12/21–The Interview: One-on-One with Kim Jong-un

8/3–VIDEO: Has time run out for Laskin?

3/16–VIDEO: G-rated list of 5 reasons to hire older workers

1/30–VIDEO: I'm Scheduled to Die August 1, 2014

11/19–VIDEO: In which Mr. Laskin takes on Mr. Lincoln

11/2–VIDEO: Rapp Story redux -- an explanation of sorts

10/21–VIDEO: The Rapp Story

9/12–VIDEO: The scariest profession in the world. Really?

7/4–VIDEO: Finally, a movie review without ever seeing the movie

4/18–VIDEO: The 7 words George Carlin would never have used

2/28–VIDEO: Sequester that credit card!

1/16–VIDEO: Don gets the word

10/31–The day social media died

8/6–VIDEO: The secret to viral videos

5/31–We all agree on this, right?

4/5–What's stealing? Really? Me? Shirley, you jest

1/19–VIDEO: The other Goldilocks story

12/11–VIDEO: Accomplishments? Or credentials?

11/7–VIDEO: A few minutes with Don Laskin on Andy Rooney

9/11–VIDEO: The hidden meaning of printer ink expiration dates

8/3–VIDEO: I am a Negro

5/24–VIDEO: It’s the end of the world as we know it

4/11–VIDEO: Return of the Avatar – with handy tips for finding a job

2/28–VIDEO: Laskin names names

2/10–VIDEO: Return of blower man

2/8–VIDEO: The threat of hippos -- and leaf blowers

1/11–VIDEO: Don as you've never seen him before

11/8–AUDIO: Hating the rich. Well, some of them, at least

10/17–VIDEO: He's not sleeping, he's making an important decision

10/1–What Amelia Earhart has to do with marketing management

8/25–AUDIO: The Mosque Ox

8/23–AUDIO: Why Meg Whitman needs to talk with Don en espanol

7/12–VIDEO: Don Laskin gets a spokes-thing

6/21–VIDEO: Why webinars are a waste of time

6/1–VIDEO: Has Don sold his soul to the Devil?

5/23–VIDEO: A message to, well, you know who you are

5/14–VIDEO: Twit, Tweet, Twitter?

5/5–Don unloads on Google

2/24–The sweatsuit answer to Kaiser, or Medicare Part The Deux

2/16–What's wrong with Kaiser?

12/4–What’s as rare as a Raiders touchdown? Laskin knows

10/19–Why Dave prefers vanilla

10/1–God's will -- and other reasons

8/17–AUDIO: Hierarchy of stupid

5/25–AUDIO: Some calm words about a world in PANIC!!

4/28–AUDIO: Why CEOs can ignore everything – except Facebook

4/6–With friends like these…

1/19–When perception is reality -- except when it isn't

12/9–AUDIO: Chased by the devil

10/29–AUDIO: Sine qua non a rant it would not be Don

10/20–AUDIO: Joe the writer, er, Don

10/2–AUDIO: Perp Walk Inc.

2/25–AUDIO: Why people put up with crummy jobs

2/10–AUDIO: Making clients money with advertising

1/2–Tiny weiners on toothpicks

12/19–AUDIO: Don improves with age, he says

12/6–AUDIO: Why telecommuting gardeners are needed

10/1–Don Laskin – Almost human?

7/8–Counting, if not connecting, the dots

5/3–Is your advertising stuck in a silo? So is Don

2/5–It's deja vu all over again for Don

9/10–Observations: Laskin faced end with courage

7/14–Observations Why Don Laskin’s ex-boss hiked up her skirt

6/16–Observations They're baaaack! And don't say you weren't warned

4/28–Be careful what you wish for

4/17–Did somebody just say something?

3/8–Laskin makes his first annual “Moron of the Month” Award*

2/15–Our man Laskin reports from a UFO

1/30–Laskin pioneers podcast idea

1/11–Veteran podcaster Don Laskin offers advice

1/3–The Logic of Illogic (Part 2)

12/16–Festivus greetings

11/15–An easy death

8/22–Autistic Cows


7/14–Making a Better Than Human Human

7/4–A tool of capitalism

6/26–Position Heal thyself. -- Plus: Useful information. For real. No kidding

6/25–Life is Like a box of chocolates with no “i” in team

5/15–A $1,000 fine and five days in jail

4/23–Is spending money on advertising a waste?



