Opting out(side)

rei-optoutsideIt’s no secret that the mere thought of Black Friday sends shudders down my spine. It’s also no secret that I love good marketing–which, thronging hordes of turkey-belching people aside, is a big part of my aversion to this crazy day. (Read why HERE.) I stoically refuse to join the masses and stay home. Every. Single. Year.

Yesterday I came across an organized alternative to the shopping frenzy, and I rejoiced. In fact, I’m still rejoicing.

The surprising part is that the alternative comes from a retailer. Instead of discounting to the masses, REI has decided to close all 143 of its stores and encourage employees (and customers!) to go outside. If you aren’t impressed, remember that Black Friday is the biggest retail shopping day of the year.

Still not impressed? The company will pay its 12,000 employees anyway.

No revenue + paying employees = an expensive proposition.

That’s taking a stand for your brand.

And that’s why I love this idea so much. Who better to promote outdoorsy-ness than REI, a seller of outdoor gear and clothing, a company which professes that “for 76 years our passion has been to bring you great gear to get you out, too”?

Sure, giving up a (big) day of sales is a gamble for a retailer, but oh, how very authentic its brand just became for me. The company believes so much in its mission (“we are dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship”) that it intends to make the mission a reality–not just a sales gimmick.

And that’s the brilliant part of branding: walking the talk.

It’s what makes people seek you out. It’s what keep them coming back. It’s what builds your tribe.

When people believe what you say about yourself because they see you doing it, they trust you. With that trust, you start building loyalty. If you’re an individual, that’s how you make friends. If you’re a company, that’s how you grow your customer base.

Sure, REI is taking a risk with this move. It may prove too expensive for them to be able to ever do again, but I’m betting it will pay off in the long run. After all, when you focus on fulfilling the mission and not the sale, you usually end up succeeding at both. I really, truly believe that.

While I wait to see how it turns out, I’m joining the movement; I’m going to #OptOutside. Kudos, REI, for the on-point brand lesson.

Read the Forbes article about #OptOutside HERE.

Check out the REI Opt Outside website HERE.

Stop the madness (again)

Sometimes I can’t seem to stop escalating an argument–or a non-argument. When I stumbled across this post in the archives, it felt right to dig it back out. I wish I would have remembered this a few times over the last couple of months. Oh well, it’s not unusual that I have to re-learn the most important lessons!

Every now and then, someone sends me a message that really ticks me off. These messages are generally short, snarky, and pointless, designed simply to throw a barb my way for a perceived slight. I don’t get mad when I’ve really done something wrong–humble and embarrassed, maybe, but not mad. Strangely, it’s the undeserved barbs that hit their mark.

I got one of those messages this morning. I can thrust and parry with almost anyone when it comes to words, and I quickly typed my equally snarky response. And then I retyped it. And retyped it. I continued honing it to get it just right. With my cursor hovering over the send button, I hit delete instead. On purpose.

I’ve never done that before.

I’ve always risen to the challenge right along with my hackles. I respond in kind (that’s a funny expression when the response is usually not kind at all), and I end up sputtering and seething. And the cycle continues. No one needs that.

Inexplicably, this time I realized some key points. First, I didn’t act inappropriately to this person. Second, I didn’t owe him an explanation for anything. Third, he knows how to push my buttons, and I was poised to let him do it. By the time he had sent the message, he was already on to the next thing. Why should I spend the rest of my day stewing in this one?

It was up to me to continue the madness, and for once, I didn’t. I deleted my response, deleted, his email, and–writing this post notwithstanding–moved on. For whatever reason, I realized that it only takes one person to stop the madness. Anyone can be that person; today it was me.

Music to my ears

I’m not the world’s best parent. Truth be told, I’m not even close. Once in a while, though, I get something right.

With two teenagers and a dog in the house–and me as the antithesis of Suzy Homemaker–the messes and chores never end. I keep looking to my kids for relief. Their able bodies should be able to unload the dishwasher or fold a load of laundry, or even *gasp* hang up their coats.

And, grumbling notwithstanding, they usually do–when I ask.

