December 2014

Welcome Mid-December!

As we close the final quarter of 2014, winter is upon us, with icy roads and the promise of cold. Beyond getting some healthy exercise, this season is best for reading by a fire and visiting with friends over plenty of hot soup and tea.

While awaiting snow in our forecast, I continue another busy month of writing your marketing and communications materials.

Christmas and Hanukkah are here (or soon will be). And while shoppers and party-goers fill the shops and streets, I’m mindful of those for whom this is not “the most wonderful time of the year” (as the song goes), not least because of personal or professional losses, poverty or illness.

With thanks for family, friends, community and good work, I find a good deal to be grateful for as the year ends. I hope that you feel similarly.

In this month’s issue, I’ll ask how happy we can be in business by discussing Shawn Achor’s influential TED Talk, “The happy secret to better work”; feature Sara Wheelwright on e-mail marketing; present some thoughts and jokes by writers in “Word Nerd’s Corner”; and will update you on sundries in the usual “shop news.”

Enjoy this issue and wishing you all the best for 2015!



CEO, Elizabeth Shih Communications


Can We Be Happier in Business? Revisiting the TED Talk by Shawn Achor: ‘The happy secret to better work’ (2011)

One question that I often ask myself throughout a week is how happy any of us can be, in business? Shawn Achor, professor of psychology at Harvard (and CEO of a positive thinking think tank), researches and teaches about positive psychology. He says that our happiness is not shaped by our environments, as we usually assume, but by how we perceive those environments.

In fact knowing everything about the external world, he says, predicts only “10% of your long-term happiness.” The other 90% depends not on that world, Achor says, but on the way your brain processes it.

He contends this: “If we can change that lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome, at the same time.”

He adds that only 25% of job successes are predicted by IQ, while 75% are “predicted by level of optimism, social support and the ability to see stress as a challenge, not a threat.” We need to get beyond searching for all of the negative things that can happen to us, when we ruminate about our lives.

“The absence of disease is not health,” he comments. Health comes instead from “reversing the formula for happiness and success.”

The old formula for happiness says that “if I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful then I’ll be happier.” Such a belief, he says, underpins our culture’s parenting, education, business and management, government, and so on.

The trouble with such a theory is that with each success you must get better at what you do and “happiness is placed on the opposite side of success,” so that “your brain never gets there.” We have, he says, “pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon,” thinking that if we could just be more successful, we’d be happier and healthier.

So Achor’s contribution is to argue for a reversal of that formula.  Our brains in fact work in the opposite order, functioning better when we’re happy than when we’re negative, neutral or stressed: when we are positive (i.e. happy), our intelligence, creativity and energy levels all rise, so that our brains are “31% more productive.”

Of course our business outcomes will be more productive, as a result.

“If we can find ways to become positive in the present, then our brains [will] work even more successfully as we’re able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.” We’ll do better at “securing and keeping jobs,” producing more, being more “resilient,” having “less burnout, less turnover and greater sales.”

Positive thinking causes the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine to increase in our brains, so we feel happier. Dopamine simultaneously “turns on all of the learning centres in your brain to adapt to the world in a different way.”

Achor closes by recommending four simple activities we can all do to “rewire” our brains for happiness (and creativity): we can write down three things that we feel gratitude for, every day, for 21 consecutive days. A half-hour of journaling, when combined with moderate physical exercise, some meditation and committing random acts of kindness, over those three weeks, can “rewire” our brains to seek out the positive.

These activities work because they help us to relive positive experiences, to concentrate and achieve better and to give back to (and connect with) others in our communities. Such activities cause the “rewiring” that will enable us to “work more optimistically and more successfully.”

By so doing, Achor says, we’ll create a “revolution of positivity and happiness.”

How can this reversal of our thinking on happiness affect you and your business, particularly in communications and marketing?

Assess your state of mind in the midst of a stressful day or project . . .  Do you think and mentally “talk” to yourself negatively?

How can you make more time for yourself, to write, exercise, meditate and give to others, to increase your happiness?


Nerd Alert! Word Nerd Corner: Quotations on Writers and Writing . . .

  • On 19th century novels: “The Novel of Manners involves working on Jane Austen’s little piece of ivory and is therefore no longer an ecologically correct undertaking” (Emma Tennant)
  • “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” (Samuel Johnson)
  • “It is strange that there should be so little reading in the world, and so much writing. People generally do not willingly read, if they can have anything else to amuse them” (Samuel Johnson)
  • On the human brain: “An organ that starts working the moment you wake up, and doesn’t stop till you get to the office” (Robert Frost)
  • On cauliflower: “A cabbage with a college education” (Mark Twain)

(Special thanks to Paula Jane Remlinger for sharing several sources of “funnies” with me. Send me yours via the “contact” page at


From an Expert…

Who: Sara Wheelwright, Founder, and

Where: Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WE), guest seminar

When: November 12, 2014

What: Email marketing…

In a recent presentation, email marketing expert and award-winning local businesswoman Sara Wheelwright argued that when you send email  with good, quality content, email will expand and boost your sales.

She stressed that the format isn’t passé, since more than 4.1 billion emails were sent locally in 2014, a number that is predicted to rise to 5.2 billion, in 2018.

A full “90% of Saskatoon and Regina are online,” she said. Also, the increased use of mobile technology has boosted open rates this year to 53%. And email remains “40 times better than Facebook or Twitter in getting clients.” That’s a statistic close to a business writer’s heart!

Here are Wheelwright’s “three tips for good email marketing”:

(1) Get Traffic—encourage as many visitors as possible to frequent your website (a 24/7 way to promote your services);

(2) Make Conversions—invite visitors to subscribe to your e-newsletter or e-communications (here blogging and social media platforms are essential);


(3) Watch the Magic—if you keep promoting traffic and conversions (writing that good e-newsletter and blog; being consistent over social media; and attending trade shows or marketing events), you’ll find that your email will (“magically”) build relationships that yield sales.

She also urged us to keep measuring our response rates, aiming for a 40% target open rate for emails. (In Canada, she says, the average open rate is 26%.)

Email marketers, she concluded, should strive for consistency, create quality content, monitor our strategy and do all of these things frequently.

Sounds easy in theory but tough in practice?

Remember the cliché that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And email marketing is all about relationship building over the long term. The sales cycle will be longer than with some other formats, but it’s nonetheless worth striving for.

To read more samples of my email marketing or subscribe to this e-newsletter, please visit the “Newsletter” page of my website:


Shop News

In late November, I presented a talk on e-newsletters to the “mentorship circle” of businesswomen, organized by the Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan (WE).

I was inspired by a talk on “Word Abuse” by veteran editor Wilf Popoff, through the Editors’ Association of Canada (SK Branch). Special thanks to Wilf for editing this issue of “Communications Digest.”

Also helpful, I heard Saskatoon businesswomen Silvia Martini and Monica Kreuger talk respectively on the “toolkit” of online resources for the local Raj Manek Business Mentorship Program; and on diversity in the workplace.

All of these activities build community and motivate me in my work. Thank you to everyone involved!


About Us . . .

Since 2011, Elizabeth Shih Communications has provided B2B marketing and communications services on the Prairies and across Canada.

Do you need help writing your “marcom” materials? Please contact me through my website, via the CASL-compliant email form, on each page at

Once I have received your permission, I’ll be delighted to discuss projects with you!

I help small- and medium-sized businesses create e-newsletters and related communication that secure good clients. Please visit my website for more information (


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