Creativity, wisdom and laughs by Courtney Smith Kramer

This is part 3 of a 3-part interview series with Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com. We sat down together at the Collision Conference in New Orleans to discuss the importance of language, meaning, and truth that words give to our human culture.

Are people still as curious about meaning and language, even against a backdrop of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ from public figures and institutions? Is the information overload and media saturation we face starting to have an influence on our attachment to authenticity, or are we just as intellectually probing, but in a different way?

What can we do to protect ourselves and the notion of truth when faced with a new – and often confusing – landscape?

In our conversation, Liz and I spoke about how we can track language trends, as society goes through unrelenting periods of upheaval and change, and how Dictionary.com uses data to interpret language and the intent behind searches, which can often be reflected in national conversation or online discourse at the time.

On analyzing searches on Dictionary.com

Liz: So, the first thing that flew off the page was that some of our most commonly looked up words are things like, beautiful, good, help. Happy! And I’m thinking, “Why the hell are people looking up these words? We all know what those words mean.” So, that gave me a lot of pause. I wondered, “Okay, what do we do with that? What does that mean? And how do we use that insight to get smarter about how people are using our product and what problems they’re trying to solve for? How do we become more helpful?”

With these questions in mind, we started to notice, looking at our trending data, that things would happen in the world, and certain word lookups would spike.

Courtney: There’s a connection?

Liz: There IS a connection there, and, I guess, in some ways it should have been obvious. If there’s a headline, and enough people read it, they want to understand what it means.

Courtney: So what does “covfefe” mean?

Liz: [Laughing] Of course, there’s that one. But this is where we have a lot of fun. Imparting its meaning through the creativity of our work is how we communicate our vantage point. We can look at our data and actually see things that are happening in the world. We can see social discourse emerging. Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 5.54.38 PM

Another great example that we started to see mid last year is the lookups of the gender pronoun, “Ze,” which we hadn’t added to added to the dictionary yet. And I’m thinking, “Okay, there’s progression in the conversation about gender identity and gender rights, and it’s showing up in the dictionary.” There are so many examples of that.

Tracking language trends and what they can tell us

Liz: All right. So, come back to why people are looking up words like beautiful, good, and happy. It’s not about, “I need to know what that word means”. So, what is it about? I think there’s many possibilities. Maybe it’s about, “I’m feeling this way, and I need some affirmation.” Or, maybe it’s “I want to make sure I’m right.” As in, it’s coming from anxiety. “This is beautiful, but is it really beautiful?” I think understanding that, we can connect in a much deeper way.

And then there are some other word trends that are things that will keep you up at night.

One of my favorite ones is the lookups of curse words. It’s not quite as dire as the other one. You know there are three holidays a year with curse word lookups – Thanksgiving, Christmas and 4th of July. What is going on there?

Courtney: Fourth of July? I wouldn’t have guessed that!

Liz: And those are supposed to be happy holidays. So, why are we all looking up curse words?!

Courtney: Oh, no, I think they’re frightening for family! Like, “Screw this, I can’t believe I’m going to host my family. I just want to escape away!”

Liz: I think one of the best things we can do to eliminate anxiety with anything, is acknowledge that it’s there, right? 

Courtney: Yeah. Well, that’s the first sign of raising consciousness I guess…opening it first.

Definitely though, acknowledging our imperfection is the “human to human” or #H2H philosophy. It’s about humanizing language in a way that we can understand it, and be okay with it.

Kermit_most_lookedup_wordLiz: And, it goes beyond politics.

Courtney: Don’t even get me started on politics. But yes, the point is that’s what needs to be done. Just have the conversation.

Liz: Have the conversation.

I’ve said to my kids, “If I can use a word, and somebody knows what it means, it’s a word.” It’s just up to us as people to figure out what it means. Not up to a dictionary.

Courtney: Do you think, as a society, we’ve lost the lust for meaning?

