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Archive for the ‘ideas’ Category

Brandon Walters interviewed me kind of on the fly last week about the upcoming Social Story conference (Greenville, SC – September 24). The interview was obviously completely unscripted (at least for me). I haven’t watched it yet, but here it is anyway. (Click here if the video doesn’t launch for you.)

We shot a lot more, so hopefully, other little tidbits and outtakes will pop up at some point.

To sign up for the conference (seating is very limited), click here.

Cheers,

Olivier

PS: Please note the absence of a moustache on my upper lip. Will this strike the final blow to #stachegate? Stay tuned.

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Via the SwampFox Insights blog:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The man has a point.

Check out this brilliant website.

A lot of people don’t think of “design” as being all that important, because our daily interactions with “design” are limited to gadgets like the iPod or the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, or maybe a faucet or something. Maybe we think of design when it comes to cars and clothes and furniture. But smart design can also save thousands of lives every day. Yes, something as seemingly superfluous as “design” can change the world. (Starting with the first tool, taking a detour via the wheel, and fast-forwarding to the millions of things we now take for granted, like the plasma TV, the hybrid automobile, the artificial heart, and even the ubiquitous bottle of Coca Cola.

If you aren’t the humanitarian type and couldn’t care less about saving lives, bear in mind that design can also create entirely new markets. (We just talked about getting there before the herd, so your ears should be perking up just about now.)

How can smart design can create new markets? According to this article in the New York Times entitled “Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor” (annoying subscription required):

“A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

For starters.

That’s something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop – specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children – is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere. Maybe the time to get into these markets is before they even exist. The seeds are being planted now. The herd is starting to gather. Maybe by the time the market exists and the pastures are green and lush, you’ll find yourself in the back again. Maybe you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having made a move sooner. (History repeats itself.)

What if you could create one of the most lucrative companies of the 21st century AND save tens of thousands of lives at the same time? What if you really could be enormously successful AND help save the world all in one fell swoop? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

In this economy, perhaps these are questions worth asking yourself – especially if you are a US or Western European manufacturing company looking for a reason to go on.

Don’t even approach the problem from a humanitarian standpoint if you don’t want to. Approach it from a business standpoint. Here’s the problem you need to solve: 90% of the planet’s population wants something that they probably can’t get very easily. All you have to do is figure out what that is, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and how to get it to them. It could be a mode of transportation. It could be a light source. It could be a sanitary product. It could be food. It could be a garment. It could be knowledge. It could be something as simple as a tougher bicycle wheel. It could be anything.

There is no single answer. There are probably thousands upon thousands. And that’s exciting.

Whatever it is, it could also have applications right here, where the richest 10% of the world population lives and eats and shops 24/7/365.

It might even be a better option than trying to become the next Google.

Food for thought.

So… what are you working on right now?

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Seattle, by Olivier Blanchard - 2008

Check out these great bits of advice from Dave Lorenzo’s Career Intensity blog:

“Deciding: ‘Familiarize yourself with common decision-making errors—such as going along with a group choice to maintain cohesion. Watch for tendencies within yourself to commit such errors.’

Leaders make bold decisions. They see them through, and if they aren’t working out, they make new decisions. The worst thing you can do for your career is make no choices or let your choices be made for you. Taking a passive approach to your goals is unlikely to result in success. Even if you make a bad decision, it’s better to mess up and learn from it than to remain stagnant. Failures are great opportunities to learn more about yourself and the world. Move ahead by choosing wisely and boldly.”

(If you’re asking yourself… yeah, cool career advice, but… what does this have to do with branding, hold on. I’m getting to it.)

“It takes someone who believes in herself and her ideas to challenge the status quo. These are the people who shake things up and change them for the better. You don’t have to be contentious to challenge. The best way to suggest changes is not to bash the old ways, but to offer new and positive ideas.

If you are part of a team working on a project that you believe could be going more smoothly, step up and present your ideas. Most likely, everyone will be excited to approach the work from a new angle. And you will begin to earn a reputation for innovation.”

Still not catching on? Okay… Let’s try one more:

“In the famous words of Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

What separates the dazzling winners from everyone else is that they are able to envision a grand future. What turns them into winners is that they are able to leap into that future and do the hard work necessary to make it great.

Particularly for die-hard realists and people who have been trained (by parents, friends, or spouse) to be ‘responsible’ and ‘stable’, indulging in imagination can be difficult. For every idea that’s even mildly revolutionary, a little voice chimes in, ‘Impossible. You can’t do that. That’s stupid. It’ll never work.’ Quiet that voice and spend some time ruminating on your wild, far-out, fanciful ideas. Great leader do things that no one before them has done.”

Still no? Tsssk… Okay. I’ll give you a hint: Substitute “brand” for “career”. Everything that Dave so brilliantly recommends is exactly the kind of advice that you can put to good use in building strong brands – from ‘brand you’ to the next retail darling, iconic consumer good or dazzling web application.

