Monthly Archives: February 2008

In seeking peace, neither prayer nor action alone are sufficient

Seek peace and pursue it” Psalm 34:14

They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” Nehemiah 4:12

As a community organizer, I visit a lot of congregations that pray for peace. Every week in their prayers and petitions they remember the suffering of war and pray for peace.

As a peace activist, I see a lot of people who work for peace. They march. They rally. They write letters.

Both of these are good.

Neither is sufficient.

The example of Nehemiah shows us that we need to both pray and act. We need to pray to God and post guards.
Our churches and other religious institutions need to act more boldly for the cause of peace. Our secular peace movements need to be more open to the spiritual aspects of peacemaking.

Everybody says they are seeking peace. We can all do better to pursue it more vigorously.

Photo by xsparrowx

How to learn good speech cadence: read along with famous speeches

Lately I’ve started listening to famous speeches on my MP3 player as I work out.

While I’m running, I’ll listen to A Time to Break the Silence or Eisenhower’s farewell address. And if I’m not running too hard, I’ll even try to talk along with the speech.

It’s amazing how slow many of them are.

Of course, one of the most common mistake people make in public speaking is to talk too fast. We get nervous. We confuse speed with enthusiasm. Or maybe we just want to get it over with.

What’s the result? Our audience never has time to let our words sink in, and our mile-a-minute talk fest leaves them slightly dazed.

Listening to, and especially speaking along with, famous speeches has helped me become a better speaker. It has taught me just how much I can slow down in my delivery. It has helped me learn how to vary my cadence, my volume, and my tone for dramatic affect.

Try it. You not only get to hear some of the most powerful words of our day, you also get to become a better communicator yourself.

(Bonus hint: If you’re looking for speeches to listen to, check out American Rhetoric and their Top 100 Speeches.) 

The Leader: Primal Branding Asset 7

Martin Luther King at 1967 march on WashingtonPatrick Hanlon caps his seven assets in Primal Branding with “the leader.”

I expected that he would proclaim the need for a single, charismatic leader: a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs, a Jack Welsch.

He lists those, but he also lists more subdued leaders, leaders who base their leadership on their ability to listen, to have vision, to manage multiple skills.

Tomes have been written on leadership, and Hanlon doesn’t dig too deep. He does even give an example of non-traditional leadership such as at the advertising group Mother that has eliminated the role of account executive.

And that’s an important note: just like a brand can have more than one sacred word or more than one icon, it can also have more than one leader.

Indeed, we want many leaders. Our job is to cultivate, train, and empower people to be leaders.

And when we nurture leaders, we give followers and not-yet-leaders something they can connect to, which is what Primal Branding is about.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo: National Archives)

Sacred Words: Primal Branding Asset 6

Do you know what it means to carmelize, deglaze, and saute?

Do you know what it means to keep a stack, stand aside, or block?

Do you know what it means to hit the wall or do a fartlek?

Which is larger at Starbucks, a tall or grande? (I don’t know this one.)

In Primal Branding, Patrick Hanlon talks identifies sacred words as one of the key assets that a company, product, organization, or movement needs to have adherents that believe in it.

As with many of his concepts, Hanlon doesn’t really explain it. After all, it’s primal, not rational. But observation does bear it out. Anything that people dedicate a lot of time or attention to develops its own language.

And once it has that language, those sacred words help to distinguish the insiders from the outsiders.

Hanlon hasn’t convinced me that you need to go out and try to create sacred words. In fact, he describes how they develop naturally in community. Nobody planned for people who attend the TED conference to start calling themselves TEDsters.

If you’re an organizer, though, who is committed to building an accessible community, you need to find ways to welcome people in so that they learn the sacred words.

At ICPJ, for example, we need to make sure people know what we’re talking about when we say REJ, LATF, or DWG.

Sacred words maintain an in-group, and that’s okay, so long as there’s no lock on the door that makes it impossible for new folks to get in.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo by _fabrizio_)

The pagans: Primal Branding Asset 5

Primal Branding is about building a loyal following of believers in your cause, your product, your movement, your brand.

And to have believers, you have to have unbelievers.

At least, that’s what Patrick Hanlon asserts.

If your a coffee-head and Roos Roast fan, the unbelievers are those poor, misguided Folgers drinkers.

When I was in high school in Crando, there was a constant back and forth between the Ford people and the Chevy people.

One of my dad’s pet theories is that we will only have peace on earth after there is contact aliens.

For there to be a “we,” there needs to be a “they.”

Even Barak Obama, with his calls for unity and a new type of politics, creates a “they” by criticizing the old way of politics (and by extension those who practice it).

Many brands, movements, and religions have used us/them differences to create a strong following, and I think that’s okay.