Futilely, however, I keep hoping that they will notice what needs to be done and just do it. After all, the dishes don’t magically disappear. Without a list or a specific request, though, I’m convinced my kids have tunnel vision in the house. This panics me, because I wonder how they will ever manage on their own.

Note to self: continually dropping passive aggressive hints does not work.

Like putting all the clothes from the bathroom floor into the sink. (They just use a different one.)

Or wondering aloud if I am the only one who ever loads the dishwasher. (No reaction.)

Or asking why that coat is on the table, again. (I really had to go to the bathroom when I got home, so I just threw it down. [Yet there it remains.])

Note to self: nagging does not work.

Who is going to do this stuff when you live on your own?

You left your dishes in the sink–AGAIN.

Your bathroom is a disaster!

And if one of those tactics doesn’t work alone, neither does an alternating chorus of them, nor does repeating them over and over. And over. It just becomes the equivalent of shouting at a person who doesn’t understand the language.

Finally I smartened up and tried something new. When I leave the house, I don’t give them a specific list of chores anymore. They’re clearly not learning from that. Instead, I give them a number and vaguery.

Today I want you to do three meaningful things around the house. You get to pick what those are, but they have to have significance. (Folding three pieces of laundry in one load does NOT constitute three things.)

Holy moly. The results I got with that approach far outweighed anything else I had tried. It forced them to take note of their surroundings and self-evaluate (is it enough?). The first time, I got a clean toilet, a clean kitchen, and a vacuumed floor. Oh, joy of joys!

I don’t know why we (read: I) don’t look at our home lives like we look at our professional or social lives. We fall into ruts and don’t even think about changing them. People are people, and the same principles apply: if someone doesn’t get it, increasing the volume won’t help. Change the way you communicate.

Stop nagging and get creative.

Inspired interruptions

Fry-lightbulb-on-forehead1I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a brilliant idea–absolutely, positively the best one ever.

And then *poof* it was gone. Disappeared into the ether. A faint contrail in my cerebral atmosphere. The footprint of a memory.

Too often, when thoughts flit through my consciousness, I swat them away instead of grabbing them. Usually it’s because I’m busy. I need to finish writing a brief, make dinner, wrap up an email. I think, Ooh, you’re a good one! Hold on a sec while I finish this up. I’ll get right back to you.

The trouble is, I don’t always get back to it and that germination of an idea dries up and blows away for lack of nurturing.

Or when I do jot it down, it finds its home in the margins of a notebook used for something else, on a post-it note that loses its grip and flutters to the floor, or on the back of a grocery list that gets crumpled in the bottom of my purse.

How many ideas have I missed because I let the good ones go?

How many problems have gone unsolved?

How many times have I settled for less?

We all have good ideas, big ones and small. It’s not about not having the inspiration; it’s about being willing to embrace it when it comes.

Inspiration rarely descends upon us when it is convenient. Don’t resist the interruption.

***On another note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RLK, my BFF and rock in all storms!***

Babes and their mouths

Bhs_int_classroom_ssWinter weather has arrived, and with it have come the requisite school closures. This year, my kids have the benefit of e-learning: online coursework assigned on cancellation days to keep them in the swing of things and, more importantly, to allow the school to avoid tacking extra days to the end of the year.

Lately my 13-year-old daughter has been asking me to take her to school on those days. (Strangely, though the weather is bad enough to cancel school, they open the doors for kids to come in and access their computers.) I questioned her about this.

Last night you begged and pleaded and hoped for a cancellation. Now that you’ve got it, you want to go to school. What’s up with that?

She told me that while she didn’t like to be IN school, she liked to be AT school. And I couldn’t argue one bit with what came out of her mouth next.

School just ruins the purpose of learning, Mom. Learning is so much fun, but the way they want to define everything by a letter just messes everything up. It takes away the incentive to really learn anything–just what they want you to know for the test.

I’ve long been concerned for the dwindling critical thinking skills in our society, (see one of my very first posts HERE), but my middle schooler got to the heart of the issue better than I ever could. If we just start with what she said and get back to really learning–asking questions, making discoveries, connecting the dots–the rest might just take care of itself.

Give that girl an A.

