New Perspectives and Long Car Rides/ Grateful
A new place, a change in routine, will inevitably wiggle your brain enough to gain some new perspective. Or rather, some old wisdom that you already know and need to be reminded.
This is happening today as I drive home from Thanksgiving in South East Washington with a too-big dog in my lap, and my sweetie pie driving, also lost in thought. Outside my window the scene is always changing: canyon, hills, shack tucked into a hillside, forest, river, pond dotted field. The east side of the state is a landscape that always seems thirsty, even in winter. The state is dissected by a mountain range. On the west is our home, squishy with rain and always alive, even in winter. This Thanksgiving had been one of smallness and simplicity. It was nice. Now, facing the mountains, I am thinking about the projects that need finishing; life and business always under construction. Up until this point, all that crazy thought had been still, just like this landscape of long, sweeping, shapes. And now trying to think of life on the other side of the mountains, the edges are blurry and pulled out.
It’s easy to get caught up in creating a certain kind of life and wonderful to find yourself in a new place, away from things that are familiar, dreaming of endless possibilities. It reminds me that lives can be made over in a hundred different ways. In a place where there are less edges, it’s comforting to know that the edges of the path I think I’m on are not so distinct.
taxes, payroll, grassland
The edges of this landscape are connected, and fuzzy. They’re not really edges at all. Not like the hard edges of a thousand things in a cluttered workshop. The sky doesn’t really break and suddenly become trees, the east doesn’t break and become west. It’s a great reminder, on a day for gratefulness, to let it all seep in and blur the edges; and when we lift our head up, to reach back out.
The Problem with Creativity/ 7 ways to tackle your block
The problem with creativity is… it’s messy. Not in the tripping over boxes, duct tape stuck to my sneaker, branch in the eye type of messy (that’s the type I can tolerate), but messy in terms of delivering something tangible from a bunch of buzzing farts of ideas. You have a deadline, a bunch of half-baked thoughts, some doodles, and dang it, you are hungry. Maybe you just need a little snack and then you’ll be ready to go. Uh- oh. Below is a mish mash of problems I face, and things my inner #girlboss tells my whiney, playful, and sleepy parts to get my act together.
1. I have too many ideas. If you are like me, your thought process is not a straight line. It’s not even a circle. It’s like a suckering shrub with tangents sprouting off to produce their own family of ideas. Sometimes it’s difficult even to figure out where it all began. At some point, I have to tell myself to stop. From the suckering idea shrub, I connect the lichen growing on one branch over here to the sprig over here to the root over here and, BAM, a thing/ idea. It’s an overwhelming thing to begin but it is my process.
My best lesson was taught to me by the creative director at the first firm I ever worked at. I was designing a courtyard for a condo. He told me I had four hours to have an initial concept over to my new client, my eyeballs nearly fell out. After four hours I was still drawing like mad and grumbling that I needed more time. My director ripped the drawing from my hand, scanned it, and emailed it directly to my client, incomplete. I needed that lesson in order to learn how to give myself limits. At some point, it’s time to stop and move forward with the material in front of us.
2. I need better tools. I find myself using this excuse a lot. The fact is, I can probably use what I’ve got and the restriction may even produce something even better than I had imagined. Needing more or better tools won’t solve my procrastination problem, but if may create a money problem.
3. It’s so big, I can’t begin (enter procrastination). This is halfway correct. It is big. So, I must begin. My favorite quote is this: “It’s such a big dream, I can’t see it all.” by Edward S. Curtis- Seattle pioneer and photography adventurer. I know from experience that I always come up with something. And I can count on one hand the number of times I knew how it would end when looked at from the starting line. So… GO! If you are having trouble figuring out how, maybe this video will help you. I mean, if George the Poet can do it, you can too.
4. I have so many things to do. Multitasking is an illusion. Great multitaskers are just those people who can break focus, focus on something else, and then swap over to a new task. It’s not that they are doing many things at the same time, they are just doing many different singular things in a small amount of time. But at any one time, they are doing only one thing. When I am doing too many things at once, I am most likely doing them poorly and more slowly. Practice juggling.
