When an absurd little bird is popping out

There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple too
And up in the nursery an absurd little bird
Is popping out to say coo-coo

Coo-coo, coo-coo

Regretfully they tell us coo-coo, coo-coo
But firmly they compel us coo-coo, coo-coo
To say goodbye
To you

– from the Sound of Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein

I’m aware that I haven’t been very active on this blog during the past 12 months. I could easily use the excuse that I’ve been too busy at work. But no, but yeah, but no… The creative beast in me hasn’t died either. I have simply run out of inspiration.

During 8 consecutive years of blog writing, I have published 228 articles that amassed a stunning 95k views by 67k visitors from 191 countries. All articles sort of explored the rich universe of corporate storytelling, while diving into best practices for creating, preparing and delivering business presentations. While I’m proud of these numbers and thankful to my audience, my B2B Storytelling story has been told and I’m announcing the start of a non-writing sabbatical.

Just like previous years, I am moving into summer sleep mode now. But this time, I have no idea how long my inactivity is going to last. Possibly a few months, maybe a full year, unlikely for ever. And when I return, I will maybe extend the scope of my posts or simply start writing about something completely different. Food for reflection and introspection.

Still, I made some time to create a yearly update of my ebook. More than 500 pages of best practices, tips and tricks, lessons learned and personal stories. Let me tentatively call it my swan song edition.

As always, you may download the PDF version for free via the download tab on top of this page.

Happy reading. And so long, farewell, tot ziens. This is no goodbye…

download_ebook_2020

Stories are all about memories

“Somewhere deep in my memory there had to be a frozen mountain lake that was slowly starting to thaw.” – Herman Koch in “Finnish days” (translated)

Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview with Dutch writer Herman Koch, who talked about his new novel “Finse dagen” (Finnish days). In his book, the author tells stories about the time he spent in Finland when he was 19, making a living as a farmer and lumberjack.

Being a perennial blogger and aspiring storyteller myself, one of the excerpts from the interview, in which Koch muses about memories, particularly appealed to me. “Writing makes you remember things of which you thought you didn’t know them anymore.” Memories are records of people’s personal experience. Records of trial and error, of success and failure. Past successes will help you (and others) to gain courage and confidence to move on, while past failures will warn you against repeating them.

Koch’s also talks about becoming an author. How certain pleasant or unpleasant events in one’s life can provide useful material for later use. Already at secondary school, the future writer was observing his teacher and thought: “One day, this guy will find himself in a book.” It’s almost like one can – or maybe should? – (pro-)actively and consciously record his/her memories.

About creating an ideal mix of facts and (a tiny bit of) fiction, Koch says that “reality is sometimes not believable enough.” So, sometimes we need to repaint our memories. As I wrote earlier on this blog: all stories deserve embellishment

Unfortunately (at least for the non-Dutch-speaking readers of this post) the interview is in Dutch. If you want to replay it anyway, you can find it here. Still, after listening to Herman Koch’s inspiring words, I’m almost sure what will be the next book on my reading list.

Send in the clowns

This morning, when I traveled to work, I was confronted with a huge billboard displaying a super-sized clown face. Well, at least I think most people would describe the character on the advertisement a clown. It was promoting a film called “It: Chapter Two”, which appears to be the sequel to a 2017 big screen adaptation of Steven King’s novel about Pennywise, a bloodthirsty clown with a red balloon. As I don’t like the horror genre, I’m not a Stephen King fan either. Though I understand that people appreciate his novels. But, honestly, I’d call this poster perverse (as I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I’m not going to give any appreciation about them). It is showing a horrible mutilation and commercialization of a childhood hero character of mine.

It-Antwerpen

You may call me a sentimental old fool – I’ll gladly accept it as an honorary title, except for the ‘old’ adjective – but clowns rather belong in a circus ring than in a horror movie. They are among us to provide comical and emotional relief. Just think of the cliniclowns or clown doctors that bring hope and humor to thousands of hospitalized children, or the “red nose day” fundraising campaigns in countries around the world.

In The Comic Toolbox (a book on which I wrote in an older post) John Vorhaus says that “every comic character begins and ends with his strong comic perspective – a character’s unique way of looking at his world, which differs in a clear and substantial way from the normal world view.” Clowns, if not by definition then by perception, have this comic perspective. They are well fit to be a prominent character in many stories. There need to be protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains, characters that make you laugh and make you cry. Or both at the same time. As Vorhaus also writes: “A character’s humanity must be a real part of his character.” As such, I don’t want characters make any audience feel frightened or horrified. Neither with nor without a red balloon.

So, where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns. Send in the clowns. The kind, nice and funny ones, please.

Related posts:

Everyday I write the book

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” ‒ Margaret Fuller, American journalist, editor, critic, and women’s rights advocate (1810 – 1850)

It has become a yearly practice to publish the articles that appeared on this blog in an e-book during my summer holidays. So, here’s the 2019 update! It bundles more than 200 posts that I wrote between September 2012 and today into one single 490-page (!) document.

You’ll get the PDF version for free via the download tab on top of this page.

