Author: somechum

Dodging, Artfully

Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?


I’m not really sure. Too busy noticing the bubbles.

Which is a fairly typical reaction for me – dodging the big question at hand to focus on a largely irrelevant one. It’s one of those rare traits I share with politicians.

Whether the dodge is based on fear, apathy or classic avoidance, it’s gotta be mighty frustrating to the person who just wants a straight answer.

Not necessarily…

I discovered a Harvard Business School research paper that explores what happens when people try to dodge a certain question by answering a different question. Two experiments demonstrated “conversational blindness” (listeners’ failure to notice such dodges). Listeners actually viewed successful question-dodgers as positively as speakers who actually answered the question they are asked. In fact, listeners actually preferred speakers who answered the wrong question well over those who answered the right question poorly.

Unfortunately, that’s just fuel for honing my dodging skills.

So, I repeat: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

Actually, I think it’s just right.

Maybe a career in politics isn’t out of the question.

Read the full paper:
The Artful Dodger: Answering the Wrong Question the Right Way.















My Exclamation Point


I’d stop short of calling it a full-blown crusade. It isn’t like I want to banish them completely. It’s just that I think there are far too many untamed exclamations.

Can’t we just agree to scale them back a bit? (OK, in some cases, A LOT…)

Don’t mean to come off as some punctuation buzz-kill, but my journalistic training taught me to use extreme restraint when ending a sentence.

I liken it to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded auditorium, when you merely noticed a pocket flashlight. You definitely gain attention, to be sure, but the next time you emit that panicked declaration, it’s not likely to have the same effect. (I illuminated this principle further in my recent post on the overuse of “amazing.”)

Of course, my formal schooling took place before the dawning of the digital age, when so many grammar ground rules would be stretched, ignored or ripped off their hinges.

Nowadays, exclamation points are doled out like Tic Tacs® after a spicy meal. 

E-mail is particularly ripe for these symbols of enthusiasm. Although I’m willing to loosen my collar for this more casual medium, something’s wrong when the exclamations outnumber the periods (or perhaps the sender should be dialing 911 instead of crafting breezy e-mails to work colleagues).

So, let’s get practical…

I believe it’s appropriate to use exclamation points when expressing:

– joy (“That’s terrific!”)

pain (“Ouch!”)

excitement (“Hooray for Jimmy!”)

– surprise (“That’s a real shocker!”)

– indignation (“How dare you!”)

Conversely, I believe it’s inappropriate to use exclamation points to convey:

– simple declarative statements (“The company store is closed Thursday!”)

– false fun (“Get ready for the United Way kick-off!”)

– recognition (“Betty Sue completed the task in record time!”)

– reminders (“Don’t forget to vote today!”)

– general commands (“Please wipe your feet before entering the building!”)

Thanks for reading!!! Sorry, couldn’t resist…

The Choices That Bind


Excessive choice has once again trapped me under its devious spell.

This time, paralysis took hold as I was browsing refrigerators at a local appliance superstore (check out my other recent paralyzing experience: “Panic in the Toothpaste Aisle”).

I embarked on my current retail engagement in response to the near-demise of my current fridge (the not-so-subtle clues of its impending death include a failing motor and a small puddle of water slowly emerging beneath its body).

Given the strong possibility that this minor incontinence will eventually lead to a full-blown river in the middle of my kitchen, I decided to begin the replacement process.

And not surprisingly, the market is chock full of choices. Beyond the familiar freezer-on-top and side-by-side model options, stylish alternatives include French refrigerator doors, a freezer door (or drawer) at the bottom, and sophisticated door-mounted water and ice dispensers – not to mention various options in both color and finish.

Of course, most of these choices are offered by numerous brands that include Whirlpool (which apparently now owns Maytag, KitchenAid, Amana and Jenn-Air), General Electric, Kenmore, LG, Samsung, Electrolux, Viking, etc., etc.

Stop, I want to get off.

I know it seems counterintuitive, but I continue to believe that the availability of so many choices actually leads to LESS personal satisfaction. Instead, it creates confusion, compounds stress, and dramatically increases the likelihood of some degree of buyer’s remorse.

Reinforcing those beliefs is Barry Schwartz, a sociology professor at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. During his 2005 TED presentation, he explained how and why the abundance of choice in modern society is actually making us quite miserable:

And here’s a Newsweek article on the topic as well.

While you ponder this concept further, I need to go change the towels beneath my fridge.


If Everything is Amazing, then Nothing’s Amazing


Behold the fading power of “amazing.” Seems wherever you turn, the word is being carelessly flung, describing everything from charming individuals to musical performances to restaurant entrees.

Clearly, the same forces that ruined “awesome” many years ago are at play once again to dilute yet another once-mighty adjective.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite childhood TV shows – That’s Incredible! – which featured all sorts of stuff deemed “too extraordinary and improbable to be believed” (though some of it was absolutely more deserving of the label than others). The show was a smash during its first few seasons, but when the incredibleness started running dry, so did the ratings.

Given the estimated 100,000+ available adjectives in the English language, why must we obsess over a select few?

