Google’s Own Search Results: Book Smart ≠ Job Smart

This morning, my LinkedIn feed presented a condensed version of an interview with Google’s Laszlo Bock, their SVP of People Operations.  Among other topics like  big data and predictability, Laszlo dropped this little mind bomb:

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising“One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all…Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore… We found that they don’t predict anything. What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”

He goes on to talk about the artificial academic environment:

“One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”

Boy is that the truth–the most valuable people in any advertising agency are those who love figuring things out when there are no obvious answers. And anymore, there are no obvious answers though some like to pretend there are, mostly to hold on to their hard earned profit structures.

Life isn’t true or false, it’s multiple choice. Actually, it’s nearly infinite choice. And in this modern era, when those choices have expanded exponentially and more critically, when the exponential multitude of those choices is more palpable than ever, we can become paralyzed, or at least insecure. The annoying but accurate acronym FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a very real, social media-fueled phenomenon that most of us have felt at least a twinge of at one time or another.

But that is the world we live in. Which despite the skyrocketing cost of college tuition, is one reason why a soft, unsaleable liberal arts education may be the best gift to young minds. It won’t promise answers, but it should help teach you to think. And that’s a start.

You can find Adam Bryant’s full Interview here.

 By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Exercises in Obviousness: Harris Interactive Determines Bad Online Advertising Frustrates People

The "O" Stands for "Obvious"     

The “O” Stands for “Obvious”

Last week, the online market research people at Harris Interactive released their latest findings in a pdf titled “LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll.”   In findings that will come as a surprise to no one who has ever spent more than ten seconds on the Yahoo! home page, consumers find many aspect of the burgeoning world of internet advertising frustrating.  They resent expanding banners, page takeovers, and video windows without the option to close or skip.  And now the Harris Interactive people have the quantitative results to prove it.

But this is far from news.  Bad is bad, whether it’s bad television, bad product design, or bad recipes for zucchini.  Advertising is no different: to really engage people, it must prove useful or interesting or surprising.  Generally speaking, people recoil at obnoxious behavior.  And uninvited page takeovers qualify as obnoxious behavior.  Too many advertisers believe silly stunts like sending bouncing balls careening from a small space out over the entire home page constitutes innovation, as if unaware that animation has been around since the late 19th century.

Pointlessly interrupting people is rude.  Wasting peoples’ time is rude.  If you are an uninvited drop-in stranger, I’m not gonna open my front door.  However, if you are an uninvited drop-in stranger lugging an inflatable castle and offering free bouncing for the kids, I might open up a bit.  Because that’s a lot of fun.  Marketing works the exact same way, on or off line.

Essentially, this poll confirms a hypothesis most people in marketing should already consider painfully obvious.  It takes great creative wherewithal to escape the bonds of mediocrity, but that’s the goal.  Every day. In every medium.  

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

B-G-B (Bonus Guest Blog): Thoughts on America In Honor of Independence Day

Guest Blogger: Neal StamellNeal

For nearly twenty-five years, Neal has lived and breathed consumer research and advertising at agencies like Leo Burnett, Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, FCB and now Element 79 as a Group Planning Director. Along the way, he’s interviewed and canvassed all sorts of people for their thoughts and opinions on Philip Morris, Tropicana, Pillsbury, Glad, Starkist, Gatorade, Amway, ConAgra and literally hundreds of other brands. As a natural puzzle solver, he instinctively converts that kind of data into usable insights: connecting, inciting, and inspiring. Though a curious planner’s mind never turns off, Neal has also somehow found time to master the nuances of cooking classics like Kung Pao Chicken and Hot & Sour soup along with blues riffing on his electric bass. Neal also won Element 79’s very first Film Fest with his deeply-moving documentary “Inez Holly.”

Someone recently posed a challenge on the LinkedIn AdPro forum. In a nutshell, it was this: how to rebrand ‘America?’ What would you rename it, what’s the logo, the tagline or slogan, that would concisely sum up what America is, or wants to be perceived as?

This question reminded me of an article I recently rediscovered, written in 1984 by L. Robert Kohls called “The Values Americans Live By” – sort of a primer for international guests. He wrote:

“If the foreign visitor really understood how deeply ingrained these thirteen values are in Americans, he or she would then be able to understand 95% of American actions — actions which might otherwise appear strange, confusing, or unbelievable when evaluated from the perspective of the foreigner’s own society and its values.”

