From October 2010

Gossip loses, truth reigns, punk is back and community rules

Here we are at the last Friday in October. Shel Israel wrote about online global neighborhoods on Twitter in Twitterville, (affiliate link) and over the past few weeks found myself engaged with a smart, diverse and lively group on Twitter. In fact, as more of us got together, it became too difficult to include everyone’s handles along with a message in our allotted 140 characters that we formed #UsGuys to keep it going. And that’s what I love about Twitter – forming connections you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to do – the new kind of neighborhood Shel wrote about. We invite you to join us – stop by some time!

That said, it was a rich week in link land and I had a tough time curating my five top links:

Keep your clothes on: public interest news trumps gossip link bait for generating revenue according to a study by content marketing firm Perfect Market. Certainly goes against what you’d normally think. Hat Tip to @ConversationAge for the link.

Ray Ozzie offers sound advice for leaders on his way out of Microsoft. For starters, it takes time to paint a vision for the future, put your past successes in perspective and know that meaningful transformation comes from within. Great advice for leaders of any company.

Geoff Livingston decries the me-too social media movement and obsession with fame and personal branding. That many business pundits are writing books to boost their street cred versus imparting great ideas. He takes aim at the flimsy metrics like follower counts and influence to suggest there’s a higher purpose to communication. And that’s moving the needle forward on a cause or business that really makes a difference in someone’s life. His riff makes me look forward to his upcoming book. When I saw him talking about this upcoming post I immediately thought of Richard Laermer’s book, Punk Marketing – also a worthy read.

Jonathan Baskin suggests that there’s a competitive advantage in truth – that there’s a big ‘truth gap’ in business today. And that people are talking about brands as much or more as with them – and that the ultimate purpose of conversation is to gain a shared understanding of the truth. This sparked a good exchange among #UsGuys on Twitter – and @TomMoradpour suggested that the argument is flawed – that rather than focus on ‘truth’, brands need to be ‘true’ to who and what they are. Both thoughts have merit in my book. (Hat tip to the #UsGuys for this one.)

I’ve spent more time and money than I care to admit at Home Depot. So I’m pretty familiar with the brand. I must say I was impressed to read about how they’re investing in creating meaningful interactions with their customers. And not just within the store but across the entire company.  They’re embracing the concept of participating is marketing with a model more businesses should consider. But always remember that you can’t just plop a concept from one business to another – you have to understand your customers, your employees and culture and design a program that fits. As a customer and marketer, I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

When DIY and cheap stock photography just won’t do

Digital cameras bring decent photography within your reach. You don’t need a pro to produce a technically accurate, usable image. And many images don’t need to be fine art to tell a story. But a well-crafted image or series of images is a powerful way to illustrate a great story. The best photographers know how to bring your concepts to life. They’re problem solvers and partners. Often, pushing the shutter is the least important aspect. It’s the preparation, vision and team behind it that pulls it all together on deadline – and differentiates you from your competition.

And anyone who’s spent anytime searching for the right stock photo knows what a time sink that can be. And if you want something no one else has, you’re better off financially hiring it out. iStockphoto might be great for average images, but your odds of seeing a competitor using the same image are pretty high. In that case you get what you pay for.

But hiring a photographer is a lot like hiring an agency partner whether PR, design, web or advertising. Many look the same. It comes down to personality, fit and their willingness to partner with you. Never settle for a prima donna.

Here are a dozen photographers who I believe bring a fresh point of view, all with their own style and focus (no pun intended). If you’ve got the budget, adding great imagery is a worthwhile consideration.

