Archive | December 2014

3 social marketing tools that come with super powers

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By Jim Belosic on September 15th, 2014

For most of us there isn’t time to test and compare the hundreds of tools that are available to marketers. That’s why I’m going to talk about three awesome social media marketing tools that you’ve heard of; but you may not know about their hidden superpowers that can help elevate your business.

1. Canva

At first glance Canva seems very straight forward; it’s a free online photo editor. Most businesses use Canva to create unique photos for their social needs including blogs and social media marketing posts to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

However, you may not know that Canva provides a library of more than one million icons, stickers, buttons, grids and other images and layouts to choose from. Long live the days of needing a graphic designer or professional design tools to create beautiful images.

Canva recently announced the Design with Canva button which allows businesses to integrate with Canva to offer their customers an easy way to build images right within their platform. Some of the early adopters include Post Planner, Go Daddy, AgoraPulse and TabSite.


2. Post Planner

The guys over at Post Planner have created a time-saving product that does a whole lot more than just schedule posts to your Facebook Page. Once you dive into their product, you’ll notice that they make the hardest part about posting to Facebook (coming up with ideas!) a lot easier. Post Planner can generate Status Update ideas, suggest photos and even show you trending content to help you look like an expert with every post.

Post Planner has also compiled a generous list of popular Facebook Pages into folders that users can scan for viral photos and content. Is there a page you like that isn’t listed? No problem, you can add it to your feed.


3. ShortStack

Many businesses use ShortStack to build contests, sweepstakes and promotions for Facebook. Naturally I’m a little biased, but there is a lot more to ShortStack than just Facebook.

For businesses looking to increase their reach everywhere, including Facebook, ShortStack can be a huge time-saver. With ShortStack, marketers don’t have to create a separate campaign for each marketing channel (website, Facebook, Twitter etc). Instead, you can create one campaign and promote it anywhere on the web.

ShortStack is also great for building landing pages, creating web forms and collecting user-generated feedback from a voting or essay contest.

These are just a few examples of the hidden power found in a few of my favorite tools, but I’m sure there are many more waiting to be discovered. One of my favorite things about building a product is seeing the unexpected and interesting ways people use it. What are your favorite social media marketing tools that have secret powers?

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Quote of the day

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

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Work Smarter: Get Stuff Done in 90-Minute Chunks

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But productivity experts know a secret: Our minds function better if we allow ourselves both times of highly focused work and times of rest.

An Example: As Tony Schwartz, author and CEO of the Energy Project, once wrote for the Harvard Business Review that we can steal the habits of elite violinists and apply them to our comparatively humdrum to-do lists. Schwartz writes:

Consider the study that performance expert Anders Ericcson did of violinists at the Berlin Academy of Music. The best of the violinists practiced in sessions no longer than 90 minutes, and took a break in between each one. They almost never practiced more than 4 ½ hours over a day. What they instinctively understood was the law of diminishing returns.

The top violinists also got an average of more than 8 hours of sleep a night, and took a 20-30 minute nap every afternoon. Over a week, they slept 16 hours more than the average American does.”

Why It Matters: Instead of trying to force yourself into productivity over long stretches of time, rework your to-do list so that it outlines the tasks you can realistically accomplish within a span of 90 minutes. After that 90 minutes is up, take a pause. Stretch, refill your coffee cup, chat with a co-worker, or let yourself scroll through Twitter for a bit (which will make you less likely to check in on Bradley Cooper and his teeny-tiny shorts during your productive time). You may find you’ll return to the next task at hand feeling refreshed and ready to go.

How the ‘PayPal Mafia’ redefined success in Silicon Valley

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By Conner Forrest

The “PayPal Mafia” is no mafia at all. It’s a diaspora.
“Basically, we were kicked out of our homeland and they burned down our temple. So, we were scattered to the four corners of the globe, and we had to make new homes.”

That’s how David Sacks, former COO of PayPal and current CEO of Yammer, described it. The ominous “they” in this story is eBay, and eBay is is partly responsible for both the success of PayPal and why the founders walked away from it.

