Wednesday, May 13, 2009

They've Gone and Done It Again

Claudia here for Whack on the Side of the Head Wednesday.  It's been a while since we've observed this time honored tradition at Highlowaha.  Hasn't it?  Back in the day when I was flying solo, "whacking" was my way of pausing mid-week and letting readers do the heavy lifting.  I laid (or is it lain) out the problem and you flexed your creative muscles trying to solve it.  Now that I am keeping such good and able company, my weekly pause and your weekly whack on the side of the head has become less necessary.

But not today.

Today we need to put our heads together in order to solve a problem.  

As of yesterday the United States Post Office raised their prices... AGAIN!  Today a stamp is $0.44 and the rate of everything from Express Mail to Priority Mail, First Class Mail, and Media Mail has also gone up.

Why do I care?  I love mail.  Not only that, but sending and receiving mail - is an integral part of the Highlowaha experience.  T-shirts, baked goods, baking supplies, and all sorts of other goodies are shipped out on a somewhat regular basis.  With each rate hike, I am more aware of the amount spent on shipping and of our young blog's absence of "sponsors."  Treats are part of the spirit of 218 and I just can't see that changing.  Besides, look at what Seth Godin (brilliant marketer) says about the benefits of mail over other mediums of connecting with people...
"Email is dying because it's free.  If you can send an email for free to 100 of your closest friends, instantly, you probably won't abuse the privilege.  But someone else will because they might define 'friend' differently than you or I.

100 times 100 is ten thousand.  Spam.

So now people don't reply when you send them a resume, because it costs too much to do that ten thousand times.

Twitter is next.  The paradox is obvious: to grow, you need to remove friction from the medium.  If it's not easy and free to use, people won't.  But then it gets big and it becomes profitable, so people use it too much.

The churn rate at twitter is reported as 50%.  That's because of lack of friction as well.  Easy to get in, easy to get out.

Stamps are underrated.  Friction rewards intent and creates scarcity." 
Mailing packages (friction) is one of the ways we encourage readers to engage (intent) with our community.  And it is the daily commitment from each of you that makes (creates) Highlowaha the unique (scarcity) blog site. 

It's a Highlowaha formula we're not prepared to mess with.  So, the dilemma is this...  How do we continue living the spirit of 218, by surprising readers with packages, in spite of rates that are quickly becoming cost prohibitive? 

Now for the part of the process with which you are familiar - the Whack.  This is when Roger von Oech provides us with a creative principle to jar our thinking.  Then you get to apply the principle while trying to solve our dilemma.

Try a Random Idea: There was once an Indian medicine man who made hunting maps for his tribe.  When game got sparse, he's put a piece of fresh leather in the sun to dry.  Then he'd fold and twist it, and then smooth it out.  The rawhide was now etched with lines.  He marked some reference points and, a new map was created.  When the hunters followed the map's newly defined trails, they usually discovered abundant game.  Moral: by letting the rawhide's random folds represent trails, he pointed the hunters to places they hadn't looked.  Stimulate your thinking in a similar way.  Open any book at random and put your finger down on a word: How does it relate to what you're doing?  What associations can you make?  What random ideas can you try?  

That's a lot to think about and a lot to respond to.  I'll get out of the way and let you do your thing.

Signing off until tomorrow...


Cheryl said...

I have skimmed Claudia's post and that's going to take some thinking...we must be communicating telepathicly (sp?) because we're whacking the polls today over at Taste of USA, too!


Go vote.

I'll be back for the postage problem later.

Chaotic said...

Bibliomancy!! I love this form of divination! and, speaking of love, I GOT HemmingRay!!!! He is just so adorable!!
Postage...well, that is a whole different issue... package well, send thoughtfully, use someone other than the USPS? There are other groupas managing to ship more accurately and for less money than the USPS if you are smart about it. But for everyday mail...sigh.... yes, was thinking Monday (when I was trying to update the darn postage machine @ work) that we take the mail for granted and we'll miss it when it is gone...

b.k.root said...

I always cut corners when it comes to mailing packages in fancy padded envelopes. That's usually where I try to save my money.

I don't think a lot of people realize that you can send items "naked" if you really wanted to. (

When I sell books online at, I simply wrap them in newspaper and use lots of clear tape to make sure it's packaged well. Sure, might not look like a million bucks, but I've now utilized my daily newspaper for two things!

Peggy said...

We had trouble with our postage machine too! Good thing I'm 'just' the receptionist and not the problem solver... I can leave that job up to the tech.

Although I don't know if I was a part of the 'somebody' who changed the postage back.... ah, I didn't touch anything other than putting the letter in the little slot, come to find out the tech didn't enter all the changes... I guess 'somebody' didn't really do anything it was the dam* machine.

My thought for the instant, as I calm it's inevitable...prices go up... but so does the plessure of giving... hope you get a raise? I'll come back with more thoughts later, gotta go make some $$ at the @@.

Kat said...

What about a sponsor? I think it could be fun to try to find one! The word I came across was "toot". Hmmmm? That's a hard one.

Anonymous said...

We could also divvy it up as to who mails what. So let's say I take charge of mailing x types of things or I am in charge of mailings for x month - like the sponsorship already mentioned.

The word I touched was month. How does it relate? I'll have to ruminate on that one...

Cheryl said...

