It should only take 5 minutes

Having spent a career in design and marketing, there’s a myth that because we use computers, everything should be a quick fix. That includes retouching photos, designing a logo, updating a website or changing content in a brochure. The simpler the end design and communication, the perception of how long it takes decreases.

Ask anyone tasked with making such changes and you’ll get the all too knowing eye roll. When you don’t understand what really is involved, you just don’t know how long that simple little change or project should take. And many when they hear that it will take longer than what they think is reasonable, will complain and accuse designers and marketing types that they are putting up road blocks to their success.

Sure, if you want a quick change and don’t care about the integrity and quality of the end result – or whether it will elicit the desired response, it may not take so long. Simple, effortless design and communication is hard. Finding the ‘right’ picture to communicate your message takes time. Especially if you don’t want to pay for it. Finding a photo out of millions of available images is time consuming. Designing a logo that works at many sizes and on many different materials, communicates a brand and will stand the test of time is hard. Or you can pay for a quickie and run with it. Behind a good logo is the entire identity and communication package. Color schemes and messages. Points of visual differentiation from your competition.

How about writing a marketing email? One that sells? One that stands out from the hundreds flooding everyone’s inboxes uninvited? That is hard, too. You have to think about where the recipient is in your funnel. Whether they’ve heard of you (and if you are emailing them, they should have and should have given you permission), and what you want them to do next. The shorter the email, the harder it is to write. And the longer it takes.

Retouching that free photo to make it yours and make it just right can take longer and cost more than producing a custom photo from scratch.

There’s balance to all of this. Yes, you can over pay. And you can get what you pay for. Marketing isn’t cookie cutter and something you quickly run into a store and pickup on aisle 7.

Overcoming clutter by being relevant and inspiring takes work. And time. You can’t imagine just how much until you actually do it. Hiring professionals – not prima donnas or hacks – increases your odds of success. But you have to respect what they bring to the project. You have to listen to and respect their counsel. Make sure to ask questions, to be clear on what you want the marketing to accomplish. But don’t question why it takes more than 5 minutes.

Playing by the rules

As much as we all hate rules and like to break the rules, we really like to have some. They give us guideposts. As conscious humans, each of us operates from our own playbook filled with our own ‘rules’. Whether in our personal or professional lives, our communications and interactions are shaped by all of the experiences that came before.

These are the informal playbooks we don’t think about. We don’t write them down in contrast to those produced to support your product launch plans, integrated marketing campaigns, trade shows and more. The latter are important to align your teams and ensure consistent messaging and execution. Both provide the informal and formal ‘rules’ of engagement.


What happens when things change, sometimes very quickly? Our playbook becomes outdated. Even obsolete. We’re left flying blind, fumbling our way forward. We need new ‘rules’. We need a new map, essentially. And sometimes these rules are built trial and error. In any relationship, we sometimes can really step in it. We can misread body language and intent – especially if it’s via email or text let alone face to face.


What if instead of a playbook filled with rigid rules, you created one built around general themes? Certainly your internal playbook should be more fluid and adjust for the situation and person before you. That requires active listening. That requires empathy. And it requires taking a chance you might be wrong and having to say your sorry.


I have a poster on my office wall featuring a quote from Miki Agrawal: Iteration, Iteration, Iteration, Iteration, Iteration, iteration, iteration, iteration is perfection. Never is that more true than in communicating personally and professionally. Be open. Be intentional. Be vulnerable. And most of all, be willing to break the rules and form new ones.


And do it again when they no longer serve you.

Ship your work

I spent a month this winter in Seth Godin’s altMBA. One intense month with some amazing cohorts. Produced more writing and work in that time than ever thought possible. It was all about shipping. Putting your work out there for others to see and comment on. And for you to reflect upon. I can’t recommend the experience highly enough. Just do it and don’t look back.

The lesson is that each of us is capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We discount what’s possible. We don’t believe in ourselves enough to ship our best work. And by best, that doesn’t mean perfect. Best means being vulnerable. It means having empathy for others as well as yourself.

It’s hard work. We must choose to do it. And yes, we’ll face resistance in the process.

When you can ship your work every day, it feeds the engine that helps you ship the next day. Inertia will stop you in your tracks. Momentum does the opposite.

So ship something today. And then do it again tomorrow. In a few weeks, a few months, you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

On Barbs and Wire

Combined they formed barbedwire, that stunning tool used to keep people and animals in and out of places. Invented in the mid 1800s, you can learn all you need to know at the Barbed Wire History Museum.