Brands aren’t built in a vacuum. They aren’t built by functionaries. They do not thrive in stagnant bureaucracies. Brands are built by empowered visionaries. Brands are built on enthusiasm, conviction, and courage… Or they are doomed from the start.

You are the heart and soul of the brand you represent and serve. If you want your brand to be a market leader, you must be a leader in your job as well. Your qualities are your brand’s attributes. Your weaknesses are its flaws. Everything you are, everything you do, affects its success and future.

So… don’t ever let anyone turn you into a tool. Challenge everything. Question every assumption. Wage war on routine and bureaucracy. Accept no compromise…

… and read Dave’s blog. It’s a good one.

Les tags du jour: , , ,

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Great post from Gavin Heaton over at Servant of Chaos this week about the changing face of business management. Gavin mentions an emerging new breed of business leader that might sound a little familiar if you’ve been paying attention to what our little community of Marketing+ bloggers has been talking about these last few years. Check this out:

By far, the most radical transformation will be the one thrust upon us by the generational change that is now under way. With 60 million baby boomers about to be replaced by 60 million Millennials, the workplace will never be the same again. Managing the “knowledge transfer” that needs to take place over the next 5-10 years will be a fundamental responsibility of the Business Designer.

What is a Business Designer, I hear you ask? Per Gavin:

The Business Designer does not sit in a creative studio. Rather, she operates across business units — touching marketing, customer service and new product design. The BD has a finger on the pulse of finance and lives cheek-by-jowl with the legal team. There is the touch of the management consultant in the way that the BD navigates the org chart — but also the fervour of the evangelist. She may be T-shaped. She may be a green egg. But above all, she is an experienced business professional. That’s right — she knows how to get things done.

The BD will perform the important role of “change manager” or perhaps “transformation manager” — for the domino-like changes that will occur in every facet of a business will change the nature of the enterprise. What has been rough and ready in the consumer space will become refined and repeatable in the business world for the BD will select and orchestrate the practices, tools and approaches that correspond with a company’s business strategy. Of course, this will breed a whole new round of innovation in the technology space — we have already begun to see this with Yammer, the business version of Twitter.

And there will be a corresponding transformation in the process of business, and the goals and approaches of groups charged with managing brand touch points. This goes without saying.

What’s the difference between a Business Designer and a traditional business manager? The way I look at it, the difference lies in a handful of subtle yet crucial traits exhibited by this new biz whiz breed:

1. The T-shaped trait: These folks combine a strong mix of Marketing Management and Experience Design, and understand the importance of storytelling, Brand Strategy, and Experience Design. They are gifted strategists with extremely well developed creative, communications and context-building skills. They are intellectually curious, deeply entrepreneurial problem solvers.

2. The Green Egg trait: Process improvement, an eye to new markets and a passion for Innovation are their biggest professional drivers. These folks are agents of change. These are the people who will take your company to the next level in its evolution (if you let them).

3. The “good enough” aversion trait: These folks are way too passionate to tolerate a “good enough” mentality. Their job is about much more than turning a crank and picking up a paycheck. They’re change agents – not for the sake of change, but for the sake of driving to necessary leaps in a business’ evolution.

4. They ideation trait: These folks bubble over with ideas. They sketch a lot. They prototype. They like to test out their ideas. They seek out peers who can help them bring their ideas to life. They tend to be gadget and accessories freaks, even if they only own a few. They are designers at heart, if not technically in practice.

5. The connected trait: These folks have connected with their time. They understand the underlying strategic shifts going on right now that will change the landscape that your company operates in. They are good at connecting the dots: By being plugged-in to the world today in ways that most are not, they can clearly see what the business landscape will look like in two, five and ten years. This gives them the ability to be the architects of your company’s future. You may frown at their interest in social media tools like Twitter, Seesmic, Yammer and Facebook, but these are the tools of their trade: This is how they connect with their peers, with information, and with the shifting tides that will drive the market changes that will either sink or remake your business in the next decade.

Here’s more on that from Gavin:

We are also reaching a certain maturity in the way that marketers work with social media. There are now case studies on the effectiveness of social media, there are tools that help us measure and react to conversations and there are an increasing number of corporate roles for “community managers” or even “directors of social media”.

In this environment, the focus is no longer on learning the tools, but on refining the way that we interact with them. It is about bringing social media into our businesses, integrating it with our other marketing efforts and focusing efforts in a way that deliver business results.

Read the whole post here.

I am glad you brought up the notion of this new type of business leader, Gavin. I’ve been trying to put my finger on this for a few years now. Still not quite there yet… But for those of us living at the intersection of Business Management, User & Community Engagement, Marketing Communications, Product Design, Innovation, and the evolution of Social Media tools, starting to put a name to the thing is way overdue. With most business leaders spending at least 85% of their time turning the crank and making sure their businesses run properly, who is in charge of actually driving the business to its next evolution? Department managers? Sales? The COO? The CMO? 15% or less of a business leader’s day potentially devoted to improving – not just running – their business. Scary. In a rapidly changing world/economy/market, it pays to have at least one person (better yet, a whole team of them) a) focusing on what’s next, and b) getting the business ready for it.

