(TBT) New Year’s resolutions: the most popular, the most broken



Originally posted December, 29, 2016 

The New Year is nearly upon us. I need hardly point out that, for a lot of us, that means making and promptly breaking one or more resolutions.

For a bland definition of the ubiquitous New Year’s Resolution, look no further than Merriam-Webster:

A promise to do something differently in the new year.

For something a bit more entertaining as well as sardonic, the oft-NSFW (consider that warning should you be tempted to click to it) Urban Dictionary offers these (I replaced a couple of NSFW words with bracketed, SFW euphemisms):

The things you promise yourself you will do over the year, but quit after the first 2 weeks.

An assessment of, and often delusional attempt to correct, one’s shortcomings … Given the arbitrary nature of the date and the sudden change of lifestyle demanded by most resolutions, it should not be surprising that most resolutions are abandoned by the start of the next year.

The [malarkey] that people say they will [accomplish] when they are hammered 10 minutes before the New Year comes. Most of this is forgotten by the 3rd of January.

The tradition of using the start of a new year for making resolutions dates back at least to ancient Babylonian times. According to History.com,

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. … During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king … If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.

Popular resolutions today

A number of organizations conduct annual surveys of popular New Year’s Resolutions. GOBankingRates offered respondents a choice of seven. The choice “none of the above” had a decent showing at 30 percent, but “Enjoy life to the fullest” took nearly half the vote with 45.7 percent. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. “Enjoy life to the fullest” is just vague enough to make success easy to claim. Or not.

“Enjoy life to the fullest” also found its way into an annual survey conducted by Nielsen, the company known since humankind walked upright for collecting and reporting TV ratings. Here are the first three of Nielsen’s top ten:

1. Stay fit and healthy (37 percent)

2. Lose weight (32 percent)

3. Enjoy life to the fullest (28 percent)

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to lump 1 and 2 together. TIME does just that in its survey of top broken resolutions, where “Lose weight and get fit” takes first place.

Making a resolution you might actually keep

A cynic might aver that the point of New Year’s Resolutions is not to keep them but only to make them and then be done with them. Fair enough.

But those genuinely interested in keeping their resolutions might check out the work of British psychologist Richard Wiseman. Wiseman is known for researching the offbeat, including a search for the world’s funniest joke (which Miami Herald humor columnist and author Dave Barry did his best to skew toward any joke ending with the punch line … well, click here), a scientific investigation into the nature of luck, and contents most likely to ensure the return of a lost wallet. In 2007, Wiseman researched New Year’s Resolutions, tracking “… over 3000 people attempting to achieve a range of resolutions, including losing weight, visiting the gym, quitting smoking, and drinking less.” He reported that:

At the start of the study, 52% of participants were confident of success. One year later, only 12% actually achieved their goal. The study uncovered why so many people fail, and what can be done to help ensure success.

As to the part about “what can be done to help ensure success,” Wiseman listed a number of recommendations. These include making only one resolution, planning the resolution well before January 1, avoiding previously failed resolutions, and being specific. Wiseman’s brief post on the subject is well worth a read.


For those who find Wiseman’s advice too demanding, here’s an infallible method for keeping a New Year’s Resolution: Wait for December 31, look back over the year, find something you accomplished, and then make accomplishing it your retroactive resolution. You won’t convince anyone, including yourself, but at least you’ll be able to claim success.

As for my 2017 resolution, I have chosen one that is eminently attainable: It is that the Broncos will win every game.

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Bootstraps and the unbanked

boots-148047_1280I shall open this week’s post by quoting Neal deGrasse Tyson. Tyson is a bestselling author, director of the Hayden Planetarium (part of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York), and, according to People magazine, the sexiest astrophysicist alive. 

(One wonders why People felt the need to qualify “sexiest astrophysicist” with “alive.” It’s hard to imagine a sexy deceased astrophysicist. It’s remarkable enough that there’s a living one.)

But this post isn’t about astrophysics or sexiness. It’s about banking and bootstraps.

So, anyway, the quote. It’s from Tyson’s address to the University of Massachusetts graduating class of 2015:

It’s OK to encourage others to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But just remember that some people have no boots.

What brought Tyson’s statement to mind this week was a recent Finextra article entitled, “HSBC offers homeless people bank accounts.” The article says that HSBC …

… is working with charities in the UK to help homeless people who do not have fixed addresses or photo IDs to open bank accounts, which can be managed in branches or online. 

More than a wonderful thing to do, it’s a needful thing to do. Finextra continues:

… there are an estimated 320,000 homeless people in the UK, many of whom face financial exclusion because they do not have a fixed address or the appropriate ID needed to open bank accounts.

Backing up that claim was Business Insider, which recently observed, “Financial inclusion has been seen as key for reducing poverty.”

