Sam Horn - Intrigue

Friday, June 30, 2006

Why Do I Love USA Today?

Why do I look forward to reading USA Today and the Washington Post?

Because of headlines like these.

Opened the newspaper to Friday's Destinations and Diversions section and there was a fascinating article about the annual BRAG race (Bike Ride Across Georgia) that has hundreds of bicycle riders traversing all 406 miles of the state.

The headline?

Georgia on their Behinds.

That’s one of the reasons I’m a USA Today and Washington Post junkie. My morning ritual is to take my dog, Murphy, out for a walk around the lake and then return to my favorite chair by the window, cup of coffee in one hand, morning papers in the other.

The reporters and editors at both of these newspapers are absolutely brilliant with their headlines. Not a day goes by, and that is not an exaggeration, that I don’t laugh out loud at some clever play on words.

For example, Washington Post ran a story by staff writer William Booth about director David Lynch, (he of Blue Velvet fame), who is presenting lectures on Transcendental Meditation at universities across the country. His material is based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, (the Beatles’ former guru). The headline of this article? Yogi Bearer.

Not to be outdone, business writer Steven Pearlstein wrote about the anxiety some A-types were feeling at the prospect of not having access to their Blackberries due to pending litigation. What was the title of his article that discussed the dangers of not protecting proprietary technology? Big Firms Caught With Their Patents Down.

That same issue of the Post featured a book review by Carolyn See about a biography written by Linda Bird Francke called On the Road with Francis of Assisi. The title of See’s review? A Saint for Sore Eyes.

A friend told me about a headline in the Wall Street Journal that caught her attention. The article described an interesting development in the airline industry. Rather than turning in their frequent flier miles for more flights (a win for the carriers), many customers are “hoarding” their miles in the hopes of exchanging them for high-dollar items such as flat panel TVs and diamond earrings. The name of the article? Now Hoarding.

You may be thinking, “It takes time to come up with creative titles. I'm busy enough as it is."

Ask yourself, “Is it worth a few minutes of my time to create a headline that stops people in their mental tracks and compels them to read my article, web copy, ad, report, or proposal? What's a writing project I'm working on right now? Does it have a title that will grab people's attention and motivate them to drop what they're doing and read my work?"

If so, great. If no, you might want to order my POP! CD series that teaches you how to develop attention-grabbing titles, taglines, and headlines at

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Make the Familiar Fresh

Coach Pat Riley is known for his suave, cool, metro-sexual demeanor. This week he also deserves “props” for making the familiar fresh.

Due to the ubiquitous nature of ESPN and every sport imaginable appearing on all the major networks, we have heard just about every sports cliché’ repeated ad infinitum.

“We’ve got to take it one game at a time.” “I couldn’t have done this on my
own. It was a team effort.” Been there, heard that.

This is why it was such a treat to hear Pat Riley’s response to a reporter’s question about the possibility of having to play a game 7 in the NBA Finals.

The Miami Heat, with stars Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, were up 3-2 and headed to Dallas to play the Mavericks. If the Heat won this “away” game, they’d take the series. If they lost, they’d be forced to play a final game to determine the championship.

When asked about the possibility of a game 7, Riley wasn’t content to trot out a tired cliché. Instead, he said, “I packed one suit, one shirt and one tie.”

Brilliant. His creative, second level response made it quite clear to his team and everyone listening that he was supremely confident the Heat would win that night and take home the championship.

A second level response is when, instead of saying something obvious, you say something subtle that requires people to think about what you said in order to determine your meaning. It’s a way of engaging people’s brain instead of settling for a trite, on the surface response that has no intellectual depth.

Michael Jordan did the same thing when Chicago Bulls Coach Phil Jackson chided him during practice one day for not sharing the ball and passing to an open player. “You know, Michael,” he said, “There’s no I in team.”

With a twinkle in his eye, Jordan replied, “Yeah, but there is in win.”

Next time you’re asked a question, realize you have a choice. You could give a cliché’d response that will elicit internal eye-rolling. Or, you could pleasantly surprise people – and gain style points - by giving an unexpected, thought-provoking response.

For specific tips on how to compose thought-provoking, “second-level” responses, check out Chapter 7, “Don’t Repeat Cliché’s, Re-arrange Cliché’s” in Sam Horn's newest book, POP! Stand Out in Any Crowd (Perigee).

