Archive for the ‘business’ Tag

Fruits of holiday musings

Two solid weeks of quiet introspection, and here we are back in the real world.  A problem with unconstrained free thinking is that it’s extremely hard to focus.  Without boundaries, we’re fertile ground for any whim or circumstance.  

In the past couple weeks, I’ve read a great deal, and watched an incredibly moving TED lecture, and visited the zoo, and improved my baking skills, and painted.  Painting is an especially effective way to brain dump.  I ran across this amazing quote from Christopher Alexander (thanks to Gretchen Rubin):

” … the more one understands of painting, the more one recognizes that the art of painting is essentially one way, which will always be discovered and rediscovered, over and over again, because it is connected with the very nature of painting, and must be discovered by anybody who takes painting seriously. The idea of style is meaningless: what we see as a style (of a person or of an age) is nothing but another individual effort to penetrate the central secret of painting, which is given by the Tao, but cannot itself be named.”

Sometimes you paint as worship for the beauty of the world; sometimes you paint as a way to bridge consciousness and truth.  When your awareness, hopes, and beliefs seem to get you nowhere in life, using paints is always comforting and affirming.  I’d show you some of what I painted, but I keep painting over the same canvas.  The value is in the action, not the product.

What’s the result of this vision quest?  Well, I’m starting off this new year with great expectations.  I’m more dedicated than ever to the search for my deepest authenticity.  I have renewed energy for the continuous effort to effectively use my gifts for the benefit of others.

And I’m at last going to move this blog to my own website!  I’d originally kept the two separate, to allow for more freedom of expression in the blog.  Now I realize that taking the risk of exposing my personality through my blog is an important part of establishing my business.  It’s a social media basic!  So, as of today, you can find these writings at http://www.asthemoonclimbs.com/blog.php – where you’ll need to re-register the RSS.

I mentally journeyed through many a cosmos over the past two weeks, and wondered at the mysteries and possibilities, and even experienced the despair of overwhelming confusion.  But I’ve emerged calmer and more hopeful; and excited about going ‘from strength to strength’ with you as 2009 unwinds.

Impermanence

There’s nothing like a visit to aging parents to get your priorities in order.  Many of us baby boomers nurture the old folks as best we can, as they uselessly while away the years in cloistered communities.  That generation built our world, and now they wander the corridors aimlessly, their living assisted but their lives remaining shrouded in mystery.

A friend recently reminded us that business should not be an end in itself, but it should be a vehicle to take us to our dreams.  For my parents’ generation, the world they built after World War II was so glorious as to seem a dream come true.  But my peers and I have turned so much of their culture upside down, and the changes since the 60s and 70s appear to threaten the old folks’ core values and proud accomplishments. They have a hard time understanding that their business was a vehicle to today, and not the crowning achievement they were sure they had created.

As we develop our brands, and innovate,  and find new ways to work, it’s useful to reflect on today’s seniors and remember that our innovations are fluid things, ripe at any time for change.  Like a new car, a great idea begins to depreciate as soon as it’s implemented. 

We grow our businesses because it’s necessary to earn a living, and it is the way we know to satisfy material needs.  We innovate because such modifications improve our income, and keep our interest peaked.  In these writings, I urge the development of personal creativity because such practice will keep open your windows of possibility, and guard against fear and atrophy.  Even so, this mid-week morning I’m here to remind us that none of this is final, it is all vehicular, carrying us to unknown worlds beyond.

I don’t know what will happen when my generation reaches the stage of dementia.  There are too many of us and we can ill afford the astronomical costs of assisted living.  I do know that we’ll be vastly happier then, however, if we take care now to understand our lives as journeys, and our achievements – no matter how grand or revolutionary – as mere baby steps on the long road to heaven. 

Branding and communication

Had an interesting comment on yesterday’s blog, which took exception to my suggestion that branding is a form of communication.  The commenter seemed to be saying that your brand is simply who you are, what impression your very appearance gives; and inferred that while you work on promoting your brand, you cannot modify it.

Of course, my rebuttal is about how recognizing and articulating – more than modifying – your own brand is the issue.  It takes a long time and serious focus to get a handle on how you are impacting others, and what your actual reputation is.  Like your rear end, you carry your brand everywhere with you, but seldom get a good peek at it yourself. 

By defining your personal brand, you become capable of consciously projecting it, and winning support and success through it.  How to clearly communicate your business brand is the number one issue for sales; projecting, enjoying, and cultivating your personal brand is the road to fulfillment in the individual’s life because it’s the full appreciation of natural gifts.

Once you become more aware regarding the brand you habitually manifest, you can emphasize its positive aspects, carefully study the negative sides, and intentionally project (i.e., communicate) this recognized strength of character.  Until you spend committed time and much thought on this aspect of your existence, you stay a slave to the brands of others.

Branding and compassion

“When you treat people with respect, acknowledgment, and genuine positive reinforcement, you significantly increase the odds of creativity — and by extension, innovation — flourishing in your organization.”  So said Mitch Ditkoff a few days ago on his Heart of Innovation blog.

