Yogi RIPsum

(NYTimes.com): Yogi Berra, one of baseball’s greatest catchers and characters, who as a player was a mainstay of 10 Yankee championship teams and as a manager led both the Yankees and Mets to the World Series — but who may be more widely known as an ungainly but lovable cultural figure, inspiring a cartoon character and issuing a seemingly limitless supply of unwittingly witty epigrams known as Yogi-isms — died on Tuesday. He was 90.

As the 12 readers of this blog already know, “Lorem Ipsum” is dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Basically, it is gibberish that sort of looks like Latin. That makes sense, because creative types in the design and publishing field often refer to these latin-looking words as “greeking.” And by, “that makes sense,” of course I mean, “that makes no sense.”

As I have learned from a lifetime of presenting concepts to clients, if you don’t greek copy, the client will read the copy and say, “I don’t understand the copy.” By using Lorem Ipsum dummy text, the client will know it’s just represents a place where copy will be.

That said, I have long thought that “dummy text” didn’t need to be boring and unreadable. It’s just needs to be dummy.

So I decided to entertain myself by putting together Yogi Ipsum: Dummy text for the easily amused. It is comprised of quotes made by or attributed to Yogi Berra, the legendary New York Yankees catcher and noted wordsmith.

In honor of Yogi (who I learned this morning was in the U.S. Navy during WW II and at age 19, participated in the Normandy invasion), I’ve decided to share Yogi Ipsum with the 12 people who read this blog:

Yogi Ipsum Cut-and-Past Content Generator

As you will note, each block of the following Yogi Ipsum gets longer. Don’t feel like you’re over using them until you’re over. Also, some of these are Yogi-isms and are attributed to him, but can’t be sourced. However, about those he said, “I really didn’t say everything I said. Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know.”


Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.

I knew the record would stand until it was broken. I looked like this when I was young, and I still do.

I really didn’t say everything I said. Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know. If people don’t want to come to the ballpark how are you going to stop them? If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be. When you come to a fork in the road, take it!

If you ask me a question I don’t know, I’m not going to answer. What Time Is It? You Mean Now? If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there. It gets late early out there. It’s déjà vu all over again. Little things are big. Ninety percent of this game is mental, and the other half is physical. Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. I really didn’t say everything I said! We made too many wrong mistakes. You can observe a lot by watching. He was on a passenger jet at the time, so he was not sure in which time zone he was.

David Carr, Appreciation from a Blogger and Fan

This morning, there are countless remembrances of New York Times columnist David Carr, who died suddenly last night in Manhattan. Most are from the journalists with whom he worked, befriended and inspired.

While David Carr and I share a few professional friends and acquaintances, besides a couple of brief chats at SXSW functions or media conferences in New York (the kind that all blur together), I never knew him, knew him.

But this morning, I find myself feeling like I did know him in a way that long-ago bloggers (before we were told by experts that blogs were supposed to have a business model or fit into some SEO scheme) used to know one-another, especially if we blogged about overlapping topics.

Continue reading David Carr, Appreciation from a Blogger and Fan

Robin Williams, RIP

Six years ago, I wrote a blog post about “Why I’m Mourning Michael Jackson’s Death” in which I said this:

“I think we all get crazy in our obsession with the deaths of someone like Michael Jackson because he was there, singing in the background, when we experienced so many things we hold dear. The music is still there. The memories are still there. But if Michael Jackson can die, does that mean a part of us dies with him? I think that’s what we mourn.

Continue reading Robin Williams, RIP

How John Seigenthaler Changed Wikipedia

John Seigenthaler, the legendary editor of Nashville’s daily newspaper, The Tennessean, died yesterday (Friday, July 11, 2014) in his Nashville home. In addition to recounting his remarkable career in journalism and public service, an event nine years ago that’s now referred to by early contributors to Wikipedia as “the Wikipedia Seigenthaler incident” earned a paragraph in Mr. Seigenthaler’s New York Time’s obituary.

As a Nashvillian and admirer of Mr. Seigenthaler for decades, I was angered in 2005 by that thoughtless and vulgar prank that became one of the most controversial episodes in the early history of the online user-contributed encyclopedia. In hindsight, the prank and following events led to much needed changes by those who created and fostered the early development of Wikipedia.
Continue reading How John Seigenthaler Changed Wikipedia

RIP Osmo Wiio. An accidentally great communicator

20_wiio_wwwRecently, I learned of the death in February of Finnish academic (and more) Osmo Wiio, the originator of some of my favorite go-to quotes regarding communications. (More on those quotes in a moment.)

To be honest, I was surprised that he was still alive in 2013–I’ve never thought of Osmo Wiio being an actual, living human being. To me, he was more like a mythical, even mystical, figure from a mystical land. (Update & correction: I’ve been informed that Finland is an actual country, not a fictional one.)

I’ve always pictured Osmo Wiio residing up on some after-life mountain top, where he spends his days sipping vodka, smoking cigars and exchanging quip-filled theories on why people say the darndest things with other dearly departed buddies, say, Sigmund Freud, Marshall McLuhan and Garrison Keillor. (Update & correction: I’ve been informed that Garrison Keillor is still alive. I really should start fact-checking this stuff.)