Does the opportunity for such folks exist as a layer between the CEO and the other C-suite execs (CMO, COO, CFO, Manufacturing, Design Engineering, Sales, etc.)  Is the role better suited to function as a team-based cluster of upper-mid-level Business Directors? Perhaps a Brand Czar who provides direction to all departments but answers directly to the CMO? Is there a better name for the role? Can this type of individual force an overhaul of the traditional corporate org chart?

Big tip of the hat for getting that discussion started, my friend.

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“Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product.”

– Jennifer Van der Meer –Former Wall Street Analyst, green activist and innovation strategist.

Fantastic piece on Core77 by Jennifer Van der Meer on the convergence of design, (customer) movements, product adoption and innovation against the backdrop of “green” product growth.

Here are some tidbits:

Recently, I was invited to participate as a Speaker at the Greener by Design conference in Alexandria, VA, with innovation culture and systems guru, Robert Shelton. Our talk focused on the encouraging shift towards more open models of innovation, where knowledge is shared both inside and outside a company’s walls to solve for the complex and daunting challenges that we face. This praise for the widening of knowledge networks emerged as a theme in many different conversations throughout the rest of the conference. More and more companies have begun to shift sustainability from public relations statements and corporate social responsibility promises to actual product development and marketing activity–a way to create real value. Facing up to climate change will require a major redesign in the way we bring things to market.

The caveat? Over 50% of consumers want greener, more natural housing cleaners, but only 5% actually purchase this category of product: consumers do not want tradeoffs. Clorox’s Green Works is one company that embraced this gap. How did the Green Works team aim to get past the 5%? When choosing household cleaners, green-leaning consumers are looking for proven efficacy, broad availability, comparable price, and a brand they know and trust. They’re not willing to settle for a product that performs less than a more eco-unfriendly alternative. Clorox Green Works accepted these constraints and delivered a natural product that passed blind performance tests–in partnership with the Sierra Club. Despite initial external skepticism that a brand like Clorox could succeed with a natural product offering, the good word got out and sales results have “far exceeded expectations,” according to Kohler.

The “no tradeoffs, no compromise” approach has served as a mantra in many companies and across industries when challenged with comprehensive green innovation. But there’s something missing in this stark consumer win-it-all equation: Consumers are not part of the conversation and they know it.

I have spent a good deal of time sitting down with these emerging green consumers and many themes come into to focus. When asked to take the time to give their real opinion about their lifestyle, they reveal an untapped desire to participate in the process to be more than just a stat about consumption and purchase behavior. When you move the conversation beyond price and performance benefits to engage people in the challenge of designing a green future, they want to do so much more than just vote with their wallet.

Unleashing the Innovator in Everyone
In fact, I found that once on the topic I could not get these consumers to stop thinking about innovation and the role they should play in the design process. One-on-one interviews, blog studies, and focus groups all inevitably turn into green therapy sessions. People wanted to dissect how they chose to eat their food, build their home, rely on transportation, raise their children, and create meaning in their lives. When the conversation shifted to how we could live more sustainably, the real ideas would begin to flow.

While it was personally gratifying to be a part of these discussions, I found that my role as a strategist and researcher had major limitations. It was costly to send someone like me around the world, burning jet fuel, to have deep conversations only to fold these insights into traditional briefs on brand and product development. At the same time, every industry started getting green religion and claiming a green message. But the old compartmentalize structure was still in place, which resulted in confusion all along the chain, the initial pleasure and fascination with the complexity of the problem devolved into fatigue amongst the newly green converts at the consumer and corporate level.

The roles of designers, product development specialists, and marketers should never have been as segmented and will never be again. Participation is the key to innovation…

I realized that the nature of this challenge requires constant, ongoing conversation between all the elements. Even a successful human-centered approach to the fuzzy front end completely drops off when we hit the conveyor belt process for product development. Ideas once sensibly vetted are suddenly forced to move lock step through the phases required for launch, and often get watered down in the process. This is in fact where the activity of greenwashing occurs–good intentions turn into skepticism, compromises, and incidental innovation. How do we create a system that provides more interaction, iteration and a feedback loop?

Read the rest of Jennifer’s piece here. It’s well worth the detour.

Have a great Monday everyone. 😉

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So instead, I will just post this haiku:

GM US sales dropped 18% in june.

Toyota US sales dropped 21% in June.

More imagination is needed.

Source: CNN

With every car and truck and van in the US looking essentially the same and absolutely no effort whatsoever by major car manufacturers to create sexy, well-designed, fuel-efficient, compact cars to give the overpriced mini Cooper and gender-limited VW Bug a run for their money, we are left with a sea of cars no one wants.

Problem #1: Wallet share is tight. Buying a new car in the current economy is already a tough proposition.

Problem #2: Buying a car is an investment. Resale values of vehicles with weak mileage efficiency are dropping fast. Investing in a car today with gas prices looking the way they do (+ market insecurity) means consumers aren’t likely to fork out big bucks for a new car anytime soon.

