Listen to enough writers talk about their Muse and sooner or later it’ll dawn on you that while the act of writing is thought of lots of different ways, few of them are pleasant.
Ernest Hemingway found looking for his Muse torturous. According to legend, Papa described it like this: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
Jack London said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
And W. Somerset Maugham believed that, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
What you’ll discover about writing is that while every writer describes it in a different way, almost all of them consider their Muse a difficult, albeit necessary taskmaster.
Having spent the last eight years hammering out this blog week after week while also writing two new books, countless speeches, articles, and TV commentary, and keeping up with my client assignments, I’ve learned a little bit about just how hard maintaining consistently good writing can be.
I’m not the first one to discover these two points, by the way. When I was researching quotes for this article, I’d already determined my two rules but wasn’t aware that others had written them already.
Vladimir Nabokov said that, “I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” And Hemingway was plainly clear on this point when he wrote, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Because I sincerely believe that the most important part of good writing is rewriting, I try to write my posts with enough lead-time to read them over and over and over, crafting them a bit tighter on each pass.
As far as the jealousy of my Muse goes, this point is unassailable. If you want to write – books, ads, songs, blogs, whatever – then besides putting in lots and lots of hard work the other thing to always do is stop and write whenever an idea strikes you. Because if you wait until later when it’s more convenient your good ideas will vaporize, as hard to recall as a good night’s dream in the light of day.
To benefit from the thinking time I get when I run I keep a miniature Sharpie tangled in my sneaker laces so I can write my inspirations down on the palm of my hand as they pop into my head. When I sleep I keep a pad and pen on my bed stand to capture those 3:15 a.m. brainstorms before they disappear into the ether. And during the day I always try to have my laptop, iPad or notebook within quick reach so I don’t risk missing good ideas whenever and wherever the Muse shows herself.
Turns out Steven Pressfield, the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and The War of Art, already knew about the Muse’s demands. Pressfield explained it this way:
“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”
Saul Bellow said it like this, “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”
But just because the words and ideas might appear when you pay attention and work at it doesn’t make it easy. Why? Because we writers are always our own worst critics. After all, as Thomas Mann said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Amen to that.
Please take a minute to think about the words IF and BUT. Such little words but they can have such a big impact on your brand.
Do you realize that if you add the words IF or BUT to an apology it demeans the sentiment and neuters the meaning?
“I’m sorry IF you thought I was being mean,” is not an apology because the IF has disclaimed the value of “I’m sorry.” Being sorry is not based on how the wronged party felt about the action being apologized for; it’s based on feeling remorse for having done something wrong in the first place.
“I’m sorry you were offended BUT I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” is not an apology because the intention of the slight has nothing to do with its ultimate effect.
And “I’m sorry IF you were bothered by what I said BUT I was angry,” is not an apology either because none of the conditions have anything to do with the situation being apologized for. Being angry enough to say something stupid is not a reasonable excuse for the stupidity itself.
I find it interesting that these short little words, IF and BUT have so much weight. With just two or three letters the power of a sincere apology can be completely neutralized.
And the same thing can happen during your sales pitch…
Did you know that 65% of the respondents in a well-crafted marketing study said they’ve stopped purchasing a product that was advertised with a message they found unacceptable?
Not only that but advertising was seen to have a significant impact on societal values. 47% of Canadian consumers interviewed said that advertising shapes public values vs. 40% who said advertising simply mirrors society. In the United States a majority of consumers said that advertising serves as a societal mirror but a large percentage still affirmed that unacceptable or disingenuous messages would make them change their mind about an upcoming purchase.
It stands to reason then that you could lose almost half of your buyers simply because of an errantly placed IF or BUT. Besides being a wake-up call for marketers to be scrupulous about the way they communicate, this also suggests that the power of language and branding is much more significant than casual observation might suggest.
My friend and online learning expert Alex Santos at Collabor8 Learning closes his emails with the following words of wisdom: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.”
For years the old Southeast Bank ran a campaign with the tagline, “It’s Time To Call Southeast.” I suppose they thought that when you needed money or banking services you would pick up the phone and dial their number. Unfortunately whenever I heard the campaign I always wondered what I had done wrong because I don’t usually call my bank when something good happens, I call them when there’s a problem. I’d bet you’re the same.
