May 12

CHEMISTRY.

Asymmetry has its advantages.

Does it matter?

Is having a sense of familiarity or good vibe with a new colleague / client / customer a predictor of whether it will be a match made in (professional) heaven? We know working with people who finish our sentences, think we’re hilarious / brilliant / talented feels invigorating, at least at the outset of a working relationship. But what about less inspired collaborations? Is there anything to be learned from chemistry-free scenarios?

In new relationships, naturalness and ease are some of the first things that we all notice. When it’s good, we are quick to jump ahead in our minds, assuming that the work will flow and the results will deliver. When the vibe is not present, it’s easy to assume a lesser work product will be inevitable.

So if chemistry positively imbues the process, and process is directly connected to product, wouldn’t it make sense that outcomes are better with chemistry? Should we only seek out “our people” – and dismiss the rest?

I wonder. In equal measure I’ve had love-at-first-sight collaborations that didn’t end up producing the creative fireworks I imagined, and underwhelming first impressions that grew into future returns I assumed were improbable (impossible, if I’m honest.)

So I’ve been trying to decide if chemistry really matters when it comes to performance, because while it makes everything feel good, it doesn’t seem to be predictive of an optimal outcome. And conversely, when it’s lackluster, it doesn’t preclude exceptional thinking.

It’s always nice to have a warm room – but if there isn’t one, I have learned to find just as big an opportunity. You get to see how your talent stands alone, in colder temps, sans the natural serotonin that flows with the warm fuzzies.

It’s a worthwhile assessment.

CONTENT.

It's not easy to make something that feels exactly like nothing else.

On a recent call with the global marketing director of a major fitness brand – someone responsible for managing messaging across all channels – she paused to ask me a more philosophical question: “What do you think the secret to creating compelling content is? These days, everyone seems to be in the ‘game.’ ”

It’s true, and admittedly, something that I often wonder about. It seems that anyone with a Mailchimp account wants to say something…or feels that they should be saying something (whether they really have something to say or not). With the rise of social media, email and web marketing, communication platforms are ubiquitous, which means that ads and campaigns – and in turn subjects, headlines and body copy – are earnestly written, edited, and sent, from anyone who can.

Some do it well – we click every time, because we feel disarmed or moved or paused by what they have to say.

Other campaigns remain unopened, invisible in the marketplace. No matter how much noise they make, if nobody cares…well, nobody cares.

Inner monologue aside, my answer to what makes good content is simple: if you can sink your teeth into an idea – go beyond the obvious, unveil a truth that’s on people’s minds but not yet on their lips – you have something worth broadcasting. Rich content can be everything from useful/everyday DIY, to big ideas, unpacked into smaller bites we can all understand. But compelling writing actually comes from thinking original thoughts, first. Writing is the last step in that process.

Here’s my personal litmus test:
Am I saying something new, and if not new, in a refreshing way?
Does this feel personal, persuasive, disarming, useful?
And most importantly – does anyone care?

And when I write for myself, I go one level deeper:
Does this feel truthful/vulnerable and connected?
Do I think that saying it will help at least one person feel less alone in their thoughts?

Anyone can contemplate, aggregate, pontificate. But to matter today, you have to relate.

 

LEFT OUT.

Remember the days of playgrounds, spiral notebooks and late bells, when a good day at school was feeling part of the group, and a terrible day was feeling like a third wheel, like everyone was “in” – except you? Not much has changed.

I was part of getting an idea off the ground not too long ago, and had to step away from it for a variety of reasons. When the project gathered momentum, and began to take flight, it was hard to watch. I was no longer its guardian, and although I can see why my attention needed to be elsewhere, I’d be lying to say I felt fine about it. I don’t totally (quite yet.)

Feeling “out” from any community, project or business can still feel the same, no matter your spiritual evolution or life experience. Unlike being a kid, as an adult you have perspective and other tools to lean on if it happens. But it’s amazing how quickly it can take you back to those formative years, and reignite old pathways you assumed were healed.

Just like there’s no other way to get over most things than to walk through them, when you sense you’re being left behind – or pro-actively need to shift your gaze – the fastest way through it is to say the thing you can’t imagine verbalizing to other people.

Why? Because the inner conflict of feeling bad about it, and telling yourself you don’t feel that bad about it, is kind of worse than the situation itself. It’s denial (and you know it). It’s inner-marketing, the most deceptive kind of sales pitch. It’s host on host, you vs. you. And the stories we tell ourselves, and pray that we can stand to believe, are far worse than the “spin” we might tell others.

Find your ally in the group, someone you trust, and who knows you. And then say it. Say the thing you don’t want anyone to know.

“I feel left out of this.”

Nothing may need to change (as in my case). Or something might. But you’ll free yourself from a half-truth that will eventually have an erosive, self-defeating effect.

The solution starts with you. Not them.

TRIGGERS.

Natalie Massenet, founder of Net a Porter, with her new Farfetched partner.
Image Courtesy: Farfetched

I’m (so) not enough.

Why aren’t I achieving more?

Maybe I’m lazy.

Or… just not as smart / good / connected.

What the WHAT is this lovely (hideous) and supportive (diminishing) self-talk? Oh, it’s mine, actually. I found myself thinking this as I read through a WSJ profile on the founder of one of the biggest ecommerce / fashion platforms that ever was – and her new venture.

Is there someone who has this effect on you? Every time I read about the ever-inspiring Natalie Massenet, some kind of inadequacy alarm goes off inside me.

Maybe it’s because she was a writer/ editor / content maker, like me, but ascended it.

Maybe it’s because I knew her 15-years ago. She seemed smart and cool but not like the head of a fashion empire or a digital genius (which means it’s about hard work, nothing more or less.)

Or, maybe it’s because she was paid $150 million for her start-up. And that is depressingly awesome.

At the root of it is little to do with her and more to do with what she triggers for me, and what each of us needs to answer for ourselves:

Am I being true to what I want to do / build / offer to the world?

Triggers bring on existential angst, for so many reasons.

But hopefully you recognize yours, as I recognize (and hereby confess) mine, which is half of getting over them. But I’m thankful for her existence and frequent reminder of what I’ve done, not done, and still want to do.

Even though she really does get me every time.

THE ASK.

Some people really know how to ask for what they want.Courtesy Universal Pictures

No one really teaches us how to ask for things (I just realized.) When you’re a kid, you’re supposed to put a “please” in front of your questions, but that’s about all the training we get. Women, in particular, haven’t had a lot of conditioning in asking for what they want or even what they need. Many of us knowwhat we want, but do not know how to ask for it.

This muscle was put to the test recently when I started a personal project that includes asking for something from a few women I really admire, who are really busy, and who don’t have time for much extra – to do something for me.

What if they say no?
Or worse, what if they want to say no, but don’t know how?
Or maybe the worstest – what if they just say nothing?

The art of asking comes down to being specific about why someone’s input / contribution / introduction – whatever – is so important to your process. The more you can shine the light on why her, why now, why for this – the more likely she’ll see her power in changing your life, and…say yes.

So that’s what I did. And yes, they said yes! #yassss

Now, can I ask you for a favor? You can help me with this project by following @smartypeopleblog on Instagram, because followership matters to the gatekeepers-that-be.

Since you are the ones who have made this blog popular and viral and known to women from Poland to Paris to the Palisades, I think you are also the ones who will help move it to the next iteration.

Thank. You. So. Much. !!!

Xo

Amy

Room.

Spacious (actually) starts on the inside.

Actors have agents.
CEO’s have assistants and VP’s.
Celebrities have PR people.

But most of us don’t have these human filters that tell us what’s important, who needs a meeting, who doesn’t, what favors should we do or not do. So we have to prioritize them ourselves. Fair enough.

We know we have to say “no” when we want to make something big – to write a book, complete a project – we accept fewer invitations in order to focus on milestones. That obviously makes sense. But what I’m more interested in are the transitional moments that might seem unremarkable – but that are meaningful all the same – that you can’t plan.

I always notice that when my work schedule is back to back, I can’t even imagine new business ideas much less recognize them if they knock on my door. And I also miss tiny, unexpected moments; my kids’ sharing a story before bedtime or a concern expressed in the car on the way to ballet. When every minute is accounted for, there’s no room for unexpected loveliness.

It’s the same rationale that a swanky restaurant employs by (secretly) keeping a VIP table open. They want the ability to say “of course we have a table for you, Mr. Clooney,” (should he walk in). But that’s intentional. Planned. Anticipated. Some “no” had to happen for that table to be available.

There’s a difference between what you know you want, and the things you can’t predict you’d hate to miss. Could be a dream opportunity, or a bath instead of a shower.

Create space. Make some room.

EMPATHY.

Try not to roll this mess into anyone’s inbox.

Of the many virtuous qualities in short supply over the past couple of months, one of the most publicly abandoned might be empathy. Besides just being part of good person-hood, it’s also a strategic skill in business. Recently elected presidents, well-meaning clients and beloved colleagues – take note.

Empathy at work looks specifically like a willingness to put yourself in different shoes and roles; For one, to better understand the process involved in what you’re asking of the people around you or who work for you– and two, in order to get what you need when you need it.

It doesn’t require you to actually know how to do those jobs, but it does demand that you imagine what it takes to do them – what data,  timeliness or processes are deployed – for mission to get accomplished.

Copy Writers are famously at the end of long email chains, forwarded by  (unaware or kinda lazy) colleagues or clients, who should probably understand that wading through what’s relevant – or not – only adds more hours (and mental haze) to their deadline. One of my favorite clients did the opposite recently – he drafted an imperfectly awesome sample of a letter he needed written, knowing that this rough draft was EXACTLY what we needed to help him with only two days notice. That’s forethought. That’s collaboration. That’s him being goal-oriented enough to say, “I know I have to have this. What will it take to get it?” As a result, we were overjoyed to move around other things to deliver it for him.

The days of handing off laundry baskets of disorganized tasks for the next person to sort, and then placing unreasonable deadlines on them, are symptomatic of a dated standard. No one really wants to work with people like that.

No clue? Then ask. It’s okay not to know. But it’s less okay not to know that asking is an option #helpmehelpyou.

TEFLON.

Cashmere coated in Teflon. The brilliant collaboration of industrial designer Yves Behar and fashion brand Lutz & Patmos. One of Time Magazine’s best inventions in 2002.

There are times when your “surface” needs to be sealed, and other times when it needs to be porous. Often, it has to be at the same time to truly be useful.

When I first meet a client, they’ve developed “beliefs” about what can or can’t be done, either based on years of a certain strategy that no longer works, or a few traumatic experiences. These narratives may turn out to hold water, or they may be anomalies born of other factors they haven’t considered. Usually these (potentially) biased ideas have shaped what they think they’re hiring me / us to fix. But until we know more and ask more questions, we have to hold those “facts” in a suspension of disbelief. We have to treat them as wickable. If we accept them as absolute, our strategies will be as silo’d as the clients’. They need us not to believe them, as much as they need us to hear them.

“Facebook has never worked for us.”
“No one wants to read more emails.”
“People won’t buy things on the internet.”
“We’ve done it that way since day one.”
“Customers don’t want to share cars.”

True? False?

It’s often our job or role to press pause for others and drive a conversation that unpacks / disrupts / refutes / or (maybe) buys the reality of the perception. But how do you provide this valuable service to yourself?