There is a danger, however, in going on to create us/them divisions. I believe that King’s method of saying we disagree with the segregationists and resist them, but we do not hate them, is a much better method than Malcolm X’s lesson that the enemy is the white man.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

The Rituals: Primal Branding Asset 4

Chinese New Year ritualPatrick Hanlon takes a broad view of ritual. He sees any repeated process, whether it’s settling an insurance claim, getting married, or using an ATM as a ritual.

So what does this have to do with Primal Branding and making an emotional connection with your audience?

If you take a thought approach to these many repeated interactions, you have the ability to create a powerful, positive, and remarkable experience for your audience.

Here are some examples:

  • Aveda salons have made their “welcome the customer” ritual include giving them herbal tea and a scalp massage,
  • Progressive Insurance has made their “accident claim response” ritual involve sending an agent to the accident scene to write a check on the spot,
  • Lego made their “welcome toy professionals” ritual that reminded the adults what life is like for kids from birth through adolescence.

I can fully see how these rituals would make the customers build stronger connections to the companies.

What does this mean for a community organizer?

Think about some of the rituals you have with your members, volunteers, and activists:

  • What are your rituals for thanking volunteers? For thanking donors?
  • What are your rituals for welcoming new members?
  • What are your rituals for starting meetings? For ending meetings?
  • What are your rituals for starting presentations?

How can you make these experience special and pleasant for people?

Here are a few ways to implement this that come to mind for ICPJ:

  • Begin all our events with something for spiritual grounding. We often do this already. It can be tricky, since “interfaith” isn’t a religion, but offering something to ground our events in a sense that peacemaking is a spiritual act is a way to make a meaningful ritual.
  • Enthusiastically welcome new members. How can we create a process where new people immediately feel warmly welcomed, connected to the community, and invited to get more involved?

What are your rituals? How can you make them more positive for your audience?

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo by ionushi)

The Creed: Primal Branding Asset 2

The second asset that Patrick Hanlon describes in creating a Primal Brand is a creed.

What is it you believe in? What are you about?

The focus of Primal Branding, after all, it to get people to believe in you. How can they believe in you if you don’t believe in anything yourself.

Hanlon lists some effective creeds:

  • All men are created equal [and women!]
  • Save the whales
  • It’s the real thing

A creed is the thought that lies behind a mission statement, though your creed may not be a long, formal, or stuffy as most mission statements are. It may tie in with your tagline or motto. Whatever it you call it, it’s how you and your audience know what you are about. It ties in with Guy Kawasaki’s call to “make mantra” in The Art of the Start.

At the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, I think there are two elements to our creed, and hashing them out is something we need to work on.

One part of our creed is that we believe that we make peace by bringing people from different faiths and backgrounds together around our shared concern for justice. We are stronger together, and ICPJ brings us together.

The other part of our creed is that we believe that peacemaking is a spiritual act, so we offer “social change with spirit.”

When I speak, I do speak about our origin story, which ties in to our creed of being stronger together. It does help people know where we came from and what we’re about.

What do you believe in? How do you communicate that to your audience?

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

The Origin Story: Primal Branding Asset 1

The first asset that Patrick Hanlon identifies in Primal Branding is the origin story.

This tells where the group, product, or person comes from and indicates where it is going. It provides context. It provides something for people to connect to.

Often, a creation story invokes a quest or a vision for the future. For example, Nike’s founding story involves trying to create the perfect running shoe. Starbucks’ founding story is about serving the perfect cup of coffee. MoveOn’s tells of trying to get the country to move on from the attempts to impeach Clinton and get on with the business of the country.

Creation stories also often involve overcoming adversity. FedEx’s founder going on to start the company after his marketing prof. laughed at him. A free South Africa emerging despite the oppression of the Afrikaner minority.

Storytelling guru Andy Goodman recommends that every nonprofit have a bank of stories at hand, one of which is the creation story, and I’ve found it useful to be able to tell ICPJ’s creation story to explain our origins in bringing people together from different faiths and backgrounds to work for peace.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

Primal Branding: How to get people to believe in you

Primal Branding is a take on how to create something that people connect to on an emotional level–something they believe in.

Whether it’s a product, a cause, a company, a movement, a person, a religion, or whatever, Patrick Hanlon discusses his take on how to make this into a powerful, “primal brand” that people connect to.

Hanlon identifies seven pieces of the “primal code” that help create something (he uses “brand” to refer to all of these) that people connect to:

I’ll take a look at these seven pieces and how Hanlon brings them together in subsequent posts.

But first, does his premise makes sense for community organizations.

It depends.

For organizations like ICPJ, the NAACP, MoveOn, I think it does. Even if we’re wicked-effective, we won’t have funders or activists if we don’t create positive, emotional connections with people.

For some organizations, however, I don’t think it does. I’m not convinced that GetDowntown needs people to believe in the organization to convince people to change their commuting behavior. They do need businesses and employees to believe that biking, bussing, carpooling, walking, or telecommuting are good commuting choices, but they may not need a “primal brand.”