This post was originally published August 21, 2009.
(Of course because she was photographed wearing a purple cutout dress by Narciso Rodriguez. I couldn’t resist at least a scan of the words.)
Anyway, the article described Ms. Mayer’s many success stories and good instincts (she turned down a teaching job at Carnegie Mellon for the opportunity to join the then little know startup, Google). She’s now known for her part in “big ideas” and for influence on design. Her wide closet doors house her love affairs with de la Renta, Herrera, and Armani. (Hence my immediate interest.)
Hard work has obviously paid off in her many opportunities.
However, the article also spoke of her constant connection to her job. Her boyfriend Zack Bogue commented on their faint lines between home and work. She brings her laptop everywhere. Mr. Bogue stated, “you never know when you’ll get fifteen minutes.”
I read the article with my toes in the sand and sun on my face. I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that my laptop was at home, zippered in its case, lonely and dangling on its hook. I could have at least checked my email, perhaps done some creative brainstorming in my beer-sipping down time.
Then again, I came back dreading even the thought of entering the room of my three-day hibernating computer. During my stay, I found myself forgetting the mounds of work waiting for me upon my return. I had no inkling to check email, or open Photoshop. I was able to enjoy the relaxation without those random mental Post-it notes and to-do lists.
I can’t help but wonder what’s more important for my mind and progression: constant connection or connection recess?
Categories: Outside the Square
This post originally appeared August 20, 2009.
“FAT IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD.” This is a proposed tag line for a nonprofit. Could it be for The Literacy Project or perhaps the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance? Maybe it’s for Advocates for the Zone Diet.
“FAT IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD” is the tag line for Ashley’s Designing Dissent: Advocacy Advertising project. Ashley is one of 18 seniors who presented their projects to me and my colleague, Kerri, at New England Institute of Art on Monday, August 12.
Ashley’s project, which is directed towards the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, made me take notice, made me laugh, and made me think. Her powerful campaign pairs provocative images of attractive, stylish, large women with a headline comprised of consecutive words where the first letters together spell FAT like “F”riend, “A”ctivist and “T”errific. And featuring the tag line “FAT IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD.” The campaign includes a proposal for guerrilla marketing where supporters can download stickers to plaster on posters and advertisements throughout the city. Specifically ads that advocate dieting or otherwise promote thinness as “in-ness.”
Several other projects presented last Monday also moved me or taught me something. I learned something about several organizations I have never heard of, like Reform Immigration, Ground Control – Drunk Driving Prevention, Right Turn.org (a rehab center focusing on creative people), and African Well Fund. I also learned more about some recognizable favorites including the MSPCA, Habitat for Humunity, and Amnesty International.
As designers, we have some powerful potential to make people take notice, make them laugh (or even cry sometimes), and make them think. Always strive to realize this potential—whether you’re a student or a teacher.
This post originally was originally published August 13, 2009.
But how do you grow ideas? What do you need? Here’s my take, which I posted there….
To be an excellent “sower of seeds” you need certain things—or have the desire and capacity to learn or acquire them as you go along:
1. Fertile ground, and the ability to recognize it. Is this a group of people, an organization, a market that has the potential for growth and change? Remove the rocks, pull the weeds.
2. Fertilizer. If the ground isn’t ready as-is, what needs to happen for change to take root?
3. Lots and lots of seeds. Never underestimate the power of luck, both good and bad. You may have perfect seeds, and a perfect environment, but some might just not grow. More seeds = higher probability of success.
4. Time. You don’t get from seed to plant without all the in-between steps. Some plants grow faster than others, but they all have to break from the shell, put down roots, push up to the soil, and grow. And that takes time—and patience.
5. Attention. Another word for this might be care. You have to tend your garden. If the environment is drying up, you need to give water. And you need to know when to lay off and let mother nature do her work.
6. Tolerance for failure. I’d rather plant 100 seeds and have 25 fail than plant only 10 with complete assurance they’d all survive. In one case I have a 25% failure rate—but 75 plants. In the other, nothing dies, but there’s only 10 to keep growing….
7. For any of the above, know someone who can do it better than you, if you can’t. Most of us aren’t great at all of these things. But you probably know enough people that when you all work together, you can accomplish great things.
What else do you need to make an (idea) garden grow?
Categories: Strategy and Management
This post was originally published on July 30, 2009.
I consider myself a tolerant person, perhaps even bordering on overly PC. Sure, I’m not perfect, but I genuinely cringe at the malicious use of any racial slur and personally support legislation that restricts organized “hate speech.” Of course, that’s a controversial legal stance to say the least. Where does freedom of speech end and sanctuary against persecution begin? Likewise, are there differences between positive and negative freedom that need be taken into account; even in a society founded on the principles of liberty? Perhaps, but this blog post isn’t about that.
What this blog post is about is, in no small part, my favorite NFL team: the Washington Redskins. I think you see where I’m going with this…
There are few things I enjoy more on a Sunday afternoon than Clinton Portis busting his way in for a touchdown. Moreover I grew up around DC, and watching the ‘Skins play reminds me of being encapsulated in the culture of my youth (not to mention a place with a much milder winter than Boston). I may go as far to say the team holds the same sentimental value as a keepsake or heirloom from my old house. Indeed, I don’t think I became a true fan until after I left.
