Entrepreneurial & Creative Focus…Labyrinth Style

This past Sunday…I took part in an experience that was quite different but extremely enlightening. I walked a Labyrinth. Have you ever taken part in an experience like this? Do you know what I am talking about?

A labyrinth is an ancient walking meditation, and is considered a spiritual path of prayer. “It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path.” A labyrinth is different from a maze in that there are no tricks to it, no dead ends, no interesting paths. The labyrinth is a well-defined path that leads to into the center and back out again.

So why am I writing about something that can be such a spiritual experience in a business setting. Well, as I was walking through the Labyrinth, I was thinking about what the Chaplain described as the purpose of the Labyrinth.

From her explanation:
“Following the path is a metaphor for life. Just as we are walking along, nearing the center, we suddenly find ourselves far away from that goal. The Labyrinth teaches us that by persistently following the path, with all the twists and turns, we will get to the center.”

As I was walking, I was filling the tensions of life dissipate, and enlightened focus upon certain areas of my life. Then as I was walking…I began to think how this experience could benefit entrepreneurs. This experience could benefit creative individuals…I know I benefited.

As a blogger, writing, entrepreneur, creative, and lecturer…my life can go in so many different directions. As entrepreneur, creative, and writer…I am always in search of ways to find focused attention that leads to creative inspiration. The mere act of walking through the path allowed me to focus on the path, pealing back the layers of distraction.

Imagine an exercise we could take part in daily that would bring focus and enlightenment to the creative side of our brain. Most of us look for that “zone,” that happy place that allows to fully come into touch with our full senses. This heightened ability to come in close contact with our creative side can sometimes be euphoric. But…that can be somewhat manic. This exercise calms and allows us to focus…the focus that brings enlightenment. This can lead to innovation.

Labyrinths are in cathedrals all over Europe and now more than 1,000 are in churches, parks, prisons, hospitals, and retreat centers in the US. The canvas Labyrinth pictured above is modeled after the stone Labyrinth embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral, France, since 1201 AD.

Imagine using this technique of walking a Labyrinth when trying to find focus in your business, with students, when dealing with a tough decision. Yes, there is a spiritual aspect of Labyrinths, but there is also a life aspect…a business application. Using this tool to find focus…by walking this path.

Here is a quote that I think speaks well about Labyrinths:
“Labyrinths are…symbols, spiritual tools, mathematical images, harmonic patterns, pathways of discovery, playgrounds of prayer.” Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion

I believe there is a business application to the Labyrinth…one for writers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, small business owners, and even the corporate world. What are your thoughts? Have you ever taken part by walking a Labyrinth.

To learn more about Labrinths:

To find a Labyrinth near you, CLICK HERE for the web locator.

blogging in a leadership role – SUCCESS!

You know what is so much fun…the greatest joy, it is helping others find the path to tell their story. This past week was a big for a friend.

Telling our own story is one the hardest things to achieve…especially when it comes to exposing our thoughts online. Blogging for a top executive at a major organization has major implications. There is the tremendous opportunity to “own” your message. The hardest part is finding a voice…that leadership voice, online.

The online leadership voice is far beyond the sound bites and quotes for the media…it is the whole contextual quote. It is a chance to not only communicate with an external audience, but also engage an internal audience (employees)…one the largest employers in the region.

When we first started down the path, choosing which “hat to wear” when writing was tough. When we write, we are not only a family person but also a leader in the business world.

Last week…the voice was unleashed and writing began to happen naturally. Email after email were coming into my inbox, “check this post”…”how does the video fit”…”should we include the powerpoint”…questions. Each email led to me logging in and looking at the progress. The writing was wonderful. It was focused, passionate, and brought true leadership to the table.

It is fun to sit and watch executives step out, take the leap, and write for the whole world to see. Leadership is an awesome opportunity.

Blogging…is truly an entrepreneurial experience!

For many young bloggers and writers, the discovery phase of writing online is so new and confusing. There is a huge perception that what we write is going to be viewed as the gospel, and those comments can negatively impact our message. It is my humble opinion in that discovery phase of writing and blogging, that content is king.

