Monday, January 16, 2012

Escaping – Is it the Answer?

I’m reading a book, Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur, by Pamela Slim in response to me making the leap—okay, maybe it was a push—to start my own marketing firm.

You see, in October, I was downsized. In my heart, I knew I would own my own business again, and had been thinking about it for years. This seemed like the impetus to make it happen. So, for the past two months I’ve been working out the details of setting up my own firm, Royal Apple Marketing.

But this blog is not about my business, it’s more about the  advice in that book for those who are living in the cubicle nation and have a tremendous desire to get out. It talks about how creativity may be zapped to near disappearance while living in the nation, and ways to overcome.

What’s most interesting to me about the book is that Pamela mentions many of things I’ve written about as well. It’s nice to know I’ve not been talking about nonsensical things the past few years. Here are some commonalities and things we both stress to help keep the creative juices flowing. You never know where it could lead, including leaving the "nation."
  • Mix it up. If your work is very cookie cutter and you’re looking for something to jazz up your life, mix things up. I’m not saying go out and do something crazy, but I—we—do encourage you to take small steps to engage your creative mind. Consider walking a different way to the cafeteria, or while window-shopping in your town, or as you walk the dog. You will begin to see things differently, which may cause your mind to begin to think differently—more creatively.
  • Create a vision board. I was floored when I read this in her book, since I wrote about it a couple years ago. Vision boards help you to remind yourself of who you are. Vision boards are there to graphically illustrate what you enjoy and where you want to be in your career or personal life. They can be very stimulating and a lot of fun to create.
  • Track ideas. If you’re like me, your mind seems to churn at all hours of the day or night. It seems ideas come to me at the strangest times. And that’s why I keep a notebook in my nightstand. Pamela takes it a step further and suggests keeping notebooks all over the house, for those ingenious moments when that idea surfaces. Once you begin this practice, you will wonder what you did before it; and will begin to realize you are more creative than you thought.
  • Morning Pages. Morning pages are somewhat like a journal. Don't worry, you don’t have to be a writer to keep them. It’s kind of a brain-dump-type tool that allows you to write—long hand—your thoughts each morning. This should not become your to-do list, but rather a blathering of things that simply come to you. It is meant to help clear your mind of clutter and to let the creative juices flow.
  • Exercise. I’m sure many of you made New Year’s resolutions to get in shape, to lose weight, and to feel better. I congratulate you on making that part of your everyday routine. Exercise is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Your body is being energized, which in turn, feeds the brain with positive endorphins. To me, walking is the best form of exercise because you are outdoors and stimulated by so many natural occurrences. You also have many choices, such as where to walk, the time of day to do it, and if you want to share that time with someone else.
 These are just a few of the great bits of advice Pamela offers in her book.

If you’re a member of cubicle nation and are looking for a ray of light and some answers about escaping, read this book. It’s a fun read, and may even spur you to get over your fears to move toward the job and career of your dreams.

How do you survive cubicle nation? Share your tips with fellow readers.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Survival Techniques for Everyday Use

I recently attended a networking event with a panel of experts talking about taking control of your health, wealth, and life during the holidays. Perfect timing wouldn’t you say?

The way it was positioned was taking time out during the busiest time of the year to learn how to de-clutter and regain focus while things around you may seem like they are in chaos.

Now who can use some de-cluttering activities and new ways to keep your health top of mind? I know I can. As creative professionals, we often fill our lives with activities that keep us fresh and energized. But, there comes a time when too much is just TOO much.

