The Threat: How the F.B.I. Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump – Andrew G. McCabe

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“The spine of the FBI is the rule of law. The spine of the FBI is a commitment to doing the right thing, in the right way, while protecting civil liberties.” – James Comey

 

There is an aura attached to both the functions of gathering intelligence and the intrepid persons involved in gathering it. The myths, mystiques and mysteries appended to investigative bureaus have spawned generations of bestselling thrillers, and edge-of-the-seat movies besides instituting a noble and elite sense of brotherhood against which every other assemblage and association reads almost plebeian. When a former Deputy Director of one the most revered and reviled intelligence agencies in the world decides to pen his memoir, it is time to sit up and take notice.

Andrew G. McCabe, the former Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and one of the ‘unfortunate elites’ in a burgeoning rank of officials to have been fired via Twitter, has penned a rousing indictment, if not a measured polemic against a President who operates on instinct, indiscretion and injudiciousness. He also, in a rapid fire, ‘Usain Boltesque’ fashion takes his readers through the path that an Agent traverses in his transformation from an absolute novice to a seasoned veteran.

“The Threat: How the F.B.I. Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump,” begins McCabe’s aspiration to join the FBI, while, at the same time, paying scant concern for sacrificing a high paying legal career. The progress from the strenuous routine at Quantico to snaring Russian mobsters involves a frenzied turning of pages which bestows enough excitement, while simultaneously being judicious in narrative opacity. “The central idea of Russian organized crime is vory v zakone. The phrase means “thieves-in-law” and refers to the top tier of the underworld,” writes Mr. McCabe. “One of the first vory of stature to come to the U.S. was Vyacheslav Ivankov. From the prisons of Siberia, he made his way to Brooklynski—Brighton Beach, the home base of Russian organized crime in the U.S. Spinning cycles of extortion that touched the worlds of nightlife, sports, entertainment, and investment banking, Ivankov became the first target of Kerr’s squad. In late 1995, they got him. In news footage of his perp walk—with Mike McCall at one elbow and his partner, Lester McNulty, at the other—Ivankov actually spits at the camera. The month Ivankov went on trial, the New York Daily News alleged that he put out a murder contract on both agents. All the way to sentencing, in 1997, he refused to admit any guilt for anything. “I am not in a church,” he told the judge. “I have no need to make a confession.”

Mr. McCabe also provides a sneak peek to his readers on the methods employed by the FBI in honing and perfecting their investigation and interrogation techniques. One such method is the “Enterprise Theory” which, “allows investigators to structure their understanding of crimes that once seemed too vast to understand.” Mr. McCabe also introduces an element of dry humour in his pleasing narrative. For e.g. in educating his readers about the genesis underlying the various seemingly incomprehensible and ridiculous code names given by the Agency to its operations, Mr. McCabe states, “Counterterrorism case names were frequently obscure or awful. Kinetic Panda, Bubble Puppy, Milk Can. Mueller would always ask, where did that name come from? The person briefing him would usually answer, we have a machine that gives us the names. It’s random. It comes from the machine.”

Mr. McCabe’s exposition on the cracking of cases such as that of the ‘Underwear Bomber’, and the “Boston Marathon” bombings emphasizes the degree to which the Bureau over-extends itself to keep both America and the world safe. However, Mr. McCabe laments that with the swearing in of Donald Trump to the highest echelon of office, this very work of the FBI is being undermined, and dangerously so. Indiscriminate sackings, illogical appoints and an inattentive bent of mind symbolize the ‘reign’ of the current President of the United States. As Mr. McCabe dwells upon a meeting with the President, “the president’s thoughts were frenetic. It’s a disconcerting experience to attempt a conversation with him because he talks the whole time. He asks questions but then immediately starts to say something else. Almost everything he says he subsequently rephrases two or three times, as if he’s stuck in some holding pattern waiting for an impulse to arrive that kicks off the next thing he wants to say.”

Talking about Jeff Sessions, the former Attorney General, McCabe portrays a man who courtesy an absolute non-comprehension of the Agency’s tasks, leaves its personnel, baffled, bemused and bewildered. “He seemed to think that the FBI had some kind of navy at its disposal, and that this navy was off doing other things. We had to tell him, we don’t have the boats in Colombia. We are not able to do that. That’s not us. Sessions spent a lot of time yelling at us about the death penalty, despite the fact that the FBI plays no role of any kind in whether to seek the death penalty—that’s a job for Justice. All the people on Sessions’ side of the table would look at their laps. No one would chime in and try to answer his questions, calm things down, redirect the conversation. We were always hanging out on a limb.”

