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“Is my life coming together, or coming apart?” Great question. …Activity vs. Achievement.

March 28th, 2012 No comments

Dare to Dream: a T_Haus self-portrait.

Hi, Creative Beasts. This question is one that a friend of mine posted on facebook, recently–a Creative Beast, living in New York. I ask myself this question often, it seems, now, and it feels a bit like what I imagine log-rolling to be. We are living in tenuous times, my friends, that is one thing for sure. Even so, we must have faith, that indeed, it is coming together. We can make it happen, but we must believe that this is so–and make it so.

So then… the big question is:

How do we make it so?

Yes… so… how do we turn our wantem-so-bad-we-tastem-dreams into realities? I’ve been thinking long and hard on this one, and maybe–just maybe–herein lies the rub. What I mean by that is that maybe at times, we over-think things–which can then, put us into a tailspin, or worse yet–paralyze us. We get so overwhelmed by the possibilities before us, that instead of making a choice and acting–we do… NOTHING. Ugh. That said, I’m guessing most of us have something that we’re trying to realize… something that is challenging us in terms of gaining traction and momentum. So what are the steps, particularly if you’re feeling like you’re mission is something akin to spinning straw into gold? (And the truth is that once we really set our minds to it, the mission will ideally become more real, more manageable, and achieveable).

…Do you ever think that you give other people some pretty darned-good advice, now and then? Do you ever wish you could just give yourself the same quality of advice–and then follow it? Could it be, that we need to be better consultants to ourselves?

Over-thinking = activity. NOT achievement. Stop agonizing over things that are out of your control.

Here’s the deal:

I don’t think I’m the only Creative Beast who has gotten herself stuck in the hamster wheel of life. That said, how do we get out? We need to jump, right? You have to make a move, other than the uphill climb on the exercise bike to Nowhere. Because here’s the deal, again: you’re working like hell and getting worn to nothing–FOR nothing.

Figure out your options. 86 the ones that won’t help you. Employ the ones that will. But then, again, how do we choose??

Okay… so this may be the tough part.

Making the right choice.

Let’s think about this for a moment. What kinds of choices are there? There are practical/realistic choices, there are gambles, and then there are some choices that include elements of each. The old saying goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Now, while this has been proven over and over, we have also seen examples of fools who put all their eggs into one basket, only to see the basket wind up on the ground–eggs destroyed. Even still, to not make a decision, is probably–the worst decision.

Can we balance it out?

I think we must. Find something that works for you that will keep you going… keep you afloat… a lifeboat, if you will. Dream careers don’t always start out that way. Look at the creative people around you. Some of the successful ones make it look easy. Usually, this is due to long hours–in most cases, years–of hard work–and plenty of mistakes along the way–that most of us never see. But if you ask them, they will tell you their stories. Most truly great people have battle scars. It’s part of what has made them great. So, that said, we must choose wisely, but not too cautiously. Remember, if we risk nothing, we gain nothing.

So what’s in a lifeboat?

And how long can it sustain us? A lifeboat will have what you need to survive, but not indefinitely. It’s a short term solution. You need it to get you to a larger vessel–or to land. A “lifeboat” could be an interim or temporary job, or a series of gigs… it’s a step to help you along. Just don’t get too comfortable, because that’s when you will suddenly find yourself up Shit Creek with–you guessed it–no paddle.

Distractions

Mostly try to avoid them. I say “mostly,” because sometimes they can’t be avoided. Stay on track. Stay focused. Keep your eye on the prize. Occasionally (and this is probably more appropriate when you’re feeling a bit more… caught up or ahead, shall we say), they are a good thing, but be sage about this.

The Bigger Picture

This would be your dream–and the vessel to the other side. I think the key is, here, that you want to have some idea as to where you’re going. Again, choices will present themselves, and like my old friend Bob Seger said in his song, Beautiful Loser, you need to “Realize that you just can’t have it all.” Figure out which dream you want most, and stick to it like there’s no tomorrow because, guess what? There might not be a tomorrow. But as long as you’re on the road, you can change your path, any time you choose. Right?

Break it down. Then build it up.

Every story is the sum of its parts. What are the parts? What parts are doable right now? As you begin to check things from your list, you will begin to see things take shape.

The Thing With Dreams…

They keep changing. So be flexible. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t continue to go after what you want, but if you’re too rigid, it can hold you back. Few things in life are black and white. Be open to the changes and possibilities, eh?

So what’s my dream? Mostly to have the chance to live a creative life. More specifically, though, I have a huge desire to tell the stories of other creative people around the world, and that’s really where I want www.CreativeBeasts.com to go. So what’s been holding me back? I could say time, money and lack of resources, but I wonder if that’s really true. All the issues I’ve mentioned are ones that I’m trying to solve. I’ve been told that every problem contains its own solution. I like this concept.

What’s your dream?

Sharing your story takes courage and faith. Here’s one from my friend @MarkFairbanks about his creative journey that I think you’ll enjoy:

http://www.translatordigitalcafe.com/2011/11/getting-comfortable-with-being-uncomfortable/

Also, be sure to check out Hugh MacLeod’s (@gapingvoid) book, Evil Plans.