It’s a pretty rare occurrence that a startup will make it from inception to exit. What is decidedly less common is that startup reaching an exit upwards of $1 billion dollars. Yet even more extraordinary is that exit becoming the catalyst for a revitalization of a local economy and a specific type of investing.

Despite astronomical odds, this is what happened when PayPal sold to eBay in the summer of 2002 and the PayPal team members went on to found some of the most important startups — and make some of the most strategic investments — of all time.

The PayPal Mafia — a term that’s used with affection and awe in Silicon Valley — is defined as the Mountain View PayPal team either pre-IPO or pre-acquisition, depending on which founding member you ask. While those may seem like vastly different stages in a company’s life, it’s more like splitting hairs as PayPal’s IPO happened only a few months before it was acquired. Former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel estimates the PayPal Mafia to be around 220 people. The PayPal Mafia does not include 700 person customer service operation that was running in Omaha, Nebraska at the time.

“Basically, we were kicked out of our homeland and they burned down our temple.”
David Sacks
That group of 220 people went on to create seven distinct “unicorn” companies. Unicorns are companies with a valuation of more than $1 billion. Two of those seven companies were valued at north of $10 billion. Those companies are:

1. Tesla Motors – $27.5 billion market cap
2. LinkedIn – $20.4 billion market cap
3. Palantir – $9 billion value (private company, estimate)
4. SpaceX – $7 billion value (private company, estimate)
5. Yelp – $5.26 billion market cap
6. YouTube – $1.65 billion acquisition
7. Yammer – $1.2 billion acquisition

For comparison’s sake, the Google employee equivalent number would be around 20,000 or 30,000. Of those Google employees, the number of unicorn companies is harder to pinpoint. Thiel estimates that only one to three unicorn companies have been produced, with none close to a $10 billion valuation.

If Google’s unicorn companies are estimated at two, that means that PayPal got 3.5 times the result with 1/100 of the people. In other words, PayPal’s success rate relative to billion-dollar companies is 350x that of Google.

So, what was in the water at PayPal?

First steps
In late 1998, Max Levchin, Peter Thiel, and Luke Nosek founded Confinity (formerly FieldLink, Inc.). Thiel and Levchin met at Stanford University after Thiel gave a guest lecture and the two began to work together on the concept of a digital wallet. The company initially focused on mobile payments sent from Palm Pilots and other PDAs, but a Confinity employee eventually developed a way to send money transfers through email. That service became PayPal in 1999.

After gaining traction and taking its first few steps on the eBay platform, Confinity merged with Elon Musk’s, taking the parent company’s name. Eventually, after proving its success as a product, the company adopted the name PayPal, Inc. in the summer of 2001.

Part of the IPO day festivities included Peter Thiel (right) taking on multiple PayPal employees in simultaneous chess matches. David Sacks (center) was the only one who beat him.
Image: David Sacks/PayPal
PayPal’s early story was unique in many ways, but especially with respect to the people behind it.

“When we started PayPal, I remember one of the early conversations I had with Max [Levchin] was that I wanted to build a company where everybody would be really great friends and, no matter what happened with the company, the friendships would survive,” former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel said. “In some ways that was very utopian. We didn’t only hire our friends, but we did hire people that we thought we could become really good friends with.”

Many of those friendships began at Stanford. Keith Rabois, David O. Sacks, Reid Hoffman, and Ken Howery all attended Stanford around the same time and most were subsequently recruited by Thiel to work for PayPal. Max Levchin recruited some developers and former classmates from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as well.

What’s unique is that the majority of the early PayPal employees, and the PayPal Mafia in general, were all recruited through a friendship network and not by a headhunter. Sacks said that these people were “cut from the same cloth.” This, he said, explained how they all had such a strong entrepreneurial focus to begin with.

Having a top shelf team didn’t keep the PayPal team from running into problems, however. In fact, PayPal’s story, and the success of its employees can, in part, be traced back to a certain set of problems and solutions that were faced by the team early on. Some of the main problems it faced included:

– Consumer adoption
– Fraud
– Regulatory problems
– Hostility from Visa and Mastercard
– Competition from eBay

“You could almost say that we saw every major problem that a startup would encounter, so people got experience dealing with all the types of you would run into,” Thiel said. “They weren’t easy to solve, but we figured out ways to solve them.”

