The future is unknowable

UnknowableFuture

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

Stars_2014

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’?

12 Most Efficient Ways to Kill Creativity in Business

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

Big Enough… Yet Small Enough

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.

Read more

52/13-04 – Red

Subtle red is not. Red is bold and brash. It demands you look at it. That you stop what you’re doing and acknowledge it’s presence before you. Red is like a petulant toddler interrupting your deepest conversations. Red tips others off to how you’re feeling. You turn red when embarrassed. Or angry. But whatever you do, try not to go in the red as that robs you of your options, holding you hostage and preventing you from realizing your most important dreams. But right now, red is beckoning once again!


52/13-03 – Blue

You can say you’ll take that chance once in a blue moon, or that you’re feeling blue. Perhaps you like to listen to the blues. Or for you it’s clear blue skies all the way. Maybe you live in a blue state and love the taste of fresh blueberries in the summer while watching the blue birds flit from branch to branch. However, it should be pretty clear that for the third of 52 visual explorations, this week is all about blue. Thankfully, we did have some of those clear blue skies we love!

Enter the Database, Where IMC Benefits from Data and Automation

At its core IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications) is data driven to support a customer-centric company. Today, technology gives us access to all kinds of data – more specific, more targeted, bigger, but is it better? Please join us Sunday, February 10th at 5:00 PM Pacific / 8:00 PM Eastern on Twitter for #IMCChat as we tackle this topic via the following questions:

  • IMC is data-driven, so where do you start with orienting data to the customer?
  • How can data help bridge the marketing functions (and really the whole co)?
  • Is there a way to keep data top-of-mind
  • How do you keep data relevant (fresh)?
  • As a marketer, what’s the most important data you collect? Why is it so important?
  • What is the most important data to keep collecting and reviewing?
  • How do you keep data from collecting dust on a shelf?
  • In a customer-centric co, is there room for automation?
  • What tactics or efforts make the most sense to automate?

We might not get to all of the questions depending on the flow of the conversation during the hour we have, but these are there to stimulate thinking and dialogue.

52/13-02: Matter

This week is about matter, however you define it. Whether it’s brain ‘matter’, organic, transient matter or something more permanent. In the midst of a two-week New Year’s food cleanse, I happened to have this leftover cabbage, and not being a big fan of it, thought it was better suited to something other than my next meal . .