Review: Situations Matter

Sometimes people send me free stuff and I review it! This review has an affiliate link to Amazon in order to feed my insatiable book-buying habit.

The two-line summary: If you nod confidently when I mention the IAT, Stanley Milgram or bystander apathy, and you have incorporated that understanding into your life and business, then you probably don’t need this book. Otherwise, this is one of those books everyone should read.

Whoever came up with the title for this book deserves a cookie, because Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World does exactly what it says on the tin.

Quite simply, Sam Sommers’ contention is this:

Most of the components of ourselves that we use to describe Who We Are (and much more, Who That Guy Is) aren’t static.

We describe people (and ourselves) as smart, or rude, or honest, or a terrible driver. But it’s not that simple.

We’re smart when there are standardised tests involved. We’re rude when we haven’t had enough sleep. We’re honest when someone is watching us. We’re a terrible driver when we’re running late.

So likewise, we’re dumb when building an engine. We’re polite when dealing with the elderly. We cheat when feeling insecure. We’re a fantastic driver when our child is in the back seat.

It’s the context that defines what kind of person we are in that situation: rude or polite, honest or cheater.

Sam proves this point over and over and over again with charming and accessible explanations of psychology experiments that explore the ways our behaviour changes depending on context. In fact, he uses so many examples across work, relationships, race, gender differences, education, and pretty every other aspect of human behaviour that by the end of the book you feel slightly poleaxed.

(I mean, reading non-technical psychology books like this one is one of my hobbies and I still walked away saying “Bwah. Brain full.”)

Why I think you need to read this book.

1. It will make you more self-aware and give you better responses to others. In short, you will be a better human being if you apply this understanding to your life.

2. You will also be a much better marketer.

Websites give you an unparalleled opportunity to create context. The tone, colour choices, images, positioning, names, information hierarchies… every single one of them is an opportunity to create the kinds of context that affect how people behave.

And of course we have all seen people who use this in ways that would have us sitting in the shower scrubbing ourselves for hours. Let us forget those people.

You want your work to have an effect – to create some positive change in your visitors and clients. And the more you understand about context, the more you can create an environment that is conducive to that change. Context is your invisible wingman, helping you rock it out in your business.

One tiny example

Long-time readers will remember the article I wrote after Naomi Dunford claimed she had received death threats. I wrote my own article about the knee-jerk victim-blaming I was seeing in the community.

That situation was explosively emotional. It involved accusations, counter-accusations, sexism, death threats and drama. There were 150 comments on that article, many by strangers who were not my regular readers.

And the conversation stayed polite, mostly on-topic and sane.

Other conversations happening on other websites at the same time were… not.

The difference? I was very, very, very clear about context. About how the situation (my article, my website, my take on the topic) defined the correct behaviour for commenters. And despite the outrage and fury and general unreasonableness topics like this create, most people behaved in line with that context.

Context is awesome. Situations Matter. If you’re not already acting accordingly, read the book.

Building the bonfire of your biz (and mine)

Fire man!
Ah, you wacky spiral. I love how you bring me back to an idea I know and teach, and make it a brand-new realisation again.

Cash and Joy, if it was shown in the metaphor of a fire, would be a campfire – enough to keep one person warm and fed, and shedding light out to the edge of the clearing it’s in.

A campfire is a wonderful thing. I’m proud to have built one and kept it alight for so long.

But I still hanker for a bonfire.

Every time I decide to myself now Catherine it is time we levelled up the biz! Epic adventures await and it’s time for the big leagues! then I tend to go out and find the biggest damn tree in the area and cut it down and drag it by the trunk back to the clearing and then dump the whole tree onto the flames.

As any of you who are campers/firebugs will know, what happens when you throw one big-ass lump of wood onto a fire is a great cloud of sparks, a dimming of the flame… and if you’re not careful, the fire goes out entirely.

Thus, worn out from the effort of tree cutting and dragging and all the rest, I tend to sink next to the fire and exhaustedly panic as the fuel smothers the flame instead of what I want to happen: instantly igniting, shedding light and warmth and hope across kingdoms and satrapies and city-states uncounted.