McCabe himself was relentlessly hounded and targeted by Trump over the issue of his wife’s failed bid for a seat in the Virginia legislature. Finally, things came to a head in March 2018, when with less than a paltry two days to go before his retirement, McCabe was given the boot by the volatile and abrasive Jeff Sessions, on a recommendation from the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Justifying the removal of McCabe, Sessions alleged that McCabe “made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor” during an OPR review of the FBI and justice department’s handling of an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Soon after this act, Sessions was also unceremoniously sacked joining a long Ferris Wheel of candidates fast falling out of Trump’s favour.

“The Threat” joins the company of a books that depict the dangerous and debilitating tide that threatens to engulf the United States. The prominent culprits include Josh Green’s “The Devil’s Bargain”, James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” and Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump In The White House.” Such litany of woes must render the reader worried if not downright scared. The very edifice of institutions that have otherwise stood the test of both time and turmoil is now being seriously being jeopardized, to cater to the divisive, deadly and degenerating whims and fancies of one demented individual.

Station Blackout: Inside the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Recovery – Charles A. Casto

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On the 11th of March, 2011, an earthquake of a magnitude hitherto unseen, ravaged the prefecture of Fukushima. The dust had barely settled upon the havoc wreaked by the mega earthquake, before monster tsunami waves as tall as 45 feet whipsawed the region decimating everything that was in its wake. Unfortunately standing in the wake of Mother Nature’s wrath were two powerful Nuclear Power Plants, Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daiini. The Tsunami knocked out Fukushima Daiichi’s electrical power, along with the safety systems of all the reactors. Buildings exploded releasing it their wake unknown levels of radiation across the countryside.

With a view to assist Japan tide over this extraordinary crisis, United States instituted a joint operation titled “Operation Tomodachi (literally “Operation Friend(s)”). The operation took place from 12 March to 4 May 2011; involved 24,000 U.S. service members, 189 aircraft, 24 naval ships; and cost $90 million. Charles Casto, formerly of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was part of Operation Tomodachi executing the role of a nuclear expert supporting the Japanese government, following the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima in 2011. In his revealing book, “Station Blackout”, Mr. Casto holds forth on the magnitude of the disaster and the magnificence of the heroics displayed by both the Japanese and Americans in curtailing what otherwise would have been a catastrophe. Mr. Casto considers the events of 3/11 the “Quintuple Disaster”, because, “in reality five events were unfolding simultaneously: the earthquake and the tsunami, plus, nuclear, social, and policy crisis. The social and policy problems were part of a ‘system failure’ surrounding the accident, similar to the one we experienced during our own Hurricane Katrina – i.e. local, state, and federal policy all failed.”

The heroes of Fukushima represented a myriad assemblage. Taylor Anderson and Monty Dickson, both Americans and both in their early twenties, were English teachers in Japanese elementary schools. Donning the mantle of early responders these two brave souls sacrificed themselves in an attempt to save school children when they were swallowed up by the giant waves. Mr. Casto describes the leadership qualities displayed by the people at ground zero, to be one “in extremis.” This kind of leadership also known as extreme-crisis leadership, is defined as “a discrete episode or occurrence that may result in a great and intolerable magnitude of physical, psychological, or material consequences to or in close physical or psycho-social proximity to organization members.”

Mr. Casto, in particular dwells at length about the leadership abilities of three important leaders. Ikuo Izawa at Daiichi was a control room shift supervisor for Units 1 and 2. Employed by Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”), Izawa showed tremendous calm and ingenuity in the aftermath of the disaster. Takeyuki Inagaki, a maintenance manager was responsible for the recovery strategies from the Emergency Response Centre (“ERC”). Masuo Yoshida, site superintendent at Daiichi was the third important personality who punched beyond his weight. Mr. Casto also highlights the perils of a lack of leadership during unpredictable chaos. For example, upon hearing the magnitude of the disaster the Prime Minister of Japan at the time reached out to the ERC, only to, “commence shouting, blaming, and criticizing everyone involved.” Mr. Casto adds, “they (ERC) later told me that this was not the kind of leadership they needed at this point; it was not real leadership at all.” On the other hand, the workers at the site itself showed exemplary courage and extraordinary resilience. “At the time of the earthquake, there were around 2,000 workers at the plant, including about 400 technical workers. Some 250 of these were official members of the emergency response team, and they gathered at the ERC. The remaining 150 evacuated to a baseball field nearby. Virtually no one left the site within the first hundred hours…. The first technique that Masuda used to try to comfort the workers was to be transparent about the conditions. He actually used a whiteboard to log each aftershock and the height of the tsunami that followed, so that he could show the workers that the aftershocks were somewhat subsiding and the conditions were not getting worse.

