The Difference Between Hearing & Listening


listening

When you ask a question, are you searching for a person’s knowledge or waiting to hear the answer you want?

There’s a saying about business that goes something like this: “If you look around and find you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Meaning, you’d be wise to surround yourself with people from whom you can learn, as well as teach.

Collaboration is one of the many keys to success. And while we can go into a project or situation with an idea of what we want to accomplish, we should never let that shut down the creativity and ideas we get from the people with whom we interact.

Some of the best ideas can come from the most unanticipated of sources.

I try to be focused on the goal, not the path. Because I’m really not interested in how I get to the end, as long as I make it there.

What are you listening for?

Passion is what we’re looking for


Passion

Ever notice how when you become passionate about something that you tear right into it?

In our search for happiness, Passion may well be the Holy Grail. It is the great motivator, and will help you do things you didn’t think you could do – and do it better than you thought you were capable. It will raise your bar and make you crave excellence.

When you are passionate about something, you can’t wait to do more of it. You’ll gladly run on nothing but coffee and adrenaline; minutes will pass like milliseconds, and help you produce some of the greatest and most satisfying work of your life.

Finding passion in your work – and in your life – is the ultimate rush. When you find passion in what you’re doing, you just can’t quit. And you’d never consider it.

Look for the things you are passionate about and you’ll leap out of bed in the morning, make millions, and discover pure joy. Try doing something without passion and you will slog through your day. And your life.

Happy New Year!


Happy New Year 2014

It’s that time of year again.

Time when every media outlet known to man puts together their year-end lists:

“Best of…” and “Worst of…”

“Top 10…” and “Top 100..”

“Things we want to remember…” and “Things we’d rather forget…”

They all make the rounds, competing for your attention, your likes and shares, your retweets and plus-ones.

And while my favorite kind of list – “Words for the New Year” – is nothing new, I’ve never made one of my own.

So to get my desire to do new things in 2014 kicked off right, I’m going to start today. Here’s my first ever “Three Words for the New Year:”

Community & Kindness – OK, so my first word is actually two, but that’s only because I think they’re inseparable. 2013 was a divisive year, with sides taken on almost everything. Anger, hostility, and a general incivility seemed to be everywhere we looked. In 2014, we need to be better at working together to achieve common goals and not just give lip service to “getting along” when all that is doing is providing yet another way to point a finger at someone. If you can’t start a conversation with a compliment of some kind, then you probably shouldn’t talk.

Economy – With so many resources, so much technology and so many things to do in a day, we could each make a full time job out of just managing what’s coming over our transom. In 2014, we need to slim our intake in order to make our output more productive. That doesn’t mean do less – it means eliminate the noise. Stay on course. Keep checking items off your to-do lists and adding new ones. Get to the finish line as fast as you can, and then go find a new one.

Creativity – Perhaps a perennial word, but one that should be repeated anyway. New years mean new starts, new things to discover and new records to smash. It means bending your brain in ways you haven’t yet – or haven’t in a while – to achieve that thing that’s been on your to-do list for so long it’s starting to collect dust. Creativity is the leaf-blower of your life, so plug that sucker in and go all Carl Spangler on it.

There are other words that came close to making the cut, but for now I’ll stick to these. A year from now, we’ll look back and see how these words – and the ideas behind them – held up.

What are your words for 2014?

Happy New Year!

Evolve or Die


Evolution

Last week I was on vacation, so this is going to seem dated.

But I swear I wrote this on Tuesday, August 6 at 6:40 a.m. sitting in the kitchen of the house we rented in Rehoboth Beach, DE. Here’s what was on my mind:

“As we wake up to the news this morning that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has purchased the Washington Post, the storied and steadfast paper of record for our nation’s capital, I am struck by the number of comments online treating this as though something terrible has happened. “Sad” is a word that even the great journalistic icon Bob Woodward has used.

“While change may be a challenge, it strikes me as odd that anyone would mourn a shift in leadership that hasn’t even stated its future plans: as of this writing, Bezos hasn’t talked about a single layoff, a reduction in distribution or a shift in any aspect of the newsroom or editorial page. What we do know about the paper that brought down Nixon is that its circulation is hardly enviable, its staff has been repeatedly reduced and its margins are ridiculously low. On paper, the revered paper looks more like it should follow in the footsteps of too many other much needed dailies that have gone the way of the dodo.

“Seems to me that WaPo is ready for an evolutionary shift – something Bezos knows a thing or two about.

“Evolution is part of life on planet Earth: organisms large and small all evolve over time, or they die out. And while the evolution of an organism can take generations, each individual plays its own small part in the larger process.