Thing is, if you need a banking relationship to exit poverty and you can’t get a bank account because you’re poor, you’re trapped in a vicious circle. You’re doomed to remain unbanked. Bootless, if you will.

So kudos to HSBC. They might just be offering a bootstrap to the homeless and others struggling with poverty.

In the United States, according to a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers:

Over half a million people go homeless on a single night in the United States. Approximately 65 percent are found in homeless shelters, and the other 35 percent—just under 200,000—are found unsheltered on our streets (in places not intended for human habitation, such as sidewalks, parks, cars, or abandoned buildings).

Their estimate may be low, for homelessness is a moving target. According to the Urban Institute:

… over the course of a year at least 2.3 million and probably as many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness at least for a short period.

Out of the total U.S. population of 327 million, a half-million or even 3.5 million—about 0.153 and 1.07 percent, respectively—may not seem significant if you view them as cold, hard numbers instead of as people. All I can say is that the moment you imagine yourself or a loved one a member of that population, the number becomes considerably more significant.

The HSBC’s UK program may provide the homeless with “boots.” I’ll be eager for news of the program’s results over time. If a number of homeless grab that strap and use it to begin pulling themselves out of poverty, we in the U.S., indeed, the world, may have a worthy model to follow.

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TBT: Digital customers shouldn’t have to navigate an obstacle course

Help Dept

TBT 2Originally posted December 17, 2014


Last week, a friend of mine, also in marketing, posted this after fighting his way to live chat on Adobe’s website:

“Adobe live chat is immensely helpful—once you get there. First you must prove your worthiness. You must navigate a maze, undergo a colonoscopy, pass a written exam on String Theory, run a gauntlet (blindfolded), sacrifice an unblemished lamb (hard to find this time of year), balance a tree stump on your left index finger, don ceremonial garb, fight off seven angry gorillas (lowland), flawlessly execute 100 consecutive jumping jacks, roll in mud, swear so as to make Quentin Tarantino blush, prove you weren’t born in Kenya, and hold your breath until you expire. Only then will Adobe provide you the chat link.”

Not exactly the sort of PR any company needs. It illustrates a paradox: as more customers demand digital services, the more you’d better be prepared to back them with live, easy-to-reach humans.

Most companies get the part about “live” and “humans.” Some, however, seem to have trouble with the “easy-to-reach” part.

No one knows better than I that ones and zeros have advantages over live bodies. Ones and zeros don’t expect a paycheck, go home at 5, take weekends off, expect overtime, unionize, gossip, call in sick, take vacations, request family leave, whine, stretch 15-minute breaks to 45 minutes, take personal calls when they should be working, crack their knuckles when their neighbor is trying to concentrate, waste time, or show up for work hung over.

So at first blush it might appear cost-efficient to hire fewer live bodies and drive customers to the likes of FAQs and forums.



In reality, if you make it too hard to reach a live body, you will create frustration. If you create enough frustration, you will lose customers. You needn’t lose too many customers before you find that hiring a few extra bodies would have cost you less.

While all companies are well advised to clear away obstacles between customers and live help, I venture to say that it is even more important for financial institutions, where questions and problems tend to be urgent and time-sensitive. 

The best practice is to offer live help, and offer it early. When a customer clicks around the same feature one too many times or pauses for too long, provide a popup that says something like, “Need help? Click here to chat with a live representative.”

DIY resources are all well and good, but customers shouldn’t have to navigate an obstacle course before being given a link to live assistance. It is best to allay frustration before it has a chance to arise, much less escalate.

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Can’t come up with the right gift? These offbeat services probably won’t help. (But they’re funny.)

IMG_0951_1296xYou’ll recall that online merchants pulled in $7.4 billion in sales on the day following Thanksgiving. Biggest online Black Friday to date. 

Thanks to Fiserv’s 2019 SpendTrend® Holiday Snapshot, we now know a bit more. For instance, “…spending via mobile wallets increased more than 80%, as consumers continue adopting new payment methods.” Also: “Black Friday brick-and-mortar sales were up 4.2%, with the greatest increase over normal shopping activity seen across electronics and appliances, sporting goods, and clothing/shoe stores. Electronics and appliance stores saw the largest average ticket size at $214 per transaction.”

PYMTS.com tells us that about 20 percent of this year’s Black Friday shoppers shopped only online. And Millennials spent “… an average of $509.50 on Black Friday … compared to an average of just $382.40 in 2018.” It reported in a separate article, “Cyber Monday is tracking to break eCommerce records and possibly go down in history as the biggest day ever for online sales in the U.S., The Financial Times (FT) reported on Sunday (Dec. 1).”

Besides the fact that I make my living in the digital payments industry, I am deeply grateful for technology that spares my wife and me from having to visit store after store to shop for our three children.