 So that was one of the techniques he used in the transparency area. So what you learn from that, and what we talk about in the article, is that information is an antidote to fear. So the more information you can give workers, the more comfortable they’ll feel and be ready to face whatever challenge that comes.

As Mr. Casto elaborates, confusion reigned on both the American and Japanese sides. “It appeared that pandemonium was rampant in Washington. I noticed that the less data there was, the more confusion, and came to call this the Casto Pandemonium Curve.” With a view to minimizing such confusion & maximizing clarity, Mr. Casto introduced the mechanism of “listen, learn, help and lead.” This meant, “listen from their perspective, learn the issues as they see them, help them solve the issues as they see them, and then perhaps with the trust that this process builds, lead the way to a good solution.”

The need for quicksilver thinking and employ of ingenuity may at times necessitate a direct disobedience of orders. The move by (TEPCO), to use seawater doped with neutron-absorbing boron in the reactors’ pressure vessels because the normal and auxiliary cooling systems, which circulate purified water to keep the fuel rods from melting down, failed, was in direct contravention to an order issued by the Prime Minister himself.

Mr. Casto’s book, while not dealing with the nuts and bolts of the disaster itself chooses to focus on the consequences of extreme-crisis leadership and focused co-operation. While thousands of unsuspecting people lost their lives following the earthquake and tsunami, not a single death resulted from radiation exposure itself during the accident. The cancer rates are also expected to be kept in check and not rise appreciably. Japan’s Nuclear Safety Institute (“JANSI”) has evolved into an organization equal in competence to NNSA in the United States.

“Station Blackout” is a stirring testimony to the courage, capability and composure of humanity in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us – Seth Godin

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Long before Googleplex tickled the febrile imagination of a techno-cult, a man calling himself a ‘Maverick’, instituted a set of pyretic work practices that made the global corporate culture sit up and watch. It also upended the conventional, taken-for-granted, staid run-of-the-mill approaches to work. Ricardo Semler, the CEO and majority owner of Semco Partners, a Brazilian company, saw revenues under his ownership surge from US$4 million in 1982 to US$ 212 million in 2003. This was made possible, amongst others, due to a set of revolutionary work practices which set Semco apart from the rest. Workers’ share of profits was increased to 39%, management salaries were cut by 40% and employees were given the right to approve every item of expenditure. In Semler’s own words, “At Semco we did away with strictures that dictate the “hows” and created fertile soil for differences. We gave people an opportunity to test, question, and disagree. We let them determine their own futures. We let them come and go as they wanted, work at home if they wished, set their own salaries, choose their own bosses. We let them change their minds and ours, prove us wrong when we are wrong, make us humbler. Such a system relishes change, which is the only antidote to the corporate brainwashing that has consigned giant businesses with brilliant pasts to uncertain futures.”

In his best-seller, “Tribes”, Seth Godin, the founder and CEO of Squidoo and one of the world’s foremost business bloggers, talks about ‘heretics’, such as Semler who not only act as catalysts of change but also inspire an entire ‘clan’ of followers. In other words, these prophets of radical reforms lead their own “Tribes.” A tribe is simply, “any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have sought out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical. It’s our nature.” With an explosion of technology and a dramatic reduction in the cost of computing,  a majority of the global populace not only has access to an astounding gamut of information, but also the tools required to transform the users into heretics and leaders. In other words, one can have her own “tribe.” As Mr. Godin points out, from the prolific Joel Spolsky who has altered the domain of software programming to the Grateful Dead, who have toppled received wisdom hitherto treated as gospel in the music industry on its head, harbingers of change and their faithful tribes are all around us. The prosaic methodologies which held employees and managers in a fell clutch of manuals, best practices and sacrosanct rituals are now being challenged and dangerously so by a new breed of principles that brook neither fear nor favour. This invasion of intruders is changing the world of work and leisure. “Stability is an Illusion” says Mr. Godin. “” Established 1906” used to be important. Now apparently it’s a liability.”

