Having the strength and vision to pivot

A Little Coffee at Figs in Anderson, SC

I was sitting in Figs Coffee Shop downtown Anderson and met someone that knew my grandfather. Well…I guess many people in Anderson knew my grandfather. I knew him as Pop.

He was a real estate man and probably sold almost every house in this city. He spent majority of his life serving this town.

Our conversation this morning made me think about my Pop, especially when he pivoted his business. Some may ask…how do you pivot your business in residential real estate. Well…he did and I think it paid off.

In the 1980’s…there was a huge slump in real estate. Similar to what we have experienced these last few years. No one was buying and for businessmen like my Pop…you had to work *hard* for every dollar…harder and harder.

My Pop found himself in the corporate relocation business. He would help large companies like Michelin, Fugi, and other large companies buy and sell homes when they moved talent in and out of the Anderson area.

He had to innovate…he had to pivot…he had to find new ways to generate revenue while doing the thing he loved the most. He loved selling homes, but most of all…he loved helping people.

Pivoting is an interesting topic. One that I found myself teaching last year in the Clemson MBAe program. I was really teaching digital communications and marketing. But what I was really teaching…how to communicate your brand message.

Those MBAe students were creating their businesses and some where writing plans; many learning that the plans they were writing were not feasible business ideas. They had to pivot, alter their course but learn to stay true to their underlying goals and vision.

How do we pivot. Well…I do not think I have the best answer. But what I know…if you have a business that is successful yet beginning to realize the feasibility of the business model is altering…you have to be prepared to do a few things.

1) Either jump out like Seth Godin says in his book called The Dip. Execute the exit strategy.
2) Pivot – alter your course. But, you have to know your vision and be willing to alter the course in-order to stay true to your vision.

My Pop had to pivot. He did and it paid off.

I still think about him almost everyday. I would love to sit with him downtown Anderson and talk business. I would love to talk about his vision and where he sees business is growing here in Anderson, SC.

The Clemson Ring, The Bataan Death March, & Col. Ben Skardon

Col. Ben Skardon - Class of 1938

There are days when you are not sure what is going to cross your path…but then there are days when think you are prepared for a good story. Today was a combination of both…one of anticipation yet one of amazement.

I just finished a project telling the story of one Clemson’s most precious graduates, one who has experienced so much, and one that has so much to share. Col. Ben Skardon is that man, class of 1938 and served in World War II. Not only did he serve, but he was a prisoner of war where he did something that seemed so insignificant but has left a tremendous legacy.

As a prisoner of war, he took part in the Bataan Death March:

“Which began on April 9, 1942, was the forcible transfer by the Imperial Japanese Army of 60-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II. All told, approximately 2,500–10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died before they could reach Camp O’Donnell.”

“The 80 mi march was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder, and resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon prisoners and civilians alike by the Japanese Army, and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.”

But what makes this story so fascinating  is that his Clemson Ring was the one thing that helped saved his life. He used that ring while a prisoner of war to “buy” food in order to survive. He traded it for rice, the nourishment necessary to stay alive.

The only thing he has left from that experience was the spoon he used to scrape food together, his dog tags, what was called a “chop” that was used as currency, and the identification card that was made after he was released.

I am have embarked on a project to tell his story and finally I can share…one that I will remember for a lifetime. A few years ago, I sat down with him to capture the first part of his story, here is the completed project…in his own words.

*Reference information from Wikipedia.

Our students are following that passion…

It was just the other day…I received another note in the mail from one of my students. I love it. They always let me know how they are doing, where they are going, and the dreams they are chasing.

There is this massive debate…how can we take South Carolina’s educational system and turbo charge it, innovate, and move ahead of the pack.

I think it is pretty simple…quit teaching and start inspiring. Move away from the regurgitative learning process and aim towards engaging conversation. If we want to create change, build a brighter South Carolina…why not inspire students to do more than just be students.

Institutional learning has it’s place…but there is a new student emerging in South Carolina. More and more students I work with in higher education…the more I realize there is an underlying need to take part in social justice. These students want to be a part of the solution…they want to create not only “their” tomorrow but also solve age old problems.

It seems so simple…but this is so hard to execute. Why, we have to change the way we think, we teach, create curriculums, the way we grade, the way we prepare these students for industry, and on and on. But what do we have to lose…nothing!

We have so much to learn from this new class of students…we should take off our teacher hat and put on our student hat. We should start learning from those who are inspired to learn. That is why I am sharing the video above…I learned so much from Riley Csernica.

Riley had a few dreams:
1) 3 degrees by the age of 23
2) Start a business in South Carolina

We educators, business people, legislators have a lot to learn from the Riley’s of the world. We better get out our note pads, take some notes, because her class of innovators will be leading us into the next century.

Here is a story from the GSA Business concerning the first MBAe Class at Clemson. Riley was one of those students and I had the tremendous pleasure working with…each of them were extremely special!


From GSA Business
Clemson students recently finished competing for $40,000 in seed funding to launch their businesses.

