Togetherness vs. Every Man For Himself

Thanks to Mary Elizabeth Williams for her article on Salon today for highlighting one of the most intriguing conversations about the situation the Chilean miners found themselves and the tantalizing process of their rescue, is the the idea that every-man-for-himself is rarely the best solution in any given situation.  The fact that the miners were able to keep themselves energized and organized medically, socially, and professionally in unthinkable conditions is a humbling example of the notion of one for all and all for one in times of extreme stress has once again proven to be the most effective solution.  The gathering together of rescue resources from around the world, working together successfully amplified the notion even further.

How lovely it would be if the same notion could be applied to other public conversations, i.e. politics, economic policy, arts, religion, education, the press.  You know, all those things that are tripping us up at the moment.

Today I’m fantasizing that the glowing success out of Chile and the conversation around it will be the tipping point that moves us from the current tired, cranky, small-minded conversations into a world of great possibilities and solutions that we can all share.

Branding In Spite of Yourself

Accidental Branding by David Vinjamuri

Accidental Branding
How Extraordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands
by David Vinjamuri
Published by John Wiley & Sons, 2008

For any of us who are playing with the notion of branding ourselves and our businesses, David Vinjamuri, a former brand manager a J&J, and Coca-Cola, now teacher of marketing at NYU and founder/president of Third Way Brand Trainers, has provided some interesting examples in his book, Accidental Branding, How Extraordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands (John Wiley & Sons).

Vinjamuri is a good companion, in a rather urbane, ah-shucks kind of way, who introduces us to the people (most with little to no marketing experience and started their businesses with only a few hundred dollars and maybe credit cards) behind some of the most interesting brands in world, including Burts Bees, Clif Bars, & J. Peterman, among others. (*Find the full list below.)

While each story is unique, Vinjamuri highlights the qualities they all share, they took advantage of good timing & luck, a deep understanding of what their customers want and obsessiveness about the details of the entire interaction of their customer and their brands.

A few rules, i.e. similarities amongst the brands that Vinjamuri highlights include:

  1. Do sweat the small stuff. Myriam Zaoui and Eric Malka, founders of The Art of Shaving, are very aware of each detail of men’s grooming processes, how to create products to enhance that process, and the final result in ways that appeals to men’s self image. Every detail of the product line, marketing, store format, sales and barbering staff is aligned with that goal.
  2. Pick a fight. Don’t be shy about highlighting what the competition lacks & how your offering fits the bill. Gary Erickson of Clif Bar couldn’t choke down one more, bad tasting nutrition bar while out on his training rides, and started experimenting with recipes for good tasting and effective nutrition bars. Needless to say, consumers of nutrition bars are reminded of that difference when they shop.
  3. Do be your own customer. Everyone profiled began their brands by addressing a specific need they had but couldn’t find a product/remedy in the marketplace. Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of Baby Einstein, couldn’t find educational videos for her baby. So she made her own and discovered that other parents were looking for the same thing. Craig Newmark of Craigslist also fits this rule. He was looking for a simple, free or cheap place for he and his friends to post on line, things and services for sale in a local area. With its global reach, you can get almost anything almost everywhere in the world. Why would Newmark, or anyone of the rest of us, shop anywhere else.
  4. Be unnaturally persistent. While all of these entrepreneurs have this quality, Roxanne Quimby of Burts Bees is my favorite. Being just shy of homeless up in Maine and being of a diy, hippie, artsy frame of mind, she went looking for things to make and sell. She runs into Burt Shavitz, a local bee keeper, selling honey from his truck to keep things simple. Quimby made candles from the bees wax and they started making a little money selling honey & candles at craft fairs. More experiments by Quimby making other natural products and greater selling opportunities, next they they know, they have a multi-million dollar business. Build a myth. J. Peterman is the master of this idea. Being the poet merchant he is, his marketing copy builds a myth around his brand that allows his customers to become part of the myth and the select, in-the-know club of compatriots.
  5. Be faithful. OK, you’ve enjoyed some success and are ready to branch out. Don’t forget to be faithful to those that supported you in the beginning. Even if you introduce new product lines, don’t tamper too much with what your core customer base is interested in. Stay in touch with them to understand their needs & to reward their loyalty with your offerings while you expand to capture other markets. Gert Boyle, founder of Columbia Sportswear built a business on this notion. She and her family are very loyal to each other in the business and also to their customers. Boyle knows what she and her loyal customers are looking for in well made, reasonably priced outdoor wear and keeps everyone in the organization focused on delivering exactly that consistently.

