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.

The Social Bucket List

Applications and social startups are born at a faster rate than babies in the boomer generation by hopeful entrepreneurs anxious to be the next Mark Zuckerberg and Biz Stone. The majority of these startups never get off the ground, but a tiny fraction of them have the formidable combination of – a smart idea, unmet need, monetary support and most importantly, the agility and wherewithal to adapt and evolve – that ultimately launches them into the arms of Early Adopters.

One startup that’s caught my attention is the freshly released social start up, WhereBerry. The brainchild of Nick Baum and Bill Ferrell, former Google techies, seems like it could have a fighting chance.

Most social networks capitalize on what we’ve done in the past or what we’re doing now. The logical next step is for people to share what they want to do in the future. WhereBerry, which opened to the public last week, allows people to post activities they want to do… someday – from restaurants they want to eat at, to movies they want to see, to places they want to visit – people can organize and store their desires in one convenient place, turning the familiar “bucket list” virtual, and most importantly, social.

As a society of “dreamers” it is in our nature to make plans and set goals. As a rising society of “sharers” it is in our nature to broadcast these plans to friends. WhereBerry seems to have what it takes to capitalize on these popular behaviors. But it is at a fragile and vulnerable state in its growth, where important decisions can either make or break its success. I believe that if they can successfully accomplish the following, they could in fact be the next big thing:

  1. Community & Groups: With the rising popularity of social networks, we not only want to share, we want to be part of a community or group. What users of WhereBerry are going to want next is the ability to join together with others around entertaining, thrilling, educational and delicious activities. Providing users the ability to share plans with smaller, private groups will not only be a feature users are interested in using, but will allow the application to spread virally as friends plan together.
  2. Sharing on Steroids: The sharing is currently very straightforward: add to your list, post to your wall, see your friends’ to-dos in your feed, etc. WhereBerry should evolve the “share factor” by using a more complex formula – connecting people who have similar interests, presenting users with to-dos that seem to match with their trends (and location), suggesting plans their friends have, and more. The key is, users want the service to do the work for them and provide them with value they wouldn’t have on their own.
  3. Competition and Achievements: Based on your bucket list and the items you accomplish, users should be able to achieve recognition or status for their completed tasks (e.g. Advanced Foodie, Dare Devil, Movie Buff, etc.). This brings a level of competition to the utility and drives participation, stretching users to try more and more – and therefore use the social network more.
  4. Businesses & Brands: Selling this idea to brands by presenting the benefits to their business and getting them involved will provide substance to network by providing users with recommendations, deals and rewards, and will be the push to eventually turning this start-up into a money maker.
  5. Continuous Evolution: WhereBerry needs to pay close attention to analytics, use, feedback, and the industry as a whole to learn what users want. They need to quickly evolve, adapt, grow, simplify, and integrate in order to meet users’ rising expectations.

The tech world today is a rough one to survive in, and the get-rich-quick theory very rarely applies. In 3-5 years we may see WhereBerry checking “10 Million Users” off their bucket list. Or we may be asking, “What’s WhereBerry? A new BlackBerry device?”

The Job Search Has Come Full Circle

Long ago when my dad entered the job market, things were tough.  The country was in the midst of a depression and there weren’t many jobs available.  It didn’t take long before he realized he needed to tap into family, friends and trusted professionals, in order to get his foot in the door and gain employment.  He needed to network to stand out amongst the masses.

As time passed and I grew older, I soon found myself looking for employment as well.  It was time for me to begin supporting myself and I needed to see what was available in the marketplace.  So I ran to the corner gas station, picked up a copy of the local newspaper, circled a few jobs and sent my resume to 10 or 20 companies through snail mail.  Since I had never met the recipients of my resumes, I did my best to highlight my work history and achievements in a concise single page, hoping to catch their attention.

Years went by and soon my kids needed a job.  They searched the big job boards.  Within minutes, they could copy and paste their resumes into the online submission portal, sometimes with only a simple change to the subject line.  Off it went and within minutes they got an automated response from the HR department, thanking them for their patience as all the applicants were screened.  It was a cold and impersonal way for them to get their personal information out there, but it was quick and efficient for them and the HR people.

Come into the present and we find we’ve come full circle.  As in the days of my dad’s job search, jobs are few, times are tough, and we find that one of the best ways to land a job may be through a “connection.”  So I thought we’d put together a few ideas that might help you with your own job search.  Things that may help you get “connected.”

