apple could build a backdoor into its operating system without making it vulnerable to hackers. However, while perhaps crass, Galloway is generally thoughtful and explains conclusions; rarely does a business book do so to this extent.

Who are the Four Horsemen

The books premise is clear from the title on; Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are huge, powerful companies, being protected by supporters, subsidized by governments, funded by investors buying a grand vision, and nearly unavoidable in modern life. They are the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Galloway considers the horsemen to be “god, love, sex, and consumption”. Each company shares global reach, likability, differentiation in the market and access to capital that even most fortune 50 companies would never hope for.

I’ll break down each of the horsemen, as paraphrasing the book and provide a bit of commentary.

God or Google

People now trust Google to know everything about them. Think that bump could be cancer? You’ll probably ask Google before you ask a doctor. People trust Google enough to ask it the questions that they wouldn’t ask their closest friend.

No philosopher, religious leader, guru or scientist will be asked the range of questions people type into Google daily. “About one out of six queries posed to the search engine have never been asked before.” — To Galloway’s point I used Google Books to find that quote.

I don’t trust Google, I use DuckDuckGo and Firefox to minimize the amount of contact I have with the big G. But even so, I use an Android phone, start most days checking into my Google for Work email and spend hours each month on Youtube.

Even with my healthy fear of Google, I, more than most, feed them information. I have a Google Phone in my pocket all the time. Set up Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics for clients websites, helping to build Google’s understanding of the web. I directly pay Google to use Drive and Email. I’m part of the advertising audience by watching YouTube videos and I manage ads across their network.

Love or Facebook

“As measured by adoption and usage, Facebook is the most successful thing in the history of humankind.” Facebook is love or at least access to loved ones. I can attest to this first hand, last month I quit facebook, but not really.

After leaving Facebook, I still had Instagram & Messenger. I even logged into Facebook at least twice a week, just to see what’s up. Social media, in general, is fueled by fear of missing out. Facebook, in particular, is fomo + nostalgia. Facebook is embedded in my life and has been for a long time.

I don’t love Facebook. But I remember the pit in my stomach after I lost years of text messages with a person I did love. I also remember the feeling of relief at how many messages were sent using Facebook Messenger.

From events to WhatsApp & Messenger Facebook’s impact on communication is profound. Facebook, like Google, has information about even non-users. If one of your friends has Messenger on their phone, Facebook knows your phone number and much more.

Facebook is not my friend. However, much like a close friend’s less than desirable significant other, Facebook is deeply associated with my friends.

Sex or Apple

Galloway equates Apple to peacocking, the logo a status symbol to make yourself desirable as a mate. “The Apple Logo, which graces the most coveted laptops and mobile devices, is the global badge of wealth, education and western values.” Perceptually this is true, at least among Apple fans.

I’ve used Mac OS exclusively for years. In the very beginning, I had compelling reasons; the product were just better and I needed OSX exclusive software. My job has changed, my industry has evolved and Apple has gone downhill. Check out Louis Rossmann’s breakdown of Apple’s repeated engineering failures.

My next laptop won’t be a MacBook Pro and that is related to quality. But the opinions shared by me and a prominent Apple repair technician won’t change the fact that Apple is essentially a luxury brand. Apple is more closely related to Louis Vuitton than Microsoft, Dell or any tech company I can think of.

Apple fits into a place in the hearts and minds of its diehard fan base that isn’t rational. I well remember defending Apple’s quality and customer support. The reality was, the MacBook Pro I had was a lemon with a bad graphics card and should have gotten a replacement under warranty.

Paying 2.5 times the price of a comparable laptop by any other brand meant it had to be the best, right? Apple was the best because they told me they were. Apple was the best because I didn’t waste my money. I became an onlooker in the story of the emperor’s new clothes, I’m not the only one. Galloway is right; People will defend Apple in ways that defy reason.

Consumption or Amazon

“Amazon eases the pain of drudgery – getting the stuff you need to survive.” — What Walmart has done to small towns, Amazon has done to major cities. People I respect choose to order only from Amazon because it means fewer companies tracking them.

