The magic of music


Music is the best storyteller. Music is poetry set to sound: a marriage which makes us feel with unrivalled intensity.

Many a nostalgic tear has been shed in the name of music. Music is magical. It can awaken a memory, take us back to a place, a person and transport us in time. Musical astral-travelling - an amazing sensation. It is special.

Does music make us human?

According to journalist Micheal Blanding, Charles Darwin in his 1871 book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, suggested that 'music taps into brain circuits deeply rooted in evolution and widely spread across the animal kingdom'. Modern theorists disagreed, believing humans to be the only species with the cognitive ability to move to a beat outside of their individual self. Scientists knew other animals could create a beat - for marking territory or attracting a mate through rhythm - but they believed animals could not move to a beat which was not of their own making. And then came along a cockatoo named Snowball, who threw that theory out the window and showed his dancing ability, to many different beats. This led the music neurobiology expert who danced with Snowball, Aniruddh Patel, to suggest there is a connection in the brain between moving to the beat and being able to vocalise complex sounds (something both humans and cockatoos can do). A link between language and dance, explained by special connectors between the front and back of the brain - the bits that plan and those that process sound.  But then, some researchers found a sea-lion who could bob to any given beat, and further studies found elephants. Given our fellow primates, monkeys, can't dance in the same way (as far as we know) it has scientists stumped as to what is going on. But dancing to music certainly isn't what makes us human.

Music and our brains

Music may not be what make us human, but it does change our brains. Neuromusicology, a fairly new area of research, studies this exactly thing: the scientific effect of music on our brain. Sensationally, the research findings are showing that music impacts every single part of our brain.

Take musicians for example. Areas of a musician's brain work better than the areas of the brain of those who don't play or make music. The areas controlling working memory, auditory skills, and cognitive flexibility are superior in the brain of a musician. Their brains also work holistically. The left and right sides of the brain of a musician are connected and more symmetrical; and they respond more symmetrically when listening to music. And those nerve fibres which transfer information between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, the corpus callosum, are much bigger in the brain of a musician. Making and playing music, unlike any other activity, brings your left and right brain together to work in complete harmony (sorry, I could not resist the pun).

This may be why many studies link music to better understanding and mastery of mathematics, reading comprehension and language. Many years ago, I read an article about a research study where (if I am remembering it correctly) a classroom of students were divided into two, and half were given their normal number of maths classes, and the other half were given less with some maths classes substituted by music lessons. At the end of the study, the latter group had higher results in their mathematics examinations, and a better understanding of maths. The results are not surprising given Albert Einstein (according to his wife) used to sit and play music when he was stuck on a mathematical problem. He had a great love for music.

'If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.' Albert Einstein

Music and love

We all know music moves us both rhythmically and emotionally. Music impacts every single part of our brain, yes, but it seems to tickles the cerebellum, which is the region of brain that looks after your motor control (and your ability to dance) in a significant way; and it also stimulates in a big way the limbic system, which drives our emotions. This is why music moves both our bodies and our hearts.

Back to Darwin and The Descent of Man (1871) where he states that it is:

'...probable that the progenitors of man, either the males or females or both sexes, before acquiring the power of expressing their mutual love in articulate language, endeavored to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm.'

So our ancestors used musical courtship and mating calls like other mammals, insects and birds to attract a mate. And we still do, just in a different way. As Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D. points out in his blog Thinking on Music: 'It is hard to ignore the enormous quantity of love songs our species has produced.' So true. Perhaps it is an evolutionary drive that makes love songs so popular and prevalent and is the reason why 'we remain instinctively attracted to songs of love' (Thinking on Music) and many are played to court and serenade, and accompany love making.

Music and culture

In a podcast about Hearing, Healing and Havana, Musician and Anthropologist, Associate Professor Adrain Hearn explores the healing and cultural power of music. Interested in the intersection between music, food and medicine, Hearn studies the traditional healing ceremonies in Cuba and discovers the vibration of music activates the healing properties of plants. This is pretty spectacular!

He also explores the importance of drums in preserving culture and their role in conveying values. Hearn explains that when over 2 million people were forced to move to Cuba from West Africa between 1750 and 1850, they bought their drums with them. They were used to maintain culture and identity. There are three drums, which relate as a family unit: mother, son and baby. The drum of the son, responds to the drum of the mother, while the baby drum cries on top of the drumming dialogue between mother and son. It is through this practice of drumming, that children learn to wait until their mother has finished talking, before interrupting - in the same way whoever is playing the son drum has to wait until the mother drum has finished before responding. As Hearn discovers, drumming is not just about music, there is an entire set of values bound up in a drum. 

Music and philosophy

‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’ Nietzsche

Music and philosophy have always gone hand in hand. According to Brain Pickings, two months before turning 14, one of the greatest philosophers of our time, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

'Music unites all qualities: it can exalt us, divert us, cheer us up, or break the hardest of hearts with the softest of its melancholy tones. But its principal task is to lead our thoughts to higher things, to elevate, even to make us tremble… The musical art often speaks in sounds more penetrating than the words of poetry, and takes hold of the most hidden crevices of the heart… Song elevates our being and leads us to the good and the true. If, however, music serves only as a diversion or as a kind of vain ostentation it is sinful and harmful.'

His wisdom at such a young age, echoes the thinking of ancient Greek philosophers.

'Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything; It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful.' Plato

'Music directly imitates the passions or states of the soul…when one listens to music that imitates a certain passion, he becomes imbued with the same passion; and if over a long time he habitually listens to music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form.' Aristotle

Music changes our behaviour. 

Modern day philosopher Jason Silva in one of his recent stream of consciousness, speaks of music as a 'collective experience synchronising people...and purging us' and refers to music as 'electronic buddhism where self vanishes'. 

So very true. Music transcends self, providing relief from cosmic sadness. 

Music and storytelling

For me the pure magic of music, is in its storytelling ability. This is the bit I am really interested in. Music is a universal language that allows us to feel, connect and communicate beyond any differences of culture, language, gender, religion or race. Music can tell a story with our without words. A piece of classical music can take you on a journey, build suspense, drive toward the climax, reach that intense moment and leave you emotionally spent like any great novel.

In one of my first blog posts I talked about the areas of our brain impacted by storytelling. Both for the story teller and the listener a story activates your brain like you are actually experiencing the events in the story. This is why music has the ability to bring people together - even strangers. The listeners are connected by their brain waves being on the same frequency, similar to what happens when an oral, non musical, story is shared.

Stories, just like music, activate the limbic system. Perhaps, already stimulated by the music itself, this part of the brain gets extra activation with the story the music is telling. Like a double dose. Perhaps this is why it is so intense? I am not sure. I can't find any research on this, but hoping someone is looking into it.

One of my favourite songs is Rod Stewart's The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II). This song, almost spoken, has always had an impact on me. I almost feel like I knew Georgie (perhaps because I have listened to this song so many times and I know it word for word). It is a tragic tale of a young boy from a small town, who leaves for the big city after his parents reject his sexuality. A story where Georgie finds acceptance, friendship and love, before an unexpected death, caused by being at the wrong place at the wrong time (reflecting the theme of his entire life). It is actually a true story, Georgie was a close friend of Rod Stewart.

The words alone, removed from the music, are a powerful story. Coupled with the melody of the song, the harmony of the instruments, the timbre of Rod Stewart's voice and the pain in Stewart's voice as he sings the tale, this song always moves me. (You might have to close your eyes and listen to it or the official music video might move you to tears - of laughter. Gotta love the 70s, a white suit and those dance moves).

For some reason, it just feels right to end this with an everlasting message from Georgie Boy.

Georgie's life ended there/But I ask, who really cares/George once said to me, and I quote/He said, "Never wait or hesitate/Get in kid, before it's too late/ You never get another chance/'Cos youth's a mask but it don't last/Live it long and live it fast"/Georgie was a friend of mine//

Rod Stewart, Killing of Georgie (Part I and II), 1976.

The philosophical muse: Nietzsche and his relevance today

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Inspired by someone I know who has discovered the beauty of philosophy I started to read Birth of Tragedy again to see if after 27 years Nietzsche would still sing to me, and he did. What a serenade!

A great thinker of all times, Nietzsche starts Birth of Tragedy by introducing the Apollinian and the Dionysian forces as the parents of art. Two polar opposites born from Greek deities procreating to create a medium for humans to understand their suffering.

'We shall have gained much for the science of aesthetics, once we perceive not merely by logical inference, but with the immediate certainty of vision, that the continuous development of art is bound up in the Apollinian and Dionysian duality - just as procreation depends on the duality of sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliation.' (Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Section 1.)

He describes these two opposite deities as duality, likened to the opposition of gender. Contrasts borrowed from the Gods of man, recreated by man through art, mirroring life as sculpture and music.

'The terms Dionysian and Apollinian we borrow from the Greeks, who disclose to the discerning mind the profound mysteries of their view of art, not, to be sure, in concepts, but in the intensely clear figures of their gods. Through Apollo and Dionysus, the two art deities of the Greeks, we come to recognize that in the Greek world their existed a tremendous opposition in origin and aims, between the Apollonian art of sculpture and the nonimagistic, Dionysian art of music.' (Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Section 1. Translated by Walter Kaufmann 1966)

Apollo, the mythical Greek god of light and dreams. The god of form, tangible aesthetics and control. The god of refined beauty and balance. The veil. The complete opposite of Dionysus the great Greek god of intoxication. The god of passion and chaos. The organic and fluid beauty of monsters.

Contrasts, yes, but opposites which are part of a whole. Dichotomy not duality. Like Yin and Yang. Where they are separate but one. Each with a part of the other - defining the union. 

'These two different tendencies run parallel to each other, for the most part openly at variance; and they continually incite each other to new and more powerful births, which perpetuate an antagonism, only superficially reconciled by the common term "art"; till eventually, by a metaphysical miracle of the Hellenic "will" they appear coupled with each other, and through this coupling ultimately generate equally Dionysian and Apollinian form of art - Attic tragedy.' (Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Section 1. Translated by Walter Kaufmann 1966)

And there you have, in this unison, the Birth of Tragedy.  One paragraph in, Nietzsche delivers on his title. Succinctly. Leaving the remaining text to unpack this premise.