One speaker Peter Bentley, Director, Janus Capitol Group, shared these key tips you can use each day to help keep yourself on track and healthy.
  • Prepare for your week. Look at the calendar on Sunday night—or the night before your week starts—for the whole week. Then prepare your de-stressing timeline based the events you have listed. Remember to take a “de-stress” break after the most stressful events or activities. Be sure to put that on your calendar as well. Then, stick to it. Without this recovery time, you may begin to feel overwhelmed.
  • The better you learn to recover from stress, the better prepared you will be when you need to handle a truly stressful situation (think major event, not just a work-related deadline).
  • Write out the story of your life. Then reflect upon that story and write what you’d like it to be going forward. By putting the thoughts “on paper,” you may reflect and revisit, and even reshape the story until it becomes the story you want it to be. You have control here. It’s your story! Have one that feeds your goals.
  • Evaluate on whether your life is working for you or if it’s really working FOR you in the sense it’s helping you to move forward in your life’s progress and dreams, as well as in reaching your goals. 
One key point he mentioned was something called the Corporate Athlete. Now I haven’t heard that phrase since work-life balance came out in the early O’s. It holds a lot of merit. The premise is basically that employee performance directly correlates to employee health. Skillful energy management comes from aligning your personal and deepest values and beliefs with your day-to-day situation.

Another speaker, Randi Bale, owner of Healthy Organized Living, shared some excellent organizational and de-clutter tips to help keep us from going, basically, coo-coo during this ever-so-busy time of the year.
  • One woman in the group was telling us about the gifts she buys for her kid’s teachers and even the school janitor. Randi had a great tip about this. If you choose to buy gifts for all the extraneous folks in your life, keep a list of the people and what you buy them each year. In this instance, as the children get older, the woman will buy fewer and fewer gifts. But in order for her to feel like she’s contributing, keeping the gifts to a minimum now is key.
  • Let people off the hook. It may seem like a relief to tell your best friends that their friendship is gift enough. If you have friends who expect a gift from you, consider a card with a personalized note or quote telling them what their friendship means to you. By giving your friend a “by” at the holidays is also a “by” for you; and, thus, one less action on your to-do list.
  • Don’t fall into the family trap/peer pressure. I know it’s easier said than done. Randi told the story about an Italian woman who decided she was going to break tradition and to save herself some time as she prepared the holiday feast. She chose to make the easier dish of baked ziti over lasagna. When her sister found out, she laid on the pressure the she just couldn’t server ziti. It was tradition to serve lasagna. Rather than say no and stand her ground, the first woman made the lasagna in the wee hours of the morning to appease the family wishes. Be strong people! Hold your ground. This goes for work life, as well as personal situations.
  • Set boundaries. Seriously, you must take all your actions into account and set boundaries. Be firm with them. If you waffle, I guarantee you will hear a sucking sound in your ears as you succumb to the pressure.
  • Prepare yourself ahead of time. This goes for all aspects of your life. For example, if you’re dieting—even if you’re not and just want to be health conscious—check the restaurant menus ahead of time to ensure you have your meal planned out.
  • Don’t give to every charity. When it comes to the holiday season, charities may be among your list of gift recipients. Don’t fall trap to giving to organizations you normally wouldn’t. Be clear about the charities you support. If you get that call do donate during the holiday season, be firm by saying, “Thank you for calling. I’ve donated to my dedicated charities this year. Thank you.”
Review these tips to see how you can apply them in your day-to-day work or play activities. I thought the tips were good enough to share. They are my gift to you dear readers.

What de-stressing techniques do you use? How do you de-clutter your life during the busiest times of the year?

Happy holidays readers. I’m looking forward to a tremendous 2012. I hope you are too!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Leadership Lessons from the Underdog

Lessons on leadership are all around us.

You know I saw Moneyball earlier this year. And there have been dozes of movies and books written on the topic. But, there was a recent article I read that ignited this blog.

It’s about how Andy Bernard, a fictional character from the television show The Office, makes his way as a leader in his new role as the office branch manager. He’s egotistical. He’s overbearing. Basically, he’s a jerk. But his boss, Robert California, doesn’t care. He wants to see how Andy will take the reigns and lead his team.

What does he do? Well, he tackles his charge with gusto and does the following:
  • Engages in out-of-the-box brainstorming. Now, those of you who have been in a serious brainstorming session know, even though it’s brainstorming, there are rules, well, okay, guidelines. Working outside the confines of those guidelines can cause havoc.
  • Incentive Program. Due to the lack of success he had with his brainstorming technique, Andy resorts to the tried-and-somewhat-successful game called the incentive program. The twist he adds is that the team can pool resources to gain access to an uber prize.
This reminds me of a leadership game I was involved with several years ago. We had to blindly take a number of pouches with various items in each. We knew our goal was to increase our net gain for each team using the items in the pouches that were of varying value. I as a team of one, I knew my chances of “winning” were slim.

