WHY (as it applies to me)

Disclaimer: This blog breaks my traditional semi-objective tone and looks more at the purpose and motive that lies between my thoughts and key strokes.

I know, you’ve seen it, but it’s STILL relevant.

WHY: causality, a consequential relationship between two events. reason (argument), a premise in support of an argument, for what reason or purpose.

This is a question fit for every context ending with a question mark. In the above video, Mr. Sinek applies why to marketing. In this blog, I am applying it to me. Part of the process of graduate school is about taking an inventory of one’s self.

“Why? How? What? This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t. Let me define the terms really quickly. Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why” I mean: what’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? 

If I follow the above logic, which by the way, I hardheartedly agree with, then in order to be successful, I too must find my why. What is my purpose? What is my cause? What is my belief? I want to not only work for a successful business, I want to be a successful business. Smirk if you want, but you do too.

We go around the room and most of us say that we don’t know exactly what we want to do. We are at one of the top universities in the country, and the best we can get is the simple feeling that we’re in the right program? We feel it, but when asked why, we look at each other in order to feel a sense of unity in our discomfort. Sure we can put labels on it: marketing, human resources, public relations, advertising, but when probed further, there’s a shared panic. I understand, I don’t have an answer that I am content with yet either, but this is what I’ve got so far:

I am here to make a difference. I know, Miss America pageant answer and I hate it too, but don’t disregard it yet..hear me out. There are only a few moments in my life where I have felt truly alive. My first was while in Kenya five months ago. I have never lived a more purposeful two weeks in my life. It is something that I hate trying to explain because words tend to only discredit the intensity of my experience, and if I’m being honest with you, your reaction if I were to explain it to you, would probably be highly disappointing to me too. I get it though, it’s something that is really hard to relate to. It’s like if you were really into Lady Gaga and she walked into Starbucks, I wouldn’t care, but you would be FREAKING.OUT. Anyway for now, just trust me when I say I lived. The second was when I found out that I got into USC. Why? you so appropriately ask? Because it signified the culmination of everything I had worked toward. It was my chance to do something bigger than me. I have a love for psychology that probably has a lot to do with growing up with a mother who is a licensed psychotherapist. I have a love for business that probably has to do with the fact that I like to feel like I am in control. It is the perfect combination. No, I don’t know exactly where I am headed, but I think what Mr. Sinek fails to mention is that sometimes a feeling can be just as powerful as an answer. Why? because sometimes the most meaningful things can’t be explained, only felt.

…and I feel like that’s okay.

What is your why?


Optimism is a Brain Defect

I repeat. Optimism is a brain defect.

I think it’s fitting to start out this post by talking about something I hate. I hate when I am having a really horrible day and I sit down next to someone who is having the BEST. DAY. EVER. I don’t care about the flowers your boyfriend bought you, carnations are filler flowers anyway. I know, I’m a terrible person.

On a normal day, however, I tend to be optimistic about most things. According to a recent study, this means I have a brain defect. Well that’s hopeful. I’ll explain:

Researchers at Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at the University College London studied nineteen volunteers who were presented with a eighty situational/negative life events (i.e. car jacking, infidelity, being fired, and Alzheimer disease). During this time, researchers measured their activity in the brain while they were hooked up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Participants were asked to estimate the probability that these negative events would happen to them sometime in their life. A few minutes later, the volunteers were told the average probability of these events actually occurring to them. 

The researchers found that people did, in fact, update their estimates based on the information given, but only if the information was better than expected. For example if individuals estimated a 40 percent chance of getting cancer in their lifetime and then later were told they actually only had a 30 percent chance, then the second time they were polled they would alter their probability to 32 percent. However, if they underestimated their probability of a negative event, they would not increase their likelihood.

Why? Well the brain scans suggest that “all participants showed increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain when the information given was better than expected, this activity actively processed the information to recalculate an estimate. However, when the information was worse than estimated, the more optimistic a participant there was less efficiently activity in these frontal regions coded for it, suggesting they were disregarding the evidence presented to them.” In essence, when outcomes were better than anticipated, activity in the frontal cortices spiked, monitoring estimation errors. However, when things were worse than expected, brain activity was much weaker. Psychologically, this gives way to the confirmation bias, the tendency for individuals to favor information that confirms their preconception and disregard information that does not support their previously held beliefs. When factual information given by researchers to participants did not match up with their predictions, the subjects essentially plugged their ears and hummed a tune.