Problem #3: Our “bigger is better” supersize-me attitude needs to change. The days of the macho-by-horsepower association are coming to a close. Deal with it.

Problem #4: Auto manufacturers are not reacting quickly enough to the oil crisis. (As if it wasn’t always coming. Didn’t anyone have a Plan-B? Really?)

Problem #5: Most cars don’t have a purpose or an identity. Nissan’s X-Terra’s success 8 years ago was due to the fact that it had a very clear place in the pantheon of vehicles. Same with the H2, the Mini Cooper, and the VW bug. Today’s contenders are Toyota’s FJ Cruiser and to some extent the H3, but that’s about it. Every other SUV is just another copy of a copy of a copy. Ford’s Mustang GT fills the muscle car void fairly well, but we aren’t exactly talking middle of the bell curve here. Crossovers are a nice concept, but I have a tough time getting excited by any new design – they’re all the same. Ergo: I’m bored just trying to think of an interesting or unique car i am jonesing for under $30K.

There is a clear absence of imagination in the auto industry, at least in the US. derivative designs create an “also-in” design culture that offers no clear value to anyone. Sure, I can get excited about Aston Martin or Bugati’s latest supercars, but when I look at cars I can actually afford – the middle of the bell curve – what am I left with? Where is the sexy, smart, well designed sub-$20K car with great gas mileage and suite of electronic interfaces I have been asking for? Where are my power outlets for laptops and media player recharges? (Real outlets, not cigarette lighter outlets.) Where is my built-in hands-free system for my phone? Where is my media player plug-in?

I’m not saying that we should all adopt the euro supercompact-car concept (although if you live in the city, don’t have any kids, and absolutely need a car, perhaps you should consider one), but there is a healthy compromise that can be met. Why is it that we aren’t seeing it yet? Every compact car on the market that isn’t a mini or a bug is manufactured on the cheap and designed on the quick. This needs to change.

Cars should always be cool. They should always be more than just a set of wheels to go to work or to the store. I’m not sure when the industry shifted to a zero personality model, but auto makers need to turn this around. Cars with personalities sell. Period. They sell because they stand for something. They help their owners express who they are. Identity development needs to become part of every new car design – not just at the brand level (a BMW is a BMW /a Mercedes is a Mercedes) but at the level of the individual model. Scion has adopted the concept 100%, but its designs look like someone got a hold of ten-year-old early concept drafts from 2-3 automakers and actually turned them into production cars without making any changes. (Right idea: Unique models for unique uses, but horrible execution: Not a whole lot of curb appeal, and heinously derivative designs.)

Is it really THAT hard to get this right?

Here’s what the next big auto hit looks like:

1. It has so much personality, it could be a Mac. (Sorry, I’m supposed to be the PC guy, but we all know where “cool” lives these days.)

2. It looks GREAT. Not just good, but GREAT. People want to rent it from hertz and budget and Avis. Your friends want to drive it when you show it off at your next together. People on the street stare at it when you drive by.

3. The interior is a mix between the cockpit of a 1930’s rallye speedster and the cabin of a brand spanking new custom Leer jet.

4. Real power outlets. Media player interfaces. Hands free wireless interface. Just do it.

5. MPG superstar status. Make it part of the car’s identity. Not an afterthought, but at the very core of the car’s purpose.

6. $12K-$18K is the sweet spot. It’s a compact.

7. But make it look, feel and perform like a $30K+ car.

8. Invent something smarter than a cool cup holder. Like a built-in passive cabin ventilation system for really hot summer days. Or a slot for a portable hard drive inside the dashboard. Or a fully insulated trunk compartment for laptops, cameras and other electronics. Or accessible + concealable storage compartments for passengers. Or a new seat adjustment interface. Or yeah… a better cup holder.

Europeans have been designing very cool, high performance compact cars for decades. Look to Renault, Citroen, Opel and Peugeot, for starters. Even mercedes sells compact cars in Europe now.

Think, guys. Dream a little. Invent something that brings value to the market. More importantly, make your brand, your designs and your every conversation with us, the people who should be dreaming about driving your cars, stand for something. Give us something to desire and crave and get excited about.

A 20% drop in sales might be great for your car lease units, but that isn’t where you want to be. Wake up and do something.

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Some sweet, sweet words of wisdom from Advergirl:

What’s the number 1 reason agencies lose accounts? I would argue that it’s complacency. The agency is coasting. They probably don’t even realize they’re doing it. But after years with a product, it’s easy to get too close to it, to lean on old insights, to produce rather than create.

Taking a strategic approach to every project is fighting the coast.

But, more importantly, it’s getting to do the best at your job – who wants to be a pair of hands when you can be a leader?

* * *

Once you’ve tried out the same Idea three or four times, only to find a big ugly mess at the end, it’s just human nature to kill that Idea out on hand of the fifth go round. But a scrappy little rookie might look at it another way. Sure it didn’t work the other times; so, what can we do differently to make it successful this time?