  1. Frederik Broden – Highly conceptual thinker. Strong at bringing editorial concepts to life with a twist.
  2. Michele Clement – wonderful people and locations. She has a definite point of view
  3. Chip Forelli – Beautiful industrial and landscape image – very graphic and engaging. Read his case studies and you can see his ability to problem solve. Think industrial chic.
  4. Chase Jarvis – high energy whether still or motion
  5. Mark Laita – Known for his work for Apple, has a great style that’s current and timeless at the same time.
  6. Holly Lindem – Another great conceptual thinker. I love her bright style and sense of humor shining through in her work
  7. Raymond Meeks – talk about evoking a mood- often dark, ethereal.
  8. Debbi Morello – Incredible documentary storyteller. Her images say it all.
  9. Laurie Rubin – Bright, cheerful lifestyle and interiors. Great emotion too; think light and airy.
  10. Sandro – awesome portrait photographer who knows how to capture style and personality
  11. Jamey Stillings – great outdoor productions. You can often feel the texture in his images. He also has an incredible series documenting the construction of the bridge at the Hoover Dam.
  12. Philip Toledano – People and emotion. Days with my Father is one of most moving photo essays I’ve seen.

And finally I have to mention my mentor – Jay Maisel. Two weeks in Aspen Colorado transformed how I ‘saw’ and photographed. Particularly people. Even if photography is not your primary thing, taking a workshop like Jay’s influences your visual thinking, strengthening those muscles. You can now take his workshop in his New York studio. He gives a pretty tough workout.

Is there room for kindness in business?

Last Friday’s #kaizenblog focused on kindness in business and asked this very question. I’ll leave it to @3keyscoach to provide her great recap, but wanted to share a few thoughts here.

I’ve often wondered if I’d be further along in my career if I were less kind. Or took a different path. I tend to be very accommodating and considerate of others’ feelings, up and down the corporate ladder. That means I try not to rock the boat – which means I’m not always assertive as I should be. And when I pursued a career as a commercial photographer, I struggled with the cold calls and being direct in asking for the business. Classic sales mistakes. I could blame the dot com crash and 9/11 for my failure in the photography biz. Or that I was 10 years too late.

But I think it was desire, failure to respond to rapidly changing market, the tough, competitive sales process and being in Portland vs. Los Angeles or New York, where John Sharpe said he’d have use for me if I were there. Kindness was not at fault. While this detour definitely slowed my progress, it also helped me define what I wanted to be when I grew up. Made me tougher. And one strong visual thinker.

Or maybe it’s that I didn’t exert enough of my alpha male – the aggressive drive to fully stand for what I believe in and market the breadth and depth of my capabilities as I effectively could. Tooting my own horn so to speak. I will say I think my constant quest to learn has afforded me the ability to execute on virtually all areas of communications – from strategy to writing, design, and photography whether print or online. And geek out on SEO and PPC. But suffer from too-nice syndrome? Doubtful. I know others much kinder, more patient, than I.

I grew up in a retail family. My parents owned two general merchandise stores in which I worked on the front lines of customer service. I saw great customers and those not so great. And in college I worked in the electronics department at the U of O Bookstore, again serving customers. There were many grumpy customers and after many late nights of studying and other less studious activities, it was tough to always maintain a smile and cheerful attitude.

Are the most successful those not so kind?

Consider Steve Jobs. He’s no doubt incredibly successful. And is known to be a controlling tyrant. Same with Martha Stewart. Seems many of the most successful get there because they claim and use their power to get ahead, often at the expense of others. Same with politics. It’s a big focus on me, myself and I versus the greater good. Misleading with half-truths and flimsy claims to build revenue. Look, for example, at the new Corn Sugar ads trying to rebrand ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ into something benign. And true kindness, I believe, includes consideration for the greater good. I don’t believe, however, our political system rewards kindness – but that’s a whole other discussion.

I could cite endless examples on how success comes to the most opportunistic. The most cutthroat casting aside those that get in their way. Is it more about power and control? Or can you be kind and get to the same place?

Let’s not confuse kindness with execution.

Steve and Martha may not be kind. But they execute. Everyday. They work really hard. They’re driven and they don’t give up. But I think either could still get where they are with a healthy dose of kindness.  To succeed with kindness, you have to understand what it means to follow through. If you’re just kind, and have great ideas but don’t act, you won’t succeed. Period.