Know your target company. Research them, friend them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter.  I know this sounds weird, but if you get to meet this special person (HR rep or company rep), you might want to treat it like a first date.  Listen intently, show an interest, bring your best attributes to the table and, most importantly, know something about them so you can talk about them too.  Make a connection.

Set up a LinkedIn page and make sure it’s up to date. This way you’re linked or can become connected.  Plus, once set up, recruiters can find you too.  (Yes, we search LinkedIn to stay on top of our industries and follow talent.  We also use it to research you.  And you can research us too!)  Use LinkedIn for networking purposes, joining groups and organizations, and positioning yourself as an expert on a certain topic.  Answer group questions and participate in discussions.  Again, get connected.

And, if possible, set up a website for yourself. Include samples of your work, creative pieces and writing, as it pertains to your profession.  When you write or talk with a recruiter, include your link.  It’s another way to be connected.  Remember, HR people and recruiters are digital creatures too.  We’re out there sharing your social space, looking for a few good people.

Planningʼs Job Description: Focus on the Important. Part One.

The CMO of Coca-Cola was recently quoted in the New York Times on his approach to the down economy. “Donʼt let the urgent overwhelm the important.” I jotted it down, thinking it made a pretty great job description for any planner at any time. From time to time, Iʼd like to use this space to explore exactly what “the important” is.

I was greeted by the following in my Monday morning email: “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world,” John le Carre. (courtesy of the 4Aʼs Smart Brief)

Manitowoc, WI. Just north of the University of Wisconsin- Manitowoc. 7:40 A.M.

Manitowoc, WI. Just north of the University of Wisconsin- Manitowoc. 7:40 A.M.

It seemed an apropos way to start the week after Iʼd completed The Scenic Shore, a 150-mile bike ride from Milwaukee to Sturgeon Bay. I spent most of my ride marveling at all the things Iʼd missed by taking the expressway north for the past few decades.

Iʼve noticed that the explosion of information in my world seems to be even a little more exponential than usual lately. Statistics are more readily available than ever. RSS feeds are staying stuffed, there are simply too many tweets to read. No getting around that. But a friendly reminder (and a big note to self): Get out from behind your desk. Cycling is different than driving. County highways are different than the interstate. And actually talking to consumers is different than reading trend reports and statistics.

New inspiration is just waiting to be discovered.

Smart Words From Smart People

I’m on vacation this week. Up north in Wisconsin. In that spirit, I’m letting other people do my work for me. And so I offer a six-pack of quotes I’ve read – or been reminded of – recently. Quotes I really like.

“I check Twitter about 20 times a day to learn what my brand is.” — Jason Kilar, CEO, Hulu

“The top ten ‘in demand jobs’ in 2010 did not exist in 2004. We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist.” — Did You Know 3.0, created by Karl Fisch

“[Social media tools] don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” — Clay Shirky

“Three ways to add value: IDEAS (create opportunity). INSIGHT (solve problems). INSPIRATION (expand possibilities).” — @sallyhogshead, via Twitter

“The way to be interesting is to be interested.” — Russell Davies

“You do not merely want to be considered the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.” — Jerry Garcia

The Username Gold Rush

Friday evening, it’s 11:00 PM, do you know where your marketing agency is? Are they securing your Facebook username?

Over the course of this past week Facebook has released details on how to claim your Facebook username. Once called “Vanity URLs” the username rush will make it much easier to share your Facebook profile and pages.

vaniuty-urlFor marketers it’s very important to secure your preferred username. Much like the valuable .com domain name, the Facebook username land grab will cause some companies to miss out on a preferred username. However Facebook has implemented some procedures to avoid issues with registered trademarks and copyrights.

If your brand does not currently have an official page, and you have the rights to a given name today, you can proactively prevent the registration of that name by filling out the form here:

If for some reason you discover the name you hold rights to is taken, you can report the infringement here:

Otherwise, what are you waiting for? Grab your username now,

Employees’ Personal Data

I had the opportunity to participate in an interview with the Wall Street Journal recently that focused on how employers handle employees’ personal data – contacts, pictures, music, etc. – when separation from an organization occurs.

Whether it is a matter of convenience, longer hours, travel for work or the rise of laptops in organizations, more employees are storing personal data on work computers.

As you’ll see in the article, we try very hard to be accommodating with regards to giving back personal data to employees as long as it is not sensitive information. There are checks and balances to this process but more often than not we are able to accommodate the employee so they don’t lose all their valuable information.

