🍣 Nature vs nurture; what type of dinosaur are you; the real lesson from Duolingo's socials; how to evaluate values; the problem of shame; a proper planning mantra; +++
Plus, meltdowns might be... good?
Hope this email finds you with a cup of coffee, tea or beverage, thinking about memes.
Quick thing before we get started.
I got featured on Google Firestarters!
(And managed to open the chat by saying my daughter is 18 years old.)
(Was never that good at maths, anyway.)
Anyway, the chat is about what planners can learn from parents.
And probably vice-versa.
If you're a regular here, you’ll spot familiar ideas.
If not, then give it a spin and let me know what you think.
Thanks Neil and Firestarters team!
Rightyo, on with the showyo.
Estimated read time: 16 minutes and 12.3 seconds (yes, it’s an exact science now!).
🧬 1/ Genetics
Is our worldview influenced by nature or nurture?
Perhaps there’s a third way.
There’s a scientific field that studies it, via Dr. Gabor Maté:
“This is called epigenetics, when the genes are turned on and off by the environment.”
When i first heard of this, it blew my mind.
Because it means we have more control than we think.
It’s a bit like we now know we all have dormant cancer cells in our body.
But they may or may not be activated throughout our life.
Epigenetics suggests you can have, for example, a genetic pre-disposition for anger.
But your environment influences whether that gene is activated, or to what degree.
This feels important if you’re raising children.
But it also helps shape how we approach workplace culture.
The wrong environment can activate unhelpful genes for those who work in it.
And the right environment can limit those, or even activate quite helpful ones.
The lesson for me here is simple, but powerful.
Don’t take who people are at face value.
Their environment has a massive say in what parts of their personality come through.
So next time someone asks nature vs nurture, this feels like a healthier third option.
Sure, it’s both, but there’s something lovely about one being able to activate the other.
What happens between minds is as important as what happens inside a single one.
✍️ 2/ Stories
Alright, let’s have a chat with Salmon Theory friend Ilaria Pasquinelli.
How would you describe your job to someone outside your industry?
I normally say my job is to make businesses successful by helping them come up with better products and by letting their customers know that they exist and they can’t live without them. It’s about connecting with humans, their inner needs and cultures.
The reality is that I spend insane amounts of hours talking about what needs to be done instead of actually doing it and often omit that part as it sounds less romantic (ah, life in corporations! You know what I’m talking about, Rob).
[ed note: i do.]
What would i need to know about your history to understand who you are today?
My mum is a former primary school teacher and my grandparents were textile weavers. Coming from a textile city in Italy, it’s very likely to have relatives or friends working in textiles.
My parents did not teach me to fight or persevere. They were very protective of me and, in rejection of that, I developed a sheer independence from when I was a young child. I had to teach myself perseverance later in life.
In a very patriarchal Italy, my mum - a very strong, hard-working woman with solid values - supported my independence from day one.
She had to give up on university when she got pregnant with me at 20. Coming from a working-class, traditional family, she had to prioritise family over her aspirations. From day one, she taught me to never do what she did: ‘always be independent, focus on your career and, only after that, think about creating a family’ (having had my child two years ago at 40+, I can say that I quite literally followed her advice). That’s when - I think - I became an aspirational overachiever and started putting pressure on myself to make her proud and repay her for what she had to sacrifice.
Alongside my independent personality, I started showing an interest for foreign cultures and that brought me to travel from the age of 13, mostly to the UK to study English. I wanted to become an interpreter but my dad decided that I had to find another path as the only two interpreter schools available in Italy were both far away from home and he did not want me to leave home ‘that young’ (I was 19).
I started working in Marketing before deciding that I wanted to study Marketing. No one that I knew worked in the industry so, for me, it simply did not exist. Randomly, I found a job in a marketing agency and, soon after, enrolled in a Fashion International Marketing course at a time when my peers were basically graduating. Later, I became the first one to graduate in my family if I don’t count my late uncle Dario.
As soon as I graduated, I started working internationally as a Consultant for a United Nations agency that supports the economic and trading development of businesses in emerging markets as a means to enable social development. I worked all over the world. The day I got a fashion project in Tajikistan, in Central Asia, my dad had to look up the country on the world’s map. By that time I’d already moved to London - 13 years ago - where I started a proper international career first in Fashion and then Media & Advertising.