Despite all that, it is undeniable that the franchise name, the foundation for its brand, is completely and utterly derogatory on an unacceptable level. The term “Redskin,” though its exact origins are vague, is widely thought to be a byproduct of European colonists in the 18th and 19th centuries. As one might guess, it probably wasn’t used in the most friendly of circumstances (Note: understatement). In contemporary times, it’s the sort of thing you would be shocked to hear someone call any member of any tribe, particularly to their face. It’s the equivalent of calling an African American “Colored” or referring to someone of Southeast Asian descent as “Yellow.”
And yet the brand has withstood the collective tests of time, law, and finance. It was coined in 1933, back when the team was coincidentally located in Boston; and inspired by the then “Boston Braves” baseball team. It’s rumored that coach William “Lone Star” Dietz came up with it (his mother may or may not have been Sioux). Likewise, past success on the field has brought the team a loyal fan base, keeping ticket sales high and the seats at FedEx field filled. Lawsuits by individuals and civil rights organizations alike have born no fruit.
So naturally, from a business standpoint, there is little incentive to change the name. Thousands of hats, jerseys, and various other pieces of paraphernalia embellished with the brand sell like hotcakes. The fans don’t seem to mind it, and no major authority inside the league or otherwise has condemned it in any forceful way.
Needless to say, though, if a new team were to start today with a name like “The Dallas Blacks,” it’s highly unlikely that there wouldn’t be justified outrage. So I’m left scratching my head as to why the football team of our nation’s capital gets away with it. Perhaps it’s a lack of education, or too small a push from those the name actually may offend; or perhaps it’s the same justification we often use for many of the sillier things we do: tradition.
Then again, maybe the problem is me. After all, in spite of how I feel about the name, I’m still a fan of the team. Food for thought.
P.S. And at least our logo isn’t as bad as Cleveland’s “Chief Wahoo.”
Note: this post was originally posted on July 2, 2009.
I have it. You have it. And if you fail to admit you have it, you probably have it the worst of all: social media-driven anxiety. It’s no longer about reading the paper over your morning coffee—or even browsing the latest headlines on your computer during lunch—social media and the attention it demands has consumed us.
That said, there are many different stages of this aforementioned anxiety that one might experience.
Stage 1: Initial apprehension
Just recently my older sister, an extremely accomplished marketing professional, questioned the necessity of jumping aboard the social media train. It made me pause—if she could be so incredibly successful at leading all inbound and outbound marketing initiatives for a securities company (a company which predominantly functions ONLINE), and hasn’t so much as created a profile on LinkedIn, was I the one doing something wrong?
Our conversation progressed and, instead of succumbing to my pensive state-of-mind, I retaliated with defensive remarks on WHY social media could help even she. Next thing I knew, the conversation took a turn.
Minutes later…I heard it…the nervousness…the uncertainty. Social Media Anxiety.
Think back to the early days of Facebook, even MySpace. The news was constantly delivering negative stories about the effects these new, online communities were having on people—namely younger generations. Getting beyond those reservations was admittedly difficult. I recall my own hesitation to plunge in—yet the pressure and ultimately, the anxiety, got the best of me.
Everyone else was doing it…so I dove right in.
Stage 2: I created a profile—now what do I do???
You wrote your bio, you updated your employment history, you invited connections and friended and followed—NOW what? There are countless individuals who took the initial steps to join a community/ies but whose profiles have remained stagnant for months. They took solace in knowing they joined the rest of the world in the social media movement, but they’re apprehensive and uncertain about how to use these timely tools.
A close friend of mine, a school teacher, explained her own apprehensions around social media communities—and her reasons for being present, yet not active within them.
For her, and for many (I think!), there was a need to show she was willing and able—to show her students she was privy to what they were a part of and how they operated—but she was sensitive to the boundaries.
I think this stands true for many individuals and businesses—being conscious of the business/personal line and when not to cross it. It’s primarily a personal decision, you either accept your co-worker’s friend request or you don’t, but regardless, it’s a decision many grapple with. Jonathan Weber of slate.com, was one of many who wrote on this issue.
No matter what the decision ultimately is, the dilemma is arriving at that decision at all. For as many people that have jumped head first into the pool of social media, there are many still dangling their feet in the shallow end, curious, yet apprehensive. What happens when they fully commit, they wonder. Will their lives be consumed by it? What if they use it “improperly”?
Within the past week alone I had four new Twitter friends/followers who remarked, “Okay, fine, I joined . . . but how the heck do I use this thing???”
Stage 3: I am a social media EXPERT.
You know them. You very well may consider yourself one of them. They eat, sleep, and breathe social media.
I check my Twitter account (or Nambu / Twitterberry) perhaps once every two hours. Within that time, I inevitably see that one person who has tweeted once every ten minutes. Fine, if this is your job, but I can’t help but notice that several of these aforementioned “suspects” work for larger organizations. They’re marketers just like myself.