There is of course, a museum for most everything. Beyond the physical manifestation, barbs and wire show up everyday in our lives. Prickly people who don’t align with our thinking and desires. Technology that doesn’t bow to our will or in other words deliver on the promise of improving our productivity. They are things that slow us down. Or at the worst, stop us in our tracks.

We all know what these things are. They’re both the same and different for each of us. Little irritants that derail an otherwise perfectly stellar day. I would even venture to say that barbs comprise all the alerts and emails and notifications pinging you non stop all day every day. Unless you minimize them.

The wire is the connections and path taking us towards our goals. Dreams. It’s the conduit of course. Like the power in your house. Or the lines overhead connecting you to the grid. In this case, the grid is your network of people and tools who help you along the way.

The trick is overcoming all the barbs attached to the wire because success is never a smooth path. It’s a choice. Do you say ‘ouch’ and panic? Or do you say ‘dang’ and keep going?

Onward, Systematically.

Many of us are glad to close the door on this year. Doesn’t mean 2018 is suddenly transformative and all will be rainbows and unicorns. Really, tomorrow is just another day. Somehow we make the transition into so much more.

I already outlined my three guiding words for this year. Our success with resolutions hinges on our success at learning new habits and breaking old ones that don’t serve us. Scott Adams encouraged us to think not about goals but systems as a mindset that helps us achieve our goals by using knowledge and process. Systems don’t allow us to talk ourself out of something like we can with goals and resolutions. “Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen talks about systems in relationships. Peter Senge talks about Systems Thinking. It’s a mindset.

Systems help us build new habits. They require less cognitive thought and willpower freeing us up to accomplish more. To focus more.

We can lament the passing of time or make the most of it. Either way it passes. Here’s to a year ahead filled with building good systems that fuel your success whatever that looks like for you. For me, it’s a mix of financial, emotional, physical and relational. It’s about moving forward purposefully.

What’s your mindset right now and what systems will you put into place next? Bring it on 2018. Let’s go.

My three new words for 2018

It’s time to take stock of how I did living my words for 2017 and introduce three new words for 2018. Not that this year’s or prior years really go away. It gives emphasis on what I should pay attention to as I navigate the year ahead. I said I’d reinvent myself this year and in some ways I have. Others not so much yet. It was a year of much newness I’ve embraced with gusto. Explore: I continued to wander around cities I go for business and ventured a bit beyond to others and into the French countryside for a decadently magical experience. Much remains to be explored. There is still room to be more exceptional and I focused much on communication this year – written and verbal. Always room to improve.

Intentional

We live in the age of distraction and I find myself often distracted. Hey look, squirrel! We check our phones too much, spending too much time consuming sound bites rather than engaging in the kind of thinking that contributes to growth and creativity and richer experiences. I commit to being more intentional in my actions and the activities in which I engage including time with others where I am more fully present. I think this year will be one where more of us engage in a digital detox and take back our time. Life in analog is rich and the digital doesn’t always live up to the promise of more productivity and more time for what matters. Here’s to a year of living intentionally.

Simple

We often make things harder than they need to be because we don’t take time to connect the dots whether that’s in how we communicate and connect with others to how we work. And what we say. There’s an art to simplicity. Simple is simply hard. And it takes time. It takes more time to write succinctly. More time to edit for clarity and in the photo world, to select the absolute best work that says exactly what you want it to say. In marketing, simple is pure magic. It’s where engagement happens effortlessly because you took the time to demonstrate how you solve real problems better than anyone else. No matter how complex your product, you can distill it down to the crux of what you do. But it takes work. And I plan to engage in the elegant art of simplicity. It builds on being exceptional in all I do.

Focus

Connected with being distracted by all of the digital inputs and interruptions is a loss of focus. This is a reminder to get clear about priorities in all areas of life – work, ambition, parenting, friendships and fun. It’s deciding what really matters and pursuing it with gusto and grace. It’s about making a difference after a year that arguably left many of us so distracted and disillusioned. Let’s focus and make good things happen.

Meet me in the middle?

What ever happened to civil discourse? Where it was okay to disagree and argue in search of common ground? What ever happened to meeting in the middle?

Everything has become politicized and polarized. Facts are considered irrelevant. Science is stupid. Thinking is bad. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the .1%.

Joseph Stieglitz talked about the dangers of the growing inequality. At some point – if not now – our systems are going to snap.

With our crumbling infrastructure – roads, healthcare, environment, education – we’re losing our edge as a great society. We’re at risk of losing our ability to innovate as country as we slide backwards with protectionism. Making it harder for talent to immigrate to the U.S. makes it harder for you to invent the next big thing if you can’t find what you need locally. And if we’re making this harder along with reducing investment in science and education, we’re hurting our ability to compete as a country going forward.

