Tag Archives: book reviews

The long good-bye – it’s an English thing

According to social anthropologist Kate Fox, author of Watching the English – The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, her fellow Brits are awkward, hasty and uneasy at introductions (as touched on in my previous post). But, she says, “partings, as if to compensate, are often tediously prolonged.”

Ever been in on one of these? “Good-bye … yes, good-bye then … thank you … it was nothing … well, we’ll be off then … we must have lunch … I’ll send you that file by email … do you have your salad bowl? No? Let me wash it …” And on it goes. On. And on.

Everyone, Kate says, wants it all to end, but it would be rude to act that way, “… so everyone must make a great show of being reluctant to part. Even when the final final final good-byes have been said… a window is often wound down to allow a few more parting words.”

Children are indoctrinated with these dilatory tactics from an early age: “Say goodbye to Granny now. And what do we say? We say thank you Granny…and say bye-bye to Pickles… come on now, wave bye-bye.”

Now that I know this is a studied-and-proven anthropological truth, all kinds of things are falling into place!

Check out this book for more on the importance of not being earnest, pub rules, the Marks and Spencer test and the use of ‘come of it’. Of note to me is the author’s analysis of who-reads-what-newspaper. Hint: The Guardian reader is a bit left wing or as she puts it, “a woolly, lefty, politically correct, knit-your-own-tofu sort of person.”

A great read!


Only in England – a Native Daughter on inhabitants’ idiocyncracies

It took me a few pages to twig to the author’s tone, but once I did, I found the book Watching the English, The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour to be a hoot.

Anyone with a whiff of a British background will relate.

Author Kate Fox begins by dissecting the English love of discussing The Weather. This, she says, is never actually about the weather.

“English weather-speak is a form of code, evolved to help us overcome of natural reserve and actually talk to each other.”

It’s mandatory to agree with the other person’s opening gambit she points out – not doing so is a serious breech of etiquette. And on she goes for 12 more pages.

Then there are introductions. English people wince at those who approach with a broad smile, hand outstretched and announce their name. Two America tourists told her how much this confused them and she wrote:

“I ended up explaining, as kindly as I could, that the English do not want to know your name, or tell you theirs, until a much greater degree of intimacy has been established – like maybe when you marry their daughter.”

Oh and best not say pleased to meet you when being introduced. Whatever its origins or dubious logic, the prejudice against ‘pleased to meet you’ is still quite widespread meaning that if it is uttered at all it’s likely mumbled and becomes ‘Plstmtye’.

Summing up the business of introductions Kate tells us that being too formal is embarrassing, But then, informality is equally embarrassing. Everything is embarrassing.

“Perform all these rituals badly. Appear self-conscious, ill-at-ease, stiff, awkward and, above all, embarrassed. Smoothness, glibness and confidence are inapprropriate and un-English. Hesitation, dithering and ineptness are, surprising as it may seem, correct behaviour”. (Maybe it’s not fair, but Prince Charles comes to mind.)

Rushed messy introductions are made up for in protracted, meaningless, insincere good-byes (note the plural). Hmmm – more on that later!

Hands free – it’s not just for driving

Sephora has shopping baskets nailed. Here’s how they do it: I approach the store, drift toward a display for a look – only looking today. Next I spy the hand cream I’d wanted and there’s a lip-gloss trio that would be a great gift. Suddenly I’m carrying my purse, my coat and two Sephora items.

This moment, after five minutes inside – not as I enter the store – is when I would like a shopping basket. This is when a Sephora staffer offers me one – and a nice easy-to-carry basket – not a bulky awkward thing with metal handles that dig into my wrist.

Baskets (along with the butt-brush that I wrote about in a previous post) are a topic Paco Underhill examines in Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. Though it was written 10 years ago the insights in this book are current and intriguing. I love this book.

“The issue of shopping baskets is a perfect example of …the complex matrix of anatomical traits and human behaviours that determine how we shop,” he says. Putting baskets just inside the entrance shows that retailers don’t get what shoppers do in stores – remarkable since they are shoppers themselves. If they watched their shoppers carefully – even for a few minutes, they’d understand.

The transition zone – as you enter the store – is no place for baskets or even signs Paco contends. As we approach an entrance, we are preoccupied with what we’ll do in the store, busy looking for the door handle, fretting about the time or any number of things that preclude sign-reading or basket-taking. and we often think we’re just getting one thing anyway.

Watch for it next time you enter a retail transition zone. Any thoughts on stores that get it right? Or don’t?

Basket-placement, butt-brushing and other retail snafus

So I walked into a drug store yesterday and spied the plastic baskets with metal handles right beside the entrance. I thought aha, they haven’t read the book I’m reading.

Thanks to a reference in Daphne Gray-Grant’s wonderful weekly Power Writing newsletter (subscribe at www.publicationcoach.com) I came upon Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill – I’ve been transfixed.

Paco and his team of “retail anthropologists” spend hours simply observing shoppers – where do they turn as they enter a store, what catches their attention as they walk down an aisle, where do they go after passing the drive-through window, what happens at the check-out counter (aka the cash/wrap) and when do they look for shopping baskets.