Professor Wiio was creator of something others have called, “the Murphy’s Law of Communications,: “Osmo Wiio’s Seven Laws of Communication Failure.” The essence of Wiio’s Laws is summed up in his first law:

“Communications never works,
except by accident.”

(At the bottom of this post, I’ve included all seven laws and corollaries.)

Specifically, it is the 4th Corollary to the first law that, early in my previous career as a full-time producer of professional puffery, became the framework for my understanding and explanation of why so much of the messaging and marketing that originates in the halls of power at large corporations, organizations and government, reaches the rest of us in the form of condescending, indecipherable gibberish and spinglish (“spin” + “english”).

Here is the 4th Corollary of Osmo Wiio’s 1st Law of Communications Failure:

  • “If you are content with your message, communication certainly fails.”

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering: How can being content with your message mean it will fail?

However, when it comes to communications, Osmo Wiio taught us that it doesn’t matter how much you fall in love with what you’re saying — it only matters what the recipient determines he or she has heard (or seen, et al). And the more you love what you are saying, the more likely it has been crafted to please you (or your CEO) than the intended audience.

What I learned from Osmo Wiio

For my entire career, a recurring duty of my job has been to inform clients (and myself) in a wide variety of delicate ways that I believe the part of their message pleasing them the most is not going to be comprehended or appreciated by the audience. You’re not writing for them, I say.*

To help me explain this in a delicate way, I’ve evoked Osmo Wiio by saying something like:

“It’s like Osmo Wiio says, the success of communication does not hinge on how effectively and brilliantly you say what you want to say. The success of communication is determined 100% by what the recipient of your message hears. The more you and I love what we have to say, the more an alarm bell should go off in our head that begs us to ask ourselves, ‘Who are we writing this for?’ Chances are, we’re writing it for ourselves”

The following is based on a true story

About 30 years ago, when I was first starting out in my life-long quest to one day be endorsed as a content marketer on LinkedIn, I found myself in a very formal presentation setting where I was proposing what turned out to be the first “custom magazine” I ever published  — an employee magazine with a circulation of 30,000 for a fast-growing publicly-traded financial services business. As part of the development of the magazine, I had traveled around the country to meet with executives and employees of many of the companies that had been acquired by the fast-growing potential client.

I don’t recall why, but the proposal process ended up with me presenting our ideas to the company’s CEO, one of those bigger-than-life people who always have a group of loyal handlers in tow. At one point during the presentation, the CEO asked me how the magazine could help spread his values.

Having just learned about Wiios laws, I set aside the prepared presentation and started ad-libbing (something that has gotten me into trouble more often than not, over the years since, but it worked that day):

“If you want to be successful at spreading your values to your employees, I’ve got to be honest and tell you what I’ve learned from visiting all of the companies you’ve acquired. The senior managers of those companies are afraid of you–they think you’re some kind of cowboy and you are going to fire them.

“Chances are, they’ll trash the magazines you ship to them and not let employees or customers see them if they have anything about you or your values in it.” And then I said, as if channeling Osmo Wiio, “If we create a magazine about how great you and your values are, it will likely fail. However, if you let us go find employees at the companies you are acquiring who are already demonstrating your values in action and make them the heroes of the magazine, I think you’ll have a magazine that will flank those managers and convey your values.

And then I said something that came out of left-field or Finland, “I think we should avoid having a photo of you, or even mentioning your name in the magazine for at least a year after the magazine starts being published. You’ll say more by not being in the magazine than you will if you look like you are using it to preach to the employees.”

Had I not been so young and stupid, I would have noticed the CEO’s entourage turning pale and looking ready to pounce on me. But in one of those perfect moments that you remember 30 years later when writing a blog post, the CEO slammed his palm down on the table and said, “that’s exactly what we should do.”

I had communicated, quite by accident, what Osmo Wiio’s teachings are all about.

And, in a lucky set of circumstances, my recommendation worked and soon that CEO made an outrageous amount of money when an even bigger company acquired his (who, in turn, fired us).

I became a true-believer in Osmo Wiio for life for I discovered that even CEOs love to learn why people always seem to misunderstand the brilliant things they are saying.

After you can explain it to them in a way that allows the CEO to know that he or she can craft a brilliant message that fails because the audience is listening in a different way, they begin to see how they need to think differently about how (and for whom) to craft their message.

Osmo Wiio will be missed, but his rules will live forever, even if by accident.

Osmo Wiio’s Laws for Communications Failure:

Communication usually fails, except by accident.

  • If communication can fail, it will.
  • If communication cannot fail, it still most usually fails.
  • If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there’s a misunderstanding.
  • If you are content with your message, communication certainly fails.

If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage.

There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message.

The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds.

  • The more we communicate, the faster misunderstandings propagate.

In mass communication, the important thing is not how things are but how they seem to be.

The importance of a news item is inversely proportional to the square of the distance.

The more important the situation is, the more probably you forget an essential thing that you remembered a moment ago.

*As most of my “professional” writing is for others, I long ago decided to make this blog the one place where I write for myself. I accepted long ago that this blog communicates very little to anyone, except by accident.