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If all you have is the desire to get picked, that’s not sufficient.
Wandering the aisles at a craft show a while back, I was surprised that the same styles and motifs appeared over and over. Most likely, each artist thought of himself as different. But why didn’t anyone want to stand out, especially in a creative industry?
It is said that there are very few original ideas. But there’s plenty of room for a different kind of originality. Put two or more existing ideas together to form a new product or service. Put a new spin on an old idea. Use your voice. If you’re an independent business owner and you’re not putting your unique voice to work, you’re overlooking the one tool you have that no one else does.
What is something more? Read the rest of this entry »
More than ever before, businesses put a high value on connection and collaboration in order to thrive. And we expect information (including advice) to be largely free. This new way of interacting has allowed us to connect in ways that would have been difficult in years past, making it easier now to reach out and ask if you can pick someone’s brain.
I do it. We all do it. But it’s easy to forget that some people make their living problem solving and using strategic thinking. I’m flattered when someone asks to pick my brain because it means they desire my opinion. The key word here is desire. Desiring and valuing are two very different things. We value what we pay for. Giving away too much of your time affects not only you but the people you aim to help, not to mention the people who do end up paying for it.
It’s a challenge to draw the line, especially for do-gooders. Bernadette Jiwa puts it beautifully here why it’s important to value yourself enough to put your energy towards high-impact work. If the goal is to help people, you can’t very well do that if you don’t value your time and expertise. The little dribbles of advice here and there don’t add up to much…for anyone. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve had a growing fascination with what’s left behind—traces of life, flour clinging to a cutting board, a stubborn leaf imprinted in cement. The leftovers of the process of making.
These fragile decayed Chinese lantern blossoms are like miniature bird cages, each home to a red berry. How thrashing rain, snow, ice and winter wind left them intact is a beautiful little mystery.
West Wing junkies might recall an episode entitled “Galileo” that opens with President Bartlett at a rehearsal for a Mars briefing. Thousands of students will see the briefing as the unmanned craft Galileo returns from orbit.
Sam, White House Deputy Communications Director played by Rob Lowe, takes one look at the intro written by a NASA public affairs person and wants to change it. The NASA person resists, but President Bartlett, once he sees the intro, also wants it changed.
(It’s a great dialog. You can read it here.)
Bartlett begins to read:
“Good morning! I’m speaking to you live from the West Wing of the White House. Today we have a very unique opportunity to take part live in an extremely historic event which…” Whoa, boy…
Then critiques the NASA person’s efforts:
“Unique” means “one of a kind.” Something can’t be very unique, nor can it be extremely historic.
Bartlett instructs Sam to take over. Sam speaks as if filled with the awe of space travel:
“Good morning. Eleven months ago a 1200 pound spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Eighteen hours ago it landed on the planet Mars. You, me, and 60,000 of your fellow students across the country along with astroscientists and engineers from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California, NASA Houston, and right here, at the White House, are going to be the first to see what it sees, and to chronicle an extraordinary voyage of an unmanned ship called Galileo V.”
There you have story.
A story that includes you and me and really smart people. The craft has weight. There’s a broad span of time contrasted with the immediacy of the event. The generic “we” now has form and definition.
And then there’s Galileo the man.
The power of story was not lost on him. Wanting to bring his theories to light but squelched by the Catholic Church, Galileo would cloak his theories in the form of plays. He knew his devotees (his target audience, if you will) would find the messages hidden in the plays. Here was a scientist with a sense of humor who also understood there was more than one way to get a point across.
Storytelling is the newest hot topic even though it’s as old as the heavens. Successful organizations have been noticed and remembered using story in the style of Sam’s rewrite long before we called it story. They know that people want to be taken to a new place, to be delighted or dazzled, to be part of something. Organizations that do this the best, however, are often selling us stuff we don’t need. The with the best stories to tell tend to think their mission or vision is enough. That we should care. That we don’t need to be delighted or dazzled or taken to a new place.
If you don’t know to tell a better story, take the one you usually tell and then give it some weight and some shape. Make it less generic, give an example and flesh it out. Put the example into an interesting context. Helps us care. Take us to the moon.
I feel entitled, once in a while, to veer of the subject of the business of design and branding to cover one of my two loves—nature and food. Who knows how a rock or a shell or the pattern of seeds inside a cut piece of fruit will wend their way into that magazine layout or logo design? You just trust that what inspires you will work its magic at some point in the future.
