Thursday, May 25, 2006

Was going to try procrastination, but put it off...

Oh how I wish that headline were true of me... Sadly I have nearly perfected procrastination.

Last week, particularly, I was supremely proficient at wasting time. I spent what must have been two working days tweaking my desktop with Yahoo! Widgets.

But here's the irony ... I was looking for widgets that would help me track my time.

So this week, I've got the tools to stop procrastinating ... namely:
  1. a clock (or 4 ... I went a little overboard) that chimes every quarter hour. Amazing how time goes!
  2. A billable hours thingy ... so I can see how much or how little I'm earning each day. That's a powerful motivator!
  3. A "due" list that lists my jobs, and in how many days they're due.
It's all good, folks. And today on my third day of this new regime, the withdrawal symptoms from procrastination are starting to get bearable... just.

But hey, there are also widgets that show you the inside of hairdressing salons around the world... or the current azimuth of the moon ... or when the next solar eclipse is... approach widgets with care!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Expertise (Or, why you are one of the chosen few)

The reason there aren't thousands of people flocking to this blog is ... I'm not an expert.

I realised this a short time ago, and decided I don't want to be an expert. Not quite yet.

Of course, in the old days, one couldn't be an expert unless one actually knew and could demonstrate knowledge of one's expertise. But in this world of soundbites, it's how you position yourself, perhaps more than what you say, that qualifies you as an expert.

This is not sour grapes because I'm not getting blog traffic ... it's just an observation of my own blog-reading habits. There's a lot of information out there, and before long I have to prioritise what I view.

At the moment my rough, hitherto unwritten categories, are:
  • I know this person personally (that sounds very silly when you say it out loud)
  • I have read an insightful book by this author
  • This is a recognised news source (eg existing media)
  • This blog is recognised by one of the above 3.
Most of those, you've got to say, are based on some sort of expertise. Expertise is like a shortcut. And, as a recent post by Jack shows, sometimes it's the wrong shortcut!

So if I'm not an expert, what am I? Well, I've been an expert in the past, and hope to be again in the future. But for the meantime, I'd like to think of myself as an explorer, wide eyed with wonder.

So if you're reading this, and you must be, thanks for exploring with me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Leadership lessons from Wedding Crashers??

What could these guys possibly teach us about leadership?

Well, some of those rules - like rule #84 - could possibly come in useful.

But the real gold from Wedding Crashers came from the special features.

Director David Dobkin knows how to keep people motivated. Every day, he would pin a storyboard of the day's shooting in a prominent place, so everyone - cast, crew, extras, everyone - could see it. When each scene was shot, he'd get a quick screen capture of the scene and paste that over the hand-drawn storyboard. People could see in real time how progress was going. So everybody was part of the project.

And the end product is one of the funniest films I've seen recently. Nice work, David Dobkin!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

What Happened to Your Parachute?

What Happened to Your Parachute?

An article from Fast Company. More a conversation, actually, between Daniel Pink (Free Agent Nation, A Whole New Mind) and Richard Bolles (What Colour is Your Parachute?).

If you're interested in career trends, this is like, I don't know, Bono interviewing Bob Dylan or something!

I smiled at this part:

DP: ...are there any other cherished myths you'd like to explode? Aren't we all free agents? Should companies not be fast?

RB: As I said previously, I have no problem with people noticing and talking about all the changes that have occurred. But I'd like them to talk about the constants, too. Yes, a lot more of us are free agents. And yes, a lot more companies are fast. But not everybody's become a free agent -- and not every company has become fast. We mustn't overdramatize our present time, as though everything is change, change, change. My wife, Carol, has a great saying about marriage: "You shouldn't have to work at your marriage. But you do have to pay attention." Many changes in the workplace aren't so dramatic that you have to work at them. But you do have to pay attention.

That, and more, in the full article.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Logic and Emotion

The fictional character of Mr. Spock allowed many Star Trek fans to explore their own relationship with logic and emotion.