My top 11 thoughts on kindness in business:
  • Kindness doesn’t mean superficial small talk. It means genuinely showing interest in your customers and colleagues
  • You can’t use kindness as an excuse for not moving forward. Some people really like to chat. But sometimes you need to get things done. In that case it’s time to politely move the conversation forward into action steps. Offer to follow up later.
  • Kindness doesn’t mean hiring just your friends. You need to be strategic and hire those best suited for a job. In that case, you do your friends a favor by explaining why they didn’t make the cut and how they can improve themselves. That’s true kindness although they may not realize it at the time.
  • Kindness means talking straight. Being authentic. Don’t say what you don’t mean. Phoniness is most always transparent.
  • Kindness means being kind to those who aren’t. It’s not expected and often very disarming.
  • Kindness means being willing to do the job needed for you and your team and company to succeed. No matter how high you rise up the ladder, being willing to pitch in when needed on a project is kind.
  • Kindness is sharing the glory – recognizing that most business successes require the efforts of many. It’s never about you.
  • Kindness is the ability to provide constructive feedback to a peer or employee with the intent to help them grow. Even when it hurts.
  • Kindness means going out of your way to help a customer. Even if it’s not in your job description.
  • Kindness means paying attention to the little details – this HBR article used to kick off #kaizenblog proves it.
  • Kindness does not equal wimpy. Being a pushover is not being kind. It’s lacking a backbone and conviction.

I think the group felt that kindness does have a place in business. Some businesses more than others.

A personal example of the power of long-term kindness:

My wife Denise is a mortgage broker. Yes, even now. When she entered the business 15 years ago, her manager said she was too nice to make it. She needed to toughen up. But that’s not who she was. She didn’t want to charge the heavy fees that gave the industry a bad rap. Or put her clients into loans they either couldn’t afford or came with huge adjustable interest rates and penalties down the road. She wanted to help people. Provide them with the facts and hold their hand throughout the whole process, working hard to ensure everything happened as promised and on time. The result? During the boom years she made less than the top producers, but has steadily seen her business grow. And in one of the toughest mortgage markets around, she’s seen her two best years and is now outperforming many former top producers. Many of whom have seen their businesses evaporate.

With each change in the regulations and ways mortgage brokers operate, she’s managed to navigate successfully by pricing fairly and looking out for her client’s best interest. They come back and refer her to others. Because she combines kindness with execution. In fact in 2007 she received a 100% customer satisfaction rating.

My favorite resources that support this theory that kindness in business works:
  • Bill George – Authentic Leadership. In this book he talks about how he found kindess and translated it into more effective leadership.
  • Keith Ferrazzi – Never eat alone - and Who’s Got your back. Watch this video for a great sense of how important it is to connect. Engage by being human and simply caring.
  • Tim Sanders, Love is the Killer App. Doesn’t the title say it all?
  • And for managers, Robert Sutton is the guru of kindness. From The No Asshole Rule to Good Boss. Bad Boss (affiliate links)
  • Chuck Ferguson’s Indomitable Spirit. Great story about Jim Lusser, former CEO of St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon. How he used to be an asshole and realized the potential of kindness as a business advantage – and in treating patients with dignity. He banished titles – everyone was a caregiver. Patients were allowed to wear what they wanted vs. the standard hospital gown. And were given massages before surgery. They could even order what they wanted to eat and choose the time to eat. Guess what? costs for anesthesia went down. Food costs went down.

My sense is that in a world where customers are empowered by social technologies, kindness is going to play a bigger role in success. Used to be you could be Gordon Gecko and see much success. Seems with the right connections you still can. And you can always spin the data to tell a story. But for most of us, being kind – and smart about it – trumps the alternative. And kindess doesn’t mean being a pushover. Sometimes it means a little tough love along the way. Kindness also doesn’t take the place to taking action. You still have to execute, operate from a sound strategy.

Leadership of the sexes – book review

Leadership and the SexesI am always looking for new ways to improve my ability to communicate professionally and personally. I’ve read many books on Leadership but when Tom Peters recommended Leadership and the Sexes** by Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis I immediately added it to the list. We all know men and women communicate differently. But how many of us realized that these differences are linked to chemical differences in the brain? The promises to equip you with the new tools based on science to both manage teams as well as market products and services more effectively. It promises to help both men and women understand and gain respect for the other.