It is important to create a focus for the content; learning how to communicate the message clearly. As bloggers/writers begin to find their niche, writing with a community takes it’s focus. It is this discovery phase that allows our internal engines to see what responses we receive and allow community driven content to naturally take shape. Obviously the joy is that we are using analytics to see where we engage certain audiences.

Here is what concerns me, so many times we read there is a heuristic or model to become a successful blogger/writer. Evverywhere we look, there is the “five steps” for  this or that. To me, blogging is like an entrepreneurial experience.

I have two friends that have very good definitions of entrepreneurship:

  • “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.” – John Warner quoting Peter F. Drucker
  • “Entrepreneurship is an activity that involves the discovery, evaluation, and exploitation of opportunities to introduce new goods and services, ways of organizing markets, processes, and raw materials through organizing efforts that previously had not existed.” Sean Williams, Ph.D

If you read these two viewpoints, this to me parallels the blogging world. Bloggers specifically can become innovators with a capacity to create wealth. Bloggers find a need in the market place and focus their writing. This discovery engages that market place.

But…with writing and entrepreneurship, there is not always a clear path to the end and so we have to leverage our communities, and focus on our content. We also have to be passionate about our “product” and write about that passion. Even if the community is going in one direction, we have to be willing to explore new avenues to write about passionately…which engages thought leadership.

I think that there is more than a one stop model for each person in the writing process. Yes, if we a blogging for business…we need focus. But I do think we have look beyond reach, action items, and engagement; and allow ourselves to write in way that allows more of that discovery phase to shine. Writing and blogging can be a place to explore new ideas, new strategies, and empower people to find the voice they never knew they had.

This post was inspired by Mack Collier’s Post: The 3 Critical Content Creation Questions You Must Ask (And Answer!).

Marketing Departments- Say NO TO FLASH VIDEO, please

Seriously, the debate is the debate…Flash Video, HTML5, H264…I get it already. We still have not decided on a standard for web video. But seriously, Flash just is not working. I do not care if you think it is the best thing slice bread…instead, take that sliced bread and make a PB&J while reading this post.

So why is Flash not working, seriously? Because we are in the world of mobile users. Yeah, those smart phones that your audience is enjoying right now.

If you have a marketing department and spending tons of money on video hosting for your public marketing video…then you are getting freaking bad advice. Dump the video hosting for your marketing video and put everything on YouTube and Vimeo. Seriously…if the White House and every other major marketing group out there is doing it, then you should too!

Here is why:

1) YouTube and Vimeo are in the business of providing high quality video content to the masses…it is their business. So they are going to have the latest technology when it comes to players. Bottom-line, you will be able to watch the content on just about any device out there!

2) YouTube and Vimeo will have better SEO opportunities than any other private hosting option out there!  Why, because most of the video content out there is on their servers and it is their business to optimize for searches. Oh yeah, last year…YouTube was the Number #2 search engine.

3) YouTube and Vimeo provide a multitude of options for embedding in web outlets and social sites. Every time you upload a video to YouTube or Vimeo, they provide an easy embed option into your website and blog. They provide easy click options from playing solely in HD, changing the size, etc. Also…the share link makes it so easy to populate into Facebook, allowing the user to watch the video inside Facebook without having to leave to go to another website.

4) YouTube and Vimeo have figured out this whole compression thing for you. You can practically upload just about any video file and it convert the file for you and give you thumbnail options, so you do not have to manually choose and upload some image as the pause screen.

5) YouTube and Vimeo display HD Video content and it looks ROCK SOLID! For a huge conference in Columbia, we uploaded a completely uncompressed HD video to YouTube, and played it for an auditorium for a dignitaries from YouTube. Why, because the computer in the conference room was having a hard time working with about every video file we put on the Windows 7 desktop. So, since it looked great in HD and it played nicely without pause via YouTube…it was displayed in 1080p over a 50 foot screen. The crowd cheered at the end!

6) YouTube and Vimeo offer private viewing of video content. So, if you want to restrict the audience and move away from totally public consumption, the option is there. Yes…you can even restrict to private links so that you have to have that specific link to watch the video content.

7) If you are a large organization, you can create categories to separate video messages according to topics, departments, etc. You can create your own video vault without the hefty price tag! Seriously…YouTube is FREE! Vimeo is also free but offers a premium package for $60/year! YES!!!! Between FREE AND $60/YEAR. Compare that to your monthly spending on your pretty server for marketing video.