In Spock's Vulcan mindset, it was an either/or proposition: either logic or emotion.

But in Change Your Thinking, the book on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy I'm reading, logic leads not to an impassive life, but instead a very happy, fulfilled life.

Simply put, CBT helps you figure out what messages you're running on, and, if they're unhelpful, to change those messages. Bring them in line with reality.

For instance, some people - myself included - can be really hard on themselves in social situations for saying what they perceive to be stupid or inappropriate things.

So instead of looking back on, say, a networking event with happiness, I'll do a self-critical postmortem on what I should've said, shouldn't have said, etc. etc.

CBT gives me a framework to 1) identify what I'm thinking, which can be quite a big step, and 2) dispute that belief using... logic!

So, Mr. Spock ... sure, you had problems with your old man and you could never tell your Mom you loved her... but with CBT, you will be able to finally say, "I feel fine." (If you haven't seen Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, that won't make much sense)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Simon's new online marketing column

Head over to Marketing Magazine
to see my latest (and first ever!) online marketing column. It's there on the table of contents under "Online Marketing".

Monday, May 08, 2006

Nice is not enough

Finally - a little inspiration from Denmark! Thanks SY for keeping the blog rolling.

One of my favourite movies of all time is "Fight Club" with Brad Pitt, and people are often surprised when I tell them this. Actually, it surprises me too - for many years, I wouldn't even consider watching a movie with a name like that - I thought it would be far too violent and shocking for me, and not in the mood of my other choices.

But, finally, I watched it a couple of years ago, and loved it. I watched it again last week, and loved it even more - second time around, it struck me as being surprisingly funny, in the same black way as "Pulp Fiction", and it also makes some provocative comments about the way our consumerist world leaves us feeling emptier than ever.

My favourite scene, the one I find myself always thinking about is one where Brad Pitt comes across a guy who's washing dishes for a living. Brad Pitt puts a gun to the guy's head, and while the guy is on his knees, terrified for his life, asks him what he wanted to do when he was a young man. In between his panic-stricken breaths, the guy responds that he had wanted to be a vet. Brad Pitt takes the man's driving license, and tells him that he has "six weeks". If after that time, he isn't on the road to becoming a vet, Brad Pitt warns, he will kill him.

After the man has run off, Brad Pitt's cohort, played by Ed Norton, tells Brad Pitt how shocked he is by his actions. Brad Pitt turns to him and says: "Think how sweet tomorrow morning will be for that young man."

Truly a tough scene, but one that stays in my mind as a reminder that sometimes it's not enough to be nice. There are times when we need to be tough, to take difficult actions, or to say difficult things to people in our lives, or to be direct, and for many of us, this is very uncomfortable.

Knowing the problem is part of the solution

Some fantastic advice here from Hollywood script coach Skip Press:
"If you know what the real problem is, you'll know
instantly what to do, and you won't have the problem long. People who
constantly whine about this or that, blaming someone else, another
group of people, a politcal party, a President, or "Hollywood" aren't
really getting at the solution, they're just complaining about
symptoms and they haven't looked deep enough yet to find the real
root of the problem, so that it can be handled."
I'm on Skip's YahooGroup, Hollywoodwriters. He's a guy who's not afraid to share his own personal experiences to help others. There's no personal-professional line here, it's whole people helping whole people. I think more and more of business is going to get like that as we go on.

Here's the full message, republished with Skip's permission:

"This is a post about people but it's also about scripts. And it's
also about me, so if you get offended about that and think I talk
about my own life too much, just leave the group, because I've lost
my tolerance for being "thoughtful" (meaning, catering to people's
often silly emotions).

In an effort to thoroughly fix anything I might be doing wrong
personally in my treatment of people after my ex filed for divorce a
couple of years ago, I explored all sorts of things, including
hypnotherapy and healing techniques like this one -

I found the latter extremely helpful and the guy who developed it
very smart. I plan to do a long workshop to learn more about it, but
in using the method I've helped a lot of people in very effective and
lasting ways, including my ex.