It takes some fancy footwork to hold your own breath, stop your own film, pause your own song – long enough to see if you’ve inadvertently built a false narrative. You’re busy doing the work – so it’s not easy to also figure out what part of your belief system is being misshaped by actions as they happen in real time. Kudos if you can be that kind of ninja!

But bigger kudos if you can be open / humble enough to let someone else take a crack at it. They might challenge what you see as a certainty, or play Devil’s Advocate in a way that’s tiresome. But they’re offering you a non-stick surface, which is the only way to see blindspots – or better – unchartered territory.

You can be dual-materials to everyone else, and probably get paid to be, but the biggest favor you can do your own business is to put your precious cashmere in the hands of something more industrial, and see what happens. Could turn out to be genius.

CODE.

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Even this half-beat public bus in Bombay has one.

Lucky are the doctors, therapists, lawyers and journalists – among others – when it comes to professional codes. Their days are governed by rules and laws – by an organized body of ethical standards that deems “yes we can” or “no we cannot.” It’s not that there aren’t gray areas, but at least they’re held to a baseline of collective agreement. For creative’s, consultants, entrepreneurs, marketers, in other words, most of us – we call our own shots. At a minimum, we aim for ethical, but there are hundreds of questions that live in a pretty gray area.

I heard Anthony Bourdain interviewed on NPR last weekend and he talked about his own code, mostly bleeped for national radio – that basically said he wouldn’t live his life or be part of anything he couldn’t stand behind. Nor would he work with people he “didn’t genuinely like.” He was more graphic (as expected), but in a nutshell, said – no bullsh$t. It’s easier to say that once you’re successful and in a place of power. But what about when you’re still in the hustle? Still building? Still pitching? Still perseverating over “yes I should” or “no I shouldn’t”?

I had a great brand ask me to pitch work on spec recently, to write messaging as a means of interviewing for the (big) project. I wanted the work. I really like the client and brand. But I know better than to invest a day in tagline development without a complete brief, without feeling invested, and without an official engagement. Doing business development and client woo-ing may be part of the job, but all of us who work in undefined business landscapes have to recognize a fools errand when we see one. Submitting a half-baked idea in order to ‘seem’ the most clever / creative / smart isn’t the way I want to win an account. I have a website, a portfolio and a weekly blog… if they want to see the work. You likely do, too.

I can tell when my code has broken links pretty easily; I’m uncomfortable with the arrangement (at best), or annoyed with terms (trying to understand why I agreed)  – at worst. It happens much less than it used to, but it still happens #stilllearning.

We all need codes. But when they’re on a case by case basis, when they’re too malleable, when we make exceptions and call it the rule, we break them without ceremony.

Have a standard. Make sure you can live with it and hold yourself to it. If not you, then who?

FORCE.

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Even a star, a plan and hard work are not (always) a marriage made. Image from Getty

It almost never works.

At the root of it is tunnel vision, with no room for other ideas or possibilities. Railroading, bullying, one person’s will over another – that kind of force is easy to spot.

But there’s another kind, a more insidious, subtle version – and I’m guilty of it too.

If you’ve ever tried to impose your (good) will on something or someone who doesn’t want it as much as you do, you’ll recognize this. It usually seems like a “no brainer” or a “win-win.” It might look like one person trying to put an idea or business together, and the other not responding with urgency or next steps. They might say one thing, but do another. Years ago, I tried to put together a partnership with a world-renowned architect and a luxury furniture retailer. He was willing. They were excited. Meeting after meeting seemed more promising than the next. But the middle partner (not pictured), the person who was critical to the deal itself coming together to ultimately oversee the marriage, made it so hard, so complex and so unappealing to everyone – that we all walked away. But I hung on, even when everyone had left the room, as it were. I made persuasive marketing decks and delivered the starchitect to their showroom, because my vision was crystal clear. But no amount of vision, if you aren’t listening (and adjusting) to what’s really going on, is going to make something happen. My blind attachment to the idea was essentially forcing a key through a hole that did not fit. I didn’t have the wisdom to balance perseverance with practical facts.

We can push so hard and work so hard and try so hard that even when we aren’t literally forcing ‘people’ to do something we want, we force ideas where they aren’t meant to bloom.

I see force happening all around us right now, most clearly at the highest levels of office. Let’s remember that it’s easy to see the rigid, unyielding, aggressive behavior of uneducated heads of state, but much harder to see it in our own good intentions.

BELONGING.

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A few of my band mates. Year 12.Air Conditioned LA.

I’ve always thought it really interesting that the same job or role can either be really fun, or painfully lame, according to the people you work with. I’ve done projects that were underpaid or tedious – but for really cool teams or brands– and almost forgot how much fun I wasn’t having on the work itself. You can probably recall a gig you might otherwise have bailed on – were it not for some worthy person (or group) who kept you tethered ‘till the end. It’s even true of where you live – the people (almost always) make the place.

At the heart of why we love – and stay somewhere – is belonging. For those of us who work from home or who are hired guns or talents who drop in, and then drop out, of a company’s ecosystem, it can be a little bit lonely. We don’t get that morning banter or smack talk like you get in an office experience. Our dispersed workforce has made being ‘part’ of something even more precious – as it’s easier than ever to feel silo’d and disconnected (and ironic in this age of hyper-connectivity.) I see people craving togetherness, but who also want autonomy.

As someone who works on-site with clients and/or agencies, as well as from my home office, with teams as new as 8 months and others as long as 15 years, I’ve realized that “belonging” isn’t created by one single thing, or even a constant physical presence.

It’s chemistry. It’s history. It’s having fun. It’s being good at what you (all) do, over and over, month after month, year after year – none of which is always easy. But being a reliable player is worth a lot. We all want those in our midst.

One-night stands are fun sometimes, and I still have them (professionally), but my favorite projects are with people I work with all the time, where there’s rhythm and respect – where we get to do what we do, but with new brands, new problems and different industries. We get to solve stuff… together.

Here’s to LTR’s. And may we do the work it takes to stay in them.

SMALL.

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There’s something nice about a house where you can talk to everyone, no matter which two rooms they’re in.

My own team is small, but like many of you, I work with (and for) mid-sized to biggish teams. I often wonder – who is more agile? Flexible? Able to create good work, regularly, and deliver it on time? As a small team, you can only do so much, so fast, at a standard you’d be proud of. So you’d think bigger teams must be able to do more, faster, at a better pace – and deliver wow-factor more regularly – right? I’ve been wondering.

On a biggish team, let’s say 30 people, there’s more room for error/blockage. There may be a bottleneck. Maybe it’s a CEO / president / manager whose contributions, while helpful (or sometimes not), are too focused “in” the business rather than “on” it. Maybe they haven’t set enough vision for what everyone should be working toward, so people have questions…feel rudderless…wonder what their “why” really is at the organization – which creates apathy. Maybe there’s a particular department that hasn’t caught up to technology and how to apply that to smoother, more fluid systems. Maybe it’s one person – one! And that person can’t deliver what needs to be delivered, over and over, but they have a special tenure / relationship / situation that makes it hard to move / remove them.

I think a lot of us who exist in teams of 3-4 people pine for bigger, more, the ability to hire someone to do all the things that don’t get done. And there’s a reality to that – in many cases one more person would plug a lot of leaks. But this idea that bigger is always better, faster, smarter isn’t remotely true as a rule. Your team is as good as the heart and soul of the people on it, as efficient as the systems in place to hold the team together, and the talent behind the work that gets produced and delivered. Those three ingredients, big team/small team/growing team – is the secret sauce.

The bigger the house, the more windows to wash.

The right kind of small is the sweet spot of margins, client load and an intimate, happy culture. Finding it is the challenge.

WORK.

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Big ideas rarely come from sitting at your desk.

It is almost always easier to work.

Even when work is stressful, it’s an environment that has a beginning and end, with tasks associated with workflow that equal some-kind-of-something in the end. We generally know what our contribution amounts to, how our presence impacts the whole. There’s a certain metric that we innately understand when it comes to work – less gray area, more punctuation.

Consider the discipline it takes to meditate, workout, sit down and read with your child or play Legos – even to go on vacation. These are all beautiful, fulfilling, healthy activities once you do them, but so often, work swallows anything deemed “extra” because it’s, A. Culturally justifiable and B. Infinitely easier to be productive when it’s obvious. I think most of us would agree that there are days and weeks that with all our “busy-ness” we weren’t actually that impactful toward something we really care about, that we really want to happen, that would really make a difference.

So as we go into this holiday period, one of my “rest” goals is to think bigger and upward, rather than in bits and pieces moving forward. I want to try to stay in the idea stratosphere – rather than the production one. We don’t get that luxury too much because we have jobs to do, people to pay (and get paid from), and missions to make real. This “blue sky” level of creative thinking (or blue ocean as a friend of mine insists), is a unique muscle that “works” without being at a desk, “produces” without typing a single Google search, and “grows” without a marketing strategy.

With that, I wish you a very happy holiday – and hope this gentle push gives you added permission go higher and deeper into something good. For me, it will only qualify if I can do it and have nothing to show for it –except a renewed energy (and potentially an idea worth executing) by January 1st.


IDLE.

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It used to be cigarettes. Now it's phones.Photograph: John Dominis 

Remember back in the day, when you ‘d go to a restaurant, and if you found yourself to be the first of your party to arrive, you had to wait at the bar – alone?  You looked around. You watched other people having fun or in intimate conversations. You glanced at your watch. It was a little bit painful, especially if you were waiting on a date, or a professional contact you’d never laid eyes on. There was a vulnerability to it.

I worry that these transitional moments, or any moment when in the past we might have had to sit in our own presence, have been hijacked by our devices. We either find ourselves feeling pressed to be productive in EVERY POSSIBLE SECOND, or worse, feel that in moments when we could be pausing/breathing/observing, that we should at least look like we have something to do. If I’m at a party, and feel uninterested or introverted, my phone provides a paradise of relief and distraction. But, that’s kind of bullsh$t, right? What a copout.

I’m worried that no one knows how to be bored or clumsy or awkward anymore. In fact I’m thinking the younger generation is missing a litany of other sufferings that make for a multi-dimensional person, and we (elders) are cheating ourselves out of some unexpected epiphanies that come from choosing (actively) to do something in real time/real life – even when we could be swiping/checking/responding.

Just like actors used cigarettes as a storytelling device, and regular people used them as a social wingman, so must we view our phones for what they’ve become; something to do….when we need something to do.

But I think we may be missing out. Imagine the people we might meet or cool things we might witness or conversations we might overhear or character we might build…by not looking down and disappearing into an alternate, easier universe at the first possible discomfort?

We might have to actually live with ourselves and all our confronting humanity. Huh.

DETAILS.

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H&M wisely tapped director Wes Anderson, a master of detail, to make a short holiday film. Note the focus on story, not clothes. Everything, in every frame, was a decision.

Isn’t it refreshing (I’d even say exciting) to go into a business / restaurant / office where they careabout the details? Where a potted plant sits in ceramic instead of plastic? Where the floor of a fitness studio gets swept or mopped between workouts? Where the dentist gives you rose tinted glasses to ward off glare? Where meeting rooms are stacked with pens and pads of paper? Little things often move the needle on whether we come back / buy more / comment / reTweet/Gram / recommend.