Often I end up kicking the entire log off the flames, so that overall I have lessened the fire instead of dramatically growing it.

In one of my more persistently dumbass moves, three months later I find myself doing the same thing.

That’s not the way to build a bonfire.

The best way to build a bonfire is:

  • get a steady flame built
  • keep consistently adding fuel to it
  • fan the flames

That first stage is full of frenzied action – scraping the flint and tinder, praying for smoke, moving the tinder in too quickly oh dammit, and puffing just hard enough on the first caught straw to get that precious flame to spread. It’s tiring and exhilarating and crazy, and thank mighty fuck I have already done it. (Flame-lighters, I salute thee.)

But the second and third actions don’t require gigantic transformative action. They require you to keep on going to the brush, finding chunks of fallen wood, breaking them down, and adding them to the fire. They require you to stand there with a newspaper, diligently fanning the flames at a steady rate so the new tinder catches.

And if you keep steadily doing those things, you end up with a bonfire.

This metaphor, you can see where it is going…

I’m going to try an experiment, and I invite you to observe it.

For the next three months I am going to avoid Gigantic! Level-up! Strategies! and all those “Hey, let me take care of this in one single email/article/flood of tweets” crapshoots.

Instead I am going to do what I advise my clients to do: I’m going to clarify three paths for my marketing – three ways for people to travel from never-heard-of-you to gloriously-happy-client-telling others.

And I’m going to just keep on doing them.

And I’m not going to do anything else.

Just showing up, writing a guest post every week. Following 20 new amazing people on Twitter every day. Writing more resources for Rise and Shine.

Building the bonfire with regular fuel and fanning.

Let’s see whether this metaphor holds up, shall we?

I’m betting it does.

P.S. I’m still giggling my way through the applications, but the next Pilot Light cohort currently has a couple of seats left. If you’re interested in building YOUR bonfire, please do check it out and put your details in if you want to chat about whether it’s right for you.

Creative Commons License photo credit: redeye^

Best Interview Ever: Ming-Zhu Hii and her Big Realisation

Ze terribly gorgeous Ming-Zhu Hii

This is one of my top 5 ever clients, Ming-Zhu Hii. She and I talk for a half hour about her Big Realisations, and life as a soulful online entrepreneur.

I will beg, threaten, bribe and strongarm you to listen to this interview. I will kidnap the cat and offer you the Hope Diamond in order to get you to set aside 30 minutes to listen to this.

Not because it makes me look good, although mightygodfuck does it ever. (Ming-Zhu has the quality of all my most Radiant Clients in that she makes me seem much much smarter than I truly am.)

No, because I’m 19625% confident that you will feel the same way after listening to this as I did (and do, twenty minutes after I finished recording.)



Fired up.

Ready to kick a rhino and rock it the fuck out in your business.

Ready to BLAZE.

Let’s do this!

Audio MP3

Or you can download it for repeated listening. (I certainly shall.)

And if you’re as in love with Ming-Zhu as I am (and seriously, how could you not be?) after this interview, then go find out more about her work at The Public Studio, Superéthique, and The Melbourne Town Players.

Phew. I need a cigarette after that, and I don’t even smoke.

P.S. The Pilot Light still has seats open. Clearly, Ming-Zhu thinks that you should check it out.

Dream logic, marketing and the most unskippablest rule

Startrails over the Autumn foliage
You and I are holding hands and standing on the edge of the universe, watching the stars whoosh by. One of them is made of sponge cake and is spitting tiny crumbs out behind itself as it flies by. A sponge cake meteor.

I turn to you and say I have had a realisation again, and it’s pretty embarassing.

“What is it?” you reply.

So, I think we often create the resources we need for ourselves. Sometimes for our past selves – the thing we wish had existed two years ago – but often we’re creating them for us, as we are right now. Trumpets play the Macarena, off somewhere in the distance.

“And you’re embarassed about that?”

No, I’ve come to accept that. But it becomes a bit odd when I’m relaunching a resource I created nearly a year ago and the process makes me go through the lessons again.