Branding of any kind is about sharing with others; it’s a function of communication.  It is not, however, about bragging or sharing yourself in the sense of shoving your personality down other people’s throats.  It’s really about sharing your capacity to be compassionate.  It’s the reputation you’ve earned for the level at which you’re able to help others.

As accomplished and marvelous as I may be, the only thing of real interest to anyone else is how well I can share the benefits of my prowess.  My achievements that can be duplicated by others or that serve to aid and comfort others are the ones that really count.

Ditkoff’s point goes even a little futher, however, in saying that it is possible to bring the sources of inspiration closer, to make innovation part of your everyday business, by establishing a culture of mutual “respect, acknowledgement and … positive reinforcement.”  I suggest that likewise, a worker wanting to strengthen personal branding does well to start with a strong dedication to supporting others.  Even if this doesn’t come naturally to you, as you practice compassion you’ll become infinitely more aware of what makes you tick.

Blogging and branding

One thing that bloggers often write about is blogging.  Whether or not their site is generally dedicated to the theme, sooner or later most authors will address the existential meaning of what they’re doing by posting on a regular basis.  A good many of them are hoping for income, and continue blogging as long as the site performs for them monetarily.  But the angst associated with faithfully posting while you know very few people actually read your words is often discussed.  The solution is always to find ways to increase your readership, and the blogger’s next logical step is to produce a list of methods to do this.

I’ve been talking about branding here, with the focus lately on worker branding.  So much is written about business branding, but little guidance is offered for the employee.  And what is a brand, anyway?  I think of it as reputation, the way other people think of you.  You reference your friend Joe when talking with someone, and you describe him as “My friend Joe, the accountant” or “Joe, my buddy from school” or “Joe, the corporate guy.”  Very often, your job steals your brand. 

In the theater, we used to say that an artistically built character is one we don’t notice until we see the person out-of-character.  This is related to the church signboards that advertise, “Your true character emerges in difficult times.”  Who you are down deep may not bear any relation at all to your brand, and this is a situation that will cause discomfort until you correct it.

I want to talk more about worker branding, but for now, let me tie this matter to my opening paragraph here.  Blogging, for me, is a way of exploring in depth my personal brand.  It’s my current attempt at synthesizing my native character with my reputation.  It’s also writing from my own resources daily, which is a demanding and hopefully skill-improving practice. 

My point is that while I have a teensy-weensy readership, I still buttheadedly continue to blog because, guess what?  It’s all about me and my brand.  Because I know that even if your true brand doesn’t bring you riches, it will bring you peace.

Worker branding

The idea of business branding is pervasive these days, perhaps mostly because of the blanketing of society by a few big corporate names.  The worldwide familiarity of Coke and McDonald’s have become our standards of business success.  Of course, duplicating the renown of these giants is not easy; and most corporations will admit that they work very hard on establishing consistency of character throughout their organization.

What does this mean for the individual?  Your employer requests conformity to the corporate character, and that’s fine if your personal goals are indeed aligned with those of those boss.  But given the stresses of life in a capitalist system, and the fact that you work because you need to pull your own weight economically, it’s very often the case that as a worker, you do not necessarily share your employer’s ambitions.  You have an entirely separate set of dreams; your personal brand has much more to do with raising your children or playing golf or Friday night salsa or whatever else feeds your soul if not your pocketbook.

The big time capitalist emphasis on branding could eventually turn around to bite the moguls in the eye.  Because if corporate branding is so important, and if the personal branding of leaders is even more important, then the lowly workers as well begin to see that by developing strength of character and reputation similar to that of their bosses, they can fulfill their highest dreams.  And if everyone is intent on establishing such personal power, corporate structures which depend on obedience will crumble.

Despite the risk of initiating such a mega-change, every individual in the free world has the resources to build personal branding; and every worker would do well to learn as much as possible about his/her natural gifts and how to express them usefully.  Every individual can benefit from the self-knowledge and compassionate thought that is required in order to project a recognizable brand. 

We’re so far down the dusty industrialist road that many workers are far removed from their core individual natures, and have no idea how to research and express an authentic personal brand.  Which is great for the bosses, but truly not supportable as we progress deeper into the century.  The challenges of our global society cannot be dealt with by automatons.

If you’re a worker, one of those heroic millions in service to a corporate brand, please keep checking this blog, and let’s together explore the riches we were born with and the ways we can grow them creatively.

Personal vs. business branding

James Chartrand of Copyblogger fame wrote at the end of last week about the risk of personal branding becoming a prison from which the business owner is helpless to escape.  He advises branding your business, but keeping that separate from personal reputation.  Thusly, he states, “You create options for yourself, not obligations.”

He makes an excellent point, that pertains to business of any size.  By crediting the business, rather than a person, with the character of your brand, you are ensuring its longevity beyond your personal involvement. 

