What We Can Learn from NY’s Primary Election

I voted in NY’s primary election today.  I’m embarassed to admit this, but I knew very little about who was running.  I didn’t even recognize one of the three people running to be the Democratic candidate for mayor! (Good job basically locking that one up, Mr. Bloomberg.)

But there’s some interesting lessons here:

For comptroller I voted for someone because a friend of mine emailed me with a personal endorsement.  What’s interesting about this is that I was planning to vote for someone else who I actually had heard of and had run a cool TV ad.  But ultimately the personal endorsement of my friend — who is also very involved with NY poltics, so I trust his opinion on this specifically — won out over name recognition and a slick ad.

Do your fans endorse you?

For City Council I voted for the woman who’s flyer was handed to me as I walked into the polling place.  I figured if she could mobilize people on the ground and inspire them to stand on a corner holding a sign and handing out flyers then she must be pretty good.

Are you mobilizing fans?  Are you in front of prospective customers at the exact right moment when they are making a decision?

The Lesson of the Brown M&Ms

An recent episode of This American Life opened with the infamous story about Van Halen’s tour contract back in the 80s, which stipulated that there must be a bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room and that said bowl must contain NO brown M&Ms.

Of course this contract provision was always interpreted as another example of the bizarre behavior of rich, spoiled rock stars. But it turns out that wasn’t the case at all.  According to the TAL piece, and as described in more detail on Snopes, the M&M provision had a very important role to play.  Every venue that Van Halen played was different, with a different crew to set up and run the show.  Rock shows in the 80s were big, elaborate performances and the contracts ran for pages and pages and pages with technical specifications.  How much weight the stage needed to be able to hold.  How much electricity would be required.  On and on and on.  The M&M provision — buried deep in the middle of all this technical detail — was a way for them to check to see if anyone at the venue had paid attention.  If they got backstage and found brown M&Ms then you could be pretty sure that there would be some technical error.

I love this story.  I love it for the obvious reason — the sheer brilliance of using something silly for a serious reason.  But I also love it because I think it perfectly illustrates that details matter.  Van Halen didn’t have a contract rider that was, to quote David Lee Roth, as long a the “Chinese Yellow Pages” because they loved paying lawyers to write them.  They had that rider because every detail mattered.  Best case scenario the show would be ruined or some piece of property (the venue’s or the band’s) might get damaged.  Worst case scenario someone could get seriously hurt.

The fastest way to lose my respect is to tell me that you aren’t a “detail person.”  When someone claims to be a “big picture” thinker and therefore cannot be expected to pay attention to the details, I just roll my eyes.  Most often I think these people are just plain lazy.  Details can be dull and tedious and they are usually the less-fun part of a project.  It’s convenient, then, to be the big, strategic thinker who can come in, brainstorm endlessly, then relax while others get the actual job done.  Being detail-oriented is a basic skill that anyone can learn.  Sure, some people are better than others and some jobs call for more or less of it.  But there is no excuse for setting out bowls of brown M&Ms when your job is to know they don’t belong there.

Funny Farm

We made our annual Labor Day trek to Maryland to visit our friends Rick and Wen-Fei Uva on their farm. (See posts from previous years here and here.)  It was very fun.  You can see all the photos here and here are a few highlights:

Friday: We arrive and the Uva children, Pearl (5) and Isaac (3) are fascinated by my huge belly. Isaac wants to know why I’m having another baby. I answer “I don’t know.” Inquisitive Issac also asked if we have tractors and golf carts (which Rick uses to get around the farm) at our house.

Then Preston makes everyone pasta sauce with fresh tomatoes and basil. The Uvas also cook up some fresh squash. The “farm to fork” concept takes on a whole new meaning when the farm is the backyard. After dinner Preston and Rick head out to check on the irrigation system. I’m glad when Preston comes back without injury.

Saturday: Farm life is demanding and the Uva family needs to head out very early in the morning to sell their goodies at local farmer’s markets. Preston, Maddie and I start our day with breakfast at Jimmy’s Grille where I have grits and Maddie scams extra watermelon from the waitress. Then we head to Ocean City, Maryland. Best part of the day was sitting on the boardwalk eating Thrasher’s French fries. Preston took Maddie on the carousel, but she was having nothing to do with the horse. He ended up sitting on a bench instead. That she seemed to find amusing enough. Saturday night was a delicious dinner of Maryland crabs back at the Uvas.

Sunday: Beach day! We went to a nice beach in Delaware that is on the bay side, so the surf is gentle and there are lots of sandbars for the kids to play on. We quickly learn that Maddie will not touch sand. At all. She loves the water, and if we hold her in the water and let her splash it in such a way that she does not have to touch sand she is happy. Harder to do than it sounds. Maddie had a great time and really loved playing with Pearl and Isaac. She takes to shrieking “Kids! Kids! Kids!” over and over whenever they do something she finds amusing.

Monday: Headed home, loaded down with basil, watermelon, squash and more.

Size Doesn’t Matter

If you have ever wondered how long is too long … and of course I’m talking about a piece of writing, what were you thinking?? … then you should read this post from Copyblogger.

The “shorter is better” mantra seems to pervade throughout internet content, but the point that Copyblogger makes is that it’s not the size of the blog post that matters, it’s how well the story is told.  (I know, I know … the dirty analogy just writes itself.)

In general, I agree with this.  A long but well-written and cogent post is far more interesting than a short but dull post.

But I do think that writers need to consider if they have the right medium for their message.  While long blog posts are not inherently bad, you might consider whether what you really need to do is write a whitepaper.

Formatting counts, too.  Lists (both bulleted and numbered) can help carry the reader through and allow easy skimming.  And while it will horrify your English teacher — who probably taught you the 5-sentence per paragraph rule — shorter paragraphs are easier to read online.

So the takeaway here is simple: focus on your story!  Tell a great story and size really (really!) doesn’t matter …