* * *

We all get into a groove. The creative brief works like this. Client Z will always want this. For retail, we always do this.

The new kid in the room carries none of that history. And asks – preferably in a brief way – why? Or how? Or what about this? Or do we have research on that?

Keep asking those questions. Looking for holes. There’s always more to learn.

‘No’ is the easiest word to say. Finding a way to say ‘yes’ can be the first step to great work.

Clearly one of my new favorite reads.

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“I realize the conversations I’m having today are going to turn into business in about two years. The problem is convincing everyone else.”

– Tim Coote from a Twitter post.

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“The problems of this world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.”

– John F. Kennedy

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Hop on over to Kathy Sierra‘s blog for her post on bravery, confidence, and getting past the paralysis of uncertainty. Very cool stuff, as always:

“If your new Big Idea doesn’t scare the hell out of you, it’s probably not a new Big Idea. If it doesn’t scare other people, it might be because you allowed the consensus (or what you imagined as the consensus) to smooth the pointy bits, buffing and polishing the idea into a nice safe state that displeases nobody and delights nobody.”
(…)
“But–if we let the critics (or fear of criticism) talk us out of an idea we still believe in, the world will be more homogeneous. Smoother. Less interesting. Imagine where we’d be if people throughout history had always given in to the critics (or fear of critics). Imagine the ideas that would have beenlost if others hadn’t been brave enough to stand up against smart people who disagreed. Nature needs change and diversity, but humans tend to favor the status quo.”

… Well, not all humans. Some of us are wired a little bit differently. It isn’t so much that we’re difficult. We really aren’t. It’s just in our DNA to a) figure out ways to make things better for people around us, and b) to find ways to take these ideas and actually make them happen.

We just want faster wheels. Safer helmets. Sharper pictures. Easier web interfaces. Cleaner fuels. Smarter workspaces. Softer beds. Fun retail spaces. Cheaper orbiters. More powerful telescopes. Tastier drive-thru coffee. Food, clean water and medicine for every human being on the planet. Better advertising. Put simply, we have the skills to make these things happen, and don’t feel like waiting for someone else to get around to it.

Kathy posted a link to the very cool ode to “The Crazy Ones”, from Apple. Remember the ad? If not, maybe this will refresh your memory:

Here’s to the crazy ones.


The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal.
They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Amen.

Related post: Fear Is Irrelevant.

Check this out. 😉

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

Image by Goldmember

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Making resolutions for a whole year seems so daunting… Which is probably why so few of us ever actually see them through.

Let’s see… Lose weight. Stop smoking. Eat better. Learn a foreign language. Take the dog to the park every day.

Yeah, right.

If there’s one thing we can probably all agree on about Western culture today, it’s this: More often than not, we tend to bite off a lot more than we can chew. (Often, literally.) We supersize everything: Houses. Cars. Shopping malls. Credit. Meals… and yes, even New Year’s Resolutions.

Maybe the lesson here is that the bigger the resolution, the less likely it is that we will actually make it happen. Likewise, the smaller the resolution, the more likely it is that we will accomplish our goal. (Losing 5 lbs by mid-February is a lot more likely a goal than say… losing 20lbs by July.)

Baby steps, grasshopper. Baby steps.

The process has to be incremental.

You have to start small.

Before you start thinking about your big goals for next year, before you start making your big resolutions, think about what you actually want to accomplish. Think about what you can realistically change once a day or once a week that will grow into something substantial by the end of the year. Don’t just go for pipe dreams. Don’t settle for what you think sounds good or grand or courageous.

Don’t fall into that trap again.

Resolutions aren’t about the finish line. They’re about taking responsibility for the changes that will get us there. They also have to find their relevance in our everyday lives.

If you’re at a loss for small resolutions when it comes to your professional world in 2008, here are a few simple ones you will find as rewarding as they are attainable. They can even be passed on to your employees and colleagues. You don’t have to follow them, but they aren’t a bad place to start. If only one will inspire you to make lasting changes this year, then this post wasn’t in vain.

Here we go:

1. On the Frontlines: Every day, do something special for two customers. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. That’s it. Just two. It doesn’t matter what it is. Give one a 10% discount on her purchase. Give another a gift card or coupon for their next purchase. Send their sick mother a bouquet of flowers. Upgrade their room reservations. Give them free concert tickets. Whatever. The idea isn’t to win everyone over in the first month. You don’t want to burn yourself out. You also don’t want to eat into your company’s margins. You just want to make two friends each day. Surprise them. Wow them. Just because you can. Plant little seeds of love.

Not one or three or ten. Two. That’s it. Everyone else gets your best, but just not the extra V.I.P. treatment. (Pretty soon, you’ll wish you could treat ten people to it, and twenty, and fifty… and the way you look at your customers will change. The way you interract with them will change too. For the better. But one thing at a time.)

Baby steps.

