One Great Idea

small_4728884645All you need is one great idea.

Well, maybe that’s not ALL you need. You need to be able to execute on that idea. And, you need a network of resources and supporters to help you along the way.

But, if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, it starts with a great idea. A way to meet an unaddressed need. A product nobody’s produced yet. A role as a new intermediary.

And you don’t have to be a fountain of dozens of business ideas. You just need one.

An idea + courage + a great network is a wonderful formula for success.

What’s your idea?

photo credit: diegodiazphotography via photopin cc

A Creative Visual Resume

In response to this recent blog post, a friend forwarded me a copy of a resume he recently worked up (and, yes, it helped him get a new position!) – I thought it was quite creative and visually appealing, so I’m sharing it with you.

Identifying information about specific companies has been greyed out, but underneath the grey boxes are corporate logos. It was a nice touch.

My friend used wordle.net to generate the word cloud, and Google docs to create graphs and charts. Nice and simple.

Click to biggify—->

(Page 1 of the resume has a nice pic of the candidate with contact info and the word cloud; page 2 has the other info. I’ve joined the elements into one graphic).

So, what do you think of this approach? Would you use it, as a job candidate? Would it get your attention, as a hiring manager? Also – if you’ve seen other examples on-line of creative resumes, please add links to them in the comments!

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Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Discovering Your Professional DNA

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What’s Up With Kony 2012?

One of my kids came to me all worked up about the rapidly-going-viral, must-see video Kony 2012 (here’s the link on YouTube. Warning: half-hour length).

In short, this video is part of an orchestrated campaign to bring an unsavory African guerrilla leader (Joseph Kony) to justice. He is the one you may have heard about that kidnaps children and turns them into his soldiers. His track record as a scourge on the earth is well-established, but according to Invisible Children (the organization who made the video), he is not nearly well-known enough. The campaign aims to fix that.

I almost never watch 30-minute on-line videos, but I did see this one through. It is well-made, with solid production values, a well-constructed story-line, emotional appeal, and a big dose of aspirational involvement – viewers are urged to become part of something big, something ground-level. My guess is that it’s going to work as an attention-generating campaign.

So – is there a downside?

I’m not sure yet. Who could be against capturing Joseph Kony? Sounds like a noble cause – but the storyline of the video seems just a bit slick, the hype level a bit over the top. My vague unease about the whole thing finds some reinforcement in a few scattered Internet postings about the organization (go ahead and Google it), and with this level of exposure, I’m sure that the goals, and practices, and people behind Invisible Children will be much more intensively vetted in the coming days. There will be fact-checking. I hope that they won’t be found to be (mere) attention-grabbing mercenaries of media promotion. I don’t want to be cynical, but I’ve been around the block a few times. Where there’s fund-raising, there’s always potential danger lurking. And sometimes, when we jump very quickly on a convincing-sounding bandwagon, we later realize that a bit more prudence was advisable.

The little blond son (Gavin – see picture above) of the filmmaker makes the production, by the way. Very cute, and very effective.

As far as effective media production and promotion – give these guys a high grade. Another high grade for a creative campaign concept. As far as what we’ll see in the full light of day as more information comes out – here’s hoping.

And it’s doubtful that anyone will mourn if Joseph Kony is actually captured!

Update: The Invisible Children folks respond to a number of the criticisms/questions that have arisen.

Update: The campaign is now making news in traditional media outlets, like the NY Times.

Update: My friend Amy Fitch touches on one aspect of this phenomenon that has been quite remarkable – how many of us learned of this video from our kids.

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Legacy Stuff

Look around you. Everything you see is there for a reason.

A past reason.

All the products, processes, methods, structures, and systems were created to meet needs.

Legacy needs.

Do not assume that what you see right now can truly meet present, let alone future needs. It’s all legacy stuff. Some of it is still relevant, and will remain so.

But a lot of it is status quo without a genuine purpose.

Don’t waste your team trying to conform to, or catch up with, obsolescence. Instead, ask what needs to be created NOW.

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Publishing Perma-links: Steal This Idea

Lately, I’m reading more books that use hyperlinks as references.

It’s ugly.

(from Guy Kawasaki‘s new book, Enchantment)

But I can understand why authors choose to do this, instead of using URL-shortening services like bit.ly and tinyurl. These services may be transitory and unreliable, while books are meant to be more permanent archives of knowledge.

Here’s the problem: links are transitory, too.

So, is there a business opportunity to solve this problem? I think so. Please feel free to steal this idea if you agree:

Someone should launch a combined URL-shortening service and cloud-based archiving mechanism (similar to the wayback machine) that will take and store a snapshot of the referenced page in an archive, as well as have a pointer to the URL in its current state (which may be either the same, or with altered content, or a 404 Page Not Found).

