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Book Review: Schtick to Business

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Peter McGraw and Shane Mauss joined up to write Schtick to Business, a pop-science-pop-culture look at the ways comedians can force business people to see things with fresh eyes. While most books should be blog posts, this one felt about right.

McGraw, and it’s mostly McGraw’s voice, focuses on the idea that business is mostly hunting, then harvesting. Businesses exist to find areas of need (hunt) and then serve customers over those needs (harvest). Business owners are collar-shirt-wearing truffle hunters.

Typically, and where comedians excel, is in the hunting part. It’s finding the Zero to One ideas that make the difficult act of business slightly easier. McGraw writes that you won’t be funnier after reading the book, but “I want you to think funny. That is, I want you to start thinking differently.”

When we say that people aren’t creative, we’re saying that we err towards confirmation bias, myopia, and narrow thinking. We will always do education a certain way because that’s the way we do eduction. Well, until something happens (see: a quarantine education).

Part-of-the-reason creativity is missing is career risk. McGraw’s solution to this is shitstorming. It’s brainstorming, but inverted. Instead of coming up with good ideas, a group comes up with bad ones. This isn’t necessarily a waste of time because sometimes bad ideas can lead to good ideas. Sometimes changing one part of a bad idea, is a great idea.

For example, how does an investment advisor in a medium-size town get more clients? Her weaknesses include lack of resources in staffing, lack of high-income-residents, lack of marketing resources, lack of continuing education opportunities, and so on.

However, those same drawbacks can be advantages. Chuck Akre likes being in a small town with one stoplight. Investors want LPs that stick with them. Inverting the question leads us to avenues of advantage. Jokes are a kind of inversion.

“My mom has learned everything from Martha Stewart, about cooking, and cleaning, and withholding affection.” Nikki Glaser

Comedians see the world differently and it’s why we’ve looked at so many of them; Judd Apatow, Jenna Fischer, and Penn Jillette for example.

Once a comedian hunts down a new idea they need to harvest it and McGraw gives tools and tips for that but it’s mostly just boils down to ‘work really hard and maybe get lucky.’ That’s business.

Words mean competition. Once there is a category like ‘theme-park-vacation’ or ‘miles-per-gallon’ every Tom, Dick, and Sally can compete on that feature. Making it salient means consumer will compare on it—even if it doesn’t really matter to their decision making.

When stand up stand-up comedians work on their set; writing observations, testing jokes, and refining material they are hunting innovation. They are looking for something new. It’s creative.

Then, for a very brief time, for a very fortunate few, they get to harvest and share their ‘set’. Comedy, Luisa Diez told McGraw on his podcast, is the fastest art form. Comedians are inspired, share, then a joke expire. Comedy is the fruit fly of the hunt to harvest dichotomy.

Business owners have a longer cadence, but they can learn from comedians. Some will be inspired from McGraw’s book. Most will laugh. I did.

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Book Review: The Naked Jape

When Rory Sutherland recommends a book I do my best to find it. Even if it’s from 2006 and uses British English. Henceforth, I’ll be interchanging behavior and behaviour.

The Naked Jape was good for exactly the reason Sutherland said it would be: comedy reframes things.

Alchemy recasts one thing as another. Diets, wrote Penn Jillette are hard, but challenges are exciting. When he reframed his diet as something difficult but not-fun as something difficult and challenging it changed his attitude. Jillette had already learned challenging things – like juggling – so this was just another one of those.

Comedians are great at this.

“My father hugged me only once, on my twenty-first birthday. It was very awkward. I know now what it was that made me feel so uncomfortable: the nudity.”

That joke works well in a comedy set, less-well on a first-date, and terribly while talking to a psychiatrist. Change the context, change the meaning. Or, change the words and you change the meaning in the context.

Carr’s book offers lots of little jokes that prove this point. The ideas, these jokes are “anarchic, a little scrap of chaos from beyond the boundaries of the rational, a toe dipped in the shallow end of anti-social behaviour.”

Take the idea of jokes along with the JTBD theory and we get the start of the solution to a puzzle.

When Instagram was building out features an engineer told co-founder Kevin Systrom that he was building a polling tool. ‘That doesn’t sound like something I would use’ Systrom recalled. ‘Oh no, it’s going to be great,’ the engineer explained, ‘teens will love this!’

They did.

What was happening at the time was that teens were uploading solid-color backgrounds with a prompt on it. Their followers voted as comments. The users created a work-around, customizing the platform for their needs. Workarounds are also common in comedy. I saw a sign at an audiologist’s office that (loosely) demonstrates both JTBD and jokes; We don’t sell hearing aids, we fix hearing.

In the JTBD work, Bob Moesta changes his perspective. He enters customer interviews as an empty vesicle and lets them tell him about the product. He avoids jargon. He doesn’t lead them. Moesta is similar to Jerry Seinfeld who described comedians as people with a third eye. Here’s Seinfeld with the check after the meal.

“Went out to dinner the other night. Check came at the end of the meal, as it always does. Never liked the check at the end of the meal system, because money’s a very different thing before and after you eat. Before you eat money has no value. And you don’t care about money when you’re hungry, you sit down at a restaurant. You’re like the ruler of an empire. “More drinks, appetizers, quickly, quickly! It will be the greatest meal of our lives.” Then after the meal, you know, you’ve got the pants open, you’ve got the napkins destroyed, cigarette butt in the mashed potatoes – then the check comes at that moment. People are always upset, you know. They’re mystified by the check. “What is this? How could this be?” They start passing it around the table, “Does this look right to you? We’re not hungry now. Why are we buying all this food?!””

Let’s try this comedy idea with this reframing.

Instead of paying last, people pay first. A restaurant places a $50/100/200 charge just for stepping in. Customers get a menu without prices and order without influence. At the end of the meal, a waiter brings back their balance, if there is any.

There’s all kinds of consumer psychology at play here from menu design to mental accounting to the idea Seinfeld jokes about it. This may not even be a good idea but it’s a new idea and that’s what matters.

If something could be the premise to a joke, it’s on the right path.

Another Rory’s read is Schtick to Business by Peter McGraw. If you like this blog’s stories, you’ll probably like that book (a few overlap). McGraw’s big idea is that business people should think more like comedians and find the interesting weirdness around life. There’s areas where we’ve always done it this way has wallpapered over interestingness.

Thanks for reading.

Rory Sutherland (@rorysutherland) Tweeted:

Highly recommend. https://t.co/A4Wi0WmJIQ