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When Words Become Weapons: What Micah Johnson Heard vs. What Black Lives Matter Meant

We say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Then we turn around and say, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

What happens when something from the pen fuels the sword of anger? It seems words can hurt if they are looked at through the right lens. They can hurt a lot.

Black Lives Matter was born in a hurtful place. It began in violence. But leaders emerged from that chaos who had learned violence was not the answer. These leaders understood what Martin Luther King, Jr. said so many decades ago:

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

So the leaders call for peaceful protest. They say that the Black Lives Matter movement is meant to bring about awareness and change in how people of color, specifically black people, are treated by law enforcement. For peaceful protests, words are the only way to communicate to a large audience the experiences and lives lived, and sometimes lost, to the hostile behavior of a few.

But has BLM made clear that it understands that the problem is with a few members of a largely law-abiding group? Has law enforcement leadership made it clear that the problem has been with a few members of a largely law-abiding group?  Until the events of last Thursday night in Dallas, TX, neither were clear enough.

By all accounts, the Dallas protest was peaceful. The participants and the police officers protecting them interacted as compatriots, if not friends.

Other protests were not as quiet. Some marchers sought to antagonize through taunts. In certain areas this behavior escalated into throwing rocks and glass. Some police arrived, not as  peace officers, but as warriors. Mutual antagonism devolved into near-rioting, physical altercations, and arrests.

In Dallas, the only thing clear to Micah Johnson was that white people, specifically white police officers, were all responsible for killing black men.  In his worldview it meant all white police officers must die.

Might Johnson have been influenced in this direction by words used by Black Lives Matter protesters? Chants such as:

“Pigs in a blanket; fry ’em like bacon!”

These words were being used as weapons.

However, Johnson was also likely influenced by the recorded language of the police officers attempting to arrest Alton Sterling as well as their actions. As a man of color in the United States, he probably heard other words being used as weapons, words designed specifically to hurt a black person.

My point is that what you say and how you say it matters. A police officer cannot call someone a nigger or swear at them without expecting possible physical retaliation. Protesters, no matter what color, cannot taunt police and expect each officer to calmly let it roll off his or her back.

We are all human, no matter what color our skin or what we do for a job. Some of us are better than others at controlling our emotions and our reactions. Can any of us honestly say we did not intend to hurt when we used our words as weapons?

Of course not. We meant to hurt. So why are we surprised at any of the reactions we get. We should not be surprised when a physical weapon like a stick or a gun is used in return by someone who is not capable of restraining that impulse.

We shouldn’t be surprised when someone like Micah Xavier Johnson takes the words from Black Lives Matter and translates them into bullets and explosives. Nobody should be surprised when a police officer finally loses control and strikes out at a chanting protester he is supposed to be protecting.

Both sides in this matter must find a way to say, “We understand that the things that have happened are the acts of individuals and should not be used to paint an entire group as monsters.”

Black Lives Matter needs to communicate that they believe most police officers are good people. Law enforcement needs to communicate that all black men are not criminals. As humans we want to see patterns and make generalizations.

As humans we are capable of restraining those habits; we can control the words we use so both sides can come together and find solutions.

You and Your Freelance Writer Part II: How a Writer/Editor Relationship Works

Edited Paper

This is the second in a series about hiring and working with freelance writers.

It would be great if you could just mind meld with your new freelancer and impress on his brain cells exactly what you want in a piece of content. Sadly, that isn’t possible for humans and, according to Star Trek canon, Vulcans haven’t made themselves known to us yet.

So, when you first engage a writer and for a few assignments after that, open yourself to the possibility that the first effort won’t be exactly what you were looking for. After all, this writer hasn’t produced anything for you yet. You can expect him to check your other content to get an idea, but to do a great job, the writer will want feedback on that first draft.

In fact, depending on the subject matter and the type of article, you may have to go back and forth a few times to get it exactly right. And that’s OK.

So many who hire writers just want to provide a topic, offer a small amount of money, and expect perfection. You know better than that. You understand that great content takes effort and is worth the money you pay. Part of the process is making your business relationship with a freelancer a collaborative effort.

If you think you don’t have time, consider how long it would take you to produce that content yourself. Reading through a piece and providing feedback isn’t nearly as time intensive. And if you find yourself editing every word or wondering how this content relates to what you asked for, at least consider that your instructions may not have been clear.

This doesn’t mean the writer can just blow off what you requested. But for your business relationship to be successful you both have to put forth your best effort. If needed, get on the phone and talk with him. Or, before he writes an entire article, ask him to send you an outline and links to any resources he will use, especially for long form content like white papers.

If the freelancer treats this as a imposition, he or she may not be the right writer for you. A good freelance writer will welcome the chance to develop the best product as quickly as possible. With both of you meeting in the middle you will have the best chance at getting what you need.

Remember your English teacher? Create a first draft, edit, and rewrite. Your freelance writer needs to do the same. Make it easy to do so by quickly reading the completed first draft and offering any edits as quickly as you can. Remember, this content reflects on your company. You want it to be great.

Writers want to be great, too. But it can’t be done in a vacuum. So until those Vulcans show up, remember the writer can’t read your mind. Be ready to do your part to develop and publish content that will drive and convert. Be the editor every writer dreams of having.

You and Your Freelance Writer Part I: The Beginning of a Beautiful Business Relationship


This is the first part of a series on hiring freelance writers.

Whether you use freelance writers all the time or are getting ready to hire your first you want a firm relationship built on communication and trust. Freelancers of any sort hope you like their work well enough to hire them again and again or, better yet, put them on retainer. You, of course, are hoping to get top-notch content that you either don’t have the time or the skills to produce yourself.

