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A brand, a business and a career. From a nametag.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Too Convenient to be Killed

Toto didn’t just pull the curtains apart.

He pulled our fears apart.

He proved that when the voice doesn’t scare us, when the reputation doesn’t intimidate us and when the smoke doesn’t dissuade us, everything changes.

All we have to do is question everything. To spot the ideas that are too convenient to be killed, and let the creative, curious part of ourselves take a risk and pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

That way, we’re the great and powerful ones.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is Eye Contact Too Much To Ask?

If the first step in selling is stopping the eye, the first step in service is meeting it.

When I walk up to the counter to put in my order, you don’t have to read my mind. You don’t have to perform a miracle. I just need you to care.

Instead of being completely preoccupied with yourself, stop using your phone, stop surfing the web, stop talking to your coworkers, stop reading the paper, stop eating lunch and stop doing whatever else you’re doing for three seconds to extend me the common courtesy of a simple glance.

Caring is not about eye contact. It’s not about nonverbal indicators of interest. And it’s not about another a tired technique that creates the illusion of hospitality.

It’s about bother to acknowledge my presence as a human being.

I know it’s not part of the handbook, but it is part of your heart.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's Not a Sales Tool, It's a Hearing Aid

When it comes to your prospects, information is invaluable.

If you can find out who they are, what they read, where they work, what they do, how they think, what’s important to them and how to reach them, you’re off to an awesome sales start.

In light of the digital revolution, however, there’s another piece of information that might be even more valuable than any of those: What they’re saying.

That’s the biggest misconception about the web, more specifically, social media. It’s not a sales tool, it’s a hearing aid. It’s not a cash register, it’s a listening platform. And it’s not a device for tricking people into giving you money, it’s a direct channel into how and why they make decisions.

People are sharing more ideas, more experiences, more opinions and more thoughts than ever before in history. And all you have to do is listen. All you have to do is care enough to understand their world. That way, you can help people with what they’re already doing, instead of artificially squeezing yourselves into their overcrowded lives. That way, you can learn how you fit into their world, not how they fit into you marketing plan.

And if you’re lucky, what they’re saying will soon include something positive about you.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Lay Your Motivations Bare

Everybody has an agenda.

Even if we say we don’t, that’s still an agenda.

But there’s no reason to feel guilty about that. If we want something, there’s no shame in making some noise, letting whoever has it know that we want it, and respectfully reminding them why we deserve it.

When we start our phone calls or emails with, “Everybody has an agenda, and here’s mine,” we still lay a foundation of respect, establish expectational clarity and frame the conversation with candor and transparency. To do otherwise is to do a disservice.

What’s more, because so few people are willing to lay their motivations bare, the unexpectedness of this approach makes the encounter more memorable, and often times, more successful.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

When Will The Web Overturn Your Profession?

Not unlike travel agencies, record stores, post offices, encyclopedias, newspapers, movie rentals, yellow pages, television, bill paying, book publishing, photography, pornography, video games, terrestrial radio, real estate and journalism, there’s no reason to think your industry won’t be completely flipped on its head too.

But if you help the industry make contact with the future, if you skate to the where the puck is going to be, you might be able to pivot enough to save yourself.

Netflix, by virtue of its very brand, showed the world that their model was the future. Forget about going to the video store, their flicks stream through the net. The name says it all. No wonder their company made money so quickly. No wonder their company disrupted the movie rental and cable industries forever. Instead of marketing without outdated language, Netflix embedded words into their branding that painted a picture of what could be.

If you want to apply the same thinking to your organization, train your staff to turn feedback into inspiration. Seek out complaints. Embrace anger. Document what your users, employees, customers, vendors and colleagues are telling you. They will tell you how to serve them better. They will tell you how to ride the digital wave to a better future.

Without that kind of listening platform, the web is going to overturn your profession too.

It’s only a matter of time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 012: Judith King of The Morris + King Company

1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

We’ve created a culture of complete honesty, friendship and leading with love. We’re never unkind, my door is never closed and I have never walked in the office in a bad mood. That’s deeply unfair to my colleagues. We do whatever it takes to make each other as happy as possible. There’s constant laughter, while getting a lot of work done simultaneously – because when you participate with each other, you elevate each other.

2.     The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture?

I respect people’s right to be engaged by their space, so I’m constantly changing design of the office. This keeps people’s eyes interested in their surroundings on a physical and emotional level. Also, we have great snacks. We choose a different candy bar every month, running a contest to let people select the one they want. This place is brimming with soul. It’s a universe where excellence can blossom.

