Lee Abrams Don't Know Chinese | The Daily Pulp | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Lee Abrams Don't Know Chinese

Tribune Co. Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams begins his latest think piece, titled "Cutting Through Crisis," this way:

"When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters: On represents danger, the other opportunity. I'm not sure if that's the literal translation, but pretty well said."

Well said, indeed -- and oft-parroted by politicians, business leaders, self-help gurus, therapists, and now chief innovation officers. But patently untrue. In actuality, the Chinese word is formed by two characters, wei and ji. Wei does indeed mean danger, but ji doesn't mean opportunity, it means "crucial point" or "moment." How this got mangled in pop American culture is complicated, but if you're really interested, read this essay by Victor H. Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature at Pennsylvania University. Here's a passage:  

A whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate formulation. A casual search of the Web turns up more than a million references to this spurious proverb. It appears, often complete with Chinese characters, on the covers of books, on advertisements for seminars, on expensive courses for "thinking outside of the box," and practically everywhere one turns in the world of quick-buck business, pop psychology, and orientalist hocus-pocus.


Fortunately, an astute Tribune staffer posted a comment on the think piece correcting Abrams and citing the evidence. But Lee can count himself in good company. In a Wikipedia page devoted to the misnomer, it is traced back to a speech by John F. Kennedy. Lisa from The Simpsons also repeated the error to Homer, who coined the term "crisitunity."

After the jump, read the entire piece, which, disappointingly contains very little original Abrams. Instead it's full of quotes about change and crisis from Steve Jobs, Bob Dylan, Mark Cuban and a host of others. And this week it's blue! 

January 08, 2009


When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters: One represents danger, the other opportunity. I'm not sure if that's the literal translation, but pretty well said.

Others are gifted with a way of saying things. Here are a few favorite quotes from all eras (and how I see it affecting us):

"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."
--- Gen. Eric Shinseki
(not much to add to this one)

"The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out."

--- Dee Hock
(Possibly the #1 barrier to progress)

"Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle."
---Ken Hakuta
(pretty obvious)

"Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another
mind than in the one they sprang up."
--- Oliver Wendall Holmes
(The importance of sharing throughout every level of our Company)

"The future belongs to people who see possibilities
before they become obvious."
--- Ted Levitt
(Media is working off a dated playbook...WE have to re-write it...TV guys listen up too)

"After all the statistics and calculations are formulated
the one element that breathes life into marketing is good design."

...Steve Jobs

(A reason I'm so hyper about amazing design, sound and visuals)

"Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society.
The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute."

...Gil Stern

(It's easy to be pessimistic...gotta fight that urge)

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed.
Third, it's accepted as being self-evident."

...Arthur Schopenhauer

(Sound familiar?)

"I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking."

...Albert Einstein

(There's magic in thinking differently)

"There is nothing so stable as change."

...Bob Dylan

(Not sure exactly what ole Bob means...but it makes sense)

"If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we are not really living.
Growth demands a temporary surrender of security."

...Gail Sheehy

(OK--Chapter 11 makes us a little insecure. SO--lets use that to our advantage)

"The things we fear most in organizations- fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances-
are the primary sources of creativity."

...Margaret Wheatly

(Again, lets use to our creative advantage)

"The opposite of creativity is cynicism."

...Esa Saarinen

(Well said)

The Chicago Sunday Tribune launched a "multi part series" that started last week, with a different "Recession Survival Guide" topic every day all week. I believe, done with some frequency and tackling high profile topics, these multi part specials will:

*Create an incentiive for week long reading, not unlike a TV mini series where you just have to watch the next installment.

*Condition some Sunday only readers that there IS viable life beyond Sunday.

*Help you "own" the topic via this intense, concentrated and high profile coverage

*Create a renenue opportunity.

*Become a 'trademark' for the paper.

...I was impressed that they gave this multi-part feature extremely high visability. There's no way it got lost. Noticable. And noticability is an issue we need to deal with pretty aggressively. AND--they accomlished this during a very intense news week. The big stories were treated with extreme cred, and yet the ongoing multi part feature also remained in focus.

Many other papers are also tackling the multi part angle.

Mark Cuban blog on Sports and newspapers is interesting. Not sure about his idea, but he's SO right about the relevance of Sports and print--and we can't sell sports (!!??) :


A thought about 2009: Staffs will be smaller, competition greater, local and global issues that are more complex and polar as well as a wosening economy will continue to hammer at our livlihood. With that said, 2009 will require both fearless jounalism and fearless presentation as we need to continue to explore and experiment with new ways to engage the mainstream on today's terms. Fearlessness is key as is the breakdown of barriers to finding the answers. Elitism, over reliance on tradition and an unwillingness to aggressively rewrite the book will hamper the inctredible opportunities that exist in times of crisis. We are no different and need to collectively attack the problems, invent the solutions and unleash our vision to inspire the pubic and deliver the goods in what promises to be a remarkable period of global craziness.