“Dude, you’re the one who talks about spirals all the time.” You move sideways quickly as the floor has become snakes.

Trufax, no denying it. But there’s always this one little voice…

I pull you into a jellybean car and we drive through the stars to a ceramic prison with Delftware bars. Behind the bars a woeful Catherine moans the blues. She says, “How can you teach that when you just did that wrong? You don’t know what you’re talking about, a woah woah woah…”

The me that is holding your hand grins ruefully. She’s wrong, of course. I’m teaching these lessons from a few spirals up. But it’s still embarrassing to realise sometimes that I have to relearn them every damn time.

I present you with a bouquet of bees (non-stingy) and we drive on.

The car breaks down inside a surgical suite and we sit on the anaesthetist’s chair.

You play cat’s cradle and ask, “So, are you going to share this lesson?”

Yes. Absolutely yes. I drag in a chalkboard and begin to write in yellow chalk. So this is my model for marketing:

1. Understand what your Radiant Work is.

2. Identify the people who would treasure that work: your Brilliant Clients.

3. Offer them your Radiant Work.

“Okay, sounds fair enough. Is that the lesson?”

Nope, the lesson is the bit that it’s easiest to forget. I turn over the board and written there is:

4. Make sure that this process is enjoyable enough that you will keep doing it consistently.

“Enjoyable? Why does it have to be enjoyable?”

Suddenly I’m wearing a mortarboard and gown and I enunciate:

Consistency is more important than efficiency.

Consistency is more important than optimal.

Consistency is more important then everything.

There’s a limit to how much we can shove ourselves into doing work we don’t wanna do. The more we eliminate the gottas and focus on the yee-haws, the less shoving we have to do. Thus, more consistency. Science!

“And what happens if you forget rule 4?” you say as you pat a small golden dog.

Well, for me I know what happens is that I start going through the motions. Write the article. Email some people. Have to tweet something. Blegh. I wrestle with a small anthropomorphic pretzel.

“But don’t you like Twitter and writing and all that?”

Not intrinsically. I like doing them in specific ways – like writing articles that came to me at 1am while I was half-asleep, full of totally random imagery.

“So why don’t you do it like that all the time?” You’re wearing a flamingo. It suits you.

It’s easy to forget Rule 4. Sometimes I get too involved in how my heroes and mentors do things. Sometimes I set out to improve a system and accidentally squeeze out the joy. Sometimes I really really want something to happen and all my attention goes there. And every time that happens, I have to relearn the lesson that Rule 4 is not just a nice idea. It’s mandatory for excellent marketing.

“And it’s ironic that you’re relearning that right now.”

Yep, it sure is. Because the reason I got derailed this time is because I deeply want to fill both cohorts for The Pilot Light this month with amazing revolutionary business-builders.

“And why is that ironic?” You say, as the flamingo sues for divorce.

Because The Pilot Light is a framework on how to create a marketing plan that rocks all four rules.


Oh indeed. It’s a wee bit embarrassing. I water the potted plant with Proust’s coffee mug.

“I didn’t notice!”

You’re very lovely. But my last few articles have been a bit flat and lacklustre. And the rest of my marketing has been likewise efficient, but missing its heart. I’m about magnificence, transformation and play, and that needs to permeate every single atom of my marketing work.

I fold a perfect origami crane from maple leaves.

Usually I have no problem with this, but I’m going through the spiral again and I’m at the point where my plan needs to be refocused, refined and revitalised. So, it is both lucky and embarrassing that this is the time when I’m relaunching The Pilot Light.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence?”

No. I’m now wearing a steel-covered sari. I think it’s shitty and irritating and necessary.

“So, uh… why is this story so crowded with random stuff?”

Creative logjam has broken. It tends to make a mess.

You eat a bouncy donut. “And you don’t want to clean it up before the others get here?”

Nope. Remember, I’m about magnificence, transformation and play. This glorious mess belongs. And my Brilliant Clients will get that.

“And sign up for The Pilot Light?”

I would like that very, very much. But I’ve enjoyed writing this article, and that’s a reward of its own.

“Rule 4?”

Rule 4, baybee.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gadget_Guru