Repeat It Enough and It Happens

As the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump enters the “defense” phase, a thought occurred to me about how the proceedings are playing to the American people.

Right now the main issue seems to be whether or not enough Republicans, who have so far been steadfast in their quest to become the new Know Nothing Party, will cross party lines and seek to hear new evidence that has come to light since the House sent over the articles of impeachment. That would require only four such party defections, while conviction of the president would require 20 some senators to go against the president and their own leadership.

Such defections, even in light of revelations like last night’s report that former Ambassador John Bolton was admitting all of it in an upcoming book (ironically *not* titled I’m A Big Coward Man), have seemed unlikely given the iron grip Trump and others have on rank and file Republicans.

That situation has lead countless commentators across media to couch all of their analysis and predictions about the impeachment trial with some variation on the qualifier “…but it’s a virtual lock the Senate won’t vote to convict Trump.” It’s to the point where the only question is where such a caveat will be placed in their responses.

Such constant repetition of conventional wisdom has, I suspect, had two consequences:

First, it’s impacted public perception of the trial and how it should proceed. While support for conviction and removal from office of Trump remains split along ideological lines, one reason more people aren’t coming around might be that they don’t see a point in it all if it’s not going to happen. Why get worked up about it and hope for justice to be served when every pundit on radio and TV is saying it won’t?

Second, for the same reason the reinforcing of removal being nie impossible to achieve has given cover to those senators who weren’t inclined to break with their marching orders to begin with. Keeping public opinion divided means they don’t have to make a moral stand based on the evidence or any sense of justice but can keep playing partisan politics with little fear of retribution come election time.

While various polls have shown falling trust among the public in mainstream media, situations like this show how much power it still has. Under the guise of both objectivity and the desire to appear well informed, members of the media have repeated the same line over and over again. That has to have had some influence on the public and its view of how the impeachment trial is proceeding, just as it would in any other case. Here, though, the results may be damaging not only to their own industry but to democracy and society as a whole.

Selling The Gentlemen

My latest marketing recap column for The Hollywood Reporter covers the campaign for STX’s The Gentlemen from director Guy Ritchie.

STX has been selling the film as a violence-filled comedy that’s very on-brand for Ritchie, one where the veneer of polite society masks the seedy underbelly of the drug-selling underworld. The pic clocks in at a 76 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far. The following is a look at the marketing campaign.

You can read the whole thing here.

Creators to Social Media Platforms: We Were On A Break!

Everyone needs some time off now and again.

Social media influencers, it seems, are increasingly deciding to log off for a bit, burnt out by the time and effort needed to keep up with the schedules they’ve established for publishing new material. They know that doing so is filled with risks, as whatever success they’ve achieved has depended greatly on constantly pushing out new content and staying at the top of people’s minds. If they are seen as no longer relevant they could start to lose subscribers/followers, which could then lead to fewer sponsorship/revenue opportunities, and once lost it could be hard to regain their previous position.

The story reminds me of the conversations that used to take place in the early days of Web 2.0’s mainstream adoption. People would regularly take time off from their blogs because of work commitments or just because they needed to catch their breath a bit and recharge their creative batteries. A running joke (rooted in reality, as most things are) was that those who started podcasts – in the first wave of that format’s popularity – were likely to abandon the project before the tenth episode. If it went beyond that it might go on for years, but that seemed to be the point where burnt out set in.

I Need To Lie Down Parks And Recreation GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

In those days – now 15 or more years ago – taking a break was something that just happened. Announcing it on your blog was kind of a joke, as people had a laugh at the author for taking themselves so seriously as to think it was a Big Deal and had to be addressed publicly. You opened yourself up for comments being left on the post that tweaked you for feeling so important and essential.

For most people at that time a personal blog was either a branding mechanism – showing off your skills in the hopes it would lead to job advancement in some manner or to further writing opportunities – or simply a passion project where you let your freak flag fly on a topic you loved or were passionate about. Revenue wasn’t really a concern, so a heads-up to readers about a break was more about showing you hadn’t abandoned the blog.