Champagne corks and factfulness

We just welcomed another new year. And while opening a bottle of champagne at midnight, I had to think about this JFK quote:

“We celebrate the past to awaken the future.” – John F. Kennedy (1960)

Because, that’s exactly what we do each New Year’s Eve. At our home, we even keep the champagne cork as a souvenir for the future. As such, my family has already gathered a few dozens of corks, cherishing memories of past New Years, anniversaries and life events. Precious keepsakes of our wedding day, my wife’s first positive pregnancy test, or the birth of our children – just to name a few.

Predicting, awakening, or even shaping the future is never easy. I don’t want to make any statement about whether the past was better than the present. Or whether the future looks gloomier than, say, 10, 20, or 60 years ago. We’re living in a different era today, with a different zeitgeist, and with different challenges. Though I must admit that I’m not too excited about some of today’s (geo)political, economic and social evolutions, the world may be in a much better state than we often assume.

At least, that’s the message I retained after reading “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling. The book, subtitled “Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world, and why things are better than you think,” is the perfect antidote to negativism. Diving into statistical data of over 80 global trends, like population growth, poverty, girls’ education and child mortality, it shows us the positive changes that have taken place over the past years. If you haven’t read the book in 2018 yet, it’s recommended reading for 2019!

So, I keep looking at the bright side of life. As the late Leonard Cohen sang: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Let’s be positive about the future. Let’s think opportunities and not challenges. And while valuing the corks of the empty bottles, always make sure there’s a full bottle of bubbles in the fridge!

The last rose of summer

“I write to discover what I know.” ‒ Mary Flannery O’Connor, American writer (1925 – 1964)

It has become a yearly practice to publish the articles that appeared on this blog in an e-book at the end of my summer holidays. So, here’s the 2018 edition! It bundles all 195 posts that I wrote between September 2012 and June 2018 into one single 510-page (!) document.

You may download the PDF version by right-clicking on the image above, and saving the linked file. Happy reading!

PS: I’m also looking at converting the material to EPUB and/or MOBI format, so stay tuned and check the “download my stuff” section on top of this page regularly.

A (wo)man needs a plan

Yesterday I saw the following tweet from J.K. Rowling passing by on my twitter feed:

The tweet was part of a conversation about her upcoming crime novel “Lethal White” that is to be published under the British writer’s Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Although January is just ending, Rowling’s observation already gets my “quote of the year 2018” award. The glass is never full or empty. Each challenge holds an opportunity, and vice versa. Whether you are writing a book, preparing a business presentation, or building a house, nothing comes without effort. All these activities require reflection, planning, and preparation.

As such, I was also not surprised to read in related @jk_rowling tweets that she plans a lot.

I wrote in one of my older posts about “inspiration and perspiration” that it’s the mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success, while one needs a good dose of self-discipline to keep the following 90% of the process flowing. And, whether your blank page comes from a notebook, the back of a napkin, a roll of wall paper or a Microsoft Office file, a good storyboard, a mind map or a (color-coded) table will help you to light up your mind and fill that sheet.

Doing a bit more research, I stumbled upon this picture of Rowling’s spreadsheet plot for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”:

(Image source: Mental Floss)

Ever since I read the first episode of her Harry Potter septology, I’m a J.K. Rowling fan – with great respect for the author as a writer, a storyteller, and an engaged human being. Yesterday’s tweet sequence is yet another confirmation of that for me.

Unity!

More than three years ago, I wrote about Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion, and what it takes for business presenters to appear convincing, credible and trusty in front of their audience. The six principles are labeled: reciprocity, liking, authority, social proof, commitment, and scarcity.

When asked in an interview, 30 years after publication of his list, if he still thought that it was complete, or whether there was room for adding a number seven and number eight, Dr. Cialdini replied that

“… the majority of the most effective [practices] seem to fall into one or another of those categories.”

Well, never say never. About six months ago, in Cialdini’s latest book “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade,” the author writes:

“But now I believe that there is a seventh universal principle that I had missed – not because some new cultural phenomenon or technological shift brought it to my attention but because it was hiding beneath the surface of my data all along.”

And the newborn principle is called… unity!

“[Unity] is about shared identities. It’s about the categories that individuals use to define themselves and their groups, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and family, as well as political and religious affiliations. A key characteristic of these categories is that their members tend to feel at one with, merged with, the others. They are the categories in which the conduct of one member influences the self-esteem of the other members. Put simple, we is the shared me.”

Photo: Where’s Wally World Record by William Murphy

Thinking back of most of the B2B conversations I’ve participated to throughout my professional career, I must admit that unity has always been present in some way. When I discuss job-related issues with my colleagues, or when I present to an audience of technology people, product marketers, or business decision makers, we’re (almost) always sharing a common technical background, a mutual understanding of our industry’s challenges and opportunities, as well as a common jargon and visual language – with lots of subject-specific acronyms, architecture diagrams, and data visualizations.

So, yes, unity has always been, and will continue to be part of my marketing toolbox. A means to tell my story, to make my arguments more credible, and to persuade my audience.

Marketing lessons from Sun Tzu

The Art of War” is an ancient Chinese military handbook written during the 5th century BC by Sun Tzu. Probably only few people have read the entire book, but there are plenty of great takeaways in it for business leaders, executives, and strategists.