Liz: I don’t think so. I think that it’s more important than ever. I think that there’s a renaissance of language happening, where the innovation with language is accelerated, and we’re hyper aware of what we’re saying, because of our easy ability to self-publish. I just think we’re more curious. I don’t like this expression that I heard someone say the other day, that “language is being weaponized.” But it made me think, “Well, then we better pay attention.”

Courtney: Where do you think language is being “weaponized” the most?

Liz: Twitter, for sure. I think that’s why, when we clarify the meaning of a word on our Twitter feed in response to someone who used it incorrectly, people respond. Because they’re curious. They want to know.

Our use of language, and the meaning behind it, has never been more important.

In a tumultuous world of online discourse and counter-narratives, we must think about what we say before we say it and recognize the weight of our words.

This means that fact-checking, solidifying truth and clarifying meaning should all be part of our responsibility as citizens, especially online.

I was heartened to hear that Liz doesn’t see our collective curiosity quietening down any time soon; in fact, if anything, it’s getting louder, which is something we all should all hold on to and celebrate.

Liz McMillan is the CEO of Dictionary.com. Its mission is to remove the anxiety we all feel with the English language, enabling and inspiring connection, communication, learning, creativity, and expression for more than 70M people each month.

Featured photo by Alexandra on Unsplash

This is part 2 of a 3-part interview series with Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com. We sat down together at the Collision Conference in New Orleans to discuss the importance of language, meaning, and truth that words give to our human culture.

Online culture is changing the way we communicate, talk and relate to each other.

Every day prompts a new buzz word, trend or meme that requires knowledge of a particular Twitter in-joke or a Reddit thread to understand it. It can be tough to keep up, especially when you’re not present on every social channel – or of a certain age.

This rapid expansion of our lexicon has arguably always happened, but what we’re seeing is a pace of change that’s constantly accelerating and it’s being driven by digital natives, online subcultures, and dare I say, advanced technologies capable of creating their own non-human dialogue.

All of this poses quite a unique challenge to traditional dictionaries, and their interpretations of the meaning of language.

In the second part of my interview series with Liz McMillan, Dictionary.com CEO, we talk about how her organization is navigating the new rules of context, language and the speed at which it’s all being created.

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 4.20.21 PM

Courtney: What is your point of view on the role of understanding meaning and words, as it pertains to leadership?

Liz: At Dictionary.com, we don’t view ourselves as the “keeper” of words. Our role is to describe words. And, as you know, language is changing, it’s evolving, and it’s not for us to say, “This is what that word should mean.” We’re simply here to describe it back to you.

It’s easier to think about how that question applies to other leaders. The words that our collective leadership uses, has an impact on us as a society. I really wish they were more responsible with that. That, if language is part of the human experience – it’s how we create, it’s how we share, it’s how we learn, it’s how we empathize – then we need to be cautious about, “Have I offended? Has my message been lost in my poor word choice?”

Sometimes, you actually want to use a certain word because it’s powerful. I curse in front of my kids. I curse in front of my team, for this reason. Teigen_Dictionarydotcom_exchange

Courtney: Guilty of that as well!

Liz: Language is for humans, so we have bias in life, for sure. The fact that I am a woman means that the pronouns used to describe me, actually communicate my marital status, but for men, they don’t.

We can debate those things right? But, we have that deep understanding. What happens when we train a machine? Think about the power that the people who are training these machines have.

So much of language is a cultural identity. My language is very different coming from the Bay Area.

Courtney: I am there too, in San Jose.

Liz: Okay, great. I live in Oakland. The language of Oakland is fundamentally different to the language of San Jose. Also, I can’t communicate with Siri, because I have the slightest Australian accent.

Courtney: Yeah, I have a Michigan accent, and Siri never gets what I am saying.

Liz: I know a guy from the UK who puts on an American accent to communicate with Siri. If you fast-forward to the future where we’re all vocally communicating with machines all the time, right now the burden is on us to adapt the way we’re communicating so this machine understands us.

So, if that interaction becomes a greater portion of our lives, do we start to change the way we’re communicating in general, because we’ve learned machine-speech? And then, what happens to my cultural identity? And are we prepared for that?