Just like in business when you lose your way, get complacent and take your eye off the proverbial ball, opportunities open for upstarts to win against you.

Also as a business, these dynamics contribute to potential instability in the markets and society that make it tough to forge a  stable, competitive path forward. At the very least you need to be vigilant about your strategy and nimble in order to change course quickly when necessary. That means plans need to be more malleable and long range planning shorter.

This isn’t a political blog but I would be naive to suggest that the current climate won’t impact your business, our jobs and how we all work. That along with technology changes most everything.

How is this impacting you now? What do you see on your near term horizon? Opportunities or challenges? For some, I believe this opens up opportunities to build new businesses to address this type of climate. It’s a matter of how you look at it. I advocate though for balance in society. Stability creates the space to innovate and test and thrive.

Us versus Them

How often does this come up for you? How often do different departments work symbiotically to achieve company goals? Or is it more about silos and protecting one’s turf?

Imagine how much more we could all get done with much less effort and angst if we truly worked together in a spirit of transparent collaboration.

Imagine how much more profitable your company would be if this were true? It’s hard to quantify the waste that political infighting causes both financially and emotionally.

Of course there aren’t many public examples of symbiotic nirvana. It’s rather rare.

What if you made that happen in your company? Imagine what an amazing place to work that would be and how gratifying. The elusive stretch goal? Why not shoot for it? It’s never too late to start. At least you can be one who doesn’t contribute to the problem.

Giving and receiving feedback well is one tool that can help and I’m just diving into this book on the subject.

Some days are better than others

Does that ring true for you? Your customers? Yesterday I stopped by Starbucks for a basic black coffee because I was out of beans at home. I walked out and later discovered it was full of grounds. A terrible cup of Joe. When I mentioned it this morning, they gave me a cup on the house. Fortunately it was fine. A coffee house needs to nail the basics and that’s simple, good coffee. I often wonder if Starbucks has forgotten that. They did good today though.

What do you do when things are not going your way? Do you wallow in self pity or pull yourself together and turn it around? Make some fresh squeezed lemonade? What’s your BATNA?*

While it’s easy to get caught up in the negative vortex, a little perspective shift can stem the downward spiral. You have a choice: let the wrongs of the day rule you or use them as an opportunity to improve. To turn the day towards your favor.

I talked today about neuroplasticity which is the mind’s ability to rewire itself based on changes to your environment, focus, thinking, injury, etc. Previously it was thought the brain developed when young and then was fixed. Taken a step further, you have the ability to direct your brain’s rewiring based on the concept of self-directed neuroplasticity where you change your brain based on where you focus your attention, whether that is your thoughts or time spent honing a skill.

Why wallow in self pity when you can directly influence your sense of happiness by choosing to do so? You can choose not to think of the wrongs of the day as things being done to you but just obstacles to overcome.

I will admit sometimes we want to be a grinch. To be cantankerous to get it out of our system. But make sure you get it out. I know I do this at times. It’s not always easy in the moment to recognize what we’re doing to ourselves and others. Yet the more you practice pulling your act together, the easier it gets. Because your brain will recognize what’s happening sooner and correct course even before you realize it.

As a business, your customers have bad days and may want to take it out on you. Rather than taking that personally, you have the chance to help them turn it around by injecting a little wow and delight into their day. It’s up to them whether to accept it. And a topic for another day but you also need to recognize when some customers are not a good fit for you or your team and actually cause harm in which case you should part ways.

Intentionally working on turning a misstep into opportunity increases your chances for more good days than bad.

*Best alternative to a negotiated agreement

Make time for real work

We live distracted lives. That’s not a secret. And research over the past few years has shown how our brains are getting rewired, we’re facing more anxiety and depression. More FOMO. We’re essentially skimming the surface as several studies have shown it takes 20 – 25 minutes to regain focus after each distraction whether that’s a text message, email or colleague buzzing by your desk.

We’re not creating value in this state of mind. Real value comes from concentrated focus. What author Cal Newport calls Deep Work. This requires finding uninterrupted time to focus. At minimum, 90 minutes. But it’s better if you can find 2 – 4 hour blocks of time.

While Nicholas Carr has shown how our brains are being rewired in the digital age, neuroscience shows that because our brains can be consciously rewired through focus on a subject over time. Called self-directed neuroplasticity, we can choose not to be so distracted.

When algorithms can replace much of the work we already do – and much of the thinking – it’s the value we create through deeper work that will keep us relevant. And that will differentiate you from others. Because it is hard. It takes intention. Vision. Discipline. All things eroded by digital distraction.

Check it out here. Not only will you create more value, you’re apt to live a more satisfying life.