As one person can only take a business so far on their own and if there is true interest in expanding, other will need to be hired. The trick is to surround yourself with people who agree with your views on most of the above.

You don’t’ necessarily need to do or be all of the above, but being as clear as possible on most of the above will help you define your personal brand to yourself sufficiently that you can successfully communicate that in ways that give your potential customers the confidence that you truly have their best interests at heart.

* Entrepreneurs and companies highlighted in Accidental Branding.
Roxanne Quimby, Burts Bees
Craig Newmark, Craigslist
Gary Erickson, Clif Bar
John Peterman, The J. Peterman Company
Myriam Zaoui and Eric Malka, The Art of Shaving
Gert Boyle, Columbia Sportswear
Julie Aigner-Clark, Baby Einstein


Getting Your Groove Back

Getting Your Groove BackEverything has been cooking along nicely. You’re delivering projects to your clients, your next batch of work is cued up. You’ve worked very hard delivering everything required to create your masterpieces and grow your business. You’re a bit tired, but your enthusiasm is still mostly intact. But at the moment, you couldn’t put together a coherent thought in any medium; text, verbal, video, sketching, or pre-school finger painting, if your life depended on it.

Is it burnout? Is it creative block? Is it depression? Some combination of the three? Perhaps, but my sense is that after you’ve been cooking on all cylinders for so long, being the height of productive and in high performance mode, the inevitable burnout come as a huge surprise. This then creates a guilt ridden sense of creative block, which makes you, if not clinically depressed, unhappy. Get a grip. Take a breath. Choose not to panic. Be easy on yourself. Do everything you can to avoid this not so virtuous cycle that only leads to being more out of your groove. Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. Re-connect with family, friends and colleagues, ideally those who care little about your productivity. Re connect with your self and nature. In fact, bursts of creative energy/output and the down time in between are both necessary to your long term success as they each have the seed to feed the other. This is a virtuous cycle you want to keep going.

Keep pencil & paper at hand to write down rambling thoughts. Keep a blank page open on your computer for the same reason. Keep an audio recorder close by if you prefer to verbalize things. The results of this stream of consciousness might or might not lead to anything useful. The purpose here is just to keep your mind moving freely and gently. When you are ready, you will get back in the groove.

Go find something to do that generates its own momentum. For many of us who do a fair amount of creative work in the digital space, making something tangible will ease a creative block. After you’ve designed a lot of websites, product launches, and marketing campaigns all in cyberspace, perhaps making something tangible can nudge you back into the creative flow. This notion can also apply to those of us who work in ephemeral, performance based mediums.

Making a lovely dinner, a table, a dress, a scribbly drawing, or anything that takes you out of your usual creative space, can nudge you back into the creative flow you need. Oftentimes the tangible step-by-tangible step process of making something completely unrelated to your last batch of work will generate the momentum needed to get your groove back.

If you are focused on your personal “why” you do what you do, be it in art and/or business, the down time between creative/energetic bursts of productivity is the time to enjoy that “why” being fully confident that your groove never really leaves you, it just needs to rejuvenate itself.

How do you get your groove back?

Acting in the Face of Disenchantment

Some colleagues and I were on a call recently with a couple of my mentors, Jay Kubassek & John Jackson where we considered how to proceed in the face of disenchantment. The early romance and honeymoon period of any new endeavor is truly exhilarating, often times with stunning results, everything from conceiving of children to pulling together the resources needed for your next big project and/or the early stages of starting a business.

