Archive for December, 2007


Attention Versus Value

Of late, I’m doing more people watching than usual, and I’m particularly fascinated by those under 20 due to their clothing selections. Beau Brummell, THE male fashionista of Regency England, said that, “If people turn to look at you on the street, you are not well dressed.” Based on what I’ve seen of late, I think his words still apply and in more than one way.Muffin Top

In general, I’m not opposed to people dressing as their hearts desire. However, I’m perplexed by the seeming inability of teenagers (and adults) to gauge a situation and to dress accordingly. Beyond styles, I see more frequently than I’d care to someone either dressed in clothes that drown them or clothes that give them the dreaded muffin top (see right; I still can’t believe that Wikipedia has an entry this topic).

At this point, you may be scratching you head and wondering if I’ve lost my mind, but there’s a reason for my introduction of the muffin top to the discussion. From my perspective, the fashion trends of the young point to a bigger problem that extends outside clothing choices. When did we reach the turning point of believing that attention automatically equated to value or vice versa?

How many times during the last ten years did we see an Internet company make a splash, capture everyone’s attention for a short time, and then fade from memory? I propose that we’re seeing a shift to chasing attention over substance. I don’t claim this behavior happens in all instances, but you see it playing out among individuals, companies, and even countries.

Among individuals, it’s clothing , body art, and language. Among companies, you see it in poorly conceived products and services. Among countries, it’s threatening to wipe other countries off the map instead of repairing a crumbling infrastructure.

This behavior happens at all levels and for more reasons than I can catalog in one post. It’s intriguing though how accepting we’ve become, how rarely we call people on the attention seeking, if not the behavior itself, particularly in light of how some of the best things in life DON’T call any attention to themselves. Think about the best customer service at a hotel: it’s practically invisible, almost like the place in run by an army of ghosts who meet your every need.

Have we passed the point of no return? Will the extremes in society continue to garner attention and replace our pursuit of things with value that last longer than a season’s fashion?


(Image courtesy of Malingering. CC license: Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works. Some rights reserved.)


Breaking Bad News

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Finding the Perfect Pair

SnowshoesMy apologies for the light posting the last few weeks. Between travel and the craziness of December, combined with finishing up client projects, blogging dropped a bit on the list of things to do. However, a topic has stuck in my mind the last few days and it has to come out—shoes.

“Why shoes?” you ask. In part, because the variety of shoes available blows the mind. For example, this morning I went snowshoeing (thus the picture on the right), and I wore my trail running shoes. These particular shoes are different than my regular running shoes. Then there’s my everyday footwear. I usually wear a pair of Doc Marten sandals (yes, even during winter) with just about everything, much to my more stylish mother’s chagrin. So, in theory, my closet should be empty of all other shoes because these are the only three pairs I wear regularly. Sigh. I wish it was so.

My closet is home to approximately 30 OTHER pairs of shoes. And I strongly suspect that I’m not alone in my ownership of multiple pairs of shoes that rarely see the light of day. Let’s leave behind the number of shoes people may own and look at why people choose the shoes they do. For reasons I won’t examine too closely, I spent some of last Saturday in a shopping mall. Anyway, I passed the time by people watching and ended up with one central idea, “What possesses women to wear high heels, to the mall, in December?” Everywhere I looked, women were wearing tiny, spindly, tortuous-looking footwear that looked impossible to maintain one’s balance in, let alone walk without falling.

Our shoes are an excellent example of storytelling in the marketplace. Manolo Blahnik, maker of famous footwear, said in all seriousness that, ” My shoes are special shoes for discerning feet.” (link) Discerning feet? That’s a new one for me.

Using logic, not emotion, how many shoes does any one person need? I definitely don’t need 30, and yet, that’s what I own. So how did this happen? I listened to the story that I needed to have shoes that specifically matched individual outfits. I listened to the story that I needed to have shoes that specifically matched certain activities.

While I like to believe I’m a savvy consumer, and I suspect many of you do, too, our shoe-buying habits give us away. During the next few days as you give and receive gifts, think about the stories you’ve been told and how they may or may not relate to our habit of buying more shoes to join our other shoes in the closet.


(Image courtesy of m.prinke)


What Does It Take to Start a Trend?

Parking Outside the Lines

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The Politics of an Apology

I haven’t written a “political” post in awhile, and recent events created a hard-to-resist setup. Last week, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, gave a speech that was billed as focusing on his Mormon faith but in reality just did its best to tout Romney as a Christian candidate. From my perspective, it came no where near to doing what President Kennedy’s speech did addressing questions about his Catholicism.

A few parts of Romney’s speech left me with raised eyebrows (ignoring agnostics and atheists springs to mind, along with associating religion and freedom and vice versa), but in general, I considered it a relatively harmless, definitely non-bold speech. However, the questions raised by the press and by other candidates about Romney’s faith have caught my attention, mainly because I believe religion should be the last concern when choosing a representative.