I found myself at an athletic club recently, a bit perplexed by the clock on the wall that still hadn’t been changed since daylight savings time, a wrapper on the floor – right next to the garbage. The absence of Kleenex (anywhere.) Television sets in multiple corners – all on the same channel. And my favorite – an exclamation point after the gym’s address in the footer (maybe they’re excited about their location?)

Thoughtfulness often appears in the smallest of ways. And some would argue that customers don’t really notice these seemingly minute details because the bigger goal – the service or product itself – should take center stage. But it’s all part of the experience – from what they see on your website, to what they experience in person, to what they view on social media. You’re one brand, not five. And you’re always saying something – whether you put thought into it or not. To think our choices, as business owners, as brands, don’t impact sales, retention, loyalty, and employee retention – is a blind spot.

Sweat the small stuff.

You don’t have to do everything (resources are usually limited and most of us don’t have Wes Anderson-style budgets), but make sure what you DO decide to do is intentional and says what you set out to say.


CRAZY.

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Isn’t it crazy how…
You can show up, but it wasn’t enough.
Put in the time, but it wasn’t enough.
Do more than most, and it wasn’t enough.
Pay attention, or so you thought, but it wasn’t to be.

It’s jarring and unsettling when a distant, almost absurd reality, turns out to be exactly how it really is. Especially when what was imagined felt so bright, hopeful, full of potential.

This happens on grand levels, as it did last week, and on micro levels, in our own lives. You think you’re headed down one road, but those plans or projects downshift, turn the wheel, stop the car. All while you were busy putting gas in it.

And there you are.
How does this happen?
How did it go that way when all signs pointed this way?
It’s a good question.

Usually it means you weren’t listening. Or, only listening to what you wanted to hear. And other times you couldn’t have seen it coming. Either way, the abrupt nature of this stuff is more than hard. It’s brutal.

I’m in a state of openness as to what’s next. My stages of grief have gone from shock, rage, sadness, more fury – and now stillness. The action will come, I’m sure, and the next right thing will show itself. But for now, I’m sitting on the edge. Perched. Watching for signs of life and the next road to take.

Because there will be one. But I know I’ll need to have a little perspective – and distance – in order to see it.

It’s okay to stop, to feel what you feel, to look back before you move forward.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t doing anything. It means this is what you’re doing (for now). Don’t mistake action for answers. Digestion is part of any sincere, complete process.


TOMORROW.

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Let's turn the corner.

Big decisions are being made today. After you vote, you may be wondering what to do with yourself. Let’s skip to tomorrow for a minute.

I don’t know about you, but this election has allowed me to put a name on people who I feel are out of line, ignorant, entitled or dangerous. Last weekend my kids and I watched an ominous black truck with tinted windows fly down our quaint neighborhood street at freeway speeds, giving the finger to us as we gestured to slow down. Then the police officer we reported it to, took a fairly indifferent view about it – standing in front of us with a crew cut and Blackberry device, talking about personal rights and the precariousness of interpreting speed limits as a “bystander.” It occurred to me, with sickening unease, standing there as a concerned mother, my girls flanking either side of me in soccer cleats, hanging on every word (police interactions are pretty exciting) – ohhhhhh, he’s not one of us. He’s one of them.

It’s like in the movies when you want to report a fanged, bloody-toothed alien to some authority who will save you, and realize that everyone in charge is secretly…also a fanged, bloody toothed alien. But I gotta break this cycle.

In my mind, I have efficiently and confidently put these people who feel so different from me and mine, into a category. That category has a figurehead who has made it easy to wrap people we disapprove of into one “uneducated” burrito.

I have to unwind myself from the judgment I have gotten pretty righteous about casting, not because it’s natural – but because it’s become easy. Having a name for anyone I consider “other” has put me on a slippery slope of habitual divisiveness.

Tomorrow is a new day. Whatever happens, we are humans first. “They” – people whose problems we may not understand, whose families we don’t know – were given a voice, an identity, and it hasn’t brought out the best in many of us. But with a little impulse control, I’d like to return to my better self sooner than later.

We can turn against each other, or toward one another. But it starts in small, daily doses.

Here’s to tomorrow.


ROR.

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 Sometimes you're the Amaranth or Marigold. But best to be the Poke Berry or Rudbeckia petals.  @theritualmandala

The Rate of Return usually measures how quickly you get back what you put out. You spend $ABC on Facebook ads and get XYZ number of impressions. It’s the gain or loss on an investment over a specified time period, expressed as a percentage of the investment’s cost. But (snore)… let’s simplify it and make you care.

I often think about ROR with an additional metric. When curve balls come, and they do, how long does it take you to regain consciousness? How many minutes, hours, days, weeks, months…does it take to find your balance again? To return to yourself and center? We all invest in people and projects that feel hopeful. When they don’t embrace us back, it can feel pretty chilly at worst, and a waste of our time at best.

Ideally, this process gets shorter and shorter. A meditation practice, a physical movement routine, a connection to something beyond yourself, usually supports the efficiency of the path back to your skin, your sanity – the truth that keeps your finger off the trigger. A little perspective also helps. “This has happened before, it will happen again, and I’m still here,” is one way to get into fast agreement with a rough moment.

The deepest wounds are usually around relationships, and how we feel appreciated / regarded / understood / seen and respected. And so often, the other person or people involved have little clue to their impact.

I’m chagrined at how slowly I’ve pivoted when the writing has been on the wall. But, you don’t know until you know.
And then, you know.

JOY.

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Celebrity make-up artist Fiona Stiles now has her own line of cosmetics, a gig on QVC, a slate of public appearances and a loyal social media audience. But her favorite thing hasn’t changed… just doing cool make-up.                Photo - Andrew Stiles

In a previous post, I talked about how these days, there isn’t one of us who doesn’t wear multiple hats. Having a side hustle is the norm. You may be in real estate, but you also dabble in raw food. If you’re a business owner, you may also lead a meditation group or be a professional sax player. My guess is that this speaks to our innate need to build a portfolio of interests to keep our lives full and interesting. Still, there’s another conversation I’m noticing at play lately, one that challenges a related paradigm. It’s this:

For many of us, the parts of our companies that make the most money aren’t always the parts that give us the most joy. And the parts that give us the most joy often don’t generate the commensurate revenue – and these are the ones that require more of our time than they justify on a P&L. I’ll use myself as an example: this blog doesn’t sell anything, promote anything, defend anything or ask for anything. It’s a mode of self-expression that often leads to productive conversations, but in and of itself – isn’t much of a ‘business,’ which is okay with me. And the reason it’s okay with me is that it allows me to say what I need to say, without being beholden to a client’s needs, or to a customer profile or to a creative brief. It gives me the freedom to work out ideas to an audience of smart, like-minded people, and figure out what I think about stuff. It nourishes me and gives me a creative outlet. It forces me to synthesize ideas. To take risks. To publish.

It also rounds out my client work. I don’t look to those projects for personal expression or fulfillment because I am able get these from other sources (although I’m no less attached to their success.) I show up to those teams/people/missions – whole.

I come across many successful people who are embarrassed (and even apologetic) at how much time their podcast / craft / favorite outside activity takes because it doesn’t deliver a big check. But my argument is that without it (and this may go against the conventional wisdom) – how good would you be at getting the big check at all? How happy would you be? How upset would you get if you couldn’t do that joyful thing?

The way I see it, the thing you love to do is your IV. It gives you the medicine you need to do everything else. And, the cost of not doing it is bigger than you might think.

Don’t make yourself wrong for how it performs. It has a different purpose, and puts money in a different kind of bank.


WORDS.

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A tagline I created for an unconventional construction company in San Francisco.    In collaboration with Air Conditioned LA

Do words really matter?

For me, they carry the weight of the world. They are both my compass and my currency. I hang my hat on them – professionally, of course, but in any meaningful relationship, they are an active agreement.

I write this from a place of imperfection. I’m not a model for it, but I strive to be. Anyone who knows me knows that breaking my word causes havoc inside me. When others break their word, it disorients me – plagues me – questions my investment in them.

When someone says, “I’ll see you at six o’clock” – I believe them. When they say, “We’ll pay your invoice tomorrow,” I believe them. When they say, “We want to make something with you / work with you / co-create with you,” I believe them.

But words don’t mean the same thing to all people. The only way to know if your employees / partners / teammates / clients share this value, is to listen to them, and watch them. Do they say one thing and do another? Are their feet in the same place as their sentences? Does their money / action follow their enthusiasm / said commitments?

This is why it is such a pleasure to work with clients, partners and collaborators who not only embrace this philosophically, but who live it actually. “Our work is our word” was the perfect tagline for this group of general contractors (voted Best Place to Work in SF). They represent a small legion of people who still care about the weight of words, and build great things because of it.

Thank goodness.


Machinery

Posted October 11, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

You have more in common with the Long Island Cross Sound Ferry than you think.

We all have, and are part of, machines. For small business owners, free agents and hired guns, if the machine isn’t working, we really feel it. It’s one thing to be a Fortune 500 company and have a frayed cable or a leak, but small groups, boutique studios and entrepreneurs feel malfunctions, weaknesses, disloyalty, apathy, distraction, immaturity, inexperience, flat-lining, criticism, failed leadership, poor time management, missed opportunities, weak representation,…deeply. Our teams are our machines and when they’re squeaky or broken, we all feel the pain.

There are multiple parts, but if you’re reading this blog, you probably function in two ways: you’re the engine in one scenario (within your company) and you’re a supporting gear in another (to your client, customer, audience). When you’re the engine, it feels like you’re in a constant state of auditing/managing/driving the parts. Are they meeting deadlines? Stepping up? Generating the right thing at the right time? Are they proactive? Thoughtful? Are we doing the work we know we can do? Communicating with each other enough?

And to your client, are you listening? Delivering? Asking the right questions? Nailing the mission? Do they feel heard and successful with you?

It’s not realistic to think the team is always perfectly oiled and high-functioning. We’re humans, not wire rope and metal. But if we agree that no matter what, we’ll come to the table with not only our core talents, but a willingness to lift a little more, pull a little more, take on just a little more, then that little bit adds a bank of goodwill and productivity to the whole. Measuring and counting doesn’t generate that feeling or result.

But there has to be a baseline of agreement for that generosity to continue. And the agreement has to be that we assume the best, highest intentions of everyone involved, until proven wrong.

Even machines feel attitudes. When one really works, it’s because it not only performs, but the team/machine feels genuinely good about it.


FACE TIME.

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Slack me.
Skype me.
Google Hangout with me.
Text… if I don’t answer those.
Email …as a last resort.
And call me… if it’s an emergency.

This isn’t how I feel, but this is how it is. It’s the modern way we work. And it’s great, mostly, but it deceives us into some false assumptions if we aren’t careful about real time versus screen time with people.

All of us are so grateful for the connection economy that we rarely question the need to look-into-thine-eyes. The truth is that our worlds rely on this incredible world of multi-media-multi-platform communication – it’s the only way I get to live in a seaside village in Massachusetts with good schools and .03% crime, and the only way you get to do business in Colorado, India, New York, Berlin, China or San Francisco from a juice bar in LA. There’s no argument there.

But nothing – ever – will replace or stand in for real time, together, in the same room. Not all the time. But some times.

