A Manifesto for Professional Progress

A long time ago now, I was going to university for design and photography. In addition to my intellectual, creative and conceptual skill pursuits, I wanted to learn as much from the “masters” of design and design thinking; not just the principles, but the philosophy as well. My journey brought me to a designer named Bruce Mau; a man who started in design but broadened his application to focus on architecture and philosophy. Mau developed a set of principles in the late nineties called, “The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.” The list of principles and guidance made its rounds in the design community and ultimately to me. I was so inspired by  his humility and direction, I never forgot them.

More presently, I have made my own manifesto for professional progress; a list of directional thoughts, axioms and inspirational ideas of things I’ve learned throughout my career. This manifesto is meant to direct and inspire; a living, breathing list to light the way as I continue down my professional path. 

ebreakdown incomplete photo

Part of this exercise is share and inspire others through stories and creativity. As a result, I give you my Manifesto for Professional Progress:  

  • Always Bring A Notebook: Take notes, turn the page, repeat. Doesn’t matter if you don’t go back to read them, at least you have your thoughts captured so you can go on to the next
  • Keep Creating: Creativity broadens the mind and soul; offers new avenues and a refreshed perspective
  • Listen Loudly: Intently and without compromise, always listen to what people are saying. You will never learn anything new from others if you’re always the one speaking.
  • Allow The World To Change You: There are so many perspectives, experiences and events outside of your bubble, allow those to change you, your thoughts, perceptions and beliefs – it’s the path to growth. 
  • Go In Uncomfortable Directions: The path unknown is more interesting than the one you always follow. Being uncomfortable means, you’re tuning into something new and that is progress.
  • Debate: But Don’t Argue: The civil act of debate, the sharing of ideas and perspective is essential to progress as a person, but make sure you’re not just arguing and that you’re allowing and recognizing a different perspective. 
  • Embrace The Passion: If you leave your passion at the door, then you’re always going to leave yourself behind
  • Do A Dance: Sometimes you just have to let it out, even if you look like a fool, you may inspire others. Don’t take things too seriously. 
  • Forget Process. Start Anywhere: Don’t get stuck in process. Start where you think you should start; progress is individualistic. 
  • Close Your Eyes: Take a pause, close your eyes, think; progress doesn’t need to be evergreen. 
  • Shower Daily: Routine Is important: You can’t move forward smelling like that, can you? 
  • Wake Up Early; Find Quiet Time: Start each day as early as you can but take a moment to appreciate the new day in all its grandeur and to listen to your thoughts for the day.   
  • Push The Convention: Just because everyone did it that way, doesn’t mean you should. Try new things and push against what has always been done; progress doesn’t exist if we don’t move beyond what has always been done.
  • Use A New Framework; Make Your Own: Don’t always follow the rules, find a new way of thinking. 
  • Work A Late Night Once A Month: Something special happens when we’re sleep deprived and under the gun.
  • Work Smarter Not Harder: Don’t work as hard as you can, work as smart as you can. People notice when you figure out ways to work more efficiently and productively. Additionally, working harder leads to stress and stress is not an ally for any type of work. 
  • Always Tell Stories: Knowing where to go means you need to know where you came from. People like to know how you got to a conclusion; they like to know how you got there. 
  • Free Flow Ideas: A river carves out its own path; you never know where your ideas will take you, flow with the current
  • Forget About Clichés: They’re so old-fashioned.
  • Be You: Like no one else can.

Learnings From a Strategist in Advertising and Marketing (so far)

I have been working in strategy and planning for the majority of my career, and it has been a learning experience every day. I guess that’s one reason I love working in this field, I’m constantly learning. Strategy and planning wasn’t my first career, I was a designer, a creative thinker to start, then pivoted into strategy. 

This is my effort to encapsulate what I have learned. My hope is that someone finds these observations valuable and if not, that’s cool; just want to share my learnings with others as others have shared theirs with me.