In this first 200 words Nietzsche reveals the birth of Attic Tragedy (another term for 5th Century BC Greek Tragedy). Why is this important? Because Greek Tragedy is born from the ancient rituals celebrating Dionysus combined with the worship of the God of Light, Apollo (not to be confused with the 'God of Light' from the Game of Thrones). And Greek Tragedy is important because as an art form it influenced the theatre of Ancient Rome and everything beyond. It is art mirroring life, which has evolved (or perhaps dissolved) into the movies and Netflix series we watch today. Art forms which remain a way for us to understand the human condition.

The Apollinian and Dionysian remain powerful dichotomous forces which can help us unpack and understand our world today beyond art. The Apollinian (form and structure) of science has recently come together with the Dionysian (and organic nature) of Buddhism. This gentle coupling, equally Apollinian and Dionysian, is unlocking our understanding of neuroplasticity.

Science and Buddishm (like their Apollinian and Dionysian counterparts) are dichotomy over duality. That is, they are two equal parts of a whole rather than just being opposite forces at continual odds with each other.  Their commonality described eloquently by the Dalai Lama in Sharon Begley's 2007 book 'The Plastic Mind':

'Although modern science and the Buddhist contemplative tradition arose out of quite different historical, cultural, and intellectual circumstances, I have found that they have a great deal in common. By some accounts, both traditions are motivated by an urge to relive the hardships of life. Both are suspicious of the notions of absolutes, whether these imply the existence of a transcendent creator or an unchanging entity such as a soul, preferring to account for the emergence of life in the world in terms of the natural laws of cause and effect. Both traditions take an empirical approach to knowledge.'

And also by Begley herself:

'Although science and religion are often portrayed as chronic opponents and even enemies, that misses the mark for science and Buddhism. There is no historic antagonism between the two...Instead, Buddhism and science share the goal of seeking the truth...For science, truth is always tentative, always subject to refutation by the next experiment; for Buddhism - at least, as the Dalai Lama sees it - even core teachings can and must be overturned if science proves them wrong. Perhaps the most important, Buddhist training emphasized the value of investigating reality and finding the truth of the outside world as well as the contents of one's minds.' (The Plastic Mind, Sharon Begley, p11.)

Science and Buddhism are working together to unlock the power of our mind. The transformative nature of Buddhism (reflecting the intoxication effects of Dionysian forces) is being analysed and researched within the rigour (form and structure of Apollinian forces) of science.

'It is a fundamental Buddhist principle that the human mind has tremendous potential for transformation. Science, on the other hand, has until recently, held to the convention not only that the brain is the seat and source of the mind, but also that the brain and its structures are formed during infancy and change little thereafter. Buddhist practitioners familiar with the workings of the mind have long been aware that it can be transformed through training. What is exciting and new is that scientist have shown that such mental training can also change the brain.' (Dalai Lama, Forward, The Plastic Mind, Sharon Begley.)

This has far reaching implications.

The repercussions of this will not be confined merely to our knowledge of the mind: They have the potential to be of practical importance in our understanding of education, mental health, and the significance of ethics in our lives.' (Dalai Lama, Forward, The Plastic Mind, Sharon Begley.)

Recently I stumbled on an echo of this sentiment, by modern day philosopher (who I swear is Nietzsche reincarnated) Jason Silva in his slam-like stream of consciousness provocation Dissolving the ego: How psychedelic treatment could revolutionalize mental health. Silva speaks with great passion and conviction of the possibilities of the Dionysian intoxication (psychedelic treatment) unlocking us from the veil of Apollinan conciousness (the ego) which has held mankind with such a firm grip hiding the 'Dionysian world from his vision' (Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, p41). 

We have been blinded by the God of Light, our ego, what Nietzsche references through Schopenhaur as the 'principium indiviudationis' and the Apollinian power of illusion. The ego has become, as Silva says, a tyrant. With an ego in overdrive we lose our agency, our free will. To overcome this, we need to add to this, what Neitzsche describes, and Silva calls for:

'...blissful ecstasy that wells from the innermost depths of man, indeed of nature, at this collapse of the principium individuationis, we steal a glimpse into the nature of the Dionysian, which is brought home to us most intimately by the analogy of intoxication.' (Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Section 1, p36. Translated by Walter Kaufmann 1966)

This intoxication, is Silva's psychedelic treatment deployed responsibly, the effects expressed by Nietzsche:

'Either under the influence of the narcotic draught, of which the songs of all primitive men and people speak, or with the potent coming of spring that penetrates all nature with joy, these Dionysian emotions awake, and as they grow in intensity everything subjective vanishes into complete self-forgetfulness'. (Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Section 1, p36. Translated by Walter Kaufmann 1966)

Where the Apollinian forces override the Dionysian, and there is too much 'ego' man is slave to himself.  When the veil is lifted by Dionysian forces of intoxication the slave is a free man. Man is free from self. Free from suffering and if you believe Silva, a way to reduce the mental health issues faced by many today.

This is not a call for everyone to get drunk or take psychedelic drugs recreationally. As Silva mentions, studies are happening through the Psychedelic Research Group and other major medical institutions like John Hopkins for psychedelic treatment for depression and anxiety.

Dionysian transformation can also be achieved through 'the very element which forms the essence of Dionysian music' (Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche, p40). Yes music, and also it can be achieved through what Silva references as occasions of mystical experience where you 'become the music'. The Dionysian state is achieved through the other examples Silva mentions: flow state, travelling somewhere new, diving into a new relationship. It is also achieved through the Dionysian rituals of transformation, which  - circling straight back to Buddhism - can happen through meditation. Something science has confirmed has the power to change the mind, and in turn, the brain.

'One of the questions raised by the Dalai Lama was particularly provocative: can the mind change the brain? He had raised this point many times with scientists over the years, usually receiving a dismissive answer. After all, one of the cardinal assumptions of neuroscience is that our mental processes stem from brain activity: the brain creates and shapes the mind, not the other way around. But the data reported here now suggests there may be a two-way street of causality, with systematic mental activity resulting in changes in the very structure of the brain.' (Preface, Daniel Goleman, The Plastic Brain, Sharon Begley.)

Silva echoes this in his example of what neuroscience has discovered when we are in a state of flow, in the zone or the pocket. In the 'state of rhapsody, wonderment and awe our dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex goes off line', the 'default mode network is shut off' the 'ego's throne' is cut off.

So in short, the Greeks of 5th Century BC knew; the Buddhists have known since at least the 6th Century BC; Nietzsche knew in 1872 and Jason Silva knows in 2018. They all know that to transcend into the chaos of the Dionysian, keeping the Apollinian ego in check, is the answer to human suffering.

Now you know too.

Surrender...and watch your inner blogger grow


I always read my blog posts a day or two after I publish them - man is it a humbling experience. If ever I needed a reminder that I am a mere human who makes mistakes, this is the moment I get it like a slap in the face. Whack!

There is a beautiful satisfying feeling of accomplishment when you hit that save and publish button. I did it. Somehow another blog post has fallen out of my brain. Yay! Time to share. Next, I log onto LinkedIn promote my post and then I do the same on Twitter, Facebook and even Insta (my poor friends).

Even though I have proofread my post several times before publishing it, a day or two later I check the post again - when I have some distance and when I can see things a little more clearly. It might be a good idea to get into the habit of holding off on promoting my posts on social until I have done this distance check, as all those funny little mistakes that make me cringe, laugh and almost cry need ironing out before anyone sees them. Or do they?

I was talking to my husband about my ridiculous errors. 'I cannot believe I can call myself a writer and spell beta blockers wrong! Even with spell check my spelling sucks! I used "undermind" instead of undermine.' 

Yes, that is correct I actually did this. Undermind - you can't unsee that! 

He kindly said, 'It's just because your brain is moving too fast.' Then he made the strangest suggestion. 'You should do a post on your bloopers.' Of course, my first thought was, 'He's crazy!'

And then, it got me thinking...

At the recent Teach Tech Play conference (which was fabulous by the way) I went to a session on blogging with Kathleen Morris . A conference by teachers for teachers, I felt a bit of a fraud being there (not being a teacher) but I am so glad I went to Kathleen's session. I got so much out of it.

Kathleen shared a lot about the basics of blogging with students. The set up, things to look out for, the pitfalls, copyright, quality of writing and how blogs can enhance learning. But the bit that resonated the most was when Kathleen talked about giving students an authentic audience for their writing. She shared a story about a classroom where students were producing a blog and creating it without realising their teacher was going to get them to publish it. When she announced it was time to share and open it up to the world the students panicked with many saying things like 'but it is not right yet' and 'it is not ready to be shared'.

Why are we so worried about things being so 'right' before we share them with others? I get that sometimes it may feel its too early to share your writing, but really, it never is. You can share in a narrow way - showing early drafts to one or two people close to you (my family are subject to many requests to read my posts before I publish them). When your work is more complete you can share more widely. Gosh, even publish it! The process of sharing your writing is what helps you improve your skill as a writer. It doesn't matter if there are mistakes, show people. It doesn't have to be perfect.

The value of an authentic audience cannot be underestimated. Writing with an audience in mind, letting go and throwing your writing out there for an audience to critique and/or compliment is part of the writing process, which is never ending. Writing doesn't end with publishing, writing is perpetual. And writing in a digital format means you can edit or recreate it, if you want to. Other than on Twitter, where you have to delete your Tweets and Tweet again if you see an embarrassing mistake.

Why are mistakes embarrassing? Why don't we celebrate our mistakes? Our failures? Why do we try so hard to hide them? They are so intrinsic to our learning. Mistakes give us a sense of where to focus our improvement, or what Hunter Maats and Katie O'Brien call 'deliberate practice' in their post Teaching students to embrace mistakes. I won't ever use 'undermind' again or spell 'beta blockers' wrong again (beater blockers - yep hilarious). I grew today (after I had a really good laugh at myself).