Why did I write this…because I was irritated the other day when I tried to open a video message on my iPad and the video was Flash. The video link was from a Twitter and Facebook post of a major organization. I went to my desktop and the video message was intended for a mass audience. Now I realize that iPads and Apple devices are only a finite portion of the user audience. BUT…Apple users are a major audience in mobile video usage. WHY MARGINALIZE YOUR MESSAGE! Just put the dang thing up on YouTube/Vimeo and take advantage of the community.

So if you are  spending tons of money to host video content for marketing purposes…RE-NEGOTIATE! If your marketing message needs to hit a broad audience, take advantage of the technology, SEO, and community of these outlets. BTW…YouTube is one the top search engines…NUFF SAID!

Done with my rant.

social media – an entrepreneurial cultural

If you think back to 2008, well many of us do not want to go back in time. It is October 2008 and in one single week, we witnessed a financial fallout of epic proportions. I remember sitting in the office of a business we just started; our fresh new furniture, big ole office, watching on the 52 inch HDTV as the market crashed. I knew right then and there, we were in trouble.

At that same time, we were in the upswing of one of the biggest online movements we have witnessed since the web was WWW. Yes, the Social Media Revolution. Twitter was growing faster and faster…here is a video in June 2008 of CEO/Founder Jack Dorsey presenting the idea of Twitter and actually beginning his talk by explaining Twitter as an idea.

Now most of you know that Twitter is not the only outlet that has defined this Social Media Revolution…but while Twitter was ramping up, gaining users…Facebook was growing just as fast. YouTube was growing and getting ready to become the second largest search engine behind Google.com. So how did all of this happen, well I have a few theories…and it is this premise that I think has totally shaped how Social Media influences marketing efforts today.

It comes down to jobs. Yes…jobs. It also comes down to community based innovation. As the stock market crashed, millions of American’s lost jobs. Businesses closed their doors. More American’s began using online resources to connect with friends, look for jobs, become entrepreneurs, and connect with opportunities. The job market was bleak so many groups around America began having social events, finding ways to connect and leverage relationships in the search for work. So we began seeing more and more groups created…and Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Media outlets were the connectors of these networks.

These groups were teaching each other how to connect with others, using technology to connect; building new spheres of influence, and generating innovative ideas. These social media connectors were “new” and fresh. The numbers on these networks began to shoot up, more and more people were using these networks and learning the in’s and out’s of how to leverage them.

At the same time, big box businesses were suffering. If you remember…there was a huge scare around Christmas shopping. Were people going to shop for gifts in 2008. I remember we bought most of our gifts that year using American Express points. No one could afford to buy cars, buy houses, buy gifts, etc…so big box companies were struggling with ways to connect with the consumer with their brand, then turn it into dollars. At the same time, Social Outlets were growing in numbers and they became a hot bed for consumers…a place to “hang out.” This is the critical point where those who were looking for new income streams began to realize…they could market how to use these Social Media outlets to big box businesses. Social Media entrepreneurs were being born left and right. They understood the consumer and how the consumer used these Social Outlets.

As the market began to recover, business began to recover with more dollars to spend. These dollars could be spent with people that understood these social communities and the technology that supported these same communities. Big and small business were being formed with the sole purpose of helping organizations use Social Media outlets. We began seeing more people speak at big conferences about these outlets, and small civic groups were entertained by local advocates for this community and technology.

Now as we fast forward to 2011, the market is flooded with individuals, plans, strategies, and businesses that implement social media strategies for companies. The numbers have grown so much with this big shift with more online engagement of social exchange. Now in 2011, there are social outlets that measure other social outlets, measuring the influence of individuals and communities. This velocity has completely shifted the way many organizations market their goods and services.

This Social Media Revolution created a culture, a series of communities, that now command the perception of brands. So why should we care? It is this culture, the Social Media entrepreneurs that are now influencing how many people are doing business. It is shaping the way we broadcast news and information. Everyday, someone else wants to figure out how to measure the success of a community in dollars in cents. But we have to think back…how did all this happen. How the hell did Twitter, Facebook, YouTube begin to shape the way we communicate?