However, a couple colleagues had seen me in action and quickly approached me to form a co-op with them. All proceeds would be split equally among the board. I joined the co-op without batting my lashes. Over the period of sixty minutes, we slowly conquered our competition and asked them to join our co-op. There was one hold out and in the end, that group lost due to their lack of resources.

In the end, our methods aligned with the ones Andy used to inspire his team.
  1. Set clear direction. Know what you’re goals are. Set clear and attainable metrics and tasks to accomplish the goal.
  2. Freedom to attain goals. We were to develop our own methods to attain the goals. If a co-op member crossed and ethical or moral line, they were out and had to apply at the remaining teams. Giving staff the opportunity to determine their fate will inspire them to be more creative in achieving their goals. It also creates a powerful dynamic called “buy-in”.
  3. Measure and Promote. When a team is striving for a goal, especially if the environment is competitive, post the results and success metrics along the way. It may inspire creative competition. And, as we know, competition is good!
  4. Encourage and Motivate. You should know your team members well and how to encourage each of them to be success. At least that’s what good leaders do. Leaders avoid analyzing staff and determine a one-approach-fits-all method to keep employees motivated. Being flexible and understanding is key when it comes to motivating employees.
  5. Perseverance among self-doubt is encouraging. There will be times that you, as the leader, may have some self-doubt when it comes to accomplishing a goal. There’s no need for you to shout it from the rooftops. But, rather, show your determination to succeed when the end may not be in sight.
  6. Demonstrate Fulfillment. You spend a lot of hours with your colleagues, sometimes more than you do with your family. Encourage your team to be playful and fun and to demonstrate fulfillment in their work. There are few of us who would continue with our day jobs if we won a large sum of money. So, think of it this way, take each day as a gift and find something encouraging it in. Share your fulfillment with your team. After all, if you’re cranky, your mood “runs downhill”.
In the end, underdog wins inspire each of us differently and offer hope to succeed.

Share your stories about lessons from the underdog. Remember, the appointed leader may not always be the underdog or the person with the lesson to share. Look around your team for inspiration. It’s everywhere!

Who have you been inspired by lately?

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bucket Lists—Make Your List and Check it Twice

As theyear winds down and I begin to reflect on all that took place in my personaland professional life, it got me to thinking about my bucket list. Howsuccessful have I been at ticking things off it this year?

I mustsay 2011 was a tumultuous year for me. However, it’s not the year’s fault asmuch as it was my own. I had goals. I had dreams. I had my trusty bucket list. AsI re-assess, I am happy to say there were a few things that I checked off, to:
  • Learnmore about mobile app development and marketing—check.
  • Continueto expand my mentoring and leadership skills with my team—check.
  • Visit acountry I hadn’t been to before—check…Mexico.
  • Swim withdolphins—check.
But,there is one thing on my list that I’d hoped to knock off, but was unsuccessful—toparasail.

I’ve hadit on my list for a couple years and had the chance to go two years ago. Thenthe seas were too rough and my trip was cancelled. A sign I’m sure. However,now when I get the chance to do it, I think about it more and wonder—Is thisreally something I’m meant to do? I mean, I’m afraid of heights and have astrong aversion to drowning. I began to ask:
  • Does thisgoal really make sense for me and will I enjoy the experience?
  • What ismy true reason for putting this on my list in the first place?
  • How willthis translate into my professional life? Does it need to translate?
Make your list. Check it twice.Re-assess and sprinkle it with spice.
Ascreative leaders, we need to think about items on our bucket list that take usout of our comfort zone, for ourselves and for our teams. We need to take timeto evaluate our staff and to help them grow. We need to consider our own goalsand how they align with our company, our department, our team, and our owncreative lives. If you are finding that your goals and bucket list are notaligning, maybe it’s time to re-assess what’s on your list. As the year comesto a close, now is the perfect time.

