photo by Sarah Elwell
Secret of a Creative Life, Business and Otherwise
Do This Instead of Making Your Kids Study and Stay Off the Internet
Have you heard the news that higher education is in question? Yeah, The New York Times says so, in End the University as We Know It.
Maybe you have heard the news. But you are still telling your kids that their best bet for success in life is to study for the next test, get good grades, go to college, rack up the $100,000 in debt... for the good cause of a safe financial landing that may or may not ever materialize.
Or maybe you are beginning to raise your own questions about what's best for your kids. I know I am. And it's got me in a bit of turmoil, to be honest.
When I'm in this kind of sticky spot, I often take a two-pronged approach. Which means my kids are studying and are (for now) thinking that college is non-negotiable.
But on the side, I've opened up a new path of inquiry. What if? What if higher education isn't going to be their best bet for success? What should I be doing to prepare for that possibility?
As you know, I am answering that partly by pursuing Kids in Business, an informal program between us girls, to teach them about entrepreneurism.
Somewhere along their high school way, I'm also going to ask them to read The Education of Millionaires.
Jane Friedman sold me on this title, and now the book itself sold me, and after that I just bought something else:
Domain names for each of my girls, using their true names. Because if their internet brand is going to be their ticket (as opposed to their education-laden resume), then they are going to need their own internet real estate, with their names on the door.
That is one of the suggestions in this excellent, excellent book.
What are you waiting for? Get your kids on the internet in the way they need to be. Teach them how to make a Google trail that will someday sell them to employers or help them have a successful freelance or other business.
Don't let education be their sole end.
from the New York Times: A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College
Career Counseling in the Kitchen
Due to the Loss of Field Roast Artisan Grain Sausage
Under the pastry board
that pulls out like an awning,
I found her. Half in, half out
of a cabinet door,
its shelter a hard cloak
that could hide the tears.
She was weeping
because we forgot to leave her
more than one ring
of spicy sausage.
I told her, and gathered her
into my arms, pulled her
towards my warm body.
I love that you are crying about sausage,
I said. And she rolled her eyes
like I was just some crazy mama
trying to comfort with nonsense.
I whispered. Because, I told her,
not everyone would cry about sausage.
She might be a famous chef someday
or a travel and food writer.
Such a person might cry
under an awning in New York
or Paris, about a sausage,
or a lost link to some recipe
from the past.
Kids in Business: Networking Starts Early
What is Business?
That's the first question we asked entrepreneur Claire Burge, in our second meeting of Kids in Business.
Claire didn't miss a beat.
"Business is meeting a customer's need," she said. "You might not even know who the customer is yet. You might not have an amazing idea. But if you think about people's critical needs, that's the beginning."
Then Claire shared with us about her very first business, Simplify Learning, which was eventually bought by another education company. It was an uphill struggle to develop the business initially, because even though she saw the need for students to have simple learning tools incorporating technology, the universities she approached did not. In the end, her success was propelled partly by identifying individuals within the universities, who would help champion the idea.
"What do you think business is?" she asked. (If you ever meet Claire, be prepared for the turn-back question. She really loves to hear what people think.)
The girls sat quietly. After all, they'd already heard that business might be different from a hobby and that it might mean crawling under houses and warding off German Shepherds.
I answered the question with a rather rambly treatise on how business is also about making money—it's not philanthropy—and yet it needs to be about doing that with respect for the people who work with us. "Too many businesses use people up," I said. "That's not the kind of business I want to run. I want a business culture where managers get people to do their best, yes, but with an eye towards making sure they're in their sweet spots... and a watchfulness for when people need a break or a change."
Moving on, we talked about the challenges for women, and I wondered what my girls thought when they heard "it's a male-dominated field"... again. They'd heard that phrase in our first meeting too. But they also heard me laugh, noting that the some of the work I'm currently doing in a male-dominated field is being done with a core team of women. (I think it might have been channeling my German grandmother with that laugh, as she was a business woman many times over.)
Gender, age: these things can work against us, but Claire was extremely encouraging. She told a story of a fourteen-year-old app developer in Ireland, and she told us about her own path of pursuing knowledge about business beginning at age twelve (before ever going to college, she worked for an accounting business, a law firm, an HR firm, a recruiting business, and a software company, so she could figure out what she preferred to study and pursue as a potential career).
When asked what she'd recommend now for the girls (besides getting five jobs), Claire emphasized the importance of having older friends and talking to older people. "I grew up surrounded by older cousins, and my parent's friends all had older kids. Also, I was an only child, and my dad treated me like an adult; it really made a difference. You can learn a lot from older people," she said.
And isn't that exactly what we're doing with Kids in Business?
Photo of Claire Burge, by Kelly Sauer. Check out some of the businesses Claire Burge is currently involved with: Get Organised, Wedding Dates. Claire is also on the core team helping to develop an app with Tweetspeak Poetry.
Kids in Business: The Insurance Adjuster Wins
Our first Kids in Business meeting—with spur-of-the-moment guest Lyla Lindquist—was awesome. Lyla is an insurance adjuster who runs her own business, and since she wasn't waylaid by any recent disasters, she made time for us on short notice. By the end of our meeting, I said I lost five pounds from all the laughing (and now we are thinking of how we might market Lyla as a weight-loss solution).