In no particular order, here we go: 

  • Find Simplicity in Complexity: There’s a lot of information out there, and that’s an understatement. The role of a strategist or planner is to sort through that complexity to achieve simplicity. That’s it. 
  • Briefs Are Not Commandments: More often than not, we perceive briefs as the end-all-be-all roadmap for the project. This is not the case. Briefs are not infallible nor are they concrete, they are fluid documents that are meant to direct not dictate the journey. 
  • Briefs Require Action: This may be a no brainer, but every brief needs to direct some sort of action. If briefs become a compilation of observations, a translation of what clients said and or pithy statements, they do nothing other than showcase “how much you know” – briefs need to illicit or inspire action. 
  • Cleverness Versus Understanding: A strategist can be clever, their words can be clever, but a really good strategist or planner understands what truly needs to be done, what the target cares about, how the category is evolving, etc. and convey that understanding to others in a clear way. Save the cleverness for poetry. 
  • Find The Jewel: A jewel is a valuable piece of information, shiny and precious. The hunt for precious knowledge, an observation you need to nurture, something someone has overlooked, or something so pure and right for the moment is what our strategic search is all about; the hunt for the purity of thought in the chaos of information. 
  • Aha Is Not An Insight: Aha is surprising and new. An insight is an observation based on data, mixed with a human behavior or truth, that has some significant tension built in or wrapped around. Simply, insights take time to craft and hone unlike “aha” which is just something new. 
  • Also, Observations Are Not Insights: This is one that we have to try every day to fix. An observation is just something that has been discovered, an insight is crafted. To call observations insights is to confuse what you see with what uniquely needs to be done. 
  • Everyone Wants To Make Their Own insights: I’m just going to say it, I don’t know where or when creatives were told, trained or taught to make up an insight to set up ideas. it’s a relatively new endeavor, but one that confuses strategists and planners as we have long been told, by creatives, to provide them insights. But, as you will read later, everything is iterative. 
  • There Is No Ownership, Only Partnership: Long have I thought that deliverables or briefs that I write are “mine,” and that is most definitely not the case. Work, all work, is developed in partnership. The idea of ownership only manifests in what is assigned to you – and those two ideas are different. 
  • Who, What And Why Are Your Most Important Questions: As a strategist, you must always ask “who…”, “what…” and “why…”. If you don’t ask those questions on every assignment, in every meeting, you have extreme difficulty understanding the “how”. 
  • Strategists And Planners Are Business Development: Planners and strategists, by their nature, are generators of new business through the discovery of new avenues, new ways of thinking, or new problems (or the right problems). Since they’re unafraid to ask questions, dare I say need to ask questions, the answers lead to new discoveries. 
  • Time Is Your Best Friend And Worst Enemy: There is no perfect amount of time to write a brief. Each brief or project is under some sort of constraint and a planner or strategist must be accommodating to each scenario; you can’t rubber stamp insights. Pressure is the necessity of strategic thought. The same thing holds true to the notion of too much time; if you have too much time, it’s the absolute worst. 
  • Challenge And Concede: It’s within everyone’s right to challenge preconceived notions, directions or agendas; even more so as strategists or planners. However, know your boundaries, conceding is just as important – you may be wrong. 
  • Humility: You’re not always right; there’s always someone who knows more than you.
  • Creative and Account Leads Are Your Best Friends: You need to make a partnership with creative and account; the relationship turns out the best in all. It’s like the Avenger’s, each has a unique superpower and together you can take down the worst of the universe. 
  • Don’t Be Afraid Of Excel; There Are Jewels In The Data: It’s a tricky platform and feels daunting if not intimidating, but in most Excel documents there is a nugget of information that is incredibly valuable.  It’s okay, I’m not an expert in Excel either.
  • Ask For Help: This is agnostic of any particular role or discipline, but ask for help when needed – you can’t solve the world. 
  • Anthropology And Psychology Are Essential: The understanding of the human condition, where we’re from, the why we act the way we do and the reasons why is what we do; you must have at least a basic understanding of both. 
  • Find The Problem, Solve The Problem: Sometimes the problems we are provided are not the correct ones or sometimes we don’t even get a problem to solve. Finding the problem is just as essential as solving it; if we don’t have a problem, then there’s no need to write a brief. 
  • Never Stop Reading, Learning, Questioning: This seems to be another no-brainer, but seriously, don’t stop reading, learning, or questioning… it has to be in your nature. Offer a fresh and new perspective. (Note: It doesn’t always have to be about work either.)
  • Keep Writing Briefs, Even If They’re Not Used: Get in the habit of starting off all your assignments with even the most basic brief, it keeps your skills honed. 
  • Frameworks Matter Less Than What’s In Them: Every agency has their own “proprietary framework” but the irony is they’re all similar if not the same. What matters most is what is IN the framework then the framework itself. 