In fact, thanks to creative digital entrepreneurs, now you don’t even have to take your kids to the mall to see Santa. They can FaceTime him with services like TalkToSanta.com and VideoChatWithSanta.com. “It’s basically a webinar for your preteens,” quipped “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” host Peter Sagal last week. (But I’m not necessarily recommending it, especially after hearing panelist Faith Salie reply, “I watched some of these online, and the quality of the Santas, let’s just say, is variable.”)

Virtual Santas made me wonder what other offbeat services the digital revolution has dropped at our feet of late. So I decided to dig a little. Here’s what I found, just in time for the holidays.

Listverse names “Top 10 Bizarre Services You Can Buy Online.” One such is breakupshop.com, which offers to handle a romantic breakup on your behalf via text or email. I give them branding props, for “breakupshop” certainly has more appeal than, say, “helpforwimps.” (Which—attention entrepreneurs—is still available as of this writing.)

Perhaps the antithesis is InvisibleGirlFriend.com, which lets you create your own, virtual, online girlfriend. “You can then interact with them via text message. And yes, we have real humans playing your girlfriend on the other side.”

Romance challenges seem to be a favorite. Dirty Rotten Flowers will send a bouquet of dead, rotting flowers to the person of your choice. I’m sure they’re nice people, but I’m not recommending that one, either.

It’s a wonder that humankind survived until now without a service like PotatoParcel.com, “… a Shark Tank-featured company that allows you to send a personalized message to anyone you like on a potato.”

Under “Get The Best Weird Services,” fiverr.com lists a number of curious services you can obtain online. For $10, you can have someone “… yell your name at a bunch of yuppie golfers.” One fellow offers to “eat a peeled lemon and send you a video of it.” And here’s a sure winner: “I will make a bad drawing for you.”

Planning on being raptured? Wired describes a service that for “… just $40 a year” lets believers “arrange for up to 62 people to get a final message exactly six days after the Rapture.”

Oddee lists “12 Strangest Services,” and “strangest” is no exaggeration. “I will eat a handful of dry cat food for $5,” offers one contender for your money. Hard as that may be to resist, perhaps you’d prefer to pay a fellow to do jumping jacks while wearing a chicken outfit. Or you might wish to retain the services of someone who will take your verbal abuse. “Here’s your chance to express your thoughts in the most vulgar, nasty, and unapologetic way possible,” says the seller. “Hit me where it hurts … for five minutes over the phone.”

If in your quest for the perfect, last-minute gift you resort to any of the above, please note that I cannot be responsible for any consequences.

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TBT: Caution for big guys, hope for little ones

TBTI posted this on October 11, 2016. I think it’s still a good reminder for giants and aspiring giants alike.

* * *

TODAY’S OBJECT LESSON begins in the mid 19th century, when a Minnesota jewelry store declined a shipment of watches.

Railroad agent Richard Sears purchased the shipment, peddled the watches, and ordered more. Knowing a good thing when he saw one, he quit the railroad and set up a mail order watch business. A year later, he moved to Chicago, partnered with Alvah Roebuck, expanded into farming equipment and supplies, and published what became a highly successful mail order catalog. That was in 1888. By the 1970s, Sears, Roebuck and Company, today simply known as Sears, had become the world’s largest retailer.

In time, Sears diversified into the financial services arena. They created Allstate Insurance Company in 1931. Later, Dean Witter and Coldwell Banker real estate fell under the Sears umbrella. Sears introduced the Discover card in 1985.

There simply was no catching Sears.

Which may come as a surprise to anyone who happens to know that things soon began going south for the once uncatchable Sears. So south that, in 2005, bankrupt Kmart was able to buy Sears outright.

Today the world’s largest retailer is a company by the name of Walmart. You may have heard of Walmart. It attained world’s-largest status in 1990.

Here I would add that there is simply no catching Walmart, except I know better. As I write, Amazon is fast catching up and may soon take over as the world’s largest retailer. [Added December 18, 2019: Amazon passed Walmart in May, 2019.]

Other instances of toppled business giants abound. If you haven’t heard of WordStar, you probably weren’t doing much writing in the mid 1980s. That’s when WordStar was the dominant player in the word processing software market. There simply was no catching them. Until, that is, WordPerfect took the world by storm, and there simply was no catching them. Until, that is, Microsoft Word came along and, like many things Microsoft, took over.

Or, take Prodigy (in which Sears was a partner), which gave way to AOL, which gave way to Netscape, which gave way to Explorer, which gave way to Google, which you may also have heard of. Likewise, there was no catching Kodak, once the world’s leading film marketer and, no less, the inventor of the digital camera. They filed for bankruptcy in 2012. There once was no catching DellBlockbuster, and Motorola, either.

Underlying all of this is a lesson of humility and caution for giant companies and one of hope for up and coming, scrappy ones.

For the former, the lesson of caution is never assume you’re safe, that you’re uncatchable. For the latter, the lesson of hope is, who says you can’t become the next world’s largest?


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