What are these thirteen ingredients that distinguished us as Americans twenty-five years ago? According to Kohls, with my color commentary, they were:

  1. Personal Control Over The Environment/Responsibility. Our lives are our own to shape, not a function of luck or fate, and of course, “we can do anything if we put our minds to it.”
  2. Change Seen as Natural and Positive. Tradition-shmadition; Change = Progress & Growth (the original P&G?)
  3. Time and Its Control. Make a schedule, keep to it, and that way accomplish more. “Idle hands are the Devil’s tools.”
  4. Equality/Fairness. “We are all created equal.” At least that’s the ideal.
  5. Individualism /Independence. We believe we’re unique, we hate being lumped into groups, and, we likes our privacy.
  6. Self-Help/Initiative. Land of the self-made man or woman. “Mom – I did it all by myself!”
  7. Competition. “It brings out the best in everyone.”
  8. Future Orientation. “The sun’ll come out tomorrow, Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun!”
  9. Action/Work Orientation. “Don’t just stand there – do something!”
  10. Informality. Yup.
  11. Directness/Openness/Honesty. Stand up for yourself, be direct; or, in the vernacular, “In yo’ face, sucka!”
  12. Practicality/Efficiency. Okay, this list is like way too long. I’d bundle 3, 9 & 12, and also pair 5 &6 just for starters. Hey – I’m American!
  13. Materialism/Acquisitiveness. Need a David Hasselhoff flip top cigarette lighter? ‘Nuf said.

So what to make of all this? And more important, will it help me win the logo contest?

Let’s assume that by and large Mr. Kohls had it right in his search for what most Americans held in common as of the early 80’s. It’s easy to trace some of the values he cites back to the country’s founding (1,2,4,5) as well as to more recent events like WWII and post-war Baby Boomers’ coming of age in the 60’s and 70’s (6-10).

And while some values seem to counter each other – Fairness vs. Competition, Efficiency vs. Informality – his descriptions make sense of the seeming contradictions. (A lot like Python’s Dinsdale Piranha: “he was a cruel man, but fair.”)

But what’s changed in the past twenty-five years, and what might be missing?

Writing in1984, Kohls was relatively closer to the post-war booms in construction, technology and materialism that so occupied our lives. The “Great Generation” that pulled itself up the by the bootstraps, rebuilt nations and scorned “wasting time” (#3) is dying out. Certainly their values were passed along, but perhaps in watered down form.

Things aren’t as seemingly simple or black & white as they once were. We live with more shades of grey and fewer solid role models to follow. And it’s become a lot harder to make it by sheer grit.

Are we as likely to think that “time is of the essence,” to worry about not losing or wasting time? Or has our informality overshadowed our obsession with being “on time?” (And has Mr. Kohls ever been in an ad agency?) It seems that some more Puritan ethics around time and work have gradually given way to our love affair with the couch, the Xbox, big screen, the popcorn. Although we also pretend to “save time” by checking email while in the shower.

I’d say our desire to acquire has outweighed our prior respect for delayed gratification. And while we’re probably still more private than other cultures, with kids expecting their own rooms and our back yards fully fenced, could someone please tell the woman three rows back on the train to get off the phone?!

And what of Competition? This may become the most challenged pillar of the American ideal, as the Millennials and “Generation O’s” (for Obama) have been raised to value cooperation and collaboration, and will expect more of it in their occupations.

So back to the challenge: is there a big enough paintbrush for a broad stroke characterization of who/what we are? Is there room in a single positioning for this remarkably diverse, varied and complex society?

Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope:

“Not only did my encounters with voters confirm the fundamental decency of the American people, they also reminded me that at the core of the America experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience; a common set of values that bind us together despite our differences; a running thread of hope that makes our improbable experiment in democracy work.”


Happy Independence Day America/Opportunisia/

Happy Independence Day America/Opportunisia/Massafornia/Youtopia

 If the President thinks there’s a common thread, well, there’s gotta be, right? With no further ado, here’s my short list of new names and slogans for America.