Courtney: No, we’re not.

Liz: We’re not. We have to have a deeper understanding of AI.

Courtney: It’s happening so gradually, that people don’t have an open consciousness about the fact that they should even care about it, because it’s just, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

Liz: So there’s the potential, if we think 100 years ahead, where this really puts the brakes on language, and shifts the cultural identity that we have through language. It’s such a counterpoint to what’s actually happening with language right now in the fact that there’s so much innovation with language today.

To that point, we just started writing content about the meanings of emojis and memes.

Courtney: Oh, that’s cool!

Liz: Things that traditional dictionaries have really shied away from. I personally felt that this was important, and something we had to do as part of our mission, because I have anxiety about my 10-year-old schooling me on, “Mom, you’re emoji-ing all wrong and using that picture wrong. You have to put three in a row,” or, “Your maple leaf isn’t really a maple leaf, Mom.”

Our linguist in residence has a great presentation about the way your gun emoji is supposed to be facing so its meaning is changed.

Courtney: That’s a thing? There’s meaning around that? I don’t know what that is.

Liz: Or, recently I sent someone a text message, and when I saw them later in the day, they asked me, “Are you okay?” I said, “Why wouldn’t I be?” And they said, “Well, you ended your text message with a period so I assumed something was wrong.”

I guess now it’s a thing if you’re grammatically correct in a text message. Millennials are literally redefining the rules of grammar.

Courtney: It’s interesting.

Liz: What a contrast to AI that you have to train things. And sure, you can train it over and over again, but then, what?

Courtney: Well, supposedly, it’s continually learning and getting smarter, which is the part that frightens me. Last fall, when Facebook was working with its AI, the developers realized that the AI had started talking to each other in a language that was not understood by its own creators. The AI created a new language not understandable by humans.

Liz: Oh, I hadn’t heard that.

Courtney: I was like, “Does this bother anyone else?”

Liz: I’m terrified now.

Courtney: And, exhibited consciousness of language. I was thinking, “Run for the hills!!”

Liz: With AI, of course, there’s going to be business models behind it. The question is, what is their responsibility in preserving language? Will there be an exacerbation of wealth disparity? AI meets these needs, or makes life easier and adds value to the English speaking world, maybe the Spanish, or French and German-speaking world, but what about a dialect of…

Courtney: Swahili?

Liz: Yes, Swahili. What happens in that case? I’ve had a conversation with a couple of people who are more expert in AI than me, and they said, “Well, that’s fine, because we can train a machine in a couple of hours.” I’m like, “Yeah, but that assumes that the training set exists.”

Courtney: And, it doesn’t provide the context of culture, and memory, and traditions, and rituals.

Replacing things that are sacred to humanity right now, which are conversations, and emotions, and that’s the really scary thing. That we say being human is our competitive advantage. Think about what makes you special, or all the things that make you special as human.

Screen Shot 2018-08-17 at 4.49.48 PM

Culture is built on meaning

It’s one thing to shape a culture through shared experiences and technology platforms. It’s quite another to build a culture based on a set of values, beliefs, community, common language and shared meaning. Without these ingredients, the glue that creates strong connection disintegrates, disconnecting us from each other and threatening the stories of humanity rooted with deep learning and wisdom from being preserved. Not thinking through the potential consequences of language sets that emerge too quickly, with too much meaning to our society is causing us to take our eye off the ball of what’s really important here: relationships with other humans.

Liz McMillan is the CEO of Dictionary.com. Its mission is to remove the anxiety we all feel with the English language, enabling and inspiring connection, communication, learning, creativity, and expression for more than 70M people each month.

Feature photo courtesy of Manan Chhabra on Unsplash.

 

This is part 1 of a 3-part interview series with Liz McMillan, CEO of Dictionary.com. We sat down together at the Collision Conference in New Orleans to discuss the importance of language, meaning, and truth that words give to our human culture.