‘If you stumble, make it part of the dance.’

Mistakes can also lead to surprising creations. Andy Warhol made mistakes which some call his best work. Some of our biggest blunders in science have been our biggest successes. Like the telephone, which came about as the result of Alexander Graham Bell's bad German skills when he misread a book by a German author, misinterpreting a word for 'wire' and, therefore, mistakenly believing you could transmit sound on a wire. Fabulous mistake that one, and shows the power of belief.

The fear of mistakes is what stops people from sharing their work. But as Kathleen said in her session:

'A private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag on your head'

It's time to take the paper bag off and share - even before your work is ready.

Kathleen's session was clearly inspiring to others, not just me. I saw a blog post from ponderingdan today (great name for a blog by the way). Dan ponders in his latest post about his motivation for blogging.

'This is my space to be curious, and share with others'.

So true Dan. Blogs are spaces for us to be exactly what the definition of curious says: to be 'eager to learn' and to be 'strange'. 

I used to tell myself my blog was just a place for me to capture my ideas. Even though it was never a private blog, with that mindset I was basically walking around with my ideas behind a big fat paper bag I had over my head. My blog is not just for me, it is for my audience, whoever they may be. And it is through writing with my audience in mind that makes me a better writer.

So if you are a closet blogger, it is time to stop resisting. It is time to let go. Celebrate your bloopers. Surrender to your imperfections because they are the things that make you lovable! 

By the way... this post will no doubt have some edits in a day or two, after I proofread it with distance and grow from the mistakes I find scattered among these thoughts that spilled out of my head a little too fast.

Communication is so powerful, it can make you sick


I just had to share a podcast I listened to recently, produced by ABC Radio National.

Placebo Power is part of ABC Radio National's All in the Mind series, exploring exactly what its title suggests. The podcast is a cracker and I loved hearing about the power of the placebo and how it all works. Unexpectedly, it really got me thinking about the power of communication.

Perhaps we take our ability to communicate a little for granted. We communicate, and are communicated to, every day all day. It is intrinsic to everything we do - in fact it is essential to our survival. This is true not just for humans, but for all animals and for plants too. Yes plants - they are quite the talkers.

In 2014, The Scientist published Plant Talk an article confirming 'far from being unresponsive and uncommunicative organisms, plants engage in regular conversation'. Author Dan Cossins covers a number of examples to support this, including one where a group of researchers bagged the leaves and stems of some broad bean plants after they popped some nasty aphids on them. They already knew aphid-infested bean plants release an odour into the air to warn their neighbours of an attack, and these neighbouring plants respond with gusto by releasing an odorous chemical of a different kind to attract aphid-hunting wasps. But what they were trying to find out was if the plants communicate under the soil. And they do.

'...plants can “talk” in several different ways: via airborne chemicals, soluble compounds exchanged by roots and networks of threadlike fungi, and perhaps even ultrasonic sounds. Plants, it seems, have a social life that scientists are just beginning to understand.'

Animals also communicate for survival through a variety of ways: visual displays, noise and sound, through scent, touch and other signals. They communicate to attract mates, scare off predators, warn others of a threat and create group cohesion. As humans are part of the animal kingdom, we too communicate in these ways to achieve all these things.

Humans will go to extreme lengths, and overcome enormous barriers, to communicate. Living with locked-in syndrome Jean-Dominique Bauby communicated with what only those suffering from this condition have available - movement of their eyes. Using this method he wrote a best selling memoir.

The brilliance of Stephen Hawking and what he had to say to the world was made possible through Hawking moving his cheek. Using a computer powered by his wheelchair and an open source program designed by Intel called ACAT, Hawking was able to talk by stopping a cursor running across a keyboard to select a letter by moving his cheek, the movement detected by an infrared switch mounted to his spectacles.

'This switch is my only interface with the computer. ACAT includes a word prediction algorithm provided by SwiftKey, trained on my books and lectures, so I usually only have to type the first couple of characters before I can select the whole word. When I have built up a sentence, I can send it to my speech synthesizer.' Stephen Hawking

I don't know about you, but I find both these stories extraordinary. Hawking was first diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) when he was 21. He was not expected to survive beyond his 25th birthday, and yet he did. He lived to see his 76th birthday in fact. There are many reasons why: he could have had the very rare slow progressing form of the disease, and this combined with the fact that his disease presented when he was young (when it usually hits after the age of 50) could also have contributed to his ability to live with the disease 11 times longer than expected. I can't help wondering though, if his ability to communicate, to contribute to the world and have purpose, also played a part in his longevity.

But let's get back to where this all started - the podcast. Placebo Power got me from the very beginning with a story from Associate Professor Damien Finniss about something that changed the course of his career some 17 years ago, when he was working as a sports physiotherapist treating professional athletes. Prior to a game or training, he would administer ultrasound therapy. One day after treating multiple athletes who all got up after therapy as normal, thanking him, saying they felt better and running off onto the field to play, Finniss realised that for the entire session his ultrasound machine was off. The light was broken, so he hadn't noticed it wasn't plugged in. At the time he was astonished that he 'wasn't actually doing anything' and yet it had the same effect as normal treatment. Now a medical doctor and Associate Professor at the University of Sydney's Pain Management and Research Institute, he understands more than most that on that particular day he was actually doing something, something very important. He was communicating the whole time that he was providing treatment, going through the ritual of treatment and setting an expectation of treatment - tricking the brain and spinal chord into believing the body has had treatment for pain so it releases endorphin-like chemicals and other natural chemicals produced by the body, such as cannabinoids, to counter the pain. This event prompted him to research the power of placebos, the body's reaction and the importance of the context of the situation, particularly the influence of words, gestures and interactions between health care professionals and their patients on the placebo effect.

At this point, less than a minute into the podcast, I was hooked and couldn't stop listening.

The host, Lynne Malcolm, goes on to interview a number of researchers and practitioners. Dr Claire Ashton-James, ‎Senior Lecturer at the Pain Management Research Institute at Sydney Medical School, talks directly about the influence of communication on our perception of pain. She talks about how changing the way we communicate can improve patient care by making procedures less distressing. Among a number of examples, she gives a simple but gorgeous one about telling her daughter that the stinging from a disinfectant applied to her cut or abrasion means the medicine is doing its job, and this helps her daughter feel less fearful of the stinging.

'Mummy, mummy the Dettol is stinging! It's cleaning! It's working!'

Dr Kate Fausee from the University of NSW, is interviewed about the media's influence and role in changing patient outcomes. She shares a story from New Zealand about a drug to treat under-active thyroid conditions. This drug had its binding agent changed but the active ingredients all remained the same. Regardless, people using this drug on a regular basis became concerned because the colour of the pill was different. The media across New Zealand broadcast reports about the drug changing, all running the same interview with a patient who talked about symptoms which came back because the drug had changed. Suddenly, many regular users of this drug complained of symptoms even though the binding agent had nothing to do with the effect of the drug and the drug company couldn't replicate any of these symptoms in thorough testing. This suggested to Fausse that these negative side effects were being caused by negative expectations driven by the media coverage. She mapped the reporting of symptoms correlating a link to the airing of these media interviews.

Intrigued by the power of suggestion on patient outcomes, Fausse took her research further in an experimental study. University students were told they were getting a fast acting beta blocker to reduce their anxiety by lowering their blood pressure and slowing down their heart rate. Subjects were given a sugar pill placebo and then asked to wait in a waiting room with another participant to make sure there were no adverse reactions to the beta blocker and to see if the drug would work. What the university students participating in the study didn't know was that the person they were arranged to sit with in the waiting room wasn't another student participating in the research but was actually an actor hired by the researchers.

When the researchers came in and asked the actor if they had any symptoms sometimes the actor said yes and explained them, sometimes the actor said no. The researchers also asked the actor if they felt the drug working. Sometimes the actor said yes, sometimes no. The findings from this experimental research showed people were influenced by what they heard. They too had symptoms if the actor did. They too thought the drug was not working, if the actor said they didn't feel the drug working. In fact, the students who reported feeling the drug was working (after hearing the actor confirm they too felt the drug was working) actually showed physical signs of the placebo effect - with lower blood pressure and lower heart rates. Yet all they took was a sugar pill.

So in short, not only does communication change how we feel about treatment, it also impacts the effectiveness of treatment.

 Another important take out from this podcast is the fact that we build trust through communication, and that this trust can be eroded in a microsecond. This is important because the health outcomes of a patient is linked to their trust and belief in their doctor,  and in their perception of their doctor's levels of empathy and care. A doctor can communicate in a microsecond, through facial cues, their disbelief or disgust in something and undermine trust previously built up. As humans we are hard wired to pick up the things others don't even know they are communicating. 

Although I have shared a lot of what is in the podcast, there is a fair chunk I haven't covered, so I would highly recommend you take some time out to listen to it. It confirmed for me how much of an important role communication plays in whether or not people feel better or sick, experience pain or no pain, or are fearful of pain or not.

It also reminded me of a time when I worked at BreastScreen Victoria, and research which showed that women were more likely to report feeling pain during their mammogram if the radiographer was perceived to be rude, and uncaring. 

I think we can all agree: communication is powerful and has a direct impact on our wellbeing and whether or not we feel sick or experience pain. So please, be careful what you say.

Gaming: what a brain changer


Part 3 of 3 from my 2016 MayoInOZ talk 

Games have always been part of our story, part of our cultural learning. 

Vikings, for example, played all sorts of games, some were even like baseball and rugby we play today! They would have been tough rugby opponents for sure! Alongside the Vikings, ancient Egyptians and Chinese all played games similar to the modern game of chess to teach them strategies of war. The Viking game was called Tafl and was often played with an audience. A dangerous game according to one legend, where a Viking Jarl beat his King, and was, of course, ordered to be killed. Not the best career move, that one.

Games are said to be the oldest form of human social interaction. But games acutually predate humans and our culture. In his 1938 book Homo Ludens, Dutch Historian Johan Huizinga says:

Animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing

So true. 