3.     Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a

I’m realistic. Work ain’t home. But people belong to the extent that the environment is the best possible. I don’t want to curtail their creativity. There’s no dress code. I encourage people to think about the work, not what they have to wear that day. Also, we’ve done some of the finest practical jokes around, to the point that they’ve become legendary. At the end of the day, the fish stinks from the head, and I never want this place to stink.

Thanks Judith! Learn more about Morris + King here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Heroic Dose of Humility

The draw of social media is automatic listenership.

Which makes sense, considering people are lonely and want to be listened to. And when they can scratch that itch for free, instantly and everywhere, it’s hard to resist.

But the number of followers, friends and subscribers you have doesn’t necessarily mean people are listening. This calls for a heroic dose of humility.

Do people actually care about your feelings, or is it just simulated compassion? Do people actually dig your work, or did they just friend you so you would reciprocate back to them? Do people actually take an interest in your lives, or are you just a random number in another faceless, fake relationship? And do people actually want to connect with you, or are you just the next stop on their transcontinental digital pissing contest?

You may never know. And that’s the hard part about the social media world. Sometimes it feels like you’re winking in the dark.

All you can hope is that your work, the ambition that fuels it and the audience who consumes it is enough to make money, make a difference and meet your quota of usefulness.

Just something to think about before you publish your next tweet.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 011: Bobby Emamian of Prolific Interactive

Prolific Interactive is a Brooklyn agency that loves crazy, creative minds with an interest in mobile strategy, design and development. 

I sat down with their Co-Founder and CEO, Bobby Emamian and posed three crucial questions about belonging: 

1.Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours? 

At the root of our culture, we solve problems together. We go to battle together. And we all bring a different angle to the table. Many of our employees have a sports background, so there’s this want and need to help the team. At the end of the day, the passion and determination gets everyone fired up. When a lot of people in the room are doing things for the right reasons, it’s an absolute joy to walk in the morning.

2.The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture?  

Monday morning meetings are an awesome time for our company. We do a word of the week that’s connected to whatever theme is most important. Whether it’s growing or closing or launching, it’s a fun way to share and compare, to get the week started. We also have something we call Prolific Court. You can fine people a quarter to two dollars depending on the 'offense'. For example, going home with the bathroom key in your pocket, leaving the AC on at the end of the night, or getting a beer for yourself and not asking if anyone else would like one, are all 'offenses'. This keeps everyone on their toes and accountable, and the money always goes towards a company event. Lastly, the same attitude applies to our brainstorming. There are no limitations or boundaries to our thinking. And that allows for a comfortable, human atmosphere.

3.Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?

Our culture makes people feel like they belong and have found a home, but just to remind them, we have a company Seamless account. If you come early or stay late, we buy you breakfast or dinner. We have beer stocked up, video games, sporting equipment and a few televisions. People are constantly collaborating, chatting and hanging out.  And the collaboration, lending a hand to each other, makes it feel like a family. We succeed together and we fail together.  And as long as we stick together, we grow and create the best products out there.

Thanks Bobby! Learn more about Prolific here

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bother to Bother, Dare to Care

True service isn’t about labor and time, it’s about intention and attention.

It’s not about bastardizing caring into a technique, it’s about broadcasting the willingness to and the consistency with which you do care.

When the restaurant has an hour wait, takes down my cell phone number on their iPad, encourages me to walk around the neighborhood and promises to send me a text message five minutes before my table is ready, consider me served.

When the financial advisor calls me the day the stock market crashes, spends a half hour briefing me on the state of the economy, then sets up a meeting to sit down and talk about the future of my investments, consider me served.

When the hotel concierge checks me in and wheels out a stack of every bible from every major religion, including a book on atheism, then asks me which book I would like to keep in my dresser drawer, consider me served.

These companies bothered to bothered. They dared to care. They took a minute to make a moment, showed up when it mattered, and did something tangible that made a difference.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Make Your Brand Worth Sharing

If you want to get people hooked, give them a greater sense of occasion.

Turn a routine arrival, subscription, payment or membership into a happening, a big deal and a moment worth remembering.

When you practice yoga at Bikram Los Angeles, new students get their name written on a huge chalkboard in the lobby to commemorate their first class.

With you order speakers from Noogi, their trademark wooden shipping containers turn the routine chore of opening boxes into a substantial moment of celebration.

When you board the Disney Fantasy, crewmembers announce your family’s name on the intercom system for the entire cruise to hear.

When you buy tickets for Once, actors encourage audience members to join them onstage for preshow jam sessions and intermission popup pubs.