We’re living in strange times. Social media has given society new mediums in which to “weaponize” words, and we’re seeing this filter into every facet of contemporary life, especially politics – look no further than POTUS. Diplomacy by Twitter is commonplace, and delivering concise, impactful information in bite-size chunks has become a modern art form. But being concise doesn’t guarantee context. By reducing background information and shrinking word counts, are we doing a disservice to meaning in the quest for more re-tweets and favorites?

Especially when it’s meaning that matters.

Dictionary.com has been quietly, authoritatively fact-checking and calling out the current administration’s Twitter feed. Grammar and meaning are sticking points when trying to incite reaction, and “fact-checking” is increasingly sought after as a source of certainty and orientation to those who value truth.

We have reached the point where words, and their meaning, are our only truths. Click to Tweet download

With this in mind, I spoke with Dictionary.com CEO Liz McMillan about language, words, and meaning in the new age of information warfare. What are the challenges for modern dictionaries when we are constantly creating new communication technologies, iterative language, and symbolic meaning in an increasingly global society?

Truth_definition
Courtney:
The curiosity behind “meaning” is so important. Do you feel that we’ve sort of lost that curiosity for meaning in America?

Liz: Oh, I think it’s coming back.

Courtney: And why do you think that?

Liz: I think that we are saturated with content. There are so many things that are going on in the world that we’re trying to decipher, and that we’re trying to understand. We can become very disenfranchised when there’s all these things happening around us, and become very isolated, because all of our communication is now coming through text, and we don’t have the human interaction that we all crave.

And because of the democratization of publishing, there is that underlying, “Well, what does that mean?” When I send you a text message, I’m publishing something. You might be the only audience member, but I’ve just put something in writing that’s permanent, that you’re going to consume.

It’s that permanence that causes us, as publishers, be very self-aware of, “Am I getting this right? Do I have the right nuance? How am I going to be perceived on the other end of this message?”

Courtney: There’s something about writing it down and declaring it publicly that makes it real. It’s a thing.

Liz: But the fact that we can legitimize something comes with great responsibility. We could extend that sense of responsibility to, “Okay, we have this vantage point. We see things that are happening in the world. We understand that words are being used in a way — by influencers, by people in power, by leaders – that impacts us, and we have a role to play in helping the world understand that.

The epitome of that for us is the “Word of the Year”.

Courtney: What was it last year?

Liz: Complicit.

I lost sleep thinking about choosing “complicit” as the “Word of the Year” last year. And it was such an obvious choice.Dictionarydotcom_Melania_jacket

Courtney: How is the “Word of the Year” chosen?

Liz: We start with data. We say, “Okay, what words have trended, or spiked, or been in conversations this year?” We look at our look-ups of words that exist, we look at our misspells. We start there.

What we capture is the zeitgeist of what’s happening in the world.

The end of the year brings reflection, and our words are a perfect way to do that as we’re getting ready for the new year. It’s almost like a catharsis: “Oh, this year was complicit.” I had actually predicted in about June of last year that our word of the year be “unprecedented,” because it was an unprecedented year.

Courtney: Yes, it was.

Liz: Certainly politically and environmentally.

And “unprecedented” was actually one of the front-runners. But, you know, we looked at all of these things, and this theme about complicit emerged. The reason I lost sleep over it was because it’s a little bit clinical…but at the end of the day, I got it. I didn’t want to politicize it, but what I wanted to say was, whether you’re active or inactive, you are complicit in the world you live in. So, I hope that came through.

Courtney: I am dying to ask, what do you think the word will be for this year?

Liz: I can’t predict what the word will be this year, but I’ve been thinking about what I hope it is. I think I would like for it to be “resist.” This is me as an individual person, not representing the dictionary. But, you see the word around us.

Courtney: Yeah. There’s a call to do that…it’s in reaction to what is happening. Or, I should say not in reaction to, in response to. I love the difference between reaction and response, because of the thoughtfulness of it. “I’m choosing to do this” is a response that requires thought.

