Write Better, Live Healthier #2

 

Packing serious power.

In the Write Better, Live Healthier  series I’m giving you practical advice on ways to improve the quality of your life. Creativity, happiness, success — there’s never a bad time to think more about it and go get it. It’s also a forum to explore and debate topics that we all care about but rarely have time to stop and consider amidst our busy lives. Think of it as a quick push notification for your life, full of little nuggets of byte-sized wisdom nudging you to tap into something new and good.

 

#2… Stop training for marathons, start training your mind.

Austin is my new favorite hot spot — not just for reasons some may think. Sure, it can be a mighty fine non-stop culinary and cocktail rodeo. But it’s also a place with people who live healthier lifestyles. That’s hard to do in the Everything-Is-BIG Texas.

It’s also home to two very cool and inspired people who I’ve come to know as great friends the last year — Andy & Nichole. You can read about their amazing story here. I recently was down in ATX to handle some business, surprise Nichole for her birthday, and retrieve my favorite burnt orange “trainers” (running shoes in the standard British-American English translation). Andy and I were having a discussion about what it takes to make a difference physically in your life. Nichole knows this like the back of her hand, so if you want to know more about her new project “The Real Lean Startup”  you can go here.

Back to me and Andy’s chat…

I was lamenting how I’ve known so many people that train for marathons, run in them, but never really seem to make much of a difference with their physical fitness. They still physically look the same as they always have. Conventional wisdom would tell you otherwise. But Andy reminded me what Nichole said once that stuck with us both, and that was “80% is your nutrition.” What I really worry about is all this focus on excessive cardio starting to eat into our muscles — the lean fat burning machine of our bodies.

About seven years ago, my doctor told me I was a little “fat” for my age and height whilst still being an athlete. I always tell this story to people, and might be a bit ridiculous. But I tell it to remind myself to stay on track. I played basketball in a fairly competitive pickup league every Tuesday night. I’d run up and down the floor for two hours, burn a ton of calories. I’d go to the gym a few days a week and run once a week on top of that. Here’s what happened. Amidst all the physical activity and exercise I was repeating some of these bad habits:

  • staying up too late and getting less sleep
  • neglecting my down time, i.e. no relaxation activities, but finding more work to do
  • eating like a buzzard while traveling on the road
  • stressing out too much about dumb shit

Whenever I visit Austin, I make a point to spend time with Andy & Nichole. We share a nice ritual of going to the store and picking up fresh ingredients for dinner. Then we go back to Bevanham Castle and cook an awesome fajita dinner. It’s good to slow it down a bit. Eat later. Do some food prep, open a bottle on wine, rap about life and business, and put on some crazy Swedish house music on the iPad. This is what my friends might call a “cheat” day. It’s never really a big deal because you’re doing the all the right things the rest of the week. And this is my practical message to anybody, but specifically to entrepreneurs  moving at a constant ludicrous speed:

It’s not about the bad stuff, as much as it is about not doing enough of the good stuff.

  • Eat right more often than not – Dave Thomas and Colonel Sanders are not your nutritionists. Neither are Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy John and Cinnabon. So don’t let them take over your crammed and slammed week of pitches, meetings, and hackathons.
  • Get out from under the laptop and get active — Surely. But don’t amass days and weeks of bad habits and think you’re rewarding yourself with a fun run or a marathon. That’s just backwards thinking. Instead…
  • Start training your mind to think ahead — Moderate exercise is a healthy habit to take up. No argument there. But stop for moment and think about what will take your mind and body farther and higher well into your best years. It’s the nutrition stupid.

Try this routine out. One weeknight a week. Work later (yes, I said work later). Go home around 8 or 9. Slow down, take the rest of the night off and cook yourself a healthy meal. Fajitas are great (Andy puts too much guac and sour cream on his), or try one of my all-time favorites. It’s fresh Wild Alaskan Salmon with sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts (use olive oil instead of butter, substitute prosciutto for bacon if you must!).

