Agile and Viral Marketing in Jewish Thought


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By Yonatan Gordon

Before we begin presenting the topic for this essay, let’s first complete a thought mentioned last time. During our discussion about how ideas float about, we wrote the following: “What matters most is not a degree or the words on a resume… The challenge then is to find out what true education and achievement is all about.” It was quite surprising then to see this post title from Seth Godin (published just a few hours after our post): “Thoughts on education and the burgeoning trophy shortage.”

As we’ve mentioned in the past, we are not assuming that Godin is reading our blog. Instead, what’s important to keep in mind is that ideas spread whether you realize it or not. There is definitely a domino effect among ideas, whereby one person tips the thought so that everyone else can benefit. But the spreading of an idea is not always something apparent. When a person shares a blog post via social media, or loans a book to a friend, the medium is more clear cut. But how exactly do ideas spread to those who have never read your blog, and may not even know who you are?

As we hope to explain, the difference comes down to the method of transmission. Now that at least one great person has introduced this thought into the idea “cloud,” how then does the precipitation begin?

Agile Marketing

We can explain this using the scientific concept of wave-particle duality for light. If light is but a stream of particles, then we expect that there should be specific points along the journey. While the end result appears to be one continuous ray of light, we can say that the energy is being “passed along” from one particle to the next. In the Chassidut of the Ba’al Shem Tov, this is termed “deliberate agility” and relates to one of the tasks the cohanim (priests) performed in the Holy Temple. During the service of offering the sacrifices, after blood was taken from an animal, the vessel of blood was passed in rapid succession from one priest to the next in line formation. It is explained in Kabbalah, that to an onlooker, because of the speed with which they passed the vessel, it would appear as something continuous.

When we speak of agility in marketing, there are two important implications then. The first is that the next person should be immediately inspired to take the idea to the next level. This could mean passing down the line (e.g. by tweeting or liking on Facebook), or it actually changing the state of the idea. In the Torah, the Hebrew word for “blood” (דם) also relates to a being’s life-source. Sharing on this level means involving the contributions of each person along the line.

At first, a person may think agile marketing, and the ability to adapt quickly to change, is something similar to “hot potato” game. Pass along the idea as quickly as possible, and if it drops, then that marketer simply wasn’t agile enough. But we learn an important distinction from the Torah’s account of the priests in the Temple. Sometimes the dedication to the task at hand itself assists in a person’s ability to become agile.

Idea Train

The thing about ideas at this level, is that the source is clear. This is like a teacher that hands off his lesson to his students, who in turn write derivative works based on what the teacher just said. The “agile” aspect in this example is the ability to continue the lesson along. If the students are really listening and motivated, they should immediately be inspired to spread the word.

What’s more profound is when the student doesn’t need to directly attribute his own writings to his teacher. This is not because of a lack of connection. To the contrary, the relationship is so strong, that whether the student makes explicit mention of his teacher’s lesson or not, the teacher is happy all the same (we discussed this here).

Agility within marketing then is a function of both quick action, and the ability to take initiative with an “inspired” or “life-force” state of mind. Whereas alacrity may mean simply sharing the post the moment after you read it, the second aspect expects the reader or student to take the lessons to the next level.

But this idea relay is still not something atmospheric. In order for ideas to spread globally in an instant, we need to first appreciate the concept behind “viral marketing.”

In the Air

Aside from wanting that everyone should stay healthy, there is another issue with the term “viral.” If you think about it, the passing of a virus along from one person to the next, is more similar to Agile Marketing than it is Viral Marketing. Even the metaphor of a “sneeze” (a term also used in marketing), still is something that affects only a “classroom” of students. What then do people really mean when they say “Viral Marketing”?

The answer begins by thinking about those students that don’t even know they are in the classroom. While it’s a positive thing to find an good-hearted mentor to follow, not everyone has the awareness to know who to listen to and who not to. What does have the greatest potential to affect widespread change are the creative thoughts that trickle-down from above. Even a global classroom, whereby the teacher’s class is video broadcast live all over the world, still has the potential to be an “agile marketing” phenomenon. Only when these classes are seen to affect many others who did not watch the class, can we begin to say that these ideas went viral. While we brought the service of the priests in the Temple as our source for Agile Marketing, Viral or Atmospheric Marketing rests with the Levites.

Silent and Vocal Marketing

Whereas the priest serves “quietly and secretively,” the Levite serves with his voice. The Levites have an entire orchestra or symphony to express their voice. The Priest is likened to olive oil, which flows softly and quietly, while the Levite is likened to wine. Wine arouses song and joy in the soul. But this joy is absolutely transcendent, similar in some ways to the transcendent Oneness of God Himself.

We’re taught that the perception of the priest is that of a direct vision of Godliness, versus the Levite, whose experience of Godliness is more through hearing. First we see Godliness and Divine Providence in our lives, then my mind immediately moves to a perspective whereby I’m serving the infinite.

But to hear is like meditating upon something that is so high and beyond that I can’t see it; I can just hear it from afar as it were. There’s a verse that reads, “I can hear from afar.” I can hear [Godliness] from very very far, from something that is way up, above and beyond my capability to actually see it with my eyes.

This is why we prefer the term “atmospheric marketing.” While the ideas may be “way up there,” when they rain down it pours.

We begin with the service of the Cohen in ourselves, then we immediately shift to the service of the Levite. Even if I think I know the class that inspired the whole world to think this way, I should always realize that the class came from the transcendent oneness of God.

Magazine of Stories

Once a person becomes sensitive to listening for the similarities, tone and pitch of stories, there are all sorts of correspondences we can then make. For instance, at the same time that people were talking about Tumblr’s David Karp, Groupon’s former CEO Andrew Mason came back on the scene briefly with a new post on his blog. Here’s the statement that seems to most resonate with what we are trying to bring out:

“I feel very lucky to be alive at a time when someone like me can have a simple idea like Groupon that ends up impacting millions of people.  If there’s a silver lining to leaving Groupon, it’s the opportunity to start something new.  I’ve accumulated a backlog of ideas over the last several years, my favorite of which I’ll be turning into a new company this fall.”

Since no idea exists in a vacuum, presumably then his new company idea hovers somewhere around the topic of agile or viral ideas. As we explained, Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” was also central to the founding of Groupon. In any event, it will be interesting to see in months to come how these stories relate to his new business idea.

Students of the World

We mentioned students that know who their teacher or idea-generator is, and those who don’t. We related these two types of students to the agile and viral marketers of the world today. But what happens when a student of a specific teacher, starts coming up with ideas “on his own,” that are really from his teacher?

This is still an example of viral marketing, but a higher level of it. In either instance, a viral marketer should have a keen sense of hearing, and a readiness to transcend experiences. But when a student first goes from sitting in the classroom, to hearing new thoughts “on his own,” then this relates nicely to what we said above. Much like we should immediately shift from the direct consciousness of the priest, to the transcendent of the Levite; so too every creative and marketer out there has the potential to do the same.


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