Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Creativity Conundrum

  Years ago I read "The Stones of Venice" in an English class, which celebrates the beauty of hand chiseled architecture during the Gothic era.  Ruskin was making the point that turn-of-the-century industrialization and mechanization was missing the soul of the artist.  He was saying it lacked the humility of its maker.  I wrote a paper entitled "The Noble and the Ignoble in Gothic Architecture" wherein my thesis was that the turn of the century industrialization and mechanization was killing the soul of creativity that can only be attained through the hands of an imperfect human being.

Fast forward 2013.  We have automated well beyond the imagination of Ruskin.  We create things literally at the touch of a button.  Within seconds we can share absolutely anything with absolutely anyone. We can say anything we want, unaware of the impact or the consequences of our actions.

I use all the tools of our time, but I am old school when it comes to creativity. To me there is one simple truth:  creativity without social responsibility and the ability to execute is useless.

I publish SKY magazine.   I create a place for people in business to be seen and to tell their story so that our readers can become their customers. I promise to get people into 30,000 mailboxes, and I do that, on time, every time.

Creating SKY is a process that combines business strategy, photography, storytelling, design, production, printing, packaging and mailing.  It takes a team of business people who are creative, committed to excellence and who deliver every single time, on time.

When something breaks in the chain, the chain is broken. It's that simple. I always say in my world there is "good enough".  There is "good" or "not good enough."

Genius is defined by making the complex simple so that the reader can immediately engage. That's what "good" means to me. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Managing Your Message in the Media

When I was in journalism school at the University of Regina, I learned a few things about how to be a reporter. I say a few things, because that is exactly what I mean. I learned how to write for news paper, radio, magazine, and television.  I learned how to build a story. I learned how to interview people and ask questions, and I learned a little bit about ethics and the law.  

I have had the occasion to experience the other side of the interview over the past two weeks. Once as a reader of a poorly written story, and another time as an interviewee in what I hope will not be a poorly executed, imbalanced reputational mess.

Inexperience is the main issue when something goes awry.  Professional media usually understands and appreciates how to engage with the community so that they live to write another day. Reporting is a craft.  However the distinction between good and not so good is not always an issue of age or experience.  Some people, even in their early careers, are natural born story tellers who understand the human experience and who have a natural understanding of the art of listening and story telling. 

When I think back to my days as a young reporter and student, we were eager to tell stories that were full of controversy.  In fact, quite often, we would create controversy were none existed, not because we were making things up, but because we ourselves were overly dramatic.  We were working in a bubble where supposedly we could not affect others in the process of learning. Everything seemed to be turned up on high volume, whether it needed to be or not. 

Looking back now, I can see that what I learned in journalism school about the art of story telling and more importantly, story listening, I could fit in a thimble.  The rest I learned working in the world as a writer, reporter, communications professional, business strategist and publisher. 

There are some nuggets of knowledge passed on to me from my teachers that I carry with me still to this day.  The thing that I remember the most is that good journalism gives a balanced view of a story that provokes thinking and dialogue.  Bad journalism is is the subject of dialogue.  

Jim McKenzie taught me about ethics, and how important it is for the journalist or story teller to know his or her own line before crossing it. He would send us off in pursuit of a story, knowing full well we were overly dramatic and inexperienced about life.  One semester I had taken a magazine writing class with Jim.  The subject of the magazine was the sex trade.  We were each assigned a part of the trade. My part was child prostitution.  I remember the first night my partner and I went out to research the story.  

I did not see what I thought I would see.  I saw children in low income neighbourhoods. As a mother, I quickly found my line.  Who were we to impose our judgments? We did not know these people or their lives.  We did not understand the impact that we could have by simply asking a question or giving someone a title by virtue of the environment, which we could only see through our own middle class view of the world.  I knew that if that were my child, I would probably punch someone out for approaching or passing judgement. 

I went back to my professor and told him that I would not do the assignment.  Instead I chose to research the issue of sexual exploitation of children on the streets via public records. Jim has since passed on, but I think of him and his words often in my work.

After graduating from journalism  school,  I worked as a reporter for a time, mostly focusing on feature writing and community stories.  I learned that it is indeed a privilege and responsibility to treat a person's story with as much care as you would your own.  

I later went to work on the "dark side" as we used to call it in journalism school: public relations and communications. I used to think of it more as "dimly lit" but as my experience grew, I began to see clearly the importance of responsible media management from the business perspective. 

