Find Your Purpose.

We were not designed to live a life of monotony. We have always been told that we should spend each day on earth to the fullest, but with the way most of our days seem to blend together with the same chores, meetings, errands, and responsibilities, this concept may seem easier said than done.

The best thing about our industry, workplace, and culture is that every day, we are encouraged to recreate ourselves, share our ideas, showcase our work, and be inventive. We all hold different roles within the agency — planners, strategists, creatives, writers, accountants, analysts, developers, administrators, managers, leaders (The list goes on…) — and have the notion that we’re all here for the same purpose: Work hard, make money, build our reputation, and please our customers. However, I think this might not be entirely true. We all have our own talents, skills, dreams, hopes, aspirations, and individual traits that allow us to stand apart from our colleagues. Each of us has a solitary value that contributes to one common goal as a business.

Now, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself, “What is my purpose?”

Well, here is the simple formula:

What you love to do + What the world needs = Your mission
What the world needs + What you are paid for = Your vocation
What you are paid for + What you are good at = Your profession
What you are good at + What you love to do = Your passion
Your mission + Your vocation + Your profession + Your passion = Your purpose

Your purpose should not be defined by the title on your business card. Your purpose is to foster positive change, no matter the part you play within the agency. If you have an idea, write it down, email it to your manager, collaborate with coworkers. An idea is just an idea until it becomes an action with results. There is an Irish proverb by which I try my best to abide each day: You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind. Seek inspiration from everything and everyone around you, but most importantly, learn to spark your own fire.

Do the math.

Creativity: Unplugged

Once upon a time, human beings existed without spending an average of 8-10 hours a day staring at screens. Behaviorists are learning that clutter is the enemy of cleverness. Sometimes our brains just need a bit of quiet time to sort things out. That’s why our “Aha!” moments usually occur when we’re not in front of a glowing rectangle. That very well might explain the cliché that it’s between rinsing and repeating when the big idea hits. So, I’m thinking, why not take a brief “tech timeout” and explore more opportunities to stay creative sans pixels?

Here’s my baker’s dozen to get started, but feel free to make your own:

  1. Write. With pen and paper. Buy the most durable notebook and longest lasting pen you can find. Bring them with you wherever you go. Jot down ideas, dreams, stories, or things you need to remember.
  2. Get up. Take a small walk around the office every hour or so. Better yet, venture outside. The fresh air and natural surroundings will reenergize your mind and body.
  3. Attend concerts. Fewer things are more invigorating than seeing a live show.
  4. Exercise. No excuses. Just do it.
  5. Drink. Lots. Of. H2O. Coffee is a miraculous pick-me-up, but water is the best thing you can feed your body.
  6. Take a 15-minute power nap to boost your memory, cognitive skills, and energy level.
  7. Strike up a conversation with a stranger: your cab driver, a tenant in the elevator, the person walking next to you on the sidewalk. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll learn.
  8. Travel. Expanding our knowledge of foreign places and cultures is one of the best ways to gain respect for the world in which we live.
  9. Wake up and smell the roses, literally. Our sense of smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence our mood, and even affect our work performance.
  10. Read a book. A wise man once said, “Reading is good. Can we start the story now?”
  11. Meditate. We all can feel overwhelmed by the stressors life throws our way every single day. Allow yourself to regain a sense of tranquility no matter what is happening around you.
  12. Dig through old artwork, projects, and photographs. Taking a walk down Memory Lane lets you to realize how far you’ve come over the years.
  13. Surround yourself with creative people. Hint: Look around.

When your brain switches gears, even just for a few minutes, it will feel refreshed as you return to the task at hand, and you will feel more productive, more inspired, and, yes, more creative. In the end, it seems the best app for that is no app at all.

Fight or Fright: Public Speaking

As an advertising professional, I frequently present my work and ideas to groups of people, often a nerve-wracking task. Too often, I decided, so I started reading about what I could do. Below are some of my findings: 


I blame my pre-performance nerves on our hunter-gatherer ancestors. They needed their community to survive and generations of living with this truth embedded the understanding in all of our brains: Social death is actual death.  So we automatically react when we sense that our social reputation is in danger. Like when we get on stage for a performance and essentially create an opportunity for others to judge us. Our brains, no matter how forgiving the audience, still thinks it’s about to confront a potentially lethal situation.

