Being Awesome, Buy In, Going Forth, Innovation, Like a Startup, Theme Park of You, Writing

Your Words Are Your Brand

word (1)For more than 150 years, the National Weather Service has been providing weather updates IN ALL CAPS. Even as weather forecast technology made great leaps and bounds, the National Weather Service was content in sticking with all caps. It’s due to the old limitations of how they communicated their reports. However on May 11th, the National Weather Service will be speaking more softly.

The change is accredited to “changing social norms” around how we talk to each other. Tweets of all caps are taken people talking with VERY LOUD VOICES for a wide range of emotions. I wonder if there isn’t a missed opportunity here.

Two fantastic examples of owning a unique text style are ee cummings, an American poet, and FAKE GRIMLOCK, a giant, robotic dinosaur. ee cummings was famous for using non-traditional capitalization and punctuation as its own poetic device.

“To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” ee cummings

FAKE GRIMLOCK proudly makes large exclamations of awesomeness and getting stuff done. He does so with a very direct vocabulary and all caps.

“WHY TALK THIS WAY? BECAUSE AWESOME!” – FAKE GRIMLOCK

This is why I feel the National Weather Service is missing out on something. What if they incorporated ALL CAPS into their brand, instead of abandoning it to fit in with the crowd? They should make no apologies for their loud text. T-shirts would be emblazoned with #PARTYCLOUDY, expressing the irony of a wishy-washy weather system that bombastically declares itself. They could even say “YES. WE BROADCAST IN ALL CAPS. WEATHER IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. WE SHOULD ALL PAY ATTENTION TO THE CLIMATE.” But instead, they chose to fit in; get lost in the sea of status updates.

There is a Scottish proverb that says “You should be the king of your word” and it fits in this case as well. Take pride in the words you choose. They are a reflection of you. Don’t let your words blur the lines between you and the millions of others out there. Supercharge your words to stand out against the grain because that’s when you’ll have a #100%CHANCEOFTHUNDERSTORMS!

Go forth and be linguistically awesome!

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Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Learning, Theme Park of You, Tool

AngularJS Showed Me 5 Innovation Truths

learningIn an effort to broaden my t-shaped skills portfolio, I dug in and started learning AngularJS. Being able to mock things up quickly (and by myself) allows me to get prototypes into the hands of the core users faster, cheaper, and more closely aligned with the hypothesis I’m testing. So while I am certainly no master of the craft, I can do enough programming to get some ideas off the ground and feeling real (ok real-ish).

While learning AngularJS, I observed some truths that apply to the innovative process as a whole.

It’s good to be a beginner at something.

Being a beginner means you see things with fresh eyes. You have no established patter or status quo in this skill or topic yet, so you don’t have to break old habits to be personally innovative. Also, there will be moments when you’ll discover a faster, easier way to accomplish something because you don’t “know” enough to build in the old-guard way of doing things. Bill Gates said he chooses “a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” I say that applies to beginners as well.

Break your mental models.

What you do have is a status-quo in your brain that shows you how to decipher the world. If life was a map, your mental models are the legend. A squiggly line over here seems to match with the mountain shape in my legend, so I will plan for it to be a mountain. However, what if that squiggle is actually a lake, you just didn’t have lakes in your mental model? Learning something new breaks your existing legend, expands it to include new models, and gives you more lenses in your innovation toolbox. The trick here is to constantly find things to break your legend.

Get something live quickly.

Learning code is awesome because you need to have a working “thing” in order to see if what you’re mashing into your keyboard is right. And the quicker and more often you can have a working “thing”, the less down the wrong road you travel. Imagine writing a 15-page term paper to only find out it is all garbage because your first sentence was wrong. Having something live minimizes risk down the road. And by live, I’m not saying it always has to be market-ready. But functioning to some end helps stakeholders and customers alike envision your innovation. There’s great stuff in Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull on this… about having the story always viewable, even if it is just rough sketches.

Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Keep going, keep trying, don’t stop. Once you feel you have a handle on your new thing, it’s time to do it again and see if you’ve REALLY got it. Don’t just put a new skill on the shelf. It isn’t a conversation piece, it’s a working tool. The next problem you are trying to solve in your innovative journey, spend some time thinking about how you can solve it with your newly learned skill. This is why we learn… the abstract application in real-life.

Ladder up into the unknown.