My job was to help the organizations manage their message in and through the media.  I learned the art of writing news releases, dealing with media inquiries, and writing media Q & As that would anticipate the craziest questions a journalist could ask and craft an answer.  I would write key messages, preparing my executive for the possibility of a media call.  

 When the journalist called, a dance would ensue.  He or she would ask the question, and the interviewee would give an answer that was in line with the key messages already determined. This dance continues until something breaks in the process.  As the reporter asks the same question in a myriad of different ways trying to prompt the quote he or she is looking for, the interviewee continues to stay on message.  

There is a method to this madness.  Business of all sizes need to protect their reputation. News reporters like to write and tell enticing stories.  So the key is to find the balance in between these often opposing objectives. 

Large organizations have departments of people who can help them manage the media.  Small business owners do not.  And so, I offer my experience should the media call.  Here are some things to be aware of. 

1. Understand the purpose of the interview. 
2. Understand the journalist's intention behind the interview.  You can ask for questions ahead of time.  
3. Have key messages that summarize what you want to say. 
4. Say those things, and only those things. 
5. Comment only on what you know to be true and your own experience. 
6. Do not comment on the business or behaviours of others.  Defer the question and suggest the reporter contact the appropriate person for that information. 
7. Ask for approval of the content before it goes to print. 
8. Beware of the last question and the casual conversation that can follow an "interview".After you think the interview is over, you will relax a bit. That's when the reporter uses the "fork dropper" question, as my journalism professor used to call it. This is the question that disarms you and causes you to react and say something reactional or off-the-cuff, thus feeding their agenda and not yours.  
9. Own your story. Tell your story.  Do not get coerced into telling someone's  story in a "he said - she said" interview structure.  Stick to the facts. No opinions.  Be objective.  Speak in complete sentences.  Do not use cliches.  Do not be funny.  Do not say something that can be taken out of context and used to sensationalize the story. 
10. Take the high road at all times.  Never, ever wallow.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

@Kolo Project #My Truth

A couple of weeks ago, I received a tweet from the Kolo Project inviting me to a meeting at the Cathedral Village Freehouse.

I was to meet several other people from my community who have a passion for being an entrepreneur and creating an environment in which we can be successful. We decided to do something about this, together.

The Kolo Project is about creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem.  It is created, led and driven by entrepreneurs.  Our goal is to break down the barriers that inhibit entrepeneurial growth in our province, and in our cities.  We met again in my office to develop a game plan.

We decided that the first step was to tell the truth about entrepreneurialism, and to invite entrepreneurs from our community to come and share their perspective, their truth, on what works, what doesn't, and what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Let me start with my truth.

June 15 was the 2nd anniversary of my emancipation.  That was the day I signed off on my last corporate job. (It just so happens it was my worst ever corporate job, which in many ways fueled my new beginning into the private sector.)

I am going to just come out and say it. Private enterprise is not romantic.  It is about working harder than you've ever worked in your life for the least amount of money you have ever made. At least for a while.   This misconception is actually harmful because it hides the truth and therefore the solutions.

Private enterprise is about money - trying to make money and not lose too much at once. If it's not, it's called philanthropy.  In private business, you get to decide how. Easier said than done. Some people start with what they love and turn it into a business; others start from what they are good at and try and turn it into a business; others do something completely foreign and find experts. Who is to say? I think it depends on a lot of factors.

Beyond the product or service, you must become the marketer, the operations manager, the book keeper, the accountant, the service person, the sales person and even the janitor. If and when we hire employees to generate growth (why else?), there is a cost. People like pay cheques, benefits, vacations and the occasional day off.  All of that costs money.

In business, we have the freedom to make mistakes and make decisions. Yes, there is freedom to stay in bed. Yes there is freedom to take a bath in the middle of the day, or go to a yoga class, or maybe even take a trip. And that freedom lasts as long as the revenues are rolling in, or your investments are exhausted.

Private enterprise is about taking risk and managing risk.  Risks are dangers. They are not fears, but they are real.  Like Will Smith 's character said in "After Earth", roughly paraphrased', 'fear is not real, but danger is very real.'  The same can be said in business.  How you react to fear is a choice. But danger is very real. To be in business, it's all about balancing time and money and finding a way to optimize both.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This is Private Enterprise

This is Earth

"Crash landed. 
Two confirmed survivors. 
Son, this not training
This is a class one quarantined planet.  
The threats we will be facing are real. 
Everything on this planet has evolved
to kill humans.
Every single decision we make 
will be life or death.
But if we are going to survive this
you must realize that fear is not real.
It is a product of thoughts you create.
Do not misundersand me. 
Danger is very real. 
But fear is a choice. 
Do you know where we are. 
No sir. 
This is earth."

