Wing It Like a Confucian

Portland State University


Anyone who answers their cell phones or opens email is an improviser. As we gradually learn to live without the filters that once helped people control the pace and content of their days—setting a time to open the mail or make and receive calls, for example—we improve our impromptu communication skills.

People who let every call go to voicemail as a screening tactic improvise less. They communicate less, too.

When asked why I returned to Asia, an important reason is my lifelong passion for improvisation. Asia is great for people like me.

Confucian principles that helped shape almost every Asian culture stress tradition and self-control; yet the emphasis on internalized values also implicitly promotes a life of improvisation . . . not needing to plan so carefully when the social ground rules are so clear.

Most Americans, on the other hand, avoid ground rules. We prefer clear contexts and topic “frameworks” in our conversations. Many Asians have a hard time with this. And it isn’t only about verbal communication: traditional Asian artists tend to avoid the kind of construction style composition that characterize Western painting. This makes it easier for them to improvise.

As the Western institutions that insist on rigid structures and principles struggle and falter, and our lives increasingly adopt the unsteady pace and dynamics of digital intercourse, we should acknowledge and nurture our inner improviser.

One split second at a time.


Yoga and Words

Everything we say either means

“I need you” or “I love you.”

Like a breath in yoga, our words go in or out.

Think about your words and your breath.

Because words can bring people together,

and each breath can bring your mind and body together.

So use them carefully to build your dreams.

Guaranteed big bucks

Q: What do telemarketers and their successors, the “millions-waiting-in-your-account” email scammers, have in common?
A. They both want to get rid of you. As fast as possible.

They want to avoid wasting time, energy and resources on duds: prospects who will only fall for their pitch when hell freezes over. They’re looking for gullible suckers. So they consciously irritate you or insult your intelligence, just to see if you have any. If so, they’ll drop you like a hot rock.

Knowing this simple principle can save you and your business big bucks. Think about it.

Is your strategy like that of a telemarketer or an email scammer: eliminating as many prospects as quickly as possible? Then keep sending out the impersonal, valueless internet marketing messages that 95% of your competitors use.

There’s only one weakness in that very popular strategy: it will only eliminate desirable prospects–not attract, engage and finally inspire them to take action. Good prospects will never respond to such messages, period. Because you’re failing to give them a reason to even consider getting into a meaningful business relationship.

The ancient internet rule “garbage in, garbage out” has never been as relevant as when you plan an internet marketing campaign. If an email or autoresponder is easy for you to send out, it’s also very easy for people who receive it to delete, without even bothering to read past the Subject line.

To snag the good prospects out there, and maybe convert them into customers or clients, stop making your messages easy to ignore. To get my business, recognize and celebrate my intelligence rather than insulting it. That is and has always been the beginning of beautiful relationships!

Fields of Dreams

You’ve built it . . . so are they coming?

Whether the movie “Field of Dreams” inspired, irritated or mystified you, it presents a few interesting questions for anyone doing (or planning to do) business online.

  • The film’s hero constructed a baseball field on valuable farm land in search of . . . something. Proposed by a disembodied voice. Today’s entrepreneurs or wannabes are giving up the time they might have used to build careers or reputations in established fields, to pursue business opportunities that are often no less ephemeral or proven. How clear, down-to-earth and achievable are your own internet business goals?
  • In the movie, neighbors and family members dismissed Costner’s character as an unrealistic crackpot, putting his family’s future at risk. Internet success seems equally foolhardy or ethereal to people who have invested their lives and fortunes in more traditional pursuits. What drives you to start an online business? Could you make a persuasive argument in support of your goals to an even more skeptical audience than in the film? Or should you wait until you can?
  • These skeptics saw baseball as a way to unwind or hang out with friends, not as a serious business activity. Sound like social media?
  • The movie hero was encouraged and inspired by great baseball players of the past. Today’s entrepreneurs, many with less practical knowledge of business or technology than Costner’s character had of baseball, invoke the spirits of industry legends in a hopeful attempt to achieve success by osmosis.

Many men and women who dismissed the film “Field of Dreams” as silly or pointless years ago are probably working on their own internet business as we speak. Which field of dreams are they investing their time and money in?

A Great Site for Mandarin Students

Learning a language is largely about insights, challenges and relationships.

The first two usually happen on their own, as we question our biases and habitual thinking about the culture or its language.

It can feel like being pushed up against a plate glass window: there’s lots of new stuff inside to enjoy, but first you need to work your way through what’s keeping you outside–much of it internal.

If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a teacher or study buddy who knows where you’re coming from and where you hope to end up. Someone who appreciates words and conversations as the keys to great new relationships. And who offers a good learning relationship to get you started.

