Category: Communication

When your talent is on fire, finding the perfect language is your coolest strategy

Outside, Barcelona was in flames.

Inside, the waiters in white mandarin collar jackets fluttered and fussed around me. And that was exactly what I wanted. Air conditioning, a small space to call my own for as long as I needed it, a few professionals paying attention to my every need, a Mediterranean menu and a glass of sparkling water with ice and lemon.

A moment of paradise.

In a city on fire.

Outside, it was hot, very hot; a sun-drenched July day in Barcelona.

A very curious thing happens every summer to the habitants of this city—we enter into a collective amnesia. We forget what summer is like and has always been like. And to express this curious condition we throw ourselves into a type of verbal and emotional ritual. We don’t formally organize any of this, but all of us, at the same time, are truly astounded by the heat. We are incredulous and morally wounded by the blasts of hot air that are projected onto our bodies and penetrate our souls. As if we had never had this experience before. 

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Out of the dark and into the light: the secret of content marketing

At the end of this post you will no longer be afraid of the dark. Or of the bogeyman. Or of marketing — content marketing in particular.

The word marketing makes many of us feel intimidated; it has somehow gotten blown into the status of a looming mythological and demanding god ready to cast down bolts of lightning if we do not pay homage and offerings to its power and greatness.

It is a word that often produces anxiety because most of the time we feel like we are not doing enough. Or know enough. Or are up to date on the latest tricks and trends. Or are fast enough. Or loud enough. Or cool enough.

Marketing, until now, has been the divine terrain of a few creative elite. Not of mere mortals such as you and I.

Marketing is kind of like the bogeyman with Ray-Bans.

But, by the end of this post, that will be different. You will have unclothed the myth and tamed the beast.

Sound good? Well, let’s get going.

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The hard drive and the brain

The first image is my hard drive. It stopped functioning.

The second image is my brain. It continues to function.

One important difference between what our computers do and what our brains do is that even though our hard drives stop functioning; our brains don’t.

Another difference is that hard drives are made in identical series.

Our brains are wonderfully and remarkably unique.

Yes, that’s right.

But this is just the beginning; it gets better.

Our brains shape who we are.

And it is who we are that leaves its mark on the world and on the people around us.

Not our hard drives.

It is who we are that creates our projects and dares to give them life, dares to fail, and dares to try again.

Not our hard drives.

It is tempting these days to fuse the two together—the brain and the hard drive—to make them into one, to celebrate their similarities, to desire that they function the same way.

Don’t.

You will miss knowing the very nature of your existence:

Your ability to engage in creative thinking, slow thinking, re-thinking.

Your ability to make a mistake, to take a risk, to fall and to stand up again.

Your ability to connect ideas, to perceive needs, to ask questions and listen quietly.

Your ability to grow, to laugh, cry, feel anger, to ask for help, and then learn.

Your ability to have an insight, to see the whole picture, to come to a realization.

Your ability to act, to take a leap of faith, to defy reason, to begin again, to change directions.

Your ability to succeed at doing what you believe in and draw strength from what you value.

What the world needs, more than ever, right now, is who you are—who you decide to be, what you decide to do, what you decide to communicate, and who you decide to communicate it to.

A computer and its hard drive can’t do that.

You and your brain can.

…………………….

Author’s note: the image of the hard drive is from my Macintosh laptop. The image of the brain is from an MRI that I had done because I was very curious.

If you would like to see a few intimate moments of a brain—my brain—in movement, click here or watch the video below.


5 tips for responding to emails that will save your professional life

Emails are one of the most dynamic and unwittingly dangerous communication tools that exist. And they are here to stay.

As we jet through facebook, tweeter and google+ on to the emerging applications of the future, the email will take the ride buckled into the seat right beside ours, sipping a cocktail, sure of its destiny.

The use of this powerful tool calls for no license, training or mentorship. It is a technology open for all to use — freely and innocently. The email is seen as an efficient, flowing and communication-fomenting vehicle.

Until your first crash.

It is then that you realize the amount of damage this tool can cause in the blink of a human eye. And you also realize, much to your horror, that emails are less biodegradable than steel. They are permanent.

