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How to Sell Ideas: Learning from Beer

 By   Shlomo Maital  

     Some of us, from time to time, get tired of wringing our hands at the awful things that happen in this world, and want to actually do something. (The poignant signs that greeted Trump in Dayton, “Do something!”, are sad, frustrating and damning).

   But how? How do you change minds that are increasingly frozen and locked?

   Let’s learn from Professor Shelle Santana, a Harvard Business School marketing expert, interviewed for the Working Knowledge online journal and podcast:

       “There are four elements to a great story.

  • You need to have a character.
  • You need to have a plot.
  • You’ve got to have some conflict or challenge that they overcome,
  • and you have to have a moral of the story, like what’s the message we’re trying to convey?

 

That’s actually surprisingly easy to do in 30 or 60 seconds. Some people, obviously, are better at it than others, but with those four pillars, you can absolutely tell a great story in a short amount of time.”

   And here is Santana’s strong example: a Budweiser beer Super Bowl ad, perhaps the greatest ever:

Santana: : Budweiser has advertised on, I believe, all Super Bowls. It’s 132 ads they’ve run, and to the tune of $440 million. And they’ve had some of the most iconic ads on the Super Bowl, as well.

Kenny: Your case cites one in particular… Which ad was that?

Santana: That was puppy love. Consumers really loved that ad, and it’s just a really sweet story. It’s very enduring about this puppy who is on a farm, and the puppy manages to dig under the fence every day and run over to the barn where the majestic Clydesdales are. He hangs out in the barn with the Clydesdales all day. He’s eventually adopted by someone, and as their car drives away the puppy is looking out the window at the Clydesdales in the field, and they notice… They block the road, and the next scene is the puppy running back with the Clydesdales. The brand logo isn’t even shown until the very last screen before the screen goes to black, and the hashtag is #BestBuds from Budweiser. So, yeah. A lot of people still say that’s the best ad ever.

   So – bottom line. If you want to persuade people, if you want to ‘sell’ ideas, if you want to stir people to act, you need to tell a strong story, with a strong character, a plot, a huge challenge, and a moral or conclusion. One ad about a little puppy can be more powerful than hundreds of billboards.  

   But did it sell beer? Here is Santana’s ‘take’:

“I think there’s stronger evidence of when brands don’t invest in advertising and messaging and storytelling on a consistent basis, you see almost an immediate decline in sales. When they do invest, it tends to either remain stable or go up, but it may not do that in the immediate short-term, right? It’s a patient long-term play, unless, in that ad, there’s a very specific call to action like if you call within the next 30 minutes, then you’ll get X, right? That doesn’t typically tend to happen on Super Bowl.    … when brands don’t invest in advertising and messaging and storytelling on a consistent basis, you see almost an immediate decline in sales.”

   Conclusion: If you want to persuade and sell ideas, tell stories about real people, N=1. Plot, conflict, challenge, moral. Just like Tolstoy (Anna Karenina), only much much briefer. And – the second part, crucial – you have to keep doing it!  

Trump does it in his political rallies. He brings people with stories up onstage with him and tells their story. N=1 is for professors not a proof – but it is strongly persuasive for the public.

 

 

      

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Alzheimer’s Breakthrough?

By Shlomo Maital

Alzheimer plaque

   Alzheimer’s Disease causes some 70 per cent of all dementia. In terms of the numbers who suffer from it, the WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that in absolute numbers 26.6 million, with a huge range of 11.4–59.4 million,   were afflicted by AD, in the world,   and, most significant,   the prevalence rate would triple and the absolute number would quadruple by 2050.  So it would not be an exaggeration to call Alzheimer’s an epidemic.

     According to Lisa Desjardins, PBS News Hour: More than five million Americans live with the degenerative brain disease that robs people of their memory. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S     Yet Alzheimer’s research is seriously underfunded. America’s National Cancer Institutes alone get some $5 billion a year. On pure economic grounds, a small fraction of that sum could be better invested in the causes of dementia. Few people today have been untouched by it.

     New research led by Harvard scientists brings hope that the cause of Alzheimer’s, still unknown, will soon be unraveled:

     “….a study led by Harvard University researchers and published this week in the journal “Science Translational Medicine” suggests that Alzheimer’s could stem from the brain’s past attempts to fight off infections.”

   According to Rob Moir, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital:   “Alzheimer’s disease and the neurodegeneration you see with it is thought to be caused by a little protein that forms this concrete like substance in your brain called amyloid. Amyloid, it turns out, is actually be an antimicrobial pit pod, that is to say it is a natural antibiotic that defends against infection in the brain, and if you get a virus or a bacteria that gets into the brain, it rises to do better with it and binds to it and then entraps it in these long fibers and eventually entombs it forever. And as they mount in number, eventually they start to be toxic to our own cells, and that leads to the neurodegeneration. So, that’s what I bet it does.”