The standing of the heretics has undergone a sea change. “They burn heretics at the stage. They also drown them, denounce them, ignore them and hang them from the rafters. …. None of that is true anymore. Now we invite heretics to Davos. Heretics get elected to Congress. Heretics make a fortune when their companies go public. Heretics not only love their jobs; they get a private jet too.”

Drawing the readers’ attention to the work of Jerry and Monique Sternin in helping starving children, Mr. Godin emphasies on what he terms “the most important practical idea in his entire book.” “Find leaders (the heretics who are doing things differently and making change), and then amplify their work, give them a platform, and help them find followers – and things get better. They always get better.”  How does a leader go about accumulating and improving his tribe? Over to Mr. Godin: “…it takes only two things to turn a group of people into a tribe:

  • A shared interest
  • A way to communicate

The communication can be one of four kinds:

  • Leader to tribe;
  • Tribe to leader;
  • Tribe member to tribe member;
  • Tribe member to outsider

A classic example of communication nurturing tribes is the medium of Twitter. In a short burst of 280 characters, one can subtly, succinctly and strongly convey one’s intentions and since the medium being online real time the message spreads like wildfire – literally – and before one can say “Amen”, one has a million doting and eager ‘disciples’ looking up to the originator of the tweet for guidance and advice. Mr. Godin strongly urges all of us to avoid what he calls, “Sheepwalking.” Sleepwalking, “is the outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them brain-dead jobs and enough fear to keep them in line.”

Is there a particular number that forms a traction for the tribe of a leader to bloom fully? Mr. Godin explains that a leader does not actually need many follower fans as long as he she can engage and interact with the ones following her. It could be less than a dozen or a few hundred. Some of us would love to lead millions but would probably settle for 1000. In this Mr. Godin derives inspiration from Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired. As Mr. Godin writes on his own blog, ““Some people will read this and immediately understand. Others will read it and start waffling over the meaning of “true.” My expansion: you need to alter what you do and how you do it so that 1,000 true fans is sufficient to make you very happy.””

Before concluding, Mr. Godin goes on to identify what he argues as constituting “the elements of leadership:”

  • Leaders challenge the status quo;
  • Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture;
  • Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they are trying to change;
  • Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers;
  • Leaders communicate their vision of the future;
  • Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment;
  • Leaders connect their followers to one another

Jacqueline Novogratz, Gary Vaynerchuck, Mich Matthews, Thomas Barnett, Niklas Zennstrom, the founders of Lulu.com and Scott Beale all stand out because they dared to dream. They refused to be cowed down by intrinsic doubts and external fears and proceeded to live according to the dictum laid down by them. This made them leaders with a fanatical base of tribes.

As Mr. Godin reiterates each one of us have the potential to become a leader just as the ones referred to above. And yes, with our own tribes!

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig


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On a short and impromptu holiday in early 2017, I found myself in a non-decrepit ‘budget’ hotel in Seoul. Flanked by a row of convenience stores to its left and a gleaming new plastic & cosmetic surgery centre to its right, the hotel was a constricted cubbyhole of rooms which seemed to bend upon themselves and shrink to such an impossible size that their physical dimensions ended even before they began. A row of sophisticated looking and exorbitantly priced watering holes lined the alleys behind the hotel. However, what came as a shock to me was the fact that this cramped, claustrophobic and constrained hotel also doubled up as the convalescence centre of choice for all those patients who had procedures performed upon their bodies in the neighbouring Cosmetic surgery centre. This delayed and accidental realization led me sharing the lobby, elevator and smoking rooms with a whole horde of modern day mummies. Aquiline figures with their breasts tightly bandaged in rolls of white, curvaceous beauties with entire faces (with the exception of the eyes) swathed in bandages and in some extreme cases, Barbie-like artificial looking beauties being wheeled in on account of their entire visage being enveloped tightly by the same pristine bandages in white. A steep price to pay indeed for altering what was bestowed upon by both genetics and habit.

