Those of us in the idea business need artifacts to do our good work justice. And they should be as beautiful, inspiring and (of course) strategic as any of the ad campaigns they later spawn. An idea is a beautiful thing. And a terrible thing to be wasting away in the ether of a random conference room.Read More
Impatience. Such a seemingly negative emotion. We recently looked at impatience and how it can creep up on us as we navigate our projects. It can often be made to work for us, but sometimes it's not that easy. In these cases where impatience persists, frustration is a logical next step although not always the step we'd like to take. As usual, our intrepid group of bloggers will try to spin frustration on its head and make something positive out of the situation. If you're finding yourself frustrated by a piece of work, we hope we can nudge you in the right direction.
Let's say your company has essentially taken over the world of electronics, is a stock market darling and has legions of fans who hang on every mention of your products. That would be so awesome, right? Well, it would also create immense pressure to keep the production line going — the production line of ideas as much as devices. Enter the iPhone 5. Well, actually, don't enter the iPhone 5. That's kind of the problem: it's not here yet. But it will be here soon. A quick online search of the phrase "iPhone 5" yields 2,350,000,000 results at the time of writing. And the top 6 are individual sites created exclusively for following the rumor mill surrounding the product. That's a lot of pent up anticipation. I believe I read the phrase, "The salivation is so palpable, you may need an umbrella." One thing is for sure: the fanboys will certainly queue up when the 5 finally hits stores next month. But here's another thought: could Apple actually be wearing out its welcome with some of the population? The rabid anticipation for this device is perhaps higher than it's ever been for an Apple release. But it's just taken SO long, that it seems people might've exploded if the confirmed introduction for October 4th had not recently appeared out of thin air. Pair this ongoing frustration with the rigid service contracts from carriers that we're all subjected to and the window of i-adoption tightens for many. Every month that's passed saw more people miss the boat. Or worse for Apple, pick another boat. It's possible that the level of frustration with Apple over the iPhone 5's release will create just as fervent a backlash as an adoration. Maybe it's only a ripple, but it's a ripple of consumers entertaining solutions other than one designed in Cupertino. And that's never good for business.
Beware of keeping your customer waiting too long.
While a bout with impatience can spur forward movement on a project, it can incite frustration, leading to rash decisions and missed opportunities. Consider Randy "Super Freak" Moss, future Hall of Famer, recently retired, but still hoping, wide receiver of the NFL. He's had to bounce a few times in recent years from the New England Patriots to the Minnesota Vikings and finally to the Tennessee Titans. The Titans? That was just wrong. The New England experiment was the closest tenure to something that worked but it obviously didn't really work out in the end. After Randy's final season with the Titans, the team publicly stated they weren't re-signing the veteran receiver. The player and the player's agent maintained Moss stayed in freakish physical shape during the off-season and lockout. moss was ready to play for an interested team. The first problem became that teams did not show interest, at least publicly. By the middle of summer, without any offers or attention from teams, Ross quickly became frustrated and retired. No Brett Favre antics here. Peace out. Fast-forward, and now it seems that a handful of teams might've actually been interested in Randy's services. They just didn't make a public spectacle or media blitz like some teams do from time to time to grab the headlines and/or a player's attention. We'll never really know, but there's this nagging notion that Randy might've cut himself out of another championship run by allowing himself to become frustrated with the negotiating process.
So don't take things too personally — allow yourself to step back and evaluate the total picture if you're ever frustrated by a situation. Especially one that could influence an important decision — like ending your career.
I'd like to end with a closer look at Washington, D.C. But not a long one — I don't think any of us can stomach an in-depth examination. But please consider the political gridlock we witness if we happen to tune into the news any day of the week. Zero is a fairly accurate account of what's being accomplished by our elected officials. A few folks out there might even use the same term for the officials themselves. But I digress. I'd like to propose that perhaps the gridlock is actually the fault of the voters. How, you ask? Consider recent election cycles. It seems one party is put in a majority position, but never in a true position of power. Gridlock ensues because the so-called party of power isn't able to truly enact any part of their agenda due to forceful opposition. And so government stalls in the face of political postures and bickering. Voters sour on the situation and when a ballot next appears, they vote the current party out in favor of the alternative. And so on. Instead of curbing our enthusiasm, maybe we should curb our frustration long enough to allow an accurate appraisal of policies that might actually work rather than playing into an always-on election cycle.
