Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

Wednesday inertia

Isn’t it the 2nd law of thermodynamics that proves all things end up in entropy?  My dad was complaining yesterday that when he skips his walk for a day or two, it’s that much harder to do it.  We’ve all had this experience:  move even a short distance away from a good habit or practice and it becomes difficult to return.  The blood wants to coagulate, the body to rest.  Marketers and bloggers and teachers everywhere urge us to do things, to keep that energy pumping, but they rail against a basic law of nature.  Our ultimate biological tendency is towards inertia.

Personally, I believe indulging that inertia now and again is okay.  Life is a temporary condition, after all.  It’s ok to experience the nothingness of entropy now and then.  For the most part, though, as we continue to live and hope for happines, we have to maintain a solid defense against the tendency to ‘let it all go.’  Lots of people live just barely above the threshold, but the most fulfilled are active and full of energy.

It’s like the statement by one of my heros, Chris Zydel, creator extraordinaire, who recently said in a newsletter, “Engaging with your creative process ALWAYS wakes you up and even though our souls really do want that much genuine aliveness, it is also scary, so we will blithely waste our time and energy finding any number of ways of putting ourselves into a stupor.”

The opposite of stillness is movement.  Everything begins with movement.  Though we do well to cultivate the capacity to be still, our main challenge in life is movement.  If you are tending too much towards inertia, consider the benefit of movement for its own sake.  Bring a sport, or dancing, or any kind of vigorous physical activity into your life and it will energize everything for you.

Don’t be discouraged on a Wednesday if entropy appears to be advancing.  It’s natural enough, and since you are likely to go on living anyhow, you’ll resurface sooner or later.  You can indulge the temptation for a little while, but the sooner you get moving,  the healthier you’ll be.

More on makings

Let me carry on a bit about this concept of ‘making.’  In the white collar world, we spend our time interacting with systems and communications; in the blue collar world, we interact with tangible objects.  Most of the time, we work on sustaining these systems and things, so as to maintain our quality of life.  So far, so good.  But in the digital age, we easily forget to spend time interacting with the world of personal imagination.  And because of this, we no longer are involved in makings of our own on a regular basis.

We eat, sleep, and go to work, right?  What time is left to follow personal whims to their natural conclusions?  And yet, if you do make room in your schedule to actively pursue your muse, you’ll open to a new and thrilling reality that provides strength, optimism, vigor, and health.

Making is a human capacity that we often stifle these days.  People naturally want to put things together, to build.  We tend to understand this in the business world, where we focus on steady growth.  But in our personal lives, how many of us take our dreams and imaginings seriously enough to make something from them?  If you dream, for instance, of beauty, or bravery, or genius, or adventure, or freedom, or comfort, or anything, do you take the time to make it in some way? 

This expression of dreams is the ultimate reason for making, but being involved in making anything – from the imagination or more utilitarian – is a huge aid to the fulfilled life.  Using your hands to shape and build is the trick, whether it’s cooking, whittling, gardening, drawing, or any other making, whether it’s an expression of inner truth or simply a regular chore. 

Don’t let the high-tech world, which would rob us of all our chores and personal makings, usurp this essential part of your human-ness.  If you’re the business owner, figure out a way to inform your business through your involvement with personal makings.  If you’re an employee, use part of off-hours every day to work with your hands.  Restore balance by nurturing your nature, which has been sorely neglected by the automated world.

Making vs. marketing

If art is a harmonizing of opposing forces, doing business in today’s economy is a very fine art indeed.  Consider these parallel thoughts put out by important bloggers last week:

Seth Godin: “Great publicity is a treasured gift. But it’s hardly necessary, and the search for it is often a significant distraction …for just about every product, service or company, the relentless quest for media validation doesn’t really pay. If you get it, congratulations. If you don’t, that’s just fine. But don’t break the bank or your timetable in the quest.”

And then those amazing folks at 37 signals, quoting Robert Stephens of Geek Squad in A Geek’s Guide to Great Service: “Marketing is a tax you pay for being unremarkable.”

On one hand, business views marketing as a given, and if you don’t get your brand out there in a big way you’re invisible.  On the other hand, the core truth is that all the marketing in the world won’t help if your product’s no good. 

In the end, all successful marketing is viral.  A good idea will be talked about.  A mediocre idea will be ignored.  People are sociable, gregarious, and love to share the latest cool thing they’ve discovered. 

The point is that 99% of your energy in business needs to concentrate on your product.  Giving marketing any more than a tiny fraction of your time is spinning wheels.  You might be able to charm a few into buying your less-than-adequate product, but the illusion won’t last.  

If you think of marketing as communication, as opposed to trickery or snake charming, you’ll be on the right track.  The key is to be so involved with your making, your product, and passionate about the ways it helps people, that sharing the details is a natural extension of your enthusiasm.