It isn’t easy to find a relationship-based learning experience in a classroom. It’s even harder online. That’s why I really appreciate‘s unusual approach.

The host Brandon feeds us bite-sized pieces of useful Mandarin, accompanied by clear, concise and friendly explanations. These Mandarin lessons aren’t like lingerie commercials. They focus on the practical, sociable aspects of the language instead.

This site fills a need for any learner who’s ready to manage his or her own learning process, and build meaningful relationships with other learners who have been there, done that . . . and who care.

Check it out.

Communicate like a hero

'Chinagarten-22' photo (c) 2008, themonnie - license:

When you like everything you put online, you can connect with people you genuinely like. That’s the first step to meaningful relationships.

Respect yourself and what you offer. Respect your visitors and prospects, too. Expand your horizon beyond bank balances.

It’s impossible to care about money or prestige and your core message at the same time. So refuse to focus primarily on money or fame; you’re too good for that.

Be like the people you continue to care about, years after meeting them. They helped you nurture the relationship, even if it only lasted for one meeting.

There was no clutter in a conversation with them. You only talked about things that matter, so you never got tired of them.

Be as memorable as they were. Make sure everything shows you at your best, because what you say will always represent you.

It’s your internet; your chance to be a hero. Make the most of it.

What the spammers get right

'Spam, there's nothing to panic about' photo (c) 2009, Remco Brink - license:

Every day I delete a hundred or so spam ads for something. As a man, it’s no surprise to see mostly ads for Viagra.

They are very annoying of course, and if we aren’t alert can be destructive. Yet I don’t go to a lot of trouble to block them. It’s a good reminder of one frequently overlooked truth of online marketing:

If you aren’t there exactly when we need something, you might as well have never been there at all.

One minute before or one minute after? You’re out of sight, out of mind, and out of luck.

One reason there’s so much garbage and fluff online these days is the common conviction that what we say, when we say it and how we say it will fascinate others as much as it does us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. And as the amount of information grows, the more stuff we look at. Then the less important, compelling and useful your tiny bit of “information” becomes.

There are certain qualities that always attract visitor interest: real value, readability, a unique voice. Only one quality really matters, though, because it encompasses all the others.

All you really need to present online is something of real value.

Unable or willing to do that? You might as well follow the spammers’ example and inundate us with valueless stuff, on the off chance that your email might accidentally drop into someone’s inbox at the exact instant they’ve decided they can use what you offer.

So in order to build your business either start spamming, or greatly improve the quality of what you publish.

Oh, that’s right; spam will get you blocked. Case closed.

Got tchotchkes?

'August 12, 2006: Swag' photo (c) 2006, Matt McGee - license:

As marketing director for a small publishing company, I attended several huge national book fairs in Chicago.

With a thousand booths to visit, most booksellers spent their time trotting down crowded aisles in search of great freebies to take home.

Whatever magical books were on our shelf, few people glanced beyond the front of our table. That’s where our obligatory freebies were expected to be displayed, within easy reach.

The monster publishers gave away embroidered caps, even jackets. Every day gossip spread like wildfire about what this company had just started to hand out. The news drew conference-goers like bees to a freshly cut bouquet.

We of course couldn’t compete with them; we could only hope that the tabletop tchotchkes I’d brought from Seattle would slow down a few people so they’d look over our very well-received books.

Think of your web site as a tiny table in an impossibly gigantic convention filled with greedy sprinters. What will you give away in hopes of landing business? What will you tempt random visitors with? How will you present your products or services in as accessible yet appealing way as possible?

You must choose and live with the consequences. Choose carefully and strategically.

And any time you’d like some push-the-envelope creative suggestions, be sure to let me know.

3 Keys to Good Writing

You can write. You do it every day. Everybody does.

  • You know your content must be as clear, concise and compelling as possible.
  • You carefully eliminate those deadening “I-me-my” references.
  • And you read it out loud to double-check its flow and clarity.

But you won’t connect with readers–much less move them to action–unless every paragraph includes or promises:

Relevance. This shows what you know about the individual you’re writing for (still writing for faceless crowds with general statements? Game over). Relevance tells a reader you know him or her and have done your homework. Make them feel special; they’ll gift you time and attention.
Proof. This can be data and statistics, social proof (”10,000 Frenchmen can’t be wrong”) or emotional proof established in a great story. Why should anyone listen to an “expert” who can’t show credentials?
Value is your real bottom line; it gives readers a good reason to follow you. And it makes your stuff good enough to be shared with friends or family.

Does all this sound like too much effort? Time you stopped writing and posted pretty pictures instead.