Autistic Cows

by Don Laskin
August 22, 2005

I'm not a psychiatrist. And, I’m not a psychologist – though it’s often been suggested I visit both on a regular basis. That, of course, is just crazy talk.

ANYWAY… a few days ago I came across the latest issue of Discover Magazine (May 2005). Well it was the latest one in the dentist’s office where I was having an extraction. In fact the magazine was what I was extracting. Don’t give me that. Believe me, I paid for it. You know dentists don’t call the procedure a cleaning for nothing.

Okay. I read a piece about Dr. Temple Grandin, with whom I have much in common. She is also not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Dr. Grandin is an Associate Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Considering the people I deal with on a daily basis, I guess you could say animal husbandry is something else we share in common.

But, it’s what Dr. Grandin and I do NOT share that’s most interesting. You see, Dr. Grandin is autistic.*

As an associate professor, she is a very, very high functioning person with autism. I, on the other hand, am a very low functioning person without autism. But, academic achievements aside, the differences between us may account for attitudes that have perplexed me and a lot of other “creatives” for a long time.

If you’ve been in business for more than a month and have had anything at all to do with advertising or marketing, it would be rare if you were NOT witness to at least one of the following.

The explanation

To explain how the new product works and plan how to market it, an executive takes the floor. He also takes the chalk and, going to the chalkboard, begins with a circle. He then draws another. Then a box. Then another and another. Boxes and circles are joined to each other by lines; some dotted, some curved, some just plain straight. Suddenly vector arrows are darting in every direction as comments come in from other managers of equal or greater rank. When the explanation is at an end, the chalkboard is crammed with rambling scribbles wrapped around formulae representing ideas. The meeting adjourns after several hours of hard work. Virtually everyone taking part in the process is pleased and satisfied and everyone in the audience understands – only not the same thing. But, there is always time for another meeting.

What the hell happened?

The campaign

An ad or PR agency or an internal marcom group (doesn’t matter who) puts together a new campaign… or maybe a radio or TV spot… or re-designs the Website. Monday afternoon, it’s reviewed by decision-makers and praised to the heavens. Tuesday morning the decision-makers decide it stinks to high heaven.

What the hell happened?

The brain storm

A brain-storming session is called to address messaging; what message the name for a new product should convey. Materializing as if by magic appear dictionaries. Syllables start bouncing off walls like bullet ricochets in a Jackie Chan movie. The session about messaging degenerates into name calling as one name after another is tossed out, for a moment deemed brilliant, then fizzles in favor of the next.

What the hell happened?

Collateral damage

Corporate brochure copy is presented for approval. On first blush, it’s accepted and draws compliments. Then word by word, line by line it is dissected and re-done and re-re-done. Like carrion after vultures feed, what’s left are unrecognizable skeletal remains. So much attention has been paid to detail that the whole is no longer greater than the sum of its parts. It is not even equal to the sum of its parts.

What the hell happened? Indeed.

At one time or another, all the above happened to me -- and everybody else I ever knew who did “creative stuff.” The question is why. Why the tendency to focus in on every insignificant detail, honing it, arranging it, rearranging it, then rearranging the rearrangement while missing the bigger picture; while blowing deadlines that render the work unusable?

Like everybody else in the business, I thought it had something to do with the fact that there is no right or wrong in advertising; whatever works is right -- whether it’s right or not. You can’t know whether creative stuff is right until its in front of an audience. Unless you factor in intangibles like taste and experience, till it reaches the target market, everybody’s opinion is equal.

And, the guy in charge of the money has an opinion that’s a LOT more equal. So, decision-makers with budgetary control and no fear of contradiction can mark their territory with impunity. Which is marginally better than what cats use to mark their territory.