Michael Gurian also wrote The Wonder of Girls, a book that’s helped me in understanding how my daughter relates in the world. He’s spent a career trying to understand gender differences and helping companies understand how these differences impact them. Barbara started studying these differences out of her personal experiences where she felt she had to become more like a man to rise up the corporate ladder – and wasn’t satisfied with the notion that women had to give up who they were to succeed.

This book details the very real differences in how men and women lead and perform at work – based on brain science. For example, women tend to need to talk things out – not seeking solutions so much as an ear to listen. Men often try to fix things immediately – causing frustration when a woman just wants to be heard. Women tend to be natural multi-taskers while men like to focus on one task and compartmentalize things more. Men are also much more competitive, interrupting often to assert their knowledge and position – growing out of their initial role as hunters. But these are generalities and there are always exceptions. Gurian and Annis emphasize repeatedly that there are those with a “third-brain” which is a combination of the two. They also provide a quick survey in the back for you to find out what kind of brain you have.

Some key differences between our brains:

  • women have 15 to 20 percent higher blood flow in their brain enabling different parts of their brain to work together differently than a man’s brain.
  • men’s brains shut off several times daily whereas women’s do not contributing to different ways of conversing, listening, and working. These rest states often give women the impression that men aren’t listening.
  • a woman’s brain uses different parts of their brain to process information at different times than a man’s, which is why each focuses on different tasks, things and solutions.
  • women tend to talk more than men because their hippocampus – major memory center – is more active and has a stronger linkage between memory and word centers.
  • men’s occipital and parietal lobes* are less active, affecting how men handle conflict and negotiation; the authors detail how women and men negotiate differently – making it important to have both genders work together on high-stakes negotiations.
  • women are more able to connect what they hear, read and see into written words

*The occipital lobe is the area at the back of the brain that processes visual information; in simplistic terms, the parietal lobe processes sensory and spatial information.

More a practical guide than salacious journey on gender, the book begins with a primer on gender science – which I found to be the most fascinating part, then moves onto what they call GenderTools (and used in their gender-based training programs). With each chapter, they provide you with exercises, checklists and strategies for applying these tools in your company. These five GenderTools are:

  • Improving Negotiation Skills with both Genders;
  • Running Gender-balanced meetings;
  • Improving communication skills with women and men;
  • Improving conflict resolution skills with men and women;
  • Focusing on mentoring and coaching.

The third and final part details specific applications of the tools with chapters devoted to helping both men and women. Perhaps because they provide a better laboratory for studying the impact of improving gender intelligence, large corporations are the success stories sprinkled throughout the book. At IBM, gender analysis was one of the tools CEO Lou Gerstner used to turn IBM around – reducing turnover among women, and increasing productivity. They attribute this as a key factor to the growth in IBM’s small and medium-size business sales and marketing unit from $10 Million to $100 Million in five years. Deloitte and Touche was another success story – saving millions lost when the women they recruited and trained moved to competitors out of a lack of opportunity to rise up the ladder. But the tools are no less applicable to those at smaller companies; it just might be more difficult to see large, direct effects on profitability. More likely you’ll achieve higher job satisfaction and reduced turnover.

Leadership and the Sexes is one of those books you’ll want to reference from time to time. There is no fluff here and it can be a dry read at times – challenging for those easily distracted. It’s nothing like Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. But every chapter delivers insights you can use today. With thorough research, documentation and examples, Gurian and Annis make a strong case for why improving gender intelligence matters. Notes and resources provided at the back for each chapter show just how much research went into the book – and gives readers craving more plenty to chew on.

The authors emphasize that neither gender is more intelligent or better than the other. But biological differences strongly influence how each approaches work, communication and conflict. What’s important is balancing and harnessing these differences to build stronger, more sustainable businesses.

