Blog : Ideas

Show Your Work

Think back to high school math class, or a university physics course. Somewhere along the way, on a test or final exam, we’ve all seen this, scrawled in red ink…

Show your work!

For most of us, this was a startling realization. Until we got to this point, we were convinced that school was about getting the answer right. But the requirement of showing your work, shifted the focus to getting the process right.

This underrated concept is actually one of the most important things you ever learned in math class; because we can apply it well beyond numbers.

A philosopher recognizes the journey is more important than the destination. A marathon runner will tell you that the training is more rewarding than the finish line.

As marketers, we need to recognize that there’s more to life than the finished product.

There’s value in the process

When Paul Durham was creating the new Black Lab album “Two Strangers”, he recognized he was facing an uphill battle in rapidly changing industry. To put it bluntly, Paul is trying to sell a product that many potential customers regularly find elsewhere for free.

In a typical record release, an album would be created very privately, and only when it was perfect and final, would it be put up for sale. Paul’s actions were very different – releasing demos and videos of the work in progress, bringing fans along for the ride.

By showing the process, fans not only get a piece of entertainment, and feel like they’re “on the inside”, but they also understand the work that goes into creating the final product. Instead of seeing a CD on a shelf, they are witnesses to the birth of art work.

Listen to the final version (disclosure: Paul is a friend). Now that you’ve seen the artist at work, are you more inclined to buy the album rather than finding it on Limewire?

Say Goodbye

There is value in the process.

Even if you’re the best

When it comes to iPad cases, many will tell you that dodocase is in a league of their own. Quality, style, trendiness, they’ve got it all. However, at $60 per case, this startup has also priced themselves much higher than their established competitors. How then have they managed to sell 10,000 cases in 180 days??

Instead of just saying that they’re the best, and listing their quality craftsmanship as part of a spec sheet – dodocase lets you inside their workshop. They let you see each piece going together. They educate you about what makes them different. They show their work.

There’s more to the story than the finished product

If a question on a math test is worth a maximum of 5 marks, and you simply state the correct answer, chances are, you won’t get 100%. You’ll actually do worse than someone who visibly nails the process, but gets the answer wrong.

Simply telling people that your stuff is the best is akin to copying the answers from the back of the book. Without the story, the proof, the sweat; you don’t demonstrate mastery – you’re just checking the final box and hoping they believe you.

In math, in marketing, in life – full marks and gold stars are given for the creativity, precision and hard work that led you to your obviously excellent product.

Think about the people, products and organizations that you trust and admire as being the best. Do they just tell you that they have all the answers, or in some way, are they winning you over by showing their work?

Photo Credit: Billaday

Knowing when to worry

I’ll be the first to admit it – I tend to worry about things. I think we all do. We’re wired to be concerned about our survival; at some level that has to be an evolutionary thing. Worrying is part of being human.

The evil faces of worry

Ever leave a project until the last minute? Think back to those book reports in high school, or exams in university – there’s some worry there. That’s an easy one.
This worry is the fear that things won’t get done.

Once upon a time, in an effort to feel more organized, I decided work new speeches for projects that were still months out. After beating my head against the wall for countless days, with no drive, no ideas and no motivation – I realized I had discovered a new trigger for worrying.
This worry was the fear that the work would never come.

These two can be paralyzing, demoralizing and destructive. Avoid them at all costs.

The worry that works

Live in your own skin and have enough successes, and you’ll hopefully find the worry that works.

Worry with too little time left to spare and you’ve got procrastination.

Worry without enough pressure and you’ve got anxiety.

Worrying at the right time means you’re focused, driven and working on something worthwhile.

Look back at the times when you’ve done your best work and felt the magic happen. Think about when you feel a surge of energy about a project, rather than sickening adrenaline or bored apathy.
It’s a different set of circumstances for everyone, but there’s a sweet spot for all of us.

Know thyself

Me? I’m a bit of a last minute person. I like the kick of feeling things come together just in time. So, I don’t try to push production early on. I use that time for thinking, filling my mind and notebooks with concepts that I will have at my disposal later on. This means I don’t fret as the deadline approaches; I can wait until the timing is right. Then the pieces just seem to fall into place.

At least you care

The secret is to believe in yourself. Trust that great work will be there when it counts. Couple your worry with confidence – and you’ve paired energy with strength.

Above all, realize this: If you didn’t worry, it means you don’t care. And that’s an existence that none of us should aspire to have.

A Conversation with Paul Budnitz

Paul Budnitz - President & Founder of Kidrobot
Last March I recorded the pilot episode of a new project entitled “Pictures with People” – A series of conversations with artists and innovators who choose to chart their own path through creativity and passion.