Some of the best and brightest innovation comes from a time of economic recession. I am not a Rhodes Scholar…but I think it because people are forced to find ways to generate revenue to support life, and they have time on their hands to generate these ideas. This time leads to new market ideas that leads to new innovation. This culture was a community of innovation that is shaping the way we communicate and do business today.

What are your thoughts? Am I totally off base?

Where do those good ideas come from? Stories?

I was watching this great video that is the animation of Stephen Johnson speaking…and I began to think. Where do good ideas come from? He takes us down a path to show us that they start with a hunch…this hunch can take years and years to grow. But what ultimately brings this good idea to life is this idea of connectivity.

But to me…it is more than just connectivity…it is the sharing of the ideas with others, the language exchanged. Mutual discourse leads to innovation. Yes, we can be connected to one another, but we have to bring that idea to a path of articulation. Let’s think for a second. Two people can have the solution to the other’s problem…and their collaborative efforts could yield the tremendous result.  But they have to do more than meet, they have to share. We can be invited to some of the greatest conferences with the brightest minds, and those bright minds can stand side-by-side in that room and never share.

Connectivity does not solve the problem. Or maybe it does. Well…those good ideas come from the articulation of those ideas when connectivity is achieved. One of the tools I teach at Clemson is the classic elevator pitch. I found this nifty little tool from Harvard’s Business School which is called the HBS Elevator Pitch Builder…it identifies:

– What would you most want the listener to remember about you?
– State the valued phrase as key results or impact.
– What is the unique benefit?
– What are the goals?

Now this is not perfect when trying to move beyond connectivity to communication…but it provides a barometer for the conversation. How do we break through the connectivity, to find those relationships we trust, and freely exchange the ideas that lead to innovation? Let’s take Twitter for example. Millions of people online using a portal to freely express ideas. You can share, you can listen, and you can sit and watch. By merely opening a webpage and logging into Twitter…you are connected. But what does it take to share an idea openly? What does it take to engage with a conversation inside this massive paradigm of social interactions to exchange ideas. Yes, it provides connectivity…but it can be the same as screaming your idea out loud in a crowd of millions.  Bringing language to your idea is hard!

I remember having this idea a few years ago after graduate school. It is a cool idea that I think one day will come true. My father encouraged me to go after the idea, but I was scared. He told me to just write it down and share it with others. But who would I share it with? How would I explain the idea. I did not have the language to articulate this idea and the network of people to share it with to bring it to life. Bringing language to life, giving life to an idea is more than connectivity…it is learning to articulate that idea. It is learning to articulate that particular idea at the right time when connectivity presents itself.

That is why storytelling is a great thing. It is the ability to articulate an idea in a way that connects with our audience. To help the audience see an idea in their context. When we share, when we articulate an idea, when give voice to our thoughts…we are telling the story of our idea. Bridging the gap between two connected people is language…the story of our idea.

Stephen Johnson’s Book: Where Good Ideas Come From

word-of-mouth meet mass media

So I was talking with a friend the other day and she shared this story with me. Now for the sake of confidentiality, I am not going to share the name of my friend or the name of the company I am talking about. But, this is a great word-of-mouth story.

My friend works for a major organization, and they were getting ready to hire a bunch of new workers. So they wanted to use some “media” to inform the public about these new jobs to generate interest and find a big pool of applicants. So this organization advertised online with some television and other online media outlets with banner ads that click-thru to the online application process. They spent tons on money on the ads, radio spots, etc. to drive interest for the public at-large to go online and apply. My friend was not convinced this was going to generate lots of “leads.”

So, my friend took the time to make some small cards with with the web address. He took these cards and walked around the organization, passing them out. He gave them to the workers of this organization, asking them if they knew anyone that needed a job to give them this card. He passed out hundreds of cards to anyone inside the organization.

On the online application, he included a field that asked where they heard about this job. It listed different options including the news outlet’s web address, radio ads, tv ads, and also included if they heard from a friend who gave them a card. When they opened up the online process to accept the applications, the number one referral was friend who gave them a card. WOW…all of this mass media used to recruit, thousands of dollars spent on advertising to the masses, and the little cheap cards yield the best result.

