Backwards before forwards

How often do you step back to observe the bigger picture?

Often in our haste to keep moving forward, we skip an insightful step back to notice the whole picture. Making time to do this puts things into perspective, maybe even changes it, so that you can move forward more informed and inspired into the vast environment in which you already exist or wish to move into.

We must frequently take steps back to move intelligently forward.

Ideas Are Not Enough

Many designers will tell you they’ve come up with heaps of fantastic ideas that have gone nowhere. But the ideas aren’t the hardest part.

The biggest challenge is the communication around your ideas. You have to be able to share your seamless thinking before, during and after; to convince and excite about the possibilities.

It’s not good enough to just have an idea. It’s not acceptable to groan about a client ‘not getting it’ if you haven’t done your job to explain your thought process.

A truly great designer comes up with brilliant ideas along with their story.

A truly great client is brave enough to join you in bringing them to life.

A match made to lead change.

Do You Value What You Do?

Gaining new clients can be tough. When you get them, you want to do your best to keep them happy. But when there’s no pleasing a client, the smartest companies let them go. To put it bluntly, fire them.

It’s tough to fire a client when the competition is fierce and snapping at your heels, and there are steep targets to meet. Just remember, it only takes one bad client to negatively impact your entire business, pretty fast.

To minimize the chances of this happening in the first place, research any potential relationship before getting involved. Ask about their vision and values, work ethics and what’s important to them. You need to know. Find out who they’ve worked with before and ask them about their experience too. Do your homework. Are you really a good match?

The client-agency selection process should be a two-way dialogue, whereby both equally do their checks to find the right partnership. This kicks things off with a mutual respect, bringing out the best in all talent, motivating the teams and encouraging everyone to do their best work.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen enough as the client is perceived to hold the power (the purse strings) and the agency is perceived to be vulnerable (needs the business), with the latter bending over backwards to be a pleaser. This is a no win situation for either party.

You may enter into a relationship that seems like a good match at the time, but somewhere along the way it takes a turn and becomes a living nightmare. Day and night. Knowing when to say “that’s enough” is a tough call, but any self-respecting company needs to take the stance.

How do you know when to do ‘the deed’? Start here:

1. Are they respectful (towards you, your team and your business)?

2. Do they value creativity (what you do, at your best)?

3. Is there a mutual trust?

If your client isn’t respectful towards you and your people, doesn’t value what you do and get out of bed for every day, and there’s a lack of trust between you… it’s a no brainer.

Fire them. Gracefully. And willingly refer them to the competition.

If you value what you do, don’t work with people that don’t.

Getting Over New Business

Many companies, and designers, are excellent at their craft, but struggle to communicate what they do in a way that entices people to buy. Whether you’re an individual or group, your existence depends on being able to do this.

There is a stimga around ‘selling’, but everyone has to do it these days. On the other side, nobody likes to be aggressively sold to either. It’s the way you ‘sell’ that makes a big difference. Whether you’re an independent designer or a company, you can create the best looking stuff in the world, but you’re invisible unless you get your work noticed. Everyone has a role to play in championing their best work, contributing towards building a powerful profile and enviable reputation in the industry.

Before anything else, you need the right attitude towards ‘selling’ (or new business, business development…). You need to begin by defining and articulating your story and point of difference. Don’t waste anyone’s time until you’ve grasped this yourself.

Then connect with potential clients that have demonstrated a history of buying world class creativity. Look for companies that are struggling with real problems and demonstrate how you’ve solved similar problems before.

If you’re new and haven’t yet gathered case studies, provide them with a perspective on their problem (without solving it for free). Look for potential clients that respect what you do enough to pay a good fee for solving their problem, with your remarkable creativity.

If you value what you do, never seek to just be the cheapest. It’s a spiraling downward journey for you and your competition. Aim to deliver something valuable through ideas that spark interest, challenge and change the game.

Because that’s the stuff we need and is worth paying for.

Make yourself and your ideas visible and valuable and get over the stigma of ‘selling’ – redefine it yourself, make it work, and lead the way.

The Power of Cultural Icons

The iconic Stokehouse restaurant in St. Kilda, Melbourne, burned to the ground in January. It caused an outpouring of public grief. The popular summer location with its stunning views and buzzing atmosphere immediately picked itself and opened a pop up version just weeks later in time for Valentine’s Day. The public is now being invited to input on the future of this local icon by participating in the selection of one of three architectural designs for the new building.

BLOG-ICONS.001The Stokehouse has become such a popular local brand and cultural icon. When struck by disaster, the local community felt the pain too. The business responded fast and got back on its feet with a temporary solution that enabled everyone to continue enjoying what they had grown to love.

How many brands matter this much to people? Would they be missed if they disappeared tomorrow? Would they instantly bounce back, and with so much public support?

When we are bombarded by endless products, that have very little difference, brands that matter most to people are the ones that form the cultural fabric of life. They have the people behind them to support them through adversity.

That’s a cultural following worth creating.

2013 Make a Difference – Projects not Resolutions

We begin the new year making lists of guilt ridden resolutions, but what if you challenged yourself to make a real difference through meaningful projects?

Eat better, drink less, exercise more… yawn… these are all things we should be doing to look after ourselves anyway. The decisions that involve making a real difference are often those that take us out of our comfort zone and involve risk taking. The fear ridden thought of “this may not work” is often linked to the things most worth doing, yet they paralyze and prevent us from making positive changes. It’s up to you to design your own future (starting with the year ahead). If you don’t step forward onto a different path and begin to navigate your way forward, how will you ever know where, and how far, you can go?

Monocle-Do It Yourself

A recent Monocle article “Do It Yourself” showcases five stories of entrepreneurs who “…went against the tide of conformity and followed their instinct to stick their necks out and try something different”. Interviews cover how to build a thriving community from scratch; how to inject life into a city centre; how to start your own cottage industry and grow it into a business; how to build a retail brand and how to package a product that sings on shelf. They aren’t stories of following spreadsheets or design by committee “…but rather common sense, skill, hard work and responding to human behavior”. They highlight the reward of risk taking and pursuing ambitions.

‘Resolutions’ should turn into ‘projects’ so that we shift our mindset from the dull and inevitable annual repeats, to more inspiring and meaningful experiences that will challenge us to take risks, learn, grow and design a better future.

Be Yourself: Simplicity and Difference

There’s been a lot of coverage on the quote “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” (Oscar Wilde). It’s timeless and powerful.

Two major challenges in today’s highly competitive environment are difference and simplicity (converting complexity to be understood). Understanding what you can be the best in the world at, and building upon this, will help you become great (as an individual or company).

In the book ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins talks about the ‘Hedgehog Concept’, which describes three simple points of understanding and the vital intersection between them:

  1. What can you be the best in the world at?
  2. What drives your economic engine?
  3. What are you deeply passionate about?

There are many designers that are passionate about what they do, and believe they can be the best in the world, but fail to understand their economic engine. On the contrary, companies generally understand this, yet lack insight into what they can simply be the best at, which goes far beyond a core competence, or discovering what makes them passionate. You need all three to be great.

Great possibilities and creative dreams often fail to convert into great realities because difference and simplicity isn’t achieved with one big idea. Individuals, companies and their brands scurry around trying to be all things to all people rather than focusing on their one powerful idea, and this is when they melt into mediocrity.

Be yourself. What’s your big idea?