It’s time to call Southeast? Why? Did a hurricane just destroy my house and I need to borrow money for a new roof? Did I forget to record a check and subsequently overdraw my account? Are there bank fees on my statement that I wasn’t expecting? No matter the question, calling my bank is not an activity I generally look forward to happily.
The next time you write copy for an ad, website, resume, or whatever, take a moment to read the copy as if you were the recipient. Make sure that the message you’re trying to convey is the same message that your reader is going to receive. Otherwise you might just have to apologize afterwards. No IFs or BUTs included.
Bruce Jenner was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on 20/20 last week and told the world about his journey to become a woman. Bruce Jenner explained about how he’s felt and what he needs to do to fulfill his life.
Thanks to the interview we were exposed to something we don’t usually see on national television, especially from a reality show star: someone speaking honestly and openly from their heart.
Here’s how Variety Magazine evaluated the interview: “Audiences turned out in big numbers Friday night for ABC’s much-anticipated two-hour Bruce Jenner interview on “20/20,” which drew the newsmagazine’s highest ratings in key demos on the night in more than 15 years.
Nielsen estimates that Diane Sawyer’s sitdown with the former Olympic decathlete-turned-reality star averaged a 5.2 rating/17 share in adults 18-49 and 16.9 million viewers overall. That will make it the week’s top-rated program in all categories as well as the top non-sports program in the young-adults demo since the season finale of Fox’s “Empire” in mid-March.
This is the best 18-49 result on a Friday for “20/20” since March 2000, when Barbara Walters interviewed the parents of JonBenét Ramsey. And it’s the highest for any Friday non-sports broadcast on any network since 2003…” Roughly 68% of the 18-49 audience for the special was male.
The interview was also a very big topic of conversation on social media. According to Nielsen Social, “Bruce Jenner: The Interview” drew 972,000 tweets from 403,000 unique authors, ranking as the most social Friday telecast of all time, excluding sports.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the interview was not actually Bruce Jenner’s revelation that he was a transgender American but that he considers himself a conservative Republican.
“Are you a Republican?” Sawyer asked Jenner. “Yeah,” he responded. “Is that a bad thing?”
“Neither political party has a monopoly on understanding,” Jenner told Sawyer, who suggested the Olympian ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner for help championing the cause of the transgender community.
“I would do that in a heartbeat,” Jenner answered. “Yeah, why not?”
At least one Republican group was quick to reach out to Bruce Jenner. Log Cabin Republicans’ National Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo said: “As the nation’s only organization representing LGBT conservatives and straight allies, Log Cabin Republicans congratulates Bruce Jenner in the tremendous courage he demonstrated tonight, being true to himself both in terms of his personal identity as well as his political identity. There is a home for you in Log Cabin Republicans – as there is for all lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender conservatives and straight allies.”
While the immediate big story is Bruce Jenner’s revelations – both that he’s transgender and a conservative Republican – and the story to watch will be how the GOP grapples with the responsibilities and consequences of being a big tent political party, the immediate learning for all of us is the power of identifying, accepting, and promoting one’s authentic truth.
What Jenner has done, and what the viewing numbers for his 20/20 interview prove, is just how compelling and congruent speaking from the heart can be. And by setting the bar as high as the ones he jumped over in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Jenner has courageously dared policymakers and marketers alike to be as open and honest as he has been. The power of Bruce Jenner’s statements came not because they were rehearsed but specifically because they weren’t. Bruce Jenner’s authentic truth, and the honest way he presented his truth, will change the world.
Have you made bouillabaisse lately? It’s the traditional Provençal fish stew from the port city of Marseille. To make one you fill a pot with all kinds of fresh seafood including fish, mussels, clams, octopus, and langoustines and a whole mess of vegetables such as leeks, onions, tomatoes, celery, tomatoes, and potatoes. The whole mix is brought to a rollicking boil and then served with grilled slices of crusty bread and rouille – a mayonnaise seasoned with olive oil, garlic, saffron, and cayenne pepper. Yum, right?