Little victories like these throughout the week will begin to train your mind with healthier habits. Watch your body become your new best follower.

Write Better, Live Healthier #1

 

Lettuce, begin.

In the Write Better, Live Healthier  series I’m giving you practical advice on ways to improve the quality of your life. Creativity, happiness, success — there’s never a bad time to think more about it and go get it. It’s also a forum to explore and debate topics that we all care about but rarely have time to stop and consider amidst our busy lives. Think of it as a quick push notification for your life, full of little nuggets of byte-sized wisdom nudging you to tap into something new and good.

#1…You need to make an effort to Write Better stuff.

I see a lot of poor writing out there. I see it in business — RFPs, emails, docs, Powerpoints, product specs and other things. I see it online — web copy, UI, blogs, profiles, social media posts and comments.  I also see out there in general, in the wild — ads, billboards, industrial designs, instructions, signage, even menus at bars and restaurants.

Nobody’s perfect, and I’ll certainly carry the torch for imperfection. Maybe at some point I’ll put up a few examples. But to quote a famous line from a Supreme Court judge and James Bond, “I know it when I see it.”

There are three reasons it’s important to Write Better:

  • Write Better to organize your thoughts. We all have ideas that pop into our head all the time. Use whatever system you want for getting these into some recognizable and referenceable format. I like blogging them, but I also like recording them on paper. For the latter, it has the added benefit of always being “wireless.”
  • Write Better to reuse your content. Time is precious. Why waste it on trying to recreate something every time you want to reference it, link to it, or expand upon it. I like this idea of becoming a buffalo content maker. Don’t waste anything. If you write it better the first time then it will be much easier to call-up and reuse again for maximum impact.
  • Write Better to inspire yourself and others. Make it memorable, and fun. How cool would it be to have a running catalog of stuff you wrote that gives you or someone else a lift in their day? Very. There’s an amazing thing that happens when you write in an inspired voice, a bonus. You often end up with content that can easily work into a verbal communication on the subject. This is because it was written in a conversational style that is a natural for connecting with the listener.

I leave you with this poster called 10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer to get you pumped up. It’s from Copyblogger Media, makers of the StudioPress Genesis Framework. They make awesome WordPress themes. I am a big fan.

In future installments, I’ll cover specific tools and techniques for Writing Better for different situations in life — professional and personal. And of course I’ll be diving into the Healthier  side of this series. Topics for that one are top secret at the moment. I might need kid gloves.

#2… Stop training for marathons, start training your mind.

 

 

Un-Predictions 2013

 

Bark park

Off the leash.

 

With so many predictions flying around out there, I’m taking a page from the unconventional and making this post about the things that I believe will not be changing — the “un-predictions”  for 2013.

I heard once in a great talk from Jason Fried of 37signals quoting Bezos wisdom, ‘focus on things that don’t change in your business.’ For example, a product needs to be slower and harder to use…said no customer ever! You get the idea. It’s in these tiny oft-overlooked realisms that we find our focus and keep delivering value.

My New Year’s gift to you:

pinstagram.ly…ify.io

Companies will continue to pop onto the scene with these uber crazy tech sounding names. If they’ve actually got something then these cheeky monikers will help them stand out for a little while. After their coolifyness wears off they’ll need to be tenacious about reinforcing their brand and value as more pop-up around them. Or, worse, this might happen. It’s true that slowly and certaintly the universe of possible legit sounding dot com domain names are dwindling down. But companies that opt for the other side of creativity — the bold and abstract, utilitarian, or sometimes ironic — still have a place in the market without going all creatify on it.

G+ Identity Crisis?

The tech press will continue to beat the living Internet out of Google for their supposed FAIL on an unrelenting effort to create an alternative to the Facebook social network. What will also continue over at the “Gplex” is their undying focus on building great context into networking and productivity tools for account holders of their service. The digital world is largely an impressions economy, not a winner-take-all moat. Information and people will always find ways to move about their pipes freely. We want context. It’s not about the plus one. It’s about the plus done!

