3 Guiding Words for 2016

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In 2014, inspired by others who do the same, I started thinking about the three words that would guide my work and life in the coming year. Here are the three simple – but potentially hard – words to live by this year.

Do

I spend much time thinking about things and visualizing outcomes, good and bad. I try to consider all possible scenarios in the hopes that I can avoid pitfalls, overcome obstacles and ensure positive results. Planning is good. Avoiding irrational, hasty decisions is also good. But the reality is that you can’t predict the future. No amount of visualization and thinking will account for every possible outcome. Only by doing will you achieve your goals. Thinking begets more thinking. So after I think, this year I must do.

Ship

Seth Godin wrote in Linchpin about the importance of shipping. We can always make excuses for why we can’t finish something. There’s always one more thing we can and should do before we let something go. But that’s just our brains making excuses for why we can’t finish. And I’m as guilty of this as others. There are many unfinished personal projects I put off until tomorrow because they’re not ‘finished’. Or I make up reasons for why I can’t finish them today. It’s time to ship or delete the project.

Savor

In all the thinking and visualizing about the future I tend to do, I forget to enjoy the moment. In the past, I’ve called this being more present. This one was inspired by “Miracle in the Andes” by Nando Parrado, which I read last week. It’s the story of the 72 days survivors of a 1972 plane crash endured on glacier. In the book, Nando wrote about how every day he could take another breath was another day he was alive. Before this, he took much for granted. In the midst of doing and shipping, I commit to enjoying the process.

I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful the past two years with my three words. They’re a framework for living and something I think about from time to time. The more we do things, the more they become a habit and thus I continue with these three new words for 2016.

The key to happiness

In pursuit of happiness

Many have researched the elusive pursuit of happiness. A couple of the more notable include Martin Seligman and Gretchen Rubin. Our consumer culture tells us we’ll be happy if we just buy more stuff and more exclusive tonics. Rinse and repeat.

It’s much simpler than that. You can find happiness by focusing on what makes you unhappy. You already know what makes you unhappy. By removing these things you’ll find yourself much happier in short order. It’s a subtractive process.

Before you think I’m a genius for the solution, I must share that this was one of the ‘oh duh’ moments that came from reading Nassim Taleb’s provocative book, Antifragile. He uses the concept of ‘via negativa’ versus ‘via positiva’ to solve our most perplexing problems.

Another key is to avoid toxic people. We know who these types are. Seek those having a positive outlook. Build friendships with those that are happy for your success rather than envious or competitive. It’s less work for you to remain positive and happy when you can be yourself. Immersed in negativity, it’s easy to get sucked in.

At work it’s a little harder. Sometimes we have to interact with toxic colleagues. Especially in workplaces where there’s an absence of the No Asshole Rule. In these cases, you can try to limit exposure and go in ‘feet first’ as one person does in her work place. This refers to being ejected from your kayak in the rapids where you want to stay feet first to avoid bonking your head on the rocks.

Most of us have too much complexity in our lives. And too much stuff. Simplifying through subtraction is relatively easy to do. Finding happiness by focusing on unhappiness is a small piece of Antifragile. It’s one of those books that changes your worldview.

The slippery slope of betrayal, Volkswagen style

I’ve been a fan of Volkswagen for many years. I embrace their quirks because the cars are fun to drive. Solid, well-built, safe. The Germans know how to engineer and build cars that inspire the driver. Even my lowly VW Golf which I had for 12 years with hardly a problem in that time was inspiring. I never even had to replace the brakes. The VW Bug smiles at you on the road. How can it not make you happy just looking at it?

But there are many detractors. Many remember the days when Audis were hopelessly unreliable. Many experience electrical problems in Volkswagens of the 90s and 00s. But the passionate fans endure the glitches because the cars are so fun. They’re not ordinary, vanilla cars. They have personality.


Imagine my disappointment when I learned that a brand I loved admitted they cheated. Not a little cheat. But a blatant, deliberate effort over years all in the name of making a buck. The cars look so innocent. I almost went for one of the TDIs. They’re really good cars. Except for now they’re not so much because they cheat. They’re liars these cars. Marketed as ‘Clean Diesels’ – great performance while being environmentally conscious – is a farce. That they asked for a green seal in the U.S. in 2011 shows their arrogance.


It takes years to build trust but a moment to shatter it. A few smart people at Volkswagen torched the brand. Yet many great people work for the company. In Wolfsburg, generations of families have built their careers and bet their futures on being a part of VW. And that is all threatened because some smart engineers who thought they knew better than anyone everyone else found a way to cover their tracks. To avoid forgoing years of investment in new engines by engineering a way to cheat on the emissions tests. Perhaps it was pressure from their bosses or fear of failure that motivated them. Betting they wouldn’t get caught. But they did.