Taking time off may have been important to you, but because a good amount of reading happened via RSS and links from other blogs it didn’t impact your audience much unless it extended for a significant period. Whenever you picked back up, your readers would know about it and things continued on.

That the stakes are so much higher now for taking the kind of break independent online publishers have needed from time to time for over a decade says something about the state of internet media. Social media platforms own a sizable percentage of online behavior, taken in large part from blogs. LiveJournal has shuttered, Tumblr has fallen from grace after multiple acquisitions. Medium isn’t the hot site it once was and other platforms have come and gone.

A break of some duration is understandable, then. When the stakes were much lower it made sense, especially for people who produced podcasts or held themselves to a strict, heavy publishing schedule. Now, with so much more on the line it’s even more justifiable, especially since time off might mean a producer’s content is weighted differently in the platform algorithms that determine who succeeds and who doesn’t.

While I’ve been critical of “influencer marketing” over the last several years, that’s mostly because it feels like a cheapening of the infrastructure that was built by the early online publishing pioneers. It used to take hard work and dedication to amass a substantial readership, now it takes a bit of spending on Promoted Posts and some help from the brand that hired you to make their new product introduction video.

But it is a job, and a hard one. Many of the best ones, the ones who aren’t overt Nazis or misogynists, put a lot of effort into their channels and productions and depend on the revenue generated in the same way a freelancer or other independent worker would. Many companies offer long-term employees a sabbatical of some length after X number of years to help avoid burnout, and people can use their vacation time to get away from the office (hypothetically, at least, since a big percentage never really does) and gain some perspective.

Just like what the article mentions about online influencers, those employees face some amount of risk by taking advantage of the time off available to them. They may come back and find their responsibilities have been assigned to others, or that they’ve been cut out of an important upcoming project. The boss might have a new favorite or they may receive negative feedback on their next performance review as they’re seen as not fully committed to the company and its success.

All of that is to say the problems faced by these individuals are common, felt by people in a variety of positions and circumstances and should therefore be taken seriously. Everyone needs a break now and then, as long as both parties are aware it’s happening.

Selling Bad Boys For Life

My latest column for The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the marketing for Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys For Life.

With tracking estimating a $38 million to $50 million holiday opening weekend, Columbia’s campaign has positioned the movie as very much a throwback to the kind of movies associated with Michael Bay, who directed the original. In fact, they’re the kind of movies he’s still making, as evidenced by the recent Netflix original 6 Underground. That means lots of explosions, lots of comedic banter and more explosions from directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah as well as writers Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan.

You can read the whole thing here.

There’s No Such Thing As “Hidden” Talents

“Oh, I didn’t know you could do that!”

It’s a sentiment that’s heard – or at least felt – a lot in the business world. Manager and supervisors hire someone for a specific role and then are surprised to find that person is capable of other things. Recently Fast Company shared some tips on how managers can cultivate and take advantage of the “hidden” talents of employees.

The concept of “hidden” talents is at best misplaced and at worst extremely problematic.

Starting Off On the Wrong Foot

Problems in utilizing an employee’s full range of skills and abilities creep in almost immediately, beginning with the hiring process. Job descriptions are very specific, laying out the *exact* skills needed and the *exact* roles that person will be expected to fill and perform. If you don’t check all the boxes, you won’t get the job. If you check all those boxes in addition to a few others that aren’t listed, you won’t get the job.

Once an individual gets the job, they are kept in the box they arrived in. Assignments are made along the lines laid out by the skills that person is understood to have. Not only is the problem being addressed specified but so are both the goal and the steps that should be taken to get from Point A to Point B.

Lack of Creative Freedom

The reason for that overly-prescriptive direction is a mix of A) bias based on previous experience from managers and supervisors, and B) restrictions rooted in software or other resource availability. Basically workers are being hemmed in by what software is officially approved and a sense that what other people did is the best predictor of what should be done in the future.