When you sign up for Zipwhip, employees celebrate new customer acquisitions with a whimsical automated flag raising to keep victories visible.

Each of these organizations makes the mundane memorable in a fun, unique and engaging way that’s consistent with their brand and worth sharing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 010: Tom Sternal of Generation

Generation is a branding and communications firm that works exclusively with clients in the non-profit sector. Their trademark thought process revolves around culturally and politically engaged human beings who don’t need foosball to be creative. 

I sat down with president Tom Sternal and posed three crucial questions about belonging:

1.     Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

We’re informal, small and there’s a high intellectual dialogue. What people are turned on by is an agency that’s deeply aligned with the social concerns & sensibilities of non-profit organizations. But we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our own brand, even though we’re in the branding business. It’s all about the work we do with the clients. You get word of mouth by making other people happy, not by making your own brand the focus.

2.     The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture?  

Our eyes have been known to involuntarily water at videos. And since the role of print is changing in the lives of our clients, last year we got into video to provide master narratives for institutions. Not to be exploitative, but to feel more like a documentary style. And what struck us on the first video project was that we were able to create emotion and give dimension to the client in the way print couldn’t. That’s soul. The next step will be merging all those visual assets that blend into a medium that is anticipated.  
3.     Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?

We’ve been virtual for a while. Our environment has a great collegiality, but at the end of the day, people should be able to go about their regular business. We were never really the social hub like a lot of other firms. Everybody is out the door at six o’clock because we want our people to have a normal life outside of the office. That’s how we create a culture that simulates a liberal arts program at a college. Employees cultivate their interest and develop a visual vocabulary outside of the workplace. After all, the connections only become obvious when you're not thinking about them. The city, for example, is a wonderful palette for that kind of exploration. There’s a nomadic quality for what we do. It’s the “invisible curriculum,” to borrow a phrase from our high ed clients.        

Thanks Tom! Learn more about Generation here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Are You Treating Employees Like Children?

Treat them like adults.

That’s the simplest, cheapest and smartest way to deal with people.

Evernote gives their employees unlimited vacation time and a thousand dollar spending stipend to boot. Because they know that trust is cheaper than control. Don’t make attendance a form of punishment.

Commerce Bank allows their employees to kill any stupid rule that stands in the way of pleasing customers. Because they know service is more important than policy. Don’t demand their mindless compliance.

My friend Jessica, a social justice educator, insists that her students send texts during class. Because she understands it’s their lifeline to the universe. Don’t police cell phone usage.

Twitter keeps their users in the know with a detailed system status log and a corporate blog. Because they respect people’s time and patience. Don’t neglect elementary feedback loops.

My friend’s ad agency has a rule that you can be up to an hour late to work, as long as you bring donuts for the rest of the team. Because they know people had lives outside of the office. Don’t obsess over the clock.

It’s time to grow up and treat people like adults.

That’s all they want.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 009: Shirley Au from Huge

Huge is a full-service digital agency that transforms brands and grows businesses.

I sat down with president Shirley Au and posed three crucial questions on belonging:

1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

We try really hard to have a flat organization. We don’t tolerate big egos in the workplace. For a lot of people, it’s attractive that the company is a meritocracy and employees are evaluated based on their smarts and hard work. At Huge, we do amazing work and build great products and experiences that people use all the time. If you look across our body of work, it’s clear that we have a point of view. We tirelessly analyze how users think and try to understand what they want to achieve when they interact with a brand—whether it’s setting up their wedding registry or doing something positive for their local community.

2.     The great workplaces of the world have soul. How do you humanize your culture?

What’s interesting about Huge is that there aren’t rigid job descriptions or career trajectories, especially because the digital space continues to evolve so quickly. We’re very flexible in terms of allowing employees to move into different roles and disciplines, if they demonstrate talent and interest in a different area of the company. We aren’t strict about hierarchies or making people follow specific paths.

We also try to create a relaxed-yet-professional office culture. We want people to feel like they’re in a comfortable environment while they work. Employees can bring their dogs to the office, we provide free snacks and beer daily, we have indoor bike racks to accommodate employees who cycle to work and we celebrate everyone’s “Huge birthday”—the annual anniversaries of their start dates—with cards and treats.

Each office and department also tends to have its own organic subculture, which we try very hard to support without it feeling contrived. Our Huge Social program sponsors activities based on employee requests, such as company-wide kickball, soccer and bowling teams.