They could have adopted – and almost did – Daimler’s Bluetec technology which likely could have avoided the ‘need’ to cheat. And now we have the nasty aftermath that could cost many innocent VW employees their jobs, upending families and damage a company town.

The dominos are falling. It’s a slippery slope.

So what now? They need dramatic change and fast to restore faith in the company. They need transparency. And they need to buy back every single car or offer to replace it with an equivalent model. Unless they can engineer a fix that retains the promised performance and fuel economy. It’s looking they’re opting for a fix which looks like it will take 10 hours per car and won’t begin until some time next year. But now 480,000 people will have to make time to drop their cars off to do so.

Was it worth it Volkswagen? I think not. And right now I think you don’t think it was either. But how many other companies are or will take such actions to sell their wares? Others make think they’re different. The slope is slippery.


15 Minutes of Absolute Clarity

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What would you do if you knew you had just 15 minutes left. With just 15 minutes left clarity crystalizes in the mind. Clarity of purpose. Clarity of vision. Clarity of what it means to be alive. Totally alive. The petty things that cloud are vision and occupy our thoughts melt away. There’s no time for minutiae. No time for that next email about scheduling a meeting and putting the PowerPoint slides together. No time for analyzing all the options, getting buy in from all the stakeholders, all the people that might ridicule you for your actions. For taking a risk. For taking a stand.

Heck, there’s no time for worrying about being the fool. About being embarrassed or wondering what anybody thinks. No time for getting your hair right. Shaving. Ironing. No, there’s only time for decisive action. For setting into motion what will live on long after your final 15 minutes. What everyone will ultimately remember you by. Funny how a definitive end kicks you into action. Suddenly, you know absolutely what you must do. The sole reason you were placed on this beautiful planet to accomplish. And so, with 15 minutes to accomplish what you’ve dreamt for a lifetime you wanted to do. To be. You do it.

You know exactly what steps you need to take. What buttons to push. There’s no second guessing or backtracking. It’s all forward motion now. You’re able to bound up hills that moments ago seemed insurmountable. You’re able to push fear aside and act. With total clarity. Damn the pimples. The door dings in your new car. Who cares? They’re not important. You just made them so. You go right for the heart of what you’ve always known mattered but waited for the right time to act. Or waited because you were keeping your options open.

And so because of your clarity the people around you are inspired to act. To rethink their station and cast status quo aside. To banish mediocrity in favor of making that dent in the Universe. A dent that has absolutely nothing in common with a $39,000 Hermes Crocodile skin purse.

You take that risk because in 15 minutes it won’t be risky. You’ll have reached the end of the story. And your final chance to leave your mark. That’s it. There is no second chance now. No rewind or redos. No chance to lament. It’s all or nothing. I vote for all.

And if you fail? You’ll be remembered for your bravery. For your willingness to do what others were afraid of. And if you succeed? You’ll change lives and the world forever. Even if its leaving just one young girl with the gift of confidence in herself. In her ability to make a difference. To stand up to the pressures placed on growing up. The pressures to conform to what society expects. By doing just that, you’ll have changed the world because now she can carry on long after you’re gone and inspire others to do the same based on her actions. Her bravery. Few people even do that!

Now how cool is that?

 

We like the underdogs

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Apple was the cool, quirky company who could. The one many derided as toys and for those wanting something special. And then they got big.

Starbucks was the cool third place you’d go to connect with friends and associates. Where you’d hang out and write witty prose or dream up your next adventure. And then they got big.

Apple, especially with the notion of marketing a $10,000 watch that’ll be obsolete in a year is reaching the tipping point. They clearly strike me as a greedy company that cares little for the little guy as the largest, most profitable company around. But we still love their products. There isn’t anything better. Yet.

Same with Starbucks. I now brew my own coffee at work using an Aero press. Starbucks has lost that specialness. It’s now just a commoditized transaction. In and out. Sure, they’re nice places to meet someone for a conversation. Especially for business. But it’s not somewhere I care to go in my spare time or when I want a good experience. The coffee is just not that good anymore. I can do better myself.

I’ll confess that it took me a few tries to get the process down so that it was easy, but now that I have it dialed, I love the quality of coffee via Aero Press. Bon Appetit was right when they cited it as one of the best for the road. I want Starbucks to become cool again; they’ve made huge, generally positive impact on the world. I actually think that they have a lot of people who care, but it gets really hard at scale.