In his new riveting and introspective bestseller “Notes From A Nervous Planet”, Matt Haig in a freewheeling manner, refreshingly brings to our attention the changing priorities necessitated by a fast moving, technology immersed world and the attendant challenges, physical, mental and spiritual. Mr. Haig should know, having overcome a debilitating bout of depression and anxiety himself – the subject of his previous bestseller, ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’.  In an unstructured but eminently readable manner, Mr. Haig details the perils, pressures and predilections assailing us and provides a few practical solutions to retain our sanity. “I am trying to write about the messiness of the world and the messiness of minds by writing a deliberately messy book,” asserts Mr. Haig conceding the unstructured format of his book. And yes, it is messy. Jumping from one topic to another unrelated one, Mr. Haig goes about like a metaphorical whirlwind upending the conventional and uprooting the conventional.

The array of subjects covered in the book is vast. Ranging from a dangerous addiction to smartphones to a sobering realization that a lack of sleep has now become a steeply niggling issue, Mr. Haig tries to tackle each of these issues by offering unvarnished, raw and candid examples relating to his own experience. For instance, a panic attack which rendered him helpless, cowering and blabbering in the centre of the hustle and bustle of a supermarket, provides an enlightening insight into the insidious workings of a depressed mind. For people who are beyond the remit of such unfortunate episodes – fortunately – such attacks might be shrugged away as more a mental ailment than a more complicated physiological disorder which it actually is. “In writing this book I have tried to look at the human psychological cost of the world by looking at the only psychology I truly know—my own,” I have written about how we as individuals can try to stay sane within a maddening world. The fact that I have had mental illness, though a nightmare in reality, has educated me on the various triggers and torments of the modern world.”

We are inhabiting a world where our bodies and minds are held to ransom by greedy and unsparing marketers. We have become walking billboards and wafting endorsements. From the lure of enhancing beauty to the promise of embellishing fairness, humanity keeps leaping from bleach to botox. An irresistible urge to possess sculpted abs and seraphic looks ensures that we unwittingly play right into the hands of these unscrupulous marketers who employ the “FUD” technique to exacerbate our gullibility.

Standing for fear, uncertainty and doubt, ‘FUD’ is a tried and tested method used in sales and marketing to dissuade customers from buying competing products and solutions by providing information that triggers fear and uncertainty, or sows seeds of doubt, about current customer thinking.

Things that may be suggested include:

  • That competing products are problematic.
  • That competitors have operational problems.
  • That promised competing products will not be delivered as suggested.
  • That competitor companies are financially unstable.

So what is the way out of this confusing spiral of competing products, confusing priorities, contrary choices and chaotic living? Are we doomed to spend the rest of our lives like a mouse on a hamster wheel? Or is there a faint stirring of hope?

Mr. Haig’s solutions range from the simple to the systematic. Suggesting a mix of conscious breathing techniques, meditation, walks in nature, etc. Mr. Haig also proposes activities that are simple and not requiring the expending of rigorous efforts. Reading books is one such prescribed activity. Some of the notable physical and psychological remedies offered by Mr. Haig include:

“Accept yourself. If you can’t be happy as yourself, at least accept yourself as you are right now. You can’t change yourself if you don’t know yourself.”;

Find a good book. And sit down and read it. There will be times in your life when you’ll feel lost and confused. The way back to yourself is through reading. I want you to remember that. The more you read, the more you will know how to find your way through those difficult times;

Enjoy the internet. Don’t use it when you aren’t enjoying it. (Nothing has sounded so easy and been so hard);

As Yoda nearly put it, you can’t try to be. Trying is the opposite of being;

Shop less;

Don’t try to pin yourself down. Don’t try to understand once and for all, who you are. As the philosopher Alan Watts said, ‘trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.’

Overcome by depression and anxiety, Mr. Haig almost hurled himself off a verdant cliff off the coast of Ibiza. It is a miracle that not only did he dissuade himself from such a catastrophe but now he is striving his best to prevent a multitude from resorting to such a tragic endeavor.