I think that for Dictionary.com to understand and have that level of consciousness about the role and the gravity of being the provider of definitions and words is brilliant.

Not just the people who are working and leading the company, but also the people who are using it. Like…

Liz: The customers.

Courtney: I’m hoping that they’re curious, that they’re looking words up, and that they want to find out the meaning.

Truth is our Most Valuable Principle

The stakes are high and preserving the truth has never been more important. Encouraging curiosity is key. How can we hold those in power accountable if truth is relegated to an inconvenient afterthought?

If we hold our resolve, dig deep, and try to understand the true meaning behind words, we can mitigate the impact of weaponized language and use it as a point of orientation around heated situations.

Liz McMillan is the CEO of Dictionary.com. Its mission is to remove the anxiety we all feel with the English language, enabling and inspiring connection, communication, learning, creativity, and expression for more than 70M people each month.

Feature photo courtesy of Columbia Journalism Review.

#Longesttitleever. It’s St. Patrick’s Day today, so celebration and conversations about luck are in the air. But it’s rainy here, and unseasonably cold in Northern California, so my Saturday started with sleeping in and staying under the covers doing the ultimate time suck – scrolling social media.

As I spent the hours on Twitter (growing increasingly disgusted by the utter nonsense of our current administration) I flipped over to Facebook to check my messenger. There was a notification from a former company employee – something a bit out of the ordinary, given I haven’t seen him in years – so I clicked in to check it out.


UMMMMMMMM… WHAT?! HOLY CRAPBALLS! It was better than Christmas #TWSS I can’t believe this just happened #TWSS My life is changed FOREVER – AGAIN – #TWSS!! Literally every reaction I could make to ranking #1 on Google for my favorite hashtag IS AN ACTUAL THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.

Everything became clear in this one moment.

I have been feeling foggy about where to go after my book release over a year ago. Because I am a professional marketer, I have struggled to connect with the audience I currently have, as I suspect many people are hesitant about helping me promote my book because of the sex part (Which I still don’t understand why people are so afraid to talk about sex, read more about this here). Then I got busy with the things that help me make a living, the whole time longing to flip the script and make money doing what I really love – having time to be curious, writing about it, and sparking conversations about things that make people laugh about the absurdity of it all. It took me a long time to get over the #fakenews that life has to be serious, and that no one will take you seriously unless you talk about serious things. And especially now, I feel like the world is calling for lightness and laughter to bring us together, because #Lort there is not enough tequila to get me through the next 3 years.

What I hadn’t noticed is that over the last year, the content I was pushing out across my social media channels was writing the story for me and I never even saw it until this morning. Wow, was I reminded that if you ignore that voice in your head and the signs from the energetic field that have been trying to get your attention for so long, they will slow knock at your door repeatedly until you finally answer the call.

So. I have to organize myself here. First thing on my list? Change the name of my blog to match what apparently I am already known for – CHECK. Update my “About page” to reflect the things I want to do – CHECK. WRITE A GD BLOG POST FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 10 MONTHS – EFFING CHECK!

Stay tuned, you’re watching this story play out in real time alongside me. #passionactivated

Let’s do this. #TWSS

A screenshot of my Twitter handle ranking #1 on Google for my favorite hashtag #TWSS that I hope will live in infamy someday.

Thanks to an amazing referral from Erin Cell, CEO and owner of Denver-based Socially Powered, I got my turn in the hotseat as a guest on host John Lee Dumas’ (JLD to most) “Entrepreneurs on Fire” podcast to chat about my favorite subject, why creativity is like sex.

EOF-FeaturedBadge-2015 This is a very big deal, people.

He’s the real deal. His podcast was named “Best on iTunes” and he’s interviewed so many people I admire, like Tony Robbins, Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss – the list goes on. His rapid fire interviewing style is, well, a bit like being strapped into a wooden roller coaster – super fast, stomach-dropping, jostling my brain, and screaming on the inside with glee.

I noticed that my edited interview is only 18 minutes long, compared to the other podcast guest episodes, which run about 24-28 minutes long. Either I was super prepared, talked really fast, or just blew my wad before anyone else.

Regardless, it was 18 minutes of pure fun. Hope you learn one thing, laugh more than once, and remember to keep doing it everyday! #TWSS

Listen on John’s website (includes shownotes and timestamps).

Learn more about double D’s in the shower, ideation concepts, doing it multiple times, and a really great sushi joke in my book: “21 Reasons Creativity is Like Sex”.

Photo by Andy Watson on Unsplash

I had such a blast talking to “The Creative Life” podcast founder James Taylor! We talked about a lot of things (and that accent! #Britsrule), but pointedly about why we really do get our best ideas in the shower – I call it “Double D’s in the shower – and more, including:

  • The 3% Conference
  • Mistaking creativity with artistry
  • The Double D’s – Distraction and Dopamine <– wait for it!
  • Empathy Maps
  • Mindmaps
  • Wine culture
  • Tim Ferriss
  • The saboteur
  • Deep listening
  • 3 Ideas
  • “When expectations are in alignment, there is no conflict.”

Listen now

About James

In ‘The Creative Life’ podcast, James Taylor interviews leading creatives and innovators and has them reveal their creativity and innovation strategies and techniques to help you unlock your own creativity and live ‘The Creative Life’.

As a leading creativity coach James teaches and interviews creative leaders including Amanda Palmer, Chris Guillebeau, Tommy Emmanuel, Hugh MacLeod and Chris Ducker on subjects including; how creativity works, the creative process, what is creativity, how to generate ideas, creativity exercises, creativity research, creative block, creative personality types, theories of creativity, creative thinking, educational creativity, divergent thinking, organizational creativity, creative cultures, and innovation.

His work builds on other leading creativity experts including Julia Cameron, Sir Ken Robinson, Michael J Gelb, Eric Maisel, Scott Barry Kaufman, Twyla Tharp, Todd Henry, Jeff Goins, Richard Florida, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Steven Pressfield, Tina Seelig, Josh Linkner and many others. James Taylor shows us how we can all learn to be more creative.

iTunes Link: http://jamestaylor.me/itunes

Stitcher Link:  http://jamestaylor.me/stitcher

Spotify Link: http://spoti.fi/27Df9Kl

I recently got to talk with Direct Sales expert Vicki Fitch on her “Fresh Perspectives” Facebook Live podcast about creativity, the importance of laughter and why sex is such a taboo topic to talk about – especially for people of deep faith.

Like anytime I get to talk about my two favorite subjects, lots of laughs, a few awkward moments and drive by guests happen. This time it was my cohort-in-wine and co-host of our pilot show “Getting Tasted”, Mia Voss, who showed up to show off my “grand-dragon” Morticia (the former Bearded Dragon of my daughter, Emerson, who Mia smuggled onto a plane back to Denver in a chihuahua dog carrier.)

Watch along and laugh at the shenanigans, and check out Vicki Fitch’s page for more great conversations with some pretty amazing people!

 

Have you ever had that dream, the one where you’re in a large group of people trying to brainstorm, and everyone’s throwing out really, really, bad ideas? Yup, pretty much welcome to ANY group brainstorming session… and it’s NOT A DREAM.

So why is doing it in a group better than doing it alone? #burningquestion

Advertising executive Alex Osborn, in his 1953 book titled Applied Imagination popularized the concept of the group brainstorm as a way to produce a higher volume of ideas around a certain topic. Apparently, Alex was getting paid by the idea, because using volume as a success measurement for ideas is a terrible idea. (Think he could have used a group brainstorm to vette that one out? #ironic)

Groups, especially groups of people who work together and are presumably competing for the same resources as you are, are not a safe space for positive free-thinking. Some people are shy; some take longer to process information than others; some are preoccupied about what they will fix for dinner. Coming up with fresh ideas in this environment simply doesn’t work.