So when, pray tell, are they ACTUALLY doing their jobs? Surely, social media is now an important (yet not crucial—see “stage 2” quip about my sister) layer of marketing, but isn’t it a balance between old and new?
It makes me think about these folks—these self-taught “experts.” I spoke with one but a week ago—a close friend of my father’s. I listened as he explained how he lays awake at night, often picking up his iPhone to tweet a thought in the wee hours of the morning. They’re thought leaders, knowledge-sharers—and in a day and age where we have resources and communities that allow us to provide and spread news instantly, they feel inclined to constantly be engaged. “Missing an hour’s worth of tweets could be detrimental!” (or so he said). My father’s friend denied that he suffers from anxiety, until I asked him where his fingernails went and why his doctor put him on high blood pressure medication.
I think those that argue social media is simply a new way to market oneself and one’s business, are absolutely correct. Sure, it’s more timely: simply look at what happened around Michael Jackson’s passing—social media is a powerful tool.
BUT, it [social media] is only a tool, after all.
Just as one would never create a brochure and let it sit on a shelf, we typically want to create a profile and DO something with it. It’s a delicate balance between being present and being active.
I believe everyone should jump aboard, but determine the right level of involvement—discover your boundaries—and know your limits.
Otherwise, the pharmaceutical companies, yoga masters, and therapists of the world will see a drastic increase in business.
Categories: Digital Media
This post was originally posted June 30, 2009.
The Japanese martial art of Judo is characterized by the principle of using an opponent’s attack against him. When an attacker rushes a Judo practitioner the opponent will quickly pivot so the attacker’s momentum can be used to send him flailing towards the ground. Rather than relying on superior strength, Judo is about redirecting potential attacks, and turning them to your advantage.
For communications professionals managing complex brands, the practice of “Brand Judo” can help turn negative perceptions into positive brand stories—insulating your brand from ongoing or potential attacks, and providing a differentiating leg up on the competition.
One of the all-time greatest examples of Brand Judo may also be one of the first. Advertising aficionados (and fans of AMC’s Mad Men) surely remember the 1960′s Volkswagen Beetle campaign. As competing automakers built bigger and bigger cars for growing post-WWII families, Volkswagen’s Beetle was seen as too small, too ugly, and, well, too German. The legendary campaign played up the small and ugly perceptions with headlines like “Think Small” and “Lemon” that drove home the benefits of driving a small, German (i.e. well-made) car. The folks at Smart surely know their history…
For a more recent example, look at Hulu’s current campaign. We all know television rots ours brains and we should all get out and smell the roses a bit more. Why on earth do we need more ways to watch TV “anytime, for free”? The answer is in fact otherworldly: it turns out Hulu is actually “an evil plot to destroy the world.” They’re all aliens at Hulu, and that’s how they roll. Comical, sure, but a fine example of Brand Judo in action as Hulu turns a perceived negative into a fun brand story.
In branding, whether it’s Listerine making the most of its “burn,” Altoids promoting mints that are “curiously strong,” Volvo turning boxy-looking vehicles into the safest cars on the road, Volkswagen’s lemon, or Hulu’s alien plot, perceived weaknesses are often, in fact, great (differentiating) strengths.
Brand Judo works. Find your inner lemon…and squeeze.
Got any Brand Judo stories of your own??
With the holidays upon us, we thought we’d celebrate ’Round the Square’s first year with the Best of 2009: your favorites, our favorites, and a couple of gems you might have missed.
As this year comes to a close—and dare I say it, folks are all atwitter trying to wrap things up—I keep thinking back on how many times this past year I’ve been asked to explain social media, with all its iterations, to friends and family, young and old.
The best advice I can offer is to just do it… try it… get your feet wet. As with anything new and a little bit foreign, the best way to understand is to immerse yourself and see what it’s all about. I remember watching a Charlie Rose interview with Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, more than a year ago. I was fascinated but couldn’t quite get my mind wrapped around it, so I logged on, signed up, and tried a tweet. The same thing happened with Facebook—and now I feel as if the surf is at least up to my ankles.
In a related vein, my 83-year-old father has long thought this whole Internet thing silly, but mostly because it’s a foreign language to him. But about a month ago, when he and my 20-year-old nephew were at a college basketball game, they happened upon a question about sports trivia that neither could readily answer. So my nephew launched Google on his iPhone and had the answer within a minute. Suddenly, my father was both perplexed and intrigued. Now that I’m home for the holiday, he keeps asking to borrow my iPhone, mostly to go to espn.com to get late-breaking scores, but also checking out news and weather sites, among others (and he even navigated to Facebook, where he got to see my nephew’s birthday wish for him).
I could see it in his eyes, and it made me wonder what marvels I will be anxious about forty years from now.
If social media is about new ways of connecting, the surest way to make sense of it all is to just plug in and go. You’ll soon find yourself in new and fascinating places. And if my father can do it, so can you.
See you in cyberspace in 2010, where maybe we’ll both read my father’s first tweet.