In the spirt of focus and building on last year, here are three words I’m using to guide me in the year ahead. Last year’s were so simple, but still hard. I often forgot about them. Yet I smiled when I went back to them late summer and noted the first one, again – Do. Earlier in the summer I attended the Do Lectures. Maybe it’s serendipity or maybe it’s a stretch to connect the two, but I hadn’t thought of this word when I signed up in the Spring. I would like to think putting the word out there contributed to being there in some small way. What words will you use to guide you this year?
It’s no secret we’re facing momentous change given the election results. Like many, I never thought this would come to pass and have had to pick myself up out of depression for what this means for our country. Whereas Obama gave us hope – and delivered on that promise for all intents and purposes – we now face divisiveness and ugliness. My initial desire was to pretend it was a bad dream. That it didn’t really happen. But it did and it’s out of our control. Running away isn’t an option. But focusing on what we can control is. It may not always be easy. Few things worth doing are. As a consummate thinker I process possibility. I visualize the good, the bad and everything in between.
Outside of the election, 2016 has been a year of change for me and will continue to be well into 2017 – that I am certain about. Spending more than a few hours above 30,000 feet during the year affords much time to envision the future. To reconcile what’s working; what’s not working. To think about all of the mistakes I’ve made. And no doubt I’ll continue to make more as long as I navigate this circuitous path called life with more intention and authenticity than perhaps I’ve done in the past. None of us can go back. But we can move forward. You can either let change blow you around willy nilly. Or you can stare it in the face. Grab ahold of it. Throwing a pity party isn’t going to feed your soul. I’ve awoken this year in ways that are tough to articulate. It’s as if I finally got the memo. But then I am a guy and sometimes we’re a little slow on the uptake.
The election aside –I still have to compartmentalize that disaster – I feel more at peace. More alive. And more hopeful than I have. Part of it is through acceptance; letting go. And part of it is a desire to live the best life I can going forward. Why not? The Do was instrumental in this. As is much of the reading I’m drawn to. In fact, it seems books show up at the most serendipitous times. I’m currently working through ‘Designing your Life’ by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans – just out this fall! I recommend you work through it too. It’s about surfacing options rather than accepting the one solution staring at you. It’s about applying design thinking to your life. You don’t need to be a designer to do this and it can help spark positive change.
I often share this article on why most change initiatives fail: it’s because change causes physical pain in the brain and only through focus and repetition can you transfer this new change from one part of the brain to another. Remember how hard you had to think when learning to drive? It’s like that.
Even as I write this and ponder possibility – I am a dreamer at heart, and innately curious – I know there will be bumps on the journey. And it is always a journey. I’d like to call this texture. But I believe it’s how we face such bumps that makes us stronger. Here’s to navigating such with grace and style.
The Do Lectures are hard to describe. Some say it’s like Ted meets Burning Man on farm. Others will say it’s about uniting the Doers of the world and sharing stories. Whatever you do, don’t call it a conference though. Where else can you go sleep in a Tipi with strangers, shower outside and hear the most amazing stories?
Each February for the past four years you’ll find me in Amsterdam. I spend the day I land walking the city with camera in hand, looking at how I can see and discover things I hadn’t in previous trips. There’s a lot you miss when first visiting a new city; particularly one as visually rich as Amsterdam. I love this city’s architecture and saw it differently on this trip, although I’m always drawn to the areas around the canals.
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!
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.
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!