One thing Yuen points out is that if you know what the problem really
is, you don't have the problem. You see the solution and fix it,
often instantly.

I've seen this work in scripts. In the case of every single feature I
sold, I put a final polish on the script based on an epiphany I had
about the story. In productions I've done, there was ALWAYS a crucial
"this could be the end of this" moment which, when pushed through,
revealed something that needed to be fixed. It was always similar to
the script midpoint "leap of faith" that heroes and heroines take to
transform/empower themselves in great movies.

I've never had much luck with people who live their lives in fear. I
don't deal well with "private" people because I've generally found
them not to be prudent but terrified if not downright nuts.

There's an old term "Who dares, wins." I've found it takes that in a
writing career, if you want to make a living at it. In life, in
relationships, I've found that "fortune favors the bold" too.

In the past week I tried another hypnotherapy session with someone
who has been very helpful in the past. It was about what major
project I should push through to sell for a lot of money. The session
was OK, but then I shifted and picked a love story to finish even
though I was a little uncertain about picking that one.

Later, I got angry about that pick and emailed the hypnotherapist and
talked to her on the phone about how I thought the session was
basically b.s. and that I'd picked that project because for some
stupid reason I'd been in a place for a long time where I thought I
had to cater to women (and women readers, this was a book we were
talking about). One term for it is propitiation - a "please like me"
weak, begging type of attitude.

I realized I was totally crippling myself with such an attitude and
that many, many times in my life I've triumphed by simply going
forward with what I chose to do, no matter what adverse opinions I
got from people I knew.

In short, I could see what needed to be done and went about doing it,
knowing unshakably I was right.

So that's the end of hypnotherapy for me and I told her so (she
wasn't real happy about that). I didn't fail to thank her for what
had worked in the past, though, and since I was paying for it, c'est
la vie.

In movies I admire, from To Kill A Mockingbird to Lawrence of Arabia
to Die Hard to Braveheart, strong characters do tough things
necessary for society no matter what the potential harm personally.
They have vision and see what needs to be done and do it.

Ultimately, I think people really like that and want that. I think
most people truly want to be that bold and effective. I don't think
enough people have the guts to be that way and that's a big reason
why they live frustrated lives.

So my point of view has permanently shifted. As you know if you've
been on this group any length of time, I've had some very down
moments in my life. Still, I get through them with the help of
friends and my own inventiveness and maybe the grace of God.

If you have a script or a story or a novel or a book that you're just
not quite scoring with, maybe what I've been through will help you.
What's the essence of it? That's like saying, what are YOU really all
about? Some times it takes a process (like a lot of rewriting) to
discover that essence. Some times it takes growing up personally.

And here's another thing. Over the weekend I had lunch with a friend
and told her about one last vestige of post-divorce problems I'd had
and she remarked that it sounded like guilt to her, like I felt
guilty about sleeping with someone other than my ex, despite
everything. She was right. I had a set of realizations about guilt
I've felt in various periods of my life, thinking I might be somehow
responsible, like when my dad went nuts and screwed up our family. I
was reminded of the basic "solution" that happens when you do the
Yuen method on someone - it always boils down to something they
couldn't do anything about, and they flipped the switch to "off" in
that particular area of their life and thereafter had trouble with.

So that applies to writing, too. If you hit a point in a script where
you feel you just can't do anything about it - a plot, the time to
write, etc. - you might say screw it and walk away.

That's not being a problem solver. If you'll just set it aside and
decide that the right thing to do about that script or your writing
career in general will come along, it will, as long as you don't give
up on it. You can solve ANY writing problem, believe me.

Funny, the next day after having those realizations about guilt I
learned of a new book by Shelby Steele about "white guilt" and
realized he was right about something that's heavily crippled
American society. It's a very thought-provoking book. It's funny how
the microcosm and the macrocosm seem to come together when you find
the right thing as I did.