Perhaps this is the reason that unplanned pregnancies occur or DUIs are so prevalent. The “it won’t happen to me” mentality can be quite harmful. On the other hand, being positive isn’t negative. There are a million reasons why we may condition ourselves in this manner. Seeing the glass half full or making lemonade out of lemons undoubtedly lowers stress, makes us more ambitious, and contributes to our overall happiness. It’s the one brain defect I am proud to possess.   How can we as students of psychology, marketing, public relations, and human resources find a silver-lining applicable to our fields and more importantly, our lives?

The Man Who Taught Us All How to Think Different

I was in church one Sunday when my pastor asked the congregation how many of us want to go to heaven when we die. Naturally, everyone raised their hand. He then asked, how many want to go right now? No one raised their hand.We have things to do. We have people to see and places to go, but not even the greatest among us can escape death. Steve Jobs, innovator, genius, revolutionary and entrepreneur died at age 56.

I google-imaged apple and there are more pixels related to Apple Inc. then to an actual apple. How did this happen? The answer, Steve Jobs.

We all know about his products, we all probably own one, but that is not the emphasis of this post. Instead, I want to focus on the man, not the mogul. Undoubtedly, Jobs changed the world as we know it. Our children will not only think differently because of Jobs, they will live differently, but how much do really know about the man behind the curtain?


Steve Jobs Jobs was born in San Francisco to Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, a Syrian, and Joanne Schieble, an American of Swiss and German decent. Both parents were graduate school students. Jobs’ grandfather did not approve of his parents getting married so his parents decided to put him up for adoption. Steve’s biological mother later became a speech pathologist while his father taught political science at various universities. Ironically however, four months after Jobs’ grandfather died (and only ten months after they decided to give up custody of Steve), his parents married and had a daughter, Jobs’ biological sister Mona Simpson.  The marriage ended in divorce. Later in life, Jobs connected with Mona and had a distant relationship with his biological mother. Although Jandali’s attempts, late in his life, to contact Jobs were unsuccessful; Interviewed in August 2011 when Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, Jandali said, “I just wish I hadn’t been the selfish man I must have been, to allow both my children to turn their backs on me and pray it is not too late to tell Steve how I feel.” (The Sun)

Jobs was adopted by  Paul Jobs and Clara Jobs. Paul and Clara also later adopted a daughter, Patti. Paul Jobs, a machinist for a company that made lasers, taught his son rudimentary electronics and how to work with his hands. It was in Paul and Clara’s garage where Jobs’ and co-founder Steve Wozniak (shown above) began work on the first Apple computer. (Side note: the last name Wozniak is automatically saved in Mac spell check-just learned that).

Time past and Steve married Laurene Powell on March 18, 1991. The couple had a son and two daughters. However, Jobs also had a daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs (born 1978), from his relationship with Bay Area painter Chrisann Brennan prior to meeting his wife. For two years, Brennan raised their daughter on welfare while Jobs denied paternity by claiming he was sterile; he later acknowledged Lisa as his daughter (CNN). DUN DUN DUN.

Obviously, I did not personally know Steve Jobs and I am not here to bash his legacy. In fact, I have much respect and admiration for his professional accomplishments. I do not know if in my lifetime I will see the amount of innovation and complete transformation of our society by another name. I found out that Jobs had passed via Facebook (fitting right?) Millions of status’ were devoted to his passing, but one that I was exposed to I felt summed up his impact on my generation quite well. It came from one of my fellow Trojans who studied Music Industry and has a passion for everything that is music. It was as follows:

“Because of you, I’m able to write, record, and listen to music virtually anywhere I want. RIP Steve Jobs.”


A noticeably frail Jobs.

A copy of Jobs’ death certificate indicates that the Apple co-founder died of respiratory arrest resulting from pancreatic cancer that had spread to other organs (The Guardian).

Steve Jobs changed Human Behavior. He changed the way in which companies market, the way in which consumers act, think, and expect quality. He defines a movement of innovation. During one interview, Jobs stated, “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very very beginning. And we always will” – Steve Jobs

A Deeper Look at Frank Luntz: Obfuscation or Clarification?