5. My client/ boss’ control problem is stifling my creativity. Oy. Well first, the real problem to first apply your creativity to is the client’s project problem, so try shutting out any of the human drama. Apply your creativity within their constraints without the ‘don’t tread on me’ feelings. Then have a conversation or find a new boss or client to explain how you best work. Employers want their people to do their best and need to know when they are holding things back. For clients, at some point you’ll be able to build clients that trust you. For me, my best work comes when I can follow a thread of an idea and just see where it leads. Instead of madly trying to come up with interesting combinations of ideas under duress, the process is more exploratory. This is when it becomes really fun for me and my best clients know they will get way more than they paid for.
6. I’m stuck. Ya, it happens. Probably your brain needs to work on something else. I know I make the best connections while driving or after a nap. Maybe your brain needs a bit of time and a change of activity in order to organize your thoughts into genius. If I haven’t even started, a trip to the art museum or a coffee and copy of bomb or elle decor will usually give my brain a new direction and unanticipated focus.
7. No really, I’m stuck. My desk collapsed on me and I can’t get up.
Oh dang! Sorry buddy, that’s all you. Do you have any of those tools we discussed handy?
Vulnerability: Teachings from Pharell and Brene Brown
When I’m procrastinating and need a kick in the a**, I like to throw on a quick TED talk. This one on Vulnerability by Brene Brown was particularly eye-opening.
It’s message of courage, openness, and wholeheartedness is one that I personally strive for. These qualities are also necessary to achieve the kind of boldness, creative thought, and success for my business, Lola Creative to thrive. I am also amazed whenever I see a speaker who can address a crowd as if they are her best girlfriend. This lady can speak two words and I am already drawn in. In a nutshell, it teaches that our belief in our vulnerability as the source of what makes us special, is the key to joy. Also that connection requires vulnerability because it reveals our authentic selves.
This is particularly useful in business, where vulnerability can be viewed as something less than professional. It’s scary because it admits some degree of uncertainty. In my industry, uncertainty is necessary, nobody knows exactly what will happen at an event because all the pieces have never come together in the same time and place. All we can do is prepare. Even still, confidence, even if unfounded, can be a bigger sell to a hesitant client than a bold idea. Everyone has someone to impress but our clients have one shot to nail it. To fail at a lofty goal is so scary, many would rather choose the safer option to make the potential fall less scary. Several times we’ve been in the situation where we’ve proposed a bold idea or experimental approach only to find that later, it needs tweaking. It will have to be modified. This has sometimes been stressful for our clients who are reluctant to relay an alternate to their higher-ups for fear of looking incompetent. We’ve even been tempted to simplify our offerings to what is easily accomplished. We also have been tempted to express over confidence in the beginning when really, “Yes, absolutely this can be done!” actually means, “Yes, absolutely we are capable of doing this, until we can’t. And at that point we will move to another awesome idea that will work better.” Brene’s message is a wonderful reminder that new paths are uncertain, but also yield exciting results. Experimentation and creative acts are vulnerable endeavors and if vulnerability leads to joy. Than the path to the “hell yeah” business that we want rife with uncertain moments.
With all this on my mind, later in the week I went to my number 2 time waster, reality TV. The Voice is on and this past week I was surprised to see Brene’s findings echoed in the coaching of Pharrell Williams. To a rejected Bianca Espina, he said, It’s not about the chairs,”It’s about your great time.”
The idea that as a creative professional, if you are to draw people in, your ‘performance’ must be authentic, bold, and vulnerable. You must be so into your thing, that it’s play, and the audience reaction becomes more of an observation and learning process than a judgement call.
Next we’ll talk about building trusting clients who value a bold approach.
And speaking of vulnerability, stay tuned for a very uncertain situation, our first big event using tall floral arrangements without floral foam… In a glass house… midsummer. Yowza.
Three Ways to Love your Design Business this Valentine’s Day
Just like a little love and attention will make your relationships more robust, here are some ways to show your business a little love- so it will get all big and juicy, too.