Animals play games as part of their survival. When we watch that wonderful footage on one of those David Attenborough shows of young lion cubs playing, they are practising for when they have to fight to be leader, or kill for food. That swipe with the paw one cub makes on his brother, when playing, is preparing and teaching him to fight. That swipe is what he needs to assert himself when defending his position as pack leader in the future, or to bring down a zebra for food.

Games support cognitive development. Both in animals and humans. Research shared in the Lego Foundation's report The Future of Play, shows the amount of play we engage in, has a direct correlation to the development of our frontal cortex. Our frontal cortex is the part of our brain where we: monitor our behaviour, and the behaviour of others; work out what is relevant and what isn't; learn from mistakes; and exercise divergent thinking. Interestingly, these are all the things we do when playing a game.

When playing physical game, strategic mind games (cards or board games) or online games you have to work out very quickly what you need to do and what the other person is doing - monitoring behaviour. You also have to work out what to take notice of and what to ignore - what is relevant. When you make a mistake and lose, you refine how you play. And to play a game well you have to exercise your divergent thinking. When playing games we exercise our frontal cortex, making it stronger.

The Lego Foundation report also references the research of Marian Diamond from the 1960s. Marian experimented with rats. She put some in an enriched environment with games to play. The results of the experiment was that rats engaged in play were smarter. They had bigger brains and could undertake more complex tasks. This fundamentally changed childhood development practices. From that time on every nursery needed bright walls, with posters and mobiles hanging from the ceiling. Parents and carers were encouraged to play. 

It is no mistake that we play the most when we are younger. That games and play are intrinsic to our youth. There is a direct correlation between play and our brain development. And our brain is undergoing its biggest changes in the most rapid way in early childhood. This is why, at this time, we need to play. 

When we are born our brain has millions of pathways. To make us work more efficiently the brain prunes itself. It strengthens the pathways we use the most and those we don't use become dormant. New ones can also be created. According to the Lego Foundation, games support the pruning process because:

Repetition of sequences and actions in games...strengthen pathways and creates new ones.

For some time people thought the pathways that were not used, died and could not be resurrected, and that new ones could not form. That the brain was rigid. Norman Doidge MD through his book 'The brain that changed itself', has popularised the theory of brain neuroplasticity. The theory that the brain can rewire itself. A read I highly recommend. He shares inspiring stories about things like a guy, Philip, who had his arm amputated after it became useless following injury in a motorbike accident, but suffered terribly from phantom elbow pain in his amputated arm. A neuroplastician, V.S Ramachadran treated him by having Philip place his right arm in a mirror box, tricking the brain to think it is the left. After time the brain rewired itself curing Philip of his pain by altering his view of his body. Amazing. 

Another story in this fascinating book is of stroke victims unable to speak, play a therapeutic card game that incrementally rewires the brain through constraint-induced therapy to overcome learned nonuse. 

So when our brain is developing, games strengthen pathways and creates new ones. And when our brain is rewiring, games do the same - strengthening pathways and creating new ones. This is why games are so well suited to mental and physical rehabilitation. I am so excited to see what ReachOut are doing with their mental health game Orb and what Mira Rehab are doing in the physiotherapy space. And I can't wait to see what the future brings for this space, particularly when you throw augmented reality into the mix.

For all those believers out there, Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law says it all:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

Healing has always been magical. 

(This post is the final post sharing an expanded version of my talk at the 2nd International HealthCare and Social Media Summit, Mayo In Oz, in November 2016).

Get Your Game On


Part 2 of 3 from my 2016 MayoInOZ talk

Yes, it's time to get your game on people! Time to get clinicians, developers and gamers in the room together and create games for health. It is the future of now.

Just like businesses adopted Social (and Social adopted business),  the health industry is now starting to adopt online gaming. Please be aware, that I am not talking about advertising on games, or building followers. I am talking about the gamification of treatment. Games are perfectly suited to help people with mental health conditions and people undergoing physical and mental rehabilitation.

This is not about a meditation app (although they are really useful - and I love mine) this is about a game you play. A couple of years back when I started thinking about this idea, I couldn't find much happening in this space. I am so excited to see things are starting to happen - and I expect this trend will gain momentum as we accelerate into the future.

Embark on a quest to return colour and positivity back into the world - ReachOut

In February 2016, ReachOut - a not-for-profit working with young people, launched its pilot mental health game Orb. The game is developed for students in Years 9 and 10. They can play on an iPad or desktop and the game uses positive psychology to teach students how to improve their mental health and wellbeing. The game was produced by the Telstra Foundation and Soap Creative. Hat's off to them! This is a brilliant start in this space.

How do you play? You create and avatar reflecting your character strengths and as this avatar you navigate through a virtual world ruled by 'The Glitch'. This is one helluva bad dude - he has drained the colour from everything. In the game, your quest is to restore colour into the world using your Orb (positive energy), which is recharged by recording good things that happen in your day. You have to make choices as you interact with all the characters in the game - characters overwhelmed with negativity. You will face challenges that reward perseverance and persistence. Check out what the teachers and students thought of the game...


Physical therapy is boring - play a game instead - Cosmin Mihaiu, Mira Rehab

That is the title of the Ted Talk where founder of Mira Rehab, Cosmin Mihaiu, tells his story about how he came to be running a company creating games for physiotherapy treatment.  In short, when he was 6 he broke his arm and spent 6 weeks in plaster. Some 20 years later he was inspired by this, and his mother's rehabilitation experience with a shoulder injury, to gamify rehab. He got developers, gamers, physiotherapists and clinicians in a room and created a prototype. They entered the game in the Microsoft Imagine Cup and came 6th world wide. There are a lot of sixes in that story! 

They now have some 40 games. His development team work closely with physiotherapists and clinicians to develop games which make people playing the games move their body in line with the treatment they need. While playing the game, you forget you are doing a repetitive movement and physiotherapy treatment, and the games are so fun you are motivated to play them. Don't ever underestimate the power of fun!

I love the game he talks about in his Ted Talk, which is for older people at risk of falls. The game prompts them to stand up from a sitting position and sit down again, several times. The person is motivated to stand as they want to hit a token with their head as it passes by on the screen. A motion sensor (like those used in a Wii game) recognises when the token is successfully hit and the gamer is rewarded with money - not real money of course. I think the game appeals to those who like the pokies! The beauty is that these games can be tailored to the needs of the individual, and like all games it collects data on performance. So the clinician can see how often it is played, how well the person is going in the game, if they are increasing their performance and success in the game. Pretty hard to lie about doing your rehab exercises (unless you pay one of your friends to do it for you!!)

How fabulous is this! And this is just the beginning.

Go Pokemon Go!

In July 2016 Pokemon Go hit the world. A game which leveraged off our nostalgia for those adorable creatures, it exploded all the gaming barriers. No surprises given it was the brainchild of the creator of Google Earth, John Hanke. Clearly this guy has a few good ideas up his sleeve!! It started as an April Fool's joke for Google Maps in 2014, where Pokemon would suddenly turn up on certain locations on Google Maps. Mr Hanke saw the potential and the rest is history.  Suddenly games were no longer just for inside, they were no longer for the stereotypical gamer. And most impressively, the game brought Augmented Reality to the masses. Such disruption. I love it.

The game had higher usage than Twitter, Instagram and Porn!  To give you a sense of the scale of popularity it took Facebook 3 years to hit 50 million users (source: TechWorm), yet it only took Pokemon Go 19 days (source: SensorTower). And apart from the occasional car crash, it had some really unexpected health benefits. Especially for Adam and his family.


This is so inspiring. It is proof that games can change your brain, in a good way. That games can motivate you when nothing else will. It shows the possibilities. 

Anything is possible. Especially with where we are heading with augmented reality. At the moment it is a fun thing business is playing with, imagine what happens when we get serious with it.  But before we get serious, let's have a giggle at how Pepsi used it at a bus stop recently. Enjoy!

Imagine if this kind of cleverness was applied in health. What are the possibilities for medical education? For diagnostics?

Professor Jeffery E Brand from Bond University who produces the Digital Australia Report each year for the last 11 years with the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association is so right when he said:

We are witnessing breathtaking changes in the realm of digital interactive entertainment..

Games have the power to change our behaviour and the way we do things because they have always been part of our story, our cultural learning. Their history and the role games play in our neurological development is something I explore in my next post Gaming: what a brain changer.

(This post is part 2 of 3 posts sharing an expanded version of my talk at the 2nd International HealthCare and Social Media Summit, Mayo In Oz, in November 2016).

What next?


Part 1 of 3 from my 2016 MayoInOZ talk 

Let's take a look into the crystal ball and see what the next digital disruption is for the healthcare industry.

I have always wanted to be a fortune teller, the very idea awakens my gypsy soul - so join me on a journey using the past to understand the future, following the words of a very wise man.

The further backward you can look, the further forward you can see.

Thank you Winston Churchill.

But before we start, I think it is important to define 'future' in this context. I am not talking about the distant future, but the future that is happening 'right now', or what Bhargava defines as 'the accelerating present'. I want to look backwards to understand what is just around the corner. I want to look at the digital disruptions that are starting to happen in health, the ones that will gain momentum in the short term.

If it was a maths equation, it might look something like this:

So let's start at the first half of the equation and remind ourselves, for a moment, where we have come from.

Twenty years ago, companies started building websites to communicate, sell and influence. Web became a trend, you had to have one. And today, almost everyone does - although in a very different format to what it was back then. According to there are more than 1 billion websites today. The relevance of website to the health industry in Australia is unquestionable with 20 million internet users in Australia and, according to healthdirect, 80% of Australians seek health information online.

Then a decade or so later came Social - MySpace, Facebook and Twitter - and we all know the momentum this trend has gained for both individuals and for businesses. Well not so much for MySpace, but definitely for the others. Businesses adopted social and started advertising in this space, creating pages. For good reason. Statistics from indicate that there are 2.3 billion active social media users worldwide (as of April 2016). That is huge. It is big business.