My measure of any book’s success is whether I gain at least one new idea that improves my ability to understand and communicate and it delivers. While I’ve always been aware of how men and women communicate differently, I found the book to be a great primer in understanding why. To get the most out of this book, you need to discuss these tools and try the exercises with your team. The important take-away from the book is how leaders can combine innate differences like men’s competitive drive and women’s ability to build relationships to gain a competitive advantage. Particularly useful in our hyper-competitive digital age.

**affiliate link

Move over technology. Time for us to drive.

Every year, technology allows us to go faster, do more things, connect more places. Faster than we can think and connect. Our computers can process faster than we can type – and they’re getting faster every year. Unless of course you’re working with video and large image files and then you can never have enough speed/memory/disk space. Technology is converging – TVs are getting flatter, everythings’ miniaturized, mobile, portable, fluid. no longer tethered.

It allows us to be connected all the time. Technology is like the accelerator in your car. Without a speed limiter. And that’s where you get in trouble if you don’t know how to stop. It can get you off track. Out of control. Lost. Is it helping you do more with your life? Are you achieving your goals more effectively and with greater satisfaction because of it? Or is it running your life. Consuming your time.

I just read Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus (amazon affiliate link) in which he talks about the vast amounts of time we’ve spent watching TV. Time we didn’t have 100+ years ago when we were working all the time to support homes and families. Time we’ve been afforded by education and progress has improved our productivity. He talks about the ability now to tap into that surplus – translate passive activity into something creative and productive. Not easy, but imagine what a few of the trillions of hours directed towards something new could do? What kind of business you could create?

But then Mack Collier writes about how fewer than 1 – 2% of his Twitter followers actually click on the links he shares. It’s still a mostly passive medium. We’re not engaging by and large. Perhaps that will change as the younger generations growing up with such connectivity naturally. Clay writes about a 4 year old who while watching a movie gets up and looks behind the TV. Her dad asked her what she was doing. “Looking for the mouse.” She expected to interact with the movie. Not just watch it. To her, technology just is. To most of us, growing up without it, it’s this shiny new toy that’s changing how we live. How we work.

And technology never slows down. Just like going fast  and faster down the highway. Or riding your bike down hill – at some point you’re going to have to stop. Or face a crash. Or a nice ticket. It can be exhilarating. But faster is not always better. More is not always the answer.

So how do you gain control? There are no brakes. No, YOU need to choose the pieces of technology that enhance your life. Look at what improves your ability to communicate with others. Make your life richer. And for those that don’t, get rid of them. Adopt only those technologies that feel right. Those that are simple. Engaging. And remember you’re ultimately in the driver’s seat.

Personally, look at the tools that help you stay connected to your family and friends. Are your conversations and relationships made richer and deeper by the tools? Or do the tools get in the way of meaningful interactions?

Professionally, look at tools that enhance you’re ability to not only connect with prospects and customers, but that increase  the wow and delight you deliver. Every day. And if they don’t, get rid of them. Now.

What are your favorite technologies? What can’t you live without? My guess is that it’s that computer that happens to be a phone you’re holding right now.

This Friday it’s about Goals, Money, Stories, Customers and Relationships

Welcome to the middle of October; we’re racing through Q4 for a strong finish to 2010. Are you meeting your goals for the year? Today we have a #kaizenblog chat and Skype conversation on setting goals and designing actions that work. It’s great to have goals, but you have to be able to act upon them. And it’s not just about working harder.

Speaking of turning goals, here’s an excerpt from a book about how the iPod became reality. It provides insight into what you need to foster innovation. In this case, it was the right mix of people and the right timing and passion. We take the iPod for granted now, but they had significant technical hurdles to overcome at the time.

We talk about showing real ROI in social media and Peter Kim gets right to the point. It’s all about the money. He offers some really good thoughts here as we move from the feel good ‘let’s connect online’ to how we translate those connections into money. But that doesn’t mean the principles of Social Media go out the window. It’s more about how successful platforms still require big money behind them – and companies are starting to figure that out.

I’m a major consumer of business books in the quest to expand my ability to apply the latest thinking on branding, customer experience and business to communication strategy. Hat tip to @bethharte for this one – an insightful book I’m going to pick up about building your business strategy from the outside in – yes, focusing on the customer first – and doing so during a recession. Get a glimpse in this interview with the author George Day.

