Archive for July, 2014

Can robots replace human writers?

July 18th, 2014 by Bob Bly

It appears that they can, at least as far as content writing is concerned.

According to the article below, Wikipedia “bots” – software that writes without a human operator – write a staggering 10,000 articles a day for the site:

http://news.discovery.com/tech/robotics/wikipedia-bot-writes-10000-articles-a-day-140715.htm

The quality is apparently good enough that the articles pass muster – people read them and don’t know a robot wrote them.

Does that mean content writers are obsolete and irrelevant, much like factory workers who have been replaced by robots on factory assembly lines?

For decades, my dad worked in an office building with a manual elevator run by an elevator operator, Frank. The day the building unveiled its new self-service push-button elevator, Frank was gone.

I know a number of older IT professionals who became obsolete and were fired when either their technical skills became outdated or were outsourced to India. Not exactly death by bot, but the same idea.

Do you believe that bots will become powerful enough to handle more sophisticated writing tasks – including poetry, novels, movie scripts, and sales copy?

Just because I cannot see my way clear to believing that what I do as a copywriter can ever be captured in software does not mean that it won’t happen.

What’s scary is the possibility that almost any worker living today may become obsolete in ways he or she never expected.

There are already robots that help perform surgery. Who is to say one day an AI (artificial intelligence) bot won’t eliminate the need for a human surgeon?

Do you feel sorrow for people who are being made obsolete and unemployable by advances in technology or do you see it as their fault: they didn’t keep their skills state of the art, and so they get what they deserve?

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What’s a good idea really worth?

July 11th, 2014 by Bob Bly

The late, great speaker Dottie Walters once praised me by
writing, “Bob Bly is a magnificent idea man.”

But that actually made me uncomfortable … because I do not think
of myself as an idea man.

I am something that, in my humble opinion, is much more
valuable: an action man.

My writing hero, Isaac Asimov, said he was often besieged by
people who had an idea for a science fiction story.

Their offer: “Take my idea, write the story, sell it, and we
will split the money.”

Asimov’s reply was always the same.

He told the person, “Tell you what. I will give YOU an idea. You
write a story, sell it, and split the money with me.”

His point: coming up with ideas is easy. Implementing them is
hard.

In this regard, my pet peeve is marketing consultants who want
to look smart to the client, and so they spew out idea after
idea without regard to the client’s time and resources available
to execute — or whether the idea is merely creative or will
actually generate positive ROI.

But when it’s time to actually do the suggestions, they run for
the hills. And when you ask them for guidance, they tell you
they just concern themselves with the big picture and are not
“detail people.”

Recently I hired a marketing consultant and writer, GF, to write
an e-book for me.

Right away, he became hyper-excited and started spewing out
ideas for the book I hired him to write.

For instance, let’s have a contest … let’s start a Facebook page
for the book … let’s make online videos … let’s sell advertising
in the book … let’s partner with Amazon.

“Relax, Spanky,” I told him.

“Forget about all that hooey. Just write a good book for me.
I’ll be happy with that.”

Guess what, Mr. Smart Marketing Consultant?

An idea that you toss out and that just lies there … and that
you never help put into practice for the client … is worthless.

When I was a kid, my dad, whom I worshipped, had to lift Heidi,
our huge collie, onto the exam table at the vet.

He said, “I have a great idea. Build the table with a hydraulic
lift.”

It was a great idea, and now many vet exam tables have a lift.

But dad didn’t make a dime from it, because he never did a thing
with the idea.

You see, the money’s in making the thing, not thinking of the
thing.

The Law of Attraction also places too much faith in ideas and
thoughts.

It says you attract abundance by thinking abundantly.

I prefer the guy — I think it may have been Edison or maybe
Stephen King — who said: “Success usually wears overalls and
looks like hard work.”

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Are you a good listener?

July 2nd, 2014 by Bob Bly

In the 1980s, when Burroughs announced its plan to merge with
fellow computer giant Sperry, they turned to a big NYC ad agency
for help naming the new company.

The ad agency turned to me … and a bunch of other copywriters …
and paid us for name suggestions.

My simple-minded solution, Sperry/Burroughs, was not chosen. Nor
was my alternative: Burroughs/Sperry.

The winner, as some of you may know, was Unisys – and I can’t
say the freelancer who sold that to the agency and its client
earned his fee.

I bring this up because, for reasons unknown, a few years before
the merger, Sperry ran a major corporate ad campaign around the
theme of “listening.”

Although I think the campaign was a dud, the idea of becoming a
good listener is a valuable one.

I will never forget a line in one of their content pieces on
listening: “Remember, you have only one mouth but two ears. So
you should listen twice as much as you talk.”

It’s relevant, because increasingly people ask for my advice
and counsel, and then when I try to give it, constantly talk
over me and never listen to a word I say.

For instance, entrepreneur CM called a few weeks ago asking for
advice on how to market his business.

He did not want to become a paying client. He just wanted to
pick my brain for free.

As is always the case, I said yes, with a line I learned from
speaker Patricia Fripp.

“CM, I charge $500 an hour, but I will give you 5 minutes,
starting now.”

By the way, if you charge $500 an hour, 5 minutes of your time
is a gift worth $41.67 — a nice freebie for a stranger you don’t
know.

So CM told me his marketing idea. But instead of shutting up and
getting the answer, he proceeded to tell me why he was convinced
it was brilliant, his life story, and on and on.

Finally, I said in a loud voice what Charlie on “Its Always
Sunny in Philadelphia” loves to say to talkers: “Stop talking!”

CM stopped, and I said: “CM, you asked me the question. I know
the answer. Can you be quiet and let me tell you the answer?”

Actually, I insisted that he stop talking because (a) my time
is valuable and (b) since he was not paying me, he was wasting
it. And what would be my incentive to allow a non-client to do
so?

The kicker to the story: When I told CM his idea will not work,
he began arguing vehemently. I (figuratively) held up my hand
and said once again:

“Stop. I don’t care what you do. Do what you want. You asked
for advice. I gave it. Five minutes up. Goodbye and good luck.”

Some days it does not pay to get out of bed, but despite that, I
am here at the PC every day by 6am, in case you have something
to ask me.

Only … whether you are a paying client or a freebie … wouldn’t
it make sense to stop talking enough to get my answer?

If you are a paying client, I will gladly debate its merits
until you are comfortable with my explanation and can make an
informed decision about whether to accept my advice.

If you are a freebie seeker on my 5 minute meter, I will not.

Action step: implement Sperry’s 2:1 rule in your life: Listen at
least twice as much as you talk — and you will be well served
whether you are a customer, a vendor, or a moocher.

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