It immediately reacts and forces our bodies into ‘fight or flight’ mode to create the energy it thinks its owner needs to survive. Unfortunately this includes sweaty hands, shaky knees and churning stomach. While much of the reaction is instinctual, we can develop better skills by focusing on three particular areas: perspective, practice, and breathing.

Perspective is recognizing that the fear is in your head. In the worst-case scenario, you mess up and someone laughs. Your friends and family are not going to abandon you and you will not be left to die. Keep that in mind as you approach the podium. You put yourself in a lot more danger when you get on an airplane.

Practice. The more times you do something, like feel pre-speech anxiety, the more you understand the experience and can cope. Find opportunities to practice. Toastmasters is great and is in nearly every city. I recently joined and already feel more comfortable under the spotlight.

Don’t forget to breathe. It’s proven to relax. Brazilian psychologists found that professional musicians who do deep-breathing exercises before a show feel less shaky and nervous.  The deep breathing movement sends signals through your body to relax, essentially waging war against your body’s fight-or-flight response. Do it enough times, and the breathing will triumph.

I’ve explained why we have stage fright, the mechanics behind it, and how we can fight it. Hopefully the knowledge will help each of us present with a lot more confidence. Yet, be easy on yourself. As I mentioned, some of the reactions are out of our control. The trick is to manage them the best we can until even the managing part becomes second nature.




Fast, Cheap and Good

The old axiom used to be “fast, cheap or good – pick two.” But expectations change. And in this age of rapid prototyping, agile start-ups and minimal viable products, the “or” has turned – more and more – to an “and.”

Fast and cheap on their own are often – at best – a race to the middle. But fast AND a commitment to continuous improvement? That’s how new opportunities are discovered. Being cheap AND then seeing if further investment is warranted? That’s an investment in innovation.

The AND is incremental, iterative… and often overlooked. And the AND is what the Good is dependent on.

On not settling. On committing to better. On understanding that the definition of good today is not the same as good tomorrow. And so the deliverable is either good enough for now – and only now. Or good enough to continue to invest time and / or money in.

Bursts of fast and bursts of cheap can even lead past good, to great. As long as everyone is clear that “Fast, Cheap and Good” is not the destination, it’s the journey. And the most important word is AND.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Where To Start With What To Say

Our available attention is being stretched. And yet we all seem to have more to say. As a result, lines can be crossed. Meanings can be missed. And it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

Tom Peters has an important rule for communications at a time when success can seem harder than ever: If there is a miscommunication, it’s your fault.

Think about that for a moment. Please, because I don’t want any potential misunderstanding of it to be my fault.

How would this change what you say? How would it change how you say it? As a person? As a professional? As a brand?

One simple change that most communicators could stand to make immediately is where they start.

My favorite definition of communication is: It isn’t what you say. It’s what your audience hears. The illustration below isn’t complicated. But it is often forgotten. And it is a big cause of many miscommunications.

Where to start with what to say? Not with what should be said. But with what should be heard.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Where to Start Communicating

What To Learn From: Pixar

Pixar is a creative powerhouse. Its fourteen feature films have earned 27 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, and 11 Grammy Awards.

But for all of its innovation – and its related refusal to accept the status quo – Pixar has an important relationship with reality. Its approach depends on its ability to create a world that is recognizable, but different. Expectedly unexpected.

And two quotes from Pixar directors – taken together – paint a smart, productive approach that any company could learn from:

“I believe in research. You can’t do enough research, believability comes out of what’s real.”
– John Lasseter (Cars)

“We don’t want to reproduce reality; we want to make the unbelievable believable.”
– Brad Bird (Incredibles)

Most companies do research in order to understand. And that’s a good thing. Understanding allows marketers to make things relevant. But relevance has a dark side. Make something too relevant and it becomes expected. Or worse, invisible.

Pixar’s approach is successful, in part, because it doesn’t settle on reality. Understanding the world is a first step to diverging from it.

You have to know the rules in order to break them.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Q and A

A recent tweet from @COVRTER – “Having good answers is much easier than having good questions” – got me thinking.

We’re surrounded by data. Connected to an endless stream of resources. And swimming in a sea of answers. What does this mean for the relationship between As and Qs? And what’s the true value of each?

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.
Claude Levi-Strauss, the father of modern anthropology

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.
Peter Drucker, business thinker, consultant and author

We suffer no shortage of quantity of answers. But the quality – at least the consistent quality – is in decline.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Better questions lead to better answers. As such, the importance of questions has never been greater.