While the bouillabaisse boils away on your stove it fills the kitchen with fragrant garlicky deliciousness. It’s hard to keep from lifting the lid and inhaling deeply, maybe even dunking a piece of crusty bread into the bubbling broth.
But be careful. Because when you raise the lid on the bouillabaisse all kinds of things can come shooting out of the hot pot. Some of the splatters can stain your clothes, some can burn your arms, and some just dirty up the countertop.
Spouses disagree. Kids fight back. Clients aren’t always as thrilled with your work as you thought they’d be. Hell, even blog readers post comments that aren’t always as complimentary as you expected.
But just like the French stew that often tastes much better than the sum of its part would suggest, our relationships often pay delicious dividends that we never expected.
Take this blog for example. When I uploaded my first post seven years ago, my intentions were simple. I wanted to get some hands-on experience to help our clients transition their businesses into the nascent online world and I was hoping to generate some new accounts and revenue for my ad agency. Both those things have happened, but the road to success wasn’t always smooth or linear.
When I started the blog I expected readers to be complimentary – and most are. But I also naively assumed that people who didn’t like what I wrote would either quietly unsubscribe or post thoughtful, albeit critical, commentary. Boy, was I wrong. If I posted some of the nastier responses I’ve received they would singe your eyeballs. I’m constantly amazed at how much time and vitriol anonymous forums encourage – this blog included.
At the same time, I’m also amazed at the thoughtful commentary and insight my readers share. If it’s true that we teach what we need to learn; then my habit of writing about things I’m learning about has been rewarded with great advice time after time. For all of you who have contributed to my blog (and my growth), thank you.
For those of you thinking about writing a blog and wondering if it’s worth the time and effort, here are some other great benefits this exercise has given me.
Yet the best thing is that this bouillabaisse of a blog disciplines me to think more deeply about issues that are on my mind and to organize my thoughts into cogent conversations – while it also forces me to work on my writing. And it helps me build a stronger relationship with you.
Disclaimer: I’m very eager to hear what you think about the candidate’s logos but have no interest in turning this blog into a debate over the relative advantages of the candidates themselves or their respective issues (there are PLENTY of places online where you can discuss that until you’re blue (or red) in the face). Please keep your comments to your opinion of the logos themselves and how you think they accurately or incorrectly portray the candidates. I will remove any posts that are blatantly partisan or offensive.
Because there are more of them in the race this year, let’s start with the Republicans:
Despite my best efforts I can’t find a campaign website or new logo for Jeb. My guess is that when we finally see where his presidential logo is going it will represent the simple acronym “Jeb” in an attempt to separate the candidate from his father and brother, but that’s only a projection. As of now there’s nothing to discuss.
Jeb Bush’s Grade: Incomplete
Ted Cruz is lucky enough to have a name that is short, easy to spell, impossible to mispronounce, and solidly American with a just touch of international immigrant exotic. Odd then that his logo mark (the teardrop, not the text) would be so busy, complicated, and difficult to understand.
While the red, white, and blue flag in his presidential brand —complete with star and stripes—is hard to miss, what does Cruz’s logo shape represent? A flame? A drop of water? A tear? All kidding aside, I find it strange that a candidate who does not believe in global warming nor sea level change would include these allusions in his logo mark.
Ted Cruz’s Grade: C-
Like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio has a name that is short, easy to pronounce, and suggests his immigrant roots without screaming them – a great asset that should not offend xenophobes who might otherwise balk at Rubio’s Cuban roots. On the other hand, a name as exotic as Barack Hussein Obama didn’t hurt his presidential brand nor keep our current president out of the White House so maybe the name doesn’t matter that much.
What does matter is the little splotch that has replaced the dot over the “i” in Rubio’s last name. When it’s large enough, the red mark will be easily identifiable as a red Republican continental U.S. (wonder how Hawaii and Alaska feel about being left out?) but when it’s shrunken down for business cards and campaign buttons it will look like a red wine stain.
Marco Rubio’s Grade: B
Dr. Rand Paul has focused on his first name and removed his last name altogether. Maybe he did this to distance himself from his famous father Ron or maybe to associate his presidential brand with the Rand Corporation, the nonprofit global policy think tank originally created by Douglas Aircraft Company (a perfect association for this oddly hawkish Libertarian).