First place: Brenda Morris-Wilson’s received $20,000 for her company to continue developing a clothing line for baby boomers residing in assisted living and nursing home facilities.
Second place: Riley Csernica of Tarian Orthotics received $6,000 to further commercialization of a more mobile and functional brace for those with shoulder dislocations.
Third place: Team Dabble, comprised of Carlisle Kennedy, Brendan Lopes and Josh Lopes, earned $4,000 to help expand the team’s mobile application from Clemson to other universities across the Southeast. The app aims to connect college students through events.

The students had to apply to the MBA program with a business concept in mind. The yearlong program aims to equip them with the resources needed to launch their concept. The students will graduate in August.

“The goal is to help these young people launch a successful business,” said Gregory Pickett, the director of Clemson’s new MBA program. “Each student comes into the program with an idea that gets them started. Throughout the year, they evaluate that idea and refine it, or pivot from it.”

Students learn from business people, both in and out of the classroom, about software and app development, intellectual property laws and financing, for example.

Students also work to secure capital and build on their business plans. They put the MBA concepts into practice, getting a head start on their startups while earning their degree.


Sustainability of the #Hashtag – Who Is Making Fun Now?

It is here…it works…and it is not going anywhere. I just received my latest edition of Fast Company magazine and I was reminded why this community technology is continually transforming the way we converse.

Even this article #UNPLUG surrounds the conversation of turning off electronics so we can “power back up.” An oxymoron that is using the hashtag technology to connect people and conversations meant to fuel the need to disconnect digitally. The irony…using hashtags to fuel conversations about disconnecting from the mere technology fuels connectivity.

That is my point…the hashtag platform is beyond flexible…it is now integrated across multiple social technologies.

It was Spring 2011 and I was meeting with one of my clients as we were planning a series community events. A part of the strategy to aggregate and engage conversation, I recommended using a branded hashtag to engage regular Twitter chats.

I remember sitting across the room from another vendor who was coordinating this event. Their statement…no one uses hashtags and it will not work. They actually made small chat with comments under there breathe making fun of the idea. Then…they looked at me and asked about my contract with the client. I guess they had not been watching all the #TEDxGVL events. This Greenville community was engaging in conversations during these TEDx events…chatting from the event on Twitter along with those watching from the live stream.

That same year…that same month in 2011…regular chats from health care to blogging were powered by Hashtags connecting millions of people. From #BlogChat, #HealthCareChat, and even Major League Baseball’s #postseason chat…people were connecting, engaging, and sharing conversations.

Now...Google Plus is using Hashtags as a way to connect and engage conversations. Have you used Google Plus lately…well, I have and it is amazing the difference a few years has allowed this community platform to grow and innovate powerful conversations.

Take a look at Facebook’s announcement integrating hashtags into status updates, creating conversation portals.

Hashtracking.com has now moved out of beta and provides a powerful tool for monitoring and measuring the conversations during and after hashtag chats and conversations. They are placing metrics on the number of tweets, engagement, reach, most influential, and more.

I look at the hashtag as another technology connection people and providing a platform to record the documentary of the community conversation. We can now watch conversations evolve; see videos, pictures, and links shared based on a time stamp.

I wish I was back in that meeting from 2011…I would love to give the group of naysayers a simple lesson: don’t make fun of what you don’t understand.

Remembering Ruth Bell Graham…I love her words!

I remember working on this project over seven years ago…before Mrs. Ruth Bell Graham passed away. I never had a chance to meet her, but had the pleasure working on a series of projects to tell her story.

I liked this little video we put together over seven years ago. We found an old video tape where she was telling her story. We took her words and put it to pictures. It is short because it was meant for a small part of television show sharing Billy Graham’s legacy.

She died six years ago this past Friday, so I thought I would pull it out and watch again.

I love her words.

we need storytellers…photojournalists…

I just received the latest edition of News Photographer Magazine in the mail. It is the May 2013 edition. I have subscribed to this publication probably since 1998, my early days as a news photographer at WSPA-TV.

I opened…flipped the pages…and I was overtaken by the powerful images captured in the month of May. The Boston Bombing, The George W. Bush Library Dedication, and even some images from the last year including a funeral from the Aurora movie shooting…powerful stuff.

I have no words to describe the images, the feelings, the emotion behind these images as they take us back…remind us. That is my point…these images reveal the unspoken language from these memories that we all sat back and watched.

These images were taken by experienced storytellers, photojournalists who risked so much to capture these images.

We see groups like the Chicago Sun Times fire their whole photography staff. I am not sure the motives behind this business move…but the numbers do not add up. This is a common trend in the industry. One of the main reasons why I am self-employeed…we photojournalists have a unique skill set that does not fit inside any job decription. We pay the bills with our passion to capture a story…the story as we view it…through our lens.

Michael Borland, President of NPPA, wrote in this edition his message titled “NPPA By The Numbers.” A few of these numbers stood out.

There membership is down roughly 3500 people resulting in a revenue short fall of about $374K. Is this because more and more news organizations are reducing photo staffs and those loosing jobs are not re-engaging in the organization in a post-news profession. I wonder what the percentage of these numbers are independent/self-employeed individuals like myself?

Am I a news photojournalist…no. But the organization I have been associated since 1998 is one of the few that provide the guiding principles for the way I run the creative side of my business.