Besides hearing stories of old men who pretended to get run over or who lived in sub-zero trailers that got ransacked in the middle of nowhere, we learned about the relativity of correct business attire. (Jeans for burrowing under houses. Khakis for above-ground investigations of floods with left-over mold. Slacks for meetings with distressed parents whose children have been bowled over by rogue domestic animals.)
Pajamas, we learned, could potentially suffice as home office attire if they are t-shirts and sweats, but for reasons of focus and a basic sense of professionalism (and to avoid the overwhelming desire to nap between calls), we were told (and mostly agreed) that it is not a bad practice to actually get dressed every day (especially if you have no curtains on your windows).
Though every business is ultimately unique, and this was so evident in a discussion of insurance adjusting, one of the main takeaways from our time with Lyla was the idea that most businesses will be more profitable if you have:
1. knowledge in your area of interest
2. professional contacts (or an effective way to quickly obtain them)
We also discussed what makes a business different from a hobby:
1. it's not something you can just stop doing, because you are trying to make money from it
2. it's not something you can just stop doing, because you have spent money trying to make money from it
Of course you could walk away from a business. Instagram just did that, right? Okay, yes, for $1 billion from Facebook.
As for the business of insurance adjustment, we learned that it helps to be:
1. braver than the mailman (German shepherds are not uncommon in the field)
2. faster than the mailman (scary and sometimes dangerous situations occasionally arise)
3. really funny or at least appreciative of found-humor (otherwise cynicism about old men who pretend to get run over might turn you into a grouchy person)
I figure it was a rousing success, because my girls would love to talk to Lyla again—about business or anything else she'd care to share. After all, both girls agreed that as far as story-telling goes, J.K. Rowling has got nothing on Lyla, except maybe a few more movies and a few less German shepherds to her name.
Kids in Business: The First Day
This morning I was feeling the need for business colleagues. Oh, I have plenty, really. But none that I see face to face.
As I was writing about this in my business journal, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I *do* have colleagues, right here in my own home. I just need to think about them that way. Thus, our new Friday afternoon routine: Kids in Business.
The girls (12 and 14) and I will meet for one hour on Fridays and sometimes host guests. We are really looking forward to speaking with Claire Burge next Friday, for instance. And today, spur of the moment, Lyla Lindquist has graciously agreed to Skype with us.
I don't know where we'll go with all this, except that today we'll start to think about our direction together. I'm coming to the meeting with a a list of ideas. I'll share these with the girls and ask them to come up with more ideas.
So far, this is what I've got. It's just messy thoughts:
—read business articles or a chapter from a business book and discuss; maybe watch a TED Talk or other interesting video
—host fun entrepreneurs who can chat briefly with us
—teach skills like bookkeeping, how to run a meeting, how to use accounting software
—share our business dreams
—have the girls share some research they might do about other kids in business—or anyone in business, for that matter
—cover a host of important topics like financing, branding, marketing, selling, Internet meeting and connecting tools
—share about our respective business goals and accomplishments (the girls have a few non-income-producing "businesses," so we could start with these)
Both girls are happy with the idea (so far :) and they are even dressing up for the meeting. Sonia felt that it was important to look "creative," since we are dealing with entrepreneurship. Thus, her nail polish. In different colors. Sara is set to go too. (Look, she's already doing phone work in her fancy meeting clothes. Gotta love that desk, too. First benefit of working for yourself. You get to choose your own office equipment. ;-)
1001 Ways to Improve Your Personal Finances: Tip #2—The Starbucks Challenge
I have two friends.
Okay, I have more than two friends. But for the purposes of this post, I have two friends.
They are real people, not imaginary friends.
The first paid off his house, goes on occasional vacations, and recently bought a second property as a form of investment. He and his family throw fun parties. I like their strawberry rhubarb pie. Maybe you are like my first friend (if so, I might visit you soon for pie.)
My second friend has a second mortgage on his first house, goes on occasional vacations, and often throws huge, fun parties for family occasions. He recently got a big surprise. One day he went outside to get into his car, but the car was gone. While he and his family were sleeping, the car had been stolen away. Not by thieves, but by a repossession company.
I have another friend. This might not count. He's my dad. He helps people like my second friend repossess their financial security. It's not an easy task of course. People have to want it.
Maybe you are like my first friend. If so, good. You probably already take advantage of little known financial savings opportunities like duct-tape wart removal. Maybe you are ready to start a business, and you have everything you need (almost) to Get Rich Click.
Maybe you are like my second friend. Or maybe you are somewhere along the middle of the spectrum. Wherever you're at, if you are worried about the sustainability of your financial practices, my dad has a list of things you can do (he forgot to mention homemade pie-making, so I am going to just stick that in here right now. Did you know it is a lot cheaper to make your own pie than buy it?).
For argument's sake, let's say you followed at least part of Alexa von Tobel's 5 Must-Follow Principles for Personal Finance. Let's say you are not spending more than 50% of your income on housing and other non-negotiables (unfortunately, pie is negotiable).
However, you're in credit card debt over a whole host of negotiables, which is affecting your ability to make your car and house payments on time (this is what happened to my second friend). And somebody wants the money back sometime (or your car in lieu of it, or worse, your house).