Learning a new skill or topic usually has a definitive end state. “Once you can do this, you’ve learned all I can teach you for now.” But this is where the magic happens. What ELSE can you do with this new thing you’ve got? Unity3D has a popular tutorial that teaches people how to make a ball game. The ball rolls around a surface and collects items when it collides with them. But innovation isn’t simply doing what people tell you to do, or give you step-by-step directions to do. I’ve seen ball games that have the ball teleport through different dimensions or become Newtonian physics simulations. You have to take your new skill one more step up the ladder into the unknown.

Challenge: Learn something new

  • What new things have you wanted to learn?
  • What’s preventing you? How can those roadblocks be eliminated?
  • After you’ve learned your new thing, do something more awesome with it!
Being Awesome, Failure, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation, Theme Park of You

In Pursuit of Happy Little Accidents

beingnew (1)I remember watching Bob Ross paint his happy trees and powerful mountains and just being in awe of his calmness and lack of fear of “happy little accidents”. When I painted “accidents” usually involved large splotches of the wrong color paint. They didn’t qualify as “happy” or “little”. Bob Ross just made it seem so easy as he pulled palm tree branches out of a single line of black paint.

Recently I learned the picture he painted on television was not the first time he painted it. Bob regularly painted the scene once before, which was kept off-screen as a reference. Now honestly, the difference in the level of skill between Bob Ross and I was huge, but I was at another disadvantage.

I was comparing my first try to his second. 

There is a ton of learning that happens between tries. Lines become smoother, decisions are easier, and you have better command of the paint on the brush. And this is something we do all the time. We compare our beginnings to the middles of others.

“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog

You’ve got to give yourself permission to fail, to not be good at something. At one point, all experts struggled with the basics. There was a time when Albert Einstein didn’t know his ABC’s. As Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and often that first step is more of a stumble. And that’s ok. We’re chasing something new, something better. We don’t have to be perfect at it yet; we’re learning.

dunningkrugerAs we learn, we’re a bad judge of our own skill. It starts with the “I can paint that!” bravado of someone who’s never painted, an over-estimation of abilities that is part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Beyond that peak is a deep valley of doubting your own ability. This is where the Impostor Syndrome lives and it can shake you off the pursuit of learning something new. This is the where most of the beginning to middle comparison happens, and when it is the most damaging.

You have to remember that you are learning and maybe you haven’t mastered it yet. But the key word is “yet“. You determine your own finish line. You can even determine your own starting line. Instead of wishing that you had learned something earlier in life, get started! Now is better than tomorrow.

Just from the act of trying something new we have the ability to practice the beginner’s mind (Shoshin). Without years of practice or knowledge, our eyes are untainted with preconceptions or the “ways things have always been done”. If we let ourselves be openminded, we can see the forest AND the trees, instead of only one in lieu of the other. This is a time when we might find new ways hidden from the experts, when we might challenge even the most foundational tenets, when we might ask “Well why not?”.

Get out there. Start painting trees on your landscape. They may not be the best trees but you’ve got the power of “yet”. And always welcome happy little accidents on your journey to learning something new.

 

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Learning, Like a Startup, Motivation, Theme Park of You

You Might Be An Uncontrolled Optimist If…

optimism (1)In Episode 20 of Gimlet Media’s podcast, StartUp, Lisa Chow investigates what happens when a lean, “let’s all try to do new things” startup shifts into the established, “wait we have an HR department now?” organization. It’s a brilliant take on the need for process and the translation of vision from one strategy to the next. Episode 20, “Disorg Chart”, opened my eyes… but not for the reason intended.

I tend to be a positive person, but listening to Alex Blumberg (cofounder of Gimlet media) contemplate the negative affect of his own positivity, with help from cohost Lisa Chow, was like the opening of Pandora’s box for me. You know, if opening Pandora’s Box was a good thing and only new insights and thoughts flowed out, not the gross evils of the world. So maybe bizarro Pandora’s Box.

“Optimism is inevitably the last hope of the defeated.” – Albert Metzler

Wait, innovation and startups thrive on the whole “We’re not afraid to fail” and “Let’s try something completely disruptive.” Well, unfortunately that same optimism can hurt when a prototype fails or the market dislikes your idea. Uncontrolled optimism urges you to push forward, past the failures.

You have the data and feedback in your hands that tells you moving forward is wrong. Yet the can-do mantra of steamrolling optimism is very luring, it’s just that sometimes it lures towards the rocks like a siren song.

“I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.” – Walt Disney

One of the best lines from Disorg Chart was that a leader needs to protect employees from their worst selves. More than that, they need to provide opportunities to grow into their best selves. The same holds true for ideas, prototypes, minimum viable products, launched products, et al.