Language lessons

Recently I worked on a side project that fell just a bit outside my realm of experience. It wasn’t that I hadn’t done similar things before; I just hadn’t done that particular thing. I viewed it as a surmountable challenge, and I dove in.

I made a few calls, asked a few questions, and got what I needed to move forward: the right words. You see, I knew what I needed to accomplish, but I didn’t know how to talk about it in a way that would make sense to the right people.

So I put myself out there and asked questions. I asked them until I could describe my subject in the vernacular of people in the know. The conversation to get there went something like this:

Me: Hi! I’m working on this project and I need to do XYZ. I also need a bit of an education.

Guy on the phone: Sure. Will you help me understand what you’re looking for?

*He asks as few specific questions, which I answer.*

Guy on the phone: Oh, you need [specific term].

Simple as that. Once I knew what to call my project, I was home free. My Google search results changed dramatically when I knew what to input. I found the right people to contact and could describe the project in their terms. Now I could get things done.

It’s funny how finding a simple key to a situation makes me giddy. And of course, I analyzed the heck out of it so I could boil it down to a couple of key lessons. First, don’t be afraid to ask questions–ask people who know and keep asking them till you get what you need. Second, speaking the right language gets results. When it comes down to it, words do matter.

Keynotes

mos cardAs you might expect, my recent job change brought a few surprises with it. Realizing how challenging it is to be new at everything. Opening my closet door to find to find a stockpile of clothing that no longer seems appropriate. Being able to have lunch with my mother during the workday for the first time ever. Struggling to find a new writing routine. Something that surprised even my surprised self, however, was the attention generated by the announcement of my new venture.

My new company announced my arrival with a press release–pretty standard fare. In my previous position, I had even written several of those for others. The part that surprised me was the way others viewed the PR as a marketing opportunity. My grad school alma mater tweeted it to tie the success of an alumna to its own value. A local auto dealership sent me a letter outlining the advertising opportunities it offers. The Jehovah’s Witnesses sent me several tracts and a handwritten note that tried desperately to explain a nebulous connection between them and my new job. I found this all very fascinating.

I did, however, find one missive to be very well executed. I received a tasteful, well-written note from an upscale restaurant offering nothing more than congratulations–and a $25 credit with no strings attached. Brilliant. No gimmick, no expectation. The restaurant gave something to me; it didn’t expect something of me. Now, $25 won’t go far at that particular restaurant, but the gesture does make me inclined to pay it a visit.

What a terrific illustration of the potency in valuing people, of being willing to give in good faith in order to build a relationship, of giving people reasons to want to come to you, not to have to.

There’s a lesson in everything, even one little note.

P.S. Click on the photo above and read the card if you have a chance. What it said made all the difference. Words do matter.

Take a second

Yesterday I read a post in a blog I follow that really stuck with me. It wasn’t actually the topic itself–it was a friends-helping-friends-plea, very well done though not unusual–but a single line.

Nobody is too busy to give another person five seconds a day. —Andra Watkins

That stopped me short.

Is it really that simple to make a difference? I think it just might be. If everyone on the planet offered just 5 unselfish seconds every day, that would add up to more than 9,722,222.22 HOURS each day of doing something good. Okay, so maybe that’s overly simplistic pie in the sky, but if I can make even a tiny difference to one person and all it costs me is five seconds, isn’t that worth doing? And if even a handful of people felt the same way, isn’t that even better?

I guess the reason Andra’s statement really struck me was that it changed the way I look at giving my time. She presented the quantity as something so small, so insignificant, so manageable, that instead of agreeing with a shrug, I’m now wondering what else I can do.

Five seconds? Really? That doesn’t seem like much. I could give several of those. 

Besides seeing this as a how-to-make-the-world-better-in-five-easy-seconds lesson, there are also some marketing lessons here, however unintended.