This first episode is a 40 minute conversation with Paul Budnitz, President and Founder of Kidrobot on the topics of entrepreneurship, creativity and how to make big ideas happen.

Future episodes to come, but please leave your thoughts in the comments. iTunes Subscription link coming soon!

Pictures of People – A conversation with Kidrobot’s Paul Budnitz

Direct Link to mp3

Treating your customers like family

Did your mother ever insist you write hand-written thank you notes for gifts?

There’s a reason she didn’t encourage you to enter all of your closest friends and relatives into Salesforce and generate a template response with quick instant personalization.

By taking the time to put a pen on paper and craft a note, you demonstrated to the recipient that they had your full attention. It showed them that you cared.

A valuable resource

Getting someone’s full attention is an increasingly rare thing these days. Everyone is busy and under the influence of an increasing number of channels of information. Part of the selling points of social media is the ability to make things more personal. We fawn over the ability for an organization to send an @reply on Twitter, or to respond individually to a blog comment. We act as if technology somehow invented the personal touch.

A technology company that gets it

A welcome card from Blue Sky Factory I found it ironically awesome that I got a handwritten note in the mail today from of all places, an email marketing company. Blue Sky Factory understands how to build a community.

By stepping outside of the obvious social channels of “mass personalization” (which they also do very well), they distinguished themselves from the crowd.

Consider the impact. Your audience is being inundated with digital “social” requests. Follow us here! Subscribe to us there! Be our friend! Like us! How can you stand out as being genuine?

Remember how your mom taught you to send personal cards to your family? This kind of personal touch will build the same bonds between you and your customers.

Social media is a great way to personalize your customer relationships, but it’s not the only way.

How else can businesses be more personal in their interactions with you as a customer?

Stop killing your own ideas

A book of ideas
Imagine a world completely devoid of new ideas. Draw a line in the sand, dig your heels in and get comfortable, because this is as good as it’s ever going to get. It paints a pretty bleak picture, doesn’t it?

It’s safe to say that we, as a society, are reliant on new ideas. We need new concepts, new colours, and new ways of doing things in order to keep the world around us productive and interesting.

Look back upon what got us from where we used to be to where we are now, and ask yourself what was required. The basics certainly jump to mind; food, oxygen, water and sunlight. But these staples only guarantee survival; homeostasis. They ensure that things will exist in the same sameness that they always have.

It is ideas that move things forward.

Do you live your life accordingly?

How many times in an average day does an idea cross your mind that strikes you as interesting?

Maybe it’s a process that could be improved upon. Maybe it’s a combination of food that could make the perfect dish, a business idea that finds you in the middle of the night, or a tune that you can’t stop humming in the shower.

I’m willing to bet these events happen more often than you’ve ever realized. We are blessed with minds that solve problems, unravel things and put them back together; resulting in an incredible capacity for new, original thought.

Where do your ideas land?

How many of those ideas ever make it out of your head?

Case in point: this blog post. Every once in awhile, I sit down to capture this concept in writing. And yet every time, it somehow never makes it past the censors; the imaginary (yet very real) assassin of ideas that lives between our imagination and our willingness to express.

Try this statement on for size:
Some of my greatest ideas have never made it out of my head, never been spoken aloud or documented on paper. I’ve written poetry and melodies. I’ve built empires in my mind. I’ve solved problems and built bridges. And yet, I’m left with nothing but this statement.
Some of my greatest ideas are now distant memories, forgotten by everyone, including myself.

Does it fit? I raise my hand.

Give your imagination a fighting chance

This is a work in progress for me, as it is for all of us. But here are some thoughts that I am trying in order to get ideas (big and small, important and meaningless) past the censors that wield such power in our cognitive process.

Stop relying on others

Understand that ideas are democratic and available to everyone. Telling yourself that others are smarter, funnier, or more artistic is a crutch. It’s an excuse to make yourself feel okay about your habit of crushing your own dreams. If ideas represent the progressive force of our species, it is your responsibility to contribute.

Find your place

When I run, my mind chases thoughts faster than my feet can carry me. The barriers are broken, and the torrents of creativity are unleashed. Miles and marathons can pass unnoticed as one idea dovetails to the next daydream. No problem seems too small, and no concept too farfetched. Anything is possible, my lungs and legs representing my only limitations in the world.

Do you have a place where ideas find you, before you even think to look for them? It could be an actual place, or it could be a time, a behaviour or hobby…

Find it, because that’s where your ideas are safe.