When you don’t see your team for long enough, Feelings (capital F intentional) emerge. Stories mount. Illusions become conclusions. Tone festers. When partners / employees / stakeholders don’t spend time in the same space, they don’t relax into all the benefits of true human connection. As much as we love our agility and flexibility and our short commute from kitchen to office, we also rightfully yearn for reassurance that when I see blue, you also see blue. And, that you and I are more than just animated screens with a scope of work to perform for a check each month.

You relish and live off of the words of your lover after days or a few weeks of separation. But weeks that turn into months that turn into quarters that turn into seasons? That’s not a relationship that you’d choose – in fact if you’ve ever been there, you’ll notice that problems that were never there, or that were only a whisper, turn into a shout. Contact is curative. The same happens between work teams. We all benefit from periodic ‘touch’. The virtual workforce is a miracle and blessing, but don’t mistake it for what happens when people share air.

Make time for face time.
The airfare / cab fare / gas prices / walk down the hall …pay for themselves in a bank account of better vibes and most likely, better work.

Round and Round

Posted September 13, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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There's a certain kind of answer that just makes anyone on the receiving end feel bad for asking the question, and keeps the question “in play” without actually moving the ball. It’s circular. It’s not useful. And, it’s quietly sort of mean.

It goes like this (and by the way, I’ve both done it and it has been done to me. Neither feels good.)

Q "Do you know where the blah-blah document / creative collateral / beach towels / printer ink is stored?"

A “Per my earlier note, they are stored in X / Y / Z” …OR… “See my previous email for the answer.”

This happens, obviously, because the askee feels that they have adequately provided information for the asker at an earlier time, but I think we all know what it really means. The askee wants to prove to the asker that she is lazy, stupid, annoying – or at best – forgetful.

I’m not saying it’s okay for people to be lazy and ask the same questions over and over. I would be the first to say that this is crutch of a habit by those who don’t want to do the work of looking for said missing item.

But no matter which way you spin this, even if you’re right, you’re wrong. It doesn’t move anything forward to react like this –  nothing changes except a neutral or benign feeling …turns sour.

This is particularly dangerous in small companies or teams. Let’s find a nicer way to say, “I already told you.”

The price of a little creative communication is paid back in gratitude.


Maiden Voyages

Posted September 6, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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My first carrot crop this year. Not winning any medals at the County Fair. #goodtry

Remember way back when? You were new at that thing you do, and you made mistakes, but you corrected them, and then after a while you had surges of confidence when someone said “good job,” and you felt amazing, and then right after that, like the next day, you made humbling fumbles where you felt like an idiot and were embarrassed to be in the same room with yourself?

Ah, to be a virgin again (professionally speaking.) It may be hard to remember, but those pendulum swings that were frequent early on, become less and less as you mature into your talent. A certain stability in your output reassures you that you’re good, if not really good, and your stuff makes people happier / wealthier / more effective – in their own worlds – without much error. So you forget about those days. Because mostly work is good/great-ish.

But something can happen, it happened to me this year, where suddenly some of your regular game becomes unpredictable. You get curve balls thrown, the rug gets pulled out, you think this but really it’s that. It’s not devastating necessarily, although it could be, but what can feel like a sh&t show might really just be virgin territory – a growth spurt. You haven’t done this – like this – before. Maybe you haven’t structured a deal like this, or worked with a client…like this, or taken on a role…like this.  Or had a partner…like this. Or found your own company in a particular position – like this – until now.

Stepping up or out, or even just new relationships/processes/risks, has reminded me of what it feels like to be new at something again. There have been frustrations. And joys. But that pendulum has been back – after years at a steady pace. It’s uncomfortable.

Privately, I’ve condemned  myself for not being better, smoother, less emotional. Maybe you, too, have wondered how you got here. And mistakenly, you think you’ve regressed.

But ease up. I’ve got a campaign going on myself right now where I just say, “calm the __ down” when I feel that uncertainty. I agree, not that poetic – but it works for me. Consider that the movement you feel is likely not reverse – but, in fact, 5th gear.

The cool thing… about doing a new thing/feeling/situation/circumstance, is it either opens a new door, which means new territory, full of potential - or - gives you information about why you won’t do it again. You get to decide.

Doesn’t have to be your-amazing-everything or your failed-whatever. Don’t give it more weight than that.  You don’t know how it fits into your future until you have time to digest where it fits into your past.

Calm The F$&K Down. It’s gonna be okay.


Destination: Procrastination

Posted August 30, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Me. Modeling the art of active nothingness.

I recently listened to a Ted Radio Hour podcast called “Slowing Down.” I was sort of amazed to hear that there is real, scientific data supporting procrastinators as more creatively productive than “do’ers.” This is sort of annoying for all of us who hustle to meet deadlines, who prepare for everything weeks in advance, and roll our eyes at the people who say “I just didn’t have time to do it,” because as we all know, no one has more time than anyone else – but some people plan better.

It got me thinking about how good I am at “working” and how bad I am at free-range-nothingness. What I mean by that is – it’s not the art of actually doing absolutely nothing (which I would argue is also a good skill/practice), but more specifically, the sport of non-productivity while still actively living life. If most of us look at our days, and measure them by the hour, we are mostly under an illusion that we’re being productive. It’s applauded in our culture. We feel better doing than just being, even when we don’t’ have much to show for it. Especially Americans. But what if we knew that doing the opposite might be lighting some creative flame? I think I’ll take the bet.

So this week, as a celebration of the last week of summer, I’m going to practice procrastinating - actively. I won’t be on vacation, but I’m going to be at my desk less, schedule fewer calls, and try to produce less – than usual. I have some client obligations, which I will deliver. But…I am going to do everything I can to avoid being goal-oriented or look for the results of my labors. Good luck to me! And good luck to you if you want to join me.

The real discipline for busy, productive people is to not be afraid of loosening the reigns. Because, hey, you never know – if the science is actually right on this - a great novel / podcast / piece of music / work of art / essay / idea … may come of it!

Uh oh. That sounded like a thinly veiled goal.

Revel in the last days of August with some slow time, if you can. And here’s to disciplined procrastination. #youcandoit.


Age

Posted August 23, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

If you’ve ever had the thought, “can I really do this for 30 more years?” Consider that Peggy Freydberg started writing poetry in her 90’s. She was published after someone heard her at a reading when she was 106.

In the 50’s, a person’s career was established (and halfway over) at 40 years old. Now, many of us have had 5 careers/endeavors/identities by the time we read this blog. It’s also natural to wonder if you can do whatever you do – for ten more years, twenty more years – and do you want to / need to – and if not – then what? The “then what” used to concern me – but I find myself sort of excited about it lately.

The defining question I asked myself when I read Peggy’s book was, can I do, or do I want to do, what I do… forever? Or, could I still do my work, in a different way, and venture into something totally new?

Some questions…and by the way, none of these are more virtuous than any others:

Do you consider your work a phase of your life that will one day stop? (Hello retirement and cruises! Safari’s! Matching tracksuits! Canasta!)

Do you consider your work just one expression of a thing that you do that could be applied to other mediums, industries, circumstances or people? (Graphic designer to painter, copywriter to novelist, entrepreneur to volunteer board member.)

Do you consider your work a single chapter in your life that when finished, will open the door to a new one? (Sell a company, start a radically different one. Close a company, read all the books you didn’t have time for and become a professional volunteer.)

Aging feels like another opportunity to explore something – to impact people – to express yourself. And maybe you’re someone who wants to keep doing what you’ve been doing as long as you possibly can. But let’s think about it, not just dread it or react to it. Let’s financially plan for it, set ourselves up to make those years interesting and intentional, so you can become a medical assistant to a midwife in rural Africa if that’s what you’ve wanted to do your whole life.

I love thinking about Peggy, in her cottage in Martha’s Vineyard, culling thoughts from her day to be captured on paper.

Here’s to our own versions of 65, 75…105. And, at least for me, continuing to write while learning Canasta – with winters spent in South America doing I – don’t – know –what, but humanitarian work in some non-advertising-oriented way, where no one has heard of the word “brand” – and no one cares.

And, here’s to left turns – anytime you want to take one.


Inspired Conversations

Posted August 16, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Morning team.

I’m gonna skip the blog today. In its place is an interview I did recently for the Inspired Conversations podcast with Amy Schuber.  http://inspiredconversations.net/amyswiftcrosby/ (click link to listen in) Here’s what I’ll say about it:

When a friend interviews you, you invariably share things that are more truthful than you would otherwise. That happened.

When a podcast is called “Inspired Conversations,” you hope you can…ahem, inspire. I made it my goal to impact one person listening. By aiming low, I’m hoping I landed somewhere higher (hopefully you can tell me either way.)

I usually ask the questions, not answer them. But I found that answering them is actually a way to dive deeper into what you really think about things. Kind of therapeutic, and evidence that you can still surprise and entertain yourself occasionally (phew.)

Thank you, Amy Schuber, for having me on the show!


Hourly Rates vs. Fees

Posted August 9, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Two ads for Women’s Wear Daily. One took me under an hour to conceive and write. The other took three rounds of creative over the course of two days. I billed the same for both

This may sound familiar: “Can you help me with XYZ? It will just take a few minutes.

The hilarious thing about anything "just taking a few minutes," is that it only takes you a few minutes to review the creative, rewrite the copy, fix the logo, talk someone off a cliff, post the social, adjust the picture, modify the brief, call the vendor, dissect the invoice, take the call, design the invite…because you’ve spent years getting really familiar and good at that thing - and as a resultit only takes a few minutes. It’s actually WHY it just takes a few minutes!

Sometimes it can feel like people minimize this - they incorrectly calculate that because it’s 10 minutes of your time, it must cost ten minutes of their money or ten points of their appreciation.

This lesson was made really clear to me with a client in New York City, an older gentleman who’s pearls of wisdom come from stories of days gone by. I lamented sending him a sizable invoice for an ad concept (above) that had only taken me a few minutes to create, because similar types of work had taken me two days for the same price. This disparity bothered me - and I was transparent about it.

“How can I charge you the same fee for work that took less than half the time?”

He shared of a friend who had gotten himself into serious tax trouble, to such a degree that his lawyer called him and told him not to come back to the office, or go home, because the authorities were at his door. The lawyer reassured him that he would initiate resolving the issue immediately. The troubled client wondered how long he would have to flee the city in order for his lawyer to fix things with the government. Four hours later, the lawyer called and said, “I fixed it and you can go home now.” The client was thrilled at his efficiency and smarts, until he got the bill on Monday. He called the lawyer in disbelief at how four hours work could possibly cost this many thousands of dollars. The lawyer said, “Sir, you don’t pay me to read the book. You pay me to know which page to find the answer."

This is why charging by the hour is problematic for certain types of work. Whether it took you 8 minutes or three days, some “services” need a flat fee. Others are time-intensive, no matter what, and your experience has to be calculated according to the efficiencies, expertise and insight you bring to the hours it really takes.

Know the difference on this for yourself. When I create ads, they have to be short, disarming messages that run in national or international publications, like the New York Times. That’s a big weight to carry, but I charge for that. Sometimes it comes easily. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it always costs the same.

 

Continue reading www.smartypeople.com


Format

Posted August 2, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

On a ridiculously beautiful boat with ridiculously beautiful people. But that’s not what this blog is usually about, if that’s okay.

