Baby shoes

Classic_baby_shoesSome years ago, I stumbled across a concept that still holds my fascination. It’s called six-word stories, and the idea is to tell a story in–you guessed it–exactly six words.

The idea supposedly originated with a bunch of writing cronies who got together and placed a bet about who could produce a short story that was only six words long. Or who could write the shortest story that could make someone cry. Or who could write the shortest story. The details are nebulous, if they’re true at all, but supposedly Ernest Hemingway won hands down with this:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

Pretty powerful stuff, those sentences.

Its origin notwithstanding, the idea fascinates me. It offers a clear illustration of the power of words, thoughtfully and carefully chosen–one of my favorite topics.

Six-word stories are tough to master; if you thought staying within Twitter’s 144-character limit was hard, it’s nothing compared to this. Succeed in six words, and you’ll feel like a genius. It’s a great brain exercise, and your “regular” writing will be better for it.

Here are a few of my favorites from*:

Painfully, he changed “is” to “was.”

Smoking my very last cigarette. Again.

Born a twin; graduated only child.

Sorry, soldier. Shoes sold in pairs.

Amazing how six words can tell you all you need to know. Try it; I dare you. You’ll be better for it.

Every word matters; choose each thoughtfully.

*The website and its corresponding Facebook page haven’t shown any activity for more than a year. They’re still fun to poke around, though.

Special note to JHS, TJT, RDH, and CC: you wordsmith/writer types are on notice. I want to see what you can produce in six words. I promise, this will be better than the ice bucket challenge!

Balancing act

Balancing actSome time ago, a colleague introduced me to a quote that goes something like this:

Balance, dare I say it, is vastly overrated. In the end, you might want to consider the benefits of imbalance, and the achievements that come with pursuing a passion with a single-minded devotion. –Colin Cowherd

I chewed on it at the time, “getting” it but still somewhat skeptical. After all, single-minded devotion to, well, anything means the rest of the stuff in your life will suffer, right?  It seems to me that there’s a trade-off between being okay–or even pretty good–at a lot of things and being really, really great at just one. I’ve got a family, after all. Single-minded devotion seems like a luxury when there are so many demands on my time.

Then I went to a football game. As usual, my team’s performance was wildly inconsistent. We had a great first drive, then we fell apart for a big chunk of the game. The reason? We’re really good at passing (the focus of the first drive) and struggle a lot at running (subsequent play series). It was pretty frustrating to watch.

My uncle and seatmate is blessed with the ability to always look for the silver lining. When the outcome looked hopeless, he turned to me and said, I’m glad to see we are trying the run. We need a balanced offense.

Without thinking, I shot back, Who cares about balance?! I want to win!

Light bulb moment. I finally got it, skepticism discarded.

Figure out what you do well. Practice it. Hone it. Perfect it. Do it better than anyone else and own it.

There’s another part of that quote that sums it all up: And if that means they sacrifice balance along the way, they don’t care. They’ve found something more important: results.

Thankfully, my team figured that out. We eventually went back to the passing plays that we do best–and staged an amazing comeback to win the game. Results.

More camp notes

jakeididitA couple of weeks ago, I made a return trip to Minnesota to pick up my son from wrestling camp. He made it through 28 days of hard, hard work in a boot camp style atmosphere that improved not only his wrestling skills, but also his dedication, discipline, and sense of responsibility. He came home physically exhausted but knowing he has the will to see any goal through to the end.

How did that happen?! After all, the kid is only fourteen.

The founder of the camp, J Robinson, took a few minutes to talk to the parents after the last practice. Much like when I deposited my teenaged wrestler into his charge four weeks earlier, the words he spoke have stuck with me since.

As J explained the kids’ daily activities, he emphasized that not one had been included thoughtlessly. Each activity, and its placement along the camp timeline, had been chosen intentionally in order to accomplish a specific outcome. All the campers, for example, had to do stadiums (running up and down the stadium steps) at 6:30am for the first three days of camp. They had to do them over and over and over, until there was not a single kid who wasn’t sore the next day. The goal, said J, was that when the alarm went off the next morning, each kid had to make a decision. He had to decide whether to get up and do the next drill, even though it didn’t feel good.

To reach a goal, you can’t be bound by how you feel, J said. You should only be bound by what you want.

Whoa. I’ve been thinking ever since about how many times I haven’t done something that would push me toward the achievement of a goal–simply because of how I felt. How many times I skipped my daily run because I didn’t want to go out in the heat or the cold, because I was tired, or because it was inconvenient. How many times I decided at the last minute not to attend an event that would have strengthened a friendship or furthered an interest because I was too comfortable where I was. How many times I didn’t speak up because I thought I might get embarrassed. I postponed the achievement of my goals–whether they revolved around fitness level, a relationship, my career, or personal fulfillment–because I was bound by how I felt.