OK, the baby is born. You have the project resources on hand. You almost have the new set of skills required to apply to your project under your belt. Suddenly you find yourself mired in the daily drudgery, desperately missing the enchantment of the honeymoon period. Wondering if you’d made a tragic mistake. Welcome to disenchantment.

While disenchantment has been considered by many theologians and philosophers, for our purposes today, let us consider how to continue the work of the day in the face of disenchantment. I’m curious if a bit of judicious forgetfulness might be of help here. While maintaining a laser focus on the source of your enchantment, judiciously forgetting the dreariness of some of the tasks, even while doing them, would seem of use. Admittedly this is easier to do with the more mindless tasks of one’s day. Cleaning out various email boxes requires little actual thought, thus is easily forgettable. Canvasses need stretching and priming. The project plan needs to be sketched out. Scheduling needs to be worked out. All of this, while necessary, is imminently forgettable upon completion with little need for any emotional investment. Now focus on your source of enchantment. The successful piece, the successful business, the happy/healthy child, the happy/healthy you.

The tedium of disenchantment can drown even the most invigorating enchantment. Might some of the more involved tasks be done with a minimum of emotional engagement and energy, thus enabling you to focus your emotional life on your enchantment? Might they be broken into smaller chunks, the completion of each small chunk wildly celebrated? Can some of them be delegated? In the spirit of someone else’s disenchanting administrivia might be more interesting than your own, perhaps you can swap task lists. The added benefit here is that you both end up signing up for each other’s projects. Might the tasks be approached from a quasi meditative, non-judgmental state. The possibility with this approach is finishing the day with a sense of renewal and accomplishment.

I would love to hear your thoughts on acting in the face of disenchantment. Would also love to hear what amazing things you were able to accomplish, just after that scary moment when you thought about giving up, but instead chose to re-focus on your source of enchantment and do the chores necessary to get you to the next step.

A Customer Service Shout Out! Belinda at AT&T Wireless is the Best!

No, this isn’t a paid advertisement for AT&T Wireless.

After several months of benign neglect of my wireless bill, I finally noticed that it was getting just barely shy of scandalous. A bit of poking around got me to AT&T’s Wireless Call Center, where I got a chance to speak with Belinda Bryan. After approaching the exchange with dread, it was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with a service representative. She gently pointed me to my online bill so we could confirm how I was over my minutes with legitimate calls. She was then able to update my plan & credit me for the last 2 months of overages sufficient to cover my next 3 months billing. Belinda also gives great gentle lectures on how and why to check you plan and talked me through every step of what she was doing and any waiting. Great work Belinda! Kudos also go to AT&T call center management for providing her the tools and the leeway to give the absolute best customer service. Yes, the outcome of our conversation was great, the quality of our conversation was the highlight my day.

While anyone could have pointed me in the direction of my bill to confirm my usage, she did so in a way that respected my intelligence and time. There was a refreshing lack of “what an idiot” undertones in her delivery, even if this particular customer might have had it coming. There was an abundance of “how can I vastly improve this situation?” energy around the entire conversation. And with the tools and discretion provided by call center management, Belinda was able to deliver everything possible.

For those of us who serve clients in any way (and frankly, don’t we all), let Belinda’s example inspire you to a deeper understanding of how you can improve your customer’s situation well beyond their expectations. For those that manage customer facing departments, let AT&T’s example of providing Belinda the tools, leeway, and discretion to provide excellent customer service inspire you to do whatever it takes for your call center staff to be a true partner in maintaining long time happy customers.

Because if we are all the happy customers of the rest of us, wouldn’t that make the vast majority of us happy? I’m just saying . . . . .

Is Robert Reich Talking About Us?

In today’s New York Times op ed section, Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, entitled Entrepreneur or Unemployed?, considers the uptick in entrepreneurial start ups by 30-40 somethings, closely followed by 50-60 somethings and the longterm viability of those start ups.  He has concerns that many of these start ups, i.e. the businesses many of us have started, are acts of desperation as the job market remains flat for many of our friends and family.

