Nothing is Appealing

Seinfeld’s TV series made dump trucks full of cash by extolling nothing in its essence. Now the latest ad campaign by Snapple leverages nothing again into something. If you haven’t seen them, go here.

NothingIn Snapple’s example, it’s really a sleight-of-lip treatment that comes off as clever and effective. Of course, that was my reaction after seeing it only five or six times. Ask me again after I hit a dozen or more and I’ll show them my not-so-sleight-of-hand expertise with my mute button.

These two examples illustrate creating something out of nothing, and in Seinfeld’s case, a long-lasting something. Both serve to show that you don’t have to find an undiscovered idea to be creative. The old adage that there’s no new ideas only modifications of existing ones, or the premise that there are only seven plots in a story or book and it’s the telling of one of those seven that makes your book a bestseller, will likely survive us all.

So if you’re stuck and can’t come up with anything creative, perhaps you shouldn’t be in a strain-the-brain mode trying to be “new.” All you really need is to think of nothing, or the next great nothing.


Presentation Preference: The 10-20-30 Rule

I first read about Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 approach to focused presentations not long after he coined the approach back in ’05. While his revelation on the ideal presentation was aimed at making the endless presentations delivered to him as a venture capitalist more effective, it’s a fantastic go-by rule to use for most any presentation.

10-20-30The minimalist approach is designed to maximize attention, put the focus on the presenter where it should always be, and limit the strain on attention span thus ultimately avoiding the dreaded death-by-PowerPoint syndrome. The approach has three rules:

  • 10 slides – optimum number for attention spans and still lets you go from problem to solution to summary then finally your call to action.
  • 20 minutes – again, optimum length of time for attention that leaves time for questions, discussions, or strengthening connections.
  • 30 point type – at this size all you can fit on the slide is your key point. Bingo. That leaves you as the presenter to sell your concepts with your story, your own words, and avoid what is the most heinous crime in all of PowerPointLand:  reading your slides to your audience.

In my years of doing presentation rescues, I’ve seen them range from slides stuffed to the gills with words, way too many font styles, cutesy graphics, distracting animations or sounds, you name it. And along the way I’ve quietly tried to instill the 10-20-30 approach as best I could. There were small victories of course, but for the most part I lost the war. Anything I produced from scratch, however, strived to keep the spirit of 10-20-30 alive despite the pull from clients to always stuff more into the slides!

If nothing else, following 10-20-30 makes you reassess your slides and produce ones more interesting and possibly, hopefully, worth remembering by your audience. 

The Secret to a Healthy Mind and Body: Balancing Analog and Digital

It’s challenging in today’s Internet and computer-driven world to resist the lure of the all-things-digital siren. Yet believe it or not, great work was produced in the past without any of these devices or capabilities.

I confess to being drawn to digital things, but I’ve evolved to thinking that it’s not healthy for body or mind to be fully assimilated into a digital life. We need balance in our lives, be it work versus play, sleep versus produce, balance in what we eat, drink, etc. What tools we choose will greatly impact our physical and mental health down the road.

I’ve had a few bouts of carpal tunnel issues, back issues from being sedentary too many years, and feeling lost when either the power goes out or my Internet connection goes down. I can connect these maladies to depending too much on digital. In the early days when the ‘net connection dropped, I’d struggle to figure out what to do with my time. Can’t check email? Can’t work on the report? It was an odd, suspended animation feeling for those few hours of seperation from my digital umbilical cord.

Today I strive daily to mix more analog activities into my digital life. I no longer look at Internet-connection loss as a problem, but a fresh opportunity to add analog solutions and move my body more.

To get you started, here are seven analog alternatives and their positive benefits, including one hybrid, that all help maintain a healthier analog-digital balance.

  1. Talk to people. Yes, it’s still possible to have a conversation in person! The silliest thing I experience at work in the cubicle farm are those folks who email, IM, or call me even though they’re less than 20′ away in another cube. The digital communication devices are great for distance, but not only do you foster a better relationship with someone via face-to-face interactions, getting up is an opportunity to get your butt out of the chair and move.
  2. Write your first draft (for any purpose) with pen/pencil on paper. Two things will happen: a) you will move your hand and arm in different motions that counter the strain of mousing with a computer, and b) your thoughts slow down because your hand has to keep up with your thoughts, and if you’re like me, your thoughts will perform little rewrite dances while waiting for the hand to catch up. My drafts on paper are always at least 1/2 to a full draft version better than what I pump out on the computer. And as a bonus, this method is universally transportable, dependent on nothing beyond remembering to keep the notebook and pen/pencil with you.
  3. Keep tasks and project lists on paper. Sure, lots of great digital tools out there for this need, but like the draft writing, using pen/pencil with paper slows down your thinking and better results can occur. Plus a small notebook does not require syncing with other devices to be available wherever you are.
  4. Keep a journal(s). Instead of digitally storing your ideas gleaned from reading, or daily thoughts, or anything else you might want to write at length about, use paper journals. Journals have always been the idea collector of preference for many well-known writers from Hemingway to Proulx, and I rarely bump into a writer who either is keeping or has kept journals at some time. Some will counter that a digital journal is searchable, but to a degree so is a paper one. I typically have a contents page at the front of a journal that can get me in the neighborhood when finding something, but nothing beats the value of serendipity when browsing back through journal entries. While there are a plethora of apps for journaling, a paper journal is an independent tool than never fails you (unless you forget to carry it with you!), and they come in all sizes and shapes to fit most any need.
  5. journals