Not long after businesses embraced Social, suddenly everyone had to have an app. The app store is now as common place as the milk bar was in our lives over 40 years ago - but without 4.2 million varieties of mixed lollies to choose from (imagine that). Yes, figures from show 2 million apps are available through the Apple Store and 2.2 million available for Android. 

When I worked at Epworth, we launched our first maternity app, the first hospital in Australia to do so. Subsequently, I received lots of requests for apps. My favourite was from the urologist who wanted us to develop an app for people to record how much they pee. That was the point I realised you could have an app for anything you wanted. And just incase you are curious - there is an app for recording your toilet business (not developed by that urologist and only available on Android, with a few glitches according to the reviews). Look it up, it is one of a kind and called Toilet Tracker. It tracks both number ones and twos!

As we are all acutely aware, the Social space has continued to grow. LinkedIn, which many of us scoffed at, took off. 'Who would want Facebook for work?' we asked, and now, who can live without it? I found an amazing marketing specialist to come work with me through LinkedIn. I loved that I simply threw in some key words and within seconds I had two great candidates from my inner circle of connections. Rang the connections for a reference and success. It was that easy. 

From there, the trend to unfold over the last few years has been business using Social platforms we enjoy in our personal lives - Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, to name a few. These platforms have all found a place in the commercial world (although I have to admit, I am still not over the fact that businesses are advertising on Instagram - ruining the joy of Instagram for me).

The growth in Social has not just been about different platforms, it has also been about new features and functionality - video, live streaming etc. And the way we use Social in business has really changed too. Not so long ago we would only post professional videos, or use a professional camera to take the images, or use stock imagery and painstakingly design the posts. But we now have to be more nimble, like we are at home, and I am so thrilled to see it happening.  In terms of Social, we need to 'nimbilise' our work practices. Yes, it's a made up word, but if they can get 'fabulise' into the Merriam Webster dictionary and 'glamping' in the Oxford Dictionary, surely they can handle 'nimbilise' - the act of making something more nimble.

How do you 'nimbilise'? By walking around your work place and capturing the moment on your phone and posting it with comments, just like you do on the weekend around your personal life. It is no different. See, Snap, Share. People responsibe for the social should be out in their organisation - seeing the good news stories and inspiring things as they happen. What does it look like for healthcare? You stop a doctor in the corridor and ask her some questions about a topical subject, film it and post it right there. You don't have to book an appointment to interview her with a film crew and spend days in the editing suite. Sometimes, it is as simple as having a basic idea to hold it together. Drop into the staff room, take a nice portrait on your phone, a group shot of theatre staff, nurses, admin and then share a little bit about them. Get out there and talk to people, find out about them, get them to give text you a photo from something interesting in their past - you will be surprised at the wonderful talents people have hidden. Celebrate them in a Throw Back Thursday. Build your story.

But I digress.

According to Wiki, there are over 200 Social Media sites, not including dating sites. Not an overly accurate number as there were some key platforms like WhatsApp missing from this - but my Google Search led me no where but here. So let's call it around 200. Of course, not all 200 will be appropriate for your business. And although 200 is not a high number, it is a huge number of people when you think about the fact that one of these platforms alone - Facebook, the leading platform - has over 1.7 billion users.

So, what next?

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 10.30.13 am.png

I think the next trend to gain momentum, particularly in health, will be games. Perhaps it is because I have a 15 year old gamer, and it is in my face, but it just seems like the next logical step for health (and other industries). And it is starting to happen already.

Please note, I am not talking about online games for entertainment - that has been a growing trend for years. But just like Social was for a long time just for the individual and exactly as it is named - for social - this is predominantly where games are at - for the individual and in a social context. But all the signs are there, and it is starting to happen, games are becoming part of business like Social has. Gamification is happening.

I am not suggesting we will interact with games like we do at a base level with Social. It is not about online games becoming advertising platforms or building followers, or posting information out to followers for them to share. It is about creating games to change health behaviour and using games as part of the treatment.

It is about getting developers, gamers and clinicians in the same room to create games for health. But more in that in my next post: Get Your Game On.

(This post is part 1 of 3 posts sharing an expanded version of my talk at the 2nd International HealthCare and Social Media Summit, Mayo In Oz, in November 2016).







So how did the humble number sign become such a big part of our lexicon? And why is there sometimes so much emotion around its use? #let'stalkhashtags!

I love a hashtag and use them all the time in social media - sometimes causing ire among friends (#sorry). But before I go on, let's get one thing clear and make sure we are all on the same page about exactly what I am talking about. I think the best thing to start with is the gorgeous Wikipedia warning at the very start of their 'Number sign' entry:

'Number sign Not to be confused with the Chinese character , the sharp sign (), the viewdata square (), the numero sign (), the equal and parallel to symbol () or the gameTic-tac-toe's grid.'

Thank you, Wikipedia. Now that we have that clear, let's get to know this guy before we start analysing him and his role in the evolution of language, and how he has changed the way we communicate. 


The hashtag was more commonly known in the past as the number sign/symbol or the pound sign (yes just take yourself back to all those times you have sat, unable to move, attached to a landline phone listening to a mountain of hold music before the interactive voice response system kicks in asking you to enter your password or reference number followed by the 'pound' key).

This guy's fancy name is the Octothorpe - named by those who invented the telephone. Octo representing the eight points on the sign. (Don't ask me what the thorpe means, and there is some controversy around how this part of the name came to be - after Olympian Jim Thorpe, a nonsense word with no meaning or from an old Norse term meaning 'field').

Use of this symbol dates back to the 1800s, and there is popular speculation that it comes from the Latin symbol which represents 'pound weight' - a small L and small B with a cross above the top (to avoid confusing the small L with the number one). 


According to - an organisation trying to 'organise the world's hashtags' (yes this really does exist) - the person who first used a hashtag on Twitter was a social technology expert: @ChrisMessina (yes, we now also refer to people with the @ symbol in front of them).

In August 2007 this technology guru tweeted: 

How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?

Barcamp consists of open workshops and events (for participants not observers) around technology and the web. They are worldwide and Messina wanted to use the hash symbol to connect online exchanges. The dudes at Twitter didn't really feel the love and didn't think it would take off. But it did, although not until a little later during the 2007 San Diego forest fire disaster. After the hashtag was adopted during the Iranian election protests in 2009, where it started becoming an international convention, Twitter finally got on board. They started hyperlinking all hashtags in tweets to Twitter search results and a year later they started reporting topic trends via popular hashtags.


What started as a way of filtering Tweets into topics - aiding search, grouping conversations and creating the ability to easily connect those with common interests - soon exploded outside of Twitter onto all social media platforms and beyond. Infiltrating our common language: in text messages and astonishingly our daily conversations!

This humble symbol's super star status was confirmed when Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon's skit #Hashtag went viral. It has over 31 million views and I never get sick of watching it!  'Hey Justin what's up?'...'Not much Jimmy, hashtag chillin'


Hashtags revolutionalised our language - and that is no small feat. Hashtags have met our need for a more modern version of  "and I quote" (dancing fingers in air) in our conversations. They have met our need for a new short hand - to saliently make a point or to emphasise something at the end of a barrage of words. Excitingly, hashtags have given us a new way of expressing wry humour. Reducing the 'one-liner' to two or three words 'hashtag [sacrcasm]' #winning

Hashtags are the new dot points, and if you order them you can cleverly create a new type of sentence #thatiscool #don'tyouthink #youshouldtryit


Not everyone is a fan of hashtags. There are people out there who get very irritated at others using them. People who don't understand them. People who fear hashtags are degrading and diminishing our language. Those who have real issues with the absence of spaces and capitals in the written word. And people who just don't like them.

But to all those people I say:

#getoverit  #embracethehashtag  #theyareheretostay

Full circle - emoji and the evolution of language


A friend recently asked a group of us at dinner 'Am I meant to read all those little pictures and funny faces that people text me, are they part of the message?' - she received a resounding 'Yes' from all of us.

We then all shared how we used emoji and emoticons to enhance what we want to say, or to say things with more power or humour. This got me thinking. Emoji and emoticons have moved so far from simply being the equivalent of a smiley face that you pop at the end of a message on a sticky note, and are starting to become (or perhaps have already become) a new language. We've come full circle and are going back to using images and symbols as part of the written form of language like hieroglyphs in Ancient Egypt and cave drawings of prehistoric times. I love it. Language has evolved to the point where we are going back to where we started. 😃

Doing a little bit of research on this after dinner, I realised I am not alone in my thinking (the joy of the post modern world) and discovered that there is actually some academic confirmation on what is happening. 

In May 2015, UK linguist Professor Vyv Evans made the papers when he proclaimed emoji to be Britain's fastest growing language (although I am sure research would show it isn't just happening in Britain). According to an article in The Telegraph Professor Evans partnered with TalkTalkMobile and surveyed some Brits to discover:

'8 out of 10 people in UK have used the symbols and icons to communicate, with 72 per cent of 18 to 25 year-olds adding that they found it easier to put their feelings across using emoji than with words'


In the article, Professor Evans substantiates his claim of emoji being the fastest growing language based on its 'incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution' and emoji has 'far eclipsed hieroglyphics, its Ancient Egyptian precursor which took centuries to develop'.  

BOOM! There you have it. 😉

Johnathan Jones has an interesting perspective on these claims made by Professor Evans. In his article in The Guardian, Jones asserts our use of emoji is not progress but 'a step backwards'. I have to disagree. Although this evolutionary step in our use of language may be taking us full circle to where language began it is not a step backwards and is still progress. Language is on a constant evolutionary journey and only has one direction - forward. Like a living organism, it survives by adapting and accommodating changes in the environment in which it exists. Sometimes we draw on something from our past to propel us forward. That is what is happening here.

In his article, Jones links the evolution of culture with language, describing the Egyptians as creating a 'magnificent but static culture' and attributing the leap forward made by Ancient Greece to their 'non-pictorial alphabet'. He also claims there are 'harsh limits on what you can say with pictures' which is why 'there is no Egyptian Iliad or Odyssey'. 