What led me to where I am today will not lead me to my next phase as I reassess what my benchmark is and what success looks like. It does not mean though that I will aspire for less or that I will not have to prove myself something. It'll just be different.
What is something you deeply believe but may never be able to prove?
British bodies are not made of human material. Back in Italy, I’ve never seen people in flip flops in January or short sleeves when it’s 8 degrees and windy outside. And I have never been one of those Italians that wear a puffer jacket with 18 degrees outside, god forbid. Although I moved to London more than a decade ago, I’m still in awe of those half naked bodies wandering around the city in the cold.
What's a quote or lyric that summarises how you feel about your life so far?
“The most powerful story is the one we tell ourselves.”
Thanks to my coach Tia Castagno, I’ve recently spent time on making my mind fit: mental fitness is as important as our body fitness, if not more important especially for someone like me who’s been suffering from anxiety for quite a while. However, mental fitness is hard work. One of the hardest things has been becoming more empathetic with - and forgiving to - myself. There are still things about myself I find it hard to accept, primarily my own limits. However, who’s the creator of my own limits? Me. The stories I sometimes tell myself are so self-limiting to the point of sabotaging. Telling myself better stories is where my focus is at present.
What would you like to be remembered for?
First of all, being remembered is a good thing, I do not give that for granted. Imagine living your life and ending up being invisible. Then, I'd like to be remembered for my empathy and for the positive impact I have had on people’s careers. The most enjoyable part of my job is to see how talented people thrive when they are given the space, the positivity and the trust they need.
Who in your social feeds or email newsletters deserves more attention?
In my social feed: News & Coffee. It’s a unique retail concept that reuses disused newsstands around Europe. They sell really good coffee and the world’s most stylish indie magazines. I love the brand for many reasons: it’s honest about its mission of just selling coffee and magazines and it’s built with lots of heart by the two founders, two very dear friends of mine. And people can tell: wherever they open, they create small, loyal communities around them. N&C will become very famous.
Among the many many newsletters I am signed up to, I always look forward to reading Farnam Street’s weekly Brain Food. It’s a think tank that teaches you brainy mental models and thinking principles to help you make the smartest decisions and basically progress well in life and in your career. I still make terrible decisions every day but at least I can say that I’ve used the golden standard of decision-making!
What's one thing you wish I had asked you?
“What would you have done if you’d not become a marketer?”
A secret agent (but only for MI6).
Or the owner of The Modern House. 😛
Incredibly thoughtful as always, thanks Ilaria!
🦉 3/ Socials
It’s so damn easy to compare our brands to Duolingo these days.
But here’s what most people forget.
You don’t get to make risky work without understanding politics.
Which is to say, you need to take senior folk on the journey to earn permission.
Zaria Parvez has a wonderful post on this from a while back:
“If you make them feel they have a stake in the idea, they will also want to see how viral their brand can go, even if that means a massive risk. At the end of the day, risk = more brand awareness, which = more money.”
Say what you will about execution, what i really admire is the contextual awareness.
Anyone can pitch crazy stupid ideas and consider themselves an individual genius.
But the real mark of genius is collective, because you have buy-in for that type of work.
I love the tip of involving people in the thinking so they feel invested in its success.
I once read a great piece of advice in a book about account management (yes):
You want to avoid surprises.
This feels counter to how agencies think, because we love the “a-ha” moment.
The reality is, what you want is to show that risky work doesn’t feel surprising at all.
Because senior folk were already expecting to see that type of thinking from you.
I don’t know for sure, but i suspect senior folk at Duolingo witness very few surprises.
They might feel excited, apprehensive, a bit scared, but not necessarily surprised.
Because they know exactly what they signed up for by working with their social team.
And that’s the beauty of it.
Because they don’t feel surprised, they are more willing to take wilder and wilder bets.
And that, more than being unhinged, is the big lesson for me from Duolingo’s socials.
Well, that and the fact that owls can have babies with sponges and that’s now the rule.
Up next, patron-only riffs on:
Respecting, not revering, your heroes
Evaluating brand values
What type of dinosaur are you?
How to think about meltdowns
The problem of shame
Why keep up with AI (and no, it’s not ‘so you don’t fall behind’)
A proper mantra for planners of all stripes
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