Once you push the send button, they cannot be taken back or amended. Ever. Just that simple thought makes me shudder.

As a content and communication strategist, I believe we all need a little guidance to avoid disasters — a few handy tips or rules that will help to keep our professional relationships healthy and robust.

Before I go on to the 5 tips, however, I first need to make a confession.

A few days ago, I broke my own key rules on responding to professional emails. I also broke the back-up rule that I had set up in case I wanted to break a key rule.

Of course, a small crash ensued.

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A vision statement in 3 scenarios


Scenario # 1: The island

You are sitting on the cool golden sand of a small beach. Your clothes are wet and tattered but you feel fine. You are not sure how you got there; the last thing you remember is that you were standing on the hull of a large boat looking out over the open sea. You turn around to take in your surroundings; behind you there is thick green jungle and the soft orange of the setting sun. There is no one else in sight. You know somehow that you are alone. This is a deserted island. You feel fine and strangely calm as the light from the sun casts long shadows on the small shells scattered about the beach. You spend time thinking. You think about the people you love, the people that love you. You fantasize about building a hut to live in and eating the fruit from the palm trees. The hours pass, the sky turns a deep apricot, and as you lie down in the soft sand and look up at the sky, you begin to think about your project, your creation, your work.  Your perspective is different, you can see your project from a distance, for the first time. And you begin to see what it gives to the world, how it fits in, how the world will change if you keep going, if you make your project strong. And you feel your face begin to smile at the same time that you have this thought: “the world needs me, the world needs my project”.

In the distance, faintly at first, the sound of a ship’s horn can be heard over the gentle lapping of the waves.

Scenario # 2: The woman

You are in a spacious office with polished wooden floors; there is just you and a woman dressed in a finely tailored suit made of light brown linen. You are sitting across from each other, comfortably, in wide beige upholstered chairs; there is no desk between you. You are in the middle of pitching your project to her; she has the ability to offer you the economic and logistic support you have dreamt of. The woman is listening carefully and attentively to your words as you masterfully describe your project. You stop for a moment, take in a deep breath, center yourself and wait for any question or sign of interest. Your sole audience looks at you with a smile in her eyes, and after a moment of silence she respectfully says, “I like it. I just have one question before I give you my full support: What is your project trying to accomplish in the world?”

Scenario # 3: The circle

You have been invited to a meeting. You walk into a large room with lots of chairs arranged in a wide circle. There are many people there and they begin to each take a seat, casually without haste. As you look around, you begin to recognize many of the faces, and suddenly the realization hits you: you are in a meeting with the world’s most important visionaries, leaders, thinkers and great teachers of all times. There are people of all possible skin tones; they are tall, short, large and small; they are men and women of all different ages. You are sure that some of these leaders could not possibly still be alive, yet here they are together in this room—as if time had no relevance here. And there you are, standing among them; “there must have been a mix-up in the invitations”, you mutter uncomfortably to yourself feeling awkward and out of place.

Following the gestures of the others in the room, you take a seat in the large circle of chairs and sit, very quietly, waiting. Spontaneously and quite naturally, the men and women in the room begin to speak, one by one, taking turns, with all the others listening in silence with great attention and patience. Each person tells briefly and simply his or her vision of how they would like the world to be and how their particular work is striving to achieve that. You begin to feel nervous and fluttery in your stomach; you don’t like this type of exercise. However, as you sit quietly and listen, you come to sense that no one looks uncomfortable or as if groping for ideas or words. And no one looks as thought they would disapprove of anything the others say; they seem to truly accept all that is being said. It seems that the most important element is quite simply that the words come from the heart, and this way of speaking seems to relax the mood in the room, and you begin to feel a little less nervous, a little more alert. And curious.

Meanwhile, the speaking continues, slowly making its way around the circle, person by person, vision by vision. There are about five or six people before it’s your turn to speak.

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Three values important to you

This is not easy to write. And I am not entirely sure why.

One reason could be the deceptive levity of the word ‘values’ compared to the depth of influence the word has in our world, and in our every day lives.