Using only Amazon also means creating a corporate giant. One I suspect will someday bite its adoring customers. Just as it shocked retail stores the day it became clear Amazon was a threat to their businesses. This will happen with brands too.

Galloway’s interpretation of Jeff Bezos is a man who wants universal basic income. Because, well… he needs customers and doesn’t imagine a world where most humans have jobs.

The chapters on Amazon paint a portrait of a company with the power to tank any competitor in any industry – 30% in 60 days with 30 press releases. His solution is that the government should break up Amazon, as they did Bell System. I’m hesitant to agree to the government breaking up companies. But the time for subsidies to Amazon was never. It may be worth considering that only the government can save us from a problem the government helped to create. Reason Magazine had a great take on the Amazon HQ2 bidding war in the video below.

My Favorite Part

I started what became my favorite part of the book with an eye roll. Sorry Prof, but after seeing the words “New York Times Company” my first thought was “‘Come on Scott, I’m reading your book, spare me the story of sitting at the big boy table for the Times.” — Galloway’s story of how he came to be on the board for the New York Times, his plan to create a confederation of top news outlets that would force search engine’s to pay the content, and the reason it didn’t work out are a pretty solid set of lessons for anyone in business.

Galloway’s strategy may not have worked, but it is certainly worth reading about. He was at least conceptually correct. Google without a lot of quality content is a library without books: useless. The story has tons of entrepreneurial lessons, not giving up board seats as a gesture of goodwill would be near the top of that list. Not sacrificing core competency to maintain a tertiary revenue stream as The Times did with is another valuable lesson.

Scott Galloway’s Video Summary

I think the book is well worth reading. I’ve recommended it to many people, but if you want a summary, the best one comes from Galloway himself.

Header Image via Berkeley-Haas Alumni Network’sYouTube

Most Marketing Books are Crap

Most marketing books are crap, and broadly speaking, most business books suck too.

Listen to this post read by Mason Pelt.

These books are mostly written by people selling consulting, or worse, some productized service. While I’m critical of most business books, I’m focusing this beating on marketing books only.

Out of a sampling of books on marketing; it’s common to see a 180-page book, spending 30 pages sharing the qualifications of the authors, and 150 pages of generic or recycled concepts, perhaps with some rebranding. Most of these books tell you how major companies over the last 50 years, became major companies, using the tactics the book’s author just happens to be an expert on.

I’m not saying Ogilvy on Advertising isn’t worth reading, because David Ogilvy founded an ad agency. His expertise is what makes the book worth the time to read it, but if you read his book, you can probably skip most of the clones.

Marketing books are typically written for three audiences

Most marketing books are written with three audiences in mind. The first two are people who work at large brands and large agencies, with well-funded clients who hire consultants. Basically the type of companies that make up most examples in any marketing book.

The third audience segment is dumb people, who think their startup idea follows the same rules as a spattering of carefully selected examples. Dumb people may never buy consulting, but they can buy books, and attend conferences. Dumb people also don’t ask for context, like, what players were in the market if the strategy failed for other companies, or how the overall economy was doing at the time a strategy worked once in my photographer days, a marketing person hired me for an event, let’s call it a graduation. They asked me to take photos with my phone; Why? Because they heard the head of social at Chili’s Grill & Bar say photos taken on a phone at restaurants received more engagement on Instagram than studio images. Either, those scenarios are identical; or some dumb folks are buying marketing books and attending conferences.

History is written by the winners, same with marketing books

The strategies in marketing books work almost 100% of the time, on paper. That’s because no one writes about the failures. I’ve spent my working life at agencies and martech companies, and you know what every client I’ve worked with has in common? First, they don’t let you write about their worst failures. Second, nothing is a failure if you toss a pile of money at it and put on rose-colored glasses.

Are five million impressions on social media worth anything? No, but if you spend about $500,000 you can get five million impressions. Take the impressions, some screenshots showing positive comments (negative comments are ignored), a few charts, something showing industry trends, a pulled quote from a Gartner Analyst and boom! That is a nice looking case study!