This way, we can have nicer and more compact perma-link URL pointers in print materials (it would work for on-line content too, actually) which will have a permanent record. Tie it also to a generated QR code (used creatively in The Now Revolution by Jay Baer & Amber Naslund) for the archived link and you’ve got a real winner.

Call the service book.it or something like that.

I could easy see a 2-tier free (personal) and paid (professional) version of this, so it could be used by individual researchers, students, and the like. Every publishing house would be on the professional version, and each book released would have links formatted something like this:

http://www.book.it/nowrev/1-1 (The Now Revolution, chapter 1, first link)

I don’t have time or expertise to create this. So do us all a favor – steal this idea. Just put a perma-link back to this post when you’re done, for the first test case!

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When it Doesn’t Just Work

We came back home after a few days away to a rather amusing note from the gal who house-sat out home (and dog) while we visited family over the holidays.

She noted a few “issues” with our digitally-controlled stuff, summarized thusly:

  1. The radio in the kitchen does not work like a radio,
  2. The TV in the family room does not work like a TV,
  3. The TV in the master bedroom does not work like a TV,
  4. The atomic-interfaced alarm clock is now into 2017.

Anyone who, like us, has more modern digital video/sound systems knows the problem with the proliferation of remote controls and the occasional complexity of doing simple tasks, like, say, turning the thing on and changing channels. What if the prior input was for the Tivo, and now I want to watch a broadcast channel, or a DVD, or skate on over to Netflix-on-demand? Eventually, you get used to which buttons to press and in what order, but when someone else comes into the house, you now have…utter confusion.

Back in the day, when you walked into someone else’s house, every TV pretty much worked the same. And radios had on-off buttons and simple station selectors. It wasn’t HD, but it was simple. It worked.

We’ve come a long way in making great technology. I was reflecting with Joe Cascio over coffee a few days back how we old-timers were trained, by Microsoft primarily, to expect disaster and hardship and trouble with every new version, every peripheral, every update (the “Microsoft Flinch”). I still get angst-y whenever I install something or bring up a new device – except now, stuff mostly just works (OK, so I am now mostly working with Apple products, but the PC stuff is WAY better as well!)

But we’re not there yet. When a house-sitter can’t even get a TV to work, we have a user-interface problem. When I STILL need my kids to occasionally remind me that I have to press button Q on remote #3 in order to actually reach the proper menu to do X, this is not good design. We’ve crossed the threshold of easy on a lot of products and systems, but we still have a ways to go to make everything just work. I guess that’ll keep some of our talented people permanently employed!

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Blog-worthy Boothies

I enjoy creative booth giveaways. The run-of-the-mill tchotchke is typically forgettable, but sometimes, you run into something outstanding – something worthy of a blog post.

This week, at two different conferences, I picked up three. Here they are:

1. The Epocrates leather-covered notebook is simply delightful. I’d been looking for something in which I could more systematically order my written thoughts (yes, though I do now use Evernote on-line, I’m still a bit old-fashioned) – and this high-quality personal notebook is gorgeous. You don’t have to go high-tech to achieve an “enduring” remembrance – this paper-based goodie won’t get thrown away anytime soon.

2. Also from Epocrates, the Lego-ish USB memory stick. You’ve picked up three dozen memory sticks in the last few years, right? But this is just plain cute. Too cute not to share. Yes, I popped the doctor’s head off so you can see that it’s a memory stick…

3. Eagle Productivity had these pens that didn’t look all that different – until I pulled out the rolled-up sell sheet, which unrolls and retracts from the barrel. Brilliant. I won’t use it for writing. I’ll just show it off. And that’s kinda the point, isn’t it?

I have a hundred other boothies banging around that I’ll never show you. They’re not blog-worthy. But these are. It’s worth the investment to be outstanding, to be remarkable.

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It’s All Going Away

These social media tools we’re all using right now?

They’re all going to go away. Or, they will morph so much in the next 3-5 years as to be unrecognizable.

Why? Because they do bits and pieces of what we want. They’re Legos. Blocks. We’re rapidly growing up and finding we need better toys and tools.

We want to Find. Connect. Filter. Stratify. Create. Publish. Consume. Purchase. Consolidate. Aggregate. Edit. Comment. Link. Interact. Organize. Get face-to-face. Control our information.

Smart designers see this and are evolving their tools to keep doing more, and doing it better.

But we’re nowhere close to having what we need – these functions are scattered all over the place. We like the bits and the pieces, but now we need them assembled together in smarter ways. There are undoubtedly brilliant developers already working on this in stealth mode.