Here is aquick guide to help you determine if you need to revisit your list:
  • Were opportunities presented that would lend me toaccomplish this goal? If not, re-assess the goal’s realistic qualities. If yes,why weren’t they taken?
  • Did I set a time limit on the goal, making it measurable?If not, you may consider doing this to create pressure for completion. You knowabout SMART goals. Leverage that technique here as well.
  • Were additional resources needed to accomplish the goal?If so, determine what they are and seek them; thus, redefining the goal basedon those needs.
  • Is the goal right for you, or are you living someoneelse’s dream? For example, is parasailing really my goal or something thatsomeone thought would be cool to do so I added it to my list? How willaccomplishing that goal make me stronger, smarter, and a better person?
  • Am I truly motivated to complete this goal? If you lackthe motivation to complete something on your bucket list, maybe it’s time tore-evaluate if it should be on your list at all.
  • Was my bucket list item too large to manage? Was it trulyoverwhelming? If so, consider breaking the goal into parts to make it easier tohandle. For example, maybe before parasailing, I should take swimming lessonsthat will make me feel more secure if I land in the water.
Goalsetting can often be stressful for everyone involved and can weigh heavily onthe creative leader. With 2011 coming to a close, what were you able to checkoff your bucket list? What is still on it? Do you need to re-assess that list?As you ask yourself these questions, ask your team as well.

Bucketlist goal setting is something that defines who you are as a leader, a person,a mentor, and a professional. There must be things on that list you’d like tocheck off this year. You have less than 30 days to accomplish it.

What willyou check off before year’s end?


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why Freelance When There are Corporate Gigs to be Had?

The other day I came across an article “20 Reasons Not to Freelance,” and I said to myself, ‘Okay, I’ll bite.’

I wanted to be enlightened as to the nearly two-dozen reasons why this person felt freelancing was to be set aside for the corporate gig. As a freelancer for more than two decades myself, I’d always had a corporate gig to fall back on, but knew deep down I would give it up to do my own thing. That day has come.

Here’s some of the reasoning the original author has for not freelancing. I will counter-point throughout.
  1. It’s easier than a corporate job. If you’ve freelanced you know it’s not the same as sitting in an office with a bunch of other designers, if you have the luxury and kind of corporate gig where there is more than one of you. When the writer speaks of having a team of people, he must have been thinking larger corporate. Many small organizations only have one designer/creative person on staff that either does the work him/herself or works in conjunction with an agency. So, I’m not so sure it’s easier because you’re still designing all day while attending meetings and other corporate-required things.
  2. You don’t have much experience. Um…well, even for students coming fresh out of college, you may not have a lot of business experience, but you’ve more than likely been designing things for nearly a decade already. Consider the amount of time you spent designing websites as a teenager or building fashion accessories or whatever your forte may be. Then off to design school, whether a traditional institution or a more specialized school like the Pratt Institute, you spent several more years honing your skill. During this time, you may have owned your own business and began freelancing in your teens and early twenties. For those of us with an entrepreneurial spirit, we begin working our business from an early age.
  3. You need benefits. To me this is an argument from my parent’s generation. Today, there are many ways to get health insurance through entrepreneurial groups without paying through the nose for them. Be smart about this. Don’t go without insurance just to save a few bucks, because if something happens to you, it will cost you a great deal more than any insurance premiums you may have to pay. Just be sure to understand what you’re paying for.
  4. You have no self-discipline. I have to say, I’ve met a lot of designers who may not have the corporate sit-in-a-cube mentality or who want to work early in the morning to fit the corporate culture. But that doesn’t mean they don’t work their butts off the hours they are dedicated to their jobs. Grant it, there are always folks who are not disciplined. I’ve meet tons of them in the corporate world too when I was working my butt of to please the higher ups. You know what happened to them? They were ignored, shifted from department to department, or fired eventually. The same will happen to a freelancer. If you don’t have what it takes, then don’t waste your time or anyone else’s.
  5. You don’t have any time-management skills. Again, the original author must be speaking about people who have never, ever worked on a project before or who have no experience whatsoever.  Grant it, being on your own, you need to understand boundaries, when a project starts and stops, and how to manage your time. If you’re not good at this, there are lots of ways to set up schedules to help you manage your time, or better yet, work with another freelancer who specializes in project management to help you stay on track.
The author offers a lot more reasons to not freelance, but I think for anyone who has done it, made it their full-time gig, and has been successful many of these reasons are false. People measure success differently.