You still need a healthy dose of optimism to survive in the entrepreneur/intrapreneur world. Sometimes the only one believing that you can, is you.

The first step to undisciplined optimism recovery is identifying that you have a problem; which is really hard for the eternal optimist.
Here are some starting scenarios:
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you have to ignore hard data to move an idea forward.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you avoid the difficult conversations with people who flirt with their worst selves.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you constantly sacrifice your own values and strengths just to smooth things over.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you have analyzed the results of a prototype test and blamed failure on the testers because they just didn’t get it.
  • You might be an uncontrolled optimist if you read this post, questioned your own bright-like-an-iPhone-at-night optimism for a brief second, and then said “Nah, I’m sure my optimism doesn’t need evaluating.”
    • If this is you, please embrace your kaizen. Every process (even internal ones) are up for constant improvement.

In all things, moderation is a major key. Optimism has it’s benefits, but don’t let your drive to be optimistic prevent you from charting a better course. If you are charging up a hill and all the signs point to it being the wrong hill, there is no shame in a rapid retreat to charge up the right hill.

The only shame is in pressing on when you know deep down that you shouldn’t.

 

Being Awesome, Chupacabra, Innovation, Motivation, Theme Park of You

Be the Theme Park of YOU!

If I was to ever start a theme park, and let’s say my mascot is Chupey Chupacabra, I’d be 100% sure to offer a goofy looking Chupey Chupacabra hat. Every theme park has their own trademark-toting version of the Chupey Hat because tourists eat those kinds of things up! They will spend some hard earned cash on items they will only wear while at a theme park. Folks, this is a hat you will never wear again… yet you will wear it for the length of your vacation until a permanent indention forms on your forehead from the sweatband. You will shriek in panic if you leave it behind on a ride. You will run back to your hotel to grab it before you dinner reservation at our five-star restaurant.

But why?

You won’t wear it while shoveling snow in Pocatello, Idaho. You certainly wont wear it walking down the street in Dover, Ohio. There is a special aura that theme parks give off, especially in their merchandise. So what makes theme parks such a hot bed for impulse fashion decisions?

For only $19.99, you too can wear the Chupey Chupacabra Hat all around the theme park. You'd never wear this at home, but in this theme park it is enchanting!
For only $19.99, you too can wear the Chupey Chupacabra Hat all around the theme park. You’d never wear this at home, but in this theme park it is enchanting!
  • For starters, they are telling a story that tourists can get into. Tourists are allowed to have fun, believe, and pretend.
  • Also, there is great power in being surrounded by like-minded others.
  • Lastly, everything the tourists are experiencing enhances and pushes the story further. The theme park supports and enables the Chupey Hat culture.

We need to capture this for ourselves! We need to tell stories about us that others can get behind. We need to give people are reason to believe in our ideas, our innovations, our plans for the future. We need to foster the culture around us so that our supporters aren’t one or two individuals, but rather a massive crowd gathered to watch a parade and maybe some fireworks later. And because they’ve gathered, we need to show that we can drive the story, ideas, innovations further. We are going to reward and support those who carry our banner.

And yet, when tourists go home, they put their Chupey Hats and other souvenirs away. So how can we lengthen the effects of their Chupey Hat? How can we recreate the excitement of our rollercoasters of innovation?

There are two paths: We can give them a take-home version, or we can encourage and enable repeat visits.

  • Take-home versions are compact, often watered down, and don’t affect their worldview. At best, take-home versions are distractions to their daily life, if they have time. They will most likely be put in a box in the garage and then reminisced over when they are told to clean the garage because we can’t park a car in this mess.
    • This path is not effective, yet. I think it could be reinvented to be more optimal.
  • Repeat visits encourages them to take care of their Chupey Hat. It deepens the hold the story has within their heart and mind. Someone who visits repeatedly is more likely to have memorabilia all over their house. They are planning a return visit to the theme park of you before their current visit is over. They are probably stock holders; they are invested in your success.
    • This is the good path!

As I am writing this, I can identify who wears the Chupey Hats in the theme park of me. They are amazing people and I’m honored that they even visit much less be such adamant supporters. However I can not rest on my laurels. I have to add new rides, I have to give them better experiences. I’ve got to expand and develop the Chupey Chupacabra storyline because these tourists are the early adopters. And what they’ve early-adopted was a belief in me.

Challenge

  • What is the main story in the theme park of you?
  • What kind of merchandise can we get in the theme park of you?
  • How are you going to make tourists want to come back?