Many designers I know are obsessed with rocks. The closest I’ve come to making sense of it is that rocks, with their smoothness, a wild streak of mineral deposit, surface pocked with teeny holes or perfectly oval shape, resemble the best intentionally designed objects, only they are accidents of the magic forces of nature.
Once such place where the forces of nature collide is Ona Beach on the central Oregon coast. Basalt rocks, both teeny and gigantic, have been sculpting this patch of coast for eons, creating an other-worldly landscape. You have to be here at low tide to be rewarded.
Needing an antidote to days of focused computer work, I took a partial inspiration day starting with a visit to the new Keen Garage store in Portland’s Pearl district, followed by a trip to the Portland Japanese Garden to see maples dusted with snow. The new, more visible store location allows passersby to visit this sustainable gem of a store that puts to clever use reclaimed materials and objects. The result is a playful, industrial-meets-vintage-meets-upcycled-meets-woodsy environment.
Repurposed oil drum furniture with cushions made from a patchwork of old car seat fabrics.
No beer sampling since it was only 10 a.m.
One of many charming woodsy installations filled with the popular air plant tsillandia.
Windows and door frames become shelving systems for plants, socks and other merchandise.
Fortunately, I left the store without a dent in my credit card.
Knowing how your customers feel about you benefits you just as much as it does them (assuming you actually make improvements to fit their needs).
You can use that feedback to improve services, promote the results you offer and sharpen your marketing message. But it can also build good will…or not.
The key is being and sounding authentic — actually caring whether someone had a good experience dealing with you.
Recently, I had just such an experience with Voicebox, a karaoke place with personal party rooms. The day after a group of us celebrated a friend’s birthday, I received an email saying I rocked (I like to think I did.) and thanked me for bringing my party there. They like to reward employees for a job well done and asked if I’d like to comment. For an added touch, they included our playlist.
On the other hand, there are companies — whose products I use and like — that send surveys I’m initially happy to fill out, only to feel several pages in that I’m working too hard. The surveys smack of statistic gathering, and worse, a veiled attempt to tell me how great they are given the bias of the questions.
That’s when I quit these surveys and leave feeling worse about the company than I did before.
Two requests for feedback. Two completely different ways of connecting.
Sounding and acting as if you really care is also a good way to share your brand voice through your values. For small companies who remain vexed about what a brand is and how to promote theirs, this is one such tool.
(Image: Kevin Dooley)
When I was looking for a WordPress developer to partner with, I found several good people but ended up selecting someone who had a statement of values on his website. They happened to jive with mine so I hired him for a small project, and now we’re working together on a much larger one.
Not everyone does business this way. But many do. Many potential customers what to know what you stand for. Don’t be afraid to share your values. If they’re truly important to you, you’ll draw in the kind of people who you really want to work with.
This company delivers coffee, tea and food products for restaurants, cafes and institutions. Their values become their brand. But they go a step further than displaying their guiding principles; they tie each principle to tangible evidence, linking to specific pages on their website.
This kind of concise framework has an added benefit of keeping you on track and simplifying your efforts. The more clear you are on the core things, the less you have to talk about it.
To some, specializing spells fear of too little work or boredom doing the same thing day in and day out. But specializing is more likely to equal success (however you define success). And, far from being bored, you’re able to dig deeper into the vastness of your chosen niche (or the niche that chooses you).
Think about it, when you’re covering so many bases, you only scratch the surface of any one area, whether it’s a medium, an industry, a specific audience or a service you offer. It would probably take a lifetime even to realize all that you wanted within a niche. Your skill level and wisdom would continue to increase, making you even more desirable.
When you leave yourself too open, you drain your energy and you risk having others categorize you. This leads to, among other things, referrals not worthy of the work you really want to do. Read the rest of this entry »
The hottest show in Portland in September is also free: the nightly roosting of the Vaux’s Swifts that, tornado-like, funnel into the chimney of, among other places, Chapman Elementary School in NW Portland. The night’s silver screen might also feature a protagonist hawk waiting to catch his prey, that is if a swarm of swifts doesn’t circle back en masse to chase the hawk away amid whooping cheers from the audience. Read more about them on the Audubon Society of Portland’s website. Think Audubon should print this as a t-shirt next year? If so, hit the Like button and I’ll donate the art to them.