If you’re the type of person who is or has been a successful freelancer, I’d like to hear from you. I’d like to write a follow-up article that highlights your success stories and how working independently has shown that you can do it and make it work. Help me to debunk some of the reasons in the original article.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Social Media Plus – The Gears Are Turning

Yesterday I attended the Social Media Plus (#smplus) summit in Philadelphia—a city I’ve never ventured into even though I live just outside the New York City area.

Anyway, it was a packed house with tremendous speakers obviously focusing on social media—an area I specialize in for my clients. I am so glad I attended, not just to see how great things are in this space, but to learn about analytics, connect with people (I mean we are social after all), and to debunk some myths I’ve heard about.

Jason Falls (@JasonFalls) kicked it off with his engaging  “No Bull Sh*! Social Media” presentation. Throughout, he called the spades a spade and put it all on the table from the social “tree huggers,” as he called them, to the suits looking for ROI.

What did he teach me about being a creative professional in the social space? Well, for starters he wants us to:
·       Ask questions, lots of questions!
·       Push the envelope to find new ways to meet client needs.
·       Do research (and more than you get on an info-graphic).
·       Expand your mind to the business side. Yes, social is about, well, um, being social. But, if you work for a company it is about business marketing and you must be able to demonstrate the successes.

He also pointed out the seven business drivers of a good social strategy, only two of which can be ROI-oriented (R&D and Sales). When working with executive teams, be sure to help them to understand the benefits of social in the other five areas and get the up-front drivers for each. If there are metrics to be had for each of these areas, be ready to provide them.  
1.    Brand awareness
2.    Reputation
3.    PR
4.    Build community
5.    Enhance customer service
6.    Facilitate research &development
7.    Drive sales & leads

I then attended a session hosted by Eric Boggs (@ericboggs), in case you don’t know, he is the founder of Argyle Social. And yes folks, he was wearing argyle pants. I can’t go there…

If you’re in social and you haven’t looked at some of the great stats this company Tweets about, check them out.

Eric talked about finding the truth in analytics, which go deeper than what you may see on the surface of some platforms, e.g., Google Analytics. This point really struck a cord with me since I review stats on so many different platforms to be certain I’m getting a well-rounded picture. Amen to this!

He shared several stats-related insights based on a sample size from Argyle clients, including:
1.    RSS Feeds and Manual feeds in social return the same results. So, stop stressing over using RSS feeds to populate other social content areas. It’s not worth the grey hair.
2.    Scheduled posts generate clicks not conversions. According to the sample, the outcome they concluded was that scheduled posts drive traffic. Timeliness drives conversions.  You must know what your "sweet" spot is. For example, if you’re promoting a conference, you may use scheduled tweets one month out to help drive traffic to the site, and to potentially increase conversions. But, stats show that you may see an increased conversion rate closer to the conference start date.
3.    Hashtag stuffing doesn’t work. According to Argyle’s sample, 52 percent of post stuffed with hashtags underperformed those without them. I found that very interesting
4.    Curators get higher clicks per post. When comparing curators (those who share information to educate) to promoters, curators get more clicks. However, as expected promoters have higher conversion rates.

Wil Reynolds from Seer Interactive was up next. He talked about how search engines don’t always lead to the truth. Take for example, a company with SEO in their name or that has it splattered all over the site tags. Organically that company may rank higher than you who has a huge YouTube following because…and wait for it…Google Analytics do not take YouTube stats into account. Wow!