I, for one, can’t wait for a lot of what we have now go away. Not because it’s not great stuff. But because it’s not really built around us, and how we want to interact.

What do you want to see in the next generation of networking platforms??

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You’re in a Museum

Look around you – what do you see? The businesses, the tools, the structures, the systems, the products, the solutions….we see all this and we think, “this is what is.”

But, in fact, what is exists because of what was. All of these things were created to address past problems, prior issues, old needs.

You’re in a museum.

In fact, when you look turn and gaze at all that surrounds you, what you see is not some fixed series of boundaries set in stone – not unless you let it be so. What you see are the best attempts to deal with the past.

Of course, many structures are put in place to address enduring needs, and cannot be cast overboard entirely as so much ballast. But even those often need improvement or adjustment.

You don’t have to fit into other people’s corporate structures, expected roles, and hand-me-down expectations. You may choose to, for a season – but why decide to set down your roots within those walls when you can invest in present and future needs?

Yes, it’s comfortable to conform to a niche that was built by someone else, for some other reason, at some other time.

But museums are dusty places that seek to preserve the past. Here are several questions – think of them as new contact lenses – to get you thinking in different directions:

    1. What is actually not working?
    2. What is missing and should be created?
    3. How could this be better?
    5. What do I want to leave behind as a legacy?
    6. How can ideal become real?
    7. What would I REALLY want to make happen if there were no limits?
    8. Why? And, while we’re at it – why not?

In other words – question the status quo. You don’t exist to support it, and certainly your purpose isn’t merely to perpetuate it. Learn from the past, keep what is sound – but beyond the front door of the museum is where your creative juices will flow. Relics are inside. Opportunities are outside.

Things are the way they are for a reason, but some of those reasons are bad, some are in need of adjustment, and some are well past their expiration date. Just because you grew up with video rental stores on every other street corner, doesn’t mean you should be buying into a franchise peddling VCR tapes.

It’s much scarier fun plowing in new fields, and much more rewarding making the pie bigger!

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The 90-Minute e-book

This was one of those mornings where I issued myself a weird creative challenge.

“Take the primary business lessons you’ve learned and turn them into a brief e-book. You have 90 minutes.”

Ninety minutes to distill years of experience and thought.

As you might expect, it’s rough around the edges. But hopefully these seven lessons learned (painfully) may be guideposts to spare you some wasted effort and professional discouragement.

Or not. You’ve undoubtedly learned a few nuggets along the way – what would you add?

It’ll only take you a few minutes to read. Maybe a bit longer to digest and apply!

Seven Profound Business Lessons (that you want to know sooner rather than later!)

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Is This the Future of Knowledge-Sharing?

I love books.

I also enjoy magazines and newspapers. But we’ve all known for quite some time that the publishing world is changing rapidly, and a lot of our knowledge-sharing would be digital.

Despite that, I have not invested in a Kindle or iPad, nor am I reading books on my iPhone, because the idea of a simple porting of text to (smallish) screens isn’t compelling enough for me (yet).

Maybe that will change. For a long time, I’ve had the notion that the whole way we go about publishing “books” (static bodies of content that are obsolete the moment they’re published in a rapidly-changing world) needs to undergo a revolution.

We need to have multimedia, mobile, update-able knowledge-sharing. Perhaps even subscribe to people and knowledge-sharing projects over time (“progressive publishing“), not just buy a “book.”

Seth Godin wrote this post today. I promptly downloaded the Ideavirus iPhone app (worth the 99 cents just to evaluate!) because perhaps this is starting to approach the new way of knowledge-sharing. Video tied to abbreviated text. Potentially update-able. Looking ahead, all sorts of on-line community-building bolt-ons could be integrated.

I think we’re getting there. I’d urge you to invest the 99 cents and think about the possibilities. Because this looks to me like just a first-inning single, with plenty of power hitters in the on-deck circle….

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Telling the Company Story

I’m going to tell you a story about a company telling its story. It’s…well, quite a story about networking, serendipity, and marketing!

This spring, while attending the MarketingProfs B2B Forum, I had the good fortune of sitting next to a pleasant young lady with whom I quickly found two things in common: 1) she was working at a company in central CT, only a few miles from where I grew up; 2) this company provided supplies to the radiation oncology community, a field in which I had a 10-year history in a prior professional role.