A couple of things to say about this. Firstly, he clearly hasn't heard the idiom 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. Secondly, how does he know there isn't an Egyptian equivalent of Homer's epic poems? Can he read hieroglyphs to know? Most importantly though, it is evident that Jones has missed out on the joy of seeing the emoji version of Les Miserables! 😂

The use of emoji in our everyday lives has not yet evolved to the point where I can write this blog post in emoji only. And it may never. Emoji may always be a 'short-hand language'. Regardless, I prefer to take the more positive view that Professor Evans takes in his opinion piece for Newsweek and celebrate what he calls the 'stratospheric rise' of emoji and the status he gives it as 'the world's first truly global form of communication' which 'dwarfs even the reach of English'.

These are exciting times we live in, to be witnessing such a dramatic change in language - a leap forward driven by globalisation, technology and a progressive society. Such a significant shift has not been seen since Chaucer's time when we moved from Middle English to Modern English (known as the 'Great Vowel Shift'). This evolutionary change took centuries, and perhaps emoji becoming a sophisticated language will also. Who knows where it will take us but the possibilities are endless. Cheers to the power of emoji!  😆

Brands are so much more than just a logo

Just like a person has key characteristics which reflect their personality, so too do brands. 

These key characteristics are referred to as 'brand attributes'. They are qualities and features which are inherent parts of your brand. It is really important to have a handle on your brand attributes - particularly if you want an authentic brand.

Key characteristics for a person are often a blend of visual features, verbal nuances, traits and behaviour. They reflect your personality and distinguish you as an individual.

In a person it visually might be a big nose and high cheekbones, or bushy eyebrows and long eyelashes (reading back on this sentence, I may have subconsciously just described all mine!) Verbally it could be the slight lisp when speaking or the raspy tone of your voice. A key characteristic could also be the way you pronounce a certain word, or the beautiful rich sound of your accent. Each of these distinguish you and are key characteristics someone else would use to describe you. 

Traits and behaviour examples are things like how much you worry about things (or if you worry at all); how serious you take life; or if you are a clean freak who hates having dirty hands and everything must be in its right place for there to be order in the world (now I am definitely not speaking about me).

It is the same for brands. Your brand attributes are key visual features, the tone and voice of your brand and the common behaviour your brand displays. Key characteristics of your brand are inherent  - they are distinctive to your brand and all attributes combined distinguish your brand from others.

Visual attribute examples for brands are things like a clever and memorable logo or, at the other end of the scale, an inappropriate or really ugly logo. How consistent a brand is visually represented, both in terms of logo and other supportive graphic elements, is another example of a possible key characteristic.

Verbal brand attribute examples are things like the language your brand uses - how loose you are with grammar in your billboards, common words your brand uses in communications and advertising, or perhaps how wordy you are on your website. The tone may also be a brand characteristic if it is always official or always relaxed. 

Examples of traits and behaviour that make up a brand's key characteristics are things like your brand always being the first to market with something new or clever, or being outspoken about a particular issue, or if your brand is strongly opinionated.

I love the brand VinoMofo - an online wine sales company that distinguishes itself from the rest with its sense of humour. If you haven't discovered it before now, your life is about to change - for the better. VinoMofo makes buying wine fun (alright, it was fun already but they make it extra fun).  A key visual characteristic of this brand is the imagery they use - everyone is having a really good time in their photos, everyone is laughing (and drinking wine at the same time, without spilling any - masterful). Key verbal characteristics are the laid back and everyday language they use - like they are one of your mates - and the humour weaved into what they are saying.

And welcome to the most epic wine site on the planet, if we do say so ourselves. And we do, I suppose, since it’s our slogan. Awkward. 

Their brazen self love and self affirmation is a behaviour trait that is definitely a key brand attribute for this company. Particularly the way they express it - in a fun and disarming manner. They even give themselves a shortened nick name.

No bowties and bollocks at the ‘Fo – we live by our credo to step up, care more, keep it real, do some good and have fun.

VinoMofo is a great example of a brand that knows itself and is true to itself. An authentic brand. And that will be a key reason behind its success. 

I have read definitions where brand attributes are explained as the same as brand values. This, in my humble opinion, is not true. Key characteristics are features which are distinctive to you, values are your moral compass. They work together to create the sum of you, but they are very distinctive parts. Let's take VinoMofo as an example. Fun-loving would be a key attribute I associate with this brand. Honesty would be a brand value for this group. 

 I will go into detail about brand values in my next post, but for now, I am off to check out what wine those Mofos have on offer.


Brands are humans too!

What is brand essence and how does it relate to brand personality? What's the difference between brand values and brand attributes? 

If you have ever asked these questions you are not alone. It can be confusing to work out how all the different aspects of your brand fit together and where you should be focusing your energy, particularly when there is conflicting literature explaining their interrelationships and many a different brand onion.

I find the best way to understand a brand is to think about the brand as a person, this then allows you to make sense of each of the elements and logically work through how they fit together. Over the next couple of blog posts let's look at brands by thinking about a person from the outside in, starting in this post with the outer most layer: dress sense.


Dress like you want to be addressed - Anon

Just like a person, brands express themselves through how they dress. We tend to build a picture in our minds about a person depending on what they wear - as clothes are often a way in which people reflect their personality. Key things which help build that picture are the colours a person regularly chooses to wear,  how she or she combines them, which ones are dominant as well as the kinds of shoes, jewellery and accessories selected.

For example, if someone wears flat and comfortable shoes all the time, it is likely we will perceive them as a practical person. Someone wearing flamboyant or vibrant colours and cutting edge fashion all the time is someone we are likely to assume is outgoing, or a risk taker. Whereas, someone who always wears the expected suit and tie to work, without much or any deviation from the expected corporate tones, we may perceive as conservative in their outlook in life and their behaviour. Rightly or wrongly we tend to apply stereotypes - a universal association between personality types and certain ways of dressing. 

It is the same for brands. Clothes for a brand are its colours, logo, fonts and imagery (photography or illustration style). 

Most conservative brands use safe fonts and colours in their logo and supporting visual material. Blues and serif fonts are often prominent. Blue because the psychology of this colour represents trust and control. The serif fonts reflect heritage and, therefore, experience. Trust, control and experience are key words these brands want to be associated with. 

Of course, blues and serif fonts can be used in ways to present an edgy brand. But they will be used very differently to a brand wanting to get across the message that they are a safe and reliable choice.

Prestige brands (or brands aspiring to be seen as prestigious) often have a sense of elegance about them and frequently use metallics alongside visuals aspects, tones and imagery to signify luxury. Edgy brands, or those that want to give a sense of fun, will often have logos with individually created fonts, coupled with bold colours and visual elements. 

So how you dress your brand  (the colours, fonts, and visual elements you use - sometimes referred to as a brand's 'look and feel') influences the assumptions people will make about your brand personality and behaviour. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind some of those universal associations when dressing your brand. Equally as important is making sure the way your brand dresses accurately reflects your brands personality. 

Stay tuned for the next post looking at what lies just underneath a brand's 'look and feel': attributes a.k.a key characteristics.


Using the archetype wheel to build a well rounded digital brand

The archetype wheel can be an extremely useful tool for helping guide the development of your digital brand.

To demonstrate how it works I will share how I used this wheel in my post analysis of Epworth HealthCare's digital brand development journey. But before I start, I'd like to thank and acknowledge Ness Flett for beautifully designing my version of the archetype wheel for my presentation at the inaugural international Health Care and Social Media Summit: Mayo in Oz.  My visual design skills are non-existent and I am so very appreciative Ness was able to take my scribbles and transform them into what they are today.

Let's take a good look at my version of the archetype wheel in the image below before I demonstrate how it works. 

The first thing to note, is that the wheel is made up of four quadrants and the 12 archetypes are grouped into each of these. As you can see, the quadrants are: Order, Ego, Freedom and Social. The order of the quadrants and where they sit on the wheel - in terms of what they are next to and what they are opposite - is very important. Observing the placements it will no doubt strike you as logical that the Order quadrant is opposite the Freedom quadrant and that the Ego quadrant is opposite the Social quadrant. It is logical because in life, these concepts are opposites.

Equally as important, is the order and placement of each of the archetypes. You will not be surprised to see the Explorer, Outlaw and Jester archetypes belong to the Freedom quadrant; the Lover, Caregiver and Everyman are in the Social quadrant; and so on. The reason the placements makes sense, is because we have a universal understanding of each archetype and what they represent. 

What is particularly important to note, is that the placement of each archetype within the quadrant represents how strongly the archetype represents the quadrant. For example, if we look at the Order quadrant the Ruler is in the centre - this is because the Ruler is the strongest representation of Order. Whereas the Sage represents Order moving into Ego; and the Innocent is Order moving into Social. Just as the Outlaw is the strongest representation of the Freedom quadrant - while the Explorer is Freedom moving into Ego, and the Jester is Freedom moving into Social. 

The importance of these placements will become clearer through my demonstration of how the wheel works.

Like most organisations, at Epworth HealthCare we started our digital journey with a website. As you will see in the archetype wheel below, I have coupled the website with the Sage archetype in the Order quadrant.


It is logical for websites to sit in the Order quadrant and be represented by one of the associated archetypes. Websites are very ordered digital tools. They have a set navigation, often with very clear hierarchy and a deliberately logical structure to guide you through each section.

Looking at a screen grab below of Epworth HealthCare's website you can see what I mean by the logical navigation, the hierarchy etc. The design is very structured, there is a top banner, the search bar in the expected position, a top level navigation is supported by side navigation and a bread crumb system. Overall the look and feel matches our perceptions of order and reinforces that it belongs in the associated quadrant. 

I have chosen to couple the website with the Sage archetype over the other archetypes in the Order quadrant for two reasons, the first being the Sage's placement in the quadrant: Order moving into Ego. Although a website is an ordered and structured digital tool, it is one where the brand is leading and prominent and so it has Ego too. In the screen grab the brand is very prominent in logo placement, use of colour and overall visual representation.