Those problems produced pressure, and the team had to respond to that pressure. Instead of allowing it to crush them, the PayPal team used the pressure as leverage to maintain what former executive vice president of business development Keith Rabois called “maniacal focus.”

“We didn’t only hire our friends, but we did hire people that we thought we could become really good friends with.”
Peter Thiel
“It was a very intense environment, so there wasn’t a lot of time and energy devoted to thinking about the future; as opposed to making sure our ship didn’t sink, and defending the ship,” Rabois said.

That pressure also produced diamonds. Sacks said that PayPal became the first to implement many features that are now commonly included in new startups:

1. One of the first viral apps: PayPal users were able to send money to someone without an account, forcing them to open an account to claim their money.
2. One of the first companies to use a platform strategy: Sacks said that PayPal was “essentially an app on top of eBay.”
3. One of the first companies to offer an embeddable widget: Users could put the PayPal payment logo onto an eBay auction. Embeddable content later became key for YouTube and was a big part of how it grew.
4. One of the first companies to rely on an iterative product strategy: Features were released whenever they were finished, not at the mercy of product cycles.

PayPal also differentiated itself in its company culture. Rabois described the culture as “confrontational” and said that ideas for the company were allowed to rise through informed debate.

Outside management hires were rarely brought in. Instead, employees were promoted from within and often the leading employee of a department became the head of that department. For example, the designers would all report to the lead designer, who was thought of as the best designer. Job candidates with newly-acquired MBAs were often rejected for job positions because they didn’t seem flexible enough to handle the iterations.

“I think, in many ways, PayPal was the template for the modern Silicon Valley startup,” Sacks said.

For example, the infamous original Facebook developer motto was “move fast and break things,” which shows that the concept of agility and an iterative product strategy have permeated startups in the Valley.

While many of these practices may now seem commonplace, it’s important to remember how different a place Silicon Valley was roughly 15 years ago. Rabois said that he often interacts with people now who assume that the way Silicon Valley is now is the way that it has always been.

“The most important thing to highlight, because I think a lot of people who are newer or younger don’t understand, is how absolutely removed from all of the traditional establishment we were back in the time,” Rabois said. “We were a bunch of misfits. We were farther removed from the core of Silicon Valley as you could be — ideologically, culturally, no connections whatsoever. And, what’s interesting, is how, in a very short period of time, we went from extreme outliers to being the received official crowd in many ways.”

PayPal was definitely a product of the dot-com bubble in some aspects. The company once boasted a burn rate of $10 million dollars a month. However, the way that the PayPal team conducted business and ran their organization was like nothing the Valley had seen before.

Doing things in their own way payed off for the PayPal team as they were able to file for an initial public offering (IPO) in late 2001, later completing the IPO in February 2002. According to PayPal’s website the stock rose at more than 54% on the first day and closed at $20.09 a share.

After the IPO, eBay users wore PayPal shirts to an eBay user conference in June 2002 to show the support of PayPal integrating with eBay. One month later, in July 2002, PayPal agreed to sell to eBay and the deal was closed that year.

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Reduce Your Stress in Two Minutes a Day

Reduce Your Stress in Two Minutes a Day – Harvard Business Review, Photo: Kryvenok Anastasiia / shutterstock

October 30, 2014 | By:  Photo: Kryvenok Anastasiia / shutterstock

Bill Rielly had it all: a degree from West Point, an executive position at Microsoft, strong faith, a great family life, and plenty of money.  He even got along well with his in-laws!  So why did he have so much stress and anxiety that he could barely sleep at night? I have worked with Bill for several years now and we both believe his experience could be useful for other capable, driven individuals.

At one time, no level of success seemed enough for Bill. He learned at West Point that the way to solve problems was to persevere through any pain. But this approach didn’t seem to work with reducing his stress. When he finished his second marathon a few minutes slower than his goal, he felt he had failed. So to make things “right” he ran another marathon just five weeks later. His body rejected this idea, and he finished an hour slower than before. Finally, his wife convinced him to figure out what was really driving his stress. He spent the next several years searching for ways to find more joy in the journey. In the process he found five tools. Each was ordinary enough, but together they proved life-changing and enabled his later success as an Apple executive.

