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?
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.
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?
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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’?
From design to communications, I’ve spent my career thus far working on both the client and agency sides, spending much time navigating the corporate approval process. Also known as an idea choke chamber or death spiral, it explains why there’s so much mediocrity in America.
We’re homogenized, diluted, messaged, bulleted and shouted at to death with too much ‘next generation’ crap. David Scott counted how many times “next generation” was used in one year in North American press releases in 2008: 15,371. And that wasn’t the highest. “Innovate” was used no less than 51,390 times. Yikes!
So here goes what I think are the 12 most efficient ways to sap the creativity out of even the most thick-skinned, experienced designer. It’s the equivalent of death by a thousand cuts.
1. “That’s fun”
Whenever someone tells you your concept is ‘fun’, it’s like telling someone ‘he’s a nice guy’. In other words, I don’t like your idea and it’s never going to see the light of day.
2. “Play around with this a bit”
The operative word here is play. A common misconception by non-designers is that creatives simply play all day on their big, fancy monitors. They get to use every single Photoshop filter at the same time! Certainly the ability to earn a living as a designer has its rewards, but to do it well is seriously hard work. And it’s serious business. Dismissing it as play is devalues the process, is shortsighted and a missed opportunity.
3. “That’s too risky for us”
That shiny, super cool, ground breaking idea you have? Never gonna fly because it’s shiny and ground breaking. Most approval committees have a very low tolerance for the unfamiliar. It’s scary. They want proof it’s going to be successful without taking the risk. You can’t prove a ground-breaking idea beforehand. Focus groups rarely deliver accurate feedback.
But good designers have a knack for spotting trends, tapping into the culture and creating work that has a fighting chance of success if the powers that be allow it into the world. An all-too-rare occurrence. Jeffrey Hayzlett, former Kodak CMO, says, “It is marketing. No one’s going to die.” This puts the risk in context.
4. “That might offend someone”
Yep, gotta be all things to all people because we don’t want to miss an opportunity. Too bad this takes you down mediocre lane and kills the deal. The best brands actually do appeal to a narrow audience. And do quite well, thank you. Apple anyone?
5. “Make it bigger”
Yes, we’re going to Vegas where everything is supersized. Even your logo. Because bigger is always better, right? If there’s white space you’re missing an opportunity to pack in more features and benefits. Wrong. Simple works because it’s rare and grabs the right people at the right time. Simplicity stands out from the clutter by focusing on the single most important point and nothing more.
6. “Check out the cool clip art in this presentation and let me know what you think”
The best designers LOVE free clip art. And all of the bevels, shadows, and animations you can do in Powerpoint. ALL AT THE SAME TIME! Wrong again. Ever notice how the presentations that really draw people in exercise restraint and practice clarity? They communicate a powerful message because each element is used to communicate. A well designed, well-placed chart is powerful. 57 pie charts with 28 bullet points are forgettable.
Good presentations are hard work. They take time and most presenters treat them as a sloppy afterthought. And people notice.
7. “That’s not what our competitor’s ads look like”
Yes, how often do businesses practice the ‘Me Too?’ If their competition does it, they have to as well. Because you wouldn’t dare to be different. That only works for cool companies like Apple and Harley Davidson.
I recently heard Ken Schmidt from Harley talk about how in the 80s, when HD was failing, he noticed they all talked about horsepower and wheel size. It wasn’t until they understood that they were in the metal-bending business and could ‘Fit’ each bike to its owner that they rebounded. And with bikes that were slower and heavier than the Hondas and Yamahas. Yes, they took a different path!!! Yet when many hear this story, they don’t see how that could apply to their commoditized business. After all, Harley is cool, they’re not. But at the time, Harley was a commodity.
So reframe your position. Stand for something.
8. “You don’t understand business because you’re a designer”
Really? Design is one of the last opportunities to create a competitive edge today. But for some reason, so many in business assume those with a ‘creative bent’ can’t possibly understand how business works. Designers are business people too. The best know how to create business models that deliver real results from the power of good design. And are the people you want on your team helping you build a sustainable competitive advantage? You can’t afford not to.
9. “You need to be more literal. People aren’t going to get that. They need to see a (insert generic object related to business) here. We really need to hit them over the head with our value proposition”
Right. Never mind that rational minds don’t buy products. Emotions do. Save the rational for the proof points to back up your emotional claims. Win the heart and the mind will follow. And above all, respect your audience. They’re smarter than you think.
10. “Let’s run that by a few people”
People say this when they either don’t like your ideas nor want to be responsible for making a decision. If it fails, they can point the finger at others. Focus groups and committees may still have a place, but given the technology available today, why not A/B test your concepts in the real world? Unless you structure a focus group properly, you’re not going to get meaningful, actionable feedback. And if you do, you may not like it and will just toss it aside, for, yep, personal preference.
When you design by committee, including everyone’s ideas just to be ‘safe’, you’ve lost. Collaboration is a great thing – and essential in business – but at some point there needs to be a steward who knows how to incorporate feedback when appropriate and when not to. Yes, that can be a very scary thing to do.
11. “It really needs to pop more”
Whenever anyone tells you this, they want either a starburst, super bold type or many different colors so everything ‘stands out’. For some reason, many think this makes a lackluster offer more compelling. But what they fail to realize is that when everything ‘pops’, nothing does. Go back and create an offer that people actually want. Something they’ll talk about and share. Do that well and that starburst will seem quite silly.
12. “I don’t like that color because it reminds me of my rival high school”
Yes, some people take a completely subjective approach when reviewing concepts. Rather than look at the business reasons for a design, they think about that rival high school that beat them at their home coming game in 1987. May I suggest that a more appropriate approach is to view color selection in the context of your audience, understanding that certain colors enhance sales?
So what have I left out? I know there are more… let me have them in the comments below!
First published on 12 most
The concept of big-enough-yet-small-enough is designed to appeal to everyone, offend no one and encompasses every possibility. A company needn’t worry about missing an opportunity to reach an audience they didn’t even know existed!
For this reason, this concept is about as bad as it gets. It’s so overused and watered down, any company, let alone advertising agency or creative, should be ashamed to present this as a credible option.