2. In the Ivory Tower: Once a week, pick one customer complaint and personally respond to it. Pick up the phone. Write a letter. Do it yourself. This shouldn’t be a drag. It shouldn’t be a hassle. If you don’t care enough about your customers to do this one thing, something isn’t right. Look into the complaint. Find out what caused the failure in the first place. Find out what it would take to fix the problem. Make it happen.

One per week. That’s it.

Yep, baby steps.

3. In the Creative Suite: Keep your outlook fresh. Once a month, go watch kids play. (No, not in a creepy way.) Go spend twenty minutes at a McDonald’s or a park playground or at an interactive toy store. Watch how kids interact with objects. Watch their hands, especially. Then go home, grab a #2 pencil and sketch a shape that kids would love to hold and fiddle with. Design a new toy with no moving parts. Mold it out of clay. Take pictures of it. Recreate it in photoshop or paintshop or whatever graphics program you feel comfortable with. Play with colors and textures. Imagine tastes and smells. Design packaging for it. Create ads and brochures for, just for fun.

Yeah, just for fun.

If you can’t find any kids, design a dog toy.

Design a food bowl for cats.

Design a perch for cockatiels.

A doorknob.

A new shifter for your car.

A belt buckle.

A toothbrush.

Even if you’re a copywriter, even if you have zero skill as a graphic artist, do this. Once a month, complete a project that is yours and yours alone. Explore your own creativity. Keep the process fresh. Hone your creative skills.

4. Managers: Once a week, ask “what if?”

What if we didn’t make customers jump through hoops to return defective merchandise?

What if we designed cooler retail spaces?

What if we trained our employees better?

What if we did something that none of our competitors ever did before?

What if we rewrote the rules?

Each week, ask a question, and find the answer. If the questions are too big, then make it once a month.

Learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. Learn your company’s strengths and limitations. Learn what stands in the way of your organization’s growth. Perhaps more importantly, learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. Learn about your own limitations and how to overcome them. Finally, learn about turning management skills into true leadership.

5. Everyone: Don’t settle for average work. Ever. Don’t settle for good enough. Don’t settle for safe or comfortable. Always stretch the current limits of your talents. Always be on the lookout for new approaches. New methods. New ideas. You’ll be surprised at how much new ground you’ll break if every day, you push your own limits just a little bit. One word at a time. One concept at a time. One sketch at a time. One spreadsheet at a time. One question at a time.

Giving your customers or clients something to talk about – extraordinary service, memorable experiences, top notch products, etc. – is a decision you have to make every single day. Every single minute.

It isn’t about grand declarations of intent. It’s about the small decisions you choose to make throughout the day.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Lastly, here’s a simple new year’s resolution for you: Just be better.

You don’t have to suddenly become a superhuman version of yourself. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize. You don’t have to cure world hunger. You don’t have to write the Great American Novel. You don’t have to lose 200 lbs. You don’t have to be the supadoopah. Just be better.

A little better.

Not six months from now. Not three weeks from now. Just a few times today… and tomorrow… and the day after. That’s it. That’s all it takes.

Baby steps, kids.

Itty bitty ones.

If those don’t work for you, that’s okay. Check out Tom Asacker’s resolutions here. Yeah, they’re two years old, but they’re excellent.

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

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Taking a well deserved break from drafting some brilliant business proposals for the coming year, I found this perfectly timed bit of advice in what may be Seth Godin‘s final post of 2007 (no worries, he’ll be back in 2008). Read it slowly so it has time to set in:

“It’s always possible to find a reason to stay put, to skip an opportunity, or to decline an offer. And yet, in retrospect, it’s hard to remember why we said no and easy to wish that we had said yes.

“The thing is, we still live in a world that’s filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

“Are these crazy times? You bet they are. But so were the days when we were doing duck-and-cover air-raid drills in school, or going through the scares of Three Mile Island and Love Canal. There will always be crazy times.

“So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That’s why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.

“You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It’s never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment — just one second — to decide.

“Before you finish this paragraph, you have the power to change everything that’s to come. And you can do that by asking yourself (and your colleagues) the one question that every organization and every individual needs to ask today: Why not be great?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Well… maybe, but why mess with a good thing?)

It’s difficult to break away from the rhythm of your workplace – putting out fires, attending meetings, sending emails, joining conference calls, managing projects, reporting to your boss, analyzing numbers, forecasting, putting together powerpoint presentations, etc. but that necessary routine will absolutely KILL your ability to grow your business and take it down exciting and profitable new roads if you let it.

As you take the next few days to put together an action plan for 2008, add this to your list: Every single day, find a way to unplug for at least 30 minutes. This isn’t lunch or smoke breaks. This is time for you to distance yourself from phone calls, emails, meetings, and all of the other distractions that work to keep you stuck in reactive mode.

Find a way to do it. Schedule it if you have to, reserve a conference room, go hijack an empty office or head down to the coffee shop across the street, or just go hang out on the roof of your building or whatever, but do it. Grab a notebook, a pad of paper (or better yet, your shiny new handy-dandy tablet PC) and go jot down your next masterplan.