Breathing.  He started small by taking three deep breaths each time he sat down at his desk.  He found it helped him relax. After three breaths became a habit, he expanded to a few minutes a day. He found he was more patient, calmer, more in the moment. Now he does 30 minutes a day. It restores his perspective while enabling him to take a fresh look at a question or problem and come up with new solutions. Deep breathing exercises have been part of yoga practices for thousands of years, but recent research done at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital document the positive impact deep breathing has on your body’s ability to deal with stress.

Meditating.  When Bill first heard about meditation, he figured it was for hippies.  But he was surprised to find meditators he recognized:  Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Marc Benioff, and Russell Simmons among them. Encouraged, he started with a minute a day.  His meditation consisted of “body scanning” which involved focusing his mind and energy on each section of the body from head to toe. Recent research at Harvard has shown meditating for as little as 8 weeks can actually increase the grey matter in the parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and learning. In other words, the meditators had increased their emotional control and brain power!

Listening. Bill found if he concentrated on listening to other people the way he focused when he meditated his interaction immediately became richer. The other person could feel he was listening, almost physically. And when they knew he was listening they formed a bond with him faster.  Life almost immediately felt richer and more meaningful. As professor Graham Bodie has empirically noted, listening is the quintessential positive interpersonal communication behavior.

Questioning.  This tool isn’t about asking other people questions, it’s about questioning the thoughts your mind creates. Just because your mind creates a thought doesn’t make it true. Bill got in the habit of asking himself “Is that thought true?”  And if he wasn’t absolutely certain it was, he just let it go. He said: “Thank your mind for coming up with the thought and move on.  I found this liberating because it gave me an outlet for negative thoughts, a relief valve I didn’t have before.” The technique of questioning your thoughts has been popularized by Byron Katie who advocates what she calls “the great undoing.” Her experience and research show there is power in acknowledging rather than repressing negative thoughts. Instead of trying to ignore something we believe to be true, questioning allows us to see our thoughts “face to face” and to discredit them because they are untrue.

Purpose.  Bill committed to living with purpose. Not so much a Life’s Purpose — it was easier than that. He committed to purposefully doing whatever he was doing. To be doing it and only it. If he decided to watch TV he really watched it. If he was having a meal he took the time to enjoy the meal. There is research to support Bill’s experience. In “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons: An Empirical Study of Work Without Email” Gloria Mark and Armand Cardello cite evidence to suggest knowledge workers check email as much as 36 times an hour. The result is increased stress. Giving each activity your undivided attention ensures you’re in the moment and fully living that experience.

An important key for Bill in all of this was starting small—very small. It’s important because you can’t take on stress in a stressful way. Often we try to bring about change through sheer effort and we put all of our energy into a new initiative. But you can’t beat stress using the same techniques that created the stress in the first place.

Instead, the key is to do less than you feel you want to. If you feel like breathing for two minutes, do it for just one minute. If you are up for a day of really listening to people deeply, do it for the next meeting only. Leave yourself eager to try it again. What you want is to develop a sustainable habit: a stress-free approach to reducing your stress.

Originally posted on Harvard Business Review.

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‘Looking’ at Art in the Smartphone Age

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• October 15, 2014 • 9:04 AM

Musée du Louvre. (Photo: Kosala Bandara/Flickr)

“Beyoncé and Jay-Z Take Selfie With Mona Lisa!” headlines all over the Internet blared. BuzzFeed went so far as to call it “the best picture of our generation.” And it’s true, the first couple of American pop culture did take a photo of themselves in front of one of the masterpieces of European art history. But in the instantly iconic image, the two musicians aren’t even looking at the famous work of art that they knowingly appropriate. In fact, they have their backs turned to it, with the Mona Lisa’s face poking out over their shoulders like a photobomb across the centuries.

Sure, Renaissance painting isn’t the most popular form of culture for American audiences. I admit that it’s an acquired taste. But is visual art in such a dire state for mainstream audiences that the best thing to do with an immaculate rendering of humanity in oil on canvas is to take a picture with it like it’s your long-lost cousin rather than just take it in?