ANYWAY… Like everybody else, I put down the “what the hell happened sturm und drang” to arrogance and stupidity… or hubris and stupidity… or narcissism and stupidity… or just good, old-fashioned stupidity. But, after reading the article about Dr. Grandin, I am not so certain.

WARNING: If you are a devoted vegan, please look away until after you’ve read this section.

Dr. Grandin designed the “’Stairway to Heaven’… the section of a meat-packing plant where cows climb to their slaughter,” explains Susan Kruglinski in Discover. She continues, “Every element is designed to keep [cows] calm and impel them to move forward. Before Grandin’s innovations, cows would panic, bellow, and refuse to move on their way to their deaths. Now they walk silently and contentedly.”

By making the slaughter of cattle more humane, Dr. Grandin revolutionized the beef industry. What’s most intriguing is she comes by her unique understanding of animal behavior because she’s autistic. According to the Discover article and Dr. Grandin’s Website, individuals with autism and animals lack the ability to think in abstractions.

Says Discover writer Verilyn Klinkenborg, “A cow sees everything in detail and responds to details. Like an autistic person, its fears are hyperspecific because its perception is hyperspecific…. We’re used to the idea that human thought is abstract. But what Grandin points out is that even the sensory perception of ordinary humans is abstract as well. ‘Normal people,’ she writes, ‘see and hear schemas, not raw sensory data.’”

“'[Animals] act like they see everything.’ New things not only register to cows, they positively throb with significance…. [A] Styrofoam cup … lying in an alleyway will stop cow traffic dead because it worries the cattle,’” explains Dr. Grandin. “Normal humans are good at seeing the big picture but bad at what Grandin calls ‘all the tiny little details that go into the picture.’ For normal humans, the big picture isn’t created by accumulating lots of sensory details. It’s created by filtering out detail.”

What I am about to offer is conjecture. But, I believe it’s rather plausible conjecture. What if there were a spectrum of abstract thinking in the same way there is the spectrum of IQ (idiot to genius)? What if at one end of the abstract-thinking spectrum were people with autism who had zero ability to think abstractly. At the other end were conceptual thinkers, such as composers, writers, inventors, etc?

What if all those changes and modifications and inability to grasp the big picture -- noted in “What the hell happened” examples above -- were NOT the result of arrogance or stupidity? What if they were merely the result of being closer to the autistic end of the abstract-thinking spectrum? What if they plain, flat-out “couldn’t see the forest for the trees?”

*According to the Kaiser Permanente Web site:

Autism is a brain disorder that often interferes with a person's ability to communicate with and relate to others.… The severity of autism varies. Some individuals need assistance in almost all aspects of their daily lives, while others are able to function at a very high level and can even attend school in a regular classroom. While this is a lifelong condition that typically results in some degree of social isolation, treatment can make a major difference in the lives of people with autism. Early diagnosis and comprehensive treatment has resulted in increasing numbers of people with autism being able to live independently as adults.

What causes autism?

Autism tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic link. Because people with autism can be vastly different, scientists suspect a number of genes are responsible. Ongoing research is targeted at pinpointing these genes. Some experts also believe that environmental factors may play a part in causing autism, although scientists have studied several factors, including vaccines, and have yet to identify such a cause.

Brain scans of people with autism have shown abnormalities in several areas of the brain, including those responsible for emotion and social relations. Other studies suggest that people with autism have high levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical that sends messages in the brain. However, these findings are preliminary, and ongoing studies seek to explain the brain and autism.

What are the symptoms?

All people with autism have difficulty with social interactions and relationships. Parents often describe their child with autism as preferring to play alone and making little eye contact with other people. Other symptoms of autism include:

• Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication. Language development in children with autism is almost always delayed.

• Limited, repetitive, and overused (stereotyped) patterns of behavior, interests, and play. Many typical behaviors—such as repetitive body rocking, unusual attachments to objects, and holding fast to routines and rituals—are driven by the need for sameness and resistance to change.

There is no “typical” person with autism. Although autism is defined by the above characteristics, people with autism can have many different combinations of behaviors in mild to severe forms.

Reach Mr. Laskin at (408) 406-3574 or e-mail him at

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