Beekley2Mary told me about this box of historical “stuff” that she had inherited, which contained a lot of archival material from the company’s multi-decade past. We talked about ways to tell the company story, and how those materials could be used. And life went on…

Fast forward to last week, just before I was scheduled to leave for Connecticut, for a quick visit with Mom before gathering together with my brothers for a New Hampshire adventure. Out of the blue, I get an e-mail from Mary Lang of Beekley Corporation, Bristol, CT – she had seen my recent post about how Ben & Jerry’s told their story on the HQ walls. Well, now the story-telling panels were done in Beekley’s new offices, and would I like to come by “some day” and see the end result?

I love the serendipity of social networking. I had a couple hours open after a lunch in western CT – how about TODAY, Mary – like, say, 2:00pm??

So I included Bristol on my drive up. And I was not disappointed.

Beekley1Not only was the series of panels (mounted on walls throughout the office) extremely attractive and well-designed, but they had a great story to tell. The story of a company that had a distinctive culture right from the get-go, with a strong focus on employee development and excellence in execution. This culture could be seen through the statements, news clippings, and historical documents that now “told the story” to every employee in the office. And the culture could be palpably felt in interactions with Beekley employees.

A consistent graphical design was woven throughout all the various pieces and panels, and the business philosophy of the founding family was also a common thread. Maybe a lot of people throughout the business world have never heard of Beekley (the company or its founders/leaders). But now visitors and employees certainly get an eyeful!

Beekley4This was a company that had evolved over time, starting with a printing business and moving, as customer needs manifested themselves, into medical supplies and other areas. However, with each change in direction, the company distinctives remained.

Beekley believes in exceeding expectations, in having the right people on the bus and developing them (10-15% of employee time is spend on professional development), and in creating an environment that is pleasant, professional, and supportive. Right down to the design of maximum window space to contribute to a cheerful feel in the office.

Beekley3

I walked out of there impressed by the internal marketing storytelling, but even more by the story itself. A little company, doing its thing in its niche, practicing excellence and growing steadily, hiring smart and telling its story.

May such companies increase in numbers and influence!

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Crop Circles

Everyone wants impressive, attention-getting ads – something to rivet eyeballs and cut through the clutter of sensory overload.

Just be careful there’s more to it than just making a striking impression of some sort.

Crop circles get people’s attention. But when they come across them, here’s what they’re left with:

crops- What IS this?

- Why is it here?

- Who is responsible?

- Crops? What crops?

If people are asking those questions at the end of even a “great” ad, then you’ve just plowed under a lot of money. Creativity isn’t necessarily the same as effectiveness. Because you’re there to provide crops, not run rings around your audience…

(Image credit)

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The Power of Inertia

purplecowI wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that businesses should strive to be remarkable – we should strive to be, in the classic words of Seth Godin, a Purple Cow in the midst of a herd of sameness.

But many companies drift along with some level of success even though, perhaps, they aren’t all that remarkable. Why?

One reason is the power of inertia. That is, we’ll often stick with a brand or company or service provider because they haven’t done anything bad enough to lose our business.

I am driving my third Mazda. My first, an older 323, was a pretty good car. Later, I bought a Mazda 626, which I had for a good number of years – and I was pretty pleased with it. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was perfectly adequate and reliable. And when it was time to get a new car for my business a couple years back, the winner was…a Mazda6.

I’d gotten used to the Mazda. I liked it. It was perfectly OK.

Surely there were other cars that would have been perfectly OK as well. But, you see, they were unknowns to me. I had a baseline level of trust in Mazda, and inertia argued that there was no compelling reason to change.

For the same reason, I’ve had a string of Dell computers. Again, none of them give me the same pride of ownership as when I whip out my iPhone, but they have worked reliably for me. Why change? (well, actually, I do plan to convert the family computer to a Mac – but that’s because of a desire for a whole new platform, not because of dissatisfaction with Dell).

Inertia. If it’s been OK, or pretty good, or really good in the past, it helps ease us into giving repeat business.

I would hope that no company will strive to live off of this reality. “Our mission – to be quite adequate!” But perhaps it explains why so many companies survive and even thrive (for a season) in the marketplace. Bleeding edge folks tend to be more daring in their purchases of the latest and greatest, less focused on straight-on reliability and adequacy. But there is a vast pool of consumers that buy on inertia. If you’re not going to be a purple cow, at least be a really good black and white one. But I still think you should strive to be purple.

What do you think? Can black & white cows still make it in the marketplace? And, how does inertia shape some of your decisions?

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Two Successful Calls to Action

tacoversmallToday, I did two things that I’d been putting off. However, good marketing – effective calls to action – put me over the edge in each case.