Art can easily be intimidating. Sharing the experience, whether online or off, can make it less so.

As a sometime art critic and a lifelong fan of art museums, the Mona Lisa selfie makes me cynical because it fails to emphasize any focus on the actual art. Jay and Bey’s trip to the Louvre, where the painting is usually surrounded by hoards of onlookers with raised cameras—though of course the gallery was empty for the two celebrities—was exhaustively documented. There’s a photo of Beyoncé giving the Mona Lisa a peace sign. Then the pair mimic the poses of various classical statues, including one that looks eerily like it’s taking a selfie. Then a shot of their daughter Blue Ivy sashaying in another empty gallery while Beyoncé snaps a photo on her phone. Nowhere do they appear to be thinking about what’s on display.

This series has the look of a propagandistic clothing advertisement with the brand wiped out. It communicates a simple idea: Art is cool and stylish! Celebrities you obsess over like it! But what you look like while looking at art is not what the museum viewing experience should be about. It should be about actually looking at art.

The viewing process has become harder as the smartphones that Jay and Bey use to take their selfies have become omnipresent. The phone gets in the way of contemplating a single work on a blank wall; it creates a constant temptation to document your surroundings or check your email, Twitter, and Facebook. The white cubes of museums are designed to encourage a sense of quiet isolation and create a space in which new ideas can be encountered and dissected through the medium of art; smartphones turn them into playgrounds to practice posing instead.

In the Washington Post, Philip Kennicott recently published a helpful guide to viewing art. His suggestions include “take time,” “seek silence,” and “study up,” as well as “leave all your devices behind,” advice that Bey and Jay clearly didn’t follow. The major lesson here is that a museum-going experience won’t be worth much if you don’t approach it with a sense of intention and a desire to consider the art on its own terms.

So should we ban smartphones from galleries entirely, maybe install technology coat-checks in the lobby of every major museum? I don’t think so. When I worked as a guard in a contemporary art museum, the questions I got most often from visitors were simple, but important: When was a piece made? What is it made out of? Did the artist always work with this medium? This information can usually be found on a wall label, but smartphones also provide an opportunity to add even more context about a work. Many museums produce custom-made apps to heighten the exhibition experience—no need to even find a docent. The phone is an art-historical dictionary in your pocket, if you choose to use it that way.

Technology is a great way to activate gallery space, but it shouldn’t take it over, and it should always be in support of the art rather than an interruption. Sharing #artselfies on Instagram might help you connect with friends who also know their Matisse, for example. Art can easily be intimidating. Sharing the experience, whether online or off, can make it less so.

But posting an Insta-brag from a museum or a selfie in front of the Mona Lisa is not the same thing as working to understand an artwork. Like reading a difficult novel or binge-watching an entire season of Mad Men, art requires commitment. In the end, the payoff will be better the more effort you put in to the experience, not to mention longer-lasting than the latest round of pop star music videos.

Art has the benefit of maintaining its relevance no matter what might be going on in the world around it. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the Mona Lisa will prove to be a far more enduring celebrity than both Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for all their current popularity. Let’s show her some respect.

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The Untold Story Of The Peace Sign

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The symbol that would become synonymous with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was first brought to wide public attention on the Easter weekend of 1958 during a march from London to Aldermaston in Berkshire, the site of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. The demonstration—the first large-scale anti-nuclear march of its kind—was organized by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC), one of several smaller groups in the U.K. that would go on to form CND. Some 500 symbols were held aloft by protesters as they walked the 52 miles from Trafalgar Square, which suggests that the organizers were aware of the need for both political and visual impact. The fact that, in the form of Gerald Holtom, they already had a professional designer and graduate of the Royal College of Art on board perhaps explains why the symbol achieved immediate success, as well as the swiftness with which it was officially adopted by CND a few months after the march. Holtom was a conscientious objector (during World War II he had worked on a Norfolk farm), and also an established designer. He had created designs as diverse as fabrics based on west African patterns from the late 1930s and a range incorporating photographs of plankton for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

According to Professor Andrew Rigby, writing in Peace News in 2002, Holtom was responsible for designing the banners and placards that were to be carried on the Aldermaston march. “He was convinced that it should have a symbol associated with it that would leave in the public mind a visual image signifying nuclear disarmament,” writes Rigby, “and which would also convey the theme that it was the responsibility of each and every individual to work to remove the threat of nuclear war.”