And though a customer should never be your enemy, and a sales presentation should never be a battle (not even with yourself), Sun Tzu’s enemy may be regarded as a metaphor for a business opportunity to pursue, and the war as the process of conquering your audience’s heart, mind, and wallet.

sun-tzu

Below are a handful of my favorite Art of War quotes (taken from the 1910 English translation by Lionel Giles), and how yours truly interprets and applies them in his daily job as a corporate marketer, business developer, and B2B storyteller.

First, always make sure you know your customers, the environment in which they work or live, and the opportunities and challenges they face prior to addressing them:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” (from chapter 10: Terrain)

As Sun Tzu clarifies at the beginning of his treatise, “Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons,” and “Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.” But also, know your own strengths and weaknesses as they may set limits to what you can tell, do, or commit to.

Based upon this knowledge – of both your audience and yourself –  you can then adapt your sales strategy and customer value proposition properly:

“Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.” (from chapter 6: Weak Points and Strong)

Preparation is key. It’s all about you being ready to face the market and the customers. Build a message house, define your pitch, craft your presentation, and plan your meeting carefully.

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” (from chapter 8: Variation in tactics)

Support your presentation with proper visuals and multimedia testimonials (a.k.a. gongs, drums, banners, and flags)

“On the field of battle, the spoken word does not carry far enough: hence the institution of gongs and drums. Nor can ordinary objects be seen clearly enough: hence the institution of banners and flags.” (from chapter 7: Maneuvering)

But, always remember – as I have emphasized many times before in my blog posts – look and feel matter! Be direct and indirect. Be creative and consistent. Be subtle and clear.

“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.” (from chapter 5: Energy)

“There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.” (from chapter 5: Energy)

“There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.” (from chapter 5: Energy)

Finally, always choose your battle and don’t waste your (or your customer’s) time if there’s no real opportunity for growing your market or creating new business.

“The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.” (from chapter 3: Attack by Stratagem)

“Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.” (from chapter 6: Weak Points and Strong)

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.” (from chapter 7: The Attack by Fire)

I realize that making connections between ancient warfare and today’s business environment is not straightforward. Still I see Sun Tzu’s Art of War as a timeless and priceless masterpiece that may help marketers and sales people to develop successful strategies, make better decisions, run effective campaigns, deliver powerful presentations, and consequently generate more business.

Start with a book

When delivering a talk, it’s utterly important to grab your audience’s attention from the first moment on. In an earlier post on this blog, “Begin the beginning,” I gave a few examples on how you may surprise, intrigue or provoke them with an opening statement or poll. And in another article, “Titles, ” I elaborated on using original presentation titles.

Here’s yet another great jump-start for the beginning of your speech: tell the people in the room about a book you read that’s relevant to the subject of your presentation. You may even consider bringing a hard copy with you: a tangible artifact that your audience can see, touch and browse through.

In my day job as a high-tech marketer and communicator, I’m involved in conversations with customers and opinion makers about how broadband internet, connected devices, and Internet of Things (IoT) applications are changing the way we live, work, and do business. So, after reading the summaries below, it should be no surprise that I picked these three  – fiction, non-fiction, and science fiction – books for introducing some of my speaking topics.

Blackout – tomorrow will be too late” by Austrian author Marc Elsberg, is a techno-thriller about a large-scale power outage in Europe, caused by a cyber attack. While the digitization of the energy sector, and the move towards distributed power generation, smart meters, and internet-connected appliances are creating a number of opportunities, new technologies can also open the door to cyber threats.

Elsberg-cover

As no-one wants to experience the scenario that’s described in this book, I mentioned it at the start a lecture about smart energy grids and cyber security. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of an English translation of the book.

In “The Zero Marginal Cost Society,” American social-economic theorist and activist Jeremy Rifkin describes how new technologies, such as 3D printing, green energy, and the Internet of Things, are speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services (and, according to the author, the eclipse of capitalism.)

Rifkin-cover

Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, energy grids, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers will be able connect to the network and use Big Data to accelerate efficiency, increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero…

In another post on this blog, “Back to the future,” I wrote about why it may be a good thing for a sales or marketing person to make speculations about the long-term future. Some of the best forward-looking statements –of which a number really materialized– about technology and the evolution of society were written many years ago. Take for example George Orwell’s “1984,” or Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot.”

The book I sometimes refer to when touching the topic of smart cities and a technology-powered society, however, is a less known work by French science-fiction author Jules Verne. Marketed on the cover as the lost novel, “Paris in the Twentieth Century” was originally written in 1863, but it took more than one hundred years before his great-grandson discover the handwritten manuscript.

Verne-cover

The work gives a staggering prediction of Paris of the nineteen-sixties. The author depicts a city in which industry and commerce have triumphed, and creativity and art have become obsolete. Just like Villemard did in his 1910 postcards, Verne predicts automobiles, the subway, fax machines, and more things to come.

For those interested in new technology and its impact on our (future) society, here are a few links to presentations I have given over the past years about the subjects mentioned above: