Downtown Tupelo (MS) Main Street is one of three winners of the 2020 Great American Main Street Award, which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. Congratulations
Have you ever read a social media post that was so idiotic and misinformed that you couldn’t believe anyone would post something like that? And then you find out that it was the product of someone you know and respect. Someone you know who you cannot believe that they have that opinion? You think you can change their mind? You should probably just forget about it.
In this case, we’re talking about someone who has made a controversial post on social media, not someone who is open to discussion about an issue.
The main problem with changing someone’s mind these days is because so many lines have been drawn between politics, COVID 19 response, environmental impact, social justice, and school re-openings, just to name a few. In this column, we will look at how values, beliefs, and opinions are formed and how difficult for them to be changed.
Opinions are often based on the groups we belong to and on emotion, not facts. For some people, being alienated by the group is worse than conforming to the group, thus we accept the group’s opinions and values. We feel that we belong when we make a statement that is immediately agreed to and reinforced. We feel shunned when the members of the group ridicule our opinion or statement and attempt to change our mind. In other words, we feel good when someone else validates our opinion.
Thanks to social media, some of our groups are our online friends and followers. Social media companies accelerate our affiliation with our groups. It is much easier for someone simply to “like” our opinion than to comment on it. There is no “dislike” button. Have you ever wondered why businesses and individuals request that you like or follow them? Social media has a way of meeting our emotional need of belonging. We recall that in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most basic emotional need is to be accepted by others.
Is it really difficult for someone to change their mind about something they believe? The answer is yes, and there are reasons based on research.
Confirmation Bias and Motivated Reasoning – A person accepts facts when they come from a source on their side, and rejects facts that come from a source on the other side.
The Illusory Truth Effect – The more often one hears a statement the more likely they believe it is correct.
The illusory Truth Effect was introduced in 1977 in a research paper describing a study by Lynn Hasher, David Goldstein, and Thomas Toppino. The authors were from Villanova University and Temple University. Illusory Truth Effect is the positive feeling that is experienced when we hear information that we know is true is similar to the feeling that occurs when we hear information we have heard before. Thus, if we choose to get our news regularly from the same sources, such as a certain cable news network or radio talk show, we often hear the same bias.
Speaking of news media, which many blame along with social media, for the current polarization of the country, an August 4, 2020 Gallup study entitled “News Media Viewed as Biased but Crucial to Democracy” found that, “More than eight in 10 Americans say the media bears “a great deal” (48%) or “a moderate amount” (36%) of blame for political division in this country. But nearly as many say the media could do “a great deal” (49%) or “a moderate amount” (35%) to heal those divisions.
The same study reported:
“Americans are largely overwhelmed by the sheer volume and speed of news coverage, and 78% say the spread of misinformation online is “a major problem,” exceeding all other challenges posed by the media environment. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults would like to see major internet companies find ways to exclude false information or hateful expression online.”
Also, Political Party Affiliation Remains Key Predictor of Attitudes About Media:
“Seventy-one percent of Republicans but far fewer Democrats (22%) and independents (52%) have an unfavorable opinion of the news media. Across all measures, Republicans express more negative sentiments about the media than do Democrats and independents.”
In summary, it is becoming more difficult to change the mind of someone who has deeply held opinions and beliefs. So how does one change someone else’s mind under these circumstances? We will address that subject and discuss the effect on businesses and organizations in our next column.
Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof. – John Kenneth Galbraith
During this pandemic, there are daily statistics, trends, charts, and other data offered to the public. It’s difficult to make sense of it all.
What’s the real current status? What does the future hold? Which numbers should we pay attention to? Number of cases, percent increase in cases, deaths per capita, hospitalizations per capita, or something else? Are there data that can reliably predict the number of cases? And if so, can it aid us in deciding which activities we should or should not participate in? What we need is a reliable bellwether.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a bellwether is a leader, pacemaker or trendsetter. The term comes from the Middle English “bellewether” and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading the flock of sheep. A shepherd could then note the movements of the flock by hearing the bell, even when the flock was not in sight. In other words, a bellwether is something, that either leads or indicates trends or forthcoming activity or outcomes. It can be an individual, a company, an activity, a place, or data.
To determine a bellwether for coronavirus infections it is useful to understand which actions or activities have the highest risk. The Texas Medical Association recently released a chart listing behaviors from low risk to high risk. Playing tennis and pumping gasoline (thank goodness) are at the low risk section of the chart. Going to a bar and eating at a buffet are in the high risk section. Eating inside at a restaurant is of moderate-high risk. Useful information, for sure. The Texas Medical Association chart can be found online at –
I came across an interesting article in the June 26, 2020 edition of USA Today that made a lot of sense regarding an activity that could be a bellwether. The activity? Eating in a restaurant. Jesse Edgerton, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, noted the level of spending in restaurants three weeks ago – most notably in-person versus online – was the strongest predictor of a surge in coronavirus cases during that time period. That makes sense given the risks mentioned above. His analysis was based on spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders. Also, Edgerton found that higher spending in supermarkets predicted a slower spread of the virus, suggesting consumers are practicing “more careful social distancing” in that environment.
Bellwethers are often found in the business world. Find a company that indicates a forthcoming economic activity and a company can gear up or down for what’s ahead.
Alcoa Aluminum, for example, is considered a bellwether for the overall economy because it operates in a cyclical industry, i.e. one that has cycles of expansion, peak, contraction, and trough. Also, it is the first major company to report quarterly earnings, and its report is considered a bellwether for the corporate earnings season. FedEx is also considered a bellwether for the economy. Strong revenues and earnings for FedEx suggest strong consumer and business shipping activity, which ebbs and flows with the strength of the economy. Caterpillar, which sells construction equipment is a bellwether not only for the domestic economy but also the global economy. JPMorgan Chase is an example of a bellwether stock. As one of the major banks in the United States, it sets the tone for the rest of the industry.
I asked State Economist Darrin Webb if there were any bellwethers his office tracks to make predictions and forecasts about the Mississippi economy. His response:
“We have a number of indicators that we track. Because every data series has some problems, we have found that looking at multiple series helps us understand what is really happening. Our monthly publication, Mississippi’s Business, contains many indicators that we have found helpful. Some of the most important ones in my opinion include Income tax withholdings, U.S. retail sales, manufacturing workweek length, initial and continued unemployment claims, the manufacturing and non manufacturing ISM index, NFIB optimism index, consumer sentiment index. These are all included in our monthly publication. Additionally I look at foreclosure and delinquency rates. I think MS retail sales tax transfers are a good indicator but the reported data lags retail sales (June transfers reflect May sales).”
There are also political/election bellwethers, one of the most common being counties. Nationally, presidential candidates play close attention to the following bellwether counties that have successfully picked winners over the years:
Valencia County, New Mexico – perfect since 1952 (longest current perfect streak); Vigo County, Indiana – 2 misses (1908, 1952) from 1888 on, perfect since 1956; Westmoreland County, Virginia – two misses since 1928 (in 1948 and 1960), perfect since 1964; Ottawa County, Ohio – one miss since 1948 (in 1960), perfect since 1964; and
Wood County, Ohio – one miss since 1964 (in 1976), perfect since 1980.
A bellwether is an indicator of trends. For example, an increase in gasoline sales might indicate future auto travel activity. Sales at certain retailers or other businesses may serve as as a bellwether to analyze broader trends across the retail industry.
Now there may be a good bellwether for predicting the spread of coronovirus. Jesse Edgerton, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, did some research and found the level of spending in restaurants three weeks ago – most notably in-person versus online – was the strongest predictor of a surge in coronavirus cases during that time. I think he’s on to something. As reported in a June 26, 2020 USA Today article, “Based on spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders, Edgerton found that higher spending in supermarkets predicted a slower spread of the virus, suggesting consumers are practicing “more careful social distancing in a state.”
March certainly came in like a lion. I don’t think it will go out like a lamb. Here at our new home in north Georgia Carol and I are closing out the month “sheltering in place,” going out only to play tennis or make a quick trip to the grocery or pharmacy. The coronavirus situation is presented daily in the media as numbers of cases and deaths and where they are located. Important information, for sure.
But there is a story that captures this crisis. It’s about what happened and continues to happen in Albany, Georgia. A beloved school janitor dies, there is a funeral of over 200 mourners, and a few weeks later people start dying.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. A powerful children’s book. Ann Patchett, best-selling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville said, “…it changed my life.” This one should be read first by the adult before reading to smaller children. Yes, I read children’s books. We have four grandchildren.
OUR TRAVELING HAS COME TO A HALT. Our late Springtime travel plans included trips to Panama and Alaska. Cancellations were handled in different ways. The airlines (Delta and Alaska Airlines) charged a small cancellation fee and promised e-credits for future flights. They still haven’t been posted. The cruise line for Alaska promised a 50% refund and a 50% credit for a future cruise. Still haven’t received either.
And then there is Caravan Tours, the company we booked for our Panama trip. I had purchased a trip insurance policy that allowed cancellation for any reason. When I called Caravan to cancel, I was informed that everything I had paid would be fully refunded. Within 10 days I had received a full refund. Consequently, we plan to take at least two Caravan tours in the future. I don’t mean to sound critical of the airlines and the cruise line because they are dealing with an economic and communications disaster, but I believe exceptional customer service should be rewarded. So thank you Caravan.
SELF-PUBLISHING – The most common writing question I get is, Who’s your publisher?
It seems the publishing world changes everyday. Authors, especially new authors, have more alternatives than ever. There’s one author I keep up with when is comes to marketing and self-publishing.
Joe Konrath is considered a pioneer in self-publishing. He has sold more than three million books in twenty countries. He’s written over forty novels and over a hundred short stories in the mystery, thriller, horror, and sci-fi genres. He’s been a #1 Amazon bestseller on three different occasions, and has been in the Top 100 bestseller lists over twenty times. He’s twice won the Love is Murder Award for best thriller, and has also won the Derringer Award, and the Ellery Queen Readers Choice Award, and has been nominated for many others including the Anthony, Macavity, and Gumshoe.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The most important thing in life is to stop saying “I wish” and say “I will.” – Charles Dickens
Once upon a time, I did some research about customer transactions for a company that had an office where customers could come in, sign up for new accounts, make payments on existing accounts and otherwise transact business. My task was to learn more about why customers were coming to the facility to transact business when they could just as easily, actually even more easily, complete the transaction online. What I discovered from one certain customer caused me to rethink business transactions.
She was a senior citizen, not quite what one would call elderly. She waited patiently in line behind several others, then approached the counter and interacted with the clerk. It appeared that she made a payment of some kind. I approached her as she was leaving, identified myself and told her I was doing some research. She brightened up and told me she would be glad to participate. She told me that she had internet service, lived some distance from the facility and always made her monthly payment in person. When I probed about the reasons she did so instead of using her computer at home, she quickly responded, “Because Becky always asks me about my back.”
What I learned was that hers was as much a social interaction as a business transaction. I also begin to wonder if some businesses were placing too much emphasis on the mechanics of their customer transactions to the detriment of the emotional element of their transactions. Of course, I also learned that every customer is different and that not all customers value the same thing in a business transaction.
The key is to know what customers want. And not just customers as a bundle, but each individual customer. That can be tricky and time-consuming. Algorithms and artificial intelligence may be getting better at personalizing transactions, but sometimes it can backfire. Overuse of technology can remove that personal touch and cause the loss of a customer.
Recently, an employee of a nonprofit organization told me about a fundraising effort that was about to begin. She told me about the specific program that the funds would be used for. She also told me to mention her name when I made the contribution. She also suggested a modest amount. Any amount was fine as long as I contributed something and mentioned her name. I suspected some competition among employees was going on.
The initiative was something that I wanted to support, so I went online and made a contribution several times the amount suggested. The online transaction was efficient. It even provided a box to enter the name of a person who referred me if I wished to do so. Less than 10 seconds after clicking “Submit” on my computer I had a new email in my inbox thanking me for my contribution. It was the most generic, simple “thank you” I believe I have ever seen. Two sentences, no personalization and no mention of the person I said referred me. That was a month ago. I haven’t seen the employee or received anything else since then.
Here are my seat-of-the-pants recommendations for creating successful transactions:
Know your customer. Is your primary customer a male, female, young, old, new, etc.? Know the demographics of your customers. Who is it buying your product or service?
Learn what your customer really values. One of the keys to amazon.com’s success is that it has shortened the time between desire and fulfillment. Online customers probably value things like convenience, speed and the ability to shop more than the customer who goes to the mall.
Determine how to satisfy the customer. Once you know what the customer really values, then figure out how to fulfill that desire. I believe we have overused the term “exceed customer expectations.” I know it’s tough. Companies are trying hard. But some customers want more than just the basics of the transaction. Use technology, but don’t over-digitize. By the way, do you think most of the customers sitting in a Starbucks Cafe really are there because of the coffee?
Train employees — I recommend regularly checking the Gallup organization website to better understand what employees want. Follow-up with customers. Maybe even make phone contact with them. Beware of online reviews. There are companies now that are paid to make phone good online reviews. When looking at online reviews though, pay attention to those from obvious real customers. Monitor trends. What do customers want in the transaction, not just what they are buying. And keep up with society trends. I recommend faith popcorn.com as a good source for that kind of information.
Finally, let’s look to a couple of experts on this subject.
Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.”
There are customers out there who are looking for you. Help them find you by being where they are looking. Places like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Maps, Google Search, Social Media and their peers. Yes, their peers. One of the primary sources of information is other people.
Jeffrey Gitomer, sales trainer, author and speaker, has said, “Your customers are judging every aspect of every transaction and rating everything, from friendliness of people to ease of doing business to quality of product to service after the sale.”
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to return to Mississippi for the first time since August. The occasion was to conduct the annual CDF Community Leadership Institute retreat held at Old Waverly, near West Point. The leadership class this year has 26 participants. A great group. It’s no wonder that the Tupelo area continues to be one of the most desirable places to live and work. During my drive, I marveled at a beautiful rolling landscape of full-bloom cotton between Rome, Georgia and Gadsden, Alabama. Reminded of those creative “Ski-Mississippi” tee-shirts. Remember those? ***** Fall has finally arrived and there is no better place to be than the mountains. We are enjoying taking middle-of-the-week day trips to some of north Georgia’s more interesting towns and places. A favorite lunch stop is the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant on the Toccoa River. I always order the Fresh North Georgia Trout. Yesterday we visited Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak. The leaves are only a few days away from peak. ***** Cash price vs. credit price. Although the world seems to be moving to a cashless society, here in north Georgia, service stations still have a cash and credit price. I haven’t seen that in a while. Typically, the credit price is 10 cents higher than the cash price. Speaking of cash, I saw a piece about the city councilman in Philadelphia, PA who convinced the council to adopt an ordinance requiring retailers and restaurants to accept cash for purchases. Seems that some retailers in his city no longer accepted cash. ***** Two of my columns drew quite a bit of interest judging by the emails and requests to appear on talk radio programs. “Why Process Matters” discussed the need for leaders to have a process that involves those affected by a change instead of just announcing the change. It was especially timely because of the way the new Ole Miss chancellor was selected. My column about Mississippi Brain Drain also drew a lot of interest as the state grapples with the issue of college graduates leaving the state. ***** As most of you know, I’m rather passionate about education. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve gotten involved in my grandson’s elementary school. The involvement is in the form of a program called WATCH D.O.G.S. That’s Dads of Great Students. Basically, it’s a program in which dads, grandfathers, uncles, and other father figures spend at least a day in the school. The goals of the program are (1) To provide positive male role models for the students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important and (2) To provide extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying. Highly recommended. Check it out at https://dadsofgreatstudents.com if interested in starting the program in your student’s school. ***** A couple of Mississippi friends were surprised when I told them that pro soccer is big in Atlanta. Average attendance for Atlanta United home matches is 52,510, according to Soccer Stadium Digest. The team plays home matches in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I confess that I have never been to a pro soccer match. I’m a college football fan. ***** My wife loves art museums. I love car shows. We agree that art can be found in both places. We also agree that car shows and auto-related events can be an excellent way to attract visitors to a community. We attended the inaugural Chattanooga Motorcar Festival a couple of weekends ago. It was a blast. If you’ve ever been to Chattanooga, you are familiar with Riverfront Drive. Imagine it being closed to the public so that some race cars could have time trials reaching speeds over 130 miles per hour. Click here to check out my account of the event. ***** REMINDER: If you enjoy this monthly newsletter, please share it with friends or have them get on the list by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and entering “Subscribe” in the subject line. ***** SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker.
Greetings from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We have settled into our new home and are getting more involved in our community and family. Looking forward to leaf-peeping season.
***** Autumn is getting closer, and that means apples in north Georgia. There are plenty of orchards that allow visitors to pick their own. Check out this apple-picking article.
***** North Georgia is also becoming known for its vineyards. What? Georgia wine? It’s not NAPA, but it’s pretty good. Two of our favorite wineries are Montaluce, near Dahlonega, and Engelheim Vineyards, near Ellijay. At Montaluce, you’ll feel like you’re in Tuscany. Upscale dining overlooking the vineyard. A couple of years ago at a wine tasting in Dahlonega, we met Gary Engel. He’s a retired US Army Colonel who decided to purchase the land that is now known as Engelheim (German for “Angel Home”) in 2007. The Engel family planted their first vines in 2009 and harvested their first vintage in 2011; Engelheim Vineyards has been going strong ever since.
***** I’m toying with the idea of producing an audio version of Justice in Jackson, the second book in the Mississippi Mysteries Series. As I reread my work, I was surprised to find that many of the well-known places mentioned in the book in 1997 were no longer there or have substantially changed. Here are a dozen places that meet that description: Deposit Guaranty Bank/Plaza, the University Club, the IOF Building, the Edison Walthall Hotel, the Harvey Hotel, the Landmark Center, the Subway Lounge/Summers Hotel, Frank’s World Famous Biscuits, the King Edward Hotel, Olde Thyme Delicatessen, Dennery’s Restaurant, and the “Welcome to Mississippi” highway sign.How many of your community’s icons have gone away?
***** How much is a business worth? In a recent column, I examine a few different methods of valuing an ongoing business. Before doing so, allow me to share a personal story. It’s about my grandfather.
***** REMINDER: feel free to share and refer others who might want to receive these updates. Have them email email@example.com and enter SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. I do not share my email list.
***** SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.Vince Lombardi
Carol and I are now ensconced in our new home in north Georgia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Movers unloaded our household two weeks ago. By day, we are still unpacking. By evening, we are trying out restaurants in the area. We are excited about our new stage in life, especially being close to our four grandchildren.
***** I have one movie poster in my new home office for inspiration for my writing of mysteries.It’s “A Touch of Evil,” starring Charlton Heston, Orson Wells, and Janet Leigh. It’s autographed by Janet Leigh. Carol and I had the honor and pleasure of being her escort when she visited Jackson, Mississippi several years ago as part of a Smithsonian project. A gracious lady. She will probably be remembered most for the shower scene in the movie “Psycho.”
***** My website, www.philhardwick.com has a description of every book in the Mississippi Mysteries series. Someone asked me about my favorite murder weapon. It’s not a gun or a knife. It’s a common over-the-counter medication that a wife used to kill her husband. She put it into his banana pudding. More can be found in Conspiracy in Corinth. Oh yes, the medication is Acetaminophen.
It’s the height of the political season in Mississippi. Did you know that I once ran for public office? Read about the eight things I learned from that experience in my Mississippi Business Journal column.
As a writer, it is often enlightening and frustrating to break old habits when it comes to the ever-changing rules of the English language. For example, I always remembered that “start” referred to things, such as engines, cars, motors, etc. and that “begin” is about non-mechanical things such as sentences, projects, ideas, etc. Nowadays, start is the new begin. And then there are the pronouns. Gender neutrality and how one feels inside themselves rather than how they were born. Him and himself are definitely out. So is her. It’s now about gender-neutral pronouns. Hmmm. Imagine what it must be like for students who are learning English as a second language. If you’d like to see a clever three-and-a-half-minute video about pronouns and the current state of confusion, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzNGkwGYE4E.
Our grandson’s elementary school is going to use Franklin Covey’s The Leader in Me. The program… “teaches 21st-century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader.” First heard about it from Christi Kilroy with the Vicksburg Warren School District, which was one of the first schools in the country to use the program.
More than 9,300 people attended this year’s Mississippi Book Festival. This represents record attendance for the five-year-old festival and is an increase of 22 percent from last year.
According to Holly Lange, Festival Executive Director, “More than 245 authors participated in Saturday’s festival, including 170 on 48 official panels and another 75 authors meeting the public in Author’s Alley. I nominate Holly Lange for Mississippian of the Year.
Finally, why do I prefer an email distribution list? Why not just connect with people on social media?
There are many reasons, but the most important is, I own my list. Also, I do not share your name and email address.
Your Facebook Page is not owned by you. Your Twitter account is not owned by you. Your YouTube account is not owned by you. Your Pinterest followers aren’t owned by you. Your Instagram followers aren’t owned by you.
LOOKING AHEAD – Novel writing software review
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
When making plans, think big. When making progress, think small.