I don't think I'll ever be in an anything but equal mode with women
ever again. Guess this was all a very hard lesson I had to learn. I
also know that I'll never feel a need to weaken myself in a
professional situation again. I already told one production company I
had a project with that I wasn't doing business with them any more. I
decided I don't like their methods and I don't trust them. Unlike in
the past, I will not question my decision because I know my instinct
is right."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Handling information overload

Sometimes I realise I know an awful lot of stuff.

I'm not being bigheaded, it's just part of my job. Or, more to the point, jobs. Because I'm involved in so many industries - marketing, technology, filmmaking... and all of those industries have subsectors themselves - I have to be aware of a lot of stuff.

How to manage all this information? This is a very important question for just about everyone today. Here's how I do it - and this is more of an underlying principle than a practical how-to.

In her psychology studies, my wife Marie is under constant threat of information overload.

She's got a textbook the size of Albert Park, a study guide the size of a paperback Albert Park,
a CD-Rom, and lots of web links. And a husband who keeps asking "have you read this article?"

What she's learning is that it all overlaps with each other - after a while. As she learnt it, I realised I'd learnt this as well, but never articulated.

It's just like arriving at a new city. If you're there for a holiday, you get to know the key tourist destinations, the place you're staying and little else.

But if you want to live in the city, you get to know the geography in much more detail, particularly the routes you often take.

What starts out as a huge, unfamiliar city becomes full of familiar haunts, and eventually you discover where one road (let's say the road you associate with going to work) links up with another road (the road to your best friend's place).

Gradually you get so familiar with it that you can form a mental map of the city in your mind. This is just what any area of learning is like.

When I first read about European history, all the books assumed I knew where Spain and France and Italy and Germany ... etc. ... were. I had to have an Atlas handy for the first few books, but eventually I began to remember places in relation to each other.

And then it struck me - that information will never be irrelevant! Europe will physically always be the same, even though borders change, and barring the possibility of an absolute disaster rearranging the continent.

So if you're learning anything new, be encouraged. What looks like a nebulous mass of information will soon become knowledge that you can use, and, more importantly, keep and build on.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Diary Of A 21-st Century Adman

I've just discovered The Diary Of A 21-st Century Adman, the blog of copywriter Scott L Haines.

It's interesting to see the traditional long-copy style of a direct marketing copywriter morph into the more personal, frank and unpolished style of a blog.

As a copywriter, I learnt a lot about the "classic direct marketing" style of writing, but I could also see that the web was spawning a whole different style of communication.

"Classic DM" is effective - it's tested, after all, so if it wasn't effective, people wouldn't use it - but there's something about it that makes me uncomfortable.

It's hard to put my finger on why it makes me uncomfortable, so here are a few uneasy stabs in the dark as to why:
  • It claims to be written to the individual, yet it is actually mass-produced, assuming the motivations and intents of a segment of the population. Segmentation isn't the same as writing to an individual.

  • It idolises the letter as the "control package" for marketing, even though barely anyone sends letters anymore. Except for businesses.

  • You never know when the writer is being genuine, or when they are being calculatedly familiar with you.
Now all of this is gross generalisation, and the same or worse accusations could be turned towards more bloggy methods of marketing.

But it's encouraging to see what Scott has done:

* He's told a story where he made a mistake. That says to me a) he's human, and b) I'll learn from his mistake.

* His blog is open to comments - pretty essential for a blog. However, comments are moderated, and when I visited there were no comments showing.

* You can subscribe to the blog. However, not by RSS, which is the most sensible way to subscribe. So, this sort of confirms my theory that the marketing geniuses of "classic direct marketing" may struggle to understand actual behaviour on the web.

Of course, I may be wrong with this. In the end, whoever has the greatest pay packet from their web marketing efforts wins.

But if it comes to a choice between communicating on a real level, and obfuscating to facilitate a mere transaction, I'll choose the former.