3.     Belonging is a basic human craving. What do you do to remind employees that they've found a home?  

In general, we have a very high retention rate. Many employees have left to work at other companies and actually end up returning to Huge. We give our project teams a lot of latitude and freedom to learn, create and grow along with their teammates. We give them the toolset and framework, and it’s up to them to figure out the best solution for the client, without micromanaging.

People come to Huge to work with the best people in the industry and to work really hard on things they care about. For most of our employees, when they find their workplace full of like-minded people with shared values, shared priorities and shared talent, that’s when it really feels like home. We work very hard to strip away the distractions so that people can focus on what they’re really here for—to make something they love and would use themselves. 

Thanks Shirley! Learn more about Huge here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Overstuffed Schedule Be Damned

Life doesn’t always let us be as disciplined as we want.

Sometimes all we can do is one thing to move the pile forward, clock out and call it a day.

And in these moments, it’s hard not to be hard on ourselves. When we can’t seem to steal enough moments from the crowded day, our default response is to grab the gloves and jab ourselves until we’re black and blue.

But while it’s not the most fulfilling or productive output, what matters is, we still tried. We still showed up, overstuffed schedule be damned, and did our work.

Even if it didn’t amount to that much.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 008: Joey Cummings of The Joey Company

The Joey Company is a full service integrated advertising agency. Their team of research nerds is known for their ability to see what is obvious, but not necessarily apparent.

I sat down with founder Joey Cummings and posed three crucial questions about belonging:

1.     Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

Coming from Chicago, culturally we have a Midwestern work ethic, competitive spirit and non-bureaucratic, horizontal structure. We’re an agency of doers, not managers. A small, lean company that offers employees an opportunity to make an impact, even at a young age. Team members have the ability to contribute to the growth of client business, as well as the agency itself. And most of the people here like the idea that they can play a part as opposed to just being a cog in the wheel.             

2. The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture? 

Our biggest assets go up and down the elevator everyday. And there’s a sensibility and respect for who people are, and the nurturing to help them grow. Because we are especially dedicated to understanding consumer behavior and insight, the work we do is based on human nature. It’s the stuff Shakespeare is made of. For example, we are fortunate to work on brands dealing with tough, scary or embarrassing issues. These are the companies like Trojan Centers for Disease Control. The ones ready to deal with serious human issue the moment they occur. And as a result, talent is necessary for entry, but integrity and humility are the highest employee characteristics.

2.     Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?

First, we make sure we’re picking like-minded, value based and quality people. Next, working between two bridges and next to parks gives us a huge taste of nature every day. We also invest in creating a contemporary, artistic, feng shui workplace that makes people feel comfortable, at ease and considered. Also, in the past few years, we’ve landed really great clients who have been growing through some tough economic times, which allowed us to grow too. That’s what feels like a home to us.

Thanks Joey! Learn more about her team here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Young Artist's Guide to Playing For Keeps, Part 23

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there myself.

Here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way:

1.     It’s hard to be creative alone. First, without people to bounce our ideas off of, it’s like playing basketball without a backboard. Hitting nothing but net is hard to do every time. Second, when working in isolation, out of context, trapped in our own head, there’s only so much perspective we can bring to our work. Third, without a strong sense of we, without a real connection to the human family, we can’t access the full potential of networked knowledge. Fourth, without access to each other, without regular exposure to other ways of being, our work remains myopic and untextured. Fifth, without collaborating with and enlisting support from others, executing broader projects is a futile endeavor. The upside is, we are never alone in this world unless we want to be. Sometimes all we have to do is extend our arm. Which is hard. It makes us vulnerable and out of control. And it forces us to depend on someone beside ourselves. But anything worthwhile depends on other members of our species. Who do you play ball with?

2.     Chaos isn’t a merit badge. You don’t need to keep reminding me how busy you are. The fact that you’re overextended, booked solid and barely able to juggle all the craziness that is your very important life, doesn’t impress me. What does impress me is when you ship. Execution is the measure of man, not bravado. If you’re inventing things to outsource to preserve the illusion of productivity, we’re not interested. If you’re wearing busyness as a badge of honor to inflate your ego, we’re not interested. And if you’re spending your time convincing competitors that you’re busier than you really are instead of creating work that matters, we’re not interested. Let your work do the talking, not your words. Are you spending your time creating work that matters or convincing your competitors that you’re busier than you really are?