It's sometimes very tough to do, but consider letting your ideas live long enough to rule themselves out before cutting off your support or belief.
So there really are ways to channel frustration into positive gains. But we have to do the channeling to get something out of it. If, out of frustration, we allow ourselves to be swept up in feelings of authority or importance or we just plain let things spin out of control, then we've not moved beyond the frustration. We've allowed it to take control. Here's hoping we can keep our hands on the wheel.
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Every month, we give away a free desktop image inspired by the current virtue of #smallerthinking. The current version was inspired by an actual dispenser in our office which, by the way, has since been filled. Enjoy.
Thanks for traveling with us through a year -or so- of #smallthinking. For those just joining us, we are taking our faithful following (I can say faithful because we oblige an intimate crowd) through the process of ideation and execution. Our notion is that smaller ideas get to live, breathe, evolve (and we discuss this in more depth over on Facebook). Whereas, big ideas get to fester, fabricate and #fail. Not always. But the reality is, to coin a phrase, "It's a mad, mad world." A world that's waiting for you to either a.) blow up (in a good way) or b.) just blow up. We are all citizens of this impatient world. In fact, some say today's Gen Y-ers never even learned patience. The push forward is intense, even crushing at times, from the news cycle, to the sports world, to the art world, to the advertising world, and so on. It would seem impatience is a universal truth. What do you think?
Let me be clear. We're not advocating impatience by way of thinking smaller. We are, however, acknowledging it. And attempting to learn from it, understand it and use it to our advantage. With any project there comes a time… like now if you've followed our #smallthinking project… when one can get into a bit of a rut. The optimism that accompanies the launch of any project is accompanied by a healthy dose of adrenaline. In my case it is also accompanied by this, or this or these. Once the going gets tough, our instincts, which we've mentioned before, compel us to reevaluate the strategy, move the goalposts or maybe just cut and run. This is the point where we need a strong stomach. Second guessing a project's worth is one of the the first major hurdles to success. And let me just say there will be more.
So how can we channel impatience toward something positive? Well, it starts by realizing that our impatience is healthy in the early stages of a project's development. We are still hungry. We wish to see our idea through to fruition. But we haven't trended yet. Yet! What does that mean? The short answer is it doesn't mean our concept is dead. It may be dying for a number of reasons, but it's not dead. Check the airway! Begin compressions if needed! Once we acknowledge we're still in the game, we can reassure ourselves that our impatience isn't a calling card for the endeavor at hand. In many ways it's a reassurance that we still care.
So take a deep breath. Not every musician works with Cole Haan before they release a major label album. Not every artist is an international superstar at the age of 22. Not every US President is elected in his forties. These folks were impatient with their reality, for sure. They found a way to channel their impatience into next steps. So we are aiming for practical impatience here, not the meteoric kind.
The cold reality is that impatience can lead us to failure if we give in to its whims. And then we move on to the next thing. And the next. You get the picture. Sometimes a slow burn is where the magic's at. In the end, nothing is really finite, except as they say, death and taxes. BTW, if either of these are a problem, we have bigger issues to face. Anyway, we should be just as impatient with failure as our own optimism. And we needn't view these difficult teaching moments so much as our defining moments. We should see them for what they really are -- teaching moments. Where we are in the process (early on, mind you), we are allowed rebuttals and recourse. But we will hopefully learn from our miscues. It should be easy to see how impatience and conjecture and ambition and failure are good things. At least for now.
Along the way in our discussion of ingenuity we met Johannes Gutenberg, a gaggle of DIY-ers and a few other characters concerned with the business of forward thinking and making things in new ways. Gutenberg was a good place to start as his storied work with moveable type ushered in a new age of learning and thus the advancement of society as a whole. Let's leap forward to the here and now where we are experiencing another great leap in publishing, the magazine app. Is it just a glorified PDF or the way forward? We are in the early stages but I believe the ingenuity of developers and end-users of this medium alike will usher in a new age of publishing.