When you’re everywhere – and big – and ridiculously profitable, you lose the underachiever status that makes us want to root for you. No longer do we care much about your success. We like the struggle. We like the ones who’ve not be discovered by the masses.

Once big, you’re not so cool any more.

At what point do you reach that? In business, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. You always have to reinvent yourself. Release new products and new things. Because – especially with technology – change happens and people get bored. We always want the new shiny object even when they absolutely don’t need it. We really don’t.

And if you’re not growing in size and profits, someone else will overtake you.. You’ll be replaced. It’s a conundrum. How much processing power do we really need? How many different types of Lattes, Frappucinos and Refreshers can we consume? It becomes noise.

I don’t have an answer here. Just observations. Stay fresh Keep delighting those you serve. Pay attention to the little things even when you’re big. Few companies do and that makes it unexpected. But remember that we generally root for the underdog.

Away from procrastination and overthinking and towards exploring thoughts, concepts and things.

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When I started this blog some years ago I attempted to focus exclusively on leadership, business and creativity. I’d originally called it Commerce and Creativity with notion of writing about the intersection of the two. I’m still interested in both with my work as a marketer, but am making a pivot.

I tend to think both linearly and in circles, sometimes very practical and other times not so much. I try to find humor in the everyday and mundane, bringing out my inner child while working hard to be a serious adult focused on serious business. The truth is, I like both. It’s not ‘either or,’ but ‘and. ‘

Another thing about me is I tend to like to keep my options open. It’s been tough to commit to a narrow focus for this blog as well as find and stick with a design that resonated with me. It’s taken a long time to find the right template for both writing and photography that didn’t require an outside developer to implement.

I think I’ve found it in this new design I’m launching with this first post in over a year. It’s been well over a year of over thinking both the design and writing. On the writing side, there’s so much great writing by wonderful people like Mitch Joel, Ann Handley and Maria Popova, and Kevin Kelly and of course Seth Godin that I questioned why and what I would write that might be of value rather than creating more noise.

I can hear Seth admonishing me now to start and do something, and that in the year I spent procrastinating I could have written a book via regular posts. What I haven’t waivered on is my daily iPhone photo over at Mundaily. That’s become such a habit those posts just sort of happen.

That said, I’m going to try again. I’m finally getting my digital ‘home’ in order. I’m going to follow through and finish things rather than start and stop, leaving digital detritus lying across the Internet. I’m going to complete shooting the series of Oregon Coast Bridges designed by Conde McCullough – a project I started in August 2011. And with this design I finally found a gallery theme I connect with to show a few of the photos clogging more than a few hard drives.

As for what I’ll write about? I’m going to let go and use this space to share my observations on business, art, life and things in between. I don’t know exactly where this will go, but I hope it will offer insights on work, inspiration on life and what it means to live rather than blindly go through the motions each day. I know you need to show up regularly if you want to build readership., and I’ll post when I have something I think is worth sharing, and develop a rhythm that’s sustainable.

Some posts will be better than others, but my wish is that you, the reader, finds nuggets that help you in your work and your life. Even just a bit. Thanks for stopping by!

The future is unknowable

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This might be obvious to you. Or maybe not. We develop plans, anxiety and fret over what might be or might not. We do our best to control it. Sure, you want – and need – to plan for the future. Like saving for retirement, rainy days and life’s major events. You buy insurance to protect yourself from adversity.

I just finished Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow where he talks about the unknowable future and the many people who make their living predicting what will happen – the housing bubble, for instance. Or 9/11. Pundits proclaimed they knew the financial crisis would strike, but not exactly when. But what Daniel lays out is that it’s easy to say you knew it would happen in the rearview. With time, our minds alter the stories we tell ourselves. He shows how what we experience and what we remember differ greatly. Vacations and arduous adventures like mountain climbing are often much better after the fact.

Experience allows you to have intuitions and spot trends, but you don’t know things in advance because you can’t. It’s the future after all, and there’s no crystal ball no matter how badly you and everyone else wants one.

Knowing this should bring a little relief as you stand making New Year’s resolutions and pondering what the year will bring. How much of what you predicted for 2013 came true? What surprises hit you?

Having a plan and a framework to focus your thinking is good. That’s why I outlined my three words for this year. Just know that luck plays a role in what the year ahead will bring and be open. Happy 2014!

Happy Holidays. Take time to hit the pause button.

MerryChristmas_lights

There’s a lot riding on the biggest holiday season of the year. For retailers it’s the time to make it or break it. Most wait all year for this day. For individuals, it’s the time where expectations are high and we run frantically, shopping for the right gifts for our family and friends. A day where family dynamics play out – good and bad. Some love this day for the light and sparkle and anticipation it brings.