“On a smaller scale, we need to evolve over the course of our lifetimes too. We must learn new things, explore new subject areas and develop new skills. All this will make us better professionals and better people, allowing us to offer more to the world in which we live and the people whom we know and love.

“Take a cue from the organisms that have walked the planet before us: evolve or die.”

Creativity is King, but Planning is the Queen


LEGO

LEGOs are awesome.

My son has just made the jump from the Duplo sets to what he calls “little LEGOs” and I have been sucked in as well.

With a pile of multicolored bricks of every shape and size strewn across his playroom, we begin shaping creations only limited by our imaginations.

But as the constructs become more complicated, daddy realizes the most amazing builds need to be guided: with a plan.

Same goes in the business world. You can’t possibly accomplish something without thinking it through and devising a plan first.

So here’s what building LEGOs has taught me:

1. Understand what you want to accomplish. What are you trying to create and why? What should the finished product look like and how much room do you want/need to leave for spontaneous creativity? In my world, balancing planning and unforseen opportunities for creativity is a good mix.

2. Have the raw materials and the time you need to do the job. Do you have what you need to make your vision come to life? Can you create what you need to in the time allotted? Do you need to make changes based on either of these criteria, and will the changes negatively affect the final product?

3. Sketch out the final product and the steps needed to get there. Before you put the roof on the house (or the satellite dish on the moon base) you need walls, doors and windows in place first. Those walls need to be strong enough to support what’s being piled on top of it, and they need to stand up straight.

4. Execute with joy. Get to doin’ and make your thing. Keep moving ahead; don’t get stuck on a detail or you will never get to the end. Quality check every step. Have fun as you go, otherwise you will rush to the end and make mistakes along the way.

5. Share and make them happy. There’s nothing more satisfying than giving your creation to your little construction buddy for him to play with. Similarly, deliver the fruits of your labor to your client. Savor the smile.

How do you balance creativity and planning?

(P.S. Why is Planning not the King? Because everyone knows the Queen is the one who is really in charge.)

Mandatory Can Be Good For You


Compost

Reading a story this morning about Mayor Bloomberg’s new composting initiative, which right now is voluntary and encouraged, but some media opinion writers suspect may become mandatory, and that the motives aren’t entirely, shall we say, “selfless.”

The piece rightly points out that there were similar (though not identical) efforts to ban smoking, trans-fats and even sugary drinks – all of which have run into criticism and roadblocks. (Opinion: I like all these ideas, because they make us healthier and cut into problems that are draining our public resources and putting us in early graves.)

And it got me thinking that, while mandates are often unpopular (and can even be unfair), sometimes they are needed.

Take exercise: I should probably mandate getting my flabby butt out of bed and going to the gym.

Take blogging: I don’t like that my posts here can be infrequent, and I should probably mandate at least two hours a week where I shut everything off and just write for this site.

Take work: we could probably all use a little more mandated time spent on important projects each week. Time to think and plan for projects that are down the road. Time to devote some energy to housekeeping, whether building our contacts, organizing files or updating our own social media profiles and offering counsel to clients about a theirs.

All this in the pursuit of something that’s good for us, even though it might be hard to find that initial motivation.

Mandate: it may not a bad word after all.

Getting In Focus


GettingInFocus

I have a confession: I am a total scatterbrain.

Completely disorganized. I get sidetracked so easily, I may not finish writing this post in a single sitting.

To combat this inherently anti-productive weakness, I know I need to employ helpful strategies to keep me on track. Maybe some of these will work for you too:

1. Make lists. I do this to the point of obsession. Mostly because when I have an idea, it disappears if I don’t write it down. That’s how I either fall behind in my work or simply forget to do something altogether. (See also: sticky notes, refrigerator magnets, emails to myself and strings around my finger.)

2. Work when you are inspired to work. This isn’t as flippant as it sounds. What I mean is, listen to your brain and its normal patterns. Do you get flashes of brilliance late at night? Do you go into creative lockdown after lunch? By identifying when (and where and how) you work best, you can train yourself to maximize your productivity and efficiency.

3. Use tools that help you be more productive. I write all my posts in Evernote (including this one) so they are with me anywhere I go, on any device. So if I think of something and want to add it to something already in progress, that key document isn’t somewhere inaccessible. Find the tools (hardware, software, apps or even coffee!) that will help you work easier.

Side note: there’s a phrase you don’t hear often, “work easier.” You hear a lot of “work better” or “work smarter.” The real goal is to make work seamless, zen-like, so it just flows out. And that’s the key. Work easier.