This despite the reality that original solutions can offer unexpected benefits. It might be cheaper, more efficient or simply more elegant and easy to replicate. It might provide a more substantial solution to the issue than the dictated process. Any deviation from the mapped out road is frequently met with disapproval and even reprimand, a behavior to be corrected in order to make sure the employee sticks to the company line in the future.

Hidden Talents = Bad Management

Whatever the rationale espoused by higher ups in an organization, putting guardrails on employees in any regard is a waste of resources.

Imagine mining for a precious resource, but the current tools only extract 60 percent of what’s available. Everyone hired has to use the same tools and comes to understand the same limitation, but no one is allowed to bring it up or suggest alternatives, even if their previous experience gives them important insights on how to get more – or all – of the available mineral. Any other tools that might do a more complete job aren’t available because that’s not who the current management team has selected as an approved vendor.

While there’s a decent case to be made that people don’t need to bring their “whole selves” to the workplace, it’s irresponsible for companies to not give people the freedom to not only offer suggestions based on their unique set of experiences, personality and insights but allow them to act on those without fear of being given a poor performance review.

Someone with kids may see a solution that someone without them won’t, even if the problem isn’t about kids or anything related to them. Sci-fi fans might have suggestions based on their experience at conventions or online fan groups. The examples go on forever.

It’s irresponsible to not allow people to bring the sum total of their experiences and knowledge to work. You never know where a great idea will come from, but if a manager has created an environment where individualism is left at the front door and people are reminded over and over again to not stand out but stick to the script they are therefore limiting the number of possible solutions that will be presented.

Managers who are surprised when they discover someone who works for them has a “hidden” talent are guilty of not utilizing that person’s full potential from the outset. Either their job responsibilities are too narrow, their mandate too restrictive or their work not nearly challenging enough to engage them more fully.

It shouldn’t come out of left field that someone is a great writer, has insights into a particular field/community or has something more to bring to the table beyond the bullet points on their initial job description. If it does, you need to reevaluate how you’re managing the people under you and consider how they can be given more freedom to be themselves.

We’re Only Immortal For a Limited Time

Neil Peart has passed.

Many people have written about his incredible ability behind a drumset. Many have written about his lyrics that were both sci-fi tinged and undeniably personal and moving.

I can’t add to that. So I will simply say the following:

He made me feel being weird was acceptable.

He made me feel that hearing the world differently was acceptable.

He made me feel that feeling an unusual beat in my life was acceptable.

He made me feel that changing metaphorical time signatures in the middle of the metaphorical song was acceptable.

He made me feel that dropping obscure references to things I loved and enjoyed in my writing – and conversations – was acceptable.

He made me feel being precise wasn’t incompatible with being passionate.

He made me feel being unusual could be a positive, not a detriment.

He made me feel that being true to yourself and not doing things you were uncomfortable with was acceptable.

All of that said, his influence remains. His drumming, his writing and other contributions are all still here. In addition to the music, highly recommended are his books, especially Masked Rider, Ghost Rider and Traveling Music. Each tells a different aspect of Peart’s life and experiences, showing how he dealt with grief or just how he moved through the world.

But Neil Peart has passed. And the world is a little poorer for it.

[picture via]

Everything Old Is Still Old

Influencers still peddling the same bromides they have been for years.

I recently had the misfortune to watch a video of an influencer talking about…well…the stuff influencers talk about. This individual is someone who has been recognized as a deep thinker by various news organizations, put on important lists and given opportunities to spread his message via high-profile speaking gigs.

It was someone I had never heard of despite his apparent fame and that the video being shown was of him sharing his worldview at the headquarters of a massive multinational corporation.

empty chair sketch

As soon as he started talking, though, it was clear I knew the type.

They’ve certainly been around for a long time, but this particular sub-species has blossomed fully thanks to the birth of the social web 20 years or so ago. The talk was filled with the same sort of generic “insights” that have been floating around the internet for a good long while. He spoke of connections and empathy and getting real and all the other associated buzzwords and topics.

None of it meant anything, of course. The same milquetoast sentiments didn’t mean anything 20 years ago, either, but they were packaged in such a way that they seemed new and fresh, mostly because they involved the internet we were all just getting used to being on for hours and hours at a time.