I’ve been intrigued by the new book just released by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith called “Trust Agents” – I figured, in the murky intentions of my mind, that I would buy it eventually. But then Chris put out this blog post, and it was the motivation I needed to finally take action. Why? Because it was Chris, and it was important to him, and I knew I wanted that book anyway (plus, it gave the the ‘Amazon Free Shipping’ excuse to make the long-overdue purchase of a David Meerman Scott book I’d been putting off). If you want to order a copy, here’s the place to go.

PastDueI also made a LONG-overdue visit to the dentist, where I endured gentle ribbing for my neglect of office-visit dental hygiene. Now I have very good teeth, and in fact there were no cavities (though a thorough cleaning was definitely in order) – but what motivated me to take action was the little personalization on the reminder postcard. I was successfully able to deflect all the other ones over the years, but his one both amused and shamed me, as it was intended to, so I finally made the appointment.

Which makes me wonder – what little tactics do you employ (or should you try!) to get people over the edge, and give them a reason to do what they know they ought/want to do? What are the most effective calls to action you’ve seen? Please share in the comments!

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Truckvertising

Almost exactly a year ago, I asked the question on this blog why trucks aren’t used more for advertising. All that empty space, those rolling billboards capturing countless eyeballs…seems like a no-brainer.

truckbboardsmYesterday, while enjoying dinner with my extended family in a bayside restaurant, I saw one way a company is doing this – NJMobileMedia.com has this truck driving around with (scrolling) billboards on both sides and the back. I’m not convinced that the truck carried anything but the ads, but they clearly got people’s attention, if only for the novelty factor.

Since this is not an Al Gore-approved blog, I won’t bring up any issues about the carbon footprint of mobile advertising (Al’s Gulfstream flights and palatial mansion have a much larger carbon footprint than this truck, I imagine), but I do think that certain platforms – like trucks – are quite underutilized. What other “vehicles” can you think of where advertising could be carried that would be both engaging and non-intrusive?

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Creativity Reawakened

I used to take a lot of pictures.

When I was single, and in the days of marriage before kids, my camera (a 35mm SLR for those old enough to remember pre-digital days!) was a regular companion. I delighted in nature photography, often using slide film (farewell, Kodachrome!). Did some experimentation with black-and-white, and some macro stuff. It was a hobby, a creative outlet, and what developed was “the eye” – I’d always walk around thinking about how some scene would be composed as a photograph. I’d look for pictures.

All that changed once the realities of career and children set in.

Sure, I would now take pictures of the kids, and, on trips away, the creative urge might re-awaken. But by-and-large, the impulse to see and create photographs was submerged. I missed the outlet, but I was immersed in other, demanding priorities.

My cameras mostly languished, little-used, as the creative drive was temporarily replaced by functional picture-taking. And my ventures into video ended up the same way – it was a lot of work to bring equipment, set it up, download and edit, etc., and usage was mainly functional.

When digital photography came on the scene, the remarkable immediacy and ease of use help bring about a brief re-awakening. I remember well the day after the birth of our last son over 7 years ago, when a glorious morning led to a flurry of lovely pictures in the scenic lakeside area that is between our house and the hospital. Nonetheless, the demands of life kept the creative fires burning low, and the quality of digital cameras still had a ways to go – especially as cell phones began to make picture-taking and sharing drop-dead simple.

Fast forward to spring 2008. A first generation iPhone in hand, I began to fall back in love with taking pictures. It was all-in-one, it was convenient and sharable, it had crossed the threshold of easy. Most of my pictures we were more on the level of friends-and-family, however – quick shots to share. Because the quality was good but not exceptional, and there was no ability to focus. The camera did not inspire an artistic and creative sensibility.

PurpleFleur smAll of that changed with the new iPhone 3GS.

For all of the many new and improved capabilities in the device, the most surprising effect, for me, has been a burst of photographic creativity. The camera is now higher quality, and allows focusing and close-up shots in an astonishingly simple interface. It now allows video capture, again with great simplicity and pretty good quality. And best of all, I now suddenly find myself walking around with “the eye” engaged, not on rare occasion, but every day and everywhere. Because I can compose quality pictures (and video) using an always-ready device, edit and share with ease and immediacy, and now I’m back to viewing the world the way I used to when I was a young buck with his Nikon.

I’m seeing pictures again. Eye and mind and heart are re-awakening to the world around me, which can be captured and viewed with a creative impulse unhindered by preparation and process. I get up in the morning, and often wander out in the yard, iPhone in hand, wondering again at dewdrops and flower buds, at shapes and sun and shadow. It’s not just an increase in technical capabilities. It’s a boost in happiness.

I knew I was getting a better iPhone. But I didn’t anticipate getting back something very important that had gone drowsy. A reawakening of creativity.

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