Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cognition and Language Lab: Results from an Experiment: The Time Course of Visual Short-Term Memory

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Maverick's View of CEOs

In his commencement remarks to the LeBow Business School at Drexel University, Carl Icahn made his usual sweeping indictments of business, which however broad, do contain some bits of truth. But the ego-centric view from the outsider--the man who reportedly was the inspiration for the greed-is-good Gordon Gekko--lives off corporate fat and corporate mismanagement. He's just another partner is the same tired dance.

"Standing in a black robe and blue cap after receiving an honorary degree, Icahn spent a lot of time taking aim at the 'anti-Darwinian" route to the corporate suite.

'There's a symbiotic relationship between boards and CEOs today,' Icahn said. 'As a result there is no way to hold them accountable.'

Except, he added, when 'someone like me comes along.'

with exceptions, Icahn said, the CEO is the guy who was the frat president, always available to play pool, have a drink with you,hang out when your girlfriend didn't show up. You wondered if he ever studies, Icahn said.

He was a 'likable guy, not too bright, maybe even a buffoon.'

In the business world, he's agile at the political game, never making waves, putting out ideas or posing a threat to the guy in front of him, in Icahn's view.

That way, he gets to be CEO and makes sure his number-two person isn't smarter, Icahn said.

'Sooner or later, we're all going to be run by morons,' he said to applause.

He professed to not knowing how poorly companies were run until he was buying a business in the 1980's. The company building had 12 floors of people, but he couldn't figure out what they all did even after meeting with the CEO, he said.

He paid a consultant $250,000 to find out. The consultant came back with a huge stack of papers that Icahn refused to read. By his account, he shoved a pencil and a notepad tat the consultant and told him, 'Tell me what they do.'

The consultant pocketed the money and said: 'You were square with me. I'll be square with you. We can't figure out what they do, either.'

Icahn said he had closed the plac eonly afterward If it were today, he said, he would have fired everyone earlier."

From Icahn's LeBow Business School Commencement Speech as written for the Philadelphia Inquirer by Mara Rao, June 14, 2008.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Les Girls

An avid reader of the New York Times and other trade and consumer publications, I pick up bits and pieces of marketing data and information that only bring forth the big picture when synthesized--one of the primary purposes of this blog.

Recently, a lot of information is hitting the media about girls and their mothers. To no surprise, women are attracted to the internet in droves, particularly to the high content and social networking sites. In the '80's, as editor of Catalog Age magazine (now called Mulit-Channel Merchant), I was repeatedly given new media demonstrations, sponsored by anyone seeking press, but most notably IBM at the time (It was pushing Prodigy--remember that--along with Sears). To IBM back then--and to so many others I can recall--I said that the web and e-commerce developers need to address the behaviors and attitudes of women before this channel would come into its own, providing avenues for reading, browsing, shopping, networking (gossiping)--the traditional domains of women.

Women's shopping behavior is not always "go-and-get" (or click), the hunt. It's foraging--browse and buy, compare and enjoy, especially with your friends. Now that the internet has adopted many of these more female behavioral modes into their sites--and as the social networks have evolved--women are becoming a dominant emarket source.

For example: (95% of mothers go online at least once a day--Source: MarketTools (San Francisco). According to a recent article in the NYT ("Sorry, Boys, This is Our Domain"):
". . . a study published in December by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that among Web users ages 12 to 17, signficantly more girls than boys blog (35 percent of girls compared with 20 percent of boys) and create or work their own Web pages (32 percent of girls compared with 22 percent of boys).

Girls also eclipse boys when it comes to building or working on Web sites for other people and creating profiles on social networking sites (70 percent of girsl 15 to 17 have one, versus 57 percent of boys 15 to 17). Video posting was the sole area in which boys outdid girls: boys are almost twice as likely as girls to post video files.

Object-oriented behavior vs. love of narrative? You be the judge.

