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February 23, 2017, 03:52:27 PM

20 is the new 50

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It’s just one sentence, yet the different meanings it takes on when enunciated are extreme.

It all boils down to a tiny tinge of inflection; but when the inflection is shifted over just one word and spoken out loud, the context of the sentence changes cataclysmically.

Since I’m not speaking out loud here, I’ll let the elements of, CAPITALIZATION, italicization, boldness and even colour clarify all this for you. Here’s the sentence in its raw form:

You’re 20 years old...what do you know?

When I was of the age bracket, it was said this way, somewhat derisively (I guess you can speak it out loud for full effect):

You’re 20 years old...what do YOU know?

In other words...who the hell are you to have an opinion?  You’re still a pisher.  Shut up and learn something.  I have socks older than you.  Stop bothering me.

Indeed, these were all actually spouted verbatim at me, delivered with squinty eyes and an upturned nose...despite the fact that when I was 20, I was in a management and editorial position at a newspaper, while completing my business degree at McGill.  Little respect from “the man.”  We know everything, you know nothing...but uh, give it a few years, and you’ll be in our position.

So I gave it a few years.  Cut to 2017.   Now the sentence goes:

You’re 20 years old...what do you KNOW?

The eyes aren’t squinting anymore.  They are wide to the point of popping, in a near desperate search for some street relevance, some insight into social media worlds and magic technological kingdoms that “the man” has been shut out of.  You know everything, we know nothing...but please, please give us a taste, a few insights and uh, maybe I can extricate myself from the prone position.

Now that I’m running a tech biz called Play The Future, I see this attitude shift everywhere.  From conferences to conference rooms. A most phenomenal flipping of the funnel of wisdom. 20 is indeed the new 50 (especially at Play The Future, where one-third of our staff are 20 somethings).

To those who can accept this seismic swing of influence, there’s a lot of opportunity to make things great and make great things.  To those who can’t, welcome to irrelevance, obscurity and bitterness.

I guess I chose the wrong time to be 20.

But at least I’m smart enough to act accordingly now that I’m on the other side ;)

February 14, 2017, 04:10:07 PM

A (Somewhat) Surprising Valentine’s Day Prize

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As surprises go, it wasn’t particularly effective.  It was telegraphed a day in advance via a text message that went in part:

Hey PTF crew--

I am in need of some time-sensitive information.

There is a prize coming your way if we can confirm an office/unit number and possibly a phone number for someone who will be there tomorrow afternoon to receive a delivery.

It was supposed to be a surprise, but this delivery service is thorough!

Okay, so the Pow! of the surprise was somewhat lacking, but the delight and joy it brought far made up for it.

As a company that gives out over 200 prizes a month, getting one was quite the role reversal.  But such is the reward, I suspect, when you treat your public like friends.

One of the credos we’ve always pushed at Play The Future--from Day One, and in every aspect of the business, from in-app questions to social media dealings--is “Talk to the People.

Talk” as in true listen-before-you speak conversation.  

And “People” as in those you are lucky enough to have play your game, buy into what you’re doing and spread the word on your behalf are actually human beings.  Someone’s mom or sister or uncle or brother or son or whatever.

What we’ve discovered by doing this, especially in an age of AI and rampant chatbots, is that a little soul, care and real-speak go a long way.

So cut to 11:45 a.m. at the Play The Future offices--we get the box above with the note that says:

“We predict you will be our valentines.  

Love, your top two Futurists,
Stephanie M and Kara S.”

We were floored for two reasons. Getting a gift from PTF players was one, but the fact that these women never knew each other before--and became friends by playing--Play The Future truly warmed our Valentine’s Day hearts.

It’s cause and effect, really.  We treat our players like friends and family.  We affectionately call them all “Futurists” instead of “customers” or “clients,” and some of our most ardent Futurists have graduated to the next level of closeness and familiarity, a “Team Tomorrow” that gets inside info and helps us make decisions.

So to Stephanie and Kara, thanks for making our day.  Your prediction accuracy score is way beyond 100% on this one.

And for the rest of those reading this, how are YOU treating the ones who decide YOUR future?

If they ain’t sending you a gift now and then...perhaps they’re sending you a message.

February 3, 2017, 10:47:49 AM

Forget You Read This (and Maybe You’ll Learn Something)

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It’s fascinating to, well uh, learn that the concept of a “Learning Curve” was born way back in 1885 when it was introduced by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus.

That crunching noise you hear is the sound of us abruptly reaching the end of it 132 years later.

Ebbinghaus’s Learning Curve compared the increase in learning when measured over a span of time. Differences in said increase and the length of time accounted for variances in the shape of the curve; a somewhat obvious conclusion, if you ask me.

Point here is that no matter what shape the curve takes, “learning” is only half the goal these days, when there is more than ever to learn and more ways than ever to learn it (this is something I am currently experiencing first-hand as Play The Future enters the American market).  Despite the abundance of information, it seems harder than ever to actually learn something. Quel paradoxe!