Small Keeps Winning

Somebody asked me recently to sum up the “mobile revolution” and what it means for content. I politely mea culpa’d that I’m probably not the best person to answer that question despite being an early adopter at most things tech. Here’s one simple idea. Content makers will need to continue taking a hard look at how many impressions they can get from content that’s smaller versus bigger, longer form, etc. The context of how and where people are consuming information is constantly changing…and that will not change.

foursquare Quietly Eats the Physical World

“Excuse me while I check-in before we order” is NOT what foursquare is all about, or what makes it still very much relevant. To paraquote its founder, Dennis Crowley, foursquare is ‘making the world around us easier to use.’ It’s a discovery tool  for people that get out of the house and want to experience the world around them. foursquare’s new UI is slick for sure, but two enhancements pushed out this year are a sign of more goodness to come. Users can now synch an AMEX card with their account and get the deal auto-magically when using the credit card at those venues — check-ins not necessary. This takes foursquare more mainstream and further closes the data loop so many deal sites have been struggling with to date. There’s also a slew of new services presenting foursquare businesses with a customer dashboard where they can make quick decisions on data and push out relevance to their best customers. This is customer enchantment at its finest, and signals a sustained focus on value-add for their most active users and the businesses they frequent.

Impressions Not Emails

I’m on a bit of an email crusade these days. I’m both fighting it and on the hunt to improve it. It’s an odd pursuit trying to justify the value of something that’s still very practical but yet has become increasingly irrelevant in my connected life. Which leads me to a brief thought on marketing. How much value are you really creating in your audience’s inbox? Did they convert because of your email, or because it was just one of many impressions that collectively moved them to take action?  I ask this question of every marketer from the tenacious blog owner to the big brander. I’m almost not sold anymore on the email “subscriber” model of online marketing. #11 of on this prediction list especially got my attention. These are important and honest questions we will continue to tackle together in the coming year.

Simple Explanations Rule!

Need a New Year’s resolution? How about practicing explaining complex things in simple ways to non-techy people. It’s fun and challenging. It will ultimately help you become a better communicator. Most of all, it’s a great gift to offer those among us that haven’t yet figured all this new stuff out yet. Here’s a free sampler. Mom: “What’s the point of PayPal anyway?” Me: “It’s so I don’t have to do this every time I want to pay for something”…as a I pull my wallet out of my pocket. The people that fervently push SIMPLE on a complex world will continue to lead the pack of ideas in 2013 and beyond.

 

 

Personal Branding: Are You @GaryVee or The Stealth Bomber?

 

Say something.

 

[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Founder to CEO: Mastering the Unnatural" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

This is a quick post about branding. Personal branding. I’m not going to cover the “what” of personal branding, i.e. tools, techniques, etc. Instead, I’m going to talk briefly about the HOW. Use this as a quick gut check on where you are with your own personal branding.

Let’s talk goals first. Are you looking to get a lift in your job search and networking? Become a better thought leader in your space of learning and expertise? Get the word out about your new startup? The main question you must constantly ask yourself is, “What am I comfortable with out in the wild?” For some, it’s a series of baby steps, walks or skips. For others, it’s big leaps at every turn. Virtually all of us are looking for the same thing. We want our message to be seen and heard by people who care.

Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle of these two approaches, blend them at times, depending on the challenge or opportunity that’s in front of us. This is practicing situational awareness. I’m fairly new to personal branding and admittedly still finding the right mix. And that’s ok. The problem comes when your goals, expectations, and aspirations are out of alignment with your approach. For example, if you’re a soft-spoken entrepreneur and have big, lofty expectations for your idea in the marketplace you want to seriously consider turning up the volume on your personal branding even if it takes you out of your comfort zone.