3.     Evolution is inevitable. If our work is the same it was a year ago, if what we do hasn’t evolved with who we are, we’re in trouble. Some of us fail to renew because we’re lazy. Others because we’re comfortable with the current level of our success and don’t want to let go of what’s working. Some fail to renew because we don’t think we need to evolve. And some of us fail to renew because we don’t think renewal is necessary to become great. But more often than not, we fail to renew because we fail to reflect. We fail to renew because we’re so busy with the day to day, wrapped up in the demands of the marketplace, that we forget to take time to step back from the work and ask ourselves what the work is evolving into. And as a result, we become prisoners of our own labors. Instigating a process of renewal is so essential. Without it, we don’t just grow stale, we grow cynical as we watch the evolvers pass us by. Are you telling the same story just because you know it’s guaranteed to get applause?

4.     Nothing lives once anymore. Thanks to the beauty of the web and its abundance of access to the otherwise unattainable, any art we create – and openly share – has infinite shelf space, unlimited airtime and endless viewership. In one click, our work can live online, in perpetuity, for anyone in the world to experience, for free, forever. This is the best thing that ever happened to us. For the first time in history, there are no walls. No boundaries separating creators from consumers. No permission police preventing us from sharing the things we love. It’s one big transcontinental farmer’s market that never shuts down. Even better, we live in the age of the remix. Consider Shepard Fairey’s famous campaign poster for Barack Obama: It became instantly iconic not because it was brilliant – but because it was mixable. Originally, Shepard only sold a few hundred posters on the street the day it was printed. But once he converted his art into a digital image and invited other artists to create variations, parodies and imitations of his work – also known as communal recreation – the poster earned instant recognition. He made history because he bravely stepped back, let evolution do what it did best. Will you enabled your art to live more than once?

5.     Originality isn’t about content, it’s about movement. If the work pushes us forward as human beings, it’s original. True creativity, unprecedented or not, will always result in change. You could argue that Glee isn’t original. It’s just another comedy drama about teenage angst with standard issue high school archetypes, cliché storylines and perfectly choreographed cover songs. Then again, Glee gives voice to the bullied and misunderstood. They ask questions the public is afraid to confront. They put a human face to cultural taboos like religion and sexuality. They bring social justice to the forefront of popular culture. And they show us that we don’t have to be weird alone. Maybe they’re singing an original song after all. Do you need to be original or in motion?

6.     Make room for the new. Humans have a built in reluctance to let go of what’s working. Because it means we’re no longer in control. Worse yet, it means we have to trust ourselves, trust the process of change and trust whatever result emerges. Yikes. The advantage is, when we bow to the door of next, when we tear ourselves away from the safe harbor of certainty and let go of who we are, we become who we need to be. A few months after Seinfeld went off the air, Jerry recorded a live comedy special in which he vowed never to use old material again. He even opened the program with a mock funeral scene, literally burying stacks of paper in the dirt while celebrity graveside mourners wept along with him. Because he didn’t want to be a new guy doing the old guy’s act. Interestingly, Jerry’s special was nominated for a Grammy. Talk about a punchline. Sometimes we have to let go of what’s working today to make room for what needs to happen tomorrow. Sometimes we have to operate from the edges to allow the truest, freshest expression of ourselves to emerge. Are you making a joke or making history?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Identity is an Inside Job

Identity is a complex adventure.

On one hand, when you build your identity from the outside in, from how people respond to you, the vision you have of yourself comes solely from the social mirror. You let the world tell you who you are. And it’s hard to grow into yourself when you’re smothered by expectations.
On the other hand, when you build your identity from the inside out, from how you chose to see yourself, the vision you have comes solely from your own limited worldview. You lack the necessary perspective. And it’s hard to grow into yourself when you’re insulated from any kind of feedback.

The secret is balance. Listening from the outside in, then deciding for yourself.

Because while both sides of the are valuable, ultimately, identity is still an inside job.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Belonging Sesions 007: James Heaton from Tronvig Group

Tronvig Group is a full service marketing agency in the business of helping museums, arts organizations, non-profits, service and retail businesses do better at doing good.

I sat down with James Heaton, Creative Director, and posed three crucial questions about belonging:

1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

Everyone has a voice. We always ask why, not just what and how. I think people crave responsibility when they are also given agency, when they can see the effect of their work on their destiny, and can see how their personal contribution plays a role in serving a larger vision that they help create and sustain. Years ago I fell in love with the ideas of Ricardo Semler. Taking some cues from him, we focus on values, honesty, openness and we add to this doing good in the world by helping our clients do better in their own efforts to do good. 

2.     The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture?

We ask the questions: Why do we exist and why do we matter? We ask our clients this. We ask ourselves. I think everyone understands that we are each working to achieve personal mastery and collective excellence. We don’t have a gimmick for this. Working hard to achieve something greater than ourselves is motivating enough and this is intensely human.