The brain is a wondrous tool, but it’s capacity is somewhat limited.  

Unlike techno farms at Google and Amazon, we can’t just toss another rack of servers on our backs and plug ‘em into our heads. With learning curves getting steeper, and the noise driving them up getting louder, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to expand our cranial capacity and “learn” the new that’s necessary for us to advance

Which is why I like the concept of a “Forgetting Curve”...

...the “7-Up” to the learning curve’s cola (reference check for millennials: right here).

Frankly, a “Forgetting Curve” already exists (see Wikipedia), but it’s more medical in theory, hypothesizing the decline of memory retention over time. It may be insensitive on my part, but let’s just ignore that one.

The “Forgetting Curve” I am championing though is way more self managing and practical.  It would require--no, force--us to let go of old ways, preconceived notions, out-of-date processes and deeply-ingrained predispositions.

And while it’s almost impossible to un-think an idea (i.e. wipe it out of your organic memory), a more attainable feat is to ignore things, or at least close your eyes and turn your back on them before moving on in a new direction. This process may not eliminate learning curves, but at least it makes their gradients easier to climb.  

So (hahaha) remember this: a little forgetting will go a long way in learning something new, and set you on a new path...of straight and narrow.


January 25, 2017, 05:10:34 PM

Say Anything--My Mary Tyler Moore Lesson

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The recent passing of TV icon Mary Tyler Moore brought back a flood of memories from 1991, when she was the host of a Just For Laughs TV special I Executive Produced for Showtime...most notably a memory of a life lesson she taught simply by sitting, smiling and laughing

To put this into perspective, landing the celebrated Ms. MTM to host your show was quite the coup back then; she just didn’t do this type of stuff.  But the careful and respectful manner in which our show dealt with another TV legend host, Bob Newhart, a year before gave his manager Arthur Price the confidence that we could handle ourselves with his other marquee client, namely Mary.

Minimal demands...at least for her.

Mary’s demands were minimal for a mega-star her stature; I think the only one that bordered on diva-ness was her wardrobe, a shimmering gown that cost $10,000 in 20th century dollars.  But given her near-goddess image, our creative demands were more outrageous.  We wanted her to get out of her comfort zone and embrace the raw edges of comedy that were being shattered and sharpened in the early ‘90s...the polar opposite of her elegant onstage look and persona.

To do that, Producer Bob Kaminsky (who now produces the Kennedy Center Honors) recruited a team of subversive writers who had cut their teeth with the caustic National Lampoon magazine.  On that team were his brother Peter, Canadian Sean Kelly and Tom Leopold, who went on to write some of memorable episodes of Cheers and Seinfeld.

So, on a gorgeous late spring afternoon in New York, I sat with this motley, hardened crew in a posh Fifth Avenue bistro, waiting for our initial encounter with the prospective star of our show.

When she walked in, you could feel the air contract.  

She was akin to royalty, dressed and bejeweled as if she walked off a page of Vogue. Everyone in the room stared, but did ever so discretely.  Given the cultivated assembly, you could read the subtle shock on their faces as she gracefully crossed the room and actually sat down at the only table filled with scruffy, long-haired n’er-do-wells.

We were awestruck and virtually speechless.  I led the chorus of polite introductions, oversaw the distribution of menus and order-taking, but then went mute as the six of us sat for a few minutes (but felt like hours) of awkward silence.  We had never really planned how to break the ice and open the conversation about leading her down a path of sharp, jagged drollery.  

After a few “hmms,” “uhhs,” and throat clearings, Leopold took a sledgehammer to the stillness.

“Mary,” he said, looking at her pendulous diamond earrings.  “You get those from Robert?” (Robert Levine was a cardiologist she had married in 1983.)

“Why yes,” she replied.

“How much are they worth?  A few mil?  Enough for a little palace out in the Hamptons?”

The rest of us froze in shock.  Leopold was about to blow it for all of us, big time.  Bye-bye show.  But Mary, after a moment of incredulousness, just smiled.

“Something like that.  But I’m not telling you…”

Leopold pounced again.

“And those bracelets?  Worth more than the GDP of some African nations?”

Mary giggled this time.

“And that ring?  How can you raise your hand to call for the servants?”

That did it.  Mary burst out laughing.  Tom didn’t just break the ice, he reverse-engineered it into H20.

We were in.  We were one.  And now when everyone stared at our table, it was wondering why we were having so much fun.

The TV show did great, Mary was a dream throughout the production, but the real lesson that has stayed with me forever is that in situations like this, where the divide is so vast, the only way to close it is not just to say what you’re thinking, but to say what most others never would.  

Worst case scenario is that things blow up, but if so, face it, they would’ve never worked out anyway.  

But best case is a super-solid bond based on unexpected surprise, honesty and courage.

Saying a wild anything will always take you to a better place than saying a polite nothing.