     In short – Alzheimer’s is caused by amyloid plaque. Amyloid plaque in turn appears to be a result of the brain’s efforts to fight infection.  

     So what?   Notes Moir: “So if it does turn out to be an infection, there is a possibility of treating people before they get AD with vaccines, to target those particular bugs so that the pathogens don’t get a chance to infect the brain.”

     Let’s follow this research closely.   One day those 50 and over may get a vaccine, like those given to children, that protect their brains. As a senior citizen, few things scare me – but the idea that my brain may one day become scrambled is a major fear. The new Harvard research offers us hope.      

Entrepreneur – Go Work for Government!

Really!

By Shlomo  Maital  

creative city

  The last place entrepreneurs think about, as an employer, is government.  Government is too slow, wasteful, doesn’t work, bureaucratic.  Right? 

   Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Mitchell B. Weiss disagrees.  He is offering a Harvard course on Public Entrepreneurship.  He knows what he is talking about.  He worked as chief of staff to the late Boston mayor Thomas Menino, a great mayor.  He co-founded the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which invented America’s first big-city 311 app, in which citizens alert governments to potholes and graffiti. 

   Harvard’s on-line magazine Working Knowledge claims that cities around the world have increasingly become laboratories in innovation, partnering with outside businesses and nonprofits to solve thorny public policy problems.  State and local governments, too, are trying this. 

    Weiss says one reason we don’t have innovative people in government is because “we weren’t training them. In public policy schools we were not training young people to be entrepreneurial, and at business schools we were not prepping or prodding people to enter the public sector or even just to invent for the public realm.”

  He notes that governments should be naturals at crowdsourcing – who has a bigger crowd than government, essentially, everyone?   

   Weiss says, “in government we announce something and wait to get it perfect.  By using more experimental approaches, some public leaders are achieving success by testing and learning, instead of writing a plan in stone before executing it.”

   The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, is a former entrepreneur, founder of a successful starutp BRM that made and sold early anti-virus software.  The former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg is a highly successful entrepreneur who founded the company named after him.  Both are, and were, highly creative in their terms of office. 

   Weiss says there is a huge opportunity in public entrepreneurship.  Note that this is not social entrepreneurship.  It is taking on operational roles in government, and bringing to the job creative ideas to make people’s lives better.  Why should creativity live and thrive only in the private sector?   

The Key to Innovation in Big Companies: Work Together

By Shlomo Maital

Collective Leadership

        Generally I write blogs about books or articles that I’ve read.  This time, I want to write about a book I intend to read soon, based on excerpts and interviews from Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge magazine.  The book is:

        Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, (Harvard Business School Press)   was written by Prof. Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration, with Greg Brandeau, former CTO of The Walt Disney Studios and current COO/president of Media Maker; Emily Truelove, a PhD candidate at MIT’s Sloan School of Management; and Kent Lineback, Hill’s cowriter on her earlier book Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Good Leader.

    Here is the main point:   “….. innovation is a “team sport,” not the act of a sole inventor. “Truly innovative groups are consistently able to elicit and then combine members’ separate slices of genius into a single work of collective genius,” the authors write.  Or, as Hill puts it, “Conventional leadership won’t get you to innovation.”  The authors identified organizations with reputations for being highly innovative, then found 16 leaders within those organizations and studied how they worked.    …. the authors include narratives of executives within India-based IT company HCL Technologies, the German division of online auctioneer eBay, and the marketing division of automaker Volkswagen in Europe.”  

     Here is the ‘boldest’ example of innovative leadership and teamwork, according to Hill.  It comes from India.

    “Of the 16 leaders studied, Hill says Delhi-based HCL, under former CEO Vineer Nayar, might be the boldest. Nayar, who pulled the company out of a five-year slump, challenged the common belief that Indian companies provide low-cost products and services but don’t innovate. “That (assumption) made him crazy,” Hill says. “He said ‘We can and will compete that way.’ ”   Nayar focused on changing the organization from within, starting by empowering employees. In 2005, he told a team of 30-something young employees called the “Young Sparks” to develop the brand and a plan to change how employees experienced HCL. The group started with an icon, Thambi, which means “brother” in Tamil, symbolizing “the importance of the individual and the value of the collective” at HCL.   Nayar recast his role as leader. He pushed for more transparency, adding 360-degree reviews for all employees and 360-degree feedback of his own work—he promised to resign if his own review dropped to a certain level. He set up a portal that asked employees to solve “my problems” and reported getting incredible answers from workers.  From 2005 to 2013, when Nayar led HCL as president and then CEO, the company’s sales, market cap, and profits increased six fold, according to the book. Fortune magazine wrote that the HCL had “the world’s most modern management” and the company was named one of Businessweek’s most influential companies.  Nayar tells people, “I don’t know the answers,” which goes against the common belief in Indian business that the CEO should be a visionary. For Hill, Nayar shows the possibilities of what can be accomplished by an innovative leader who embraces a new style of leadership.”