He fairly identifies the phenomena and what caused it, but is seems overly pessimistic about our potential for success.   Many of us have achieved glowing levels of success starting the exact type of businesses he seems to be concerned about. Even more of us have started businesses that nicely augment our income from our day jobs.  Yes, ideally we create and build businesses in ways that nicely segue between leaving your day job and moving full time into your own business, as per your well considered business and transition plan.  In situations where the transition is less than voluntary, that still means that you took a risk, learned new skills, created something that didn’t exist before and succeeded to whatever degree you do succeed.  While I appreciate his concern, if you have a successful business, does it really matter under what circumstances you created it.  Even if you didn’t succeed, there are lessons to be learned there.

While perhaps not his his point, he missed the opportunity to encourage us to consider the value of multiple streams of income.  There are many of us who work in jobs we love, or at the very least find interesting, but with the power of the internet, we create businesses or pursue ideas that we can’t develop in our jobs.  Assuming there are no competitive conflicts, there should be no problem, thus value is created for you, your clients and the larger economy.  As the job market tends to be cyclical, each of us will be out of work at various points in our career for reasons completely beyond our control.  In light of that, it is completely rational for us to create other means of supporting ourselves to tide us over the gaps in employment.   If the result is a little income to tide us over, or add to our savings, or grow to be a fabulous success (thus making the unloved day job unnecessary), those of us who have started businesses using the power of the internet should take confidence in our decision to take the leap and create a business for yourself that didn’t exist before.

While Reich does have some interesting ideas about how we entrepreneurial types can be assisted in the early start up phases if need be, that is a whole other conversation.    In a sense, in a quasi back-handed way, Reich’s comments allow me to bring together my passions for creativity and multiple streams of income.  So please, my fellow entrepreneurial types, it doesn’t matter how you get on the path to creating your own businesses, continue to be open to new skills, possibilities, and adventures to keep working your businesses.  If they grow slowly or quickly, take heart that you are doing exactly what you need to be doing.

So, what do you think?  I’m dying to hear!

Integrated Life Success

Why are we Still Defending Network Marketing/MLM as a Legitimate Business?

After many years of fabulous success by many mlm & network marketing companies (Amway and Avon, anyone?) and the endorsement of the business model by many well respected business owners and investors, Trump and Kiosaki among others, why are we still defending network marketing/mlm as a legitimate business model to our friends and family.

To answer that question and to give all of us involved in this community the answers to the well intended concerns of our friends and family, Gerald Stidham, network marketer extraordinaire, comes through with a great article answering those questions. Read it here and his website here.

Stidham’s short answer is that the mlm/network marketing model is more similar to other business models than the skeptics might think. The pyramid structure often cited as a problem is very similar to the pay/incentive structure in larger sales organizations of more mainstream companies with commissions going to the direct sales person and varying degrees of bonuses to each level of management up that person’s chain of command. The next time you look at an org chart, notice how similar the shape is to a pyramid. Now imagine how compensation flows through that structure.

I’m most grateful for Mr. Stidham’s highlighting of the term micro-franchising. If you have substantial enough resources, go ahead and open a McDonald’s franchise. For the rest of us with more modest start up funds on hand, involvement with a good, well supported mlm/micro franchise organization, selling well respected products and/or services, is the way to go.

Like any other business model in any other industry, mlm and network marketing does have its unique issues, which he addresses honestly.

While working on my elevator speech, I’ve often struggled with describing the network marketing/mlm model to friends, in a way that didn’t make it sound like some type of pyramid scheme run by hyper-happy, excessively positive people.

Gerald Stidham has done a fabulous job of describing the industry positively in terms the most hardened business critic can understand, thus giving all of us the fact based rhetorical ammunition needed to explain this industry and our participation in it to our friends, family, and colleagues.

Many thanks to you Gerald and keep up the good work!

