From Creativity

Away from procrastination and overthinking and towards exploring thoughts, concepts and things.

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!

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!

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 . .

52/13-01: Path; first of 52 visual exercises for 2013

For the past few years I’ve assigned myself ongoing projects to sharpen the eye and stimulate my visual thinking. They’ve been pretty simple, requiring nothing more than sticking to it and taking a moment each day. I started with the daily sky, then followed the next year with a daily observation tied to a single word. In this one, I merely reacted to what I saw and experienced during the day, then later applied a word to the image. Rarely did I have to work to ‘find’ the image; they were just there as I went through the day. I’m continuing this project, but no longer limiting it to a single word, nor worrying about repeating a word during the year.
 
In an effort to stretch my visual muscles a little more, I’m embarking on a weekly image inspired by a word or phrase. The images will be driven by a word or phrase determined in advance. They may be found or created, photographic or drawn. Given my penchant for picking up a camera, I might even toss in some mixed media to push myself a little further. The key is that I don’t over think the concept, stay with the confines of time (must be created during that week), and that I let go and explore. There’s no client and no other objective outside of seeing how that influences writing and communication. Will this enhance my ability as a marketer? Or will it merely feed the creative spirit? We’ll see!

 

This first week is ‘Path’. We all like to have a clear path to follow with an ability to make our own. Sometimes there’s obstacles in the way of our chosen path, and other times, we look over the edge, wondering if we should take that leap. But to grow as individuals and increase our capacity to perform, there are times we must take that leap without knowing for certain whether we’ll sink or swim. It’s an act of faith. Most often, however, we’re limited by our fears and the stories our minds tell ourselves. When we do take that leap, it’s usually not as bad as we envisioned when we look back. Such experiences help us take the next leap and experience life rather than remain prisoners of our minds. So take that leap this year; push yourself to do something beyond what you tell yourself you’re capable of doing!

 

Shout Quietly

In the pursuit of qualified leads, marketers, when they’re not getting the response rates desired, are compelled to shout louder. To make bigger claims, so-called stronger offers and calls to action. Maybe inject a starburst or two. At the very least you’ll find one of these: !.

 

Yet still there’s no response. Why?

 

Because your customers are smart. They can smell your marketing – speak a a 1,000 pixels away. They see through your hollow claims and puffery. And ignore you. Because they know that once they fall for you flimsy claim, they’ll be disappointed. And even more jaded than the last time.

If it weren’t for the years they’ve been pounded with messages, you might have a chance. If it weren’t for the infinite number of channels they can go to, you might have a chance. It’s too easy to tune you out. And they know it. They have the power like never before.

 

When TV was born, advertising was new and shiny. The channels were few. Customers had to listen. It didn’t take long for ‘commercial’ to equate to bathroom break or time to make popcorn, but you didn’t have the clutter.

 

Now you have to work harder. Much harder. You have to make claims in plain, human language. Next generation, industry leading goodness doesn’t cut it.

No one wants to be sold.

The new buzzwords are join the conversation, engage and let’s have a relationship. Sounds warm and fuzzy – the right thing to do. But then again, customers don’t always want to have a relationship with you. They can’t have a relationship with every brand and service they purchase. Nor do they need one. Some are meant to be purchased and consumed.

 

I’m certainly not looking for a relationship with my olive oil of choice. Or my oil change service.

But a contractor? Or an accountant? Now that’s someone I want to get to know. And who I want to care about me. It’s tough to find a good one. Horror stories abound of contractors gone bad. Just ask Mike.

 

You still need to get the word out about what it is you do. You still need to confidently state why you’re the one people should choose. But it’s time for a much different approach. Forget SPAMMING and Screaming.

 

It’s time to shout quietly. What? A twist on the old show, don’t tell approach. Make every word count. Make your typography sing with  fine craftsmanship. Show that you care. As if you pasted each pixel on the page just so. Use images that not everyone else is using. How often do you see the same photos from iStockphoto used in a presentation? Or an ad? A lot. In fact, pay attention to the number of downloads on an image you’re thinking about. If it’s a lot, maybe you should find another one.

 

Keep it fresh. You know how a bowl of fresh fruit and fresh flowers make a room seem cleaner and shinier? Same goes with your marketing. We respond to what’s different.

 

When you pay attention to the craft – people notice. There’s a LOT of really GOOD stuff out there. The smallest details matter. Invest in them. Sweat them.  It’s the way you can shout quietly and still be heard. In fact you’ll be heard even more . . .