Spontaneous Joy in Social Advertising

I spent the day with out of town visitors - my girlfriend's friends from college- and had two experiences in large groups that tell us much about the power of video experiences.

At the Manhattan JCC's Multisport Expo, Rachel and I attended a seminar on stretching- the new thesis in sports medicine seems to be that stretching before activity is not recommened, and that pre-activity warm-ups - a set of exercises was demonstrated- was preferable. 

The practitioners demonstrated two sets of warm-up exercises- meant to combat the idea that it's hard to fit the warmup into every workout.  At the end of the session, there was a phone number, a web site, an address, but no URL for the video.  Several people asked - we were all thinking it.  "Not Yet" the doctor's reply.  A completely disappointing missed opportunity to get all of us attendees- 100 people or so - to forward the experience of a great presentation and a real-take away, to our networks.  While it may be that the sports medicine practice didn't need the extra business- it was almost MEAN that we couldn't take the workout with us.  We'd have remembered that moment far better, to everyone's benefit.

I had lower expectations of the American Museum of Natural History, but this is a place that in many ways "gets it."  While parts of the museum are dark, scary places that likely haven't changed decor or content since the 1970s (I'm guessing about the latter but not the former), the dinosaur exhibits on the fourth floor were great.  I was definitely a dinosoaur-loving kid.  My favorite book at my granparents' house was Dinotopia, in which mankind discovers, and lives in harmony with, a lost world of dinosaurs.

I am prone to wandering a bit in museums (especially with dinosaurs involved) and I showed up  a few seconds too late to find Rachel and friends running in place and driving an imaginary car in front of a freestanding kiosk.  In fact, this was a camera-equipped video-production experience, which inserted video of the museum guest into a NYC Taxi being chased by T-Rex.  As though I was not already humming the Jurassic Park theme song!

The kiosk shoots video for 30 seconds or so, and prompts the user to send it, by email, to anyone you want!  Smart.  Part postcard, part email signup form, all fun, and sent at the perfect moment- this was exactly the kind of advertising the museum ought to be doing.  Don't sell me on the museum, sell mee on MY museum experience.  We came home and watched the video, and of course it offered some nice Museum of Natural History branding along with frantic T-Rex evasion.  I smiled, and my marketing self is still coming up with ways to enhance that experience. 

Capturing someone's spontaneuous joy is a powerful thing.

Is Harvard Just a Tax-Free Hedge Fund?

Here's a question for ya: Is Harvard Just a Tax-Free Hedge Fund? | Economics | The American Scene.

Viewed purely in terms of economics, Harvard is really a $40 billion tax-free hedge fund with a very large marketing and PR arm called Harvard University that has the job of raising the investment capital and protecting the fund’s preferential tax treatment.

I think this is a fascinating way to look at the university, particularly Harvard.  The university's large endowment enables it to achieve returns that universities with smaller endowments typically cannot match.  While the investment returns of both endowments are tax free, does a fund which participates in all the exciting excesses of the hedge fund/private equity/LBO business still manage to deserve to be treated as a not-for-profit?

The author of this post goes on to ask:

When tax-advantaged non-profits start to accumulate billions of dollars of cash through investment gains, and the insiders seem to be doing very well, it creates legitimate pressure for some legal changes.

I'm inclined to agree.

How to Get Into...Cornell?

The Alumni newsletter of my high school alma mater, The College Preparatory School was happy to point out our ranking of 6 (by success rate) on the Wall Street journal's list of high schools with the most success getting students into Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Williams, Pomona, Swarthmore, the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins.  I maintain I received a top flight education there, though I am sure any high school on the Journal's list probably delivers the same.    Let's go CPS Cougars!

Take that, Bentley High School!

Here is the story: How to Get Into Harvard -

The "not getting in" freakout continues

Yet another story today in the NYT about kids not getting in to Harvard.  The piece includes the datum that  "Several Ivies, including Harvard, rejected a record number of applicants this year" but hedges our assumed revulsion a few paragraphs later by reminding us that kids today "look around and see lots of avenues to success."  He makes some interesting observations about the use of test prep materials and classes.

This is the real story.  A few weeks ago I railed about  college admission "numbers" and said that "high test scores don't make you interesting."  Perhaps Mr. Winerip would argue instead that plenty of interesting kids are not accepted to Harvard.  Probably that's the case, but I would love to see the data on the number of students who applied to more than one college. I would bet that as that number rises, schools will have to reject more and more students. Not to mention the importance of being "exclusive" by showcasing a low admit rate, or the effect of higher tuition on perceived selectivity and value.

When I applied to college, electronic application materials were kludgy at best, and a recie for losing an afetrnoon's work on an essay at worse.  I took a decent number of AP courses and had good SATs, but I didn't even bother with Harvard.  I didn't have the perfect grades or test scores I KNEW would be required for Harvard.  I applied to ten schools (two Ivies) and was admitted to seven and waitlisted  at one.    I survived, and got a great education.   I think Mr. Winerip comes to the same conclusion for his son and the legions of folks he interviewed over the years as a Harvard alumnus- being interesting is its own reward.

Education and Getting In

I went to an Ivy League School, and there were plenty of people who were just devastated that they did not get into Harvard (a smaller number for Yale and Princeton, I think; see also "We Didn't Go To Harvard").  Cornell has a reputation as the easiest Ivy to get into and the hardest to get out of, and to a certain extent maybe the numbers bear that out.  It's accept rate is higher than many of the Ivies, around 20%.

The stories in the New York times in the last several days (For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too and A Great Year for Ivy League Schools, but Not So Good for Applicants to Them ) have been interesting, but send conflicting messages about what may really be going on.

The article about how in order to secure admission to the best colleges, especially liberal arts colleges, suggest that these high school girls feel pressured to excel in all subjects, play a sport, do community service, and be perfect perfect perfect (sorry, I just keep thinking of Empire Records).  I wish I could feel sorry for them.  Is there a lot riding on the college you choose, and which options you'll have in April of your senior year of high school/after graduation?  Hell yes.  Is it worth sacrificing your own personality just to look like the perfect applicant?  Hell NO.

One student at my high school was reportedly admitted to a state school just for being able to play a particular instrument- this may or may not be true, but it was disturbing to me then because I had real qualms about gaming the system- I thought it was questionable.  Upon reflection, it would just be a sad compromise of one's integrity. 

But as to the claims that students with perfect SATs and grades might still be rejected by  Harvard:

  • High test scores and grades don't make you interesting.  Plus, with the number of favors that are doled out in admissions to super-elite universities, the number of spots open to truly interesting and excellent students gets an automatic cut (see The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden; review)
  • High test scores and grades don't mean what they used to.  The SAT has be re-centered twice in the last 10 years, and it is surely just as possible as it was when I was in high school to miss some questions and still receive a perfect score on the SAT.  Grade standards and curricula are not as stringent as they used to be, all across the country.  See the decline of public education everywhere. So doesn't that mean it's easier to end up with "perfect," thereby rendering the statistics less valuable?

Did I miss anything?