They were packaged into clever little sayings and sentiments, sometimes with a catchy little cartoon attached to them in some manner. Even before Twitter and other social media, these trifles were designed to be shared. And we were meant to take these people seriously because they amassed large followings – which they were always broadcasting and crowing about – of people ready to have their itching ears scratched by thoughts they could leverage into their own work.

The same playbook is being used by someone who has gathered around him a new generation of followers who are entranced by his ability to distill serious topics down to their most basic, stupidest elements. He’s used that ability to sell books, command large fees and more.

Often the audience for this material are those who want to feel they are pondering something new and expanding their thinking without having to do any of the actual heavy intellectual lifting. They are comforted by the fact they can report back on all the big ideas they’ve now been exposed to and can drop in their next presentation slide deck but are unburdened by the need to apply any serious rigor to the material.

Good for them that they have found a way to make a relatively easy living. All they have to do is draft off more substantial thinking done by others, using smaller words and creating warm feelings in the audience.

What’s clear is they’re not adding anything new. They weren’t 20 years ago and they aren’t now, but you would never know that by the attention they receive.

That’s a Big Pocket

At the end of last year I got the following notification from Pocket saying I was one of the service’s power users:

pocket 2019.png

That’s obviously a lot of reading.

Pocket has been an important part of my online reading productivity for quite a while. While reading RSS items in Feedly or simply finding interesting stories on the web I save them to Pocket and then using them in some manner.

Sometimes that’s just reading the stories. Sometimes I share them in one way or another. Sometimes they become part of a Marketing Recap column. Sometimes they’re used as the starting or supporting point in another blog post.

Whatever the case, Pocket is a great resource. While I no longer use it for recommendations, it’s still a great resource to have to search through later on when I’m looking for an article but don’t remember what exactly it was.

It’s likely the one and only time I’ll be in the 1%, so I’m going to savor it.

New For 2020

It’s a fresh set of downs, the perfect time to officially kick off or unveil a few things.

Productivity Lost

I’ve mentioned this before but today it launches for real. Productivity Lost began as a non-fiction book project I was working on but, after not being able to find a publisher interested in it, I made the decision to share it as an ongoing blog. Chapters have become individual posts, footnotes have become links and so on. Updates are going to be published three times a week and you can subscribe via email or RSS depending on your preference.

What I’m hoping to do is point out how much the American working public has been sold a bill of goods regarding productivity. Employees, contractors and others are held accountable to it, it’s used as a measure of economic progress, and yet there’s almost no way companies and corporations have sufficiently or legitimately fostered productivity as an actual goal.

The plan is to publish what was the book over the course of several months and then add on from there.

Fiction By Thilk

Previously I had shared some of the short stories and other fiction I’ve written recently on this site, but now I’ve decided to create a standalone portfolio site for that creative writing. It’s a better way, I think, to show off what I’m capable off and keep this site a little less cluttered.

My hope is to add to this over the course of 2020. There are some longer works I’m still chipping away at, but I also plan to take some time and create more short fiction each week, publishing it all there.

Thilk Shared Items

For years I’ve struggled with how best to share the kinds of stories I come across and think are interesting. Sharing on Twitter or LinkedIn often feels forced and unnatural. Recently I’ve been pushing them to my Pocket Recommendations, but that too didn’t feel quite right.

That new site addresses one of my primary concerns, which is that it more meaningfully archies the stories being shared. All those other platforms are so ephemeral and aren’t great when it comes to finding items later on, so this is the best option out there. Posts there will be shared on Twitter.

All three of these new sites, like this and Cinematic Slant, are built on, still my preferred platform for publishing online. It’s flexible, archivable and almost always does what I want it to do.

It may seem nuts to add a bunch of new responsibilities to my plate, but what the hell else am I going to do? These are all projects or areas that are important to me, so finding a way to show them off was a scratch requiring itching.

I hope you enjoy them and that they turn out to be both informative and entertaining. Leave a comment with questions or feedback.