Have you noticed that the negative space between the “A” and the “N” serves as the handle for the torch? How about the horizontal white line working as the bowl of the torch? What do you think of the poorly rendered flame itself? While the mark is strong and distinctive (like the candidate?) Paul’s logo looks like a rough first sketch of what could eventually become a good logo. This is particularly ironic because Rand Paul’s name backwards (Paul Rand) is the name of one of the greatest logo designers in history with designs for Westinghouse, IBM, ABC, and UPS in his oeuvre. Paul Rand truly put the “Rand” in “Brand.”
Rand Paul’s Grade: C (with room for improvement)
Now the Democrats. (Excuse me, Democrat)
As the most well known candidate in the race, and currently the only Democrat, Hillary Clinton could take a hint from Madonna, Cher, and Beyoncé and simply promote herself with one name. But for her logo she’s gone a step further and followed President Obama’s practice of just using a single initial.
While I did promise to be politically agnostic in this column, I did not promise to be designer agnostic. Michael Bierut, the creator of Hillary’s logo is one of my favorite designers, a friend, and a great guy. Lucky for me I love the mark Bierut created.
Clinton’s logo is powerful, simple, memorable, and moving and sets the stage for a cohesive presidential brand. Her arrow points to the future and suggests the progressive administration the candidate promises. The logo’s simplicity makes the mark transparent and understandable, issues that Clinton herself has had problems with. Finally, its components – the arrow and the strong vertical lines – will give the campaign’s graphic designers easy elements to use in her websites, bumper stickers, brochures, and other marketing materials. This is what good graphic design looks like and more than anyone could ask from such a simple logo.
Clinton’s Grade: A+
Having started to create the look and feel of the presidential brands, it will be fascinating to watch where the candidates go from here. Stay tuned for a masterclass in the dos and don’ts of brand building. In the meantime, please let me know what you think.
We lost a great big piece of business. We lost a great big piece of business we should have won.
The relationship started really well. We know the travel and tourism industry inside and out. We had exquisite experience and were able to demonstrate the great results we had achieved for similar clients. Our ideas were spot on. And the presentation went as well as it could have. We were on fire.
But we lost a great big piece of business.
And the worst part of it was that it was all my fault.
Do you want to know why?
We were meeting with the client after the pitch. They were blown away by our presentation and we were negotiating next steps. They were fine with our pricing and had no issues with the contract itself. They liked the account people we were assigning to their business and the creative people who would be working on their account. In fact, they were so pleased with the team that the CEO complimented me on assembling such a great group of professionals to work for them.
“Thanks,” I answered. “With such great people working on your business, there’s almost nothing for me to do. And you know, I’m always willing to do less.”
The CEO stared at me dumbfounded. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, everything went downhill from there.
Here’s the worst part:
I was kidding.
Really. I. Was. Kidding.
There was actually a lot of work for me to do. And I was very excited about doing it too. But the little comment that I thought was amusing – “I’m always willing to do less” – was exactly what our new client was worried about.
You see, it turns out that her last agency had apparently done a great presentation with talented senior level people, too, but after that they staffed the business with entry-level employees. They never delivered the work quality they had promised and the client’s sales had suffered.
She was concerned that history was about to repeat itself.
Of course I had no way of knowing that that was her concern, but ignorance is never an acceptable excuse. My attempt to be cute cost us a showcase client and a lot of money.
Last week I found a story online and posted it on Facebook. I am not the original author but I think an edited version is important enough to repeat here:
Two dogs walk into the same room at different times.
One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling.
A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could make one dog so happy and the other so mad.
To her surprise the room was filled with mirrors.
The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him.
What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are. That goes for your outlook, your business, and your life.
I saw funny.
Our client saw lazy.
Learned a lot, though. I hope you did too.
A recent story on public radio talked about the logistics of pursuing smugglers of coveted black rhino horns. The officer interviewed made the point that the discoveries made in this case also helped uncover smugglers of guns, drugs, and even human traffickers. His point was that the skills needed to bring in the banned aphrodisiac were applicable to smuggling all sorts of things.