We really need to preserve and protect our words, or risk diluting their meaning and forever zapping their punch.

If EVERYTHING is amazing, then NOTHING’s amazing.

In fact, it’s downright humdrum. 


Plodding Through a Cranker-Friendly World

Over the course of my 20-plus years practicing PR, I’ve observed two primary classes of professional writers: those who crank and those who plod.

I fit squarely into the latter camp. And it can be a real bitch.

Let me explain the distinction.

“Crankers” turn out quick, passable copy in a smooth and efficient manner. They ease into any assignment and can write seemingly on cue. I’m insanely jealous of these individuals.

“Plodders,” on the other hand, obsess. Obsessively. And we daydream. And trudge through even the simplest of projects. Some of us may even concoct some sort of ridiculous ritual or try connecting to an imaginary muse to unleash inherent writing talent.

Make no mistake, both writers get the job done. But the crankers do it with aplomb (and dignity), while the plodders finish said task in a puddle of sweat, tears, sometimes blood.

And the reality is, we’re living in an increasingly cranker-friendly world, where speed trumps just about everything else (including attention to detail and nuance).

So what’s an old-line plodder to do – besides beat his weary head against his desk? Although I haven’t completely decided whether crankers are born or made, I do know that I’ve failed in my ongoing attempts to morph into a fully-functioning one.

Hence I continue to plod. One. Labored. Word. At. A. Time.





Making a Pact with a Groundhog


I may be in the minority here, but I’m not ready to bid winter adieu quite yet. Despite being pounded by ice and snow at this very moment, I just haven’t had my fill of this pesky season. In fact, spring isn’t welcome in my home until March (at the earliest).

Chalk it up to those fond childhood memories, when wintry forecasts carried the promise of a little boy’s nirvana: sleeping in, missing school, and spending the day sledding and/or skiing.

We were fortunate to live across the street from the Assistant Superintendent, who was charged with ruling whether our school system would close for the day. As a courtesy to his (nosy and annoying) neighbors, his wife set up a system whereby she would illuminate their back porch light when school was called off. Oh, how I prayed to awaken to that illuminated bulb! (this was, of course, prior to the days of the internet, text messages and automatic calls from the school…)

Fast-forward to my adult self, when winter carries its fair share of annoyances to be sure, but still feeds my fantasies of being stranded at home in front of a roaring fire.

That’s why I’m willing to make a pact with Punxsatawney Phil, that infamous groundhog who gets to determine our seasonal destiny on Wednesday. I implore the portly rodent to “see” his shadow and burrow back underground for another six weeks of frostiness. In return, I’ll use my PR skills and connections to help restore his shoddy reputation.

Given the current storm advancing toward the Northeast, pundits say Phil is unlikely to see his shadow this year. But the odds are on my side. Since 1887, Phil has seen his shadow 99 times and not seen it 15 times (with nine years unrecorded). My fingers are crossed that dominance will continue.



Very Grateful for a Very (Stylish + Comfy) Task Chair

Sitting has never been so sweet since I received my Very Task Chair from the very generous folks at Haworth.

Apparently, I was randomly selected from Haworth’s thousands of Twitter followers to win this stylish and ergonomically advanced new product.

Lucky for them, I just happened to be in dire need of a brand-new chair at my home office.

Special thanks to Haworth PR dynamo Julie Smith for graciously helping me to choose my ideal companion from among numerous fabrics, colors and finishes.

Bet you’re very jealous…


My new chair, just aching to come in from the cold.


The former top dog waits in the wings — and strategizes its next move.

Color Me Mortified


Did you hear the one about the guy who wore mismatched shoes to work?

Allow that guy to tell you about it…

Yes, I recently wore one black shoe and one brown shoe to work — on the same day. And get this…it wasn’t my first time committing this particular transgression. Chalk it up to insufficient lighting, a messy closet and a pesky absent-mindedness that washes over me at the most inopportune of times.

I am, after all, the proud recipient of the HUYA Award from my fellow fraternity brothers (in recognition of my overall cluelessness). For the unenlightened, HUYA is short for “Head Up Your Ass” – as the accompanying wooden statue clearly depicted.

Turns out my recent shoe faux pas is just the latest in a series of fashion embarrassments. These include wearing mismatched socks, having dental floss stuck to my shirt, and discovering that my zipper was down at the end of a busy workday (never knowing whether anyone noticed – or even cared).

Mortifying as these transgressions may be, I take comfort in the fact that there’s an entire website community devoted to embarrassing moments.

I do hope I’m never compelled to contribute to it.



When Typos Taunt…


I’m one of those annoying people who feels compelled to locate and publicly disclose every typo that crosses my path. If I’m being honest, I get a certain smug satisfaction in pointing out someone else’s foible. 

Seems the lexicon gods have sought revenge.

Now I’m forced to confront a big honkin’ typo every day as I pass the mail bin that bears the name of my department. Corp Communitcations” it reads  (the first “t” is silent, of course).

Here’s hoping it never loses its sting. I’m keeping this handy, just to make sure.