  6. Read a physical book. Yes, these still exist! I will add the disclaimer that I have a Kindle and use Kindle and iBooks on my iPad and read with both devices, but that’s typically when traveling or during digital writing sessions when I force a break in the writing to work a different part of my mind. But my bedside and reading chair tables always have a pile of real books I’m working through. And I strive to read (via physical book) at least one hour per day.
  7. Take a walk to think through a project issue or other challenge. I take a hybrid approach to this activity by taking my iPhone on walks and if something useful comes up, I use the Audio Memo app to record my thoughts. I then listen later and typically write them down using an analog tool.
  8. Create two work zones: one analog, one digital. In my mind, your desk with a computer is there for you to use when the task is appropriate for digital tools and not otherwise, and provides too great a temptation when trying do something analog. I just finished reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon (recommended reading). One excellent takeaway was his use of two desks: one digital, one analog. I do that in spirit, but the idea of dedicated work zones is highly intriquing. Today I’m going to set up two zones to encourage more analog activities. Per Austin, one hardfast rule is nothing electronic is allowed in the analog zone. The hidden value is you can’t be distracted by incoming email so easily if you’re not sitting in front of your monitor. The obvious value is working both left and right sides of the brain via conditioning your behavior to use the analog station for creative play and idea nurturing, and when ready, move over to the digital station for executing, producing, or publishing.

How many of these do you do now? Humans need a mix of activities and moderation in all things to stay mentally and physically healthy. The benefit that encourages me the most is my creative needs are liberated from dependency on others such as Apple, TimeWarner Cable, the electric company, or Verizon.

Try shifting some of your activities from digital to analog. I think your body and mind will thank you in the years to come.

Noise or Signal? Autoresponders

You know the drill:  you contact a company, help desk, or service via email and you immediately get a autoresponse email:  “We care, we’re listening, and we’ll get back to you…real soon!”

Years ago when email wasn’t quite so rock-reliable as it is now, these were a good thing. Otherwise, you weren’t sure if your message got through or not. These days it seems like the needles moved over into the irritating zone more often that not, and not because we no longer appreciate the acknowledgement of our inquiry, but because marketing has invaded this courtesy feature.

livingston-spiderHow many of you are seeing these come across with upsells, added product links, or just too much extra stuff beyond the basic acknowledgment? And how many seconds does it usually take before you hit the delete button on the autorespond email? For me, it’s become a knee-jerk reaction: I’m deleting these as soon as I recognize what they are. Whatever else they may be offering me (for my benefit of course!) I’ll never really know. Tap. Zap. Gone.

The one exception where these are more signal than noise is when I have a server, software, or technical issue and the autoresponse email contains a ticket or case number. I archive these emails in case I need that number to continue the troubleshooting dialogue.

I realize advertising pays for much of what we enjoy on the Internet, but my view of what I tolerate for my online world is akin to how I treat my home:  outside I have a “live and let live” attitude with all bugs and critters, but venture inside and you’ll either get rudely escorted outside or won’t see another day. So if I go to someone’s web site (their home) I tolerate the ads and marketing pushes, or if invite them into my house (my iPad) it’s okay. But push the noise to me via email extras or rss feed ads and you’ll see just how fast I can tap delete. Ad me too heavily, and I’m pretty good at tapping the unsubscribe link as well.

Creation From the Ordinary

Creating and innovating doesn’t always mean starting from scratch. Repurposing common items can often be a way to find new inspiration and ideas.

Take the work of Austin Kleon, artist and creative from Austin, Texas. I’m struck by his simple yet powerful work using newspaper articles to create profound poetry and as a canvas for creative expression. How refreshing to see someone make use of a common, every day object and leave us breathless at times. A few of his creations for your possiblities below:

Austin Kleon