As Daphne mentions in her newsletter, Paco came up with the phrase the “butt brush effect”. Film footage showed shoppers at a Bloomingdale’s looking at a rack of ties near the entrance. Once they’d been bumped once or twice they abandoned the rack. “We watched this over and over until it seemed clear that shoppers – women especially… don’t like being brushed or touched from behind. They’ll even move away from merchandise they’re interested in to avoid it.”

Ever experienced this? I sure have. For me, dollar stores at Christmas come to mind!

One of the things I love about this book is that there’s so much I can observe and muse on about retailing – while I shop for anything. I’ve become an amateur retail anthropologist.

And the whole thing with baskets – well, it’s fascinating. I’ll save that for a later post.

“There I was, sitting by the pickle barrel” – how Twitter helped Ford avert a crisis

Wonderful to meet Shel Israel last night at Third Tuesday here in Vancouver. I spoke to him and found him unassuming, funny and helpful.

Shel was in town to promote his book Twitterville. http://www.twitterville.com I like his approach – he’s not telling readers how to use Twitter. Instead it it’s about what Twitter can do for you – illustrated through examples of Twitter in action – taken from 400 interviews with users in 38 countries.

I always like the PR examples. The book profiles @scottmonty – the social media guy for Ford. Monty used his knowledge about how Twitter works and the trust he’d earned with his 5,500 followers to slow, then avert what could have been a huge reputation crisis for Ford.

It seems Ford’s legal department had sent a cease and desist letter to a Ford Ranger fan site and the fans were mad. Word was spreading to other fan sites, usually loyal customers were mad, Ford was being labelled a bully and the whole things was online and burgeoning – fast.

Twitterville tells the story of how Monty jumped on Twitter to handle this growing crisis in an intelligent, if labour-intensive way.

He asked his own followers on Twitter to hold off and give him more time to gather information. He then spend hours on Twitter search finding every incensed tweet about the Ford Ranger issue and responded to each one – confirming something was happening, saying there was more to the story and requesting time to get more information.

In the end he he was able to post Ford’s version and appease the unhappy fans to everyone’s satisfaction. I like his quote,

“Would this have worked for Ford if we didn’t have a Twitter presence? It would have been far slower, and the response would have had a much smaller impact. Searching Twitter throughout the day kept me in the loop with what was being posted and where – it was the Country Store, where people came in and out and shared their gossip, and there I was, sitting by the pickle barrel.”

We in PR always like being there by the pickle barrel. I’m excited to let social media help me do that.

Intimations on the Information Age – What Would Google Do?

I really could not put this book down. Loved it. Jeff Jarvis, in What Would Google Do? writes with a conversational, almost intimate style that kept me engaged – at times laughing – as he portrayed the admiration he has for Google without being cloying.

The book’s about more than just Google – it’s a kind of new media tell-all that drops interesting tidbits about the geeks behind Craigslist and Facebook, among others. Jarvis lays out the company’s approach, the thinking and innovation behind Google and the world-changing approach to doing business that Google set in motion.

Google is known for its tenet Don’t be Evil. Jarvis thinks the corporate world would benefit from following other Google-isms:
– do what you do best and link to the rest
– free is a business model
– there is an inverse relationship between control and trust.

As a media relations professional I love this musing: “Advertising is your last priority, your last resort, an unfortunate byproduct of not having enough friends … yet.”

Also worth considering:

“I wonder whether, some day, companies will come to be valued not only on revenues, marketshare, EBITDA and profit but also on the Googlejuice.”

Where would we be without Google? Microsoft went live with its search engine Bing earlier this month. I don’t know what Google-the-search-engine lacks that would make me switch. What do you think?

This Crowd is Not a Madding Crowd

Continuing my theme of great books on social media – or on the state of things in general – recently I found Clay Shirky’s treatise on crowdsourcing called Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

I found this book engaging and easy to read. It opens with an entertaining story about a women losing her cell phone in a New York City cab – and the process that gets it back to her. It’s a great example of crowdsourcing in action.

I became intrigued by Shirky when I listened to a full-length interview with him on CBC Radio’s Spark. The professor in him makes him a great story teller and he had some solid theories on how we as a society deal with new tools.

One of his trademark ideas is the “cognitive surplus” – this is what we used to call “spare time” (Remember that?) Here’s a quick version – in centuries past we devoted all our time to survival, then as life got a bit easier television arrived and in the past 50 years – according to his theory – our cognitive surplus has been “soaked up” by watching television.

So, the question many people ask about Wikipedia and the like – how do people find the time – has its answer in the cognitive surplus. He says we dip into our cognitive surplus to create Wikipedia entries. And he sees this as a Good Thing – interacting, researching, engaging online is better than the “pure consumption” which is tv-watching. It’s a value-judgement I suppose, but I have to agree with him!

Shirky takes a wide-angle view of the ways current communications tools support group conversation – and what that means to the way we now operate. For example, the photo-sharing site Flickr creates the kind of interaction no corporation would have wanted to create. But it works because we have the technology and it’s hugely popular so obviously fills a niche.

Another thought I found intriguing was his idea that it’s not when a new technology is introduced that we see big change – but rather it’s when you can count on the majority of people using it that it really has an effect. The introduction of email wasn’t a big deal, but now that a huge percentage of the population uses it to communicate – it’s achieved “social density” – it affects our lives. Well it certainly affects mine.

Here Come Everybody is a good read. I think Shirky’s a guy to watch.