  • Make it easy for people (whatever “it” is). In this case, five seconds of time is an easier bite to chew than thinking about going to a website, finding the right person, and clicking the vote button, even though that’s still the task. Five seconds? Pfft. No big deal.
  • Change people’s perspective. One a-ha moment will earn you a ton of mental real estate. I’ve been chewing on those five seconds since I read that line. I’ve taken that one statement in a jillion different directions. What can I do in five seconds? What if everyone gave five seconds? Why only five seconds? Ten would be easy, too. Who cares WHAT I’m thinking; the important thing is THAT I’m thinking about it. If you can get someone noodling on your idea, you can really make things happen.

Sorry, Andra. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what you intended when you set out to help your friend. But you know what? The five seconds it took you to write that comment helped more people than you thought. In your own words, Thank you so much for giving a tiny piece of your day to someone else. 

Love is blind

blindfoldRule #1: Don’t fall in love with your work.

Okay, I don’t know what that’s the first rule of, but it should definitely be a rule somewhere. I learned that lesson (again) today.

A colleague and I were working on an ad, and we needed just the right image to reinforce the copy. We both started searching independently, forwarding links back and forth to photos that we thought might work. Then I found it. The perfect image. Even though I loved it, I tried to play it cool.

My colleague was less than enthused, but he did his due diligence and placed it in the ad to get a feel for it. He gave me thoughtful comments. The background was too busy; it would hamper readability. There wasn’t enough of a color pop to get attention. It didn’t lend itself to the overall design.

I didn’t argue with him, but I just knew it would work. It evoked exactly the kinds of feelings I wanted from the ad. Even so, I kept my comments to myself and kept looking, hoping he would see the light.

Eventually, we found another shot that worked well with the ad. It was completely different, but it worked. And it even addressed all of my colleague’s issues: it was simple, lent itself to readability, and offered just the right color pop. We had found a winner.

I still think my original image looked great, but I can’t argue that this one does, too–and probably more so. Yet if I had dug in my heels, I would have missed this opportunity. I would have been content the way things were rather than struggling to make them better. It’s easy to forget that often one’s best work arises from conflict, from being forced to think and rethink, from eschewing the easy and finding new solutions. When we fall in love with our own stuff, we run the risk of becoming blind to something better.

Of course, it’s no big surprise that I’ve been here before. Many moons ago, I wrote about the same challenge in Panning for gold, and later in Get over yourself. Why, oh why, does it take so many tries for me to learn the same lesson?

When you fall in love with your work, take off the blinders and fix it.

Purse-rverance

PurseI forgot my purse. By the time I realized it, I was 40 miles away from where it lay nestled unobtrusively in an empty file drawer at work. I had already been home, packed my kids in the car, and whisked them off to accomplish a flurry of errands that would finish with dinner at a restaurant. It wasn’t until we pulled into my son’s haircut venue that I realized the omission. Plans for the evening shattered, and we prepared to go home and sulk.

That lasted about 30 seconds.

My son had his debit card with him, so I sent him on his way to his haircut. I then took off with my daughter to unload half my closet at the dry cleaner while I mentally regrouped. When we returned 15 minutes later, I had a plan.

As soon as my son’s high-and-tight was complete, we headed to the neighboring bank and its ATM. Although my debit card was safely snuggled in my absent pocketbook, his was inches away in his wallet. Of course, his bank balance was likely not enough to cover dinner for our little threesome, but now comes the fun part.

By the time we pulled up to the ATM, I had already whipped out my phone, logged into my mobile banking app, and transferred money from my checking account to my son’s. I covered his haircut and the amount he was about to withdraw for our dinner. Two minutes and a few twenties later, we pulled away from the bank and started negotiating for our respective favorite restaurants. Crisis averted; our plans were saved.

I can’t stop thinking about that evening. At first I was awed by the flexibility afforded by electronic technology. (And why, oh why, can’t I just pay from my phone if I can move money around with it?) Look how far we’ve come. Eventually, though, I came back around to the fact that even with a full palette of digital options, they’re all worthless without the ability to string them together into something useful. They are simply tools; we still need craftsmen (and women) to effectively put them to work.

No matter what the technology, it is no substitute for reasoning and critical thinking skills. In fact, as technology advances, we have to move our minds along with it in order to effectively use the tools at hand. We have to keep up.

P.S. Although we had a great time at our dinner out, we would have had a great time at home, too. We’re cool like that.