The second reason for this coupling is because of what the Sage represents. Looking at the key in the archetype wheel diagram you will see the Sage is described as: the expert, adviser, scholar, professional, mentor and teacher. 

Teachers deal with fact, and content on websites is very much fact-driven. The facts on a website are provided by the organisation as the expert and presented in a professional manner.

So I have coupled the website with the Sage and shown the logical associations with both the archetype and its quadrant. But how and why is this coupling useful? 

Well, let's think about what makes a good teacher? To me it is someone who makes the facts easily accessible, is engaging, a good listener and empowers me to learn through action and involvement.

A good website, therefore, will be easily accessible. It will be mobile friendly, easy to find in a search, translate into different languages and meet accessibility guidelines for visually impaired audiences. A good website will also be - like a good teacher - engaging, empowering and a good listener. It will not only provide the facts but will provide information in ways that engage the audience, such as using video and infographics and providing opportunities for involvement through interactivity. A good website will also have feedback mechanisms and back end processes to acknowledge that the organisation is listening.  

By coupling the website with the Sage archetype and thinking about what makes the ideal Sage you can audit your website and identify areas for improvement and development - an activity which we are currently undertaking at Epworth HealthCare.

Next in Epworth HealthCare's digital journey was the launch of a Twitter account and Facebook accounts. As you will see from the archetype wheel below, I have coupled Twitter with the Magician and the Facebook with the Hero. Let's explore why.

At Epworth HealthCare, we started using Twitter as a way to share with journalists those magical things our doctors perform. This is the perfect place to sing about our innovative procedures and break throughs, as well as our visionary and innovative approach to health care. This is where we celebrate amazing work like our doctors reconstructing a patient's jaw using 3D printing, and our Orthopaedic specialists operating on an Orangutan.  

Twitter is a logical coupling with the Magician archetype not only based on the kind of content we share but also because of the tone of voice which works best in Twitter. When tweeting it is important for organisations to show a bit of their personality. In this environment it isn't just about the facts, it is where the organisation can start demonstrating who they are, what they believe in etc. The charismatic voice of the Magician, therefore, is a great fit. 

Let's also not forget that the Magician is in the Ego quadrant, a space to lead with the brand, which is exactly what we do through our profile, Twitter handle @epworthnews and the way we represent ourselves visually - our logo prominent on our page and used as our profile photo displaying with each tweet we make.

Our Facebook coupling moves further into the Ego quadrant to the Hero archetype which is the strongest representation of this quadrant. This is very much a space where the brand can do some chest beating. This is where the brand is the Hero and we can really celebrate the mastery of what we do. It is also where we are the Hero to our patients and their families: where people share their experiences and thank us for the amazing work we do. The content strategy for our Maternity Facebook page is very much focussed on celebrating the hospital: our staff, food, obstetricians and the many births. Every aspects of the brand, what we do and the mastery behind it, is the Hero. 

It is important to realise that this is also where we are the fallen Hero, and where people share their disappointment. So this is also a space where we need to tap into some of the key characteristics of the Hero and have the strength and courage to own our mistakes and resolve them. 

So at this point in the journey Epworth HealthCare's digital tools are all sitting predominately in the Ego quadrant at the top end of the wheel where it is all about the organisation and the brand. A place where most organisations sit and stay. Instinctively, we knew this could not be the entire journey and so it was at this point that we (unknowingly at the time) jumped to the other side of the archetype wheel as we launched our Bublove app and Bublove Facebook page. This is where we started to embrace content marketing  -  bringing some balance to our digital interactions.

The objective of our Bublove app and Bublove Facebook page is to enhance the pregnancy experience by providing useful and engaging information. The organisation/service brand does not lead in this space, the content does. Hence, I have coupled these two digital tools in my post analysis with the Caregiver archetype in the Social quadrant - as illustrated in the diagram below.

The content strategy for our Bublove digital tools is to celebrate pregnancy and birth, and provide useful information for pregnant women and couples thinking about, or trying to get pregnant. The way in which we deliver this, is through the voice and role of the Caregiver: with compassion and generosity. Education is supportive of the audience needs and our authority in the subject matter delivered through something equal to parental guidance. This is not a place to be pushing the brand, it is about delivering useful content. It is also not a space to push the brand in the visual sense, therefore, the Bublove look and feel leads with the celebration of pregnancy and birth in its logo, colours and imagery. The Epworth logo may be present, but it takes a back seat in this space. 

Not long after the Bublove launch, Epworth engaged in a promotional activity where we invited women who had given birth at Epworth Freemasons to share their baby photos. The brainchild of our agency OMG! Creative, we used all these photos to create a piece of artwork of one of the babies and created a digital mosaic where families could search for their babies photo within the artwork. We also created a large piece of public art from the mosaic and hung it on the outside of the Epworth Freemasons building in Victoria Parade, Melbourne.

 I have coupled our Baby Mosaic with the Creator archetype in the Ego quadrant. The Creator is about creativity and imagination, it is the artist. This is exactly what Baby Mosaic is: a creative piece of work, a piece of art. The Creator archetype sits on the side of the Ego quadrant moving into the Freedom quadrant. This makes sense for Baby Mosaic as it was a promotional activity, so fits in the Ego quadrant where the brand is celebrated, but celebrated in a way that reflects the Freedom quadrant. Although Baby Mosaic was promoting our maternity services at Epworth Freemasons it did so without a logo on the large artwork we hung on the side of our building. This was a council requirement and I was thrilled about this as it allowed Baby Mosaic to be exactly what it needed to be: a celebration of the babies through the freedom of a beautiful piece of public art. Unfortunately, the organisation was not ready to replicate the absence of the logo on the digital form. As an organisation we were not yet mature enough in our marketing journey to let go of the traditional approach of leading with the brand.

It is not surprising, therefore, that at this point in the journey, Epworth HealthCare has completely filled the Ego quadrant. Typically, the marketing focus for most organisations is to lead with the brand and celebrate the brand on their digital platforms. However, if you really want to engage your audience and make deep and long lasting connections with your brand, there needs to be some balance.

I often think about a brand as a person. A brand which only fills the Ego quadrant is like a friend who incessantly talks about themselves, who has no insight into others. It isn't a surprise that most people want to limit their exposure to this kind of friend, and it is the same with brands. A brand that exists only in the Ego quadrant, only talking about itself and talking 'at' people, is hard to engage with all the time. To build a well rounded brand, you need to ensure your brand isn't so ego-centric, and that it genuinely cares and engages with people in a more social way - tapping into the archetypes in the Social quadrant on the archetype wheel.

It was at this point in the Epworth HealthCare journey that we launched Goodness Me - a health and wellbeing blog. In this post analysis, I have coupled Goodness Me with the Everyman archetype, because this is exactly what it needs to be. This is an important piece in the journey, building on the content marketing of the Bublove app and Facebook page, and bringing some balance to the ego-centricity of our brand as you can see from the archetype wheel below. 

Just like the Everyman archetype, Goodness Me is about connecting with others and doing so in a down-to-earth manner with empathy. Instinctively, it was the desire to embody this at the time, which drove every decision about the look and feel of Goodness Me and the content strategy. It is why, as you can see from the screen shot below, the blog's logo uses the typeface it does, why the imagery is what it is and why the organisational logo, although present, is proportionally very small and not prominent. Ideally, the logo would not be present at all, and I hope that one day it won't be. However, this is a journey the organisation is undertaking and as traditional marketing sits in the Ego quadrant where the brand is the lead, and this is where most organisations feel comfortable, it is a step too far (at this stage) to remove it.

By understanding that Goodness Me is embodying the role of the Everyman archetype, it helps us to brief our agency around how we want to promote it, helps us brief our writers about the stories we want to share, assists us in explaining it to our stakeholders and overall, makes it easier to deliver the right mix to our audience, ensuring it is true to itself. This is important, because by being true to itself, Goodness Me will be most relevant and engaging, therefore, at optimum effectiveness. 

Excitingly, a short film and fun music video we produced have balanced Epworth HealthCare's digital journey even further, as illustrated in the wheel diagram below.

I have coupled our short film A New Day, with the Lover archetype. Why? Well, let's think about what is important to us when we are in love and what we want from our lover. For me it is about authenticity, honesty and appreciation. I am sure you will agree that equally as important are trust and passion. Being in love is also when we are at our most vulnerable. And it is all these beautiful aspects that our short film A New Day embodies. For the writer and the director the authenticity of each scene was paramount, the honesty of what we do a critical aspect in the film's story telling.  It is not just showing the healing and good times, it is showing the vulnerability and raw emotion of all aspects: the joy of new life, the struggles with illness, the sadness of death. This is what makes A New Day such a powerful piece.

After watching our AIDET music video, it will come as no surprise that in my post analysis I have coupled our music video with the Jester archetype. This is where the brand sneaks into the most difficult brand space for most health care organisations - the Freedom quadrant  - and uses humour to express itself and get across an important message to staff. Inspired by Pindara Hospital's Moves Like Jagger video, Epworth HealthCare's AIDET video shows some of our Epworth Rehabilitation executives having some fun to Michael Jackson's Beat it. Not pointless fun though, they are tapping into their inner MJ in the name of excellent patient care and to share the message that sometimes it's the simple things that can make a big difference. Which is what AIDET is about: Acknowledging patients by name; Introducing yourself; Duration - letting patients know how long you will be there; Explaining what you are doing; Thanking them when you leave. Simple but important things to remember when caring for patients in a busy hospital.

Looking at the wheel in the diagram below, you will see the completed journey. At this point you may be asking 'But how can the one brand be all these things at once?' As I said earlier, I think of brands as a person (something I plan to write about further in my next blog post) and just like a person you take on different roles depending on who you are interacting with. At work and in my professional interactions I am often the Sage, teaching and guiding others as well as learning from them. Having a coffee with a girlfriend in  need, I am in the Caregiver and the Everyman archetype roles. At home with my husband and kids, I am also the Caregiver - although my husband may say I think and act like I am the Ruler! And when I visit and hang out with my extended family - my parents and siblings - I revert to the Jester. So just like us, brands too can take on different personas in different situations, and yet still retain the essence of who they are.