I watched my son do something harder than I’ve ever done, and he did it successfully. He got past himself. He set a goal, and he did it.

Don’t be bound by how you feel. Be bound only by what you want. Powerful stuff.

Good stuff

Beef-jerkyI attended a conference yesterday and walked away with word jerky like you wouldn’t believe. I don’t know which of these nuggets to chew on first, so I’m going to share them all and see which ones make you bite. Chime in early; chime in often. Let’s get the most out of these.

And in no particular order… Drum roll please…

  • Trust changes everything. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Get comfortable with change and patience. (Tiffany Sauder)
  • Let go of the mentality that you have a secret sauce. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Truth and transparency can change an industry. (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Putting your toes in the water isn’t good enough. You have to jump in all the way. (Brian Halligan)
  • Why do we let our competitors dictate how much money we make? (Marcus Sheridan)
  • If you have too much dead wood in your organization consider this: were they dead when you hired them or did you kill them? (Will Davis)
  • I love watching dumb businesses. It’s awesome! (Marcus Sheridan)
  • Marketing used to be about the size of your wallet. Now it’s about the size of your brain. (Brian Halligan)
  • Don’t irritate your way into someones wallet. Love your way there. (Brian Halligan)
  • Make sharing easy. (Nate Riggs)

I’ve got lots of ideas to develop for future posts, but for now I need to chew on this Sam’s Club-sized portion of word jerky. Talk it up, friends. Which one of these grabs you?

P.S. If you’re a Twitterer and you’re interested in some of the buzz around this conference–the topic was inbound marketing–check out #GoInboundMktg. There was a lot of energy in that room!

More to chew

Beef-jerkySooo…I’ve been working an idea for a post for months. Months. That’s not like me. Normally I just sit down and write. The thoughts coalesce and the words flow. They may tumble over the top of each other, but eventually they settle into place in a puddle on the page, leaving you to decide whether you wade through or walk around it.

For some reason, I just can’t make this one happen. The ends of my thoughts trail off and evaporate before they can precipitate and I’m left with a thunderhead. Argh.

I’m not letting this one go, though. On the contrary, I’m going to let you chew on it, too.

Wait, what? Chew on it? You got it–it’s WORD JERKY time again! Here’s your thought for the day:

Do actions without intent have meaning? Or is it the thought behind them–not the actions themselves–that define the nature of an interaction?

What do you think? Is it the thought that counts? Or just the results? Sometimes? Every time?

Let’s chat about it.

Means to an end

pecan pieSome years ago, I worked with a woman who would invite me to lunch every so often. We weren’t particularly close, but a random lunch date helps keep things interesting, so I generally said yes. Silly me.

Following a decent meal and pleasant conversation, the awkward moment came with the check. We’d get the bill, check the total, and reach for our purses. While I laid in the cash, she would magically find a buy-one-get-one-free coupon to erase her portion of the bill. I left feeling annoyed.

Okay, so I was a slow learner; I shouldn’t have let it happen more than once if it bothered me. Even so, I went along with it a fair number of times over the course of a year.

The main reason I let it continue to happen was this: I didn’t think my reaction made logical sense. After all, I didn’t pay any more than I would have without her coupon. I was obligated for my lunch either way–why should it make a difference to me if she got hers free?

I felt used, that’s why.

Was she just looking for a lunch partner so she could exercise her coupon? Or did she really want to have lunch with me and the coupon was just a bonus? I didn’t want to be the means to an end; I wanted to be the main attraction.

Sure, logically the coupon didn’t change anything. With or without her, I still would have had to buy my lunch that day. But the icky feeling and nagging doubt I carried away with my full belly changed everything.

That situation taught me that not everything has to make (logical) sense to be real.  I also reinforced to me that the means is just as important at the end.

I’m still chewing on this one. Please let me know your thoughts.

Guiding light

guiding lightI don’t know whether it’s the pomp and circumstance of graduation season, some sort of viral illness, or just too much time alone, but I currently find myself in a heightened state of self-assessment. I’ve been trying to identify the principles that guide me, particularly at work.

After much thought, I finally came up with I list I think captures my core values. Though I really wish someone had given me this advice as I prepared for my career, I think they developed pretty naturally.

Drum roll, please…

  1. Project confidence.
  2. Give credit to others. Generously.
  3. Take responsibility.
  4. Admit mistakes.
  5. Make decisions.
  6. Look for the lesson in everything.
  7. Keep learning.

I may not execute all of them perfectly all the time, but I reach for them always. What’s on your list?

Inspiring minds

cavemanIt’s funny how things work sometimes. There I was, feeling so guilty about my lack of productivity that I blogged about it, and then I immediately found inspiration.