1. Remind yourself of how awesome it is– and tell everyone else. If you’re like me, you have no problem selling anything you are passionate about. But somehow when you’re in the trenches of a startup or big project, the fire that burned at the onset of the idea can seem a little dimmer. Look over some photos and messages from clients and congratulate yourself for what you have accomplished. Recall the principles that lead you to start this business and how each job has helped you satisfy or reinforce those values. Spread the word like you just discovered your business and can’t wait to tell everyone.
2. Give it a gift. Take a little project that’s been on the back burner and get someone else to do it. Maybe your blog can be redesigned, maybe it would like a little studio tour video, or maybe you can hire an e-lancer to simply go through your various web platforms and make sure your message is all in line.
3. Make your business easy to love. Spend a little time clarifying your process, policies, and prices. Your art is unique and your clients want your particular brand of awesome to stick around. Tell them how you need to be loved so that your business is robust enough to last. They may not know. If you are charging too little and getting burned out, you are not doing your clients any favors in the long term. You pay the financial and physical hardship and as a result, your clients don’t experience your gifts…. or worse, you push your anemic company on and on and become haggard and bitter. You will probably begin to growl at children. eesh.
Happy Valentine’s Day Business I love you. Even though you are sometimes irritating (taxes, bookkeeping, why are you always out of paper towels? etc.) we are so right together.
Seamless Take-Offs and Landings
Starting out, this business can seem like it’s exploding one moment, and fizzling the next. When exploding, it’s easy to feel like we are barreling toward a bright, uncertain, fiery end, with our parts being thrashed around and coming loose. These times are exciting and all-consuming. Once we climax at a shining glorious event, we fizzle back to reality, thin, used up, and with a smile on our faces. As we come to, we are surrounded with the neglected routine to resume. Oops.
I had a little moment of clarity this past month regarding how this company will function as we grow bigger. Luckily, it aligns with goal number 4 of our little manifesto in our first post. And I think it’s going to go far in terms of providing the kind of consistency that we need. While it’s normal to focus heavily on an urgent event, we need to keep our long-term goals in check with systems and routines. Here’s what we did this month to handle a surprising number of large events during a typically slow period:
- Hire flexible people early, get them trained. Pull back in employees from busy times. Test out new techniques and materials early.
- Hire professionals on a project basis to handle management of a few key areas. This month, we had someone in charge of procuring items (fancy speak for driving around gettin’ stuff) and floral design. We added people to our buying accounts and ordered AMEX cards for our employees for hassle free purchasing.
- Delegate the pieces: A few key pieces were doled out to employees. They became responsible for following through on the complications that arose with each piece. Rather than me as lead on every piece, I became the orchestrator who tried to support the people making everything. This became essential when the inevitable hang up occurred. I was available to either jump in and help, or switch our team to a new direction. Without my head into the specifics of each piece, I was able to move resources around to the most urgent needs. We also had one employee who managed incoming inquiries and normal day-to-day requests. She followed up with everyone and scheduled consultations.
- Remove yourself as a barrier. Each person was used where they were most effective and removed where they were not. For example, I know that I don’t have the best tact nor do I speak clearly when exhausted, so it was best to put one of our managers in charge during the client walk throughs. Same goes for staffing the event.
- Reign in your perfectionism. Quality is essential but when one little detail is slowing progress, it’s important to identify if that detail is essential. If not, work around it or eliminate it and move on.
- Tap into your resources. It’s difficult to anticipate everything that can go wrong, but being resourceful helps to smooth out the inevitable hang ups. In one extreme case, during a particularly overwhelming task, we called everyone we knew in to assist. We even posted a Craigslist ad at 9pm for ‘people with hammers’ to come in to work late that night. We were overwhelmed with interest. While we didn’t end up using the Craigslist people, that opened up a new avenue of help if things ever got so hairy. We now have a screened list of on call handy people who are willing to work all hours. Awesome.
What we did let slide a bit was our marketing and social media efforts. We’ll be looking into ways to create content that’s ready to go for busy times such as this. Marketing we’ve learned we need to do year round- even in busy times as it’s about a 3-6 month lag before we see results from many marketing efforts.
Any suggestions on tools for maintaining consistency?