Creativity – Of Course You Have it In You!

Just Do it

Creativity, innovation, creative thinking, idea generation. Are these ideas you only associate with artists, designers & other creative types? Think again, of course you have it. Creativity, that is. You might call it problem solving. You might express it by tying flies for fly fishing, or making the world’s best biscuits, or marketing your business. Basically, if you start with nothing and create something with the material and knowledge on hand at the moment, that’s problem solving. That’s creativity. So, of course you have it.

Start with What’s on Hand

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. In other words, don’t exhaust yourself looking for the perfect notebook, pen, software, tool or space. If you find them naturally, then by all means. But don’t let the lack of the perfect space, perfect material, perfect specific knowledge or skill, or perfect piece of equipment interfere with your creative process. Those perfect things might or might not come your way as you collect skills, material, and equipment add to your creative mediums. In the mean time, keep creating with the resources you have on hand now, using them to their fullest extent. There are many many examples of masterpieces in business and art being built with with humble materials, inadequate equipment, and less than ideal circumstances. Often, the less then ideal-ness of things is what triggers the problem solving (i.e. act of creativity) in the first place. Google from a dorm room. Hewlett Packard from a garage. Picasso’s early student work. You get the idea.

Showing Up and Forward Momentum

Don’t be limited by the idea of creativity coaching is only something of benefit to artists, current or aspirational. Two constants of creativity in either business building or art making is showing up and managing forward momentum. If you are so inclined, there are many amazing creative coaches. Two of my favorites are Julia Cameron (The Artist Way) and Barbara Bowen (Gateways Coaching). While the principals they teach in their writing, speaking, & coaching are geared towards artists, they can also be highly effective for anyone who is building anything that requires them to show up and manage momentum around an idea.

As mentioned above, presence, a lofty word for showing up, shows up in all methodologies of creativity coaching. As per Woody Allen, 80% of success is showing up. That means showing up on the page, at the computer screen, at the studio, at the painting wall, work bench, or whatever you work on and with whatever you work with on/in hand. Then you show up for the marketing of your output, if that’s what you want to do. If you only have a tentative grasp on an idea, eliminate all the little distractions that could derail you. Leave the sketch book open to a blank page, reference sketches taped up near by. Leave the computer on with a blank file open & reference files already open. If your creative process needs you to focus on only one project until completion, do that. If your process needs you to have several projects underway at once, do that. Schedule the meetings with potential clients/presenters before the work is complete, so you have a goal to work towards. This is building and managing momentum around your creative product.

Your “job” is to create the environment your creativity needs to flow and flourish and be open to the idea of getting out of its way to fill the page, canvas, space, or business plan. Your job is to keep your head (and the nagging doubts) out of the way of your creative process as you create your masterpiece, be it business or art.

At the earliest stages of creative process, just show up and get something down, then something else, then something else. You’re building material and momentum that will carry you through to completion. At these early stages, under no circumstances, should you judge your output. There will be plenty of time for editing, reworking, filling in detail, tweaking when the initial burst of inspiration has run its course. DON’T interrupt it. As best as possible, protect the creative flow from interruptions, either from yourself or those around you. Protect the momentum.

If stuck on what you’re trying to do at the moment, go do something else. It doesn’t matter what it is, just move something, anything forward. I sometimes find if I move something mindless forward, like the laundry, the dishes, the pile of shredding, the creative juices continue to flow on the original project, but the forward momentum of completing mindless task will usually keep me in the groove.

So, to all you closeted artists running your business; if you call it creativity or call it problem solving, show up to the tasks (be they ongoing or newly created tasks) to grow your enterprise and nurture and manage your momentum. Keeping yourself and your project in the flow of creative energy will bring you success on so many levels.

Integrated Life Success

Hmmm, do we have the obligation to be successful?

I’m guessing yes. Especially if your success provides the resources to pay it forward in as many ways as possible. Even if you’re already successful, a little more never hurt anyone, if used wisely.

If you’re looking for a little more success, check this out.