A ‘Sparkling’ Wisdom

(Portmeirion Village, Wales | Google Maps)

“A white cone to the left, and a bushy plant in the middle, a bushy plant to the left and a white cone in the middle…” Sparkles’ tone now resembled more an incantation than an assertion. Parveen looked down with a mixture of both pride and love at her three-year-old nephew. Sparkles, of course was not his name. However every time the child smiled in undisguised delight, his perfectly symmetrical set of teeth (or whatever he happened to have) almost had a surreal glint.

He was right, thought Parveen. Children had this uncanny ability to decode the complexities of life. Life was a beautiful pendulum just like the cones & the plants. “Agony to the left; Euphoria in between; Despair to the left; delight in between.” It was so elementary yet so profound.

Parveen, bent down kissed Sparkles’ forehead & whispered, “Love you sparkles.”

“Love you too Aunty!”

(Word Count: 149)

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw

For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable


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All of us have been indoctrinated into absorbing the various ‘Ps’ of Marketing. In fact, as technology and trends have caught up, moved on, been rendered obsolete, before catching up again in an endless spiral, the number of ‘Ps’ in a marketer’s arsenal has only increased over time. Anyone possessing a basic degree would be able to reel out a majority of the P’s even when abruptly aroused from a slumber – Product, Price, Promotion, Positioning, Publicity…

Seth Godin, the founder and CEO of Squidoo and one of the world’s foremost business bloggers in his book “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable” postulates that every aspiring entrepreneur and marketer should never lose sight of an additional ‘P’ which can make or break a business. This ‘P’ (as many of the readers may have guessed by now) is the ‘Purple Cow.’ Purple Cow is in plain terms, a synonym for remarkable. Hence unless a business can offer something remarkable, there is very little which it can do by way of progress and potential. If this sounds extraordinarily obvious, it is the obvious that is invariably and incredulously ignored. The very essence of remarkability is explained in a remarkable fashion by Mr. Godin:

“When my family and I were driving through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on picturesque pastures right next to the highway. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling about how beautiful everything was. Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was now common. Worse than common. It was boring. Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring.

 They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still cows.

A Purple Cow though. Now that would be interesting. (For a while.)

The essence of the Purple Cow is that it must be remarkable.”

The essential need for and relevance of a Purple Cow is demonstrated by Mr. Godin as he urges us to take a quick visit to the drugstore. A search for aspirin turns up the following unbelievable array of choices: Advil, Aleve, Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief, Anacin, Ascriptin, Aspergum, Bayer, Bayer’s Children, Bayer’s Regimen, Bayer Women’s, BC, Bufferin, Cope, Ecotrin, Excedrin Extra Strength, Goody’s, Motrin, Nuprin, St Joseph, Tylenol and Vanquish. “Imagine how much fun it must have been to be the first person to market aspirin. Here was a product that just about every person on earth needed and wanted. A product that was inexpensive, easy to try, and immediately beneficial.”

Thus, run-of-the-mill is passe. Mr. Godin asserts that we are living through revolutionary times where “the TV-industrial complex” phenomenon fails to deliver. This phenomenon represented, “the symbiotic relationship between consumer demand, TV advertising, and ever-growing companies that were built around investments in ever-increasing marketing expenditures.”  Mr. Godin believes that companies would do well to experiment with inviting their potential and existing customers to alter their behavior thereby making the company’s offerings work exponentially better instead of sticking with the tried tested and clichéd formula of tinkering with technology and expertise to tailor make ‘better’ products. A classic case in point: Otis Elevators. “When you approach the elevators, you key in your floor on a centralized control panel. In return the panel tells you which elevator will take you to your floor. Otis has managed to turn every elevator into an express. Your elevator takes you immediately to the twelfth floor and races back to the lobby. This means that buildings can be taller, they need fewer elevators for a given number of people, the wait is shorter, and the building can use precious space for people, not for elevators.”

So how does one go about being remarkable? One of the suggested means is by resorting to specialized, targeted or niche marketing. Instead of trying to – and futilely so – impressing an entire market, a company ought to strategically appeal to a small percentage of “Early Adopters”. These are the mavericks, heretics, lateral thinking ‘nuts’ possessing the necessary wherewithal to not only experiment and evaluate a future “Purple Cow” but also disseminate its utility across the market. If impressed the Early Adopters may well be the vehicles of “free advertising” (Mr. Godin calls them sneezers) for the brand: this act will in turn influence the major constituents of the market (“Early and Late Majority”).

