What 100% Means

Wayne_Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky by kris krüg (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Originally posted on LinkedIn.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Thus spaketh The Great One, an inspirational quote that holds much power in its brevity. And yet, there is a depth to Wayne Gretzky’s wisdom that we don’t often think about. Let’s look at the numbers.

894

That’s how many goals Gretzky scored over a legendary career in the NHL. 894 is a tangible number. Our evolved monkey brains have a hard time visualizing large numbers, but 894 is not so large we can’t get a sense of what it means.

No doubt about it, many of those goals approached the Platonic Ideal: clean breakaway, beating the netminder. But how many were odd bounces? The puck hitting a defenseman and slipping in? Greasy goals? Goals that were shot by another player, but just happened to deflect off of Gretzky’s stick before going in? We remember the perfection, but you don’t get to 894 by being perfect every time.

1,963

More than twice the number of goals Gretzky netted is his number of assists. Gretz could have just as easily said, “Your teammates miss 100% of the goals you don’t set them up for.”

Gretzky had a crisp pass, and the hockey IQ to know when to use it. He didn’t have to be the rockstar every time. When your entire team is working toward the same goal, you all share in the victories, even when someone else takes the ultimate credit.

17.57%

The man who, to this day, holds or shares 61 NHL records is way down at number 44 on the NHL leaderboard for shot percentage. 82.43% of the time–5,090 shots on goal–he didn’t score.

And that doesn’t take into consideration shots he took that don’t register as shots on goal: blocked by a defenseman, hit a post, went wide. If you only focused on the misses, excluding all the goals and assists, you could easily think of The Great One as The Great Loser. Crazy, right? We do it to ourselves all the time.

100%

The full quote is, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, even though there is only a 1-5% chance of scoring.”

Success can be greasy or quirky; the result of error or a weird bounce. Success may not even be your own, but the “loose change” a teammate knocks in.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll be successful 100% of the time. Your shots may be swallowed up by a threshold guardian who stands between you and success. Your shots may go wide. The fact is, you will fail more than you succeed. We all will.

That doesn’t mean stop trying.

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New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!

And what would the New Year be without resolutions? Here are a few of mine:

On the weekends, wear nothing but one strategically placed sock, and run around yelling “Dobby has no master! Dobby is a free elf!”

Start pronouncing “Paul” like “Raul” and vice versa.

Float affirmation memes out into the world that neither make any sense nor are based on any personal experience.

SurfAngry

Whenever someone asks me my name, roll my eyes back and respond, “WE ARE LEGION.”

Occasionally fire up Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero” on repeat and wash every dish in the house. Maybe shirtless. And wearing a headband.

Get the band back together. Offer to remove their gags if they promise not to scream.

Learn enough Klingon to get into trouble.

Worf

Put forth more of an effort in my structure of sentencing and grammar and seplling and stuff.

Dress up on laundry days.

Eat healthier. Like maybe start using my mouth again.

Magic And What Does The Work

“Why did you ruin your rope?!” The IT guy who sat in the cubicle behind me at the day job was aghast.

I had been fiddling with a length of “ordinary rope, like you would find in any magic shop” all day, drilling the (hopefully) subtle move that made the trick work. It was 2016, and I was trying something new as co-host of the upcoming Nearly Naked Nutcracker in Dallas. I was going to do a magic trick onstage.

2017_NNN_Hosts_0878
Photo by Brandy Lynne Photography

The conceit was simple: Drosselmeyer the Great is a not-so-great magician who enlists a sassy Showgirl to help his magical assistant Clara find her purpose as a burlesque dancer. In the end, Drosselmeyer compensates the Showgirl by filling in as her dance partner in the final act of the show. (We altered the premise slightly for 2017.)

I wanted to tackle a few “cheesy” tricks, including the well-worn cut and restored rope trick. (I say “cheesy” with nothing but respect. If you’ve caught my shtick as Mr. Snapper, you know that I love a little cheese. Further, I know how much effort goes into something as “cheesy” as the cut and restored rope trick.) I asked my magician friends for advice. One of them–I think Funny Eddie–recommended I check out Aldo Colombini. I consumed his Gagbuster video, and used a couple of his blow-offs in the show. But I digress …

I don’t have great hands. So I took to carrying a length of magician’s rope around with me, practicing the move over and over until I could do it without thinking. And so it happened that I was practicing the move at the day job, when one of the MBAs I worked with asked me what the deal was with the rope. A few other coworkers gathered around, and when I snipped the rope in two, they all flinched. The IT guy voiced his alarm.

A terribly simple trick, some confident patter, and I sold it. I finished the trick, and they were suitably impressed. Other coworkers drifted to my cubicle, having heard about the trick, asking to see it. It was like a drug.

It absolutely killed at Nearly Naked Nutcracker, and I brought it back to the show this year, along with another chestnut: the disappearing and reappearing hankie. I’ve been thinking about both tricks, their simplicity, and something occurred to me this morning. The hankie doesn’t do the trick. The scissors don’t do the trick. The thing that you think is doing the trick is not doing the trick.

The hankie thing amazes me. There’s no hiding how it’s done. There are only so many places that hankie can disappear to, and the most likely suspect is sticking out, literally, like a sore thumb. Like a Silly Putty-colored sore thumb. The audience doesn’t seem to notice. (Or they don’t care. Honestly, I don’t know which would be more mind-blowing.)