The other day a small business owner (a man), noted how much my blog seems to “feel his pain.” I liked the compliment but then had to ask – “do you think it’s too dark? Do I share too much about the struggle versus the joy?” We had a good conversation about how there are plenty of inspirational slogans and memes and hero-driven, blue-sky press profiles of successful entrepreneurs, to say nothing of the Facebook phenomenon of the-fabulous-life-you’re-not-living…but that too few people talk about the swamp, the hairy underbelly, of this entrepreneurial life.

I think I do talk about the challenge more than the pleasure because I’ve established a “space” where I unpack conventional wisdom. That is my format. You have one too – whether it’s in writing or in a product that solves problems or a regular event or even your social media feed. People have come to expect a certain contribution from you. Continuing to support and inform that “format” builds your voice in that space.

There are platforms where it’s always a mom championing the underdog, or a cook working without sugars, or an entrepreneur on the balcony of her five star hotel (showing you what success looks like…ahem.) The topics change, but the conversation should always share a common DNA.

If I wrote about yacht excursions and shopping trips to Paris, maybe you’d still read –but it would be for a different reason.  My format relies on asking questions, pushing back on accepted wisdom – and  – not always having answers.

Your format is your formula. What do you do / say / make / reflect – that no one else does in the same way? Figure it out. Then keep doing it.

 

Continue reading www.smartypeople.com


 

Attachments

Posted July 26, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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On the ship, but not behind the wheel.

When your hands are clenched around it.
When losing it feels like a heartbreak.
When what you have the power to do, and what will save it, aren’t the same.
When you’re so far out to sea, the land has disappeared.

It’s normal to be attached to outcomes. If we weren’t, good and great work (they’re different) couldn’t and wouldn’t materialize. But what happens when your attachments run so deep on a project, to a person, to an idea or to a business, that the path to getting there – even if you get there – is so circular and sideways moving – you start to question whether the prize is worth having? In other words, is what it takes to have it / do it / achieve it, worth the battle scars? It’s a personal question. Everyone’s ability to tolerate a process is different. You only know how thick your skin is, how deep your patience runs, how much fight is in there – by doing it.

Part of my job requires attachment. So does yours. Like you, I sink my teeth in. I care. A lot. I’m invested and serious about meeting the standard of excellence. But where I have a question is here: how do I remain attached and engaged enough to bring my best, continue to commit my energy and mindshare, my emotional real estate – when it might, or easily might not, steer the ship to new, more profitable territory?

For me, the results only feel good if the process was one of earnest commitment from everyone.

I don’t know how to answer my own question.
I do know I can’t function at less than 100%.

So now I have a new job: Figure out how to deliver best possible level of thinking, creativity, teamwork and communication, give people the best context and visibility from my vantage point, guide with an open palm, not a fist – and then release 90% of the attachment to what happens.

I’m so not there.
But I want to be.

 

Continue reading www.smartypeople.com


Who gets your best you.

Posted July 19, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Courtesy @channelgreen

There’s a food pantry near me that serves hot meals to people who might not get one during the week. When I watch the director of the program run and operate the kitchen, the thing that strikes me most - beyond his calm, centered demeanor, truly stunning organizational skills, the ability to anticipate and solve every single challenge that arrises, kind but clear directives to everyone in the kitchen and dining room and pantry - is his highly specific instructions to volunteers about plating food. You’d think a hot meal of roasted chicken, macaroni and cheese and fresh spinach salad would be a gift in itself. Nope. Not enough. He wants to see the food plated with care and attention to what color borders what - to what’s hottest and ready to serve - to clean lines and generous portions. The Open Door is a step above a soup kitchen for sure, but still - often when people are on the margins - our standard quickly becomes “well, it’s better than nothing.” Not for Ken.

I was recently in Charleston, South Carolina where I watched a celebrated chef approve (or send back) every single dish that came out. Totally different demeanor (barking, swearing, sweating). Between wiping the sides of a bowl or correcting the crispiness of a pig ear, it had to be perfect. His name is on the door. His New York Times review is at stake. Every night. He cares because he has to hold up a brand for which even he works.

But really, there’s no difference in the results both of these men achieve (their approaches vary wildly!).  Each brings a pride, discipline and discernment to their work. One is famous -  the other an ordinary angel, mostly anonymous to the world at large. But they care. And their teams hover and dance around them with respect and appreciation. Those customers - whether eating off a white tablecloth or linoleum cafeteria table - get their everything.

Do some people / clients / friends / relationships get our best? While others settle for our good enough? When no one is watching, does it matter?

It does.

 

Continue reading www.smartypeople.com


Divided

Posted July 12, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

Image from dan_nbl24 of Instagram.

No matter how close or far you find yourself to events of the past days and months, if you aren't grieving or enraged, you're at least baffled by how we got here as a country. So many of us are consumed and distracted by our own challenges and burdens, and then reminded - of course - that a bigger crisis surrounds not only the United States but also the world. We are divided by race. By authority. By religion. By gender. Right now it's easy to forget what unites us.

What can be done? I have the sensation of watching an accident with no power to stop it, call an ambulance, hold the hand of a victim. But we still have the power to make a positive impact.

We can avoid divisiveness over the daily, the trivial, the low hanging fruit of bad drivers or the mission to be right. We can stop being offended by whatever rubs us wrong.  We can be less demanding, more curious. Less finger pointing, more accountable. There's no time or room for that now. These tedious conflicts are quickly becoming luxuries.

As small business owners, we can lead a small but powerful movement that chooses to assume the highest possible intention. We have to start somewhere, in small but meaningful decisions, that at the very least don't add to the rising tension - and at the most - raise the collective consciousness of an important web of voices. Use your  power to lead, change and soothe. Not just publicly and professionally. But privately. Personally. Proactively.

Let's do that. Starting right now. #yeswecan.

 

Continue reading www.smartypeople.com


Performance

Posted July 5, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

In my vintage Benz. The '80s got a few things right.

What happens when we can’t…do what we normally do? When our naturalness doesn’t come through? When we fall down? And maybe can’t quite get up?

First, humility. The reminder of your humanity descends like a drumbeat in your chest. Then, a short (or long) spiral of despair. Why this? Why now? Why in front of him / her / them? And finally - bargaining. The attempt to persuade yourself that you are not that, it is not you, and that output doesn’t necessarily make you any more or less than you were yesterday. This too shall pass, you say.

We try not to tie our performance to our value. But it’s hard not to.

There are two ways to see this:

You can decide that having the opportunity to experience the granularity of your emotions is a gift. A ride you willingly take. Because the rewards are self-knowledge, and sometimes a chance to see someone else’s generous reflection in reaction your own fumble, is deeply beautiful. It’s something you might not see in the throws of success.

The other way is to avoid biting the hook at all. That means the highs aren’t as high, nor are the lows that low - because you’re not on the ride. You’ve
meditated / medicated / mediated your way to an unmovable center
that feels, moves, risks - but never too much.

I vacillate on this. Better to pop the top off the convertible and feel the magic hours in their splendor? Knowing with the top down, you’ll be exposed to all the weather of every season? Or, better to get behind the wheel of a Volvo, smooth, steady, no jagged edges, and feel the sun through a small, unsatisfying sun roof.

Let’s go for the elements. You’ll get wet and cold sometimes, but there’s nothing like it when it works.

 

Continue reading www.smartypeople.com


For the Originators

Posted June 28, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

This is copy I wrote for a rug company - but it seems more like a love letter. But guess what? No one wants to hear about rugs. They want to buy a feeling - a sensation - an idea. Good creative often comes from unexpected places. The full campaign.

When you’re the one in an organization or team or universe who generates the “first draft/concept/idea” for things, you’ll see yourself in this post right away. There can be a lot of pressure in this role - mostly because before there’s any “there” there, no one has anything to react to. But once you’ve put thought to paper / idea to prototype / color to design / post to publish / paint to canvas, people feel free to criticize, analyze, metabolize - suddenly there’s a conversation (that wasn’t happening before you started it.). I know I’ve sometimes felt resentment over this position - other times (most times, actually) I expect it and enjoy it. But someone has to start somewhere, and if that’s you, there’s a certain excitement / burden around it.

You may find yourself occasionally wondering if there’s anything left to say, to create, to make, to express. Looking at nothing before you make something can be intimidating as hell. As a professional writer, I’m usually the first one. The team often waits until I generate the strategy document, the concept, the copy, the tagline…and then base their work on some foundation using that work. Sometimes this feels fine - totally natural. Other times I’ve wondered…is there anything left in here?!?!? What can I say that hasn’t been said?

A few tips I try to give myself when I’m scraping bottom of the barrel:

Aim low. Land high. This is something Tim Ferris and others also use to get out of consternation and into production. A scientist at Stanford uses flossing teeth as the analogy. Want to floss more? Start with your front teeth only. Soon you’ll realize how lame this goal really is, and you’ll be a flosser in no time. When it comes to ideas and creative, just generate bottom of the barrel - knowingly - and let it iterate. Ferris talks about “two crappy pages a day” when writing a book. It’s good advice because by setting the bar low, you can’t help but do better. And then better. And soon really freaking good. But aiming for “opus” out of the gate is a set up to disappoint yourself.

Reach in. Not out. I think a lot of us imagine our creative ideas and energies live somewhere outside of us. This is a myth. Everything you’ve seen, read, experienced, cried about, laughed about, wow’ed about, been about - is in your ecosystem of ideas. Your source material is you - and everything you’re connected to in the current of collective thought and divine (if I might)... energy. Believe that it’s inside you, not outside you - and start there. There’s so much less mileage involved when you start with yourself instead of trying to go to the moon and back.

Great copy, great ideas, great products start as seeds from somewhere - where they end up is up to you. Your mind is a well of creativity that’s never really in danger of running dry. Your machine needs to rest to churn it out, but it’s not going anywhere. It’s one of the only assets that when spent, just keeps growing. To use it is to multiply it.

 

Continue reading www.smartypeople.com


Chief

Posted June 21, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello at police headquarters. Don’t let that federal lighting fool you - he shines from the inside out.

Chief Product Officer.
Chief Creative Officer.
Chief Executive Officer.
Chief-of-Everything-Officer

As business owners, we are all chief of something (many of us the latter.) But how many of us assume certain issues are just “part of being in business,” or “part of being the boss” or part of “working with people."?

This short story is about a local Chief of Police who did an unusual thing: he stopped arresting drug addicts and started saving them instead. He changed the story on “it’s just part of being the police."

As you can see from the news, this country has an opioid addiction issue. Heroin is rampant. Prince just died of a Fentanyl overdose. Where I live, on the north shore of Massachusetts, 4 people in the small town of Gloucester had already overdosed by the second month of last year. This police chief took a deep breath with that news - and decided to take action.

Last winter, he posted a message on Facebook that read:

"Any addict or dealer in Gloucester is invited to bring in needles and drugs, and turn themselves in, without arrest. You will be offered assistance and rehab, no questions asked.” His mission? Immediate and sustainable care for anyone who wanted it. He got 39,000 views from across the state and country.

I assumed before interviewing him that he had pre-organized beds in rehab centers and a volunteer program to assist - but guess what? He had no plan. No connections. No infrastructure. No volunteers. He said, “We had no idea what we were going to do. The solution came from putting out the message.” He took a leap of faith, got others involved in the conversation, and as a result - created a solution that involves volunteer “angels” who have helped build a model being adopted across the country.