In 2014, Uber, the logistics app that facilitates a new type of taxi and limo service, moved into different areas too. The company introduced UberRush, a courier service designed to move stuff instead of people. According to The Washington Post, “The same back-end technology that Uber has built to track drivers and connect them to riders can easily be used to order and follow deliveries. All that changes is the cargo on board and the mode of transportation, a detail around which the company is becoming increasingly agnostic.”
Back in 2004 when IBM made their momentous shift from equipment sales to software and systems consulting, it capitalized on the protocols and practices it had constructed to run its previous business model. These proprietary programs became the foundation of what has since become a global business with over $22 billion in revenue. What’s more, the new model provides IBM with both higher-margin recurring revenue and reduced volatility.
So what do black rhino horns, Uber’s logistics, IBM, and your business have in common? Quite simply, you’re sitting on a gold mine of proven protocols that are both marketable and monetizable. The programs and procedures that you have created over the years are exactly what other businesses are looking for.
37 Signals, the creator of Basecamp, was a web design company founded in 1999. But in mid-2004 the company’s focus shifted from web design to web application development when they found a significant market for the management software they created to run their own business. The transition was so successful that 37 Signals changed their company name to Basecamp (their first product) to focus entirely on their flagship.
Many successful speakers in the National Speakers Association, from Mikki Williams to Lou Heckler to Patricia Fripp to Doug Stevenson, have taken the things they’ve learned over their years on the platform and turned them into valuable programs for all the people who want to succeed in the speaking business. Some of their programs teach stage skills, some teach business logistics, and still others are about marketing and promotion. But while all of them are simply a reutilization of proven programs that the practitioners have already used to build their own businesses, each has produced new business opportunities and new revenue streams for their creators – sometimes rivaling or even surpassing the success of the original business they’re cribbed from.
The Washington Post says, “Uber foresees – as Amazon and eBay do, too – that the next growth opportunity in a shifting economy isn’t facilitating digital marketplaces: it’s moving physical stuff. It’s figuring out urban logistics in a world where crowded cities will only become more so, where e-commerce is actually making congestion worse, where the rise of ‘sharing’ has created a need for coordinating the mass joint use of cars, tools, tasks, and dinner.” Most importantly, these companies have figured out that what they already know how to do creates valuable practices and unlimited opportunities.
You can take advantage of what you already know, too.
Many years ago I was in an office with a tattooed art director who dressed in Hell’s Angel denim, leather, and chrome long before it was fashionable. Despite his intimidating appearance he was fiercely soft spoken about his work.
One day, dressed in his best Easy Rider regalia, he presented a beautiful campaign to a less than sophisticated client. The ads featured stunning beauty shots of the product surrounded by a great field of empty white.
The client glanced at the work for a brief moment before he started explaining to my office mate all the things they could put in the white space, from a map to phone numbers and addresses to a great big Se Habla Español announcement. After all he explained, “I’m paying for all that #$%@ empty ad space anyway. Might as well fill it with something $@&%ing useful.”
The art director listened for a long noisy minute before interrupting the client’s rant.
The client was dumbfounded. The ads ran the way they were presented.
Artist-architect-philosopher Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said: “Less is more.”
Steve Jobs said: “Simple can be harder than complex.”
And French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
Clearly, simplicity has been an important subject for designers and communicators both before and after my lesson in that ad agency office years and years ago.
The dictionary offers three different insights into the meaning of the word simplicity that also point to why designers would find it such a compelling concept:
Obviously, being easy to understand does help accomplish the goal of communication because there is nothing extraneous standing in the way of comprehension and subsequent action.
But wait, there’s more.
Simplicity in design helps create a sense of calm, aids comprehension, and provides an attractive focal point for attention.
Simplicity allows the viewer to concentrate and to appreciate what matters while helping them disregard the rest.
Simplicity also insists on responsibility. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said: “Less is more only when more is too much.” A minimalist aesthetic demands that what is included be absolutely critical to overall comprehension and appreciation.
Simplicity is a technique, a direction, and a goal.
Simplicity is simple but never simplistic.
Thoreau wrote: “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.”
Thoreau believed simplicity was important enough to say twice, employing an ironic juxtaposition to make his simple point as simply as possible.