If you take 30 thin case studies like the one above, cherry pick the ones that have a similar thread, put them together with some snark, and a little analysis and bam. You have a marketing book, it may not be a bestseller, but maybe it will get you a consulting or speaking gig!

Some of the best marketing books aren’t about marketing

I’m not saying all marketing books are bad, and I started an ad agency, so it should be clear, I’m not attacking marketing consultants. But many of the best marketing books aren’t written about marketing. Any book covering flaws in an industry, or highlighting innate human behavior can be a marketing book.

Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky is not about marketing, it is an exposé highlighting many of the flaws in media outlets. The kind of flaws in the design of news that could be a savvy PR person’s dream. Ryan Holiday, a one-time savvy PR person highlights the exploitation of those and more modern problems in his book Trust Me, I’m Lying.

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie is about being a good human. Social Engineering by Christopher Hadnagy is an entertaining book about how not to be a victim of social engineering. Neither of these are about marketing, and both will teach you more about marketing than most books that advertise themselves to be on the topic.

I could probably keep naming books, but you get the point. There are a lot of bad marketing books and a lot of good marketing books not about marketing. If you’re looking for marketing books my fellow SiliconANGLE alum, Brandon Mendelson, listed his favorites a few years ago.

Why do bad marketing books sell?

From what I’ve gathered most people who read marketing books aren’t well-versed marketers, they are trying to learn, often quickly about, marketing. I jokingly called them “dumb people” before, but they are self-educators, so am I, that’s awesome, That said, in the very early stages of self-education you don’t have the information to understand what is good or bad advice.

When I see a book that says you have to invent “…a whole new game-defining a new market category, developing it, and dominating it over time.” I think well darn; this is going to be an irritating read, I’ve probably read this before, will this just waste my time.

However, if one of the first marketing books you read, says the key to success is defining an entirely new product category; like Facebook, Google, SalesForce, Netflix, Uber, and many more. Why would you question it? Bing, is a failure for Microsoft because it’s not a category-defining company.

You want your start up’s marketing to be a success, defining a new category that the world has never seen before. You don’t want to be a flop like Bing, a company that in 2017 earned 3.2 Billion in revenue (1.3 billion in profit) holding 18% of the search market share in the US. Your startups must succeed, and that means you must define a category.

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Why is Self-improvement Bad When it’s Biohacking?

After looking at The Atlantic’s take on Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey’s fasting; I’m getting tired of the way some publications stand against well… self-improvement. I realize some of the Silicon Valley bros make it an easy target. But “biohacking” is self-improvement, backed by science. Sometimes biohacking is also pseudoscience, and other times just crazy measures that are nearly sci-fi, please make fun of those.

Without getting into any extreme bio hacks, in the last few years, I’ve improved my ability to deal with stress, my sleep, and my temper is much more in check. By every metric I can think of I am a more functional person, having “hacked” myself.

I fast 72 consecutive hours each quarter, and 6 out of 7 days, I eat within a 9-hour window. I take nootropics, I meditate, use a therapy lamp, and many weeks I eat under 30 grams of sugar. I’ll cycle diets, aka what I eat, based on my physical activity, and I feel better.

Each of these “bio hacks” from sauna to ice baths, every supplement I take, and every diet I use has research backing it; Mostly NIH funded research. I’m not some crazy person who has decided that I will draw magnetic resonance energy from the spirit world. I’m also not using CRISPER to test altering my DNA. I’m a self-experimenter, a pretty careful one at that.


The Dunning–Kruger effect is, basically, knowing so little that you think you know everything. I’ve been accused of this when it comes to my own health. I don’t think it’s valid for four reasons.

  1. I’m not doing anything that isn’t known to be safe or at the least low risk. Most people who are called biohackers aren’t Tristan Roberts trying experimental gene therapy to treat HIV. Most people are just using diet and supplementation to be a little better.
  2. We all feed ourselves and we also know subjectively how we feel. By 6 years old most people know chocolate cake isn’t as good for you as broccoli. I feel better on a diet with no sugar, my joints don’t hurt etc…
  3. I can measure results objectively. When I meditate and my blood pressure and heart rate drop, that’s not just a feeling. I can also measure sleep patterns and I can take executive functions tests.
  4. A wealth of information exists about the topics of health. A lot of that information is politically influenced, (see: You should eat a low-fat diet and coconut oil is bad for you). And many safe things may not work for you, but that is why self-testing is helpful. After reading several different reports and studies, you’ll have a pretty good idea what is likely to be harmful. Avoid harmful things, and try some of the safe options to see what works for you.