Tools and Techniques

Mind mapping

Listmaking

Meditation

Sleep

Exercise

Bravery

So. What do you think? Share your ideas. Let’s help each other out. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Peace and love, Creative Beasts. And of course–SEIZE THE PREY.

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Creativity, Work and Community: Feeding the Need.

February 4th, 2011 3 comments


A Russian friend of mine once told me, “There is saying in Russian: ‘It’s better to have a hundred friends than a hundred dollars.'” Words to live by, perhaps? While it never hurts to have a hundred dollars in one’s pocket, having a strong community of friends is something that is difficult to put a price tag on. It’s amazing how it often seems to go, that when you give a little, you get a lot.

Thursday, I had the serendipitous fortune of running into some dear friends at the local cafe. We shared great conversations that gave me fresh ideas on approach, and left me feeling inspired and energized. That’s what I would call a good day. It’s what I would also call “invaluable.”

First, was coffee with Stanley–an old friend who was once a photographer, now a painter–always an artist. We talked about the struggles and challenges that creative types face, and how communities come into play. Artists and creative thinkers of all kinds are typically afflicted in some way, with both a need to create, and the standard animal will to survive. The need to create, or to transcend our existence as we know it, can lead us to all sorts of places. Some are dark and deep, some are thoughtful and fresh, some maddening, and others, though more rare, are brilliantly spectacular and enlightening. In many instances, creative journeys are solo ones, and thereby lonely. You work at your craft, whether it’s painting, writing, making music or developing theories. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes you don’t know why you do it. Other times it thrills you. And feedback can equally be a bitch. Something–anything, at times–is rewarding. Someone can say, “Man, you suck. Give it up!” And maybe you’ve been waiting so long for any kind of commentary, that even that can evoke a feeling of gratitude.

“Wow. That guy hates me,” you think. …Cool!”

Stan and I talked about the varying value of different communities. What is a community? “Sharing, participation and fellowship” is one definition. For some, that can exist at the local tavern, but then that begs the question, “What is it that ties folks together?” Hopefully, it isn’t alcohol, though in some instances, that is clearly the case. With creative minds, I believe it is the underlying knowledge that we all struggle with a similar form of craziness, and part of that is the need to create. From time to time, this may actually end up surfacing as a clinical diagnosis such as bipolar disorder, A.D.D. or obsessive compulsive disorder. Interestingly enough, these so-called disorders are generally regarded as problems that need to be corrected. And yet, isn’t it interesting that many of the world’s most gifted–and frequently celebrated people–are in some senses, and for all intents and purposes–a little bit crazy? So what’s their secret? Stanley and I agreed that mostly, it’s work. Blood sweat and tears. Hours and hours of working one’s craft (which, by the way, is one way in which O.C.D. can come in handy). Work is the difference between the ones who break through to reach a certain level of alchemy, and everybody else. Van Gogh, Picasso, Einstein and Edison all approached their work with a manic level of intensity. Stan said that the value in having the chance to do the work you want to–or maybe that you were meant to, in life–is golden, compared to having a bunch of stuff, such as four car garages, lawns to mow and more TVs than you know what to do with. So it’s mostly work, and maybe after all the time you’ve spent preparing for some moment to arrive–a little bit of luck–and then there’s friends… community.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
– Thomas Alva Edison

So what happens to the others that take a less obsessive approach? All kinds of things–and sometimes–nothing. Some join into the corporate dynamic and make that world work. Fantastic. Some flop around like fish without water, going this way and that. Some cling to the bar community because it helps them to feel more… normal. Some find a way to neatly blend different worlds, which is remarkable. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that the balancing act is usually rather precarious, and hey, finding one’s groove can take time.

When Stan and I parted ways, I was on my way out the door, when someone called my name. I turned to the table I had nearly passed. It was my dear, long-time friend, Fred; a graphic designer, artist and wordsmith. He beckoned me to sit and chat, and it was then that I decided that this day was meant for creative friends and conversations, so I did. He started by asking me what was up, and where had I been… usual ice breakers. I said that I had been laying low, and then added–“Well… I’ve been sorta poor, lately.”

“What? You’ve been boring?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“Ha. No, I said, ‘poor.'”

“Oh, I thought you said, ‘boring!’ I’d rather have you be poor than boring,” he quipped with a grin.

That simple statement made my day. And it led me to decide that I will never again in my life, state that I am or have been poor. I may not have a hundred dollars in my pocket to flit, but my friends–my loved ones–my community–make me insanely wealthy. My humble and deepest gratitude to you all.

What else? Oh, yeah: SEIZE THE PREY.

p.s. Febuary 7, 2011: I subscribe to http://GapingVoid.com/ to receive Hugh MacLeod’s daily cartoons via email, and this one, entitled, “The Hunger,” came in today:

http://bit.ly/gMkFOr

…I can’t help loving that it’s right in sync with my post, here, down to the very titles. Hugh has inspired me with his cartoons and words on countless occasions, and I am seriously excited to get my hands on his new book, Evil Plans, to be released February 17th, 2011. Congrats, Hugh!