3.     Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?

In a healthy home anyone can say anything. Home is where your mind is free and failure is met with understanding. Good ideas are good regardless of who came up with them. Each member of the organization understands that it's a place where one can intentionally expose the weaknesses or insecurities within your own ideas so that its strongest version can be brought out. And that’s incorporated with the ideas of others, all of whom share a vision and an ultimate goal: To make the world better.

Thanks James! Learn more about the Tronvig Group philosophy here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I've Decided to Bet on Broad

I have extensive training in narrow thinking.

Assuming everybody thinks like me, making decisions from a limited perspective, refusing to let go of processes that have been good to me, throwing around the word forever like it’s a nerf ball, killing myself trying to accomplish outdated goals, backing away from perceived negatives, leaning my ladder against the wrong wall, believing that just because somebody kissed me once means that we’re in love forever, allowing my observations to bounce off a thin reservoir of experience, keeping consistent with silly ideas because they’re too convenient to be killed, and, worst of all, preserving the dangerous posture of terminal certainty.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s been great practice.

But that brand of thinking doesn’t serve me.

From now on, I've decided to bet on broad.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 006: Sarah Durham of Big Duck

Big Duck is a Brooklyn agency that works exclusively with nonprofits to help raise money and increase visibility.

I sat down with principal Sarah Durham and posed three crucial questions about belonging: 

1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

Big Duck works exclusively with nonprofits, so the people who want to work here are usually do-gooders with a passion for mission-driven organizations and a love of good communications. Most of them never thought they could find a place where they could get paid to write, design, strategize, project manage (or whatever they do) for something they believe in and get paid to do it. Having a nice office space in an interesting neighborhood in Brooklyn helps too. We also find that sharing our values online (which we really use and live by) is also a big reason people get excited to come here. 

2. The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture?

I want to feel good about the place I work and the people I work. And when I get up in the morning, I want my staff to feel that way too. We spend a ton of time together, and our relationships to each other and the space we share have a significant impact on our quality of life. I don’t usually push forced social events, but rather try to celebrate people’s individuality, and make room for it, so it happens fluidly and without hierarchy. We have Friday Snacks, after work drinks, push-ups at 5pm, Lunch Club and Pictionary. Humanizing the culture means making an environment where you care about people in dimensional ways. And if you really do care about them beyond the job, it’s easier to make decisions that help them thrive. 

3. Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?   

If they need reminding, they probably aren’t really at home. The best employees have what your business needs to grow and thrive, but they also need something from it to grow and thrive personally. It should be a two-way street, a partnership, in which both parties benefit and know why they are there. When that’s the case, employees feel at home; they know they’re truly needed and what they’re getting personally, beyond a paycheck. When people stagnate, stop growing, or get complacent, it may be time to push them out of the nest. 

Thanks Sarah! Meet the Big Duck team here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's So Easy to Make People Happy

We can never take away someone's joy.

If doing something fills somebody's spirit, captures her imagination and makes her feel useful and important -- and isn't negatively affecting the world -- than we have no right to stand in their way. We have no right to block their path of joy.

To do so insults their heart's desire and robs them of their humanity.

If somebody wants to spend four days preparing an elaborate meal for the entire family, let them. If somebody wants to brag about you in front of their friends, let them. If somebody wants to parade you around the room just so everyone can see the glow you bring to the world, let them.

We all have to learn how to receive. To greet people's gifts with a welcoming heart and a thankful posture, remembering how easy it is to make most people happy. And to accept people's generosity with a humble spirit and a respectful stance, remembering how beautiful it is when they have joy in their lives.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 005: Michael Piliero of Free Association

Free Association is a boutique digital agency in Brooklyn that partners with brands to deliver world-class digital experiences. They’re human friendly and they’re in the business of delivering experiences, not things.

I sat down with Michael Piliero, Creative Director, and posed three crucial questions about belonging.

1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think your employees join yours?

It’s a confluence of factors. First, we’re intentionally small, progressive and focused on human centered design. We have really low turnover. Second, we’re are able to create great digital products that are easy to use. I’ve had exposure to large agencies with misalignment on point of view. And I remember the question that first disrupted my thinking: “What do you really, really want to do?” Most people don’t have an answer to that question. For us, it’s driven a lot of change in the organization.       

2. The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture? 

We have very few top down processes, strict procedures or company outings with trust falls. We keep it pretty simple. We’ve assembled an intentionally small team of unique and talented people. We eschew the layers and politics you see at most agencies. And we inject a lot of green tea and turmeric juice. Instead of playing telephone with a bunch of managers, we just let the experts directly interface with clients and run the show. That’s what clients want, but don’t get very often.                                 

3. Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?

Natural human relationships are huge. And we let that happen organically between owners and staff. We also put a lot of thinking into our collective point of view and mission. That’s how we create significant positive impact in the world. That’s how we wrangle complexity together. And while our core clients are global corporations, we also do a lot of non-profit and startup work too. The nature of the impact varies, but it’s always human centered. All those factors, combined with our passion, come together to ignite the tribe. That approach, the way it takes shape, sparks the feeling of belonging – more than any human resources review would.  

Thanks Michael!

Meet the Free Association team here.                      

Sunday, July 08, 2012

What We Really Need is a Good Low

Our species spends a lot of money trying to buy happiness.

And a lot of the time, it works. For a little while.

But if nothing is ever wrong – something is probably wrong.

Suffering is underrated. It’s a healthy, human reality. It’s an essential part of the life experience. And if we’re trying to scrub our world clean of it, we’ll never grow. We’ll never reach our full potential.

Sometimes, what we really need is a good low.

We need life to hand us a pile of shit.

Some situation, some feeling or some experience that calls upon our resiliency. Something that tests us. Something that reminds us that we’re alive and real and human and imperfect – and that with a little help from our friends – we’ll pull through with flying colors.

Are we vulnerable enough to open ourselves to the low?
Are we thankful enough to give thanks when it comes?
Are we buoyant enough to bounce back when it goes?

Hope so.

Because it’s certainly a lot cheaper than buying another pair of sandals.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Stumbling Into The Truth When We're Not Looking

We rarely get what we signed up for.

We tend to come for one thing and end up walking away with another.

But sometimes the best road to being reached is the one we don’t see signs for. Expectation doesn’t always work to our advantage. In order to find that tiny little thing that’s so big we can’t live without it, it’s helpful if our guard is down. Surprise creates anxiety in the air, and that’s best time to give someone new ideas.

So we stumble into the truth when we’re not looking. And if we’re smart, if we’re open and if we’re lucky, we let it change us forever.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Belonging Sessions 004: Melissa Silvers of Ready, Set Rocket

Ready Set Rocket creates ideas, nurtures them, proves them and puts them into action. They never stop making good ideas better.

I sat down with Melissa Silvers, their creative director, and posed three crucial questions about belonging:
1. Good brands are bought, but great brands are joined. Why do you think employees join yours?
Most people join a company for basic needs like salary and benefits – and we do offer generous benefits and paid time off. But as a boutique digital agency, we can also drive home more value than a benefits package. We work in a sunny, dog-friendly loft in SoHo. That environment really helps everyone knows each other intimately. So, we’re careful whom we bring in on a fit level. Technical expertise is invaluable, but personality is the key to someone not just joining our company but believing in it. We’re all geeks who love knowledge, and we’re not afraid to tell candidates they’re not the perfect fit. It’s the hardest part of hiring, but it makes for a stronger team.
2. The great workplaces of the world have soul. What do you do to humanize your culture?
This isn’t a workplace where everyone has ear buds on, lost in their own worlds. To humanize the office, we have speakers that blast a shared room in, so everyone gets to share their music with the team (and turns into sing-alongs). We have Tweet Battles with a point system. We have team snowboarding trips. We will glitter bomb your desk if you get engaged. And our culture page is an aggregated stream of employee Instagram feeds. Which is a risky disclosure, but it’s also a compiled sense of who the team is visually. And that offers insight to each individual person and their tastes. Ultimately, we value knowledge over ego. We believe in transparency. There’s no information-withholding hierarchy. Everyone is an expert on something. It doesn’t matter who’s at the table, a good idea is a good idea. People feel valued, which is really the key to humanizing any workplace.
3. Belonging is a basic human craving. How do you remind employees that they've found a home?
New York is weird because few people here are natives. I think that’s why the word family comes up so often when we get together. At our organization, it’s closest thing some of us have to family in the city. And that sense of belonging is an ongoing effort. We have office dogs, who are just as much a part of the team as people. We have old employees and former interns, who stop by just to hang out. We don’t just like the people we work with – we love them. Our office isn’t the place you’re waiting to leave at the end of the day.

Thanks Melissa!

Meet the team at Ready, Set Rocket here.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A Young Artist's Guide to Playing for Keeps, Part 22

You’ve chosen an uncertain path.
You’ve adopted an inconvenient lifestyle.
You’ve embarked upon an unconventional journey.
You’ve felt the voice inside you growing more urgent.
You’ve committed yourself enough so you can’t turn back.