Find your assassin

When I return from a run, as soon as my heartbeat slows the assassin begins to creep in. As I climb the stairs to my apartment, he begins to spread doubt and conflict. The ideas are now suspect. They’ve been done before, they’re not feasible, not possible. And they’re probably not interesting to anyone, anyways.. By the time I step inside, untie my shoes and step back into my world, my ideas are gone; homeostasis and sameness are safe for another night.

Do you have a behaviour that kills your ideas before they’ve ever even had a chance? A recurring thought, fear or anxiety that turns shiny promise into a dusty afterthought?

Find those too, because they’re what you’re going to battle against.

Capture your inspiration

If you’ve found your place where your mind is free from the burden of creative anxiety, your mission is to capture your these thoughts before they leave you. Don’t carry your ideas unprotected and undocumented – the temptation to forget all about them will be too great. You will let yourself down.

  • Carry a notebook dedicated only to new ideas – Resist the temptation to write down phone numbers or meeting minutes in these pages. This is like capturing fireflies in a jar; don’t pollute it with things that don’t glow.
  • Record voice memos – See that mobile phone in your pocket? I bet it has the capability to record voice memos. Paul Durham from Black Lab showed me the power of leaving yourself voicemails when inspiration strikes. Not only do you have a record of the concept, but you document the excitement of the moment, something that can be invaluable as you later reflect upon your inspiration.

Make an investment

Ever noticed how a sports game is more interesting when you have a friendly wager on the line?
Put something of yourself into your idea as soon as possible. This could be as easy as buying a domain name or sending an email to propose a brainstorming meeting. Lean into it and lower your shoulder; making ideas happen is a contact sport.

Make a commitment

Give yourself a deadline. I told myself I wouldn’t sleep tonight until this blog post was complete.

Set a calendar reminder for whenever you feel you should have taken an action. To go a step further, on a regular basis, revisit your idea book or your voice memos. Use your own history to learn what makes you successful and where you stumble.

As I press the final punctuation, this represents one thought that I took from concept to completion. There will be another addition to the site soon that represents something I should have acted on a long time ago.

Where do you go to find inspiration? How successful are you at battling the temptation to censor? How do you summon the courage to share with the world?

Image credit:qisur

Does your reputation sell you or sink you?

A truck with "Google Us" written on the back
What if your reputation was all you had? Strip away everything else about your organization or yourself. Ignore your brochures, your slogans and trademarks. Ignore your resume, your degrees and certifications.

If someone set out to discover not just who you are, but what you believe, and why you’re so special…. what would they find?

Keep it simple, but not stupid

People hate complexity. When things get complicated its harder to make decisions, and easier to get frustrated. As an interface designer, your mantra should always be: simplify.

But don’t make it too simple

Have a look at the screenshot above. This is the new Facebook interface for creating events, which has been streamlined from previous versions. They’ve turned the date selection tool into a neat little jquery calendar pop-up, which is a huge improvement.

They’ve also changed the way that users select the time for their event. Simpler to look at than it used to be? Definitely.

Does it help me create and event that starts at 12:15pm? Definitely not.

How to be simple and smart at the same time

Obviously, Facebook has created a problem for me as a user. This is a particularly sticky problem, since events are often created to be used as part of advertising campaigns (using the Event Ad Unit), meaning they have potentially put a barrier between themselves and people willing to give them money… always a bad thing.

Some considerations to keep in mind, to ensure that your interface is simple, but not dumb:

  • Test in advance – As Facebook often does, roll out your new interface to a sample audience in order to get a sense for how it will work in the real world with real data. Segment out 10% of your traffic, show them the new toys. Watch and learn. Consider differences between new users and returning longtime users of social sites.
  • Get Feedback – When you launch a new feature, make a clear “feedback” element on the page – allowing people to let you know where they find spots that might need a bit of tweaking. You’ll often catch the little bugs this way.
  • Use previous data – Maybe this was taken into account, its hard to say. But if you have past records of how the element was used (databases of registrations etc), have a look to see what types of information people are putting in. I’ve created hundreds of events beginning on the quarter hour – and I’m willing to bet others have too.
  • Consider context – Think about events and what goes into creating them. People need to be invited, schedules need to be coordinated, venues need to be booked. The more branches there are in the problem, the more flexible the interface should be for fine tuning. Think you can convince a venue to adopt “Facebook time zones”? Think again.
  • Provide a work-around – Make the most obvious navigation as simple as possible, but if there is potential for wiggle room around it, give more options. A simple option to “customize time” within or next to the select menu would give us the best of both worlds.