Before you talk, meet, email or post – do this!

Idea Prep *

It’s one thing to have a good idea. It’s another to have that idea connect for the people I’m sharing it with.

It’s that second part that seems to be the hard part. I often find myself wondering what more I could do to clarify my ideas for maximum impact. When I came across Sasha‘s insights on getting straight before getting going, I felt compelled to share. His articulation turns out getting the results I’m looking for can be far less intimidating with just a few methodical steps applied to every talk, meeting, email or post. [Read more...]

I believe change is possible

Image used under creative commons license

One of the most thoughtful books I’ve come across in the last few years is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.

Not only is it well written, the investigative reporter for the New York Times and Pulitzer Prize winner offers real hope to those who crave intentional change.

Habits for all of us

First, the good news: There is sound research to suggest we can actually change (woohoo)!

This might sound obvious but the rhetoric I hear a lot is a private skepticism that people and life are determined and fixed. And, that any effort toward “self-help” are little more than a mirage, folklore or at best, a distraction to get through hard days.

According to Duhigg though, behavioral habits are the building blocks for real life and societal transformation.

What I love is he doesn’t limit the conversation to individuals. He ambitiously tackles habit for organizations and even society too. That’s where we come in.

Lead the change you crave

All this got me thinking a lot about our community of creatives interested in making a living from the stuff what we create.

There is a lot of positive things we could say about our community ethos – that is our shared habits we’ve freely committed to. I’ve also been discouraged though by some of the bad habits we as a creativity industry have demonstrated.

What if Kid President is right?

The first habit that I commonly see is the habit of incivility – mostly online – and our passive willingness to stand by idly. This is not unique to photographers of course. Sonia Simone’s Civility Manifesto is written to all of us who create content. Whether we’re in learn mode or share mode, even Kid President thinks we’ve got some room for improvement! Candidly, I think we’re better than that too.

Many will disagree with me of course, but, you don’t have to. In fact, we don’t have to. If Duhigg is right – and I think he is – I wonder what our industry would be like two years from now if there was a collective who stood up and did our work differently.

Action, not consumption

A second habit that I think we’re maturing through is how we relate with people who influence us.

There’s a tension here of course.

On the one hand, there is great good reason to highlight those who’ve influenced our work. I love to talk about Jeremy and Julieanne and Chris and Amit and Seth and Ann and Todd and Jerry and Joel (and so many more). These people have had a huge influence on me and my work. I even tout it in my bio that others have said I’ve had influence on them. It’s humbling and scary and a privilege to have sway with others.

But at some point, when I (or we) elevate anyone beyond the level of blue-collar creatives that make my contribution better, I miss my my call to GO and do likewise. I’m tempted to spend too much time watching and not enough time offering up what I made myself.

This habit of choosing to be a consumer over being a contributor is just not a good idea for people who create for a living. And, I say we need to interrupt it. Let me get more personal: We need you to lead us.

Check out Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist for some great insights on breaking this kind of bad.

Risking belief

Maybe the most insidious of all our bad habits is the inclination to believe – based on the manifesto that is your life – that change isn’t even possible in the first place.

I get that it’s rare to hear people admit they don’t believe change can be had. More often, I see actions that declare the belief in the impossibility that we can change. My gut tells me that if we fix this one, we’re on our way to fixing a lot more.

What does your gut tell you?

Your life is the manifesto

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When I do something… anything… I am making a declaration to the world about what I believe is important and right and true and beautiful.

I don’t always think of that when I cut someone off on the freeway or take time to look someone in the eye when they’re speaking or drive an extra two miles to find a special Starbucks that serves Clover (that’s for you Brian Gardner) or stand up for someone or sit quietly or gossip or care enough to listen or blow someone off or when I get home when I say I will or when I’m “just 15 minutes late.”

Every move I make is an unavoidable, micro-manifesto on who I actually am.

If I pause long enough to notice what’s going on for me, I have the ability to discover some very powerful insights about myself. This results-based living isn’t always flattering but always offers a kind of embedded explanatory power on why my life is turning out the way it is.

What seems particularly potent to me with examples like the one’s above, is how easy it is to miss how my pedestrian habits tell me what I actually believe and the ideas I actually live from.

When I’m asleep at the wheel I don’t even experience actions like these as conscious choices. Because they’re not. I just do stuff, often unknowingly. In this way, my habits run my life.

Over the last year, I’ve taken some hard looks at the parts of my life I don’t like much and worked in very grounded ways to interrupt my habits. And, shocker, my world is looking pretty different: I’m connecting with my wife and kids in fresh and more honest ways, my business projects are growing, I’m giving more, I’m down to about my high school weight, I am paying off debt (slowly), I’m writing and teaching more than ever (which I love) and as a result, my work is more fulfilling. I have plenty of headroom of course and fail plenty too. But the steady (and often unsexy) direction I’m actually walking in is what’s got me amped.

The ingredients to this new trajectory?

  • Notice my life and the lives around me.
  • Ask myself if the way I’m relating is for me.
  • Decide to carry on or mix it up immediately – like with real actions.
  • Give any required habit changes all I’ve got.

That’s it.

It’s been fashionable in recent years for individuals and companies to publish declarations online on what they think and plan to do. I wonder if all that manifesto work is a little redundant. No doubt, there’s huge value in deciding your days before they happen. Even more value in keeping those commitments. But, our actual manifestoes are being lived out in real time whether we’re paying attention or not.

The power of curiosity

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People are strange when they’re a stranger, people look ugly when you’re alone. -The Doors

Like politics, religion is one of those areas that can polarize people pretty fast. It makes sense. Both subjects contain ideas that people hold passionately. But despite sincere beliefs, much damage has been done by folks dogmatic in their stance.

Well, when I was finishing up my interview with Michael Hyatt over at Converge, we got to talking on a more personal level about just this topic and I found it so refreshing. Michael and I share a common faith tradition and I found his take on how to be with folks who hold different beliefs like a glass of cold water on a hot day. It was so good, I made a mini-bonus-episode and included it below. [Read more...]

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Context for your content

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One of the things I love about creating original content, is I get to make stuff in a way that works for me. Like athletes having a favorite glove or stick, workers wearing the right clothes for the job or painters with the right brush or paint, these custom containers aren’t necessary to do the work, but they can make the work more (or less) enjoyable. Ironically, at least for me, the best containers provide a context where I forget about them. They reduce friction.

One way that I like to express myself is through writing and publishing. So, I’m always in pursuit of better tools to contain my work. Of course, avoiding writing until I find the perfect instrument isn’t the point. When I do that, I’m just kidding myself. The fine art of creating distractions aside, when I do find better tools that fit for me and my personality, I tend to enjoy everything about the creative process more.

In selecting the right instruments, there used to be a digital divide. You either created as a luddite or you created in a digitally native environment. Thankfully that’s not true anymore [Read more...]