Priorities

Sig at the thingamy blog talked the other day about organizations concentrating too hard on the latest utility software while delaying imperatives to grow and truly innovate.  It’s as if you were to concentrate on the best toilets, he says, which also are necessary for your smooth operations, but hardly central to progress.  Sig says, “What they need is a tool that allows and strengthens the ability to combine and recombine. That’s what they should focus on. “

This is tied, in my mind, with the gradual dissolution of competition as a force in global economy, as it is being replaced by cooperation.  Coming out on top of the pile loses its attraction when it’s realized that the pile could be dead bodies.  Today’s challenges are about use of natural resources, overpopulation, and terrorism.  In the world of commerce, the question today is: How can I best fit my talents with the needs of the world?  The question used to be: How can I get more than my fair share?  These two queries may as well exist on separate planets.

But it is an exceedingly difficult transition to make, and it seems that only a very few understand it.  I did some writing recently for a large organization, filling it with optimism and a cooperative spirit, and it was edited by the client to be the statement of competitive force that habitually shores up his confidence.  And that no one is likely to read with any enthusiasm or hope.

One can rail and preach, but it’s rather pointless.  The truth will assert itself and hardly needs assistance.  In all our endeavors, we are now challenged to ‘combine and recombine’ for our very lives.  Any effort that sets me ahead of others is an illusion:  it is only when I’m able to set others ahead that I’m actually progressing.

Walking and wanting

I think of you, dear blog, very often when I take a walk.  There’s a mile-and-a-half stretch I cover as a daily constitutional.  Of course, in addition to energizing me, the walk is all about opening to thought.  It’s the time of my day when whatever occurs mentally I take as significant, because it comes to me in a wide awake and active state.  You don’t try to think when walking, but ideas often alight on your consciousness of their own accord.  And I suppose, I frequently have ideas about blogging because it is here that I dance around the edges of my own story, my own truth.

It bothers me some that popular philosophy suggests you can be whatever you want to be.  Not that this is untrue, but as stated it hides the real emphasis.  It’s not that you can be anything, but that you can be whatever you want to be.  It’s the wanting that makes things happen.  And you have to want very intensely. 

Contemplating your own story, discovering it as you walk or otherwise go about your life with energy and an open mind, will reveal more clearly your deepest wants.  Allowing your actions to follow these very particular wants, as opposed to those wants that are superficial and fleeting, will bring you to lasting success. 

Generally, society approves only certain dreams, and encourages only certain kinds of success.  The media presents a meager few pictures of success in terms of power and money.  We’re rarely exposed to the stories of success that revolve around less flashy treasures.  But the ‘treasures of heaven’ that we shore up when in touch with our own specific story are those that endure eternally.

You can be whatever you want to be, perhaps, but it may be more accurate to say your wanting will manifest eventually.  You can speed up the process through vigorous physical movement, and by examining your own story as objectively as possible.  Discovering your truth is infinitely more real than manufacturing it.

Story telling

What with life going on, and the internet, I have little time for reading books these days.  I practically never read fiction.  But I did some work for a friend and she sent me the novel she’s just published, so I threw responsibility to the winds this past weekend and lounged for hours on the couch reading Hannah’s House.  What an exquisite pleasure!  It’s a wonderful story, masterfully written.  Highly recommended!

And it reminded me of the value of stories.  Most get their fiction fix through the television, I suppose; but since I watch little of that, I realize I have been story-deprived for some time.  A great story lives while you read it, and lives for a good while afterwards as well.  Its characters seem to show you the way, continuing to speak long after you’ve closed the cover.  A great story reminds us that we can bring our dreams close, and with only a little concentration, we can live them.  A great story lifts us from the mundane mire.

Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends.  There is a progression of some kind, and afterwards you can compare the end to the beginning and see a difference.

It’s rather like this with the product of your business, right?  There’s the before picture, and then the after one.  There’s a story about that progression.  Considering how stories tend to communicate with multiple layers of meaning, and to stick with their audiences long after the telling, using your stories in business can have powerful effect.  Making your communications with your market into stories will gain you immediate fans. 

The world of commerce often seems to be about formality and correctness, the opposite extreme from the up close and personal nature of stories.  And stories for business do indeed need to be somewhat cleaned up for mass consumption.  But just how much you tweak and sweep is the key.  Too much, and it’s no longer a story but just a slogan.  Not enough, and you narrow the slice of appreciative public.  Just right, and you awaken, liberate, enlighten, and soothe; and become an unforgettable source of comfort for your market.

If manifesting your own stories seems too difficult an assignment, the power of the medium is such that it’s probably worth hiring a writer to get it down and do the shaping.  No other kind of communication is as effective.  Even a picture tells a story.