You can’t learn everything in an hour

Scott Addams, the creator of Dilbert, once said that he could understand any topic with an hour of conversation with an expert. That sounds crazy. But is it crazy to say that spending about 20 hours a week researching a topic for nearly two years could give you some measure of understanding?

This isn’t some labor theory of value based claim. But I’ve spent around 2,000 hours reading research papers, textbooks, and listening to lectures from doctors, phycologists and medical researchers. I’m not claiming to be an all-knowing expert, but I strongly dislike the idea that outside of the ivory tower of traditional education and certification everyone is wrong.

I’ve met people with degrees in nutrition, who were very happy to argue, incorrectly, about what amino acids make a protein. After literally showing that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics disagreed, I was told they had a nutrition degree (You know who you are RW)… I don’t care about degrees, I care about reality.

I won’t site a degree, because I have no credibility, that’s why I cite studies. I’m not going to make a claim that because I’m an outsider, I’m somehow more credible than the establishment, I don’t think that, again, that is why I cite studies. I’d rather watch a non-mathematician who shows their work, than a mathematician who relies on credentials and may not be getting the correct answer.

Am I someone with an eating disorder, pushing unhealthy habits?

Do I try to get other people to get with the program? Yeah, sometimes I do. I can only get so many calls from depressed or anxiety riddled friends before I start suggesting they try something that helped me. I’ve sent dozens of people to the Amen Clinics Brain Health Assessment, sent out bottles of Theanine & Bacopa Monnieri, and Sam Harris & Tara Brach’s guided meditations are among the links I share most.

If I suggest something, I’m not suggesting it with a cape of credibility. I’m giving a mix of personal experience, and links to research. I’m also just suggesting others try something and track their own results. Even if all they have is a placebo, the placebo effect has real power.

If you view suggesting someone should work out and change their diet because they wake up every day feeling like getting out of bed is a fight for their life, I think you have a problem. And if someone can manage their anxiety disorder and cut back on the times they would normally pop a Xanax by taking Ashwagandha, or meditating that seems like a good thing. If other people become more productive at work or in any aspect of life, that also seems like a good thing.

One last note

As my Push ROI business partner Jon Norwood is fond of saying. “You should hire a doctor to treat your cancer. Not put yourself through medical school so you can treat it yourself.”

I encourage everyone to try things that are safe or at least know the risks. But take responsibility for the 99% of your health that isn’t in a doctor’s office or behind the pharmacy counter. And don’t disregard modern medicine, I’m fairly sure members of the modern medical community conduct the studies I read.

If you are prescribed an SSRI or Benzodiazepines please don’t flush them, because you read a blog post saying you can take 5HTP or Theanine. Please talk to your doctor.

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Moonwalking with Einstein, Book Review

Moonwalking with Einstein is a delightful read offering a solid overview of memory techniques. I normally finish a book before recommending it, but the day I started reading I’d told at least six people to check it out. A few days later when I finished I considered it one of the best pieces of participatory journalism I’ve read. By the end, I was neither tired of the book nor sad it was over.

Author Joshua Foer managed to pique my interest for the three days I spent reading and ended exactly when it came time. Foer takes you on a journey from his covering the US memory championships as a reporter in 2005, to becoming the US memory champion, competing for a world title in 2006. He gives an overview of several techniques to improve memory and dives into some fascinating medical literature. Among my favorite parts of the book was an interview with EP, an amnesiac with short term memory comparable to that of a goldfish and no long term memories since the 1950s.

If unfamiliar with techniques like the memory palace and mnemonic devices the book may give you a good place to start learning more. If you’re someone who has some, or even expert familiarity with memory techniques this book is still so well written and interesting as to be an enjoyable read.