Do this EVERY SINGLE DAY in 2008.

This is how you get unstuck.

This is how you don’t end up wondering why half of the ideas you had a year earlier never came to be. Put time on your side: Make imagineering time part of your daily routine.

Have a great last weekend of 2007, everyone. 😉


Note: Remember not to leave comments via the permalink. To leave comments, go to the main page and select “comment” at the bottom of this post.

photo by the impossibly talented and creative Matt Armendariz

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Today, I would like to share some great advice with you, courtesy of Dave Armano’s Updated Manifesto:

Ask.

Ask questions. Lots of them. Ask the silly ones. The ones that no one else wants to ask. Ask about the bigger idea. Ask about the details. Ask why—but also ask yourself why you are asking the questions.

Believe.

Do you believe in what you do? Would you rather be doing something else? Believe in what you do. Or find a new career.

Be Someone’s Hero.

Everybody needs a hero. We just don’t want to admit it. Find someone who needs a hero. Not your boss—but the person looking for guidance—a word of encouragement or inspiration. Be that hero even if your own heroes don’t exist for you.

Stop Talking.

Talk is cheap as the cliché goes—what have you produced lately? Make it a point to end your week with at least one tangible piece of something that can be saved, printed, shared, or produced. If you can’t do it in your job—do something on your own.

Be The Change Agent.

There are two types of people. Those that dream of change and those that make change happen. But we all start out as dreamers—the difference in going from Dreamer to Agent includes taking ACTION. Build bridges. Get out of your discipline. Infect others with ideas. Don’t be satisfied with “OK”. Change Agents are not Rogue Agents—if you are really interested in change, you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.


Play In Someone Else’s Sandbox.

Traditional people don’t like it when you get up all in their space. They’ll become possessive, protective and territorial. All the more reason to get in their sandbox. Invite them to play—even if they don’t want to. One day, they may change their mind.


Let Go.

People are more informed and empowered than ever. And there are no signs of this slowing down. By handing over control to customers, you’ll be sending this message: “we trust you”. After all, a brand lives in the hearts and minds of the customer—and as many are discovering, an “open source” brand helps generate delight, demand and authentic loyalty. Give your customers the tools they want and the experiences they crave. Then get out of the way and see what happens.


Be Experienced.

The brand is the experience and the experience is the brand. That said—you can’t generate a successful brand experience if you haven’t experienced some things for yourself. Do you know what it’s like to schlep a mini-van full of rowdy children from location to location? Have you wired up a home theatre? Take extreme measures to relate to your customers. Be them for a day. And if you can’t—spend some time with them. It’s the fastest way to go from theory to reality. Being experienced equals better experiences.


Think Rational. Be Emotional.

People are both unpredictable and predictable in the same breath. We all act upon logic at times and emotion at others. It’s the Human Condition. So how do we satisfy our fickle, unpredictable selves? Meet people’s rational needs—and do this exceptionally well. Then, surprise and delight them on an emotional level. It’s common sense thinking—yet difficult to pull off. If it weren’t, every experience would be as satisfying as an iPod, RAZR, Google or Harley-Davidson.


Tear Down The Wall.

Corporations thrive by having distinct departments and teams.
Collaboration is encouraged—but authentic collaboration rarely happens. Why? Because it’s messy business. People are born with egos. Egos need to be un-learned. Replace your natural born ego with intense curiosity. Do this and you’ll be able to break down barriers, and do great things. When Harley-Davidson wanted to design their first high-performance motorcycle (the V-Rod), they went to Porsche for help. That’s checking ego at the door.


Get Real.

Few people know that the hugely successful Motorola RAZR was nearly scrapped before it ever had a chance. Why? Because some manager thought it was too much form over function. Rather than request further research, the designer simply had the concept prototyped. Once the phone was made real—it quickly gained internal momentum. The rest of the story is history. Make something real—and people will decide for themselves.


Be Both Evangelist and Agnostic.

Do you believe in something? Be an advocate for it. Others will see your passion and know that you have a vested interest in what you do. But when it comes to using creativity to solve real-world business challenges—be an agnostic. Throw pre-conceived notions out the window. Don’t make assumptions and do your best to avoid personal bias. Innovation comes from seeing the world through the eyes of a child.


Make Sponge Bob Your Hero.

Sponges soak up the world around them. When squeezed, they give some of it back. Do your best to learn from others—soak up the everyday knowledge and expertise that others have to offer. Then, when it’s your turn—give something back.


Just Do It.

The best theory is the one that gets practiced. Thinking is great. Thinking without doing is not.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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Nick, over at SEENcreative, gives us this (via orangeyeti):

“It’s very easy to collaborate with someone who has lots of ideas. (…) This is because people who have lots of ideas are constantly trading up: You have and idea; I have and idea; your ideas is better, let’s go with that. So ideas don’t have this enormous currency. They are just the material that you’re working from.

The worst people to work with are people that — every now and then, once a year — have an idea, because they build a temple around it. And it becomes THE idea.”