Now this is not to say that online media, television, and radio is not a viable resource to spread your message. But here is a situation when someone, who is not a marketing person, took the time to go where the pulse of the people exist and empower them to share with their friends. Think about it, those people took their cards and gave to a friend…probably shared with someone who needed a job. Those applicants will probably retire at this organization…why. Because a friend referred them. The person sharing the card is going share with people whom they know. They are going to share with people whom they think would represent best their organization. Brand ambassadors and word-of-mouth….a powerful combination.

Word-of-mouth is such a cool thing!

Who has inspired you? My teacher…

This post is dedicated to one person that gave me that one chance to teach. Dr. Summer Smith Taylor…I am thinking of you, where ever you are tonight.

In 2001, I entered the MAPC Graduate Program at Clemson University. Dr. Summer Smith (now Taylor) was one of the many faculty on staff in the Department of English and the MAPC Program. She was a part of my graduate thesis committee and sat through my final oral examinations. When I was a student, I think I she and I were the same age…but I remember her unbelievable intelligence and technical writing knowledge she brought to my educational experience.

After graduating from the MAPC Program…I returned to the world of broadcast television. Dr. Taylor kept up with me and my career. She always wanted me to come back to Clemson and take part in many of the advisory boards. When Sarah and I moved back to Anderson, SC…she asked if I would be interested in teaching a class while pursuing my entrepreneurial endeavors. WOW, teaching on the collegiate level is a different beast….but she encouraged me. She pushed me to take on the challenge and gave me free reign to take that little business writing class and take it into an entrepreneurial direction. Dr. Taylor had tremendous faith in my abilities.

These last few months, Dr. Taylor has not been around. She has not even been on campus this semester. Dr. Taylor has fallen victim to a terrible disease…ARDS or Adult respiratory Distress Syndrome. It is the inflammation of the lungs prohibiting the exchange of gases. Dr. Taylor is very sick…and just recently, the doctors have not seen any brain activity within the last two weeks. She is currently in the ICU at Greenville Hospital System. This highly intelligent woman probably will not return to the walls of Clemson to do what she loved so much…to teach. Dr. Taylor was and is my teacher…she inspired and challenged me to teach on the collegiate level and I have not looked back since.

Just a few months ago, she was taking part in her everyday life…inspiring her students…inspiring future teachers. I am not sure what will come of her and her illness. I am not sure if she will recover? I am not sure if we will recover. She has been a staple in the Clemson community for so many years. She is a thought leader…and I am thankful that she inspired me to think…beyond!

If you would like to read more about Dr. Taylor and her condition, click here for her CaringBridge site.

Is it Social or is it Hybrid…Entrepreneurship that is?

So I have been doing some research looking for companies and individuals engaging in this new trend of Hybrid Entrepreneurship. Yes…those who want to solve a social problem as major initiative, yet they do not want to be a non-profit. They want to generate profits and create a sustainable change, social progress. I found this student in New York City with similar thoughts.

Yes…we feel ya my friend. This is a conversational trend, Bloomberg Businessweek wrote about this trending topic in 2009…the idea of turning a profit solving a social problems. Here is a story about the Greystone Foundation…click here to read and watch. Are they Hybrid? It sure did lead to an interesting class discussion in my ELE 499 class at Clemson.

So what has brought about this trend…this need for sustainable change. With the trends of “going green” to “sustainability,” organizations are realizing that the world of running “not for profit” business models is not a one-size fits all. Back in 2004, some were still calling it Social Entrepreneurship. Click here to listen to Randy Komisar and his interview from Stanford’s Entrepreneur Corner. But there are those that do not feel like it fits into that model nicely.

it don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice…

This story below was shared with me by a great friend, mentor, and tremendous entrepreneur! Thanks for sharing Leighton! I am not sure where this story came from…but it is one that should be shared so much more! I am not sure who to credit…but to the person that captured this story, here is to you!

At a Touchdown Club meeting many years ago, Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant told the following story: 
I had just been named the new head coach at Alabama and was off in my old car down in South Alabama recruiting a prospect who was supposed to have been a pretty good player, and I was having trouble finding the place.