Photojournalists bring life to our magazines, television, iPads, iPhones, video screens, and movie screens. We capture the slice of life that many forget to capture…those moments in time that help us remember. These images create change, provide a voice, give context, help us make decisions, and create a platform for public servants to advocate.

So let me ask you…the next time you are funding a project, do you want just a picture, just a video, just an image? Or do you want a story. Do you want an moment in time captured so when it is time to sell/adovocate with your next pr/marketing campaign…your audience connects, engages, and sees the story through “your” eyes.

Time to start investing…in the forgotten South Carolina

We have a chance as businesses, entrepreneurs, health care leaders…to continue to push! Push the needle. There are so many faces across this state from the uninsured to the those who are looking for jobs. The working poor…those workers that we depend on…we have to find more ways to invest in their future.

We as business owners, advocates, citizens…it is our state and all of us are citizens of this place we call home.

Thanks to Doug Pardue and Chris Hanclosky of the Post & Courier for taking on this production and bringing this message to us!

life, business, entrepreneurship…give me those 2 outs…

my life…my journey…my approach has been surrounded by what people said i could not do. from the earliest days as a child…i was so shy. i was so scared…timid…worried what people would perceive.

i remember being that kid in high school that was that kid who did everyone’s algebra homework. i was more of a creative kid, taking private art lessons and going to one of the first summer governor’s school programs.

when i found myself in the middle of college athletics working my way through school…i learned about fighting for everything. i learned about determination and the will to succeed.

it was the summer of my sophomore year and i was about to fail out of school. yes…my grades sucked. my parents were getting a divorce and life had no focus. i had people telling me that i was not going to graduate from college. it was that day…i grew a backbone. i gave them the middle finger and proved them wrong.

i got my act together and with the help of clemson athletics, i got back on a great academic path, earned my degree, and found my first job.

i remember getting into television because i loved technology…i also found my creative passion of telling stories. i remember starting out as video tape editor for a weekend newscast…small job, long hours and i wanted more. i was told i would not get to the big markets.

i worked my way up into the photojournalism staff and landed a job at one the best photojournalism stations in the country…KPHO-TV in phoenix. i gave those nay sayers the middle finger.

off i went to the wild west to prove to myself and others…life is full of opportunities.

i remember being told i would not win a lot of awards…i would always be subpar in my profession. i just love proving people wrong. one year i walked away with some of the most awards in my region. i had to buy a large suitcase to fly home with all of those shinny statues. i gave the nay sayers the middle finger.

i remember being told i would not go to graduate school…mainly because of my lack of focus during my undergraduate years. i earned my masters in one of the toughest programs in the country…one that has changed my professional life. once again…i gave the nay sayers the middle finger.

i was told i would not own my own business or work for myself…i would fail. i did…and i failed and i succeeded and i failed. but….i have found my niche…getting back to my roots and telling stories. i am following my passion and getting paid for it! and again…i gave the nay sayers the middle finger.

i do not know Warren Morris…but here he is with the weight of his program on his shoulders. i am sure many were saying, screaming into the television screen…he is going to strike out.

from nola.com
“Morris’ story deviates, just slightly, from the popular fantasy in one crucial aspect. While children around the country may typically hit their fictional winning homers with a 3-2 count, Morris crushed the first pitch he saw.”

“All I was thinking is, ‘I’m going to go into this aggressive,’ which is probably why I hit the first pitch,” he said. “More than anything it was good for me that is was the first pitch, because I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it.”

it was 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th…

“Morris didn’t have much time to react to the pitch. His coach, teammates and the thousands in attendance weren’t given much notice that the game had ended. As Morris caught it low in the strike zone, the ball took a fast, low-flying trajectory toward the right field stands of Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium before disappearing just a few feet into the crowd.”

2 outs…first pitch…history was made…national champions…clutch

sometimes we should approach life the same way…treat it like there are 2 out and freaking swing for the hills…prove to all those nay sayers and give them the middle finger.

life is to short to listen to the nay sayers and sometimes our own conscious…just swing away!

Storytelling is about advocacy – stretching the emotions…

If you have not laughed, cried, cussed, or just gotten plain mad…then you need to check yourself at the door. Storytelling is about believing in something…standing up and allowing the emotions, the passion of the story to dominate your ability to articulate.

To bear the burden of an emotion…the emotion of crafting a story…you must take a position. You must advocate and see the life of the prose through the eyes of the story.

It must stretch you, make you shift in your seat, keep you up at night, and help you question why you chose to explain this reality.

When we craft…we share…we share something inside that is dying to escape.

We advocate…because we believe the words we write, the images we capture, the sounds we produce…they will help those feel the inner advocate we strive to share.

When we find, craft, and tell stories…we are advocates for a theme that needs an audience.

It needs to make those who receive *this* message share the same reaction when you were struggling to bring voice to that very story. We want our audience to get mad, happy, cuss…shift in their seats, stay up at night…so they can continue the mission we set out to achieve…to advocate.

Good stories creates powerful advocacy…stories of sharing. That is powerful word-of-mouth. That is powerful storytelling.