Mr. Godin draws our attention to the fact that points out that 80% of the 30 newest entrants to Interbrand’s top 100 brand list attained their repute and rewards more due to word of mouth campaigns rather than the power of advertising. Super star brands such as IKEA, Starbucks, SAP, Krispy Kreme, Jet Blue, Google are a few examples.

Once the creation of a “Purple Cow” has yielded benefits, there is however, a real danger that a company might just being coasting along in a sea of complacency. This dangerous trend needs to be nipped in the bud. “Once you’ve managed to create something truly remarkable, the challenge is to do two things simultaneously:

  1. Milk the Cow for everything it’s worth.
  2. Create an environment where you are likely to invent a new Purple Cow in time to replace the first one when its benefits inevitably trail off.”

Purple Cow is Mr. Godin’s timely warning to companies urging them to shed to cobwebs of complacency and instead think seriously about reinventing, repurposing and repositioning themselves before their customers. A right step in this direction would be a transformation from the unremarkable to a “Purple Cow.”

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick)

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If there is one common tenet that has been drummed into our heads with such sustained vigour and frequency, it is certainly the one that exhorts us “NEVER” to “QUIT.” Phrases such as “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, and “Winners ever Quit”, are so commonplace that their employ has transcended beyond the use into unfortunate abuse. Thus, in this cliché laden environment, it is easy to get muddled and thereby miss the woods for the trees. Are we never supposed to keep ploughing on in spite of knowing that the desired result is only an wishful fantasy?

Seth Godin, the founder and CEO of Squidoo and one of the world’s foremost business bloggers attempts to show us the way out of this conundrum. In a book, titled “the dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (And When to Stick), Mr. Godin Encourages us to move beyond exhortations and euphemisms, all the while, emphasizing the fact that winners do quit and constantly. But it is the timing and context of their abandonment of an endeavor that still makes them the best. Mr. Godin highlights this feature by taking recourse to three key “curves”: The Dip, The Cul-De-Sac and The Curve.

The Dip, according to Mr. Godin is “the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”  Successful people are those who do not believe in restricting themselves to riding the Dip. “They lean into the Dip. They push harder, changing the rules as they go.”

The Cul-De-Sac (French for dead end) is “a situation where you work and you work and nothing much changes. It doesn’t get a lot better, it doesn’t get a lot worse. It just is.”

The Cliff is “a situation where you can’t quit until you fall off, and the whole thing falls apart.” The practical working of the Cliff is illustrated by Mr. Godin with reference to the habit of smoking. “Because smoking is designed to be almost impossible to quit, the longer you do it, the better it feels to continue smoking.” One only quits when one falls off the Cliff, let’s say due to emphysema.

So when does one quit and when does one keep striving? The “brave” thing is to develop grit and gumption and tough it out at the Dip so that one reaches the other end. The “mature” thing to do however would be to not even commence upon a task about whose outcome you are not confident. And finally, the “stupid” thing to do is to start, give it your best shot, expend efforts, resources and time, before finally calling it quits right in the middle of the Dip. “When Jack Welch remade GE, the most fabled decision he made was this: If we can’t be #1 or #2 in an industry, we must get out.”

Finally, Mr. Godin provides us with three questions, which he expounds, we must ask ourselves before we decide to quit.

Question No.1: Are we panicking?

“Quitting when you’re panicked is dangerous and expensive. The best quitters as we’ve seen, are the ones who decide in advance when they are going to quit. You can always quit later – so wait until you’re done panicking to decide.”

Question No.2: Who am I trying to influence?

“If you’re trying to influence just one person, persistence has its limits. It’s easy to cross the line between demonstrating your commitment and being a pest. If you haven’t influenced him yet, it may very well be time to quit. If you are trying to influence a market though, the rules are different. Sure, some of the people in a market have considered you (and even rejected you). But most of the people in the market have never even heard of you. The market doesn’t have just one mind. Different people in the market are seeking different things.”

 

Question No.3: What sort of Measurable Progress am I making?

“Measurable progress need not be a raise or a promotion. It can be more subtle than that, but it needs to be more than a mantra, more than just saying “surviving is succeeding.” The challenge, then, is to surface new milestones in areas where you have previously expected to find none.”

The Dip may be a short book. In fact, it is a very short book. But within its pages lie a wisdom that is commonsensical, logical and most importantly, practical.