It is time to pay that baby down (and, no, you may not throw huge parties in the meantime). Best approach?
1001 Ways to Improve Your Personal Finances: Tip #2
Make 3 lifestyle changes that can reduce your negotiable costs. Give up Starbucks. Borrow books from the library instead of buying them. Turn your heat down a few degrees (or your air conditioner up a few). Whatever it takes to reduce your costs.
I know, we didn't say a word about the credit card in this tip. That's because you have to start by freeing up a little money from somewhere. Even if it's only ten dollars a month. Preferably $25. A hundred dollars? Oh, that'd be grand.
When you have decided how you are going to free up some money—preferably at least the amount of your minimum payment on your lowest-balance credit card—you'll be ready for the next step: Paying down those credit cards.
But for today, just sit down and make a list of everything you spend money on and decide on 3 lifestyle changes. Let everything else remain equal for now, but commit to those 3 changes.
You can do this. It's only 3 things.
BONUS (completely free of charge)...
Today's personal finances confession:
I still didn't buy the pink duct tape, though we actually saw some in the grocery store and my daughter wanted it because of the pink duct tape post. However, I did buy a book for a friend the other day. She probably didn't need the book, but I wanted to buy it for her. It was a small splurge, but it was in the budget. And I like the author well enough; he's smart and funny, and he seems like the type who might eat pie.
1001 Ways to Improve Your Personal FInances: Tip #1 Pink Duct Tape
1001 Ways to Improve Your Personal Finances
Yesterday I posted Alexa von Tobel's video on the 5 Must-Follow Principles for Personal Finance.
Today I'm thinking about the small ways we can stop spending money on needless things, so we can put 20% of our income towards savings and the future.
I probably shouldn't start thinking though, because...
a. I will either stop, because I get bored with the idea
b. I will never get the bored with the idea (but you might)
So I'm setting an unreachable goal of sharing 1001 ways to improve your personal finances, because that just seems like the thing to do. The *one* at the end of the 1000 is for good measure and extra unreachableness.
Anyway, to improve your personal finances, like Alexa says, you should start by spending only 50% of your income on housing and related non-negotiables.
Up for negotiation.
This means that fake eyelashes, fake nails, Botox, and new Maggie's Cotton Camisoles (maroon or dusty lilac) are not necessarily in the budget. (Yes, Alexa recommends you make a budget. At this point, I might lose credibility with you, because I have never lived by a budget. I just don't spend much money, and I have a fascination for doing things myself instead of paying someone else to do them. Not counting housework, of course. Or the construction of dusty-lilac camisoles.)
Okay, if you're still with me, here is today's health-care cost-avoidance tip, so you don't have to go to the dermatologist and pay for a nitrogen blast, should you happen to develop an unsightly wart just days before a big writer's conference (or any other inconvenient time, like next month before your first trip to the Farmer's Market for the new season. Yes, you'll save money at the Farmer's Market, as long as you don't get waylaid by the sweet man selling artisanal pickles.)
1001 Ways to Improve Your Personal Finances: Tip #1
Remove warts with duct tape. Not in a kind of rip-and-go fashion—like getting a waxing, which is not in your budget... ahem—but in a starve-the-little-unwanted-extra-body-blips approach. (Please do not attempt to use duct tape as weight-loss solution; that is not what is being recommended. Apply duct tape only to wart-affected area.)
That's it. Tip number one. I am not making this up. It works. And the duct tape will double as a household fix-it item. Unless you buy the girlie kind of duct tape, which, if you are a girlie, you might prefer.
BONUS (completely free of charge)...
Today's personal finances confession:
No, I did not buy the girlie duct tape. Yes, I bought two Maggie's cotton camisoles the other day. It was Lyla's fault. But the cotton-buy, um... fit the budget.
1001 Ways to Improve Your Personal Finances: Tip #2—The Starbucks Challenge
The 5 Must-Follow Principles for Personal Finance
I still remember when my grandmother sat me down, when I was just out of college, and she explained the exact principles of personal finance to me (you'll see them in the TED video).
And I remember my father telling me around the same time... to never, ever carry credit card debt. "Pay it off every single time," he said, "and if you aren't going to be able to pay it off, don't buy."
Who knew how important those two conversations would become? And who knew that about 61% of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, because they never get this education, not from their families, not from school?
Alexa von Tobel is hoping that the principles of personal finance will go viral. That's definitely an idea worth spreading.
The Business of Tea, 2
Did you know you can grow your own tea? You can.
According to Tea the Drink that Changed the World, tea bushes prefer the same growing conditions as azaleas and rhododendrons. They also like shade, and they don't like to compete for root space.
Whether you have the fortitude not only to grow your tea but to take it through the processing stage is another question. You can read all about the amazing steps of harvesting and processing in Tea the Drink that Changed the World. You could also choose a middle road and simply add some lovely ingredients to a plain, quality loose tea.
Here's mine this morning, including a Spring wild-edible: violets!
Cherry Citrus Violet Red Tea
1 teaspoon loose Upton Tea Rooibos Superior Organic
1/2 to 3/4-inch orange peel, cut into pieces
10 wild violets (don't use yellow, as they're inedible)
4 dried cherries, cut into pieces
Just add lightly-boiled water and let steep for at least four minutes—more if you want the flavors to intensify (I took out the orange peel after four minutes and left the rest, just because I don't like too strong a citrus flavor).
When I finally sit down to drink, I love using the antique cup that my dear friend Ann Kroeker gave me. She has a matching cup, so we can take tea "together."
But sometimes when I'm feeling a little one-stop-ish, I'll brew my tea in the same cup I'll drink it in... the ForLife Tea Mug with Infuser and Lid.
This morning, because I want a little anti-allergy boost, I'm also adding raw honey. Mine's got pomegranate. More red for me!
More on the subject of tea: The Business of Tea, 1. Includes recipe with wild flowers
The Business of Tea
Tea is big business in my house. So when I started experiencing adverse effects from caffeine, you can imagine my distress. My morning and afternoon ritual is indispensable!
What to do?
First, I determined that I'd allow myself my favorite French teas only on Mondays. Well, that took care of Monday. But it left six other days of tea-emptiness, which I refused to fill with Chamomile.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case it's true. I determined that I *must* create some exotic tea experiences to fill those other six days.
I've been experimenting, and today I found a little bit of heaven with a seasonal tea concoction that should also serve as an anti-allergy solution for Spring.
Red Tea with Forsythia
1 overfull teaspoon Republic of Tea Rooibos & Passionfruit loose tea
1 scant 1/2 tsp Thé Mariage (black tea with chocolate caramel overtones; can substitute any strong black tea like English Breakfast)
1 dried prune, chopped small
1 dried apricot, chopped small
5 forsythia flowers (or other bitter-sweet edible flower)
1 teapot's worth of boiling water, poured over ingredients. Steep for at least four minutes. But you can leave it in the steeper and it will only sweeten with time.
I'm in love. :)
Regarding quantities, I make a pot for the whole day—enough for me and for others in the family who might want to sneak a little tea. This is my absolute favorite teapot for the job, though mine's a tangerine cheery color. Includes steeper, which I love...
Love is the Killer App: How to Win Business
Knowledge, network, compassion.
That's what it takes to win in business, says Tim Sanders in Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends.
This book reads like a great inspirational speech, but I don't hold that against it; I feel inspired.
Today, I'm in the Knowledge section, and I couldn't agree more: "I say there is no option. I've looked at all the possibilites, and for the student of business, books are the answer."
Sanders is recommending books over articles (and blog posts :), because books "are the complete thought meal" containing...
- meta-ideas (statements that give unique perspectives)
Of course I see the value of the above-average blog post. This is where a person can gather those first facts and ideas that make for a larger desire to know and apply. Sanders perhaps sees the value too, when he recommends a reading diet of 80% books and 20% articles.
From my writer and business-person perspective, I can say this sounds about right. I scan articles for quick tips and quotes. These often lead me to read books. And that's where my mind really gets going. That's where I take away bigger concepts like the ones in Get Rich Click that I shared with my dear friend Ann Kroeker yesterday (and I can't wait to see where she takes them).
How to find the best reads?
Sanders suggests searching for keywords in book titles. On the Internet you could do this at Goodreads. (Or ditch the keywords and peek into a friend's Goodreads recommendations. I highly value entrepreneur Claire Burge's reading list. In fact, that's where I found Love is the Killer App.)
If you want to try searching some keywords in Goodreads, here are some keyword ideas from Sanders. When I'm done stealing [borrowing] Claire Burge's book list, I'll probably try this:
for business in general: brand marketing, globalism, the new economy, partnerships, strategic alliances, the future, profit-and-loss
for sales: negotiation, closing, clients for life, making clients happy, persuasion
for entrepreneurs: economy theory, macro-economics, success stories, profit, locating capital, angel investors, raising money, business plans
Of course, you could always just come here for the low-down on the best ideas in business books. And then we could talk about where to take them.
The Power of Goodreads
It started when I read that Goodreads has about 8 million users. I might have that number wrong, but tonight it doesn't matter.
What matters is that I have two Goodreads members sitting in my living room, rating books, writing reviews, and starting book clubs.
That's right. I told my kids they should join Goodreads. (If you want to tell your kids to do this, and you feel nervous about how to do it safely, read these Guidelines for Setting Students up on Goodreads).
Honestly though? I didn't read the guidelines. Because my kids and I are always discussing Internet etiquette and safety, as a matter of course.
So far, the features that have wowed my "non-reader" (she's only rated 56 books, while her sister is topping 150...um, since last night :)... anyway, so far the features that have wowed are:
- rating books (for a student, it's fun being the one to give out the gold stars)
- friending "real-life" friends, especially the ones who live at a distance
- recommending books to those same friends (because when you are together you forget about books and are always making funny videos)
- taking and making literature quizzes (one quiz is called the "never-ending quiz," because people keep adding to it)
- being able to give your mom's own poetry book 5 stars (no, I didn't pay my Littlest off; she just did it)
- marking books to save for later, by clicking "want to read"
- keeping track of what page you have read up to on a book you're currently reading, and seeing a little thermometer-thing rise (and translate your progress into a percentage)
- getting your mom to happily teach you how to write a review—she did this by making you read a bunch and decide why you liked them (or not)
- writing the review and having your mom be astonished (yeah, my Littlest's Clementine review simply tickled me)
Join me on Goodreads?