Now, this doesn’t mean you will instantly gravitate to either extreme outlined below. But it does mean that when you decide to say something big, you should consider how big you want to say it. You’ll need to eventually put most of your personal branding chips into one of these two pots.

The Stealth Bomber

You’re a bit of a lurker. You smartly poke around different environments and platforms making incremental gains in building up your sphere of influence and network. You might even take center stage sometimes. Not a bad play. When played right, this strategy allows you to fly under-the-radar but still be visible when you need to be. You’re usually well-connected. It’s also handy for using the element of surprise when the right opportunity presents itself. You strike when the iron is hot, and do so decisively.

“…featuring low observable stealth technology designed for penetrating dense anti-aircraft defenses; it is able to deploy both conventional and nuclear weapons.” — The Stealth Bomber

Personal branders should always strive for congruence. How you say something should align well with how you actually are — your authentic true self. Let’s say you’re known as somebody that doesn’t speak up much, but when you do, you do so confidently and decisively. Your personal branding should reflect this. That’s an example of being congruent. Conversely, if the same person is all over the map and offers no conviction in their personal branding, they are out of alignment with their true authentic self — and it will show. This is where being a stealth bomber can blow up on you. Let authenticity be your watchword with this approach.

@GaryVee

If you follow social marketing trends and aren’t familiar with @GaryVee of Vayner Media and Wine Library TV, get on Twitter or YouTube right now.  He advises some of the biggest consumer brands in their world on their customer engagement and marketing strategies. What sets him apart is his ability to put himself virtually/completely out there for mass consumption in his personal branding. It’s an integral part of his business branding too. This is a far cry from the stealthy approach outlined above. This approach requires a unique set of attributes, featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition. You must be comfortable in your level of exposure out in the wild being somewhere higher than the moon and stars.

“…featuring thicker-than-concrete thick skin, laser-like focus of message, and less than zero personal inhibition.”

I think you get the point with this approach. You’re putting your personal stamp on just about everything you’re putting out to the world. And you’re doing it in a very BIG and memorable way. If you buy into this approach, you are telling the world you’re confident that your message will persuade them to move in your direction.

The biggest difference between this approach and the previous one? In the @GaryVee approach, you’re putting all your chips into this pot, ALL the time. There is very little, if any, filter when it comes to your strength of conviction. Congruence is equally important with this approach to personal branding. But if you currently fall into this camp or are contemplating it, chances are you’re already the type of person that can pull this off.

Your Homework

To get you warmed up and inspired for how you’ll tackle personal branding in the New Year, watch this short video on marketing by the late Steve Jobs. In it, Mr. Jobs explains that ‘this is a noisy world, be clear on what you are about.’ It will challenge you to think differently about what you are currently doing. To say nothing is no longer an option.

 

 

Creative Collision in the Startup Ecosystem

 

Pink'n'blue by futhark, on Flickr

Let’s collide, thrive.

 

[Editor note: This post is related to the article "Going #Badgeless at SXSW" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

What a last few weeks. I live in the Silicon Prairie. Home to many new upstart software companies within the Omaha-Des Moines-Kansas City triangle. It’s also home to the Kauffman Foundation. If you’re not familar with @KauffmanFDN, to use a college football analogy, they are a veritable “Entrepreneur U” for the World. It was a pleasure to be part of #GEWKC and all the events that took place. It got me thinking about creative collision and how important it is to building a thriving and sustaining community of innovation.

People who run in these startup circles will talk about Brad Feld’s new book “Startup Communities” and what he’s done with Tech Stars and the Boulder community. An exemplary case study. There was also a recent guest post by Phillip Rosedale in the Silicon Prairie News that essentially asked the question,  ’How can a tech ecosystem like Silicon Valley/San Francisco take hold in cities like Omaha, Des Moines, and Kansas City?’ The big takeaway for me is DENSITY. Not the sheer population size. That’s just false hope. But a higher concentration of the ecosystem components in a defined area. The area should not only be defined, but branded. Let creative collision ensue.

Here’s an all-time classic scene to get us started on the idea of density.

Density is EVERYTHING. And it could very well be your destiny, if you play your cards right. Here’s the deal. Nobody’s gonna fund a light rail project through a dead downtown. Nobody’s gonna eat in an empty restaurant. Nobody’s gonna join a movement if nobody knows about it. The capital will be there. Yes it will. So, continue to fill your community with entrepreneurs, connectors, and service providers. Make bold moves.

Entrepreneurs

A curious, passionate bunch. Many have eschewed their corporate pedigree and aren’t looking back. Others are starting early, even skipping the traditional college-then-go-find-a-job plan. They seek comfort in ambiguity and risk taking. They are connectable. Meaning, they have a strong social API (Attitude Performance Index). All of these attributes are hard to find in one person in any community. So unique, and so vital. The DNA of this whole thing.

Action item for those still on the sidelines: Help cultivate and celebrate the entrepreneur ethos in children and young adults.

Connectors

One of my former bosses used to always say “success breeds success.” I’ll take it a step further and say that successful people breed successful people. These breeders are the connectors, and they are everywhere. Some may never take the leap into the great unknown of entrepreneurland. But they’re ready and able to help you where they can.

Action item for those already embedded in a startup community: Get the word out to more  potential connectors about the opportunities that abound for them. Bring a non-startup person (whatever that means) to a startup event or scene.

Service Providers

Not everyone is a product person. Service providers above all else are about RELATIONSHIPS. In many cases, relationships your startup doesn’t have. They also have expertise you don’t have (yes, it’s true), and a healthy distance from your product that allows them to truly think outside of the box for you. They ARE outside of the box. And they should be valued higher in the ecosystem.

Action item for startups: Stop trying to do everything yourself and embrace the service providers in the ecosystem.

Let’s collide, thrive.

You’re a bank? Consider making a loan to “startups” that are actually making money right now. You’re a large employer in the region? Consider looking in your own backyard, and give that innovative upstart a REAL chance to earn your business as one of their first customers. (Best line of any panel this week, by the way.)

Oh, and thanks Google. Welcome to the Fiberhood!

 

Crack Your Creative Code

 

It’s your code.

 

[Editor note: This post is related to the article "2 Must-Have Habits for High Value Networking" that I wrote for Entrepreneurs Unpluggd. They share entrepreneurs' stories and advice to help you build your startup. Check them out!]

Creativity is the spark plug to your entrepreneur engine. It doesn’t matter where you are in life or what you’re doing for a living. I’ve often been asked “why are you always coming up with these crazy ideas?” Does this sound familiar to you too?

If you find yourself in this camp then you absolutely understand that your own creative process is filled with lots of a really bad or “out there” ideas at first; and then over time they become refined to the point of sometimes being insanely good. There’s no secret to this process. In fact, most who practice it plead ignorance. They’re actually right. This idea was captured in a great quote I found by the late Steve Jobs:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. [via BrainyQuote]

Code Your Dots

There’s a sea change going on in the world right now. Information is so readily accessible to anybody, at any time, and it moves at lightening speed. This is taking our lives by force and making it necessary, not just optional, to think more creatively in our endeavors. What’s the point of being creative if we all have the same information? Think for a moment about the idea of connecting things — those THINGS are the dots of your life and experiences. And only you have access to how they all relate to your view of the world. You own that code. That’s your edge.

There’s a cool hashtag campaign happening over at Fast Company called #genflux. I encourage you to check it out.

 

There’s a conversation going on there about what talent looks like today. It’s an important conversation. Especially, if you find yourself moving in your career or building a company. I personally don’t think it costs you anything extra to be more creative. All it takes is connecting a few dots to create some new things. And you don’t need a certain look, job, title, or any permission to connect the dots and unleash the creativity within. It’s all right there.