This is particularly important when it comes to using creativity in your business.  The application of creative principles should be institutionalized and not dependent on the spirit of an individual.  If you intend to use creative problem solving and orient towards innovation, carefully build these from the ground up with your company, ensuring that every participant is in the loop.  When breakthroughs occur, the company – not you – receives the credit.

What about the solopreneur?   The solopreneur by definition does not seek for the business to survive past the owner’s personal involvement.  With the solopreneur, we must take an entirely different perspective:  that of life and work being one and the same.  Such a business person ‘makes a living’ by ‘having a life’.  That’s rather enviable, isn’t it?  Personal branding for such an individual equals business branding.

For the vast majority, business reputation is most beneficial if kept separate from personal reputation.  I suspect, however, as our economy morphs, many more of us will define our work in the sense of solopreneurship, not expecting eternal life for our enterprises and therefore freely associating our personal values with that of the work we do.

Metaphor

This door represents the specificity of one business.  Note that there are doors everywhere, and they tend generally not to compete with one another.  But the opening of one often leads to the opening of another.  And note the tremendous personality one door can have.  Note how much one glance at it can tell you.  Note not only the visual experience, but the emotional one.  You get a feeling from this door, as well as factual info. 

There are millions of doors, but none exactly like this one.  This one services a few people, and they are grateful.  It does its job, it prospers. 

Can your business be so specifically and personally described?  Is it known and loved the way this door seems to be?  Does it have a well cultivated, useful, proud personality that is not afraid or suspicious regarding other businesses, but serves its own purposes faithfully?

Naming

A hefty serving of business wisdom was offered up in a telecast I heard last week, featuring the founder of Starbucks (Howard Behar), the founder of StartUpNation , and the author of a new book about business success. One of the many salient points made: as established by Peter Drucker many years ago, the results-oriented activities of any business are its marketing and its innovation (while all other activities are mere costs), and naming something in itself is an innovation. Their example was the labeling of Starbuck’s drink as short, tall, and grande; a naming that became an important innovation that helped to establish their incredibly powerful brand.

Having the motivation and courage to start up your own business is admirable in itself, but many folks stall when it comes to naming their endeavor. As I chat with other virtual assistants, it’s clear that this is often a real stumbling block.

“A thing’s name is its numen,” said Northrop Frye eons ago. I memorized the statement at the time, for its pithy truth. Definition of numen: divine power or spirit; a deity, esp. one presiding locally or believed to inhabit a particular object. Deciding upon your business name is deciding upon its spirit. In one sense, it’s a terrifying choice to make; but on the other hand, if you’re really into and ready for the experience, probably the spirit communicates itself to you voluntarily, and your business name appears effortlessly.

As an example: it’s not my business name, but my business website has the domain name, asthemoonclimbs. Unwilling to duke it out for the perfect keywords pertaining to virtual assistance, at the time I simply went with the spirit that presented itself. Excited to be concentrating on my ancient skill of writing, and thinking about all the tragically terrible writing out there, especially on the internet, and thinking about how the Zen archer moves beyond the use of bow and arrow, and – I must add – having maniacally high expectations for my own productivity, I was struck by the domain name out of the blue, and didn’t fight it for an instant. If a person says their name is Fred, you have to call them that whether they look like a Fred or not.

To satisfy the curious, the phrase ‘asthemoonclimbs’ comes from a poem by Archibald MacLeish:
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.
A poem should not mean, but be.

More on specificity

Back when I was a nine-to-fiver, I never had time for life. Existence was made up of working, eating, and sleeping, and I felt continuously hurried. Now that I’m running my own business, my work has become an expression of my life (as opposed to life being an expression of my work) and it’s a vast improvement. But I must admit I still feel pressed for time, and my days are overflowing with stuff to be done. This is a good thing, since I love my work, but it’s key to maintain proper perspective, nonetheless.

What I’m talking about here relates to yesterday’s post: as you learn to notice, study, and love the details – the minutia of your experiences – how do you keep from being overwhelmed? There are an infinite number of details: can you possibly attend to them without drowning? A phobia about this is probably what hampers many a brilliant conceptualist, who views the specifics with distaste and suspicion and therefore is seldom successful.

I have no definitive answers, but here’s a suggestion, a theory I’ve built after decades of confusion. Working with specifics is how we learn to love, to bond organically, to apply our compassion to manifest realities and to cherish unconditionally. Concepts and generalities are the stamp of ego applied to awareness of specifics.

For example, perceiving specifically, we notice that our coworker is feeling blue today. Generally, we sympathize with bad days, having had them ourselves. If details scare us, we won’t betray any empathy for our coworker; if we love specifics, we’ll naturally transfer the general empathy we feel to specific comfort for the individual.

And how do we keep this from monopolizing all our time? The answer’s inherent: we move on to the next detail. We dwell in details, and allow generalities to take care of themselves. We aren’t overwhelmed because we’ve developed an equal devotion to each specific as it arises, and we view our conscious hours as an unbroken progression of interaction with small truths.