Archive for April, 2008|Monthly archive page

Back at ya, Naomi

Naomi Dunford of IttyBiz tossed out a challenge last week to her readers. She generally addresses small businesses (IttyBiz, get it?) in her posts, and Naomi’s humor and candor make her an instantly lovable daily read. Though often gut-bustingly funny, she also delivers great insights into issues and resources for the small biz scene.

This particular post comments on how easy it is to chat merrily along in your blog, only to realize many of your readers don’t realize what you do for a living. So Naomi listed the following ‘interview’ questions, suggesting we all post clarification. Last Wednesday was National Administrative Professionals Day, so I figure I’ll join the chorus. Here are your queries, Naomi, and thanks for asking!

What’s your game? What do you do?
I help businesses and professionals stay on top of communications and administrative tasks, thereby increasing their time available for planning and growth.

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?
I love working hard and turning out a quality product; I love teamwork with enthusiastic people; I love variety and being truly helpful to many people. Mostly, though, I do it because of a creepy knack, which is writing the English language, a fast fading skill.

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?
Small businesses, web businesses, real estate agents, lawyers, executives, authors, publishers, anyone who’s not too deft with words and needs something written well.

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?
Sigh. Gotta go back to that creepy knack. I’m a writing machine. Input your keywords, and I’ll turn out commanding text. May as well capitalize on it while I can, before it goes completely out of style. Even if you just need me for database work, you’ll appreciate my clear and thorough communications.

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?
Ummmm. Find some clients? Get better at blogging! Add php programming to services list …

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Reflection

We’re constantly surrounded by unfathomables, and if you’re tuned in to them, they can enrich your outlook even though characterized by mystery. Reflections, for example. The sky in a puddle, the treetops in a creek, even your own face in a store window. Nature’s silent videography. Zen teaching points out that the birds fly over the lake, and the lake reflects their journey with nary a ripple.

In life and business, reflection must be honored and intentionally cultivated in order to reap its benefits. Our habitual commerce knows nothing of this. But if you wish to reach for the sky, consider how you can attain it by being a reflector.

Video

Been wondering about writing versus video these days. Our champion blogger, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger fame is even tempted, suggesting in recent posts that he really likes creating little videos as opposed to writing his thoughts. It’s certainly accessible to the viewer, pandering to our tv tastes and lessening the need for reading and writing accuracy.

I specialize in writing and yet often suspect that writing is simply going out of style. Those who can do it well are rare; those who can’t seldom recognize (or care about) the need for help and go ahead and publish garbled grammar, ridiculous spelling, and pathetic syntax – or they make a video! Why bother with writing? The lack of respect for excellence is writing is clearly reflected in the classified ads, where writing assistance is requested for much less compensation than you’d give your babysitter.

Of course the general demise of poetry over the course of the 20th century foreshadowed this loss of respect. With hip hop being the only well known and appreciated form of poetry in our society, it’s accurate to say the genre’s life is almost done. Since poetry is the ultimate linguistic expression, we can expect other forms of written language will similarly disappear.

I’d like to defend reading and writing, because I was suckled on them and love them both as major supports for my life. But I’m old, and others will bear the standard into the future. Imagine a world where all communications are in video. Would you miss the experience of reading? Would there be things that are inexpressible digitally, that would be lost in a world without writing?

Primal urges

“Part of understanding the creative urge is understanding that it’s primal. Wanting to change the world is not a noble calling, it’s a primal calling.” I came across this revelatory statement in Hugh MacLeod’s gapingvoid write up about creativity from a couple years ago.

From this point of view, it’s easy to see why many of our old ways don’t work. The total disregard for individual creativity enforced by Industrialism and our system of public education results in a society that’s essentially deformed. You can’t ignore the primal, it derrives from a power stronger than gravity. By attempting to deny personal creativity, we become mere shadows of ourselves.

But is creativity by definition ‘wanting to change the world?’ I would suggest it’s more about wanting to know the world, to drill down to essences, to offer your best abilities in service to your compassion. Creativity is dwelling in the interface between your inner knowing and your interactions with the world, and finding ways to harmonize the two. Creativity is our primal impulse to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.