– Screenwriter/Director Tony Gilroy

This is so true. If you have ever worked on a project that requires some creative input, then being surrounded by people who either have lots of ideas, or rarely an idea at all, can make or break the flow of the project. This is because ideas are NOT the finish line. They are not something to hold as a trophy. The important thing should be the final product, the execution. As Gilroy said, the ideas are just material to work from.

Of course, the other end of this spectrum is that the generation of ideas can become so fast and fevered that it’s hard to take a step back and focus on one thing and execute it. At some point you need to gather your source material and actually begin to make something. Any additional ideas can be used for the next iteration.

This balancing act is the key to managing projects that require a lot of creative fuel. If you can put together (or stumble upon) a team who has the right mixture of ideas and focus, you should have a nice foundation. This is often why it’s recommended that people looking to form a start-up do a few projects together first, before they officially become partners.

Well put.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 🙂


image source

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Via the SwampFox Insights blog:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The man has a point.

Check out this brilliant website.

A lot of people don’t think of “design” as being all that important, because our daily interactions with “design” are limited to gadgets like the iPod or the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, or maybe a faucet or something. Maybe we think of design when it comes to cars and clothes and furniture. But smart design can also save thousands of lives every day. Yes, something as seemingly superfluous as “design” can change the world. (Starting with the first tool, taking a detour via the wheel, and fast-forwarding to the millions of things we now take for granted, like the plasma TV, the hybrid automobile, the artificial heart, and even the ubiquitous bottle of Coca Cola.

If you aren’t the humanitarian type and couldn’t care less about saving lives, bear in mind that design can also create entirely new markets. (We just talked about getting there before the herd, so your ears should be perking up just about now.)

How can smart design can create new markets? According to this recent article in the New York Times entitled “Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor” (annoying subscription required):

“A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

For starters.

That’s something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop – specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children – is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere. Maybe the time to get into these markets is before they even exist. The seeds are being planted now. The herd is starting to gather. Maybe by the time the market exists and the pastures are green and lush, you’ll find yourself in the back again. Maybe you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having made a move sooner. (History repeats itself.)

What if you could create one of the most lucrative companies of the 21st century AND save tens of thousands of lives at the same time? What if you really could be enormously successful AND help save the world all in one fell swoop? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

Don’t even approach the problem from a humanitarian standpoint if you don’t want to. Approach it from a business standpoint. Here’s the problem you need to solve: 90% of the planet’s population wants something that they probably can’t get very easily. All you have to do is figure out what that is, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and how to get it to them. It could be a mode of transportation. It could be a light source. It could be a sanitary product. It could be food. It could be a garment. It could be knowledge. It could be something as simple as a tougher bicycle wheel. It could be anything.

There is no single answer. There are probably thousands upon thousands. And that’s exciting.

Whatever it is, it could also have applications right here, where the richest 10% of the world population lives and eats and shops 24/7/365.

It might even be a better option than trying to become the next Google.

Food for thought.

So… what are you working on right now?

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I’m a big fan of Core77, and especially since I have discovered IdeaList, which is probably one of the neatest sites I’ve run into in a while. (First of all, I love the name. Second, the ideas and design concepts being posted there are just too good not to share.)

This is more of a collection of my favorite among the product concepts posted on IdeaList than a post, but hey, a little change never hurt anyone.

The first idea/design (shown above) is an eraser. (You know… for pencils?) Brilliant. Below, a cutting board that doubles as a scale.


Above: A new take on the way we interact with time and tasks. Below, a party-friendly design somebody should have thought of a long time ago.

Above: My kind of timepiece. Below, a mug worthy of a cookie. (Finally.)


Above: A magnetic locker organizer. Below, make your very own Lego ice cubes.

Above: The coolest CD/DVD player I think I’ve ever seen.

Some design notes:

Why is the spinning disc, the most dynamic element of a CD player, hidden from a listener’s view? The simple, but energetic function of a CD player can and should be visually acknowledged. This CD player elevates the spinning motion of the disc and its linear potential for movement to an iconic and understandable form. The player embodies “something we know but rarely notice,” and “something we understand but cannot define.”

The spinning CD, displayed as a table saw blade slicing through a rich piece of walnut, draws our attention to an element of elegant activity within a simple, tranquil object. Appropriately, the perforated walnut speakers are equal to the size of planks that might be cut by the spinning blade. As in a lumberyard, they find their resting place, leaning motionless against a vertical surface. Battery powered and wireless, the system is clean, unencumbered and unfettered. To further emphasize simplicity and integrity, the player’s controls have been reduced to three white buttons. Intuitively aligned with the CD itself, the center button acts to play and pause, the left button tracks backward and the right tracks forward.

Movement, scale and functionality expressed in a simple, knowing form.

Below, customizable heels.


If you find yourselves wondering… “why didn’t I think of that?” … well, you’re probably not the only one.

Go check out more brilliant designs like these at IdeaList. Remember: Design is everywhere. Create something today.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 🙂

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