So if the answer is eluding you, it may be worth stepping all the way back to the original question. Questions are not one-dimensional calls-for-response. Instead, they should both frame the situation and focus it appropriately.

Bottom line: If you happen to be in a situation where the answer isn’t apparent, maybe you just haven’t asked the right question yet.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

The Longer Distance Between Point A and Point B

The Busy Trap” – an oft-shared op-ed piece from the New York Times – was making its way around Facebook again the other day. It’s a topic du jour in these increasingly cluttered times. Even the venerable Economist is touting the benefits of getting away from the grind with its recent piece, “In Praise Of Laziness.”

But it really isn’t about being lazy. From Archimedes and Isaac Newton to Bill Gates and Jack Welch, important ideas are borne from actively playing, consciously resting and purposefully wandering.

Said another way, we can’t be busy being busy. We must be busy being better. And that can mean being efficiently inefficient – trying new ideas, processes and paths. A recent trip to a children’s museum (see pics above), for instance, reminded me that the occasional trip to places like a children’s museum are valuable to the creative process.

Now, the value of getting away is not new news. But when was the last time you ventured away from the shortest distance between points A and B? Will Rogers was right about limbs. They are where the fruit is.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

The Speed Of The Spread

An article in this week’s New Yorker titled Slow Ideas provides a fascinating look at how medical innovations spread – and don’t.

At the core of the article are the stories of two nineteenth century inventions – anesthesia and antiseptic. Just two months after its first public demonstration, anesthesia was being used around the world. Antiseptic, on the other hand – despite being the solution to the single biggest killer of surgical patients – took decades to gain traction. The author offers observes two key differences in the ideas that affected the speed of their adoption:

  1. “[Anesthesia] combatted a visible and immediate problem (pain); [antiseptics] combatted an invisible problem (germs) whose effects wouldn’t be manifest until well after the operation.”
  2. “Although both made life better for patients, only one made life better for doctors. Anesthesia changed surgery from a brutal, time-pressured assault on a shrieking patient to a quiet, considered procedure. [Antiseptic], by contrast, required the operator to work in a shower of carbolic acid. Even low dilutions burned the surgeons’ hands.”

The first difference speaks to immediacy. The second to ease. All you spreaders-of-ideas, take note. The equation isn’t complicated. But it’s often overlooked.

Take the Surface RT. Microsoft recently announced it was taking a $900 million write-down to reflect unsold inventory at a time when the iPad continues to break sales records. This despite the fact that the Surface RT has some features that are genuinely interesting and differentiating. Times blogger Nick Bilton writes its undoing came from the fact that it made people… think. And that can be a recipe for disaster.

Successful idea spreaders get this. Focus wins. Or, in the words of Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester, “Apple gets this, and limits options to connectivity, storage and black… or white.”

It’s immediate. It’s easy. Now start spreading.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.

Talking Tactics

We’ve all been in meetings that have been taken off track with an accusation that “we’ve gone in the weeds” by talking tactics, not strategy. But, as someone who spends a good deal of time in the world of strategy, I have to admit: I like talking tactics.

Tactics are… tactile.

There is an obvious value in strategy. It’s where game-changing priorities can be set. Where meaningful connections can be made. And where important investments can be justified.

But when we talk strategy, we speak at a high level. At that high level, details are – by necessity – left undefined. Conversations that seem to be on the same page can, in reality, can be all over the proverbial white board.

I believe that it’s never too early to talk tactics. Doing so can even help refine strategy – by allowing for tangible examples. So don’t fear talking tactics. Just follow these simple rules:

  1. Stay honest. Be clear you’re indeed talking about a tactic. Tactics aren’t bad. They just aren’t strategies. Like a strategy, they are a means towards an end. But they have the benefit of usually leaving less room for interpretation.
  2. Stay flexible. Don’t get attached too early. There is more than one way to skin a cat. The tactics are the ways. The strategy is the skinning. Don’t need to skin a cat? There are tactics for that, too.
  3. Stay respectful of the bigger picture. Value the strategy. Don’t sacrifice it in the name of a tactic. Just know that the more comfortable you can be giving both a seat at the table, the better the end result.

Interested in more stuff I find interesting? Follow me @casey_flanagan on Twitter.