Frankly, I don’t care if said candidate worships bread if they have a coherent domestic policy and won’t bomb someone because she is having an off day. However, like the proverbial bad penny, we’ve allowed the debate to include religion as a legitimate topic for determining a candidate’s political viability. Most recently, Governor Huckabee, another Republican presidential candidate, got caught up in the following snafu:

Republican Mike Huckabee Wednesday personally apologized to rival Mitt Romney for comments he made in an upcoming New York Times Magazine article that appear to disparage the Mormon faith…In the article, a preview of which is posted on the New York Times Web site, the former Arkansas governor is quoted as asking, “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”

The remark came after New York Times reporter Zev Chafets asked Huckabee whether he thought Mormonism was a religion or a cult. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, said he thought it was the former but conceded he doesn’t “know much about it.” The article is to appear in Sunday’s paper. (Link)

Here’s the word choice that sticks in my mind. Huckabee acknowledges that he “doesn’t know much” about Mormonism, but this lack of knowledge doesn’t keep him from speculating on a potential belief that, from his experience as a Baptist minister, he knows might encourage other non-Mormon, Christians to shy away from Romney. Huckabee’s apology to Romney seems to ring hollow based on his explanation for the chain of events:

Speaking with CNN Wednesday, Huckabee expressed disbelief that the comment has caused an uproar.

“We were having a conversation over several hours, the conversation was about religion and he was trying to press me on my thoughts of Mitt Romney’s religion, and I said ‘I don’t want to go there.'” Huckabee said.

“I really didn’t know. Well, he was telling me things about the Mormon faith, because he frankly is well-schooled on comparative religions. As a part of that conversation, I asked the question, because I had heard that, and I asked it, not to create something — I never thought it would make the story.”

Huckabee then reiterated a statement he’s made before, saying a candidate’s religion shouldn’t be an issue in a campaign. Here’s a crazy idea: if Huckabee believes a candidate’s religion shouldn’t be an issue in a campaign, why make any comment or ask any question at all about any other religion during an on-the-record interview?

In case anyone is wondering at this point, I’m neither a Romney fan nor a Huckabee hater. In fact, I’m sadly indifferent to the major candidates in both political parties. I actually admire the outlying candidates like Mike Gravel and Ron Paul because they appear to really answer the questions posed to them by reporters and at the debates, regardless of how “quirky” their opinions, a stark contrast to the responses of the race leaders; however, it doesn’t mean I agree with them.

To sidetrack for a bit, I believe that’s the big idea overlooked in politics. The language political candidates use anymore is so calculated. They’d rather you believed that they believe everything you believe. Heaven forbid there be disagreement between representatives and their constituents. We’ve been lulled into the false sense of believing that we should be in harmony with one another. Here’s a short history lesson: this country wouldn’t exist if there hadn’t been dissent between citizens and government representatives. You aren’t supposed to agree with your elected officials all the time, particularly if you can have a discussion about the areas of disagreement. For all you know, you might be wrong.

Back to the main topic…Huckabee could have ended the line of questioning about Romney with a simple statement: “Ask me all the questions you like about my beliefs, but I will neither comment nor discuss the beliefs of another candidate.” During the upcoming bloodbath that will represent what is supposedly a free and democratic process other countries should “look up to,” listen as carefully to what the candidates don’t say as to what they do say. Piqued your curiosity? If so, then listen to their apologies, because they all play by the modified rule that it’s better to ask forgiveness than show any modicum of common sense.



Why Does Everything Look the Same?

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Chasing After Innovation or Money?

Most nights, for the hour or so that I watch tv, I catch at least one Apple commercial. Of late, they’ve included particularly pointed byplay between “Mac” and “PC.”

At the same time, I’ve watched posts flying all over the web about the issues with Mac’s latest operating system, Leopard. And even if Mac users haven’t had issues, some question Leopard’s upgrade value. Before I dive into this issue, let me be clear: this post is not about the superiority of either the Mac or the PC but rather about Apple’s aggressive promotion, in spite of recent problems. Yes, I’m aware that Microsoft hasn’t really let up on its positioning of, “you must buy Microsoft,” but some of their marketing seems more ironic than demanding (the waste bin with iPods to promote the Zune comes to mind). Not so with Apple.

My question for today: Apple has based its brand on the concept of “Just Works;”so what happens when problems start popping up? Does the Apple brand lose credibility, particularly if they ignore that issues exist? The timing of the latest Apple ads has coincided with this very question. I’m also curious, did Apple always push this hard to establish its superiority over the PC? Didn’t they used to take the position that the products speak for themselves?

Steve Jobs, in a 2004 interview he gave to Business Week, pointed out two things about Apple:

You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise, you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe. But it doesn’t add up to much. That’s what was missing at Apple for a while. There were bits and pieces of interesting things floating around, but not that gravitational pull.


We have a second goal, which is to always make a profit — both to make some money but also so we can keep making those great products. For a time, those goals got flipped at Apple, and that subtle change made all the difference. When I got back, we had to make it a product company again.

I would propose that these two goals have flipped, that Apple is cashing in on the brand it’s built since its inception and that product development is secondary. I think that Apple, taken as a whole from the beginning to now, represents an amazing presence in an industry known for lookalikes and flame outs. However, based on Apple’s most recent performance, I’m less inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they push so hard with their rhetoric.

The PC vs. Mac commercials were so brilliant in the beginning because they highlighted the truly random and oft-time frustrating parts of working on a PC. Now, the ads ring hollow because another story exists about Apple that makes the comparison between Mac and PC difficult to swallow. Yes, Vista problems exist. But Leopard has problems, too. Perhaps I’m unfair, but I expected Vista to have problems. I didn’t expect Leopard to.

At the end, I’m left wondering if Apple has taken that big step from the underdog competitor with a cult-like following into the traditional business world, and along the way, lost a bit of its soul. Apple started with a really bold idea back in the 70s. Over the years, they continued to launch industry-changing products. However, based on recent performance, it’s easy to wonder if the chase after money has superseded the chase after innovation.


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December 2007
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