So if you need justification for spending time developing your creative self, just remember that it’s instinct, as natural as breathing. If you care about your health and appearance, you devote time to exercise. If you care about your soul and happiness, you make room for creative practices in your life. And if we all care about justice, excellence, and prosperity, it’s high time we all buy into the culture of innovation in business.

Hats off to the Creativity Portal

I’m going to be so bold, this morning, as to send the reader to another site, where the folks are generously featuring some of my writings about business and creativity. Please hop on over to the wonderful Creativity Portal, and check out my first article there. There will be at least a couple more to follow in the series.

The Creativity Portal, headed up by the energetic Chris Dunmire, presents wide-ranging access to what’s new in the world of creative development.  It’s a fun and comprehensive resource for all things innovative!

Obedience and change

“Obedience works fine on the well-organized, standardized factory floor. But what happens when we start using our heads, not our hands, when our collars change from blue to white?”  So questions Seth Godin in his blog this morning.  Such an essential query for all Americans these days. 

I’m reminded of a pertinent quote from Peter Maurin of Catholic Worker fame:  “Industrialism has released the artist from the necessity of making anything useful.  Industrialism has also released the workman from making anything amusing.”  

Though we are hugely indebted to the Industialists for the technological and social advances it provided, we’re also suffering from a serious lack of personal creativity resulting from Industrialism’s ‘obedience.’   On one hand, we’re sorely lacking in self-knowledge; on the other, we lust after a ‘four-hour work week’ and believe we’re entitled to privilege without perspiration.

In my work as a virtual assistant, I’m accutely aware of this phenomenon in the many young people attempting to set up in the business without first gaining skills and experience.  Our current awareness of changing economies and our suspicion that Henry Ford’s ideas are indeed out of date can lead to an unwarranted hubris.  The individual is indeed valuable in his/her uniqueness, and capable of maximizing strengths in a lucrative way.  But the development of personal creativity is an in-depth process, not an instant one.  We have a long way to go before we regain the innovative skills of our pioneering, pre-Industrialist forebears.

When ‘obedience’ goes out of style, chaos is sure to ensue for a time, at least.  Achieving peace and productivity beyond the chaos is possible through serious, dedicated, not-always-pleasant self-investigation and development.

 

Tree observations

Consider trees.  Here are a few observations.

1.  Some trees become very large and dominate the landscape.  They are strong and beautiful, but we must not forget that the smaller trees around them are kept in subjugation by the big tree’s glory.  And a big tree that stands alone is lovely but lonely.

2.  Trees branch and fractile, just as we are required to do in life.  Our global world encourages nothing if not spreading the word – about you, your business, your attitudes.  But you’ll notice that the twigs and flowers gracing the tips of branches are not possible without a strong and well-established trunk.

3.  Trees are naturally gorgeous, inviting, interesting, protecting, and endearing.  But all the parts of a tree that we appreciate most are mere decoration, and the vital, true life of the tree exists underground.  Hidden from sight, buried in darkness, the roots are the ultimate truth of the tree.  All the above-ground showy stuff can disappear, but the tree will live on if the roots remain strong.

What do trees tell you about your life? 

Doodle mania continues

One of the obvious and most exciting uses of creativity is in problem solving.  Artists are problem solvers and, if scrutinized even more finely, they are problem creators as well, but that’s another post.

When confronted with a problem – be it simple or profound – the human species uses native creativity to work through the barriers.  That is, when facing any issue, we call in our abilities to listen openly and synthesize spontaneously.

You can use your doodling to become intimate with this natural capability which you possess but seldom trust.  Keep a small bit of paper and pen next to you during work and let your hand dance with these instruments at moments throughout your day.   (Doodling in meetings can be a great way to keep proper perspective through the discussions.)   It’s best to use a pen rather than pencil, so you get past the concept of ‘making mistakes.’ 