So while you can definitely put yourself in a quiet space and critically think about concepts that yield some interesting ideas, stopping there could possibly be preventing a really REALLY great idea from happening. Don’t get me wrong; I am a social introvert, and require alone time to recharge my energy. But the human brain only has so much capacity to hold buckets of information, and with this finiteness, comes limitation in solo ideation.idea

Psychologist Paul Paulus who teaches at the University of Texas Arlington (OK <mini rant> really Mr. and Mr. Paulus… you couldn’t move past Paul as the first name for your son?!) points to the surprising effectiveness of group “brainwriting”, which is a combination of doing it alone and doing it with others.

In brainwriting, group members write their ideas on paper, then pass them around to other group members who add their own ideas to the list. In Paulus’ study, this technique yielded almost 30% more viable ideas to the topic.

So, the next time you need 30% more of anything, consider starting alone, then sharing with a larger group. Who knows… you may just come up with an eye-popping experience of a lifetime. #TWSS

Learn more about ideation concepts, multiple discoveries, and a really great sushi joke in Chapter 4 of my book “21 Reasons Creativity is Like Sex”.

Advertising is the hardest form of storytelling. For television, in just 30 seconds, there needs to be a beginning, middle and end, all while making the brand the hero of the story. This is why advertising creatives have a long history of taking the easy way out, by relying on gender bias and sex to sell their products (and yes, I realize the irony of this statement, since I wrote a book with sex in the title, but that is different, you will either have to read it or just trust me.)

There is a cultural awakening right now, with storytelling being a very clear reflection of societal sentiment. No longer do we need to count on paid media to distribute our message, thanks to social media proliferation and the power of communities who can take anyone’s message and add their personal spin to it to keep emotions fired high.

This was never more apparent to me until this most recent Superbowl. Notorious for its commercials – why I personally watch the game – the spots aired during the event this year spoke more loudly than ever, declaring in a screaming whisper what I was so, so happy to hear: “It’s time to make a change for humanity.”

No more did we see the spank material of Paris Hilton devouring a Carl’s Jr. burger clad in a monokini, getting soaked with water as she washed a black sports car.

BRA-VAH to Go Daddy, who opted to air a clever spot told from the point of view of a screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-6-08-19-pmgenderless Internet, setting itself up as the hero that delivers all the wonderful things we love the Internet for – viral challenges, animals, and memes – instead of its spots from years past of… wait for it… bikini clad ladies.

Even Mr. Clean offered up a plot twist, trying to flip traditional gender roles by turning the iconic mascot into a 50 shades of grime Mr. Grey (which in my opinion, is still off the mark a bit. If cleaning was really sexy and foreplayish, why don’t they sell rubber gloves and toilet cleaner in the lingerie aisle?!).

I counted at least four spots that were obvious middle fingers to the Trump administration:

  • Coke, who aired a spot that actually ran two years ago I learned (thank you Jeff Gomez!) and returned this year overwhelmingly positive remarks (even from the red states), which was NOT the case just 24 months ago.
  • Google, who pulled together a last minute spot that was so simple, but powerful in support of home, family, love and diversity in America.
  • Even Anheuser Busch aired a poignant, if not completely accurate, re-enactment of one of its founders emigrating to America, specifically to brew what he thought would be delicious beer. This was a surprise shift for them, as it risked alienating its core audience, most of whom are Americans who skew blue collar living in red states. This sparked a #BoycottBudweiser hashtag on Twitter, which fizzled out due to a misspelled hashtag , which… um… did not help its cause.screen-shot-2017-02-07-at-5-30-43-pm
  • And lastly, a company called Lumber 86, or 69 Wood, sorry, 84 Lumber. Where the hell did these guys come from? I doubt most of the general public had heard of this company before the Superbowl, but they proved that with heart, a little controversy (Fox deemed the spot too political and forced the company to change the ending, instead directing viewers to their website to see the end of the short cinematic film about Mexican immigration to the United States), and a classic, non-communication snafu between Marketing and IT to prepare the website for the surge in bandwidth (yes, it crashed), they managed to capture an impressive 2.8% Share of Voice, beating out Skittles.