On a tangentially related topic: Tween girls behavior is pretty contradictory. Of course, they're 'tweens. Contrast the website with KGOY (kids getting older younger)phenomenon. At the Swedish site Stardoll, the average age of the girl visitor is 13.8, and she spends 2-2.5 hours a day at the site putting together virtual paper dolls, many of which are celebs, or decking herself out a "MeDoll." The site has 7.9 million unique visitors/month and is published in 15 languages.

Full-blown KGOY, with its accompanying indulgent "helicopter" parents and grandparents, is on view in the newest fad--make-up and "make-over" parties for little girls, some as young as 3 years old. Having a "primping party"--spa b-day parties for grade schoolers--is the new cool among a certain set of girls, with stores like Sweet & Sassy and Dashing Diva catering to these Britney or, rather, Hannah Montana wannabes (who would want to be Britney, really?).

What does this all mean? That we're raising a contingent of pedicured, active bloggers and web developers who lead their lives vicariously through the sleazy exploits of semi-talented, needy attention-grabbers? (Information taken from two recent NYT articles--"Dress Up for Dollars"--2.17.08) and "Skin Deep: Never Too Young for That First Pedicure--2.28.08). Don't think so. Sounds more like a lot of creativity yearning for an outlet, self-expression confined now to what's available. Art, music, home ec--much of this is cut out of current school systems. 4H, Girls Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, assemblies, bulletin boards--I guess not so popular any more.

To come: Flash Facts--interesting tidbits I happen to come across, appearing whenever they appear.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Passings: Max Raab, 1926-2008

Another visionary businessman--too few of whom remain today--died February 17, 2008, aged 82. A Renaissance man of the Greatest Generation, Raab founded Villager and JGHook, invented the shirtdress as well as the store-within-a-store concept to promote his Villager line. He went on to produce Walkabout, A Clockwork Orange, the Mummers documentary Strut!, and the lyrical film directed by Robert Downey, Sr., Rittenhouse Square. He also served in Occupied Japan with the U.S. Army.

For this little girl growing up in the beanfields of Oregon, Villager was IT. It defined everything that I aspired to--an East Coast casual sense of well-being and entitlement. How far was my world from that! Together with a stitched-down Pendleton reversible plaid skirt, a name collar white blouse from Charles F. Berg (a Portland specialty retailer catering to the well-heeled), and a blue blazer, Villager, Lanz, Weejuns, and more dressed and defined us female baby boomers, just before we overturned it all--favoring anything that was first of all outrageous, but more importantly individualistic.

In the '80's, Arthur Cinader with J. Crew would re-invent "preppy" and Ralph Lauren would skyrocket the look to Kennedy-esque level fantasy. Interestingly, all of these men were Jews giving tribute to the world of American wealth and power, eventually overtaking and overcoming it. As with Irving Berlin's White Christmas, looking from the outside in often brings forth the best. It's a distillation process born from exclusion and, sometimes, suffering that extracts and recognizes excellence while burning off the dross.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Body doubles and the truth

Ad Age reported today that Pfizer--"under Congressional pressure"--will pull its Lipitor ads that featured Dr. Robert Jarvik. The ads indicate clearly that he is a user of the product, but they are also somewhat misleading. I for one was always under the impression that he is a practicing cardiologist, not just the inventor of an artificial heart (

But then I also thought the ads gave the impression that he is a rower, a sport that we in Philadelphia take very seriously. Alas, not true either. The agency used a body double. But why did it take Pfizer so long to pull these ads? The New York Times first reported on this advertising snafu on February 7, 2008 (

Actually, I thought the ads featuring Dr. Jarvik undermined what they were supposed to do in the first place--achieve credibility for the product and establish authority. His reptilian features and arrogant manner did little to inspire confidence in me. And the use of a medical doctor to hawk product bordered on an area that lies somewhere between the Distasteful and the Unethical.

Now, whatever Pfizer hoped to achieve is further compromised.

Take away: Marketers beware of using endorsements--celebrity or otherwise. They often backfire or fall out of fashion or go into rehab. But if you do use them, for heaven's sake, don't compound the problem by letting a good storyboard idea overtake the truth.