    Big organizations ALL have trouble innovating.  Perhaps Linda Hill’s new book will help them figure out why and find a workable solution.

  

 

  

 A Cure for Alzheimer’s?!

By Shlomo  Maital

         Alzheimer's

  I’ve been closely tracking research on Alzheimer’s, as researchers try to identify the cause,  diagnose the illness earlier and above all, find a possible cure.  The photograph above shows just how awful an illness it is, literally shrinking and damaging our brain, messing up neural connections with ugly protein tangles, and damaging our lives and those of our loved ones who care for sufferers.  By one estimate, there will be 75 million sufferers in 2030 and 135 million in 2050.  So, Alzheimer’s must become a top priority for medical research.

   On Wednesday a major new breakthrough by Harvard researchers was published in the journal Nature.  Here is how the Boston Globe described it:

 “… scientists identified a protein called REST that flips genes on and off and naturally increases during aging. REST, they found, represses genes involved in Alzheimer’s disease, and its levels are reduced in key brain areas of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or the mild cognitive impairment that precedes dementia.  In laboratory tests, REST protected brain cells from dying when exposed to a number of stresses, including the beta amyloid protein that accumulates in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. … “What I love about this study, first and foremost, is it’s some good news for Alzheimer’s, and it connects that good news with an immediate therapeutic strategy,”Scripps Institute researcher Jeffrey  Kelly said. “There aren’t a lot of steps between this” and the development of experimental drugs.”

    The Harvard researchers took a new approach to Alzheimer’s, and found amazingly that there is a protein, created at birth, that can repress genes related to Alzheimer’s and other stresses.   Alzheimer’s patients seem to have too little of it.  The natural next step is to create a drug based on the REST protein.

    I think there is an important, hidden point to be made here.  Harvard Univ. has massive funds for research, flowing from its enormous endowment, and from other funding sources including those from industry.  Modern research is very expensive.  And availability of funds enables Harvard to attract and retain the very best research talent.   There are still Nobel winners out there who succeed with little money and poor equipment.  But that is becoming increasingly more difficult.   

Unlocking the   Innermost Secrets of our Brains

By Shlomo  Maital

          brain map 1

In his excellent reportage, “mapping the brain’s inner language” (NYT Feb. 26, p. 7), James Gorman tells how R. Clay Reid left a top job as Harvard Medical School professor, to join the Allen Brain Institute in Seattle, in 2012 (an institute funded by a huge grant from Microsoft scion Paul Allen).  He did it, for the freedom to research the mouse brain.  Why?  Because many kinds of research can’t yet be done on humans, and the brains of mice and even flies “share common processes with the human brain”. In particular, Reid has tackled the million neurons in the mouse’s visual cortex.  The visual cortex is the part of the cortex that processes visual information; it’s in the back of the brain (see above).

     Harvard too has a mouse project.  The Human Connectome project (after the ‘genome’ and ‘proteinome’ projects) tries to build a structural map of the mouse brain, down to the amazing level of packets of neurochemicals at the tips of brain cells!

    How do Reid and other neuroscientists study the mouse brain?  First, a mouse is trained to look at an image.  Then, it learns to press a lever when the original image appears, among several others.  Reid studies what happens in the two second period, during which the photons of the image hit the retina, the brain sends info to the cortex, the neurons in the cortex do some computation, and send a message to the mouse’s paws to press the lever.   This is a complex process involving genetics, electricity, and chemistry.  It is revealed in electron micrographs that show every neuron and every connection in the mouse’s visual cortex. 

     In the end, Reid notes,  the brain features the ‘molecules’ that underlie behavior.

     Understanding how the brain processes information and then tells us to act on it will be a huge breakthrough.  It may help us cure awful neurological diseases (ALS, Parkinsons).  Perhaps, one day, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I,  a terrible war no one wanted that needlessly, stupidly, killed 16 million people (civilians and soldiers) and wounded 20 million more !,   we will understand the parts of the human brain that create senseless violence and death.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2019
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