Last one…
Get Shit Done

Notable Advertising and Marketing Quotes

As with most people in the industry, we all have our opinions about advertising and marketing. That being said, I’ve been posting my thoughts about advertising and marketing on Twitter and other social platforms, but I realize I haven’t provided a central repository for all of my learnings, thoughts or observations.

So, here we go, here are some of the musing from the year to date. And of course, I’m interested in your feedback and thoughts. Do you agree or disagree with these ideas?

Include Social Media in your Brand Strategy

Branding your company is a big, arduous task. It’s not just a logo, it’s not your business cards, letterheads and advertising. What a lot of people and companies don’t understand about branding, is that your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what the consumers believe it is. It’s what the consumer feels about your brand. How do you communicate with your consumers to understand what they’re thinking, and how do to align their beliefs with your own brand strategy? Enter social media.

The term social media gets thrown about a lot, and social media strategy equally so. However, where does a social media strategy actually fit within your brand strategy? How do you leverage social media channels to effectively communicate with your consumers and how do you use social media to affect change within your brand strategy?

For starters, social media is a tool to reinforce your marketing communications pillar. It is not a separate entity; social media should enhance your marketing objectives and then your business strategy. Your business strategy aligns with the perception of your brand. This process is ever changing only because your consumers’ opinions are ever changing. What social can bring to the table is immediate, effective understanding and communications with your consumer base. Social is where you will find the most up-to-date brand opinion. This is important, vastly important to your brand, because you can decipher what your consumer believes, understand their concerns and with quick process, adjust the marketing communications to align your brand communications with the consumer’s perception.

Large words, I know. What is important to know is, consumer brand perception can and will change faster than marketing or brand channels can keep up with. Social offers a unique point of view of what’s happening in the eyes of the consumer and allows for rapid modification to marketing communications.

Picture this: Your brand launches a new product to market. This product is supposed to change the way people look at your brand. It’s meant to instill faith in your brand and some sort of positive, hopeful emotion. Now, let’s say there is a backlash against the product. Your product is either too expensive, insulting or just downright lame. Your consumers have an obvious opinion about this. Where do they go? They go where they spend the most of their time, Facebook and Twitter. Their opinion about your product is posted online, for their network, the network’s network, and the world to see. And with 90% of consumers trusting recommendations from people they know*, more consumers gravitate to the opinion and now you have a mess on your hands.

You have a Facebook fan page. The consumers post their discontent on your fan page’s wall. What do you do? Delete them? No! You respond respectfully and send the consumers’ opinions up the ladder to the marketing communications department. The marcom department, after dealing with problem at hand, should send it up to the business strategy arm. If you don’t have a business strategy arm, you should. Immediately, decisions should be made as to what to do with the information. It’s not a matter of how to stop this consumer belief from impacting your brand, because it IS your brand now. The matter is, how do you change it. Brand perception is no longer a top-down activity, it’s a bottom-up enterprise and social is your inroad to the perception. What you do, what you say, how your brand reacts on social will have an immediate effect, positive or negative to your brand. This process requires a new model of communication similar to that, which was introduced in the book, “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier.

New Messaging Platform

*From “The Brand Gap,” Marty Neumeier

One item of note, the brand and social “strategy” are not solid, concrete action plans. Think of them as an organic, living system that’s ever changing. People’s beliefs change and your brand will have to evolve along with.