Getting hungry, I spied an old cinderblock building with a small sign out front that simply said “Restaurant.” I pull up, go in, and every head in the place turns to stare at me. Seems I’m the only white fella in the place. But the food smelled good, so I skip a table and go up to a cement bar and sit. A big ole man in a tee shirt and cap comes over and says, “What do you need?”
I told him I needed lunch and what did they have today?

He says, “You probably won’t like it here. Today we’re having chitlins, collard greens and black-eyed peas with cornbread. I’ll bet you don’t even know what chitlins are, do you?”(small intestines of hogs prepared as food in the deep South)

I looked him square in the eye and said, “I’m from Arkansas , and I’ve probably eaten a mile of them. Sounds like I’m in the right place.”

They all smiled as he left to serve me up a big plate. When he comes back he says, “You ain’t from around here then?”

I explain I’m the new football coach up in Tuscaloosa at the University and I’m here to find whatever that boy’s name was, and he says, “Yeah I’ve heard of him, he’s supposed to be pretty good.” And he gives me directions to the school so I can meet him and his coach.

As I’m paying up to leave, I remember my manners and leave a tip, not too big to be flashy, but a good one, and he told me lunch was on him, but I told him for a lunch that good, I felt I should pay. The big man asked me if I had a photograph or something he could hang up to show I’d been there. I was so new that I didn’t have any yet. It really wasn’t that big a thing back then to be asked for, but I took a napkin and wrote his name and address on it and told him I’d get him one.

I met the kid I was looking for later that afternoon and I don’t remember his name, but do remember I didn’t think much of him when I met him.
I had wasted a day, or so I thought. When I got back to Tuscaloosa late that night, I took that napkin from my shirt pocket and put it under my keys so I wouldn’t forget it. Back then I was excited that anybody would want a picture of me.  The next day we found a picture and I wrote on it, “Thanks for the best lunch I’ve ever had.”
Now let’s go a whole buncha years down the road. Now we have black players at Alabama and I’m back down in that part of the country scouting an offensive lineman we sure needed.  Y’all remember, (and I forget the name, but it’s not important to the story), well anyway, he’s got two friends going to Auburn and he tells me he’s got his heart set on Auburn too, so I leave empty handed and go on to see some others while I’m down there.

Two days later, I’m in my office in Tuscaloosa and the phone rings and it’s this kid who just turned me down, and he says, “Coach, do you still want me at Alabama ?”

And I said, “Yes I sure do.” And he says OK, he’ll come.
And I say, “Well son, what changed your mind?”

And he said, “When my grandpa found out that I had a chance to play for you and said no, he pitched a fit and told me I wasn’t going nowhere but Alabama, and wasn’t playing for nobody but you. He thinks a lot of you and has ever since y’all met.”

Well, I didn’t know his granddad from Adam’s housecat so I asked him who his granddaddy was and he said, “You probably don’t remember him, but you ate in his restaurant your first year at Alabama and you sent him a picture that he’s had hung in that place ever since. That picture’s his pride and joy and he still tells everybody about the day that Bear Bryant came in and had chitlins with him…”
“My grandpa said that when you left there, he never expected you to remember him or to send him that picture, but you kept your word to him and to Grandpa, that’s everything. He said you could teach me more than football and I had to play for a man like you, so I guess I’m going to.”

I was floored. But I learned that the lessons my mama taught me were always right. It don’t cost nuthin’ to be nice. It don’t cost nuthin’ to do the right thing most of the time, and it costs a lot to lose your good name by breaking your word to someone.

When I went back to sign that boy, I looked up his Grandpa and he’s still running that place, but it looks a lot better now. And he didn’t have chitlins that day, but he had some ribs that would make Dreamland proud.  I made sure I posed for a lot of pictures; and don’t think I didn’t leave some new ones for him, too, along with a signed football.

I made it clear to all my assistants to keep this story and these lessons in mind when they’re out on the road. If you remember anything else from me, remember this. It really doesn’t cost anything to be nice, and the rewards can be unimaginable.

Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant

Editor’s Note: Coach Bryant was in the presence of those few gentlemen for only minutes, and he defined himself for life. Regardless of our profession, we do define ourselves by how we treat others, and how we behave in the presence of others, and most of the time, we have only minutes or seconds to leave a lasting impression. We can be rude, crude, arrogant, cantankerous, or we can be nice.
Nice is always a better choice.