If I read nothing else during the week (rare), I make time for Valeria. And so should you. She offers pretty sound advice for how businesses can meaningfully promote. Hint: It’s not about shouting louder from the hilltop. In this post, she talks about how PR can build on your company’s story. Yes, it’s about telling a story – even with your next product launch.

Effective relationship marketing requires technology automation to help drive the process. Specifically automating some aspects of email and integrating with all of your channels. The key is developing a comprehensive integrated marketing program and executing well on all of the details. Don’t leave anything to chance.

The wisdom of stories

When marketers and PR execs are always on message, they all start to sound the same. Because unless you’re putting your own company’s personality into it, there are only so many ways you can talk about your next generation solution that’s going to drive productivity through the 72 new features developed by your team of innovative experts. Asleep yet?

Generic vanilla doesn’t cut it. We have an oversupply. And adding a few fluffy descriptors only makes your messages more complex and stilted. Not more memorable. No, it’s by telling stories that you engage your readers. And at a recent #kaizenblog chat, we focused on what makes up a good story and where to start?

Some key thoughts here – and a few resources to help you hone your storytelling ability. Get it right and you’ll see greater response to your messages – people might actually remember them. They might enjoy them. Even better, they might share them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your team and executives stay on message – getting the right word out about your company. You don’t get results when everyone’s singing a different song after all. No, get your message out by being a great story teller. And helping everyone up and down the ladder do the same.

Coach Ellen St. George Godfrey, co moderator with @conversationage has a great recap that highlights the thoughts shared on why stories work and the elements of a great story. She notes one comment that stood out for me by @Paul_Preneau:

Stories connect all of us and our experiences together. They inspire, inform and influence ideas and actions.

And @RichBecker said that:

Great stories allow listener to see more than speaker tells. It’s how we relate and become immersed in something.

I added that to have a good story, you need  the key elements of a protagonist, conflict, steps to resolving the conflict and Key twists to overall plot. You end with the resolution – good or bad. And in your business – the stories you tell should either put your customer front and center, showing how your products and services improve their lives and businesses. Or you highlight conflicts customers and prospects would connect with and show via storytelling how you make things right in the world. Your business does make things better, right? Your stories should have a happy ending. And use the features and data points as the proof your buyer can use to justify their purchase to themselves and to their companies after they’ve made the emotional commitment.

I’d recommend grabbing Syd Field’s book on screenwriting (Affiliate Link). No, I’m not suggesting you work on your hollywood debut. But imagine what approaching your business story like it’s a movie. Syd teaches how every successful movie has the following – check it out the next time you watch a movie:

The set-up – background, character introduction, plot. About 10 minutes into the movie you get plot point one – the conflict. The lead character then spends the bulk of the time overcoming obstacles related to the conflict until you get to plot point two, which introduces a twist that takes things in a different direction. The final 10 to 20 minutes are then spent working towards the resolution.

While you don’t have two hours to get your business story out, thinking in terms of setting the stage, introducing a conflict and then resolving it quickly can help you frame your stories.  No scene in a movie is longer than a minute, thirty seconds; you can accomplish a lot in a very short period of time.

The key for your story to connect, is to strike a nerve, hit an emotion. Do so by understanding your reader and their pains first. Placing what your business does in the context of story makes it memorable. Use metaphors and analogies to get your message out. Make it human – no matter how technical or complex your business. Even more important, make it simple.

Few businesses weave their customers into what they do. Kids learn through stories. Oral history was passed from generation to generation by telling stories. Most B2B businesses involve large, expensive purchases and a long buying cycle. That gives you plenty of time to get your story out over several ‘acts.’

For an example of a great business story, read Tom Asacker’s Sandbox Wisdom – a book about brand building framed in a story about a CEO that lost touch and reconnected with his employees after spending a day with a 6 year old; by viewing the world through a child’s lens. Think about how powerful your message can be when woven into a story versus check out our next generation leading solution now! It requires more thought, certainly to create a story that teaches something – that leaves your reader a little better off. But don’t you owe that to them?