About a year ago, Wired jumped out in front of many other publications with a much-ballyhooed edition of their magazine for the iPad. There was a distinct wow factor at the time. Talk about moveable type! It was fun to flip through a magazine again. There was plenty to love, but the critics who knew plenty about UX, publishing models and so on were able to poke a few holes in the initial release. Essentially they were split on like/dislike, but where was the precedent? Who was right? Well, a year later and Wired is still pushing the evolution of the medium. And it's getting better. They've been an integral part of the initial thrust of magazine apps alongside the likes of Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated, Self, and Oprah. Just like in the 15th century, it would seem we are witnessing a publishing revolution.
The magazine apps have opened up new possibilities for making content stickier. We still have many of the same columns and guest appearances by our favorite writers, photographers and illustrators. But how about embedded video and audio files to go along with our text? Additional links to other relevant content? We can now do these things -- and under a familiar masthead, one with equity. These capabilities foster a new kind of immersion in topics of interest to readers everywhere. At least those with tablets. What about the tactile experience? To be honest, not everything needs to be tactile to our fingers. A little mental stimulation is just fine, thank you very much.
But as the critics pointed out, a few growing pains persist. And these are not all tied to the developers -- some of them fall back onto us marketers. For example, in a recent Wired edition for the iPad I noticed several static ads that looked as if they'd been "ripped from the headlines," or maybe more appropriately, "ripped from the print edition." These were certainly a missed opportunity to take advantage of the technology being employed. Also, a few with QR codes. QR codes in a magazine app? It's easy to surmise that no one has really figured out how to best implement these codes. But seriously, am I going to take out my mobile device, scan the QR code from my tablet, and find myself enlightened? I'm more likely to find myself mildly annoyed without even scanning the code. This before I swipe through to the next article. These electronic editions are a specific medium and so they require a bit of attention in how they are utilized. We're learning, just as Gutenberg's contemporaries did before they began spewing forth centuries of learning into the world, fostering a new generation of luminaries. So with a little ingenuity on the part of developers (and a little help from us), new ways of capitalizing on this burgeoning technology will continue to surface. But I digress. We were speaking about magazine apps, not QR codes.
From the business side, ingenuity has already served many of the tablet 'zine companies well. The apps have served as new ways of hooking additional readers when they were being lost to browsing online. Sure, the big publishers still manage to get folks signing on for year-long subscriptions. But now, they can also sell more one-off editions because they've wiggled their way into the lifestyle of today's consumer and made it easy for them to access content (except <ahem> for those long download times). And a few publishers like Condé Naste are now offering discounts over print subscriptions. Call now! At the other end of the spectrum there are smaller niche publications who serve a specific clientele (more likely to have already invested in tablets) who can now play on the same field with the Wired's and Time's of the world. So the electronic edition makes a lot of sense for them as well.
Time will tell whether the electronic edition is here to stay. Ingenuity will foster new ways of evolving this technology and what it eventually becomes. And even where it lives. Textbooks, car manuals and even more, I'm sure. It will be exciting to see -- and read.
DIY is everywhere. And while the basic notion of creative self-sufficiency holds great appeal in an age that can feel mass-produced and impersonal, there might come a moment when we (or at least I) will get turned off, saturated to the point of no return with talk of the most intriguing new way to make something. The problem is not that these ideas aren’t innovative; we constantly come across impressive ventures that offer a better way forward. What gets me is when the broader concept of DIY seems to generate more excitement than the actual project at hand, its goals, and how the people at the helm manage to make an impact. Many different labors of love have contributed to the momentum behind DIY. Just look at the growing popularity of the Maker Faire series, which came in June to our own backyard; or ShopBot Tools, headquartered in Durham since 1996; or the tiny personal projects that will never make the news. There are real-world applications in all such ventures, but the buzz about DIY often seems to overshadow them. As for the permeation of the trend, consider the “How to Make Stuff” cover spread on Wired magazine’s DIY-centric April issue, or the fact that in just a two-week period of June, Fast Company issued four articles whose titles included the term “DIY.”