A year and a few months later, he counts 120 police departments in 28 states who use his program, 300 treatment centers, 60 million dollars in scholarship funds - and 450 addicts helped through treatment. That’s pretty impressive for a village law enforcement officer. He’s been featured on NPR, in The New York Times, The Boston Globe - he’s a hero (who, by the way, gives most of the credit to his team. Of course.)

It’s easy to feel despondent about problems in our midst. I know I do - and it comes from not knowing how to help or how to change my own habits or how to move boulders up mountains and even how to communicate better. So often it can feel like its people who stand in our way or ruffle our feathers or make life harder, but often it’s a process or belief that has been allowed to proliferate. When teams flail or fail, something systemic happened…no one intentionally brings a ship down, right?

Here’s to arresting the problem, not the person. That’s the kind of Chief I want to be.


 

The Problem with Passion

Posted June 14, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

SMARTY in its heyday. Had I followed the “Never Give Up” advice, these events would still be happening, at a loss, without the critical mass they needed to thrive. And, this blog would not be happening.

Never give up.
Just be yourself.
Go with your gut.
Just hang in there.
Follow your passion.
It’s meant to be.
Something better will come along.

Many of the monikers above are common refrains from the media, our friends, colleagues - the motivational posters you see at the dentists office. They just sound good, right?  The New York Times recently ran an article titled, “Be Yourself is Terrible Advice” based on the writers experience preparing for a Ted Talk in the Age of Authenticity. Is our collective agreement about what to do when you don’t know what to do…flawed?

Back in the day, when SMARTY hosted monthly panel discussions with entrepreneurs, I asked each speaker to re-think any recommendations around “passion." The majority of them were surprised at my request - which was - “It will be natural to tell the audience that they have to find their passion and follow it. And it’s not that this is untrue - but it’s not the whole story - and coming from you, it can’t be the pillar you hang your success on, because most likely, it isn't.” Not one of them ever disagreed. Passion is part of it - but it’s nowhere near all of what keeps us going, builds a successful relationship, business, spiritual practice...

Passion waxes and wanes, and further, we’ve almost become anesthetized to the word's potency. I would say find your compass is better advice - because it’s more closely connected to purpose. Your compass is a guiding North Star that doesn’t fluctuate based on fatigue, disillusionment, relationship or markets. It doesn’t rely on speed or intensity - just coordinates and direction.

And should you “Just Be Yourself”? - probably not. It’s not specific enough. What we think we’re saying is “don’t be someone else” which may have some merit. But to “just be yourself” doesn’t take into consideration the audience, the format, the end goal. It’s too vague. Which means it’s not that useful.

My favorite is "Never Give Up"  - because sometimes you should give up. Many of us are so committed to this idea that we never give up in the face of dozens of factors begging us to walk away. We don’t give up because that would be... “giving up”(bad!)….not because giving up is actually going to save us, heal us, create a better environment for success, give us our time back, our heart back; give our efforts a more fruitful outlet.

Question the common cliches. They carry some truth’s, some of the time, but they’ve been positioned as highest truth’s - and for that they are misleading. What we want are “laws” that govern a chaotic and unpredictable inner world - so we rely on these. But the better guardrails might look less like a tagline and more like a suggestion.

Maybe less “Just Do It” - and more -  “Let’s try this.”
Not as sexy. But your life isn’t advertising. So the copy doesn’t matter so much


Platforms

Posted June 7, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

Yes, I realize these are heels, not platforms. #stillmakesthepoint

 

I probably can’t say anything new about social media that hasn’t been said. But here’s how I feel - as small business owners have a lot of questions about “the best platform.”

I look at them like this: When I read anything on Facebook, or post anything on Facebook, it feels like no matter what I say or what’s being said, it’s for sale. The UX encourages that, the ads, the un-beautiful design - it feels like FB is a way to raise your voice. It’s woefully inelegant, but very useful for some things. Instagram, on the other hand, feels more like a “by the way, this happened.” When I see posts or post myself, it feels like a snapshot of a thought - a moment in life - sometimes with words or hashtags, sometimes without - but I rarely see any shouting going on there. Twitter feels like talking at a Mets game. No matter how loud you might get, or clever, or funny, or cool, the game and the crowd are the real characters in that show. I see Twitter as a breaking news source - so for me using it sort of feels like whatever I’m saying should be as urgent as a Tweet from Anderson Cooper or as important as one from Malala. LinkedIn feels like a civil conversation that I should be more disciplined about attending but I have a full plate as it is so engagement there feels disingenuous.

All of this is to say - everyone has their “platform” - and the type of business you’re in is the main consideration. Beyond that, channels express voices, and while I personally have thousands more followers on Twitter than anywhere else, it’s not where my voice feels the truest, which is Instagram.

The takeaway - know where you shine. It’s all just a conversation happening in different interfaces. But we all want to be our best selves, so choose the face that brings out the best you.


Ordinary.

Posted May 31, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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I caught a glimpse of my ordinary life the other day - thanks to filmmaker Eric Eason.

 

Too many options.
Not enough options.
We haven’t been paid.
We can’t pay them yet.
No one showed up.
No one signed up.
No one spoke up.
They never replied.
Not enough chairs.
It’s a Chinese holiday.
They missed the deadline.
No one can find us.
The link is broken.
Does anyone care?
I care too much.

These ordinary problems are the best kind of problems. They are small crises that pale in comparison to the bigger ones life can throw. Pema Chodron has this to say:

“The ordinariness of our good fortune can be hard to catch…the key is to be fully connected with the moment, paying attention to the details of ordinary life. By taking care of ordinary things - our pots and pans, our clothing, our teeth - we rejoice in them.”

I would add making the bed to her quote. For me, this simple, daily chore reminds me that I have room in my life and a healthy physical body that allows me to do something simple and meaningful - that closes my subconscious life - to begin the conscious one. We don’t have much control over what happens when we sleep  - however we can be awake, yet totally asleep.

Here’s to making the coffee! Mowing the lawn! Drop off! Pick up! Unsubscribes! Delayed prototypes! Overdue invoices! Legal bills! Bookkeeping snafus! Cash flow! Life is so good.


Kenny.

Posted May 24, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Unlikely gurus: Kenny Shopsin

I used to go to Kenny's restaurant when I lived in New York City. One reason I loved it, besides the six pages of comfort food offered on the menu, was that it had a lot of idiosyncratic rules; I saw real estate brokers get kicked out for talking on cell phones and bankers get asked to leave for thinking they could sit more than four in a group. I saw uptown ladies get schooled by Eve, the co-owner and waitress, about the uselessness of "dressing on the side," and celebrities enjoy long lunches - undisturbed - because inside Shopsins, they felt safe. The main rule was Don’t Be An Asshole. That's a heck of a mission statement.

I love how clear and unapologetic Kenny and Eve were about who could pay them, and who could F%ck off. I use that language because that’s how they talk - whether you’re a New York Times food critic or a condo broker. Being a customer was something you earned, not something you became by using a GroupOn. Here are a few gems from Kenny:

1. The most profitable item on the menu, out of hundreds (not a minimalist, but still an essentialist) is iced tea. And what is iced tea  but basically ...water. The margins on an item that almost everyone orders are enormous. He knows it and gives free refills. And still makes money on it. (Where are your easiest, biggest margins?)

2. A milkshake, once perfectly thick, will never become thicker. It just can't get better than it is, it only goes downhill if you try. So don't. (This is a don't guild the lilly kind of thing. You don't have to make something good even better. With so much pressure to evolve and recreate and entertain our audiences, sometimes a good thing can stay exactly, precisely the way it is.)

3. Running a restaurant (for him) is about running a restaurant. It is not a means to get somewhere else, like so many endeavors. (OH. THANK. YOU. Why must evvvvvverything be a means to a show or a book or... a whatever?) I've always had ambition fatigue. He’s refreshing.

In a time where “customer acquisition strategy” is part of our everyday small business vocabulary, Kenny, for me, is a beacon of hope. Make good food. Keep your good customers close, and let the others find somewhere else to eat. And... don’t mistake fancy for elevated. Shopsins is a 5-star establishment in my mind. You don’t need a white tablecloth to be extraordinary.

Enjoy…xo


Over Everything.

Posted May 17, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

amy swift

Essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time, it’s about getting only the right things done."

From The Essentialist.

Over committed.
Over extended.
Over burdened.
Over invested.
Over stretched.
Over achieving.
Over done.
Over wrought.
Over selling.
Over reacting.
Over board.

These cycles can happen to the best of us. We get onto a freeway going the speed limit, and within weeks or months find ourselves on the Autobahn. 60MPH becomes 90MPH. Soon there’s no off ramp, because you’re so embedded in what you think you “have” to do, you forget where you’re even going. Soon, the hobbies and extras disappear from life - an hour of email on a Sunday turns into six. Work feels like it’s got you on a leash - you can bark or you can get pulled - but unhooking never crosses your mind. Whether we get addicted to feeling needed and necessary, or find ourselves drowned in “passion” projects that steel precious life real estate, or engage with clients who need more than they can pay for, there’s no good reason to feel busted at the seams. Correction - there is a good reason - and that reason is to see the ultimate failure in it, and to get your life back. It’s what Essentialist author Greg McKeown calls “protecting the asset.” That asset is you.

Yes, there’s so much to do.
Yes, you have so much potential!
Yes, they need you and want you and are likely better for having you.
But without you, there’s no to-do, potential, client, product, message...

This book came at the right time for me. If you find yourself over delivering, over and over, and sitting at your desk at some point feeling over it, it’s time to read this big little life saver.

I know, #Overkill. But truth.


 

See Me.

Posted May 11, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

Some may see you in hand drawn black and white. Others in color photography. It's hard to control other people's mediums - which is why your own lens becomes very important.

When we feel invisible, in our work contributions, in our personal relationships, in our families, in our communities, as women, as mothers, as partners, as friends - it sucks (just to be really eloquent). There’s a rage, and then sadness, that comes from habitual invisibleness or insignificantness. Any time we don’t feel valued for what we bring, that yucky feeling translates across many platforms and manifests in funky ways. It might be a general cloud of negativity that dampens your magic. It could be overreacting to one thing when you’re really upset about another. It could be a vague malaise or fatigue or depression.  It can also look like constant complaints - suddenly, no one can make you happy because you’re unpleasable. The one thing you need fulfilled isn’t getting the light of day.

There’s frustration (and even indignation, or humiliation) when you give and give, and you give your BEST, and the people around you treat it like another Tuesday.

“We couldn’t do this without you.”
“Your work makes our work so much better.”
“You add so much to this team.”
“How do you do it?!?”
“Yes I’ll drop everything and come help you - that’s how much you mean to me."

That’s what most of us simply need to hear. The overwhelming majority of us don’t need parades in our honor or cakes to celebrate how smart or brave or nifty we are. We just want the people we respect and love most to do one thing- see our worth, understand our circumstances, and act like it.

But you can’t make anyone do any of that. When it happens, it’s amazing, but in the meantime, try to take the time to count the ways that you impressed your own bad self. Stop relying on the world, a boss, a partner, a colleague -  to tell you. And take it ALL IN when someone you respect, notices. It’s not a cynical view, but when you stop looking for it, and start getting high on your own supply (if you will), it usually finds you.

#intrinsicrewards.


 

Wisdom.

Posted April 19, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

A portrait of wisdom. Captured by Faces on a Train 

What's the difference between being smart and being wise?

