February 17, 2011 — Healthy. Wealthy. Wise.
People speak of the economy as a roller coaster and much like a thermostat, ride the wave of emotions that it dictates. In business, people tighten belts and forge ahead - or duck - and see if they can make it through. For the sake of working smart, companies cut budgets and employees. Fear can easily preside.

Yet any emotion cannot reign for very long and with or without signs of promise, there comes a time to either forge ahead with resolve, or to exercise the better part of valor and retreat. And therein lies the key; are we subject to emotions? Or can we choose them? Then, what portion of wisdom — or what passes for it — do we follow?

I think it's terribly interesting that every economic downturn has people either 'deciding' to be independent consultants or to finally stepping off the horse they've been riding and taking up a new one. Frankly, I admire the blind faith and dedication of the new endeavor.

Since I know maybe less than ten people read this, I'll be bold enough to tell you what I really think. I think we spend too much time doing what looks right, what fashion says is right... instead of doing what ignites the senses, wells up emotion and creates enthusiasm, sparks drive. Some say, "if there's a compelling 'why', the 'how' will work itself out." And maybe I agree.

It's about desire. We sometimes esteem selflessness too much; we make it the highest virtue. But self-sacrifice is worthless if not done out of caring, out of love. Yes, I stole that. It's from C.S. Lewis, who also noted:

"The only people who achieve much are those who want [something] so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come."

Is that a guarantee of success? Hardly. If anything, it might be the prelude to a death knell. Or bankruptcy. Don't think I'm advocating becoming a balloon-clown at Pike Place Market just because it gives you the giggles. I'm talking about passion for career, for how we spend the majority of our waking hours, for how we put food on the table. All I'm saying it might also provide food for thought and the soul as well as the stomach.

That is to say, if we find some happiness in striving, in what we do, does that not also make us healthy? Healthy: check. Wealthy: I guess that's a variable. Wise: I have my suspicions.

And maybe, I'm willing to find out.

February 3, 2010 — Connect Me
It's been foisted upon those who deal with clients, culture and media that one must be connected, digitally so. And the demon phrase rears it's head: social media.

Every site, store, celeb and wanna be has a trail of logos stuck to it's rump roast these days. A little "f", a birdie and some obscure thing that means they have a blog so you can watch, measure and marvel at their every turn. Makes me tired to think that one might have to pour their life out hoping for a bite or following of interest. Makes the brain ache to think that people actually follow all this. Little "f", indeed.

Of course, social media has it's place. How else could former high school crushes wield sway over each other ten, twenty years hence? For entities and institutions of merit and consequence, however, it makes great sense. The web and it's various locales can have incredible impact to literally millions. But I'm not alone in thinking, am I, that in most cases, throwing up bits and bytes are the emperor's new clothes? “What finery!” (er... he's buck naked, sir.)

In the meantime, attention hos* that we are, we ply our every moment on the web, crafting a persona that may or may not be real. Which is fine; we all do that regardless. Yet, if we have 15 minutes of fame, should we be spending it in 28k snippets on Twitter?

What matters is making an impact where it's most necessary. More than that, doing not something original, but true. And doing it well. "Truth will out," my father always says. I tend to think he's right.

That which is good, that which is true will show itself as such over time.

Beyond making a splash, making a mark that has meaning is the thing. I won't flatter myself to think - or care - whether or not I have a legacy. I should think that doing things that matter, than aid, improve, elevate and inspire are the point. To connect with one another in the face to face, to share triumphs and to walk through tragedy alongside... this is the stuff. So much else is self-flattery and akin to masturbating in public. But that's another topic, isn't it?

Since at least four people will read this, maybe I'm guilty of the same. No matter. It's true.

*Associated Press style. Truly.

July 2009 — Puckering
It's no secret that this is a time of trepidation for so many, regardless your walk of life. Many businesses are down upwards of 40%. Vacations have become, good Lord, staycations or even daycations. Fear is the easy reaction - if justified - and perhaps the desire might be to duck, to hide until the ballyhoo is over. Here's the thing, however: ducking is not going neutral, it's making a choice. If we think we are self-directed, intentional beings, ducking is the opposite.

Minds much sharper than mine have observed that people usually choose one of two things in life: truth or comfort. If comfort, one receives half-lies and softsoap to begin and in the end, despair. If truth, that for certain along with everything else throw in. At 10,000 feet, the choice is simple.

In the mire of a questionable economy, forecasts and projections that are less than concrete, it's much harder. The chant of the media that this is the "worst economic downturn since the Great Depression" strikes a cold chord in the heart. The last report has it at 9.5% unemployment. That's other than rosy, but nowhere near the 20%-plus of the Depression. Someday, there may be a name for what's going on, but right now we're simply in a “recession” or an “economic downturn.” A colleague suggested the title of "The Collective Butt-Puckering," but time will tell what wins.

The question remains: What is one to do? If we take the collective downturns of the last 100 years, case studies tell us that businesses that continue to market and advertise at a consistent rate not only grow during the downturn, they slingshot into even greater profits once recovery comes.

In a time where competitors have slowed or ceased marketing, it opens up a window of opportunity. The dollars spent go yet further, capturing even more of the landscape. We all know that being top of mind with an accurate message is key. Not putting forth a message sends either the wrong one or allows for interpretation, which is not always helpful. More, people tend to buy from brands and entities that are familiar. Being present and consistent with the right messaging helps create the emotional link that leads to the buying decision.
If that shotgun blast of information wasn't enough, there's the fact of Mission. That is, why are you here? Why is your company here? What are you here to do and how are you to execute that? Being true to the mission you are here to accomplish will usually set you straight.

Woodrow Wilson had it right, "You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."

Collective puckering or not, opportunity still exists. While stepping prudently is absolutely necessary, the present fear and drudgery is by no means the final word. Choose wisely.

For more thought and info, visit: keepcalmcarryon.org

February 2009 — On Sales and Design
The great mantra of so many in the creative world is, "We don't sell. It's all referral.” What a nice notion.

I don't doubt that it's true, especially in times of low-hanging fruit. But when budgets get cut, when competition stiffens or when you want to differentiate and target a specific kind of work, the story can change very quickly. When your bottom line, your livelihood, is hanging in the balance being effective at sales is suddenly very important.

Problem is, by then, it might be too late.

Let's be honest: if you're in a creative field, it's highly likely that you didn't enter it in order to become a salesperson. But if you're in charge of wrangling new work for your firm, it's part of it. In fact, it's primary. Without the client, the freedom to be a professional creative, to be a paid problem-solver doesn't exist. So get excited about selling.

Being effective at sales, from what I can tell, isn't simply ABC (“always be closing”). It's more about being able to target the right kind of client for what you do. Being able to qualify who is a potentially a good client, if they can afford your services, and being able to truly assess their situation is much more important.

Knowing why clients buy from you and what motivates clients to buy makes you more effective. Knowing how and when decisions will be made put you in a favorable position in the process. Knowing how to get to all that information is key.

Good clients aren't about deep pockets. Good clients, it seems to me, are about a place of mutual benefit where you're the trusted advisor to a person or firm and are getting the best, most appropriate compensation possible. Referrals help get you to the door. Sales brings home the bacon.