Looking analytically at the finished wheel, I think the first thing I find fascinating about the end result is that we have organically filled up the wheel mirroring the top and bottom ends. I am not surprised to see the Ego quadrant is completely full. As I have mentioned earlier, this is where traditional marketing and brand journey's start and finish for most organisations so it would almost be impossible for this not to be filled for any health care organisation. 

I am really proud though, that unconsciously during our journey we managed to bring balance with the entire Social quadrant also completely full - as it should be given these digital tools are part of what we call 'Social Media'.

What I find most intriguing, however, is that we have mirrored the archetypes in the Order and the Freedom quadrants. The Jester is directly opposite the Sage position. The Ruler and Innocent in the Order quadrants remain unfilled. As do the Outlaw and the Explorer. Perhaps I should not be too shocked by this as the Ruler is a very strong and dominating position which can easily alienate your audience if not delivered right, and the Outlaw is an easy space for a brand like Harley Davidson where they want you to tap into your inner Outlaw - but a difficult space for health care organisations. It is one they very much avoid given it is difficult to rationalise the universal understanding of Outlaw alongside the duty of care to patients. 

As well as using my post analysis to help refine our digital tools, I am now using it to contemplate our next steps in the journey of Epworth HealthCare's digital brand and explore how we can represent these archetypes. I don't think it is essential that the entire wheel be completed, but being conscious now that those spaces are unfilled has prompted some creative and strategic thinking, and brought to the forefront some new ideas and possibilities.

So if this all resinates with you (and you are not exhausted by this extremely long blog post) take the archetype wheel and use it to audit your organisation's digital brand journey - and then use it as a planning tool to help guide where you want to go next. Don't forget to continually ask yourself: 'Which persona bests suits my brand in this environment and situation?' 

One of the most beautiful things about using the wheel is it acknowledges there are steps in the journey and it helps you work though some logical decisions - making the development of the digital brand far less overwhelming than it might initially seem.

The magic of story telling


Since the beginning of time, story telling has helped us make sense of our world.

Like many people, I love a good story. It is through story telling that we give 'shape and meaning' to our experiences. Stories help us understand the mysteries of life, our universe, the seasons and life cycles. Importantly, story telling provides a social order to things, like the direction of morality.

We learn through stories because our brains are hard wired to do so: we think in narratives all day. No matter what we're doing we think in the 'cause and effect' structure of stories - even when constructing a shopping list. I thought it was just me who had stories running through my head all day, but it turns out we all do!

Hard wired

Our brains are also hard wired to relate stories to our existing experiences. For example, if you are scared of spiders (like I am) and you've had a bad experience, then a story about spiders will probably make you feel terribly anxious and fearful (sweaty hands and all).  This is because it taps into the emotion of your past experience - relating the story to what you know.

What I find really fascinating is the neurological effect. When you read instructions or a list, you tap into the part of your brain that decodes language. But when you tell a story, you activate the same part of your brain that would be activated if you were actually experiencing the events in the story. And this is the same for the listener too! If I was to tell you a story about a delicious meal, it would activate the sensory cortex of your brain. If I was to tell you a sad and heartbreaking story, the limbic system of your brain (which controls emotion) would be activated. This explains why I am often a complete blubbering mess whenever I watch a sad movie! My limbic system is in overdrive.

What is really interesting about this for me, is that storytelling synchronises the brain of the storyteller and the listener. Both have the same part of their brain activated during the story, and they achieve a deeper connection because of this. So storytelling affords us a way to connect on a deeper level with people. Powerful stuff. 


Archetypes are critical to any story. You can't have a good story without one. For those of you who need a reminder of the definition of archetypes: they are universal characters we understand through our collective unconscious. Or in more simple language: characters we universally understand. You will find archetypes in folk tales, fairy tales, mythology and in the popular culture of today. They are probably best defined through examples: the hero, the jester (or the fool), the innocent and the ruler - to name a few. 

How do archetypes work? They help us organise thoughts and ideas in cultural text. They act as an 'emotional shorthand' to connect with the audience. By providing recognisable structure and characters, archetypes help a story to be universally understood and enable popularity. Game of Thrones is a great example of the power of archetypes to gain universal appeal and understanding. Games of Thrones is hugely popular, even with people who normally don't like 'all this fantasy stuff'. And it is jam-packed with archetypes! There are many heroes, rulers, magicians and outlaws. There are nurturers and innocents, lovers and fools. It has them all, in multiple incarnations.

Archetypes and your brand story

At this point, I am sure you're asking, "What the hell has all this story telling and archetype stuff got to do with branding?" The answer: a damn lot. Through story telling your brand can achieve a deeper connection with people. Through archetypes your brand can have universal appeal and understanding.  

Use an archetype to tell your brand story and your brand is immediately aligned with the desired qualities and characteristics of the associated archetype. They also help position or reposition your brand in people's minds - by immediately communicating a universal understanding of your brand. Using an archetype to drive your brand strategy also helps you create a consistent visual and verbal representation of your brand.

Nike uses the hero archetype to tell their brand story. The company name comes from a greek mythological hero: Nike, the winged Goddess of Victory. Their logo is a visual representation of her wings. Once you start looking, you will see the hero archetype in their advertising and the subliminal suggestion that the everyday person transforms into a hero  - and attains the Goddess of Victory's attributes of force and speed - when they wear Nike apparel. Their 2014 commercial is a great example of the hero archetype coming to life through their brand story. 

Other great examples are: Lego using the creator archetype to tell their brand story and Lonely Planet using the explorer. As you read this, your brain connects these brands to a universal understanding provided through these archetypes. It makes sense, it gels.

Your brand isn't limited to a single archetype, and can be represented by a combination of a few. Virgin can be coupled with the magician and jester archetypes. The Virgin brand is innovative and charismatic like the magician, and embodying the jester - the Virgin brand loves for everyone to have fun.

In my next blog post I will share the archetype wheel and how it can be used to build a well-rounded digital brand.

Mayo in Oz - top 3 takeaways

The world's first International Health Care and Social Media Summit was held in Brisbane last week.

I was so very grateful to have the opportunity to get some sunshine and thaw out my bones from the cold Melbourne winter. But more importantly, I was thrilled to attend Mayo in Oz - as the Summit was affectionately nicknamed. 

What a great opportunity! There were so many people I spoke to during the Summit who shared my sentiment - that this was one of the best conferences they had been to. Why? Well, it is hard to put my finger on what all the factors were that resulted in such a fantastic event. Many people said it had something to do with the event bringing together like-minded people in the industry to talk about their passion and interest for social media and health care. I am sure it also had something to do with an enormous amount of thought and preparation going into the program development. Everyone was also very excited to have, in our midsts, a number of internationally recognised experts (including the amazing Ed Bennett and wonderfully energetic Dr Wendy-Sue Swanson), Dr Norman Swan as the MC and a group of very talented people from the world's leader in social media and health care - Mayo Clinic's Centre for Social Media.

I got an enormous amount out of the Summit and thought I'd share the top three things I discovered while I was there.

1. It is so important to include people who have used or are using the health system.

The inclusion of their stories and the insights they brought to the Summit was fantastic and so beneficial to all. The generosity of spirit showed by these people, to openly share their difficult journeys, was admirable. 

What was so important was to see it from the 'outside in' from the users' perspective rather than just from the point of view of the provider or organisation.  As one of the presenters in this session mentioned - it is important to have the voice and perspective of those using the health system. "What we need is true, mutual and honourable conversations." I couldn't agree more - let's have more of them together!

We also had a potent reminder  - through a truly inspirational and heartbreaking story of a family's struggle to save their beautiful son -  that many worthy goals are not quantifiable, that success is sometimes measured through love and smiles. Of course at the end of this session, there was not a dry eye in the house. We were all in awe that even after such a loss this mother had the strength - and had generously made time  - to share her story with us that day.

Oh, and did you notice I didn't once refer to these people sharing their stories as 'consumers'. This was something raised in the session exploring online communities. What do you call people who have or are using the health care system?

'Patients' was debated to be an inappropriate term due to the fact that in lots of cases people don't know they are sick, or think of themselves as a 'patient' if not admitted into a hospital etc. So this was counted out as not relevant and misleading. The term bandied around as perhaps the most appropriate was 'health consumers' - however, for me and a number of others, this term is crass in a health care setting. We aren't selling handbags or fast food. In fact, we should be careful with any term that suggests we are 'selling' a service - like the word 'consumer' does - as this takes away from the focus that we are providers of care. My suggestion for what it is worth -  why can't we just call them people?

2. Be prepared and keep calm in a crisis

This might seem like such an obvious tip, but really it was such a relevant point mentioned by all three speakers - Cynthia Floyd Manley, Belinda Hughes and Lisa Ramshaw  - in their discussion on how to manage a crisis in a social world. 

Simple things can make such a difference: such as knowing your processes in advance of a crisis as well as having internal and external templates prepared and ready to use - with everyone familiar with them.

They stressed the importance of making connections and meeting with key people before an emergency hits. It was recommended you meet to discuss processes, responsibilities and to educate them (if required) about the role of social media during a crisis. This is also a critical time to gain agreement on boundaries around 'authority to act' to avoid unnecessary delays in communicating with those involved or the general public. Additionally, the point was made to ensure governance and a process for social media passwords are in place - and to be able to access your tools offsite, if necessary, during an emergency situation

3. Apply the timeless principles of good communication

Marie Ennis-O'Connor's closing key note had many salient points for people to apply to their social media strategies. She reminded us to live 'adventure to adventure' rather than 'project to project' or 'paycheque to paycheque' -  that you should not be involved in social media unless you are genuinely enthusiastic about it. There was no doubt about her enthusiasm and passion - it was contagious! Marie Ennis-O'Connor cleverly applied the principles of Dale Carnegie to guide us in our social media journey. In particular, she reminded us of the power of laughter, the importance of listening, of being relevant and admitting when you are wrong. Not just great principles for communication - but equally good principles for life in general.