What, then, are values? A question that philosophers, writers, poets, politicians, creators and common folk have contemplated since the concept came to life a very, very long time ago.

Wikipedia says: personal values provide an internal reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable, constructive, etc. Values generate behavior [...] and provide answers to questions of why people do what they do and in what order they choose to do them.

But we don’t really need those definitions, do we. Because we inherently know what values are. We feel what they are much more clearly than we can probably describe them. Values reside in a place deep inside us. Deep inside the individual and the collective self.

I think the reason this post was not easy to write is because of the very nature of values themselves —of their deep seated place within ourselves and within in our society. And reaching into ourselves and wrapping language around what we find, can sometimes be, well, challenging.

When I put myself and a few colleagues to the task of naming three of the most important values for us, I was met with silence, smiles, pursed lips, searching eyes and groping for words. Everyone eventually came up with three, but the effort it took intrigued me. I wanted to know more.

So, I hit the streets of Barcelona on a weekend afternoon with a digital recorder wanting to hear what people’s most important values were —people I had never met, randomly chosen. The question was not easy to construct, nor was the answer easy to convey, though, interestingly, every single person I approached seemed sincere in their desire to answer, everyone took the question very seriously. The basic question I asked was this: What are three values, important to you, that you look for in others or in society?

And here is what a few people said:

So, if you were to take a moment to answer that same question, what would you say? What are three values, important to you, that you look for in others or in society?

1._____________
2._____________
3._____________

Now let’s turn to your project, organization or business. Are any of the three values you have just named clearly reflected there? In the mission statement? In the objectives? In the relationship with your public? Do they guide you in your daily management?

They could be reflected in your project in a number of different ways. Why?

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Your mission: A story well told

This is a story with a happy ending. It’s about communicating the missions of our projects. It’s also a story about fish.

First, before we get started, we should clear up the difference between mission and vision:

Classically, a mission statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization; it is about now.

A vision statement tells you what the project wants to be, or how it wants the world to be if the mission is achieved; it concentrates on the future.

It is commonly accepted though to see a mix of the terms values, mission, vision, philosophy or credo to refer to an organization’s statement of purpose.

And second, we should let history add a bit of context to our story. The origin of the word “mission” is from the mid 16th century and referred to the sending of the Holy Spirit into the world, derived from the Latin word “mittre”, meaning “send”. Today, five centuries later, we can pencil the word’s definition as: a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.

That sets things up rather nicely, doesn’t it.

The beginning

In the beginning there was a project.

But before the project became a reality, it was first an idea. An idea with a notion to create, change, effect or produce something. When this idea matures into a project with a clear purpose, then it needs a plan to achieve its particular aim, or, in other words, to achieve its ‘mission’.

In the formulation of any plan, the statement of mission should be the second item scribed, be it on parchment or an iPad, right after the name of the project, organization or business. It should clearly and boldly state what a project does and what it intends to achieve ­­— its mission or reason for existing.

All people that come into contact with any project should know what its mission is.

The goal is to

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One simple question

There is a simple question that needs to be asked. So, here it is:

What percentage of projects and enterprises in today’s environment clearly articulate their mission, vision and values to their public?

(Click on your selection)

Low

Medium

High

You might have been surprised by the answer. Or by the question.

Or maybe you think the question should be this:

Do the mission, vision and values of a project or business have a place in the digital era, in multi-platform environments and in our professional and social networks?

That’s another good one. And here’s the answer:

Yes. Because these elements speak of the reason for being, the core of your project, and what you want the world to see, know and feel connected to. It’s your story.

In the next post, I’ll talk about and clearly define these key terms, I’ll make them usable ideas, dust them off, make them shine. They’re the very essence of good strategy.

Zero tweets

The digital era is cool. It’s seductive and extremely convenient. It can make life easier, faster, and even more visible.

Except when it doesn’t.

Some things can actually become invisible. The lives of some people.

In our world of work, there is a very large group who are invisible to the digital gaze. Even in our own projects or enterprises, people who are doing some of the most important work might never show up at the top of a Google search after we enter their name and tap the return key.