Someone sent over a pice from Entrapreneur.com that speaks to the critical importance of marketing ourselves in a modern way. We dont. We usually are still talking 80's BS/hype. Some good points here:

10 Advertising Words to Avoid in 2009
Thursday December 11, 3:00 am ET
By Susan Gunelius
The economy, unemployment, companies folding, people losing their homes--2008 has left consumers wary of businesses. And that lack of consumer confidence requires straightforward, honest advertising messages to regain marketplace security. In 2009, perhaps more than ever, the words you use in your copywriting can determine whether you make a sale or lose a customer.
Here are 10 words to avoid in your 2009 copywriting.
Ads that include messages about a free product or service promotions can work well during an economic downturn, but consumers need to see the products perform well. E-mail spam filters are tough on messages that include "free" in the subject line. While it might be tempting to use a subject line that says, "Open now to get your free widget," that's an e-mail spam filter red flag that will send your message to most recipients' spam boxes. When the economy is tough, you can't risk having your e-mails not make it to the intended recipients. Replace "free" with "complimentary" or "gratis" to sneak by spam filters without compromising the effectiveness of your message.
Few people believe in guarantees these days. Unless you can prove your guarantee is real, use the valuable real estate space in your ad for a more effective message that consumers are likely to believe and act on.
If you want to waste space in your ads, include "really" in your copy. This word does nothing to help your messages. Instead, it slows consumers down, and they are not likely to wait around for the complete message. Don't risk losing them by loading your copy with useless filler words. Make sure every word in your copy is there for a reason.
Does a message sound more compelling with "very" in it? Is "When you need very fresh flowers, call ABC Florist," more effective than "When you need fresh flowers, call ABC Florist"? If you answered, yes, reread the last paragraph.

Once you finish writing copy for your ad or marketing piece, reread it and make note of every time you use "that" in your copy. Chances are, you can delete 90 percent of them because "that" is a filler word that doesn't advance the consumer through the message. Instead, it slows down time-strapped consumers. Deliver the messages your audience is likely to respond to, and deliver them quickly.
A Lot
Don't use vague copy with words like "a lot" that do nothing to differentiate your business from your competitors. Instead, quantify your messages. If you offer 20 varieties of roses in your flower shop, say so. If you respond to customer service calls within five minutes, tell people. Which is more compelling: "You can choose from a lot of shoe styles at Sally's Shoe Boutique" or "You can choose from more than 100 shoe styles at Sally's Shoe Boutique?" No doubt, "100 shoe styles" is more intriguing than "a lot of shoe styles". A lot can mean different things to different people. Don't leave room for guesswork in your copy. Make your messages extremely clear with no room for confusion.
You're not helping anyone when you offer "opportunities" in your copy. Consumers don't want opportunities. They want to feel confident handing over their hard-earned money. They want to know they'll get the results they want and need, not the opportunity to perhaps get those results. Don't let them wonder what they'll get when they pull out their wallets. Tell them.
To Be (or Not To Be, For That Matter)
Write your advertising and marketing messages in the active voice, not the passive voice. If any form of "to be," "has been" or anything similar appears in your copy, rewrite it. Writing in the passive voice doesn't command action. Writing in the active voice does.
This overused piece of jargon has had a long life, but it's time to move on. Leave jargon and 10-dollar words out of your advertising messages. There's no room in copywriting for buzz words and words that consumers need a dictionary to understand. Consumers don't care about your "unique value proposition." They care that when they pay for your product or service, it will deliver the results they expect. Naturally, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as B2B copywriting, where jargon might be expected. In most copywriting, however, keep it simple.
Budweiser is already using "drinkability" in its ads. Seriously though, the point is valid--don't copy your competition. Instead, differentiate your product and business with unique copy and messages that your target audience is likely to respond to.
The rules of successful copywriting don't change from one year to the next, but as the marketplace and environment change, so must your messages. Use the list above as a guideline to writing great advertising copy in 2009.

...our marketing messages and the way we present ourselves in print, on line and on screen are another work area. Much more on that next week.

Posted by Lee at January 8, 2009 08:33 AM


Chinese for "crisis" is 危机, which translates literally into "dangerous moment."


Posted by: asdf at January 12, 2009 09:44 AM

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

Latest Stories