IN SHORT: You’ve decided to play for keeps.

This is the critical crossroads – the emotional turning point – in the life of every young artist.

And I’ve been there myself.

From my latest book, Writing is the Basis of All Wealth, here’s a list of suggestions to help you along the way: 

1. Make your audience your accomplice. First comes acceptance. That masturbatory art can only matter so much. That it’s hard to be creative alone. And that a crowdsourced approach is usually worthwhile. Second comes surrender. Absolute artistic vulnerability. Letting the audience in on the joke. Giving them permission to become co-creators along with us. Third comes accessibility. Keeping the loop open. Making it easy for the audience to tap into their creative flair. Creating a forum for them to express themselves freely and fully. Fourth comes expansion. Of access, not information. Continually creating a playing field on which people can create, not a smorgasbord from which people can consume. When we do this, when we stop setting off art in a corner and start enlisting the world to help us create, everything changes. The work grows stronger, the experience grows richer and the audience grows more devoted. Everybody wins because everybody plays. Are you sitting in a room alone stroking yourself? 

2. The need for attention is not a low impulse. As a performer, I am not afraid to admit that I demand an audience. When it comes to my readers, viewers, listeners or attendees, the intention is clear: I want you to miss me in your past. I want you to regret not meeting me sooner in your life. And I want you to develop a crush on me that you can’t quite explain. I want you to believe you’re watching a brain working. I want you to see that I am possessed. And I want you to delegate certain chunks of you thinking to me. I want you to get used to me. I want to become a regular part of your daily world. And I want you to make time in your busy life to visit the world I’ve created. That way, for the rest of my career, you’ll give anything I do a shot. Are you at peace with your need for attention? 

3. It’s not a blank page, it’s not a mirror. That’s why we’re so afraid to sit down and write. It’s not the fear that our work will suck. Or that nobody will read it. Or that people will read it, and they won’t care. It’s the fear of confronting our own truth. The fear that, once we stop editing ourselves – even for a moment – we might catch a glimpse of how we really feel about something, and it might contradict what we thought we believed. Forget about writer’s block, cognitive dissonance is the real enemy. What are you afraid to confront? 

4. Creativity is about trying things. First, we listen to our heart. We sit at the feet of that thing that sticks inside of us and says now. And we put it out publicly so we can’t run away from it, and so the world will conspire to help us achieve it. Next, we give ourselves permission. We drop the illusions about what we can and can’t do. And we knock down the inhibitors that stop us from pursuing something dopey, different or whimsical. Then, we chase that idea down. We get experimental without spending money. We fiddle around with things. And we execute small steps that create the freedom to pause, test, reevaluate and adjust. Finally, we listen for what sticks. We watch for what makes us think, Oh my god – that counts? We ask ourselves: I wonder if I can take this further? And we become spawned by the childlike desire to see how far it goes. What are you ready to finally try in your art? 

5. The best artists make art every day. They make stuff and see what happens. They do the work and don’t think much about it. They show up, bare down and push something out into the world that matters to them, no matter what. And if they get heard, great. If they get paid, even greater. But if they get nothing, that’s fine too. As artists, they don’t do it for money or recognition, they do it because it’s their spiritual imperative. They can’t not create like a rock can’t not fall off a cliff. That’s why I publish a blog every day. That’s why I upload nametaglines every day. That’s why I post adventures in nametagging stories every day. They’re not just my daily gifts to the world, they’re contributions to my ongoing body of work. They’re additions to my artistic legacy, building my lifelong portfolio. And with every day that goes by, that reservoir grows bigger. That way, it’s not just art, it’s an asset. And like a forced savings account, when the time comes to make a withdrawal in the future, there will be enough of a surplus to tap into and convert into something highly profitable. But it all starts with the work I do today. What it becomes tomorrow isn’t my concern. Are you willing to let your art find its own legs?

6. We don’t have to work for strangers anymore. Whether we’re performers, publishers, writers, creators or entrepreneurs, there has never been a better time in history to go out and find the audience for what we love, or, better yet, create the audience ourselves. Now, instead of buying tickets for the lottery, instead of shooting for the masses and instead of trying to be all things to all people, we can be something important to a small group of people. We can do what we love, the way we love doing it, for the people we love, who love the way we do it. The hard part is giving ourselves permission to break free from the mediocrity of the masses and pursue the glory of the nooks and crannies. What tribe loves you?

REMEMBER: When you’re ready to play for keeps, your work will never be the same.

Make the decision today.

Show the world that your art isn’t just another expensive hobby.