I was sad to see the Christmas season encroaching more and more on fall. Halloween day saw the Christmas displays going up and ads had started prior. And stores started opening on Thanksgiving for the first time. We’re losing fall and all it brings in the name of commerce.

I heard a story on NPR about the sadness in many of our favorite Christmas songs – like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, White Christmas and Home for the Holidays. The lyrics refer to better times in the past and hope for the future because the current times are a little blue. The story talked about how these songs likely bring joy when we’re not feeling down, and I would agree.

As a child, I couldn’t get enough of the lights and the Christmas tree. The more and bigger, the better. Even now, our small family has to have just the right tree. And we MUST cut it down. It’s just not the same otherwise.  It’s not just Christmas day, it’s the process that makes it special. And it is much fun to establish new traditions and share the season with our daughter, who loves every bit of it.

It’s the little things, really. The night before Christmas Eve our new neighbors stopped by with cookies, just to say hi. It was unexpected and so nice and something that’s often lost in many neighborhoods. It’s that sense of community that makes us feel more connected and the season more special.

So take time from your busyness and be present with those closest to you. Find little moments out of the chaos, pause and smile. All the best!

Three operational words for 2014

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For next year, I am putting some meat into my thinking. You see, I spend a lot of time in my head. I like to think. I like to dream. I like generating ideas. I see possibility in so many things. And you could say I take way too many pictures, filling hard drive after hard drive. Many of them will look great hanging on a wall I tell myself.  But then I get caught up in perfection, in wanting to envision the final manifestation of these thoughts and ideas and possibilities. And the cycle repeats. Too many disparate projects and pursuits, and not enough pruning and focus.

So here we go. Three words to fix this conundrum. Three words to be held accountable to by you. Even if no one but me reads this, I know this is out there and it changes things. It’s a mindset.

 

Momentum

This is about putting conscious energy behind key goals and dreams and making them happen. It’s about focused action that builds with each step and piece. We get disillusioned when we envision a big hairy goal but don’t see the path or the leap is too large. Momentum is about starting, doing, and pushing through and over the hurdles littering the way forward. It’s also about making choices of where to put my energy, and what needs to be parked for another day.

Presence

We spend so much of our time caught up in our own devices that we struggle with being fully present in the moment and with the people in front of us. We’re always thinking about the future, rather than savoring and absorbing all that is happening in the now.  I read recently where recording every moment actually inhibits our memory and experience of it. Sometimes we need to put down the device and focus. Myself included. So I will make a conscious effort to be more present every day. And make sure I make every day count. In what I do., and in what I accomplish. While it’s important to plan for the future, focusing on the now with purpose is what will help us realize our dreams and plans.  Multitasking has it’s dark side – and it’s a loss of presence.

Risk

This is where the rubber meets the road. Risk is about being vulnerable. It’s about not worrying so much about what others think or applying another coat of varnish. It’s about putting the work and thoughts I believe in out in the ether. Consistently. This draws on Eric Ries’s Lead Start Up philosophy as well as a call to get out of my head, out of my own way and act on the things that are near and dear. Because it seems the things that matter most – and have more resonance – are those things in which we feel more vulnerable. The things that seems to have more risk. If you play it safe you get nowhere. It’s just noise at that point. You can’t prove a new idea in advance. Your experience and intuition can guide you along the path. You – and I – know our risk tolerances. This is about testing and pushing those tolerances a bit farther. Maybe a lot farther.

Three little words. But three words that are my guide for evaluating what I start doing, keep doing and stop doing next year. It’s about making choices and designing a map that doesn’t yet exist. What are your three words?

What is your now?

Now. Not later. Now. We like to keep our options open for what other possibilities lie around the next unseen corner. Open for something better that we’d miss out on if we committed to what was in front of us now.

So we wait. We are also afraid to try the unknown, always looking for proof that what we’re about to do will work. Truth is that you don’t know something for certain until you try it. Only in hindsight do we know if we succeed or fail. Only then can we look back at what we could have or should have done. Or maybe with gleeful satisfaction and pride that we took that risk. That next step.

But it starts with Now. I think only when you arrive at the middle of your career wiser having been filled with experience – and the opportunity to look back, combined with seeing how differently the next generation embraces technology and change – that you get a little more clarity on life and possibility. Or maybe, while watching a parent’s health decline, it’s the harsh realization that you have a finite amount of time to accomplish everything you wanted to do when you grabbed that diploma and stepped into the ‘rea’l world.

There was a now then, and there’s a now, now. There will always be a now, but if you don’t seize it now, you may not have the chance. So what is your ‘now’?