Your social communication should have a clear, precise path to the decision makers in your company. If your decision makers can’t hear what your consumers are saying about your brand, then you have lost what little control over brand perception you had. Your consumers are speaking about your brand through your social channels to, what they perceive as, people who can change things. Why not send that message fast and direct? The longer you avoid a clear, established, path from social media to the brand decision makers, the longer it will take to recover, redefine, or reinforce your brand perception and ultimately, your bottom line.

*Econsultancy, July 2009

My Inspiration Lately, Prose Supersedes Imagery

Lately, I’ve been increasingly inspired by writings much more so than imagery. This is peculiar to me as I’m normally a very visual person. Anyway, I wanted to share some prose that has inspired me in the last week. These works have, for some reason or another, really struck a “chord” inside.

    Me I’m just a waitress she said.
    I went and bought a new head she said.
    I look at you and I believe in you she said.
    Screaming into the eye of the lens.

*Karl Hyde, Rick Smith

    Remember when I caught your eye?
    You gave me rainbows and butterflies.
    We did enjoy a happiness.
    When our love was over, I was such a mess.

    I smiled at you and you smiled back.
    That’s when I knew, there’s no turning back.

    You said you loved me and I did too.
    Now though it’s over, I still love you.

    You’re in my mind, you’re in my heart.
    I wish I knew right from the start.
    All my friends said you’d break my heart.
    A heartbreaker right from the start.

    I tried to fight it, I tried so hard.
    And everyday, I prayed to God.
    That you and me, were meant to be
    But you had another, you had a lover.

    And now it’s dark, I don’t know why.
    I feel like crying, just want to die.
    I can’t look at you and you know why.
    Though I tried so hard, to catch your eye.

*Jesse F. Keeler, Alex Puodziukas, John Legend

A Shift in Culture

I remember writing something on Twitter a few weeks ago regarding the idea that people no longer to go coffee shops for coffee, as we did in the last decade or even the one before, but to go now for WIFI. This statement has made me wonder, what is different now from years before? How has our culture evolved? How has our day-to-day lives changed?

One example would be how we search for things. Remember back in the day when we would have to use the Yellow Pages to find business or people? Or even more recently when we would use search engines through the computer? No longer do we have to open a book or even turn our computer on, we can search in the palm of our hands with portable devices. Various applications allow us on our phones, to find what we are looking for almost immediately. I mean, even the mere idea of having applications on a phone is a relatively new concept. Ten years ago, I had a phone that could only send/receive calls and, what was at the time something new, text messages. We use our phones not to call anymore, but as a mobile computer.

Speaking of mobile computers, we are now in a time when you no longer have to wait to get to the office or go home, we simply pull our computer out of our bag, hop on to some WIFI and go. I’m not saying that laptops were not around 10 years ago, but they definitely weren’t as prevalent and certainly were not the primary computer that people used. We even use them to give presentations and pitches to clients. Our very nature is now becoming mobile.

Facebook.com

Twitter and Facebook were not the first, by a long shot, social networking platforms around. However, their ability to adapt to the ever-changing online environment, has kept them around. It used to be that we would ask someone for their number, call them or even text them. Now, we “Facebook” them or follow them on Twitter. Even businesses are adopting the social media trend. Promoting themselves through social media sites, advertising their services or products by “tweeting,” and interacting with their demographic in the first person. Social media is changing the way we buy things, learn about things and even meet people. I’ll even go as far as to say that psychologically, we believe that the online presence of a person and/or business is actually who they are. We don’t think of their page as a page, but as the person themselves.

And while we’re on the topic of online environments, who goes to a record store anymore? Do you know of any around still? Who uses CD players? It’s all iPods, mobile phones, laptops and streaming. The advent of the digital medium and the unlimited access to any song anywhere on the web has changed the way we buy and listen to music. I’m even thinking of ripping all my old CD’s to MP3 and selling them off.

So, what’s next? What are we as a culture going to shift to? We already see it happening. Augmented Reality is creeping into our culture slowly, but surely. Google has released a statement saying they’re going to customize billboard advertisements in their Street Map application and change the way we advertise. Ford is unveiling a car with applications on the dash. We have a vague idea of what is around the corner, however, all that we can really plan for is that we don’t know how society is going to change, but it is an exciting time to be alive.