Smart: Crunching the numbers on a loan / Re-Fi / vacation / new car to share with your partner.
Wise: Knowing when to present that information when he/she can hear, digest, contemplate.

Smart: Identifying blind spots for your client.
Wise: Knowing how to contextualize them.

Smart: Understanding the science of opens, eyeballs, conversions, engagement.
Wise: Knowing that without art, none of it matters.

Smart: Working out, eating right, sleeping plenty, meditating.
Wise: Not freaking out if one (or all) don't happen every day.

Smart: Watching / using your social feeds to move your needle.
Wise: Knowing they only move so much, so fast.

Smart: Bringing desired, substantiated deal points to the table.
Wise: Not using ultimatums to get them.

Smart: Anticipating roadblocks and raising them early with your team.
Wise: Inviting other people to co-author solutions with you.

Smart: Doing what you can to keep your natural glow, youth, juuuge.
Wise: Remaining recognizable, loving your laugh lines, not taking it too seriously.

Here's to both, working together, in perfect harmony.


 

Happy Faces.

Posted April 12, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

I don't like to compare the way men and women do things. I like and appreciate our differences, and I'm even good with most of our gender-specific approaches to things. But some thing is happening to us (women) that I need to talk through. Enter...

Exclamation points!
Emojis of any kind.
Prefacing.
Apologies.
"Maybe it's me, but…"

Many of us are apologizing for having an informed, gut level, professional or otherwise valuable opinion. And we're doing it in a way that is quiet, and a little bit insidious. It feels like we're just being nice - but what we're saying to our teams and ourselves is, our involvement requires a preamble, excuse or pardon. I don't see men doing this.

Is it okay to not agree? Does delegating work require so much permission/explanation/exhaustion? Is a little debate cause for anyone questioning whether people like them? Yikes. Are we all getting that sensitive?!

Besides just being the right thing to do for better, clearer, more honest communication, the more each of us propagates this false sense of "don't-worry-I'm-not-mad-but-I-feel-this-way" digital falsity, the more the rest of us sound tone def - as though we might be insensitive, too brutally honest, or my favorite…bitchy.

No. We aren't anything. We are doing business, and kindly, respectfully putting thoughts into the world that will hopefully move something forward.

Let's check our intention, then weigh it against the best and highest expression of the thing at stake. Then write emails/texts that mean what we say, without a giant mattress under each one lest someone on the receiving end have an emotional crisis and fall down. I'm all for thoughtful and considerate - but these have become everyone's crutch (and expectation) and constantly feel like an unnecessary apology.

Get more creative. Articulate yourself. And remember that sentences end with a period, not a happy face.

Have a great day!
(And I mean it.)


 

Mr. Sullivan.

Posted April 5, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

If you're a business owner, service provider, maker, freelancer - you (hopefully) invoice regularly. Just as I love a peek inside someone's closet or refrigerator or supplements cabinet, I also love to notice how different people submit invoices. It says a lot about you, funny enough. What you're doing, on a deeper level, is saying "I'm offering you the best of what I can do, and this is how much it costs." It's kind of intimate, actually. So why, at times, are invoices such an afterthought? Why have I gotten so many of them from freelancers or interns or vendors with wonky spacing, typos, incorrect math…it's the most overlooked aspect of what is actually part of your brand, and surprisingly, an aspect to your marketing.

I got this typewritten gem from my painter the other day. I love it because someone, somewhere, took the time, on a TYPEWRITER, to send me a $200 bill. Not much money, but a beautiful service provided, all consistent with the gentleman who owns the business, who puts a Mr or Mrs before addressing anyone, including himself!

It doesn't matter so much that you take a fancy digital approach to submitting fees for products or services rendered, or a more old school one like the above, or even a hand written one - as long as you do it with the thoughtfulness that this exchange very quietly demands.

You did something. For someone. Make the last gesture of the transaction as lovely or at least as consistent, as the quality of your work.

And…here's to paying bills and sending bills. Paying them means you're using your money. Sending them means you're generating it.
All of it's good. 


Spirit Animals.

Posted March 29, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

Several weekends ago, I was at a meditation retreat at Kripalu with one of my teachers, David Harshada Wagner. Something continued to come up for me that I couldn't resolve. It's not overwhelm. It's not busy-ness. It's not too much. It's more like - YES - I love all this good stuff coming my way - but I also need an extra me to ENJOY it. Besides meditation, I asked, how do I gain more agility? More stamina? More bandwidth? More everything?!?!

Many of you are in the same boat…especially if you're living an Ensemble Life (see last week's post.)

His answer was hilarious - he even laughed out loud saying it.

"You have a capacity issue. And while there are many ways to change that, an easy one is through your spirit animal."

After fully enjoying how very West Coast that wisdom really is, we got serious. I've been operating as a gazelle - a light, bounding, quick-footed animal leaping through the prairie. And that was great for my 20's and part of my 30's, but now I"m a mother, an author, a grown daughter, a wife. Now I need the power, strength, foresight and leadership of...a lioness. Boom.

I have a feeling you've traveled a similar path.

As funny as it sounds, your energetic source material - the thing you channel in your day to day essence - really informs your ability to find capacity. What's even more interesting, is it doesn't look that different on the outside, but on the inside, the architecture shifts and expands.

What you may need is to slow down, to do more in less time, to get smaller, to get much, much bigger. Whatever it is, an animal makes it embodied.

Thanks for not thinking I've gone down a mystical rabbit hole today. Once in a while the woo-woo magic is pretty practical.


 

The Ensemble Life.

Posted March 22, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty

With Chef Tyler Sterling living out the only menage a trois I’m into - food, design and friends. Dream home by architect Santiago Ortiz. The ensemble life can mean whatever the $%&@ you want.

I’m gonna give some love to Gwyneth Paltrow today. Hold the tomatoes please. I see a lot of love/hating about GOOP and GP's seemingly impenetrable veil of superiority. But I view it and her differently. I actually think she's doing a lot of things right, and I'd venture that she's a lot more vulnerable than most people percieve.

Although we aren't friends, what I see is someone living an ensemble life. Her interests are varied - to the point of nausea for some - but I think they are genuine. So she acts, she sings, she writes, she's an entrepreneur, a style icon, a mother, a conscious divorcee, a tech leader, a beauty expert…a chef. Ok, it's annoying but ONLY because most of us feel like…well, that'd be nice…easy for her…I coulda done that…big deal. And I think what she also may spark in some is a sense of under accomplishment. I know for me, when I see everything she's able to do and impact, I feel a little like - am I living my potential? And, what else? What's my next adventure? Side hustle? Interest? Investment?

So I'd like to say something without inviting too much negative mail - this can (kind of) be your life. I’m not saying that you too can rent this villa in Italy and the private yacht that comes with it with your Spanish speaking children and two-hours-a-day-workout-body if you just work harder, but, I feel like for a modern American woman, this TYPE of life is sort of possible – just taken down a few decimal points (basis points?!).  It's textured, interesting, multi-dimensional, adventurous, brave. Yah she's got a lot of advantages, but who cares? She could sit back and enjoy being wealthy and gorgeous, with a few selective acting gigs. But she stepped out, threw her hat in the ring, and if anyone can say "good for you" its people like us - doing the same thing. GP is a solid muse for being unselfconscious about her ambitions, and really looking out at the world - and having it her way. I'm betting she's having a lotttttttta fun.

Do your thing. Express. Write. Start. Join. Lead. Follow. Innovate. Make. Be who you want to be. Have hobbies, interests, ventures. Channel Richard Branson, Tim Ferris, the barrista who also tutors math, is a classical pianist, writes a blog about art and flips houses on the side. It keeps you engaged, interesting and walking the sh$t out of whatever path you’re on.

I'd venture to say this…is the new normal.


 

Tinkering.

Posted March 15, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Here's to "productive", or "non-productive" putzing. Because it's all productive. 

"I'll be out in the garage" is a phrase often uttered by my husband on weekends. What exactly happens "in the garage"? Some days he'll emerge having reorganized all of his bikes, surfboards, SUPS, kayaks, skateboards (shall I go on?), and other days I can't tell if anything really happened. But I think that's the point. It doesn't have to.

And it’s why I believe in tinkering.

The guy gets to be alone, without an agenda, without the kids asking to play monster, or me asking about the status of the (insert chronic historical house problem here.) He gets to do no-thing, while doing some-thing, and think. But he gets to think without being charged with thinking. And he gets to use his hands and figure stuff out - work stuff out - build stuff out - without much attachment to an outcome or life-changing expectations. When else in your life do you tinker - with no strings attached? This is how problems are solved, ideas born. Garages are ideal, but there are other options, too.

I've solved client issues while building magazine collages with my girls. I've thought of short stories while washing dishes or cleaning out the spice drawer. I've dreamed up solutions to friends' conundrums - personally, in business, in life - while weeding my vegetable garden. 

My grandfather used to spend hours "down at the boat." I'd see my grandmother roll her eyes at this, as we all knew the boat hadn't actually worked in decades. But now I get it. And respect it.

Should we consider Intentional Tinkering? Conscious tinkering? LeanInTinkering? Tinkering Forward?

Someone stop me.


Badassery.

Posted March 1, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

smarty.jpgClimbing Kilimanjaro (the hard route!)? Badass. Too bad I can't post my natural childbirth pictures #thebestkindofbadass. Photo credit Kurt Marcus. 

 

When you feel like a badass, life is good. Typically you've nailed a project, done something heroic, completed a marathon, landed a gig - whatever. You know it when you feel it. But what if we could badassify our lives a little more? Here's my rationale: the more you feel like the best version of yourself you can be, the more you exceed your own expectations, and the more you choose yourself when the world would have you another way. When you choose yourself, a positive domino effect ensues. In short, more good sh$t happens.

Here is what helps me channel that feeling on a day to day basis - whether I've done anything memorable, exceptional or newsworthy, or not:

1. Surround yourself with teams and people who make you feel like you've achieved something - just by being in their company. They don't have to blow smoke up your….skirt…or do anything other than share air and space and even better, a shared passion or project with you. Just being with people you respect and admire - like a lot - brings out the badass in us.

2. Revisit moments from your life that made you feel limitless and amazing. You can see a couple of mine referenced in the photo. So many of us forget that we've blown our own minds!!! It's worth a trip down memory lane to remember.

3. Disrupt your day to day conversation with people by telling them the good things you see in them. You can start off with, "You know what's incredible about you?" and then SEE them in the way that only you see them, and tell them about it. "You give the clearest, most actionable feedback anyone could ever hope to get," or, "You can take the most awkward moment and make it hilarious," or, "you have the body of Jessica Alba, the intellect of Madeline Albright, the presence of Michelle Obama and the wit of Chelsea Handler." (If you know anyone like that please introduce us.)

Here's to being a badass, and not waiting for moments in the sun to feel it. #everydaybadass.
PS. Props to my old friend Jen Sincero who wrote a book on this subject titled, "You are a Badass." Perhaps you've seen it at the airport as it is now hewwwwge (another Jen-ism.)
Know who else is a badass? My friend Taryn Toomey, now arriving in LA! If you have not taken The Class (how about that for confidence), you must! See her LA dates here and tell her I sent you. Prepare for a transformative workout and a group of women who will become your fast friends. The Class.


 

Adaptation.