In a sense, Holtom’s design did represent an individual in pursuit of the cause, albeit in an abstract way. The symbol showed the semaphore for the letters N (both flags held down and angled out from the body) and D (one flag pointing up, the other pointing down), standing for Nuclear Disarmament. But some years later in 1973, when Holtom wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News at the time of the formation of the DAC, the designer gave a different explanation of how he had created the symbol.

“At first he toyed with the idea of using the Christian cross as the dominant motif,” Rigby explains in his article, “but realized that ‘in Eastern eyes the Christian Cross was synonymous with crusading tyranny culminating in Belsen and Hiroshima and the manufacture and testing of the H-bomb.’ He rejected the image of the dove, as it had been appropriated by “the Stalin regime…to bless and legitimize their H-bomb manufacture.'”

Holtom in fact decided to go for a much more personal approach, as he admitted to Brock. “I was in despair. Deep despair,” he wrote. “I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle round it. It was ridiculous at first and such a puny thing.”

In Holtom’s personal notes, reproduced by peace symbol historian Ken Kolsbun, the designer recalls then turning the design into a badge. “I made a drawing of it on a small piece of paper the size of a sixpence and pinned it on to the lapel of my jacket and forgot it,” he wrote. “In the evening I went to the post office. The girl behind the counter looked at me and said, ‘What is that badge you are wearing?’ I looked down in some surprise and saw the ND symbol pinned on my lapel. I felt rather strange and uneasy wearing a badge. ‘Oh, that is the new peace symbol,’ I said. ‘How interesting, are there many of them?’ ‘No, only one, but I expect there will be quite a lot before long.'”

In fact, the first official series of badges made by Eric Austin of the Kensington CND branch were made of white clay with the symbol formed from black paint. According to CND, these were in themselves a symbolic gesture as they were distributed “with a note explaining that in the event of a nuclear war, these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno.”

The symbol itself became more formalized as its usage became more widespread. The earliest pictures of Holtom’s design reproduce the submissive “individual in despair” more clearly: the symbol is constructed of lines that widen out as they meet the circle, where a head, feet and outstretched arms might be. But by the early 1960s the lines had thickened and straightened out and designers such as Ken Garland, who worked on CND material from 1962 to 1968, were able to use a bolder incarnation of the symbol in their work. Garland built on the graphic nature of the symbol to create a play of black-and-white shapes for a series of striking posters. He also used a photograph of his daughter Ruth in the design for a leaflet on which the symbol was used in place of the O in “SAY NO.”

In the U.K. the symbol has remained the logo of CND since the late 1950s, but internationally it has taken on a broader message signifying peace. For Holtom this perhaps came as a bonus since, according to Rigby, he had been frustrated with his original design, which depicted the struggle inherent in the pursuit of unilateral action. Shortly before the Aldermaston march Holtom experienced what he termed a “revolution of thought.” He realized, Rigby writes, that if he inverted the symbol “then it could be seen as representing the tree of life, the tree on which Christ had been crucified and which, for Christians like Gerald Holtom, was a symbol of hope and resurrection. Furthermore, that inverted image of a figure with arms stretched upwards and outwards also represented the semaphore signal for U—Unilateral.”

This last quirk of a symbol that had its message so neatly encapsulated in its design meant it could echo both the frustrations of the anti-nuclear campaigner in the face of political change and the sense of optimism that the task at hand would bring. This was another example of the thinking Holtom would bring to the first march to Aldermaston, which has since become an annual event. Of the lollipop signs he designed for the event, half displayed the symbol in black on white, the other half white on green. “Just as the church’s liturgical colors change over Easter,” CND explain, “so the colors were to change, ‘from Winter to Spring, from Death to Life.’ Black and white would be displayed on Good Friday and Saturday, green and white on Easter Sunday and Monday.”

From the beginning, Holtom’s aim had been to help instigate positive change, to bring about a transformation from winter to spring. Today CND continues to pursue this mission, just as the peace movement does internationally.

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