Memory techniques?

I had some exposure to the methods described in this book, from an elementary school phonics program called PACE (Processing And Cognitive Enhancement). For many of the same reasons that at 8 or 9-years-old I didn’t keep memorizing everything by storing it in palaces, I’m probably not going to start now. As a kid, I memorized all the US Presidents by visualizing a woman, with feet made of atoms watching a smiling sun wearing a chefs hat, who was BBQing a smaller angry sun. Watching son = Washington, atoms = Adams, chef sun = Jefferson, angry sun = Madison, and so on.

Side note: While it’s not quite the same memory device I learned with, this video shows the US Presidents using mental images.

Those mental images were helpful in a way, but they also gave me extra contextless information that as an adult has no use. I still remember most of the presidents in order, but any application that would require my knowing the order of presidents would likely also require that I know some historical context, and would merit a quick glance online to fact check. As an adult, you’re not often asked who was the President between Grover Cleveland’s two terms (Benjamin Harrison).

Memorization of facts without context doesn’t really matter. Knowing the order of Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower don’t help you understand history. Knowing order doesn’t tell you the economic policies of Hoover and Roosevelt, and how they played into the great depression. The order doesn’t tell you about internment camps, or when Eisenhower hired historian’s to dispute the book Other Losses.

Did writing burn down the memory palace?

Much of what is covered in the book to improve memory seem like gimmicks. Even if they are actually ancient tools. The Method of loci aka the memory palace is described in the ad Herennium, a Latin text from late 80s BC. Even with that history, memory tricks feel like sideshow tricks today.

Socrates in his day disliked writing believing it would make humanity forgetful. I bet Socrates would be shocked by a modern library, and couldn’t fathom our world with cell phones and search engines. I remembered Harrison (a sun with chest hair) was the 23rd President with Cleveland’s (a big cleaver cutting a landmass) terms both before and after, but I did look that up to be sure. That was also me, as an adult, creating a reason to remember the order of US presidents.

The 4-minute mile for memory contests

Even with some knowledge of the core memory techniques, I had no knowledge of The World Memory Championships.

The World Memory Championships were and are fascinating, but it is hard to wrap my mind around what the 13 years since Moonwalking with Einstein was written have done to the world records. In 2006 the fastest time to memorize a shuffled deck of cards was 32 seconds, held by Ben Pridmore. That record is now 13.96 seconds set by Zou Lujian in 2017.

Somehow I don’t think that the speed card world record of just under 14 seconds will ever be thought of as Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile for memory contests. While it’s pretty safe to say the limit of 13.96 seconds to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of playing cards is in your head, unlike the 4-minute mile it’s probably not going to become any sort of a standard among professional competitors.

Learning How To Learn

I am skeptical of how much value memorization methods will add to my life but it’s still a topic of interest. I think we all want a way to learn things faster and better (I’m also one to pursue stupid human tricks).  While I was reading Moonwalking with Einstein I also took a free class on Coursera called Learning how to Learn, I highly recommend it.

The class, taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, gives a lot of insight into the human brain and ways to improve your own performance. If you’re going to take the class don’t skip the optional interviews. The interviews with Benny Lewis, Nelson Dellis, Scott Young & Daphne Gray-Grant stick out in mind, but every interview is worth the extra time.

Learning how to Learn is based largely on Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers, a book that I plan on reading soon. If you’re also interested in improving memory and other mental performance, here are some other books I intend to check out. These come recommended by Ron White, the 2009 & 2010 US Memory Champion. His YouTube Channel is worth checking out, but in one video he recommends:

  • Mega Memory by Kevin Trudeau
  • The Memory Book by Harry Lorrayne
  • Quantum Memory by Dominic Obrien
  • Maximize Your Memory by Ramon Campayo
  • Math Magic by Scott Flansburg

While I’ve yet to read any of these books, since Math Magic has been on my reading list for some time, and Ron White says It’s “a great book if you want to know how to multiply 782 times 25 in your head…” I’m looking forward to it.

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