So in the face of a movement that has become pervasive, how do we make sure people focus on the nitty-gritty details, too? Lest DIY fall down the rabbit hole and be seen in hindsight as a fad, it’s time to recall how it can be both useful and extraordinarily powerful, all while still being fun and inspired. After all, if we can’t articulate exactly why an undertaking is so great, we risk becoming lazy makers, creating throwaway projects with no lasting value.
Of course, there is some intrinsic merit in learning by doing; as we’ve said before, making things with your own two hands is pretty vital to being human. But something can be both new and creative without changing the world. And that’s the best place to start discussing the merits of a DIY project -- by asking whether a maker has figured out how to do something better.
“At d.light, we use the best design principles -- usually reserved for the 10 percent wealthiest -- and apply them to meet the needs of households without access to reliable electricity.”
Talk about turning the world on its head.
There are lots of DIY-related initiatives that break free of existing conventions in constructive ways, but this is a good example of a project that’s been presented to the public skillfully. Because d.light talks about specifics, we can wrap our heads around why it does something better.
The next time someone raves about a DIY idea they saw put into action, ask the same questions that the folks at d.light did: What is the root problem that’s being solved? Whom is being helped? Why is this solution better? Is it efficient? How will this product continue to improve people’s lives after they receive it?
Those aren’t the only questions to ask, but they get us thinking about the inner workings of DIY, not just the sexy surface.
We Durhamites love our town. It’s undeniable. At the suggestion that the area still needs to grow into a better version of itself, we cast a sidelong glance, purse our lips, and feel sorry for the person who is blind to how fantastic Durham already is. With such eager supporters, it might seem as if Durham were on a permanent path to greatness. Truth be told, we’ve come this far because of good old-fashioned moxie. We are where we are thanks to the very real ingenuity of the individuals, families, philanthropists, activists, bloggers, athletes, artists, huge technology companies, and tiny neighborhood businesses that have stuck their necks out for Durham over years and decades. Our countless small initiatives managed to come together in harmony and built something big -- a wonderfully gritty, smart, and impassioned community.
Up to now, we’ve kept that trend going by being both creative and prolific in our efforts to kickstart and sustain budding projects, and by being willing to take the right risks at the right time. It can feel as if we’re on an unstoppable roll, with The Cookery opening its food business incubator last month, the Bull City Startup Stampede giving new downtown businesses a leg up through the end of May, and this summer’s scheduled renovation of the old Chesterfield Building on the corner of Duke and Main, which promises to add a fresh spot for mixed-use space to the downtown revitalization. And that’s just to name a few reasons why Durham is the envy of personality-deficient towns and entrepreneurial-wannabes everywhere.
With so much buzz in the air, it’s easy to assume we can ride the wave forever. But here’s the rub: Doing more of what’s worked in the past doesn’t guarantee success. For a new project to catch on, it should be conceived carefully. And to be innovative, it should offer something clearly better. Continuing to churn up tiny, effective waves of influence is how we will end up buttressing this vibrant city of ours. In other words, to make something great, we have to remember to think small.
I got to thinking about this a little while back when Chris Heivly, executive director of seed-stage investment program LaunchBox Digital, said that the “big picture” of Durham has to develop organically out of everything we do. As Heivly told Durham Magazine on 6 April: “I don’t want to be the next Boston, the next Austin, the next anything. I want to be Durham.”
The man makes a good point. So to help keep Durham a thriving, authentic place, take a closer look at your latest project idea. Is it small enough to work on its own merits, producing immediate results? Is it digestible enough? Those are the questions to ask, because the short-term is where it’s at. Being precise and timely, small ideas can be developed, tested, and implemented while they are still relevant and inspiring. Smaller thinking lets you act in real time and effect tangible change. Right now. Any long-term, lofty effects you want it to have on the character of Durham are just icing on the cake.