As you look over your doodles, what problems do you see?  I do not mean problems with the ‘artistic quality;’ I mean, what parts of your doodles seem to want changing, modifying, extending, completing?  Go back and play just as instinctively with your ‘fixes’ as you did with the original mark-making.  Your pen just moves of its own accord.  If and when it stops moving, go on to a different doodle and return later to the first. 

It’s very important not to approach your doodles with anything remotely resembling a plan.  Both your fresh marks and your subsequent ‘problem-solving’ doodling must be entirely free form before they will reveal any new information to you.

And this information is not the only benefit of doodling, but it is key.  As you review your doodles, what insights do you have?  What does your very individual line say about who and where you are right now?  What new possibilities do your ‘problem solving’ marks suggest?  What kind of energy, courage, confidence, appreciation, etc. do your doodles manifest?  Save all these drawings as records of your life, your challenges, and the naturally brilliant ways you have of problem-solving.

Multi-tasking

My grandmother was a sophisticated lady who never walked anywhere; she always did a little run from place to place, up on the toes of her feminine pumps, hurrying, hurrying.  I wonder why.  It never got her anywhere.

So much of our culture emphasises hurrying, or multi-tasking, or saving time.  Business and technology are always obsessed with speed; millions are made with time-saving devices; multi-taskers are the respected workers.  It’s a bit suspect, don’t you think, that we’ve been introducing time-savers ever since Eisenhower, but no one feels any more ‘caught up’ today than we did in the 50s; rather less so. 

I’m a multi-tasker, I confess, but more by nature than intention.  I’m continuously seeking variety, not always to the benefit of the task at hand.  It’s really more important to me to learn how to focus with a single eye — and I’d venture to suggest that this would be a more rewarding practice for most people.  There are far too many distractions, and we Americans are collectively not noted for our thoroughness. 

Anyway, our technological advances since mid-last-century have drastically cut our work time on any given task.  Compare the time it took to produce one letter on a typewriter with carbon copies as compared to the few seconds it takes to shoot off an email.  If we were aiming, 60 years ago, to free up our time, we have certainly achieved that.  So why are we feeling far more pressed for it than ever?  I claim it’s a leftover ethic that we can now leave behind. 

If you’re continuously hassled by a need to multi-task, if you’re always in a hurry, consider that these feelings might stem from an outdated imperative.  Perhaps you would benefit by very methodically doing only one thing at a time, with total focus, finishing it before moving on to the next item on your list.  Can you get as much done, and are you any more proud of your work?  Most importantly, if you shun multi-tasking and hurrying, do you sleep more peacefully and love more generously?

More about doodling

I wrote last week a little about doodling.  I’ve no doubt that most readers will shun such an exercise, claiming they just can’t draw.  The old, ‘I can’t draw a straight line’ is oft repeated. 

Get over it, folks.  No one’s interested in straight lines anyway.  Doodling is not about drawing, it’s about making marks on paper.  It’s about saying yes to yourself. 

Have you seen a child who draws something and then decides he’s made a mistake and, in horror, refuses to continue until the mistake is eradicated?  Most of us discontinue our creative attunement at this juncture, remaining childish in our understanding.  But the growth pattern is to encourage the child to make something out of his mistake, to see it as raw material and to go on from there.  A wonderful children’s art teacher I know says, ‘You don’t make mistakes, you just change your mind.’

Making marks on paper is a way to let expression flow through you, and a serious practice in self-affirmation.  When I started drawing for the first time, a mere few years ago, I was all the time cancelling my urges with self-criticism.  Doodling taught me to say yes to the spontaneous me, no matter how dumb or clumsy the line was on the paper.  By allowing one line to lead to another, by letting the drawing inform me instead of the other way around, I came to appreciate a vastly wider horizon of possibility for me and my world.

Our reliance on things digital means that interaction with pencil and paper is increasingly rare.  What’s the consequence of placing these instruments by your computer and filling waiting moments with your doodles?  Notice your energy flow as you follow this routine through the working day, and send me a comment about it!