4. Automate the mundane. True or not, a favorite story of mine is the one about Albert Einstein having a closet full of nothing but brown sweaters, white shirts and khaki pants, and wearing the same outfit every day so he didn’t waste a second thinking about anything but his work. He just grabbed the next set of clothes in the line and kept moving. It’s why I keep my wallet and keys in one place, or park in the same spot at the train station. If I have to stop to think “where are my keys?” or “where did I park?” I am losing what could be valuable moments or a train of thought about something far more important.

5. Eliminate distractions. Everyone knows this, but it bears repeating because none of us do it all the time. Do you shutoff your email while you are working on a strategy document? Close out social media networks while you are not using them? I sit facing away from the window at client meetings. Get rid of the things that snap your head around the other way, or that make you zone out.

There are probably plenty of other productivity strategies that you have encountered too. What are some of your favorites?

Surprises


Cameron Russell Headshot

Last week, I wrote a post about an underwear model.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I wrote a post about a TEDTalk – a really interesting one, too – given by professional model Cameron Russell, who talked about perception and the inequities of what people look like versus who they are. (Here’s my original post, with a link to Cameron’s talk.)

As a bit of a social experiment, I used a thumbnail of Cameron that I thought would catch people’s attention (yes, mostly men) to promote the post. You see where this is going.

So I was surprised to see that, in the first 24 hours the post was live, there was no discernible spike in traffic to my blog. In fact, the day’s clicks rated lower than the week before, when I posted “Friends” with a classic promotional (and equally titillating) still from the show.

What that tells me is that you, my fellow reader, are not beguiled by cheap thrills. In fact, the data leads me to believe that, in a world we are told is ruled by Kardashian scandals and stories of faux sex tapes, you are coming to this space to read and learn. And that makes me happy.

So thanks to you all for checking in on a regular basis. I really appreciate all the facebook likes, retweets and shares on LinkedIn. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

PS: Thanks Cameron for not only giving a really cool talk, but for RT’ing the tweet to my original post. Shows you really believe in what you said on stage.

PPS: I wrote this post over the weekend, before the Boston Marathon Bombing. I didn’t personally know anyone involved who was injured or killed and am grateful for that. I also chose to post this, as scheduled – even as we seem to be in another cycle of terroristic attacks (just like we were in September 2001) – because that’s what we do as Americans. We don’t twist in the wind because some coward takes a cheap shot at us. We rally, we help the injured, we get up, and then we do the ass-kicking that needs to get done. America is with you Boston.

You’re Not As Good As You Think You Are


Great Writing 2

I love to write.

I have loved it since I was a kid. I remember creative writing exercises in fifth grade, letting me stretch my imagination and my vocabulary at the same time. I remember straining (happily) to tell a story through mere words on a page. To keep the details together and make it make sense. To define a beginning, a middle and an end. To have a hero and a villain. To have a happy ending.

As PR people, we get paid to be great writers. More pointedly, we get hired to be story-tellers. We translate the gobbeldy-gook brought to us in various forms, and weave it (don’t say “spin!”) into a narrative that is factually accurate and creatively mesmerizing. Our job is to make people care.

And it all starts with great writing.

We can’t write enough. We can’t practice that story-telling craft enough. We can’t ever stop getting better at doing that thing that makes our audience sit up and say, “Wow. Tell me more.”

What’s your favorite part about writing?

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone


Comfort Zone

On a recent field trip with a client, I decided to try something new.

What it was doesn’t matter. I got an idea, something I had never done before, but was fairly certain I could pull off. I did my homework on the technical aspects of what I needed to accomplish. I recruited a collaborator to help me test the idea. And then I went for it.

I could have very easily fallen on my face.

And although the experiment wasn’t a fire-breathing, twitter-trending-topic success, what I set out to test did, in fact, work. And the feedback I got in the process (from myself and from others) will let me do that thing even better the next time.

I was out of my comfort zone. And it felt good.

It’s easy for us to not do something new; to repeat the same winning formula over and over, tweaked for the details, in order to keep racking up wins. After all, if you weren’t so good at that thing you can do (in your sleep, by now, I am sure), people wouldn’t be hiring you, right? So why mess with something that is working?

Because that’s not what we do.

As PR people, we need to always be looking for the new. The different. The unusual. The unique.

The stagnant dies. The boundary-pushers not only survive, but thrive. We create new paradigms and new ways of seeing the world. We advance the narrative and turn the insane into the achievable.

Don’t settle for the same-old ho-hum. Get out of your comfort zone. I’m certainly glad I did.