With that in mind, if your project needs a fresh start, try sketching out how you would begin to experiment with a small idea. Identify a current and pressing issue with local implications, and use these tips to help get the process started.
Don’t burden your idea with fluff.
Take the lines of your favorite car. Maybe an Aston Martin does it for you. What about that particular year makes it more beautiful than any other? I’d be willing to bet that the designer followed one small idea, and it paid off.
Translation: Start by articulating the problem you’re trying to solve. Dig deep and jot down a word or short phrase that sums up your purpose. Refer back to it whenever you feel yourself getting lost in decision-making.
Before I left to spend a year of college in Freiburg, Germany, a favorite professor told me, “If anyone asks you to go anywhere with them, go. Just go.” That kernel of an idea was both simple and inspiring enough to put into action, and through a series of small moments, it led to a richer, more colorful experience.
Translation: Experiment. The beauty of small ideas is that you can test out new waters constantly. And if something isn’t working, you can let it fail without worrying about having wasted months on it. Go, and go often.
Things happen for a reason. A common enough sentiment, but one that also holds much truth. In every endeavor we have a reason. In an ideal world, this reason is consistently tied to creating better ways of doing something whether it's growing an herb garden, serving inner-city youth or constructing a research methodology. In a not so ideal world (the one we live in), our raison d'être is the effort of at least looking for needed improvements in our world. In this, the third installment of our Virtues of Smaller Thinking, we will explore ingenuity and how it impacts our reaching the goals we've set.
We've established that ingenuity is the act of finding better ways of doing stuff. But how? What's the impact for ourselves? For others?
You might expect me to say that ingenuity begins with innovation or inspiration, but this is where ingenuity eventually points us. Ingenuity is harder, and is first about honesty. An altogether honest assessment of the condition of our being or the quality of an object under consideration. This is not the honesty of family reunions -- this is the brutal honesty of credit reports and blood pressure tests. In Shift, Peter Arnell tells us of his own reluctance to see himself as a 400 lb. man in favor of a more benign self-identification as merely a creative person, without all the baggage. He got past this with an unsettling realization -- his reality -- which led to a better way of living and his losing 250 pounds. Like Peter, only after we assess the subject at hand can we focus on how best to improve upon it and truly move into wider worlds of possibility. Without this candid conversation, we're probably having the wrong conversations as we move forward.
So how does this impact our work? Our processes? This is what we'll explore in more depth over the next few weeks, but know there's a good chance it might not always be pretty. We have to trust ourselves. Ingenuity can sometimes be found in fundamental changes in how we perceive ourselves and our outputs. In other words, something like epiphanies and bolts of lightning. A lot of the time, though, ingenuity manifests itself in lots of tiny revolutions as we constantly refine the way we do things. Constantly. These incremental improvements do add up and they do improve our lives. So keep your mind open to possibilities no matter where they lie. And never suppress the little voice that cries out "What if?" before hearing it out.
As for the impact of ingenuity, let's travel back in time for a moment. All the way back to the 15th century. The world is awakening from what we now call the Dark Ages. Feudal life is not a charmed one. There is no internet and no Facebook. Hell, there are hardly even any books -- and even these aren't available en masse. Along comes Johannes Gutenberg and his magical mechanical moving type. He found a better, faster way of printing books, most famously his 42-line Bible. Before his ingenuity took root, books took months or even years to transcribe by hand. Turns out, even though he changed the world, Gutenberg never became a Renaissance rock star because of his Bibles and Latin texts. He had to borrow money to keep his operations going and was even taken to court. But he persevered. And if we look closer his ingenuity produced a radical contribution to the world that continues to give.
Many folks trace everything in our modern world right back to Gutenberg's dingy workshop. Skyscrapers, VoIP, Gatorade and the combustion engine. Indeed, Mark Twain wrote, "What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg."
Movable type fed the awakening of Europe and subsequently the entire world. It helped bring about the Renaissance because texts were suddenly easier to distribute. Learning took off. On second thought, it was more like learning blasted off. Martin Luther's 95 Theses were printed and circulated widely due to Gutenberg's advancements and then eventually issued as broadsheets which led to the development of the newspaper. And now everything we know is doubled every 900 days. So while ingenuity spawned an original contribution in this instance it inspired many more to come, both directly and indirectly. Another way of saying ingenuity doesn't sleep.