Where do you see us heading next?

I Never Got My Hoverboard

Back in the day, I was a bit obsessed with the Back to the Future trilogy. I loved the idea of having a Hoverboard or flying cars in the future. However, I’ve come to realize the future that I thought I was promised, most likely will not come true. I have come to terms with this.

There are, however, more realistic items that I think I am entitled to, since I can’t have a Hoverboard. These items aren’t far out of the realm of possibility and probably already exist, just not at a price point I can afford. So, I have compiled a list of “futuristic” items I would like to have.

Bluetooth/WIFI Enabled/Wireless Networked Television

Wouldn’t it be great to integrate your television with your wireless network; to have your television share the screen of your PC? Or to surf the Internet through your television? How about have your iPhone (or other smartphone) control it? How about a peripheral connecter base station (for your DVD player, receiver, or whatever) that broadcasts the video signals to and from your television wirelessly? Oh, and how about putting a USB port on a television too?

I know these do exist, I just can’t afford them. I’m sure as time moves along, the price will drop and become more available.

Bluetooth Earbud Headphones

Ok, I know that Bluetooth headphones exist, but they are super large monitors and are expensive. We also have earbud Bluetooth phone headsets (which are annoying). How about Bluetooth earbuds to listen to music on your iPod or iPhone? The technology is there; it would really help out those who workout. Oh, and keep them at a lower price point too, unlike the Bluetooth studio monitors.

Smart Coffee Maker

A coffee maker that schedule brews based upon a preset time or that wirelessly communicates with your alarm clock so when the alarm goes off, the coffee maker starts. One that grinds its own beans, loads its own grounds, and disposes of its own waste. That maybe too much to ask of a coffee maker, but it sure sounds pretty sweet.

iPhone Apple Remote

My Apple remote works with my MacBook Pro and my iMac. It’s a very small, simple device. Why can’t my iPhone do the same thing? Perhaps because the iPhone needs an IR port?

iPhone Radio Tuner

Since we’re on the topic of iPhones, how about an AM/FM tuner built into the OS for iPhone? Why not? CD Players have them.

Continue reading “I Never Got My Hoverboard”

Applying a Political Speech to Technology: Agnew Knew

I was listening to a mix by Deadmau5 tonight and he included a speech by Vice President Spiro Agnew while in Houston, Texas on May 22, 1970. It’s a pretty profound speech about the times during the Vietnam War.

The speech has elements that hold true, in most instances, to what is happening today; and by that I mean technology. I figured I would post an edited version of the speech here. The speech really rings a bell for me every time I hear or read it.

Yes, I know it has political connotations to it and by all means I don’t really want to enter into a political discussion. However, if you sit back and read this excerpt and apply it to our contemporary lives with technology, it adds another meaning entirely; and that’s what I’m trying to get at.

“Sometimes it appears that we’re reaching a period when our senses and our minds will no longer respond to moderate stimulation. We seem to be reaching an age of the gross, persuasion through speeches and books is too often discarded for disruptive demonstrations aimed at bludgeoning the unconvinced into action. […] Subtlety is lost, and fine distinctions based on acute reasoning are carelessly ignored in a headlong jump to a predetermined conclusion. Life is visceral rather than intellectual. And the most visceral practitioners of life are those who characterize themselves as intellectuals. Truth is to them revealed rather than logically proved. And the principal infatuations of today revolve around the social sciences, those subjects which can accommodate any opinion, and about which the most reckless conjecture cannot be discredited. […] The student now goes to college to proclaim, rather than to learn. The lessons of the past are ignored and obliterated, and a contemporary antagonism known as “The Generation Gap.” […]”Vice President Spiro Agnew, Houston, Texas – May 22, 1970

OpEd: What Makes a Good Designer?