Shifts are happening for sexism and equality. It’s reflected in our art, our stories, and the way we are telling them.

And I am more than ready to be a part of it. #TWSS

To grab your own copy of “21 Reasons Creativity is Like Sex”, click here.

 

Saying you want more of something, but not be willing to talk about what “it” is, seems completely counter-intuitive. But time and again, that’s the case with sex. Why is talking about sex so hard?

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-1-43-35-pm

I was recently on a podcast hosted by a popular podcaster with multiple shows, many of which appeal primarily to a faith-based audience. In the green room before the show, she was politely trying to set the ground rules for the show to make sure I didn’t cross any lines with her faithful watchers. No F-bombs: check. No pornographic or vulgar references: check. And maybe not heavy on the sex talk, because the show is usually rated G for a family audience.

This sparked an interesting conversation between us, about why talking about sex is considered taboo to this audience. Just because someone is religious, it doesn’t mean that’s synonymous with not talking about sex (any child of the 80s who grew up with Madonna can attest to that!) While writing my book, I came across PLENTY of people who squirmed in their seats at the notion of talking openly about sex. Agnostic Brits. Jewish grandmas. Even middle-aged men blushed at its mention.

This got me curious. Why ARE people uncomfortable talking openly about sex? And not just to strangers. In most cases, with their own partners, many of whom they’ve been with for years?

According to Canadian researcher E. Sandra Byers, the average adult knows only about a fourth of the things his or her partner finds sexually distasteful. Instead of asking, we project our own likes and dislikes about ourselves onto our partners, assuming that they are in alignment. You can see how this could go south (or not) very quickly.

From a very young age, not being open and earnest about the semantics of our bodies, how they work, and the choices that lie ahead, leaves us no choice but to get our information from other friends (who FYI are in exactly the same boat of misinformation), the internet (and that never lies), and porn – the worst place to shape your attitudes about what is healthy and acceptable behavior in a sexual relationship.

This trio, along with societal mores and familial beliefs, shape a self-stereotype that helps identify your place in the sexual spectrum. “I’m a prude.” “I am a slut.” “I’m a player.”

This stereotype creates a “lore” that shapes action. “Since I am a prude, I don’t want to think about sex.” “Since I am a slut, that means I can sleep with anyone I want.” According to Psychology Today, common sex-related lore holds that: great sex comes naturally; your partner should know intuitively what you want and like; and good sex must be spontaneous.

How confusing it is, and how much do we feel like we’re failing or doing it wrong, because things might not go according to plan but we’ve so deeply bought into this lore?

Oh, but wait. There’s more.

Our personal lore plays into our “scripts”. Sexual scripts are heavily shaped by the culture and, once internalized, direct our perceptions, expectations, and behavior in sexual situations. In the U.S., males are expected by the common sexual script to “know what to do” while females are expected to be passive and sexually naïve. (full Psychology Today article here)

#WhyisSexsoConfusingconfused

Because we fear that any deviance from the script puts us at risk of rejection, distrust and failure. That we’re not desireable. Not worthy. And unloved. The thought of any of these rocks us to our core. Isn’t is just easier to let others tell us what and who we are, and let our ego-driven brains distance from emotion to avoid getting hurt? #ObviousRhetoricalSarcasticQuestions #HypothalumusSaysSorryNotSorry

Imagine what would happen if we rewound this all the way back? If we educated our kids honestly, and taught them what was what and what goes where, without embarrassment? What if we could self-reflect and healthily explored what we were curious about and enjoyed, without judgement, shame and labels? And what if we communicated openly about sex with our partners, shared with vulnerability our secrets and passions, without fear of being rejected?

That sounds like a pretty safe and loving place to me. #TWSS

To grab your own copy of “21 Reasons Creativity is Like Sex”, click here.

Featured image photo credit: Anna Sastre via Unsplash

 

%d bloggers like this: