Friday, June 20th, 2008

Random observations – Part 2

Random observations – Part 2
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A while back I posted Random observations – Part 1. This is a follow-up. As noted earlier, these are personal ruminations on patterns I’ve uncovered through my professional practice. Some are topical, while others may feel rather disconnected. That being said, they all circle around the same things in my mind.

11. I don’t bank on home runs

When we started in business, I planned everything in exacting detail so that we wouldn’t make any mistakes. (It didn’t work.) Mistakes are inevitable; simply work through them as quickly as possible.

Make a prototype, test it, iterate. Continual small improvements are manageable and it’s easier to fix bugs than to be perfect the first time.

12. Make lots

We often fall in love with our work. It’s easy to fawn over our accomplishments, or imbue unnecessary gravity upon our decisions.

We can make up for this by taking many shots on goal. With every failure, one learns to refine their plays. Eventually, good ones will start to feel almost natural.

This takes humility and patience, but with time those who have done so seem to stand apart from those who didn’t roll-up their sleeves.

13. Planning and over-planning

You are more apt to reach your goals with a good plan. A plan doesn’t need to meet any format. Think of it as a functional piece that helps you focus that can change as you better understand a situation.

Over-planning tends to remove clarity, and leaves little room for improvisation. This is problematic, as things rarely turn out exactly as you’d expect.

14. Get to the point

In grade school we are measured by our ability conform to rules (think: 1,500 word papers). As such, we learn to focus on filling spaces. Later in this life, this results in long-winded reports that say hardly anything.

Distill your messages to their most relevant points. Those you work with will come to listen to what you say, and you’ll find yourself with more spare time.

15. The rewards of rebellion

Forget about requirements and focus on the problem at hand. Do your job wrong, but come up with the right solution. If it can be done simply, all the better.

You may get fired; or, you might find yourself on the fast track.

16. Cool is a paradox

As a child, I thought that the Fonz was cool. Now, Beck is cool and Fonzie seems kind of silly.

Trends spin around all the time. Be who you are. Should one eventually land on you, it will feel natural.

Be someone else, and you may end up like Vanilla Ice.

17. One page

Banks, VCs, and bureaucracies turn business planning into a grand, theoretical exercise. When you need their money you have little choice, other than meeting their demands.

But bigger plans don’t make for better businesses. (Sometimes they cloud the fact that one’s idea really isn’t that good.) See if you can get your business plan to one page that anyone can read. If it makes sense, you may be on to something.

18. Do less

Concentrate on doing one thing exceptionally well. Go as “narrow” as you can. At first it will be scary, and you’ll wonder if you are missing out on an opportunity.

With time, however, you’ll be ahead: Marketing will be simpler. Processes will become clearer. Decisions will be easier to make.

19. Give your clients less and more

Forget the fancy offices, corporate giveaways and phony Christmas cards. Instead, just call them and listen carefully. Help them solve their problems.

A good brand isn’t a logo on a mug; it’s a relationship that one doesn’t want to give up.

20. Be extreme

Today’s world is filled with competent and talented people. As such, being “good” is no longer enough. To differentiate an organization or oneself, one must be super-fantastic at something. (This isn’t as difficult as it may seem.)

Pick a subject and embrace it with all of your might. It hardly matters what, but you have to love it. Read everything about the topic, and earnestly seek to understand it. Make it such a part of your being that you’ll go to any length to do it impeccably. Some people call this nerdy, and others will believe you to be obsessive.

Then of course, those who do wonderful things have to play on a different level.

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Sean Hodge says:

    Thanks for the post. Go as narrow as you can approach. I've found that applying this to blogging helped to grow the fist thousand subscribers. Not I'm working on expanding the subject, while still writing about the core subject occasionally. Thanks.

  2. ansari ali says:

    Lovely post. insights and perspective where i think everyone can relate to. thank you for writing.
    godspeed in your journeys everyone.

  3. Steven Clark says:

    Number 20: so true. It's no use marketing to the masses as the average solution.

    I read a few Seth Godin books where he talks about Purple Cows and marketing to the edges. Anyone can be mediocre, you're talking about the same thing as Seth there - being exceptional or remarkable at something.

    Apologies for the side rant. I do think more people in the industry need to be aware of number 20. One web manager rescinded a job offer after getting to know me - he said I "took the web too seriously". My perspective is that sites should be accessible, usable, semantically marked up etc etc. I'm glad I never got that job BTW...

    Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Scott Lowe says:

    15 is great. Have you ever been fired for trying to solve a problem the way it needs to be solved rather than your employers idea of how to solve it?
    Its something I'm always worried about. I feel like saying that I am trying to understand the problem and its possible solutions just makes me sound foolish, especially if I don't have a strong direction yet.
    What do you think?

  5. Hi Scott,

    I haven't been employed by anyone for almost a decade now, so my thoughts on this front are mostly from a client-focused standpoint. To date, I've never been "fired" by a client, but there are likely a few people out there for whom we might not be the first choice to work with again, given our approach.

    Mostly, I think the whole issue is about honesty. People are universally tired of bullshit. As such, if a client is making a choice that could damage their business, I have to make note of this. Some are put-off by such feedback, but most appreciate my candor. (And those typically turn out to be the nicest people to work with.)

    I think you're on the right track to just tell the people who you work with that you're working on something and haven't found the solution yet. Things like these simply take some time to figure out. In my mind, there's nothing wrong with that. :-)

    Cheers!

    Eric

  6. L Wilder says:

    Love your posts, your practical and straightforward advice and observations are a godsend. Could you write something about working in teams in the design business? I know teamwork is important but sometimes I think if I hear the words "team player" again I'm going to puke
    Thanks Eric

  7. L Wilder says:

    that is my name, and I don't have a website yet, and I don't think my comment was offensive

  8. Hi Lisa,

    Sorry that it took a moment for your comment to be shown. (All comments at ideasonideas are moderated before they appear online.)

    Thanks for your feedback; I'm happy to hear that you've found the blog to be useful. :-)

    Teamwork is, in my mind, the great part about this work, as well as the aspect that frustrates me most. When you're working with people who share the same goals, most projects gain from the increased number of perspectives. That being said, when these objectives diverge, it can be quite a different story.

    I currently teach Branding; and, for the introductory class I insist that students work in groups. At the beginning of the semester they all seem to think that this will make the class a cake-walk; however, by the half-way point, three-quarters of the students are perplexed by the difficulties they have in working together. Clearly, these are learned skills that we have to work to improve.

    Personally, I am lucky to work with a talented team, in which we all share respect for one another. This makes us stronger than we'd be as individuals and it shows in our output. The work is better as a result of our collaboration, and I think that this galvanizes our team.

    I'm not sure if I entirely answered your question. Did that help at all?

    Cheers!

    Eric

  9. I think I'm with Lisa on the "team player" thing and I struggle with that at work--in the sense that I feel forced to be exactly like everyone else on the "team," which goes hand-in-hand with #15. The important point to remember about a team is that everyone has a specific job and those rarely, if ever, overlap. It's like baseball: if the catcher ran to catch the ball in left field no one would be at home plate to tag the runner out.

    Heh, #14. I've spent so much time unlearning the rules they taught me in school.

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  12. "A good brand isn’t a logo on a mug; it’s a relationship that one doesn’t want to give up."

    Amen.

  13. Daphne says:

    It's been months later and I've just found your wonderful content. Thanks for sharing all your random observations.

    Points 18 and 20 are very reassuring for me. Too often do we fall into the idea that becoming an expert in one subject will narrow our chances for growth in other subjects.

    I find that as I get 'nerdier' in one area I need to learn about other areas simultaneously to bring expertise to another level. For me innovation occurs at a level where deep understanding in one topic mashes into another.

    Thanks again and keep them coming!

  14. 19. "A good brand isn’t a logo on a mug; it’s a relationship that one doesn’t want to give up."
    Never heard such a perfect and simple definition of branding. Wish all the clients (business owners) understood this as simply.

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