This policy is one of many we have in place to be an accommodating organization to our employees and I believe they recognize and appreciate those policies.

Laughlin Constable has been the proud recipient of a number of workplace awards, including: the 2008 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility; MetroParent’s Family Friendly Workplace Award in 2006, 2007 and 2008; and numerous Best Places To Work and Beyond The Paycheck Awards 2000-2008.

We are proud of those recognitions and are constantly evaluating how we can make our organization better from a HR perspective.

I’m wondering though, are we in the minority? How do you handle your employees’ personal data?

You can read the article here:

Lean Into It

I’m reminded we’re in a recession every time I check my e-mail. Where were all these people who want to turbo-charge our new business efforts a year ago? Employed probably.

Ironically, while there’s a universal shortage of business, there’s no shortage of new business opportunities. According to a contact at AdForum, web searches for agencies are up nearly double what they were a year ago.

While a new agency may or may not be the answer to jumpstart a brand, new thinking is definitely needed. No matter what your business, the competition is starting to look like hyenas around a fresh kill on the Serengeti. Discounts are so deep whatever normal was won’t ever be normal again. A Wisconsin car dealer is throwing in a free used car for every new car purchased. Unreal. The real surprise is, it’s working. He’s trying to hire 50 people to meet the demand.

If there’s a lesson in this, it’s don’t be shy. Now more than ever brands need to get their edge on. It may be harder to afford advertising, especially in the face of incredible consumer resistance and uncertainty, but there’s little doubt those pushing hardest will get fed first.

Performance Evaluations – employees don’t hate them this year!

This year, more than ever, employees are asking their HR teams, “What can I do to improve my work performance?” I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re hearing this question around your office too. It appears to have replaced the “I hate performance evaluations” comments from years gone by. And it remains an important question, especially during these changing times.

Inside many companies, more and more employees are pro-actively seeking timely and meaningful feedback. They are looking for ways to improve their skill sets and level of knowledge. They are discussing their jobs, their careers and their futures with their co-workers, supervisors and HR teams.

Performance management is a topic that’s important to most of us. Kudos to all employees that come forth on their own and open the discussion! Now, more than ever, the quality of our people may determine our future. And we’re thankful the question is on the table.

The Idea Killing Department

Famous creative people have fewer ideas than the generic creative people. The Coen brothers walk in with a story idea and the first words out of your mouth aren’t, “what else have you got?”  So you ask yourself, what would their track record be like if they had to pitch concepts by the dozens and then go through a vetting process with focus groups?  Fargo becomes Mayberry.

You can’t run an organization without process.  But, procedure is the enemy of originality.

Most companies have a department dedicated to idea killing. Ironically, it’s called marketing. Now these bright, enthusiastic people don’t want to kill ideas, because they were put on this earth to bring ideas to life that will engage consumers and increase profits. Yet they are miscast in the role of professional filters eliminating anything that might embarrass the CEO or activate the legal department and public affairs. No wonder CMOs have such a short tenure. Their marching orders are to help win the war, but don’t get anyone shot at.

So if the corporate objective is to avoid risk first and get attention second, ideas get killed.

A healthier mind-set would be to treat every creative person as the next incarnation of Lee Clow, Alex Bogusky, or Jeff Goodby.  Looking for the brilliance in an idea is a much healthier orientation than the mental metal detector scanning for the flaw. There should be a universal no idea left behind rule. After all, a little combustibility might be just what a brand needs most.

So am I actually suggesting companies should lead with their chins and embrace controversy?

No. What is needed, though, is a little more aggression and a little less caution. Self-confident companies take bolder positions and defy conventions.

Years ago when Mastadons walked the earth and young people drank wine coolers, Hal Riney had the audacity to use geezers playing the roles of Bartels and Jaymes to sell cocktails to twenty somethings. These guys were seriously old, wore plaid shirts and suspenders and completely defied conventional wisdom. All they did was sell so much product that no one can remember any other wine cooler brand.

Today in Australia, Kotex brand is running a campaign with a beaver. Yeah, you read it right, a beaver.  It’s controversial to be sure. But no one’s getting hurt and a lot of women are buying Kotex.

I can’t know for sure that this idea didn’t come out of a stack of thirty storyboards. But wherever it started, there’s a famous creative person and famous client attached to it now. Somehow their process didn’t kill their profits.