Frank Luntz. “A corporate consultant, pollster and political consultant to Republicans, Luntz's specialty is testing language and finding words that will help his clients sell their product or turn public opinion on an issue or a candidate” (The Persuaders)

I was first introduced (figuratively) to Mr. Luntz in Dr. Fraser’s class. I found Luntz’s theory and technique as a wordsmith to be incredibly appealing. It is utterly fascinating how he has been able to manipulate our emotions, but is it conscionable?

Frank Luntz has made a career out of witnessing reactions and making decisions based on the reactions he gets. It’s quite simple, really. Newton determined that for “every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Frank Luntz pays particular attention to the reactions and alters the action or input to be able to get the appropriate reaction or output. How does he do this, you ask? Focus groups. Luntz uses dial technology to track uninterrupted reactions. More specifically, he takes a room of mixed Republicans and Democrats then plays a political speech while equipping each of them with dial technology. Participants turn the dial up if they agree with the statement being said at the time, and lower if they disagree. The point at which both Republicans and Democrats reach a plateau of agreeable measure is the point at which Luntz achieves success. As a result of such shared harmony, he knows what is marketable to each segment. This type of research changed the War in Iraq to the War on Terror, it renamed Global Warming to climate change. It is important to note that the war did not change as a result of his renaming nor did the problem of Global Warming. Only the titles changed, not the issues.

Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, Luntz would argue that while the smell may be the same, the association is not as consistent.

Luntz explained that eighty percent of our life is emotion, and only twenty percent is intellect. He is much more interested in how you feel than how you think.”It’s all emotion. But there’s nothing wrong with emotion. When we are in love, we are not rational; we are emotional. When we are on vacation, we are not rational; we are emotional. When we are happy, we are not [rational]. In fact, in more cases than not, when we are rational, we’re actually unhappy” (The Persuaders).

Do you think his career is built on manipulation or does is he an innovator simply capitalizing on connotations? How can marketers apply these types of word alterations to their own products or companies to achieve the same success? Is it authentic and perhaps more importantly, is it that easy?

Moneyball Marketing.


This past weekend I went to see Moneyball. It is not often that my mom and I agree on a movie, but both of us wanted to see what all the hype was about. The movie staring Brad Pitt is a story about the Oakland A’s and how their manager, Billy Beane, sought to expand competitive gain through the application of highly developed data modeling techniques (with a budget of less than half of the A’s rival teams). Beane is credited with adapting Bill James’ statistical concepts into practical use through the implementation of sabermetrics. “Using on-base percentage (OBP, which measure a batter’s ability to reach base by hit or walk) was much more significant than mere batting average (BA, which only measures hits), relative value of slugging average (SLG, which measures a batter’s total bases per at-bat) and dismissed the more traditional baseball stats such as stolen bases and bunts” (The Atlantic). In essence, it is simply glorified market research applied to the game of baseball.

The movie got me thinking. If you can apply market research and strategy to baseball. Then certainly we can apply it to business in the same non-traditional sense. Hear me out. Obviously businesses use market research, some of us are even hoping this program directs us to that goal, but that’s not the type of market research I am referring to. If we follow the logic of the movie, players like A-Rod and Derek Jeter are somewhat discredited.

Billy Beane: “Why do people care about anything we do? We play in a crappy stadium, in a market that we share with another team, with one of the lowest payrolls in the game. Really, I’m not that interesting.”

The storyline repeatedly emphasizes that big budget players can be replaced with less well-known talent. It therefore discredits their talents and makes superstars somewhat replaceable. Now, let’s replace the players with CEOs. Following my logic, Ray Irani, CEO of Occidental Petroleum Corp., the highest paid CEO with an annual salary of $52.2 million, would represent the New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia, who besides Alex Rodriguez is the second highest paid professional baseball player in the league with a salary of 23 million dollars. While Beane looked at player’s OBP, could we not look at CEOs performance quantitatively? What is Irani’s batting average/company success via stock value, innovation, or annual earnings per-say. Is there not comparable replacement of talent willing to get paid a lot less? Billy Beane would argue yes. In fact, sabermetrics would argue that there are replacements for every top CEO.  This is personally discouraging to me because it belies everything I am working towards. If you and I are replaceable and only worth the lowest bid of our competition, then what exactly makes us valuable? Are there exceptions? Could Steve Jobs be replaced successfully? He only took a $1 salary once again in 2010 so its hard to argue a case for him. However, do you think the theory still applies or is it completely off base (pun intended)?