Another thing he mentioned that resonated with me was, when people “un-follow” you, it’s an opportunity for you to connect, improve, and touch base with them. You can find out if people are un-following you with I wouldn’t stress over it to the point that you become paranoid. But it’s a nice way to see how to improve your biz or see if someone has hijacked your content.

On the flip side of this, if you’re looking for people to follow, check out This provides stats on your followers and people who you need to connect with that are influential in the space.

By the end of the day, as it is with any great conference, my gears were spinning. I am looking forward to implementing the things I’ve learned with my clients and providing them with new value-adds and metrics.

What are you doing in the social space as an in-house creative?


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Enough Already – Stop Dwelling on it!

This month, an article was released from the excellent, contributing writers for “O” Magazine (Oprah) that caught my attention, because I must say, I’m an over-thinker. I over-analyze. I dwell. I stew. And yes, I can spend countless hours rehashing a conversation that never took place, just in order to get my two-cents in.

But, enough about me; how does this pertain to a corporate creative? Well, as creative people, we can, at times, discount our greatness, or on the flip side wonder why others don’t see our greatness for all it’s worth.

Just when you’ve got a deadline looming and projects out the wazoo, you’re thinking about that argument you had with your daughter’s dance teacher last week and how you will confront the “situation” this week. For over-thinkers, depressive moods can strike at any time. Below are some tactics for you—and you know who you are—to get yourself out of the overthinking spin you’re in to see the light of a great day.

  1. Distract Yourself. Now there’s a great tactic that I often find works well for me. I had a great mentor and boss who once told me to “change the channel” when things were clogging my mind. He not only meant it figuratively; he also meant it literally. When you’re finding yourself in a snit about something, or dwelling way past it’s shelf life, change the channel. Do something different, like excise to new music or take a walk/drive someplace you’ve never been. I find that when I’m stewing about something and I need a change, I listen to a different kind of music. Music that makes me think of different or “better” times. For me, that happens to be music from the ’80s. I mean seriously, who doesn’t love a good head-banging song from Def Leppard or a toe-tapper from a movie like “Footloose” (ahem…the original!)?

  2. Be Mindful. If you take a minute in the midst of the most deep “tail spin” your one, and be mindful of your breathing, relax, and let the breathing work its way through your body, you should begin to feel like you’re relaxing and that the tension starts to dissipate. I’m not saying learn how to meditate here, but taking a moment to focus on you, your breathing, and relaxing, you may just ward off those evil spirits for a while longer and hopefully will come to the conclusion that whatever you’re stewing over will be a small blip on your radar screen of life.

  3. The best and worst of it. Start with the worst-case scenario you can imagine for the outcome of whatever it is you’re stewing about. Play it out, all the way. Then end by thinking of the best-case scenario, so in the end, you’re thinking about the positive rather than the negative. Take that positive nugget and focus on making it a reality.

As creative people, we can often take any situation and make it into a full-length dramatic film starring Johnny Depp with direction by Martin Scorsese. However, rather than focusing on the what-ifs, the might-have-beens, the why-didn’t-they-notices, and all those negative tracks, focus your energies on the positives.

Positives such as:

  • When people talk to you about projects, you are already steps ahead of them thinking about the design, marketing, copy, and production of the piece, elements that may never have crossed their minds.

  • People are in awe of your talent because they just do not possess that kind of skill.

  • Being able to take the concept and make it a reality.

When you sit back and think about all those conversations you wished you had, and those moments when you just cannot fathom why someone didn’t “get it,” take it in for a second before reacting. Consider why they may not have been able to understand your creative genius and think about how you could explain in terms they may understand.

Finally, when you are in the moment and you want to rip someone a new one…change the channel. Make the choice to stop and breath before reacting. Don’t hold it in like it’s a treasure the keep. Let it all go.

Now all I have to do is take my own advice. So, I’m signing off to go play with my dog and enjoy the moment I’m able to with her while she’s alive.

How do you prevent or still those over-analytical moments? Share with us your story.