Posted February 23, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Playboy, in an effort to reinvent, has made the decision to discontinue images of naked women. They're just too easy to find everywhere else. Movie theaters are struggling because most of us would rather skip the crowds and watch things on demand at home. Instagram has made having a point of view as hassle free as it gets - no need to start a blog - just create an account and press play.


We are living in a time where it's easy to blame digital for the elimination of entire categories. People blame a sharing economy - Air BnB and Uber - for putting their competitors out of business, or at least at a disadvantage. But digital is just the medium. What it's done is teach us to think and interact with our worlds in a totally different way - and it's been a bit like boiling a frog (sorry)…so gradual we aren't even aware of how much we want short cuts, efficiencies, ease in our consumption.

Port this behavior over into your own business now. See if you've adapted to the very things that make you happy or bring you down about the experiences in your consumer world. Is your website responsive? Are you using tactics from five years ago to build your list, convert customers or drive new business?

All you have to do when it comes to relevance is look around. As brands reinvent, go out of business and new miracle utilities are born, the messages are as good as on the wall. Just look at the battle between the WSJ and NYT. As one pulls ahead, the other retools (and catches up) because they both know that a paper in the hand is worth a lot less than a subscriber online these days. You don't have to invent an app that aggregates fitness sign ups or makes getting a blow out easier (as they already exist), but you do have to continually think of shortcuts on behalf of your customer.

Watch. Listen. Learn. Adapt.


 

We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful.

Posted February 16, 2016 by SMARTY HQ

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Well, no we don't really, but we kinda do.

Here's the theory on this: we don't question ourselves when we see Beyonce with her mogul husband and adorable baby on a yacht in Turkey ...because she's too far from our stratosphere to make comparisons. What irks us most - what makes us privately question, berate and condemn ourselves - is the success of those around us, people who are most like us, and near our socioeconomic status - aka - our friends. Why? Because given the same resources and opportunities, she succeeded…and I didn't.

"You're wrong," you're saying right now, "I'm always happy for my friends!" Yes of course you are…but it's a trigger, too. The science behind this makes perfect sense. It's -- proximity --- more than anything else --- that creates the "compare and despair" mentality. The truth is that as our friends become more successful and famous, they typically open doors for us as well - either financially, spiritually or literally. We like that. But let's be real - it still stings a little to know that you're the same age-ish, same education, same small town, same training, same opportunity...and not same popular / tax bracket / fame quotient.

Here's a quickie to get you out of that jam should you find yourself blinded by the glare of unwanted jealousy / resentment / yearning / self-loathing:

When we long for things / status / success we don't have, we grow poorer, no matter our resources. Every time we feel satisfied with what we have and where we are, we grow richer, however little we may actually have at the time.

I didn't make that up. It's from the philosopher Rousseau. No one's saying don't be ambitious or strive for more, but agree that what you have is what you wanted. And go from there. And console yourself that at least you and Bey weren't besties since pre-K.


Alone in the field.

Posted February 9, 2016 by SMARTY HQ.

ASwift

 

We all find ourselves alone in a battle once in a while. Whether you're on a team as part of a project, as the owner of the business trying to get something right with a vendor, a sales person, a retailer, a manufacturer, a partner - it's not that fun, but not that uncommon, to find yourself alone at the table trying to persuade, convince, edit, modify, evolve or otherwise impact something that needs attention.
There are ways to do this that feel like a bulldozer. And ways to do this that feel like a gazelle. I aim for the latter, even though my emotions can feel like the former. Here's how I try to approach a difference of vision when I feel alone in my convictions:

1. Take as much responsibility as possible for why things are the way they are. It may not feel natural, and it may not feel totally true deep down, but honestly look at how you got here. Usually there was a lapse in clear communication along the way. Condescension and "it's me, not you" won't work. You have to make this assessment genuinely. Others will sense it if not (and then, game-over.)

2. Don't make anyone wrong for what they've done or haven't done (unless you're managing an employee, which is a different dynamic.) No one likes to feel wrong - not a friend, not a husband, not a partner, not a service provider - not one person ever in history. I'm hugely imperfect at this - but I try to see the rightness in what HAS happened, and take that tone to change what's not working.

3. Most of us have a colleague or companion of sorts we can confide in. But here's the key - try not to be temperamental, defensive or even bitchy in your complaining about the problem. The tone you take in unpacking and bemoaning and explaining it to your confidante will inform how you think about fixing it. Talk about it with the level of maturity you hope to use in solving it.

It takes a lot to fight battles among people who you like and respect. I don't like to call it fighting really, but it's defending or promoting an aspect that isn't getting the attention it needs. But to be an effective champion for any change, you have to start with how YOU got the train to the station. And it can't be a strategy - you have to see your part, and mean it when you say it. These ideas come from the head, but have to be led with the heart.

Here's to being alone. It will happen. But if you're lucky, you'll have a quiet (but loyal) companion to help you through.


 

Thrilled to feature some of the thought-provoking blogs from SMARTY on our website.
For more information about SMARTY, visit www.smartypeople.com.

Commitments. The Fourth Kind.

by SMARTY HQ.

Two members of the Polar Bear Club. I live with the crazy guy on the right. See the live action plunge here.

We all make them – but the terms of those commitments vary – and typically fall into three categories…The short-term ones are day to day. Could be about 40 minutes of cardio, or eating vegan before 5pm, or cycling to work instead of driving, or spending an hour with your child without checking your device. Those are relatively easy, and tend to get easier the more often we do them.The mid-term ones are saying we’ll be there, and then showing up, or investing in a blog, telling the world, and then posting things, volunteering with people who depend on you. Those are harder – because it’s easy to negotiate out of them – but once in the groove, we tend to stay there.The long-term ones are the biggies – getting married, having kids, buying real estate, forming partnerships, investing capital, making an effort with relationships – year after year. These ones write the music of our lives because they’re constantly there, reflecting back to us who we are and how we are. In some ways they’re the easiest (you don’t re-decide about them daily) and the hardest (you’re in it…today, tomorrow, the next day…and still….and still!). They reassure us and comfort us, but they’re the ones we take for granted. They anchor us, and provoke us – simultaneously.But then – there’s the last kind of commitment – the fourth kind. The kind we don’t do enough…
Like deciding that the New Year is best kicked off by jumping into the icy Atlantic, with snow on the ground, and FULLY submerging under water. That one takes commitment AND a little bit of crazy.
It seems to me that we all have one, two and three pretty much covered. But what if we had a monthly wild card, like #4?! Could be in business – or personally – I don’t think it matters. But flexing that muscle seems important as we age and lean toward seeking safety (most of the time.)Who’s in?!?!?

Happy New Year – looking forward to 2016 with you.


Unscripted

by SMARTY HQ.

Do you feel better when “Reservations” emails your hotel confirmation, or “Freya at Babington House?

Do you feel better when the agent goes off script and says, “yah I hate it when that happens. Let me see what can be done,” OR, slowly, and much-too-long-windededly, says,“I’m sorry you had that inconvenience today. Let me go through the options on the menu that may help in resolving this issue. Would you mind if I placed you on hold while I review the materials (that I should already have memorized)?.” No one talks like this. Why does Customer Service?

So.
Yes I mind.
I mind that you can’t even talk to me without reading prompts.
I mind that you don’t sound like you’ve ever seen my problem before.
I mind that I can’t ask anyone there a real question without an answer that is pre-rehearsed, pre-recorded, pre-dehumanized…

Have all the policies you want – but package them with flesh and a beating heart, please.

Thank you One Fine Stay for being original. And flexible. And generous. Your policy said no. You said yes.
Thank you flight attendant Rob on the Jet Blue LAX – BOS route for being hilarious – we were patient because of you.
Thank you Tolbot Inn manager Dan who offered to call a friend at a hotel in another city to see if we could stow our bags while we toured for two hours. We didn’t need it. But you offered. And that was money in the bank.
Thanks Brittish Airways for making a miracle happen at 7am and running in heels through security.

Thanks to everyone who doesn’t act like a robot, who feels our humanity, and goes out of their way to make it better.
We’d do the same thing in your shoes, and should.
In the age of automized everything, let’s remain personal – as much as possible. As small business owners we can’t always, but we certainly can a lot.


Novelty

by SMARTY HQ.

PigRoast

I’m continuously fascinated by how living in a small town can lead to living a bigger life. Maybe it’s because I commute to LA and NYC often enough to feel connected to diverse worlds, but I still think no matter where you are anymore, the world is as you create it. Sometimes when I describe our relocation from Venice, CA to Manchester by the Sea, MA, I call it “when we calmed down.” I say that because I felt like I was living my life on Lincoln Boulevard or the 405, or conversely existing in non-gmo-organic-cotton-couture t-shirts and custom clogs…  in our costly but casual neighborhood …doing what people who live there do – which is buying expensive coffee and $18.00 pressed juice (still miss it), meandering our kids in $500 dollar strollers and essentially working hard at looking like we weren’t working very hard. But holy shit we were stressed! Our million dollar house was great but surrounded by drug deals and the thump of drive-by stereo base so deep it moved my home-delivered jars of almond-coconut-Mylk. Our friends with kids in school seemed pained by the process. Police lockdowns became a joke but as “funny” as they were, they bred a strange form of deep stress that we weren’t really all that safe.

I’m not really making an argument for small towns versus urban life – I love them both. But a pig roast at a friends house this weekend made me realize how much my own life has invited more novelty. There’s something about switching lives that’s kinda great. I recommend it. It has also been progressive for my professional life – which seems weird because now I have to go to my former cities to see clients – but I think I’m DOING better work, because I feel more inspired. Hmmm.
So here’s to switching it up. In the name of a new view, new circles, new problems even. Unexpected opportunities arise when you make intentional but disruptive decisions.


No Pants.

by SMARTY HQ.

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When we’re little, people love to see us running around naked. But that gets more awkward (hopefully!) as we age, and it’s the same for our talents. People are forgiving of the raw, unselfconscious efforts of a teenager singing her first recital, or of a first blog post, or even a first recipe, but as you practice and hone your craft, the critics have more room…and justification…to analyze, judge – as well as delete, ignore, swipe. As you get better (and most people do), the bar gets higher. Expectations (from yourself and others) become built in to whatever you put out there – because if the last time was great, the next time will be greater. You begin to walk in bigger shoes, or in this case, wear big, grown up pants.

Remember when Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love, and then did a Ted Talk about how her next effort couldn’t help but be a disappointment? This is not a comparison to a New York Timesbest selling author…but sometimes, when I do good work, and there’s applause (even from one), I say to myself, “How nice. But can I pull it off again?” There’s some kernel of doubt that lives in me and wonders if that was the last time, a fluke, a one-off. I’ve never been right about this, but the more I talk to other people about this fraud/fail/anomaly syndrome, the more I see that I’m not alone. I guess it’s just so fun to knock it out of the park that it becomes addictive – and we all want that impact every time. If there were a secret to killing it, always, I think we’d all buy it.

But it’s almost impossible for every project, book, product, video, post or presentation to  be a best seller. Seth Godin writes ten to twenty blogs for every one he publishes. But knowing this,  the thing we can start to understand is what does work, and why does it work, and did it do something for someone somewhere that was useful…without the pressure of epic performance. Ingredients for greatness reveal themselves when you aren’t panicked about…being great.

So calm the eff down. Eyes on the road. Do your work. Measure results. Scrap what’s mediocre. Keep the good stuff. Press play.

Then do it all again.

That’s pretty much the big secret.