Jonathan Fields is sharing an interview he did with screenwriter Robert McKee in a series of six posts. (Parts Two and Three) All about telling stories. And to dive deep into learning how to tell compelling stories, McKee offers workshops and resources at his site Storylogue. While I’ve not taken any myself – yet – this looks to be a great place to do a deep dive. Or you could spend your evenings reading Greek mythology and thinking about how to apply it to your world. Or settle for telling us you’ve got the next next generation super widget I just gotta have.

And think about this, without a story, what wisdom are you imparting? What wisdom could you impart?

Using technology plus a point of view to tell your story

Storytelling is perhaps the oldest form of communication around. That’s how people shared history, ideas and connected. Whether through words, pictures or a combination, putting your messages in the context of a story makes it memorable. Remarkable. Engaging. It’s a way to cut through the noise and connect with the audience that matters to you because you’re telling stories that put them front and center.

But most marketers get caught up in shouting messages about features and benefits. “Look how great we are,” they exclaim. “We can streamline your business, save you money and make you a lot more productive.” That may be true, but it’s not so memorable. Especially when it sounds like everyone else. The cool thing today is that we have the tools at hand that make storytelling much easier. From the publishing platform I’m using right now to increasingly small and accessible cameras and video cameras combined with relatively easy software to get a finished product out to the world. Or so they’d have you believe.

I came at the business of communication from photography. Since I was 10 I’ve been shooting still pictures. It’s now automatic – just like driving a car. I see pictures constantly – light, shadow, pattern, color and shades of gray. I see the patina of faded paint. Texture on the metal light poles. Ripples in the asphalt roadway. My eyes are the viewfinder. After spending a couple weeks with a master – Jay Maisel, I also see emotion everyday. Expressions and mood. Whether in people or buildings or things. “Pay attention to the corners and the center will take care of itself,” he told us. He talked about gesture and form – and showing the hand of man.

Now Because of the accessibility of video – now even on my iPhone – I’m training myself to tell stories via moving pictures – setup, plot, sequence, resolution. It’s a lot more difficult. While the tools are immediately accessible to all of us, I think we need to remember that it still requires vision and creativity. You can’t just go out (in most cases) guns blazing and come back with a compelling video. You need to have a point of view. You need to think through the story you want to tell. The emotions you want to elicit. The action you want people to take afterwards. In fact I had someone ask me to create a movie trailer to use in a sales demo. Oh, and could we have that in a couple of weeks? It’s a cool thought. But it requires planning. The ability to capture, refine and process great sound – and have it sync with the video (not always a straightforward endeavor as I recently discovered.

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon Chase Jarvis and really appreciate the energy and emotion he puts into his work. Still or video, you can feel a powerful energy. Forward action. His images are never still. They’re motivating. Engaging. Check out the video he did for Nikon’s new prosumer DSLR – the D7000.

It’s a camera that many could afford. Something we could only dream about 5 years ago. On the surface, it’s an easy camera to use. But Chase brings uses vision to tell a story. And is able to get the most out of it. And there’s a whole crew helping out with the production backed by a conscious workflow to take the raw footage, preserve and protect the data, and translate it into the finished product. Chase has a distinct point of view. And that’s what you need to tell a compelling story. You need to begin with the end in mind. It’s easy but not easy. He talks about grabbing a group of friends and heading out to road test this camera – it’s fun. Energetic. But look how he and his crew brought the details together – the clothes, the cars, the location to tell a story. The technology is just offers the tools to make it happen. You need the vision. Jay Maisel also told us that “Interesting people take interesting pictures.” You have to be curious. To question. To explore things outside of your normal routines. Using Chase as an example, he writes about his experience with Mike Horn on Pangea. Imagine how that might influence the work you do everyday.

Because of technology, I recall Seth pointing out awhile ago that if you need decent photos and design, you can usually do it yourself or find someone pretty cheap to do it. But that there’s always room for someone remarkable when you need something special. Work people like Chase or Chip or Michael offer.