In the first installment of our 12 Virtues of Smaller Thinking, we got hungry. Or at least hungrier than we'd been before. Hunger is our starting point, the origination of our direction. But once we press this "start" button, where do we go? We have a few ideas of where not to go and a few that make more sense. Trust us. We've seen it happen. There's a spark, an idea or even just a gesture of an idea. We immediately want to go out and quantify or qualify (pick your poison, in this case) the merits of our concept. But wait -- do we really need a measuring stick for a hunch? Can we even measure a hunch? This is a critical point, because this is the juncture between killing ideas and stoking them.
When our initial hunger leads us to action, there's an internal shift of momentum. A hunch that something is good or bad. In other words, our instincts tell us if something is worth an investment of time, money or other assets. The beauty is that we can do this all on our own. We are pre-wired to detect the quality of our own ideas. Delphine de Girardin said, "Instinct is the nose of the mind." This feels right to me -- that our minds, not just our heads, would have noses.
This early in the game it would be a shame to get caught up in analytics and statistics. We're still operating on the nebulous playing field of concepts. So a little (or a lot of) trust is needed in ourselves to allow our ideas to germinate a bit. Not always easy to do, but essential early in the life of a project. By hopping right into a swirling pool of research and analytics, we become focused on the vortex of information and not our idea. Before we know it, our concept is awash in reasons to live or die. Pretty heavy stuff for an infant.
So our point is to allow your instincts to guide you early on as you are working through a project. There's a lot we can learn from ourselves. Plus, there's plenty of time to measure and test a little further down the road.
For the next few weeks, we'll be exploring our instincts here on the PARAGRAPH blog. Specifically, we're pondering how trusting instincts early on can lead to quick victories that help establish momentum. We want to delve a little deeper into how our internal hunches can positively direct our productivity.
For every virtue of smaller thinking, we create a custom desktop and make it available to you, the people. This time is no exception. Check out the desktop below that captures a bit of the indescribable, yet potent nature of instinct and how trusting it can produce unexpected and beautiful results. Trusting my instincts, the author will eat a chocolate chip cookie for every download of the desktops. I'll even tape the proceedings when they occur.
“Orville Wright didn’t have a pilot’s license.” - Richard Tait
I’ve never heard of Richard Tait, but he sure does illustrate the point. With all our talk lately about how to channel an initial pang of hunger into a plan of action, we’d do well to zero in on how the transition from sheer passion to impassioned work realistically happens.
So, that’s where we find ourselves. There are plenty of personal anecdotes out there that would provide ideas for how to get started. But you can talk amongst yourselves about those. If we were to boil it down, taking that first step depends on one fundamental rule.
Don’t waste too much time in the ramp-up phase. It’s a recipe for inaction. This translates into many things, one of which has to do with schoolin’. As Mr. Wright could have told us, making changes to the world doesn’t necessarily require a third party to announce your legitimacy before you’re allowed lift a finger.
Of course this doesn’t apply to everything. Me, I like my doctor to have a shiny diploma hanging where I can see it.
But sometimes, the ready-made framework for doing something can be more stifling than enabling. Don’t let a degree distract you from earning real-world chops. If you feel a sense of injustice about the society that surrounds you, go be the next Che Guevara. If you find you have a knack for entrepreneurship and for a budding technology, go be the next Bill Gates. And who didn’t love Good Will Hunting? Or Ernest Hemingway, for that matter. I, at least, have a soft spot for writers who craft their own voice by working through trial and error -- not with excessive formal training.
The point is that if you have the zeal and the skill to do something, there’s a good chance you can make a go of it now. Not after you do this, that, or the other thing.
Try honing your own ability to set the right goals at the right time. Doing that is a question of being able to take calculated risks, and it’s a matter of trusting your instinct. But that’s a subject we’ll take up next time.