OPPORTUNISIA: “300 Million Immigrants Can’t Be Wrong”

MASSAFORNIA: “Mighty Hopeful”

YOUTOPIA: “Have It Your Way!” (that one might be trademarked)



Your turn. Happy 4th of July!

by Neal Stamell, Element 79

Bonus-Guest-Blogger, Mike Dwyer: Improvisational Marketing: “Yes, And-ing” Your Way to Successful Innovation

Picture 1Guest Blogger: Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is the Business Development Manager at Paladin, a recruitment firm focused on marketing, creative and communications talent.  He is also both an incredibly networked ninja master of social media and a charming and personable guy. He uses his deep understanding of LinkedIn, Digg, and other social networks to meet many “passive” job seekers with relevant experience.  He also recently started utilizing Twitter to gather information on specific topics that fascinate him.  Like the best leaders in this space, Mike is generous with his knowledge and expertise, helping many–including Element 79–truly learn the advantages of social networking.  Mike can be found on Twitter @cruiter , via email at , or most anywhere interesting things are happening, particularly The Playground Theater in Chicago where he performs improv comedy.

When I tell people I’m an improviser but not a stand up comedian, they say things like “you must be good at thinking on your feet” or “I bet you do well in public speaking or presentations” or “I just love that Dane Cook.”  Hmm…let’s be clear: improvisation is “the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one’s immediate environment and inner feelings.”  Thanks, Wikipedia.

You can improvise almost anything you do, from cooking to comedy, exercises to explosives.  Improv teams are comprised of anywhere from three to eight people on stage.  Typically these teams rehearse every week (“But it’s improv, why rehearse?” is one of those if-I-had-a-penny question), honing their craft through classes, practice and performing live shows.  Most well-oiled improv teams you see have been rehearsing and working together for at least six months.  My team has been a member of the Playground Theater for seven years and still performs twice a month.

Group Mind:

“You guys were performing off of a script right?” is another if-I-had-a-penny question.  The secret to improv is adhering to a few basic rules while reading the expressions and gestures of your team members.  In time, you develop a “group mind” from working together, something improvisers learn to take for granted.  The ability to know what people are going to say before they say it isn’t ESP; it’s based mostly on conversation and getting used to others’ work style.  Improvisers start conversations on stage that stack up as the scene progresses and they are always grounded in agreement.  In other words, they follow the concept of “Yes, And…”

“Yes, And…”

Agreement!  Not a contractual commitment, but a verbal concession – an “I see where you’re going, I like it, and I’ll take it further,” if you will.  Essentially, a “Yes, And” is a statement that you take from one to build the next thought and eventually, an entire conversation.  Again, here’s Wikipedia:  “Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as “Yes, And…” and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique. Every new piece of information added helps the actors to refine their characters and progress the action of the scene.”

The Lesson:

I don’t proclaim to be a business and marketing Ninja, but I do try to reuse and recycle any life experiences to be more successful in my career.  Improv has proven to be an invaluable tool at doing that. Taking risks on my feet, being more open to suggestion, and most importantly, having a positive mindset grounded in agreement have all been valuable to group ideation off the stage.

Paladin is a marketing and creative staffing firm with over twenty years of market presence in the US.  We are at the forefront of the massive media shifts within the print and newspaper industry and in the trenches of the wholesale budget cuts in the marketing C-suite.  For better or worse, this is the current state of affairs. We can look at these circumstances in two ways: (1) a call for you as a business person to roll up the tent and head for the islands (or if you are on my budget, back to Iowa); or (2) a call for you to be creative and flexible within your organization.

Here are some ideas to help you to act like an Improvisational Marketer in your next meeting, sales presentation, or brainstorming session:

  • The team is #1!   Support your team members and work hard to create trust.
  • Say “Yes, and…” rather than “Yes, but…”  It’s more powerful to build on Agreement.
  • Develop a Group Mind.  Literally warm up the room with a quick improv warm up game.  If you need some ideas, check the Improv Encylopedia.
  • Limit your descriptive words in explanations. Try to have a quick beginning, middle and end for each thought.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Fall, then decide what you’re going to do on the way down.

Essentially, improv and flexibility are one and the same.  If you are a marketer today, your ability to be flexible and rely on your team – which may range from a Brand Manager with seven years of experience to your twenty one year-old intern who has a 1000 friends on Facebook and Twitters about what products she buys – could prove invaluable to your organization’s success.

By Mike Dwyer, Business Development Manager, Paladin