More commonly these days, your relationship will be digital, built on email exchanges, shared links, or access to a CMS or other work-sharing application. You may speak on the phone or see each other in person but the internet has made it possible to select from a wider pool of freelancers than just those geographically nearby. And there’s always Skype if face to face works best for you.

Select the Right Writer

First of all, you need to know if this writer can write. Fortunately, the internet makes this pretty easy. Simply Google the writer’s name to find content under her by-line, read the writer’s blog, and ask for writing samples.

Then check the basics:

  • Correct use of grammar
  • No spelling errors
  • Clear formatting
  • Readability

Many freelance writers have deep industry experience. If you need highly technical content you may want to look for credentials or other proof of industry knowledge. But a good writer is also flexible and an able researcher. Don’t count out an otherwise excellent writer just because she hasn’t written for your business area before.

Getting Started: The First Assignment

The first assignment will start setting the tone for your working relationship. This is where you work closely with your new freelancer to give her the best tools for creating the exact type of content you want. Spend some time preparing an on-boarding packet with the essentials. You have a few decisions to make before sending along your first assignment.

If you have an established style guide make sure you send it to your freelancer. You will be fervently thanked.

What point of view or “person” do you want the content to have?

  • First person: “I/we have a solution.”
  • Second person: “You need a solution.”
  • Third person: “He/she needs (they need) a solution.”

There’s room for each point of view depending on the type of content. Third person is used for more formal communications such as technical white papers or case studies. Second person is typically used for a conversational tone; blog posts, brief articles, marketing white papers, and social media posts draw better responses in second person.

First person should be used extremely sparingly. Most customers are turned off by monologues about your products and services, even if you are talking about benefits. First person is rather intense and is not focused on your customer. More often it can sound patronizing and very sales-y; avoid this latter at all costs.

Who is your audience?

Target content to a specific audience. It is clicked on, “liked,” and shared more than content that tries to speak to everyone. Provide your freelancer with a buyer persona or other description of who you want to read this piece. Include more than bare demographics, include the problem this audience needs solved, who else the audience may need to convince, and any specific points you want made. In other words, what question is this content answering?

Do you have resources or will you need the writer to research?

You may already know best the types of resources with the information needed for your customers and prospects. Share these resources with your freelance writer. Find general resources about your industry to support all writing assignments and find specific ones for the content piece you need right now. Provide links to websites or webpages. If you can only find the resource in print, provide a copy to the writer.

If you don’t know of any resources off the top of your head, provide a detailed description of the topic and let the writer know she will need to do some research. Be prepared to pay for research time either as a separate line item or rolled into the cost of the content.

Set the tone.

How do you want your content to sound? Are you envisioning something humorous or do you need something more serious? Is there a particular style you prefer? Send links to some examples of content you admire and would like to emulate. Maybe you like the writer’s natural voice. Be sure to communicate your expectations.

End Note

Content marketing has become the most successful type of marketing for the 21st century. The form of the content may change but it will always need a writer to flesh out the basic idea. Selecting the best writer for you will take preparation, patience, and good communication skills. Build a beautiful business relationship from the beginning.

Futuring: What Will Impact Your Business Tomorrow?


Futuring is the field of using a systematic process for thinking about, picturing possible outcomes, and planning for the future. Futurists are people who actively view the present world as a window on possible future outcomes.

                                                       Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed.

Sounds like just another piece of jargon, doesn’t it? I mean, don’t we already do this? We just call it by different names:

  • brainstorming
  • forecasting
  • strategy implementation
  • gap analysis

But these activities, and many more, only represent parts of futuring. They are all tools to use in the practice of picturing possible outcomes and planning for the future.

Futurists have a lot of variables to keep track of because so many things can have an impact of the future of business, art, humanity, and life. But three main forces account for much of the variation:

  1. systems
  2. chance
  3. chaos

Systems are all around us. Scientists call such things as environments, cells, and structures systems. We are made up of systems; the circulatory, respiratory, and musculature of our bodies are all systems working together to create and sustain who we are. Relationships are part of a system. When systems are so intertwined an event in one system can easily impact another.

Chance plays a role in events that impact systems. Chance events happen all the time, causing a system to react one way or another and setting new courses, for good or ill. A major system in the news is, of course, the environment of Earth. We are trying to determine what impacts global temperature trends and whether those events can be controlled or guided to an outcome better suited to our continued existence.

Chaos seems to come from the force of chance. It is the concept that small changes can result in significant impact and thus affect the future. These changes can be created by chance, or deliberately in attempts to influence outcomes.

These forces must all be taken into account when attempting to forecast the future. I hesitate to use the word predict, because that implies discerning what will actually happen. Futuring doesn’t do that. It merely shows possibilities and probabilities of future events coming to pass or the impact various events can have on the future.

If we could predict the future, running a business would be much easier. But we can’t, so we must rely on our forecasts to guide our business decision-making just as we rely on meteorologists to tell us whether tomorrow will be a good day for a picnic.

Just because the forecast is sunny doesn’t mean it won’t rain.


I just auditioned for BlogMutts!

OK, really I turned in an application. But this looks like an interesting start-up and a chance to get paid solely for writing. I hope to see an acceptance soon!

To take a look at the site go here: BlogMutt beta.

If you need a steady stream of fresh blog content, this might be the place to go.

Update September 1, 2011
I heard from Scott Yates, the co-founder, almost immediately. Right now the customer base is a little small but I think it will grow. I tried to put up a post last night but family issues (read children who don’t want to do homework) interfered. Definitely today after my “day job”.