In magic, as in other artistic pursuits, you have the actual work that creates an effect, and you have the apparent work. All the attention is on the apparent work, which makes the result simply mystifying. “How’d you do that?”

This is true of writing. There are many apparent things doing the work: word choice, ideas, your premise. The actual thing doing the work is structure. Little things like putting the joke phrase at the end of a punchline so you don’t step on your laugh. Huge things like building up expectations that you can knock over at the climax. People think that knock over, that twist is the magic trick, but what actually does the work is everything that comes before it.

“Why did you ruin your rope!?”

I had to suppress a smile as I thought to myself, “Gotcha.”

Lon

lon-chaney

My bones don’t fit together
I’m a bit disjointed it seems
Ligaments act as tether
Lashing misshapen beams

My gait is all herky-jerky
With pops and grinds and snaps
I pass it off as quirky
I play it up for laughs

If my outside is ungainly
My inside is much worse
I flail around so vainly
In my inner universe

No tether for these thoughts
No audience for the dance
As I spring and twist and plotz
Through a dark and lonely manse

 

(Happy Halloween!)

Audience Engagement for Content Marketing

Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
8468293074_47d0f3a2ba_hAudience engagement is an art, not a science. You certainly can measure audience engagement — click-through, session duration, social sharing, or something as basic as a headcount. But there is no reliable recipe for generating audience engagement. It’s like trying to write a hit song.

For twenty some odd years, I’ve concerned myself with audience engagement in live theater. As a performer, a playwright, a director, a designer, even a critic, I have spent sleepless nights wrestling with it. It took me years to work up the courage to put an intermission in my plays. I was that concerned with running the risk of losing people.

I’m not going to tell you I have all the answers, but I do have a better than average idea of how to accomplish this. So here we go:

The Feedback Loop

Actors have an uncanny “third eye” that monitors the audience. You can tell when you’re losing an audience. You hear more shuffling around, coughing; the silhouettes you can make out in the dark are slumped over. Actors can make micro-adjustments moment to moment to recapture the audience’s lagging attention.

In content marketing, the feedback loop is (thankfully) far more defined. Monitor your audience. Become an analytics nut. See what works, what doesn’t, and adjust. Constantly adjust.

Dramatic Tension

Dramatic tension is the interplay between an audience’s expectations and the unknown, multiplied by the stakes. A riveting performance, that series you keep tuning into, the page-turner — they all share this same thing. You have certain expectations, based on your knowledge of story, and those expectations are running up against what you just don’t know. When a character or performer’s life is on the line, the tension is drawn even tauter.

What does this mean for you? Consider what your followers expect you to say. How can you cultivate their expectations for your brand, and then defy those expectations with something better than they anticipated?

This could be as simple as deviating from your standard editorial calendar. Disrupting your own pace and rhythm with a surprise flourish, such as an infographic or video content. Building to the release of an eBook by dropping tantalizing teases that only hint at what’s to come.

As for translating the stakes part of the equation, take a risk. Color outside the lines just a bit. Step outside your comfort zone, and it will manifest as an increase in dramatic tension.

Convey, Don’t Display

You’re not in the marketing business, you’re in the storytelling business. We are social animals, and we respond to narrative. A skilled juggler who runs through her tricks may be interesting. A skilled juggler who shapes those tricks into a narrative is engaging.

Spend time on your editorial calendar. Determine your story arc for the year; the theme you want to convey. Every status update, blog post, Instagram pic, etc. should build towards and support that story arc. Unfold the story of your brand, don’t just tell us what you’re about. Metaphor and simile is more effective than the blunt end of a declarative statement. It is the difference between settling into a hot bubble bath, and being blasted by a fire hose.

The Struggle Is Real

Like I said at the outset, this is a subject I have concerned myself with for a long time. My last bit of advice is to spend every moment you can obsessing over audience engagement. Or better yet, hire someone to do that obsessing for you. (I am in the market, by the way.)

photo credit: “audience” by Marc Cornelis. Licensed under CC by 2.0.

Rhapsody for Angels

LosAngelesGetty
Los Angeles (part of it) as seen from the Getty Center
This town is restless;
relentless.
 
Glowing bright from the aggregate
of millions of individual souls
burning themselves out.
Some burn brighter than others.
Come for the dreams, stay for the work.
 
It’s a blue collar town.
Our nouveau riche pay top dollar
to manicurists
who scrape the shit and dirt out
of recently ascendant fingernails.
 
Our lowest gutters are steps away
from our loftiest heights,
and the transition between the two
(or complete lack thereof)
has driven people mad.
 
It’s a citadel with self-healing teflon walls.
And there are walls within walls.
It is a zigurat;
a tower of Babel;
a temple of the profane and a sanctified bordello.
 
It’s a western town.
Wild,
uncontainable as all outdoors,
sprawling
endlessly.
It won’t be fenced in.
 
It’s a storyteller’s town. A myth-maker’s town.
An unreliable narrator.
 
It’s a town that everyone
who has never been here
knows everything about,
and those who call it home
will never fully understand.
 
It’s a town where
the idea of the place
lives simultaneously with
the reality,
and the two may overlap at points
or stay
galaxies
apart.
 
This town will give you blisters,
but you’ll never walk anywhere.
 
This town will stay with me
like a limp
or an accent.
 
It may take a lifetime
to fully appreciate
everything it has given,
and everything it has taken away.
 
This town is just a place
on a map,
not some mythological land,
or “wretched hive.”
 
And for we lucky few,
even for the briefest of moments,
it’s been a home.