Get Rich Click: Wow!
"Should I read the book?" she asked.
"No worries, I'll give you the highlights," I told her.
Last night I emailed her: "You have got to to read Get Rich Click. It has a ton of actionable ideas."
Since reading the book (in less than two days), I have had so many brainstorms I hardly know where to begin. And in some cases, I'm simply going to let things sit on the back stormy burner for a while.
Today, I just want to share one BIG IDEA, about making money by becoming an Affiliate.
You thought you could only do that through Amazon, right? Because they have made it so obvious and simple to do?
Guess what? Amazon is only the beginning. There's a whole Affiliate world out there, waiting for you to dip in.
Five of the top 25 Affiliate sites Marc Ostrofsky recommends are:
Now, in some cases, you've got to be interested in selling... I don't know... cufflinks?
But in other cases, you might be especially motivated to help sell gifts for writers and creatives, simply because you know the seller (TS Poetry) and one of the art creators (Emily Wierenga).
If you're more interested in helping TSPoetry than selling cufflinks, you can create a TS Poetry store widget for your blog.
(Also, depending on the kind of marketer you are, you may also find it easier and more powerful to promote something or someone you love.)
1. Just choose to set up the widget by "store," then type tspoetry into the white box.
2. To become an affiliate at Cafepress, email firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Or if you just want to share the widget, you can do that without becoming an affiliate (but hey, why not get referral fees? You wanted to Get Rich Click, yes? :)
Oh, and I'll write more about Get Rich Click. But you might want to get if for yourself (mine's overdue now at the library, because someone put a hold on it! Smart person. :)
Home-Educated Students the Winners?
Created by: College At Home
Kind of interesting. The language is a little self-satisfied for my taste.
And of course home education is no guarantee of success. Nor is public school a guarantee of non-success (says the public-schooled woman :).
My guess is that there are nuances not covered here. For instance, if a parent of a public-schooled child is as involved as a home-educating parent, this might be an important indicator of overall success.
Labels: home education
5 Secrets to Making it in Business
Over the past few months, I've been thinking more than ever about what it takes to make it in business.
I come from a long line of entrepreneurs—my father's grandfather was a watchmaker, my grandmother owned a salon and later a yarn shop and a framing business, my father was partner in a chemical company, and my uncles have had their share of boat businesses.
In Rumors of Water, I recall, fondly, my own forays into the agriculture business (a road stand at the end of my grandmother's driveway, where my sister and I would sit in the shade and eat more berries and cherries than we ever sold; needless to say, I have never lived into my Ten Acre Dream).
There is so much to learn from reading about other people's business dreams, and I've been doing that. A few books on my recent shelf are:
Stall Points: Most Companies Stop Growing—Yours Doesn't Have To
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't
Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers
The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
The lessons in these books are many, but when I consider the central messages, I come up with these five secrets:
1. sell what you love or believe in. Tony Hsieh of Zappos didn't believe in shoes so much as he believed in Customer Service (though I'm guessing he enjoys a good pair of shoes.) He built Zappos to be, more than anything, an experience in great Customer Service, and it's not surprising that today his interest has begun to shift into the idea of "delivering happiness," a movement of sorts.
Is it possible to sell something you don't love? Maybe. There are always exceptions to every rule. But since these are *my* secrets, we'll have to stick with love. (I was the only person to sell one dismal stuffed animal in a high school fundraising campaign. I didn't believe in stuffed animals, especially those cheap and unattractive ones, and therefore I couldn't market them beyond Mom—sorry Mom, you shouldn't have bought one either... forgive me?).
2. give everything you have to make it work. Across the board, whether we're talking George Cadbury, Eric Ries, Tony Hsieh, or my dad, we can note a terrific dedication that extends to both time and money. It's as if the business is our life itself. We feed it, clothe it, give it our choice moments. If we can't do this, maybe we don't really love or believe in the business. Maybe it's time to eat the cherries, cut our losses, and close up the stand.
3. Stay humble. In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don't, one of the outstanding qualities of the Great companies was a humility in top leaders.
Now this is a tricky one, because we don't necessarily think of a Steve Jobs as being humble. We think *bold.* But humility comes in different flavors. A bold leader might actually be humble when it comes to listening to customers or understanding that a company's, or an industry's, position is never a foregone conclusion.
In Stall Points: Most Companies Stop Growing—Yours Doesn't Have To, one of the prime reasons for downturn was this very issue: neglecting to humbly understand that a position can be wrested from us by a "lesser" company that *is* paying attention to customers, price points, or new technologies.
4. Know who you are, and who you aren't. Also in Stall Points, a major factor pinpointed in downturn was overreaching and diversifying too much. These days, I am watching Amazon with fascination, because it actually seems to be engaged in excessive diversification. (And yes, the bookseller did acquire the shoeseller Zappos). Yet perhaps Amazon is about something other than books. Maybe it is about E-commerce, the way Zappos was about Customer Service. So it will all work out in the end.
For my own part, I recently decided I'm chocolate (not peppermints), tea (not coffee), hot pink or red (not maroon). Around early June, I hope to be able to show you what I mean. In any case, it has helped me focus, to know who I am and who I am not.
5. Make the hard calls, without burning bridges. Not long ago, I heard from a guy whose business was going down the drain. And he was still trying to be all things to all employees, hold on to the past of what the company had been. The result was that he was losing everything. This is such a delicate matter. We need to maintain our compassion and good-dealings, but if something is "failing," we need to be realistic too, and save the ship by necessary means.
For me, this is one of the biggest challenges, as I never want to hurt people. It takes a lot of vision to see beyond the current circumstances, to understand what is ultimately at stake, and to make the necessary hard calls. This is where *loving* the business will ultimately serve us. And if we find we can't love the business that much, we should probably close the stand, after all.
How about you? Have you tried making your way in business? What are your favorite secrets?
Go Ahead, Criticize Me for Creativity
A few days ago I wrote to a friend, someone I actively work with these days, and apologized. I felt like maybe I'd not been agreeable enough lately.
To my great surprise, she wrote back and said I should not apologize. She loves the way we work together—how we freely criticize each other's ideas, to reach toward a common goal outside of ourselves, to be as creative as we can possibly be and find the best solutions.
I felt a great sense of comfort in her words. To think, she believed that our process needn't be all simple and agreeable. What a relief.
But tonight, reading The New Yorker, I discovered I should be more than relieved. I should be really, really pleased to have a relationship like this.
It turns out that the old idea of brainstorming and being agreeable about all ideas that are put on the table is not the best way to produce optimal creativity and quality solutions.
In a study by Charlan Nemeth, at U.C. Berkeley, it was noted, "Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition."
In my world, I'd still like the criticism to be respectful, even playful, but now I can relax and enjoy a good debate, seeing it for the creative possibility it presents.
I might even send this little message to my friend, "Go ahead, criticize me—for our best creativity."
Doll Sculpture by Sara.
Where Do You FInd Words?
My youngest daughter is always the champion. When she sees a new idea and loves it, she takes off at top speed.
I showed her the WordBowl, 2011, and she was enchanted. She started gathering woven bowls from around the house. Bowls that came from Kenya. Starting cutting slips of paper and plying me for words.
"Sparkly," that's a good word, isn't it, Mommy?"
"That's a great word."
"Is this how you spell threaten? T h r e a t e n."
"Wow, you spelled that right!"
"I know how to spell a lot of things, Mommy. Don't you know?"
And she fills her bowl. And she writes a poem about playing ball with the moon. And I laugh when the ball goes bop-bop-bop, and I get emotional when the moon and she must part. She's found her words, and she's filled me.
Should We Force People to Write?
I admit in Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing, that I never made my daughters write (they are home-educated, and I do it how I want).
In our education experience together, we've done a lot of other things that I believe turned my girls into writers, but mandatory writing was not one of them.
I am thinking about this today especially, after reading a quote at this wonderful place:
But what if the reading problem isn’t as simple as forcing students to read and write more (which we should also do)?
Really? Should we force students to write? Here's a poem from Sara, age 14, which she handed me today. She made up her own form for it. This, from a girl who has never been forced to write...
The Pirates and the Sun
Once upon a long ago time
When lemon trees fell in love with lime,
And all the fairy tales were true (if only in your mind)
A pirate sailed the seven seas to find the treasure.
The treasure sat on the rim of the sun,
At the edge of the sea, number 101,
At the edge of the night, just before it’s done,
And there sat the treasure, the only one.
The pirate’s flag was big and black,
It billowed and whipped and sometimes lay slack,
It was made of (don’t tell) a regular sack,
But it was the flag of a pirate.
The pirate smiled and twirled his moustache,
He grinned and rubbed his hands at the sight of the stash,
And one gold tooth in his mouth did flash,
And every pirate got gold, from the first to the last.
Now the pirates sailed back, for a year and a day,
And they met an old monk, who taught them how to pray,
And they had many adventures, don’t ever say
They weren’t the greatest pirates who lived.
Yes they sailed away, and now they came home,
With a bag of gold, and a horse from Rome,
And a parrot, a stick, and a wrinkled old gnome,
A drum and a harp and a broken trombone.
But the world had changed when they sailed to the sun,
To the last ever sea (number 101)
And the pirates’ fleet was sunken and gone,
And the world was round in the minds of everyone.
So the pirates took one look at the cities of the day,
From London to New York to the coast of Malay,
To the skyscrapers high and the waters grey,
And they turned right around, and went back where they came.
And now they do sail, past the coasts one by one,
Forever looking for the treasure, the only one,
And the edge of the sea right next the sun,
And the time they left behind long ago.
For what use is gold if your world is gone?
What use is a ship when it’s old and down-run?
What use is a crew of pirates who come
To the deck always looking for the thing which they long?
If we shouldn't force students to write (and I believe we shouldn't), what is the key to getting them to a place of excellence in reading and writing? Well, perhaps to answer to that question, you'll need to read the book. ;-) But I'd also love to hear your ideas right here today.
What if You Have a Genius?
"And what if the genius is yours for one exquisite moment of your life," says Elizabeth Gilbert, "and then you pass it along?"
(I feel this way about the writing I've done. I feel like if I never accomplish anything major again, then the process of passing it along to those I teach and mentor is something beautiful and just as exquisite in its way.)
Choosing (or Not) to Play the Game
This year, as some of you know, my older daughter is in a distance-learning program. It's been a struggle in many ways. But the biggest difficulty has been my girl's impatience with a system that sometimes "doesn't get it."
By this she means, the balance of inside and out has sometimes not been well-understood or successfully addressed. Being home-educated her whole life, this is a shocking experience. The rhythm of our lives has always been to cultivate what's inside the girls with appropriate outside helps. The balance has been (mostly) simple to achieve.
There are days when I almost despair over how simple it *has not been* in this new situation, though the distance-school has tried to (mostly) be accommodating.
The other night I told my girl that this is how it is in life. She'll encounter people and systems who "get it" and those who don't. And she will have to choose whether to play their game or assert her own game. I told her stories of times I've played the game and times I determined I could not. I want her to know she has a choice.
5 Ways to Increase Your Klout Score Exponentially
In the span of about a week, I increased my Klout score by 13 points. To put this in perspective, I should mention that this happened during the fallout period, when a lot of people's Klout scores dropped.
It also happened over the *exact days* I revamped my Twitter strategy. So this post is going to share my Twitter secrets, which are based, quite simply, on love.
(For those of you who know and love me, let me assure you I haven't gone Klout crazy. My workplace is exploring it, and so I began exploring it. The only danger I see so far is that I might become a Klout-score-checking addict :)
Klout, in my opinion, could otherwise be called a "love quotient." It tracks who you love, what you love, how much you love, who loves you and how much they're willing to share the love.
So, here's the Lovers Guide to Increasing Your Klout Score thru Twitter
1. Ask yourself, what do I really love? Then tweet about it. Do this for two reasons. One, it will enable you to be more focused (an important part of a good Twitter strategy). And, two, it will enable you to sustain your Twitter activity for the long haul. Nothing works better than a strategy that fits with your lifestyle and interests.
2. Claim your love. My workplace has done this, with some success, by using the hashtag #goodwork. My Twitter poetry group has done it with the hashtag #tsptry. It's a way to get seen amidst the noise, and to invite others into your circle.
Some people have an uber-branding strategy around the use of unique hashtags. #Amwriting, an "award-winning hashtag," developed by Johanna Harness, is one of the most creative I've seen yet.
3. Get emotional about your love. There's a reason advertisers track your emotions. Take advantage of it, and make sure your tweets use emotive words or concepts that will generate an emotional response in your followers. This isn't about exploiting your tweeps; it's about becoming a better writer.
4. Ask for love. @Claireburge impresses me with her questions. On any given day on Twitter (or elsewhere), you will find her asking for advice and direction from those in the know. This is not only a terrific connecting strategy, it is also a humble strategy, because it seeks to learn.
5. Make love connections. Do you know people who would just love to know each other? Introduce them. Go ahead and tweet @doallas I think you would love @knittingthewind—just beautiful! Increasing connections naturally and lovingly is part of a healthy networking strategy.
Try these 5 Twitter Love-Life tips, and let me know if they increase your Klout score. I'd be curious to know.
And now, a love request.
I'm looking for love in the following places, and would really appreciate any direction you could give me, towards excellent bloggers and tweeters and Tumblrs who beautifully explore:
tea, French, bread, writing
I'm also claiming my love in these same categories. If you want to follow along on any given day, or become part of a more focused conversation, you can join me under these hashtags...
(If nothing comes up under a particular hashtag, that means I haven't been tweeting about it lately. Hashtags don't bring up results if you take a rest for a few days. And I *always* take a rest on weekends. Which, btw, will lower a Klout score. But I love my rest, and you can't put a score on that.)
Why Are You Tweeting During Your Performance Review?
Steve Jobs Comes to Lunch with Creativity
Over lunch the other day, I was talking to a friend of mine. He's working on his PhD in the area of user experiences, mostly technology.
His opinion of what Steve Jobs did best? Take stuff that already existed and find ways to put it together. This fascinated me; after all, we think of Jobs as the one who "created" some of these technologies. My friend said it wasn't like that. Instead, Jobs often saw possibilities in disparate pre-existing technologies and put them together to create beautiful user experiences.
This reminds me of today's chapter in Mindfulness, which focuses on creativity. Creativity doesn't necessarily create out-of-nothing. It simply does a quarter-turn and says, "Ah, look at it this way."
If this sounds easy, it may not be. My friend laughed as he put his iPhone on the table and said, "Isn't it beautiful? And even when other companies had it sitting in front of them, they still couldn't create a decent knock-off. That's genius, don't you think?"
I often wonder how well we are cultivating this kind of genius in the way we teach our young people, giving them, as Langer notes, too few choices in how they interact with materials and information; I know that my own daughter is chaffing against her distance-learning program this year, because it prescribes more than she's used to (we're working on that... maybe later this week I'll share her next assignment, which she took *more* than a quarter-turn with).
How much are we willing to do the quarter turns? How much does creativity matter to us? It might mean a "bad grade" or some commercial failures along the way. Will we risk it?
Being Mindful of Twitter Power
There are always two (or more) ways to frame something, reminds Ellen Langer. Remembering that is part of being mindful.
I've heard people frame Twitter as a mindless pursuit. But... may I suggest a different perspective?
Last year I wrote a post called 10 Reasons to Write (Or Not) a Book About Writing. Someone I didn't know, called @fictwriter, tweeted the post. Not long after, Jane Friedman, who was working for Writer's Digest at the time, clicked through the tweet link and left this comment on the post...
Found your post through Twitter (@ficwriter). I work at Writer's Digest, and understand the dilemma! But if you decide you want to do it, we'd love to see your proposal.
Jane's words stuck with me, even though I categorically decided I would *not* write a book about writing. In fact, I was too tired to think about writing anything at all, having already put myself to the task of book-writing several times.
Still, when I went to a picnic this June and got my title handed to me, I remembered Jane's words. It made me think the project was not just fun but also viable.
So again I turned to Twitter. One Saturday morning I asked my friends, "If I was, say, writing a book on writing, what would you want included?"
Their answers helped me shape the book. A lot.
Today the power of Twitter has come full circle to Jane. Remembering her comment so long ago, I mentioned that I had actually done the book, largely thanks to her comment. As a result, she read the book, and today I am tweeting her post, which excerpts the book that Twitter brought to life.
Twitter a mindless pursuit? Not for me. :)
Care to join us at The High Calling for a bookclub discussion of Mindfulness, by Ellen Langer?
The Power-Point Embraced
Yesterday I shared how I encouraged my daughter to take her anger and channel it into a reasoned response. One reader asked to see that response. I asked Sara if it was okay, and she kindly said yes...
I read all the stories and excerpts.
And I come to this question: why does the Literature book have mean, depressing, senseless stories? It’s just meanness and meanness and nothing has happened. Nothing has changed. I once read somewhere that writers have a responsibility for their stories—you have to think about the readers, and if your story will harm more than it will help. I wasn’t sure what I thought of that before, but now I agree. Some stories you shouldn’t have to read, unless you choose to. That’s why there are so many in the world—so everyone has a type of story they find fun, or interesting, or true, or wise, or perfect. Forcing someone to read story after story that is depressing does not have any use that I can see.
The ancient Greeks thought that writing comedy was a greater accomplishment than writing tragedy. William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize speech, seems to agree. He doesn’t talk about comedy per se, but he notes that we need stories that “are not merely… the record of man…[but] one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” If a story lacks the universal truths of the resilient human spirit, he says it is “ephemeral and doomed.”
Some of the stories in the Literature book seem to lack these universal truths, as if they were a commentary on hopelessness instead of an experience of humanity—not merely the good or the evil, but the will to hope, even when there is no escape, to try, even when they can change nothing—like Anne Frank. I believe that stories like some in the Literature book will not be remembered in a thousand /200/300/500 years—unless it is for something other than the stories themselves, like their virtue as cultural artifacts. The oldest piece of literature in the world, Gilgamesh, is still being retranslated and retold and read. The Lord of The Rings is the same, Sherlock Holmes is the same—they have the life and energy now that they had when they were first written. Why? Because they tell of a story that is as true now as it was then, a story that transcends the boundaries of language and time.
On Hopeless Literature Essay, by Sara, age 14. Used with permission.
Don't Be Afraid of Your True Writing or Work
Such an interesting convergence this morning. I am having three conversations about the same thing. One is happening in my dining room. One on Twitter. And one in email.
People are nervous about their true condition.
It has been framed slightly differently in the three conversations. One person thinks her style needs to change before she can step out. Another is concerned that she can't use a life circumstance to mold an activity she needs to work with. And the third, my own daughter, began by refusing to write an assignment, because she was so angry about it she could just about spit.
Let me reign this in to the conversation with my daughter. "Embrace the anger," I told her. "It's your strongest response. Don't be afraid of it. Use it."
She is just now finishing an essay she decided to write, on the reason that hopeless literature shouldn't be the focus of a high school curriculum. She has brought in the Greeks' opinion on comedy being more important than tragedy, and she has quoted Willliam Faulkner's Nobel Prize speech. She has taken the anger of her first draft and turned it into an incisive, insightful, profound essay that should make any teacher take a second look at what he or she is using for a literature program.
Which is to say... don't be afraid of where you are. Embrace the strongest point of your experience. The thing that is consuming your time or your emotions. It is your power-point.
Signing Rumors photo by Kelly Sauer. Used with permission.
Nancy Franson finally guessed the answer to our game. As she said, "something about looking for the missing pieces."
The clever Karin Fendick had made an observation before this, saying that each of the presented images were essentially "semi-revealed."
In other words every single image had a _________ piece.
Coming next week... the simple reason we played this game. :)
Penning a Story
I had to share this whimsical little story with you. Sara wrote it while experimenting with calligraphy.
Here's the beginning...
The Story of the Little Ink Pen's Journey
My, oh my. Look, Paper! This is how I write.
Once upon a scratchy time a little pen said, "let me go to the great inkwell to find ink for us so we will not run out."
And the others said, "You can do this, but you will not come out alive!"
And the little ink pen said, "But I will go nonetheless. And I will bring us back so much ink we could become all fuzzy in our words and still not run out."
So he set out on a far and dangerous journey...
[to finish the story, click to view the large-sized image]
Story and calligraphy by Sara B. Used with permission.