You already have the tools at hand. You don’t even need the fanciest tools out there. What matters is how you use them to tell your story in a way that matters to the right people. And knowing when you need a little help making your vision a reality. #kaizenblog last week dove into story telling. The transcript offers some great insights which I’ll go into more in my next post.

They used to laugh when I pulled out my phone

Old Samsung flip phoneI’ve been using an iPhone for six weeks. Being someone fairly tech savvy and connected to the latest tools, people around me used to laugh when I pulled out my old phone. But as far as phones go, it worked just fine. Super durable (you could drop it a lot without worrying about it breaking) and small.  It felt good. And worked great as a phone as well as an alarm while traveling. But although it was a camera phone and you could theoretically surf the net with it, it did neither well. It was a dumb phone in that regard.

Phone as sculpture; product design benchmark

I’ve written about how I thought the iPhone was an incredible product design. Now that I’m actually using one, I feel even more strongly.  It’s simply a beautiful device. This is a piece of art you use. I haven’t had the dropped call issue that made for antenna gate and won’t go into the failings of AT&T. And now that I’ve experienced it, it’d be tough to go back. I like the freedom of always being connected. Of being able to look anything up at anytime (that there’s a connection). I know many of you have an iPhone since they came out in 2007, so you’re probably saying “Duh”. Authorities write about what the iPhone lacks. Things like Flash. Or a regular keyboard. Or freedom from their draconian app process. These are nits. I don’t care because everything is so fluid. So well designed.

Compare it to the Droid and you can see the cohesive elegance of the interface and the apps. That’s what makes this phone sticky. It’s the little things that make the difference. Which is why you need to pay attention to the little things about your brand. How can you create such wow and delight? Design matters. A lot. It’s in the form – shape, line, profile. And in the texture – the feel. Both physical and the interface. It’s about creating something that recedes into the background, serving up what the customer needs when they want it without them realizing it. It gets out of the way.

Connected to everything and everyone

What’s remarkable is everything small rectangle you carry in your pocket does. That the screen changes for what you need. The connectivity is alluring and dangerous. It’s always beckoning you to check in. To keep up with what’s happening because you can. You don’t need to wait until you’re back at your laptop or desktop computer. No, you whip it out and go. It’s effortless.

It’s a companion when you’re alone – you can interact with your contacts and others. But you have to know when to stop. It’s not a surrogate friend and cannot replace being with people face to face. You have to remember to be present in the real world. To listen. And it’s easy to take this connectivity for granted. Kids born in the last few years won’t be able to imagine anything else. But I do. Think back just 10 years. Such a phone was something only James Bond or the Jetsons would have. The iPod hadn’t been born yet.

Daily Visual Journal

My favorite thing? The camera. I’ve been taking pictures since I first picked up a camera when I was 10. I’ve used everything from 35mm to 4×5 sheet film. That I can have a camera with me at all times – and a pretty decent one at that – allows me to record what I see. To create that visual journal. It’s liberating. To not miss an opportunity because I didn’t have my camera with me. That’s powerful. And to capture ideas and record them when inspiration strikes when before I didn’t always have a notebook with me to write. That’s the coolest part of it. And theoretically should increase my ability to create by capturing my visual and passing thoughts. It’ll be interesting to see how that influences the work I do. The onous is on me to turn such freedom into tangible results. Time will tell. You just have to remember that not everything should be recorded. This isn’t the Truman show.

Apps. And too many more apps.

I’m a fan of apps, but am picky about which I use. Like select news apps NYtimes, NPR, BBC, CNET. Apps like AroundMe and Urbanspoon to find places to go. And the camera apps (love Hipstamatic and Tiltshift). And Roger VanOech’s Creative Whack Pack. Time is valuable. And I don’t want to spend my day surfing the apps on my phone. They have to add value. Enhance what I’m doing. I’m sure I’ll discover a few more as I go. I don’t get excited by the fact there are thousands of apps available. Most are just clutter and gimmicks we might use once or twice. Do we really need Talking Tom?

The downside? I’m afraid to drop it.