No. This is private enterprise.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ginger Jar Lamp Economy.

I remember 30 years ago a pair of ginger jar lamps that I bought when I could barely afford food. I was making $1,400 / month, bringing home $1,000 and paying $800 in rent in downtown Calgary. I paid $60.00 for the lamps from the Bay. It took me 5 months to save for the lamps at $12.00 per month. I still have those lamps. I have tried to retire them, I could not bear to do it. They are simply too valuable to me. 

When I first entered the world of entrepreneurship two years ago, a question was asked in a discussion group on Linked In:  Should we give products and services for free. If so, why?  If not, why not. 

My answer was emphatically "NO" for these reasons: 

1.  Something of no value is not valuable, too anyone. If something is of no value, what value is it to perpetuate? If one is going to give it away for free, one may as well decist immediately in the practice of their "business" for that will be the eventual outcome sooner than later. 

2.  I also believed, and still do, that to give time and money away is to rob the other person of receiving the true value of what they have received.  

3.  My third reason is very pragmatic: I can't pay my bills with air, since that is not yet a valid currency. Nobody's business or life can exist that way, which takes me to point number 4. 

4. Expecting something for free is well . . . disrespectful.  Sorry. I said it.  That's what it is when something is taken or even given for which there is no remuneration. Someone recently made the point that when you get something for free, you have to be aware that someone else is paying for it somehow. 

5. I do not have the heart of a trader. Yes, I love a good sale. Who doesn't. But I do not barter well on price.  In Mexico, I will be the only person paying $25.00 for a handmade cotton purse for which someone else will would pay $5.00.  I actually feel guilty about taking a product or service for "free" from someone, because I know how it feels to save $60.00 over five months. 

I recently had a conversation with a fellow entrepreneur on this topic who summed it up eloquently.  "In the beginning, I traded, but then I found people don't come through on the trade because they have nothing to gain from it." 

Trading is a business model in itself that some people manage very well. I think to be a "trader", one has to be passionately mercenarial in the trade relationship. 

That's just not me. I am a consumer. I like to participate in the buying economy. I love my car, my clothes, and my house. I like to help other businesses be successful by paying for their products and services.  If I don't get paid, I can't do that. That's just makes sense in business and Ginger Jars Lamps.

Assuago. That's the way it is.

He found us clumped together like maple bugs in the fall, fresh off the ship and ready for an adventure. 

We took a cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, Ocho, Rios, Jamaica and the Grand Caymen Islands.  At each port,  tourists can explore, shop or experience things on their bucket list, like swimming with dolphin and stingrays.  Cruise ships offer excursions that can range from $40/person and up.  Excursions are fun and they are designed to show us what we already expected to see in the brochures and the media.  In other words, excursions are designed to show us a world view that we want to see, versus what might be.  

We were the unplanned tourists fresh off on a cruise ship at the port of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  We adventurers and deal shoppers set out that day to experience some of Jamaica and return by 4:00 PM.  We were told that the best drivers would be those with a red license plate.   Johnson found us and sold us on a day tour for $20.00 / person. 

Johnson relies on tourists but not just any tourist.  He is what I like to call a mouse among elephants.  

Johnson's  target market is  the tourist looking for a deal and maybe a truer to life experience. 

As an entrepreneur competing with the big cruise lines, he tells me his strategy is to  price his services "not too low, not too high".  "It's better to get some of the business than none of the business".  He also likes to offer a different experience - one that attempts to show more than one side to the  reality of life in Jamaica.

He offered to take us on a tour to do whatever we wanted. Shopping , water falls and jerk chicken and a tour of the city  were the top 4.  We agreed to a price of $20 US/per person or $160 for 4 hours less gas and vehicle wear and tear. 
We asked to go the Dunn River Falls, but he said he would take us to another fall that is not owned by the government because that way the people benefit from the tourist not the government.  

We went to the Shaw plantation  paying a modest fee of $10US.  The estate so named after a Scotsman who settled in Jamaica in the 1835 and donated it back to the Jamaican people in 1933. 

The garden includes  a bamboo enclosed natural water treatment plant, water falls and a botanical garden full of the herbs, flowers and trees that cure what ails you. 