Another noteworthy issue surrounding the movie is how it was marketed. Sports fans are upset particularly with the add below shown on Facebook:

Many feel as though this is very stereotypical in nature. NBC Sports flips these sterotypes in the statement below:

“Fact: there are a lot of women who would actually want to see ‘Moneyball’ because of the story and couldn’t give a damn about Brad Pitt.  Fact: there are a lot of men who would actually want to see “Moneyball” because they think Brad Pitt is a hunk and, you know, screw baseball”.-NBC Sports

Fact: clearly the marketers of Moneyball used segmentation, but did they go too far?

Starbucks: “Significant Investment, Significant Return”

Starbucks, the number one consumer brand on Facebook, understands, “Traditional marketing is changing dramatically. You can’t push people. You have to engage them in a conversation and they have to trust the source”-Howard Schultz, CEO and Chairman.

The New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/business/media/19starbux.html shows how the company directly applied social networking and digital media to their marketing strategies. Starbucks recently unveiled new advertising posters and invitied its consumers to search for the posters. A competitive twist was incorporated by being the first to post a photo of one of the advertisements on Twitter.

With the economic downturn, those who frequent the coffee chain are having a hard time rationalizing a five dollar white mocha each morning. Especially when McDonalds offers coffee at a fraction of the price. After all, coffee is coffee, right? Wrong, according to Starbucks. It should not come as a shock to us students of Human Behavior, Starbucks doesn’t only sell coffee, they sell a third-place environment; not home, not work, but Starbucks. The article, however, is quick to emphasize the quality of the brand. “The full-page newspaper ads goes to some length to describe how Starbucks selects only the best 3 percent of beans and roasts them until they pop twice, and gives its part-time workers health insurance.”

What is really quite genius about the brand is how they studied the embedded habits of social media users and were able to integrate their marketing campaign around behaviors that were already occurring, not the other way around. “The idea for the Starbucks photo contest came from watching what people already do on Facebookand Twitter.” The  brand was able to capitalize on behaviors that their customers were already participating in.

“It’s the difference between launching with many millions of dollars versus millions of fans.”

True, Starbucks probably spent quite a chunk of change on the new poster advertisement, (the wouldn’t reveal the exact cost) but that wasn’t their most significant breakthrough. Instead, it was what it translated to, a conversation online. While McDonalds spent 100 million dollars are their marketing campaign against Starbucks and other top competitors, Starbucks realized their strongest campaign was to join the one that was already alive and well within social media. How can your brand join the conversation?

Coloring Inside the Lines, Psych.


Psychological and sociological theories explain much of we do as human beings. The MHB program aims to not only understand these often-subconscious behaviors, but also capitalize on them. Color psychology is a field in which we as marketers, advertisers, and future men and women of business, can directly apply to our own strategies. Research has shown that colors, and the connotations they imply, have the power to modify the physiological and mental status of any given individual.

A study by Wohlfarth and Sam found that both blood pressure and hostile behavior may be changed by altering the light spectrum within an individual’s surroundings.  First and perhaps most importantly, one must take an inventory of the product or brand they want to market. What type of impressions do you want the public to associate with your brand? Let’s examine this theory further by applying it to brands we already know:

Yellow is the color of hope and imagination. Bright yellows represent sunshine, joy and happiness. No wonder kids love the golden arches!

Red: color of heat, passion and excitement. It easily grabs attention and evokes speed and energy. Need I say more?

Pink: is the color most associated with youth. It exemplifies energy, amusement and excitement.

Light blue: Favorite among anxious and depressed people

The article points out that it is important to realize that in different demographics or geographical locations, colors are associated with different attitudes and perspectives. Therefore, it is even more appropriate to consider your target audience and their cultural associations than normal.

Brand aesthetics are an essential tool to market branding and advertising, but in the end, it is the quality and reputation of the product that will prove to be most useful. Although there is something to be said for color psychology and the associations it creates. The importance of color doesn’t lie within the lines, it lies within the meanings the color creates.