I am guilty of not supporting the USPS. I pay all my bills online now. I communicate with friends via email and facebook more than ever. I only use mail for packages now. That won't ever go away will it? We'll always need to send "stuff" won't we?

I'm reading a book and the time is 1873. Packages were sent through messengers and friends but it was completely unreliable. When did the telegram come into play with all that Stop business? "Writing to you about the death of your X. Stop. Come Home. Stop." Did the affordability of the telephone effect the USPS? I know the affordability of the cell phone killed the Pay Phone. Hmm...

My word is Strangled. Is the post office feeling strangled by email? Are we feeling strangled by the cost of mailing our mail and packages? Is technology strangling our ability to afford using the post office?

Times are a changing and they always will be. Most of us are from an "older" generation- it's all relative- even though the price of postage is going up, the art of a package is still special... maybe even more special than it has been in the past. Not a solution. Acceptance?

Claudia said...

Already some thoughtful comments.

Peggy... while you might not be the problem solver in your office... ahhhh...we, every bit, want to take on that role in our community.

The word I landed on was "blast."

How does that relate? Let's see... blast makes me think of rockets, big sales, explosion, good time, explosive message.... Back to rockets. Rockets launch with a blast of flames and head into outter space. Space, stars, orbit, moon, flying saucers, martians, green.

Hmmm... green? Money is green. Paper is less expensive to mail than some other items. Maybe we could mail money.

Money makes me think of auctions. Maybe readers could earn funny money and then four times a year we could have an on-line auction. We post the items on our site and you bid on them with you funny money. Earning funny money gives the same immmediate satisfaction of having received something, but doesn't cost anything to mail. Then we would focus our energy on gearing up for the quarterly mailings.

That's my whack at it.

Cheryl said...

Oh Claudia! You are very good at this!!!

Tera said...

I love mailing packages. In fact, I'll be sending two out tomorrow to some good friends who aren't here in Cleveland with me.

I don't know about the whack...I've got to think on this more...........

Heather said...

Interestingly enough I had a conversation at a work lunch today about the fact that "nothing good ever comes in the mail". This made me sad and made me realize that Highlowaha serves a unique role in making the mail experience fun again. There is nothing better than getting an expected or better yet unexpected treat in the mail to wash away the thoughts of the bills that accompany it.

The word in my book (and I totally didn't rig this) "inspire".
Part of why I love HLA is that we inspire others to embrace the spirit of 218. I introduced my in laws to parcel post which I learned about from HLA and since then Lily gets at least a monthly package from them. I'd like to think that more people in our community are sending packages because of HLA which in turn has to have at least a little bit of a ripple effect to the people who are RECEIVING that mail and so on and so forth.
I'd like to think that we are "inspiring" a mail revolution...getting back to being more intentional rather than sending a half hearted email.

So my whack...why not embrace the USPS. The reason their costs are going up is because people are turning away to email, UPS, fedex and others...if we flee too then who will be left? If however we "inspire" a mail revolution perhaps we can have at least a small impact on USPS's bottom line and back the next increase up by a month or two...wishful thinking I'm sure but isn't that what 218 is all about?

(and if cost is prohibitive I'm all with Kat...let's make it a community project to get a sponsor on board!)

heather said...

and I just have to add...perhaps the USPS could be that sponsor!?!

Anonymous said...

Blah Blah Blah - Try lending worthwhile discussions to the world.

cassie p said...

I opened a book, and pointed to the word "put"., enter, sit, do, action. My brain stops at action. "Putting" something is an action. Mailing packages, cards, letters, postcards, etc is an action. And I think its a good action. HLA wouldnt be HLA if we didnt send snail mail to eachother. I love getting something in the mail, and PUTTING something in the mail that will surprise the recipient. OR there is nothing better than recieving a thank you card from someone. I always try to send thank yous when somebody sends me something...I dont know if we can stop sending mail. BUT a sponsor or a cheaper way of doing it could be a good thing!

Claudia said...

Anonymous...I would actually argue we do more than "lend" worthwhile conversations to the world. I would argue we "give" them away.

In the corner, albeit small, corner of the world where I come from sharing thoughtful and creative discussions about sustainable and personal ways of connnecting with people is not only worthwhile it is essential and all to rare.

It sounds as though you have some ideas for other more worthwhile conversations to be had. How about we meet you back here next Wednesday for the Whack of you choice?

Are you up for it? I could stand to learn something

cassie p said...

PS cheryl- i tried to leave a comment over at tast of usa, but i cannot get the verification letters to show up. so here is my contribution:

Bismark, North Dakota
Prescot, Arizona
Laramie, Wyoming
Chicago, Illinois
Providence, Rhode Island
New York, New York

Cheryl said...

I'll count that Cassie. :)

Cheryl said...

I love how critical and negative people post anonymously. The autonomy of the internet does not give you permission to be rude.

Now, if you feel that the topic is not worthwhile to you then why are you here? Instead of being offensive, why don't you offer something that you feel IS worthwhile.

We're here for fun and community. Why are you here Anonymous?

Chaotic said...

whenever I see anonymous posts, I automatically discount it.. if yo uare not willing to CLAIM what you say, then you already discount it yourself, why should I even bother reading it... sigh... get some backbone, be a part of something special.. and if you can't do that, get offline & go outside!