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this lately. Perused the design blogs, the design portfolios online looking for the answer to the question, what makes a good designer. What makes a great designer? I have come to the conclusion that the majority of designers are good, few are great. I’m not saying that I’m a great designer, or you need to be a great designer to see who isn’t. It’s merely the social order of things. Everyone can’t be great, if they all are great, then there is nothing bad; we have no way to judge good design from bad. Good design, not great. Yes, most designers are “good.” Every once in a while do designers make great designs, but for the most part, they are just good, average, adept. This by no means is not a bad thing, these are the designers that help make the world go round. The cooks in the kitchen if you will. It is also important to realize that probably 25% of designers are not good, 74% of designers are good and 1% of designers are great. I have noticed there are ways to judge this, judging through aptitude, passion, integration and evolutionary insight. Let me explain…

Aptitude
Strictly speaking, this level of critique is based solely upon education of whatever sort in the field of design. Gestalt, color theory, history, form and function. This proves to be the foundation of design and the designer. Lack of knowledge in this department is noticed quite readily in the designs. Red serif type on Black provides an immediate conclusion. Granted, some argue that design is visceral. It can be, yes. But, only after a designer has learned the basics of design, can the designer be adept at designing intuitively. Most designers have this already under their belt and from a foundation standpoint, helps make them a good designer.

Passion
Design is an art. Art requires passion. If a designer doesn’t have passion for their work, or at least passion for the ideal of design, then they’re in trouble. Enough said on that.

Integration
To judge a design and thusly the designer, an integration of aptitude, passion and solution of design must be presented. Taking the knowledge of design, applying it to the job or project with a passion is how we work. This is where most designers are in the world. If the designer can integrate everything they have and know into their designs and overall thought process while maintaing a passion for what they do, most likely you will find good design coming out of it.

Evolutionary Insight
This is the the precipice of designers. These designers incorporate Aptitude, Passion, Integration along with something else. That spark. That whole understanding of how things work now and how they will work a year from now. They are the trend makers and the elite. These designers are the ones that set the standard for the good designers. Example: The web2.0 look or the reflection look, each were most likely thought of by one designer. One. Now, it is such a trend that everyone is doing it. Most likely they have moved onto something else that we as good designers will see in a year. These designers have that insight into the evolution and trends. They know what will work. They are the top 1% of designers in the world.

It is important to understand that my intention is not to insult the average designer, nor interrupt their dreams. It’s the whole notion that we all can be president. In truth, we all can’t be. There are limitations in life. We can strive to become that top 1%, but it takes time, talent, passion and drive. Not all of us can be the pacesetters. There is NOTHING wrong with being good. In fact, there is everything right about being good. Good designers are hard to come by. Also, like I mentioned before, good designers are those who make the world work. I would love to be great. I strive for it. I know my place too, I’m a good designer.

A Chicago Experience

My recent trip to Chicago proved to be a lot of fun despite the disappointment I encountered on Thursday. One of the purposes of me extending my stay, was to figure out how I would interact with the city that I love.

Day-to-day, I started to feel immensely comfortable. Not just because of the amazing generosity of my friends James and Laurie for setting me up for a few days, but because I started to find a rhythm in a city where you can’t afford to not have one. I even started having a feeling that I lived here, a few blocks away from my friends. Weird. Public transportation is key in moving around Chicago. I was able to travel, with ease, around town. I didn’t really explore a lot of the town, but I’m starting to get perspective. I’m starting to understand my sense of direction and starting to get a feeling of security on top of that serenity.

Cell services are a bit lacking though. Not to say that I don’t have a signal here, it’s just a bit less reliable. I’m assuming that is due to the number of people on my network. I’m not thinking it’s going to be a major issue.

I was telling friends that the cost of living is just a bit above that of Milwaukee with rent and transit. However, things are more expensive as illustrated by me wanting to buy sponges for painting with Laurie. They were retailing for $3 each at Walgreens. That’s sort of expensive for something I’m just going to throw away. Something to think about I guess.

Overall, I found it very welcoming. Overall people here respond to kindness and gestures of friendliness. But, you have to pull it out of them or initiate it first. I don’t think that will be a problem either. Chicago is a great town and filled with life.

I want to give a shout out and a hearty “thank you” to James and Laurie for being so generous in welcoming me to stay at their pads. (I need to find a time to come down when the weather isn’t so crappy.)