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ink It When You Think It

I was watching CBS Sunday Morning (one of my favorite weekend rituals) and Billy Joel, composer of such classics as The Piano Man and New York State of Mind, was discussing how he “came up” with his lyrics and melodies.

He said he was designing a boat (something he does in his free time) and the lyrics, “In the middle of the night, I go walking in my sleep” kind of POP’d out. Then he thought, “Naw, that’s too simple” and rejected it.

He went to take a shower and couldn’t get the tune out of his mind. He wrote it down later that day and it eventually evolved into one of his 40 hit songs, river of dreams

If there’s anything I’ve learned in years of researching, writing, consulting and speaking on creativity, it’s that this is how our best thoughts occur. They POP! into our mind. And if we don’t write them down, they’re gone. Worse, if we allow that inner critic to kick in and tell us all the reasons this won’t work, we snuff out these sparks of genius.

From now on, pay attention to those sudden insights – what Ralph Waldo Emerson called, “the gleams of light which flash across the mind from within.” You may not know how or where this idea, lyric, or phrase fits into your work. Just trust that it will.

Our greatest minds from Mozart to Einstein have understood and honored the power of the “muse.” If they were gifted with a revelation, they knew it was their responsibility to write it down. Or what I call, “Muse it or lose it.”

I have been collecting quotes on creativity for years. Many are featured in my Write Here, Write Now perpetual calendar. They are eloquent attempts to articulate how ideas are “birthed” and built upon. Examples include:

“Often an idea would occur to me which seemed to have force. . . . I never let one of those ideas escape me, but wrote it on a scrap of paper and put it in a drawer. In that way, I saved my best thoughts on the subject, and, you know, such things often come in a kind of intuitive way more clearly than if one were to sit down and deliberately reason them out. To save the results of such mental action is true intellectual economy.” - Abraham Lincoln

“The song was there before me. I just sorta took it down with a pencil, but it was all there before I came around.” - Bob Dylan

“It often happens that things come into the mind in a more finished form than could have been achieved after much study.” - La Rochefoucauld

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Man Who Wouldn't Die

Comedian Woody Allen said famously, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Well, columnist Art Buchwald is “there” when it’s happening and he’s reporting from the front lines.

You can’t pick up a magazine ( or listen to a radio station ( without reading or hearing an interview with this 80 year old Pulitzer-winning humorist who was told by his doctor 4 months ago that his kidney was failing and he only had a few weeks left to live.

Following this dire diagnosis and his decision to refuse further dialysis, he was moved to a hospice to go not so quietly into that good night.

Mr. Buchwald is still there, writing two syndicated columns a week, receiving friends ranging from Tom Brokaw and Maria Shriver to the French Ambassador for the U.S. who bestowed upon him France’s highest honor for arts and letters, and enjoying the cheesecakes, ice cream and other goodies sent by people who, in his words, “want to DO something for him.”

He even signed a book deal with Random House to chronicle his insights surrounding this unanticipated second chance at life. Its name? Stand By for Heaven: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die.

What made his story POP! out is not just its improbability and his savoring of every extra hour, it’s that he dares to address the “elephant in the room” subject of death honestly instead of verbally tip-toeing around it.

He talks frankly about what it’s like to think every moment could be your last. He talks about the absurdity of a few visitors who came to see him, only to complain how difficult it was to find a parking place on the crowded street outside the hospice (!) He has become, in his words, “a celebrity of death.”

I prefer to think of him as an emissary of death. Emissary is defined as “a representative sent on a mission or errand.” I think Art Buchwald is wisely using his platform of press attention to remind us that most of us won’t get a second chance. He’s filling every bonus day with what matters most so he has no regrets. Carly Simon had agreed to sing at his memorial on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Buchwald is traveling there in early July, and Carly has agreed to sing for him upon his arrival. As he said, “I’m sure I’ll enjoy her singing ‘All the Familiar Places’ more now than I would if she’d sung at my funeral.”

What’s this got to do with you? If you have only one chance at reaching people, what message do you want to get across? Is there a forbidden or sensitive aspect of your issue? How could you be the bold emissary who addresses it instead of dancing around it?