Thursday, March 24, 2005

What does Hallmark think is the ANTI-greeting card?

I found an interesting link when I searched for "anti-greeting card"... it was an article about an interview with a Hallmark greeting card artist called "Revilo". His real name is Oliver Christianson, but I find it interesting that he is considered "out there" by the rest of Hallmark.

check out the link below and see if you think he is really "out there" or not:

The more I thought about the concept of an "anti-greeting card" the more convinced I became that handwritten notes are the real "anti-greeting card".

When was the last time you got a handwritten card? Probably a while ago I'm betting.

When was the last time you got a greeting card? When was your last birthday? (probably the two are the same occasion.)

Wouldn't it surprise you if someone sent you a heartfelt note with birthday wishes (or any other kind of wishes for that matter)?

Hand-written notes .... the ANTI-greeting card !

Monday, March 21, 2005

Note Writing Crisis in America !

We have a CRISIS in America ....
and I don't mean terrorists or Linux or the spread of rap music...

According to Barry Shank, associate professor of comparative studies at Ohio State University and author of "A Token of My Affection: Greeting Cards and American Business Culture" (Columbia University Press, 2004), even when people have the opportunity to use their own words, people often us the same language, clichés and stereotypes found in the greeting cards themselves.

The following is an excerpt from an article on (see Link), “There is this belief that if you handwrite a message, then somehow it is more true to your feelings and more original than a store-bought card,” Shank said. “But that’s not really the case. There are standard phrases, standard clichés, that almost everyone uses, even when they are writing a message themselves.”

[NoteWordy Interruption: Use of a "standard phrase" does not mean that a handwritten card is untrue to your feelings. You can write "I Love You", which is a pretty standard cliche, and if it is handwritten it definitely means more than when it is preprinted.]

In researching A Token of My Affection, Shank examined thousands of used greeting cards housed in the Bowling Green State University Popular Culture Library to see the personal messages people wrote on the cards.

Before he examined the collection, Shank said he believed that the limited, stereotypical messages found on most Valentines and other greeting cards were simply the result of mass production.

Companies couldn’t produce cards that were too complex, or too subtle, because they wouldn’t be able to sell enough to make a profit. “My thesis was that people would write their real feelings in the handwritten notes that they included on the cards,” he said. But Shank was surprised by what he found.

The most common marking in greeting cards, other than the signature, was the underlining of key words in the pre-printed messages. Even when people did write messages, the language hardly differed from what was in the card.

“I realized then that people really meant what was printed in those cards,” Shank said. “They don’t mean something else. Their true feelings are printed there in the messages." ... Shank believes "the popularity of greeting cards shows how our economy has affected our emotional lives – which is one of the key themes of his book. Greeting cards are popular because they allow us to show our true feelings, while at the same time distancing ourselves from those feelings."

I DISAGREE with his conclusions! For at least two reasons...

First he is only looking at a sample of GREETING CARDS. Of course the pre-printed text in a GREETING CARDS are going to reflect the feelings of the sender ... THAT IS WHY THEY PICKED IT to send in the first place! Hello, McFly...

Second, the "handwritten text" is IN ADDITION to the pre-printed text (at least the way that I read Shank's article). This means that the sender did not "start from scratch" and did not necessarily have to create their sentiments from their heart.

Of course, if the sender had a NoteWordy card perhaps they would have a better chance of expressing their feelings on the card (but I don't want to get all commercial right now).

You are probably wondering where is the crisis? Nothing earth shattering here, right?
Wrong. Shank's attempt to "high five" the greeting card industry and tell us that greeting cards write what we feel is insulting and degrading. I hope others of you out there are at least a little bit concerned about our capacity, as a society, to connect with the important people in our lives via a heartfelt note.

I'm not saying that everything Shank presents is completely wrong, but I have to question his research when he brings up a greeting card company's trend report from 1959 to show the new “rootless American” and how “family separation is a very significant aspect of contemporary life.”

Let's fight this trend toward giving our emotional lives to the greeting card companies. This crisis can be reversed if we each take a few minutes, once or twice a MONTH, to write a brief handwritten note to someone important in our lives.

It WILL mean more if it is in your own words and not pre-written by the Greeting Industrial Complex. Try it. You will be surprised by the results!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Wisdom Of Crowds.... and using that Wisdom for Profit

I just finished listening to a very interesting book on CD... The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. In his book, he has a number of examples of ways that the judgements / decisions / opinions of a crowd are in fact BETTER than the wisdom of most, if not all, of the members of the crowd.

This is interesting for two reasons.

First, "crowd wisdom" could be an great tool for improving business decisions since many companies are, in fact, just a crowd of people with (hopefully) the common goal of making the company successful.

Surowiecki has many, many examples in his book, but one that he did not use, but should have, is from the book, "The 7 day Weekend" by Ricardo Semler. In Semler's book, the author describes his HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL company that is primarily run by "consensus".

More specifically, he does not "tell" people what to do, they decide what the best course of action is and then implement it. Based on his success, it appears that he is using the wisdom of the crowd extremely well (while also providing an excellent work environment... the "7 day weekend" in the title).

The second reason that this is interesting is that it gives us the specific conditions that are needed for a crowd's decision to be wise. These 3 characteristics (and one method) are:
- Diversity
- Independence
- Decentralization
In addition, there must be some method to Aggregate the information from the crowd or otherwise your crowd isn't much of decision making machine!

Like any new way of thinking it can be a powerful tool. Of course, you need to know how to use the tool or you may end up hurting yourself. [Just ask the internet bubble investors how they used the "wisdom" of the crowd]

I won't go into great detail about what each characateristic means, (I will leave that as a teaser in case you are intrigued enough to buy the book) but I can say that I've found it very useful as I try to make sure that my company is a WISE CROWD and not just another HERD on the way to the slaughter.