Actually, it found me.

I received an email notice that a blog I follow, Cuaderno Inedito, featured a new post. So late last night, when I was supposed to be writing an article (evidence of my procrastination), I navigated to the site and started to read. Somehow, Julie Schwietert Collazo had written directly to me–and I don’t even know her!

She posted How to be motivated and productive when you’re just not feeling it within hours of my own post about motivational struggles. Her practical advice and impeccable timing left me feeling refreshed and hopeful. I now have a game plan.

More importantly, I realized that perhaps I’ve been trying too hard. Instead of trying to go the distance on every play, it doesn’t hurt to back off and take baby steps. After all, baby steps still move me forward, while all-or-nothing often leaves me with, well, nothing.

I had espoused the Jack London approach: You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. Little did I know that when I put down the club, inspiration would drop into my inbox.

Ducks and horses

The Backstory:

Yesterday a friend and I were discussing the recent NYU-Replyallcalypse and he got stuck on one of the goofy Reply-All messages sent to the giant list of recipients. (Really, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click the link I provided.) To poke him a little, I whipped off an email response in blog post format. Although it was intended to be a wry attempt at humor, I wondered if it might have real merit when I re-read it this morning. You can decide for yourself.

My Wry-Attempt-At-Humor-But-Hey-Wait-It-Might-Have-Legs Response:

Would you rather fight a 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck? You’re probably laughing at the absurdity of this question, but I’ll bet you find yourself revisiting it throughout the day, however unwillingly. After a while, you’ll realize that you are taking up precious brain power pondering a what-if that has about a zero percent chance of becoming reality.

Even if you don’t think about mutant ducks and horses all day long, I’ll bet you tie up your brain waves pondering scenarios that probably won’t come true. All of us do it—and it’s probably a healthy exercise if we can keep it in check—but when we’re thinking of stuff like that, what AREN’T we thinking of?

When you’re worrying about ducks and horses [insert your favorite diversion here], chances are you’re NOT thinking about your customers and how to help them make their lives better. Or your business and how to do what you do more effectively. Or how to nurture your kids’ talents. Or what to make for dinner. Or, or, or.

Personally, one of my favorite diversions is what-if-I-had-done-this-differently-way-back-when. I ruminate about how my life might look today if I had just answered that one question differently, or chosen a different major in college, or taken a different job. While I’m sure there’s something to be learned in hindsight, I’m sure I spend way too much time on the what-ifs I can’t recapture rather than the ones I can actually make happen today.

The next time you find yourself thinking about ducks and horses, use them to propel yourself into productivity.

Jumping through hoops

Yesterday’s post got me thinking about mind games we play with ourselves, particularly when we pretend not to know something. It brought to mind a nightly ritual with my daughter years ago.

Somewhere at around 18 months old, my little bundle of energy joy learned how to climb out of her crib. Unlike most toddlers, however, she was pretty savvy about it. She would wait a requisite amount of time after being tucked into bed before she would quietly steal from her room. Rather than announcing her presence, however, she would pad down the hall and stop just short of the doorway to the family room, lying down to position herself to see but not be seen.

The first few times I caught her were like a Laurel and Hardy skit. I’d find her and put her back in bed. She’d wait a few minutes and come back out. I’d find her and put her back in bed. She’d wait a few minutes and come back out. Both of us equally stubborn, we sometimes played this game all night.

After weeks of trying to find ways to keep her in bed, I eventually stumbled across an unconventional solution. I gave up. Sort of.

My scheme was this: as long as my little diva sweet pea didn’t know that I had seen her–and I almost always knew she was there–I would let her stay in the hallway. After all, she would fall asleep almost immediately, and wasn’t that what I wanted anyway? However, if she knew that I knew (stay with me here) that she was there, I had to take her back to her room.


It was all a clever mind trick, at least to my way of thinking. She had to see me as a firm parent who followed through. If I saw a problem, I had to solve it. If I didn’t see it, though, I couldn’t be held responsible for solving it. And if she didn’t know I had seen her, that counted as not seeing her.

I’m not recommending this course of action for anyone. It worked for me in this case–my daughter went to sleep at a reasonable hour and in calm fashion (just not in her bed), and I stopped making myself crazy over it–but it seems like pretty convoluted logic. What I find interesting isn’t the solution, but the logic behind it. Assuming I’m fairly normal, human beings will often perform complicated mental gymnastics to justify their actions. We go to great lengths to do what we want to do–and make it work in our heads.

This is an important concept to understand, not just in marketing, but simply in communicating with people. Whatever point you may be trying to drive home, you have to make it work for your audience. Give them a reason to embrace it that allows them to fit it into their world. Make it work for them; don’t make them jump through hoops.