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Could Your Company Use a Brand Makeover?

November 17th, 2010 4 comments

Hendrik Goltzius - "Icarus"

To err is human, to forgive, divine. –Alexander Pope

But on the other hand, so is perfection, which is why we seek it.

Mistakes. We all make them. And yet, when it comes to business transactions, it seems fair to say that there are very few of us who have either the time or patience to forgive them more than a time or two. Nearly everywhere you look, there is a fierce competitor chasing at the heels of any given brand. We live in a world in which Better-Faster-Cheaper-Smarter is usually king. That said, there are still plenty of people who settle for “pretty good,” a good deal of the time, or who will put up with something unpleasant in exchange for something desirable; e.g., lousy service for killer product. Nevertheless, the same rule applies (and I’ll throw in another word): Better-Faster-Cheaper-Smarter-Nicer beats Better-Faster-Cheaper-Smarter. Dig it?

Think of it this way: Joe sells coffee drinks. So does Steve. Both Steve and Joe brew good coffee. They both brew it in a timely fashion. But sometimes Joe forgets what kind of milk you asked for. Sometimes he uses the sugar-free vanilla (and you hate that stuff). And sometimes (and this is the killer) he only gives you one shot of espresso. You need two (you would have gone back for another, but heck, you’re already on the freeway). You like Joe, but in the end, you gotta go with Steve. He pretty much gets your drink right every time. And hey, if he messes up once in a blue moon, you can forgive him… plus, he’s a good guy.

Great service starts with the way customers are greeted when they enter the door, or call on the phone… or order via the catalog. A company’s brand amounts to the perception the consumer takes away from each and every interaction he or she has with your company.

SIGNS YOUR BRAND COULD BE DUE FOR A TUNE UP

Your company’s teams/departments are disconnected.

The left hand is moving, but the brain didn’t tell it to, and the right hand is in another world, entirely. Something is fishy, here. Everyone needs to be on the same page. What does this mean? Two words: “Tight Ship.” You have a crew and a mission. Everyone on your crew has a particular responsibility, and each member knows what that responsibility is and why it needs to be done. At the same time, each crew member is marching to the tune of the mission, because each one understands that he or she will benefit from the greater goal. Does this mean that individual strengths and talents should be dismissed? No. On the contrary, great teams are great because of individual strengths; not despite them.

No one in the company knows what the mission is.

How can this result in anything but certain death? If no one in the company knows what your company’s mission is, then that is as good as not having one. Furthermore, making a profit is not a mission; rather, it is what happens when the group works to achieve something more meaningful to all who participate. Great companies attract great people because they essentially wear their mission like an armband. Potential employees know the mission before they are brought on board. Team members are fiercely proud of it because they helped build it, and it rocks. It doesn’t sorta rock. It doesn’t kinda roll. It brings the house down every time. And the team then says, “That’s how we roll.” That is the essence of what makes a great brand, and when you have a great brand, you have a great company.

The company has a mission (sort of), but isn’t really sticking to its plan, and team members are not engaged.

You have goals. You have plans. But if you were to ask your team members what the plan is, aside from moving pile A from tray 1 to tray 2… would they know? In other words, do they know why they are doing what they are doing, and how it will help to improve things? If the answer is no, then you may have a problem, Houston. Still, you might be thinking, “Every company needs cogs, and lots of cogs don’t mind being cogs.” Well… maybe… but… did you ever ask them? Because here’s the thing: statistics vary, but reports indicate that the percentage of employees who are disengaged is anywhere from 54 to 75%. While you may or may not find such numbers to be shocking, you can bet your bottom dollar that disengagement costs employers plenty. If your troops on the front line ( the people who are the first point of contact with your customers) are thinking about how much they don’t want to be there, then you could be sitting on a house of cards. Communication is key.

The Tell-Tale Sign of the Health of Your Business: How Healthy Is your Customer Service Team?

Your CSRs are working harder than all other teams in the company. Their work is never done, and the bulk of it is issuing credits and processing returns. Why are there so many returns? Perhaps it’s a quality control issue. Maybe your company designs coveted handbags. One of the inside zippers is broken on approximately 50% of them, but you don’t know this yet. You won’t know it until they reach your customers, and then they call customer service to complain. If your CSR is able to save the sale, you will likely keep your customer. That’s the good news. Complainers are loyal, so long as you solve the problem. According to most reports, approximately 90% do not bother to complain. They simply don’t return. So is good quality control part of good service? Of course it is. When things are going smoothly, Customer Service can be used to up-sell to your customers, and to provide you with crucial feedback. On the flip side, when Customer Service is swimming in a sea of mistakes that need to be fixed, they are functioning as a bandage on a wound (reactive vs. proactive).

Less Stress = Better Health = More Time/Space to Be Creative.
Think of it. Things are busy, but the work is manageable, and your teams are happy and engaged. Ideas are flowing. This is what it feels like to be healthy.

So, to all you Harder-Better-Faster-Stronger CreativeBeasts, “Have a nice day.” And of course, SEIZE THE PREY.

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