conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Stephen Hemsley, UnitedHealth Group, took home $28,139,070 in 2013

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Here’s my plaque concept for employee appreciation

$2-3 million for an engraved plaque for every employee? Totally worth it.

Idea note_20140424_095040_01###

Via Patrick Kennedy CEO Pay Watch/StarTribune

Written by kirkistan

April 24, 2014 at 10:12 am

What happens when we say stuff?

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An Epistemology of Writing

I just realized I run my college writing courses in ways possibly dissimilar to how others do it. We have texts, of course, and readings. We have my dry lectures, which I try to turn to discussion (with limited success). We have examples of excellent copywriting and we talk about why they work and when they don’t. We have questions. We have answers (some from me, many from the class). We have cordial fights and the occasional snark (more remains unsaid, I think). We have yawns and longing looks at the clock.

And we have assignments.

You have my attention.

You have my attention.

A portfolio addition due ever Saturday night, five minutes before the stroke of midnight. Way to ruin a perfectly good weekend, right? (Ahem: for the record, one need not wait to start an assignment until 10pm on Saturday night).

It’s the assignments—these portfolio additions—that are the real teachers. I try to direct. I try to offer my small ways of thinking, but the real work of this education happens deep in a student’s brain pain: where sparks fly and catch the dry tinder of panic: “What do I say—and how?”

So it has always been with me: I learn as I write. I often don’t know what I think until I write it. Or say it. Just ask Mrs. Kirkistan. But when I research a topic and begin writing about it, all sorts of synapses fire and connections meet and angels sing and the sun shines on my keyboard, where doves and baby deer have collected. Especially after three cups of coffee.

And this is what I depend on in my class: that the threads of our discussion will come together in the doing thereof—the writing of copy. This capturing of a brand, or a dream. The useful words that direct and possibly encourage as they launch into a reader’s mind.

But this: just doing an assignment dampens the angels singing. This class is less about getting my grade and approval and more about creating something you will proudly show to Ms. Creative Director or Mr. Small Business Owner who can hire your magic for their capitalistic endeavors. I can already see those who get this concept. Their work shows it.

Bless them.

And bless all the rest of us, too.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

More on the Human Condition: The Nap

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 22, 2014 at 10:32 am

Help me pay for music school

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What must you do to move forward?



Message in the round.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 21, 2014 at 8:25 am

The Francis Effect

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Check out The Economist on Francis as turnaround CEO at RC Global:



Written by kirkistan

April 20, 2014 at 10:40 am

Tip #9: Launch Your Idea. Don’t Detail It.

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We all repackage our stories for the best effect

Writing copy can be disorienting—especially for English majors. Rather than grading on how they develop an argument and how well they follow particular usage rules, they are graded on how well their copy meets a marketing need. They are graded on how well their creativity pulls in the target audience—and how quickly. Each exercise and assignment becomes more about the big idea and the execution of the idea rather telling all the detail in an orderly fashion.

Copywriting_01It can be disorienting because we might have mistakenly thought copy was just emotional marketing hype, the (nearly invisible) stuff that abides in much of our current messaging (“clutter,” you might say). Copywriters just toss any word in an ad, like “new” or “organic” or “protein” to get people to buy in, right?

But copywriting is more like a lab where you boil down the raw material to get an essence. Then you adjust the pheromones in that essence to get the behavior you want in the audience you seek.

Wait—that sounds manipulative.

If it is, it is a common trait and practice shared by all humans. We’re all packaging and repackaging our stories in real time. We constantly change-up our experience and knowledge and opinions as we deliver them to friends and family, prospective mates, acquaintances and strangers. It’s not a purposeful misleading, it’s just that the human condition is constantly changing and we see things differently at any given point. And we all want to be heard, so we change how we say things.

Mind you—orderly telling is still critical for copywriting. But audiences don’t make time for essays (sadly). And developing an argument is still critically important—it’s all just very, very fast.

The key is getting—and holding—attention.


Eight other copywriting tips for English majors here.



Image credit: Dumb sketch by Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

Keith Sawyer: Surprising Questions Emerge

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Where will you find transformative creativity?


–Keith Sawyer, Group Genius: the Creative Power of Collaboration (NY: Basic Books, 2007) 16


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston


Written by kirkistan

April 17, 2014 at 9:04 am


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