On this property stands a recording studio that was commonly used by Bob Marley and Mick Jagger.  On the hill just beyond our sight stands a house owned by Mick Jagger who is barred from entering Jamaica due to his "bad habits".
There is also a museum created by the Shaw family that documents bringing over 683,000 slaves, over 31,000 of whom died before they could be "unloaded".   The museum includes a man trap which resembles a bear trap that was used to catch slaves who were trying to escape.  Slaves were used work the plantation and maintain the house and gardens until Jamaica's abolition of slavery in 19$$, 27 years before the end of the American Civil War.
Our guide Nikki, 30 years old, tells us she has applied to leave Jamaica twice to the United States.  They told her both times it's not her turn yet.  
Why do you want to leave this paradise we asked.  "All that glitters is not gold" she said.

At the end of the tour she told us she works for free and asked if we would consider a tip.

Johnson took us on a tour through the city of Ocho Rios to show us a glimpse of life in Jamaica.

We saw kids at play during a break at school is their uniforms.  We saw homes of the well-to-do and then we saw where the rest of the people lived and worked. 
An old lady selling her wares on side of the road hoping we would stop.  We didn't.  A man breaks into back flips down the hill as we rounded another corner.  We gave him some money through the bus window and he carried on performing for the next bus. 

We saw homes where the poor lives by our standards.  I felt sad and grateful.  
From there it was downtown to shop where the locals aggressively ask for the sale.  Johnson warns us to stay within his sight at all times and not to buy anything we don't want.  As we entered the stores the clerks turned on the Bob Marley tunes.  We begin to feel relaxed as we sing along, lulled back into our westernized first world dogma induced coma.  

We stopped at his favorite restaurant for Jerk Chicken  and boarded our bus back to the ship. 

He is married 21 years. His children, 10 and 14 years of age attend school. 
I asked him if he is a tour guide and driver year round.  Yes, he says, this is all there is to do.  Is it enough I asked.  No because the cruise ships often go to the other side of the island near Montego Bay.  

Tourism creates opportunity and jobs on the upside.  On the downside we are rarely shown the desperate reality unless we take a chance and risk a big plate on poverty, jerk chicken and a wish for freedom. 

As a tourist they want us to see the reality we believe exists from the media.  Johnson showed us there is more to see than what we are shown.   Assuago. "That's the way it is".  Then he asked for a tip.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Expensive Walk

Spring is on the horizon.  The season of second chances and new growth.  Spring is when we make plans for everything from home renovations and fitness to getting new jobs and starting or growing a business.

It's hard to know where you are going if you can't envision it.  It's even harder if you are lacking intention.  The truth is any road will take you there, as long as you have no idea of where you are going.

Setting intention takes discipline, clarity and focus.  It requires a commitment to a single desire. A single outcome.  A single impact.  Intention is something that comes out of a heartfelt desire to move in a new and brave direction.

I set an intention a long time ago to live and work with purpose.  To me that means doing the things that help others, that create a legacy, and that inspire others to find their purpose.  In 2011 I started a company - Lynear Thinking -  in order to bring reality to the intention.

Since then I have been taking steps such as building a community and connecting with those with common values and goals, making friends in good places, being healthy mentally, physically and spiritually and doing work that I am passionate about with and for people who are doing good things.

In 2012 I bought SKY magazine. As the publisher I choose to use this magazine to further my intention by promoting people who are living and working on purpose, creating a legacy, and inspiring others.

My clients are part of this journey towards intention because they inspire the way ahead.

Intentions can take a long time to realize, in fact intentions are sometimes years in creation.  Without a plan and checking back, you will never know if up you are getting to where you want to go or just out for an expensive walk.

A Small Business Proposal to Share Overhead

It happens all the time. It happens to me.  Small business is challenged with the business of business.  The taxes, the accounting, the time to do that things that do not bring us revenue.  The other day I met someone who told me he was going to wind down his design business because he is exhausted from trying to do the work that just doesn't make money.  

This is once again the classic tale of mice versus elephants.  Elephants (big business) have the in house resources to take care of the non-revenue generating work.  When I worked in that world, we called it "overhead".  I was overhead. I was the person responsible for their strategic planning.  My job was to lead the organization through the strategic planning process.  I took great exception to be referred to as "overhead". 

Now I look at this from a different perspective.  As an entrepreneur, it is important to have the "overhead" under control.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to do that because everything takes time. 

I have a solution.  I suggest that small businesses can come together to share services, thereby being able to share the cost of this overhead as well as learn from each other in the process.  

If you are interested in joining me in creating a small business collaborative, please contact me at 306.581.0715.