The great majority of the people working on projects, often times very large projects, are busy with the work that must be done in order for the project to function. The general public rarely, if ever, sees their names in large illuminated lights. 

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Technology, real time and you

Something new is happening.

Never before have we, the general population, been able to step back and watch the spread of technology as it occurs.

The ability to view the extension of different technologies has usually come long after their introduction into mass culture.

The maps of the proliferation of the printing press, the telephone, automobile, television, air travel, moving pictures, and computers were usually made available well after these technologies were already being used by large numbers of people. Even now, many of us have never seen or thought about what those maps might look like, nor have we had the tools to chart the different ways these technologies changed elements of human activity and interaction.

This information has historically been kept within the small circles of academic, scientific or product researchers.

That can all be different now.

Today, because of the massive production of creative data, those of us who have access to the internet can watch the movement of technology unfold right before our very eyes.

Let me show you one example of what I mean, a spectacular digital map that was built to show the rapid unfolding of the communication technology “Android”.

It might first be helpful have a bit of background.

Android is an open source operating system for mobile devices currently owned by Google Inc.

The Android operating system is a stack or combination of technologies: an operating system, applications and middleware (middleware provides connectivity between individual software applications). The basic goal of this technology stack is to achieve fast, smooth and easy data transmission for people using mobile devices.

The Android mobile operating system is used for smartphones, netbooks and tablets. The first phone using this system was released in late 2008, producing a ripple of activity around the globe—the beginning, very probably, of a profound change in the tools humans use to communicate

And for the first time in history, you and I can watch this change occur.

The very short video that follows is a moving map, in fast time, of Android mobile devices being activated by people around the world from late 2008 to early 2011—a three-minute light show that condenses twenty-six months of the expansion of a new communication technology. First we get global view, then North America, then Europe, then Asia.

Take a look here or on the screen below.

Pretty spectacular, right?

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The trumpet player and the president

A brief tale about focus groups.

There were once two men with talent; one was a gifted musician and the other an elected president of a beautiful country. The musician played his trumpet every evening for change from passersby in a long underground passageway that connected two lines of the city’s metro. The other delivered very important speeches that sought to explain the country’s difficult economic situation to his constituents. The musician played his music quite well, but he played his instrument so loud that people hurried past, and some even slightly turned away, shielding themselves from the blare of the trumpet which produced a painful sensation as they neared. Not far away from there, the president, who was an intelligent man and competent orator, looked squarely into the television camera and endlessly put forth complex data and technical vocabulary while the citizens listened in their homes with confusion and impatience.

Neither of these talented men was engaging their public. Both had missed their mark. They desperately needed feedback from their targeted listeners. A small focus group would have easily told the trumpet player that he was playing too loud and the president that his discourse did not help them to understand their country’s very real problems.

For the musician, this meant that no people stopped to put money in his hat. For the president it meant that thousands of people grew frustrated and distrustful.

Think for a moment about your talent and your project. Do you know how your public engages, how they feel, and if your art is making the impact you desire? If not, find out. Run a focus group.

It could mean the difference between your success and going home with an empty hat.

A strategic mantra

If you had to choose one strategic mantra for your business, project or initiative, the chanting of “clarity, clarity, clarity” might be your best choice. It is surprising, however, how often this very simple idea is never chanted, or even considered, as we busily go about our daily routine with our team, our project development, our production and our communication.

Clarity begins with the core vision of our project, a vision that everyone involved needs to understand and share in order to fully participate and use their skills to their maximum potential. Clarity is also key for the smooth choreography of a team of people working together. People must understand their role, what is expected of them, timelines, goals, as well as the roles of the other members of the team.

This is one of the most common oversights experienced in countless projects in all parts of the world. Why? Because achieving clarity is a highly refined skill and is not always easy. As a matter of fact, it can take quite a bit of effort – beginning with the conscious desire of the project’s leader. However, when the hard work is done, and the difficult moments have passed, the strongest and most effective enterprises are created; attitudes change, output improves and people reach commonly shared goals together. It works. And things get easier from there.

The artist Gary Larson gets it. So pick up a metaphorical paintbrush and start clarifying.