No Robots, Thank You

You’ll either take responsibility, or you’ll take orders.” The Wayne Morgan quote showed up in my tweetstream Sunday morning (thanks, Susan Young), and I promptly retweeted it, because it underscores a very important truth.

RobotNo one should aspire to be an order-taker – at least, not for any longer than necessary.

As a child, you are subject to rules, order, and authority, as you learn self-control and the boundaries of civilized behavior.

As a new employee, you take orders and follow the rules, until you learn how the business world works.

As a soldier, you take orders, and you continue to respect the chain of command as you grow in judgment and wisdom.

But all along the way, you learn to take responsibility. You aspire to be more than a robot. You internalize the lessons imparted by structure, but more than that – you embrace the fact that you are accountable to create, to lead, to exert self-control, to manage the one who is your biggest lifelong challenge.

Yourself.

Factories and fast-food joints will always need to hire robots. People who can do nothing better than take orders, who cannot manage themselves responsibly and thus need to be managed.

But smart businesses will bypass order-takers. No robots, thank you. We’re after those who take responsibility, and through word-of-mouth and the ties of social networks, we can find them. No wise person should aspire to have others perpetually responsible for them. As quickly as you can, take responsibility, and soon the need to take orders will lessen.

Every parent and teacher knows that it’s a huge challenge bringing up the next generation. Let’s enrich the world we’ll leave behind with creators and initiators – heaven knows there are enough order-takers!

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A Dose of Disenchantment

A note to all of us:

You knew it couldn’t last. You always knew, right?

Whenever we get our hopes up beyond what is realistic, we set ourselves up for a fall. Nonetheless, it is human nature to get “enchanted” – to think that something or someone is going to help us transcend the flawed and crooked, and reach new heights.

Now that the bloom is off the rose, and greater awareness has brought more undesirable elements (and attitudes) into social media, it’s easy to feel a sense of disenchantment. What happened to our nice little club? Weren’t we latching onto something that would “change everything”? (actually, social networking is changing a lot of things! -just not human nature…)

midasWhether it’s a significant other who turned you head over heels at first, then turned out to be a heel later, or elected officials who promise the world but won’t keep their word, the reality of our human condition inevitably leaves the taste of disappointment in our mouths.

I’m going to say that that’s a good thing. Not that we are so messed up and selfish that we often seem to have a reverse-Midas-touch, but that we face reality. I’ve run this track long enough to conclude that there are no earthly panaceas. Or if there are, they are immensely well-hidden!

However I, like many of us, remain an idealist. I aspire to higher and better. Yet I’m forced to be a realist as well. Disenchantment (with ourselves and others) is a fact of life. It can drive us down, but it should drive us forward.

Disenchantment means that you haven’t lost your ideals. It means that you want something better. The key is to embrace the discomfort of reality while still pushing ahead. It’s not easy. But let’s allow our temporary infatuations with nirvana to pass without becoming cynical or defeated by the doses of disenchantment. When we no longer have the capacity to be disappointed, we’re truly in bad shape.

[updated 6/25]

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Five in the Morning – Finale

swbeard1Yes, it’s true. Today, after nearly 100 Five in the Morning posts (including guest posts by other bloggers), I’m bringing the series to a close.

Why? Well, mainly it’s a matter of time – there are some other priorities that now require more of my attention. Creating Five in the Morning posts, as fun and fulfilling as it is, can be quite time-consuming. Plus, there is that existential sense that “it’s time” – major goals have been met of exposing people to a variety of great bloggers and resources, and other creative ideas are striving for attention.

Of course, the StickyFigure blog will continue on, as it did before Five in the Morning, so you can expect my usual brilliant insights and world-changing ideas right here – just not daily, perhaps.

A big part of the fun of Five in the Morning has been the interaction with you, the audience, and the participation of other bloggers who have guest-hosted. We’ve enjoyed guest entries from Cam Beck, Mike Sansone, CB Whittemore, Olivier Blanchard, Tom Clifford, Connie Reece, Chris Wilson, Lisa Hoffmann, Arun Rajagopal, Amber Naslund, Mack Collier, Becky Carroll, Matt J McDonald, Ken Burbary, Beth Harte, Karen Swim, and Doug Meacham.

And while we’ve pointed to plenty of posts from “name-brand” bloggers like Seth Godin, Jason Falls, Geoff Livingston, Chris Brogan, John Jantsch, Jeremiah Owyang, Doug Karr, David Armano, Liz Strauss, Charlene Li, Ann Handley, Valeria Maltoni, Shannon Paul, and other luminaries, I hope you’ve subscribed to some of the very smart, but lesser-known lights after seeing their posts featured.

If there is to be a “legacy” to this little series, my hope is that some of you with particular areas of expertise (PR, Design, Writing, Branding, Non-profits, etc.) would become consolidators as well, pulling together great posts (maybe on a weekly basis) for your audiences. Yes, it’s work, but it’s a wonderful way to meet new people, and, done rightly, it can drive more traffic to your blog over time. I will happily link to others who pick up the torch and become info-scouts for the rest of us.

OK, so for your Friday, here’s a Fabulous Final Five. OK, Six. I never was great at math.

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Kiss the next hour good-bye. 2009 ReBrand Winners. Sweet bunch of links showing before/after. Seriously – your day of planned productivity is over. You are GND.

Using Twitter to land a job. Who doesn’t like a success story like this? With a nice passing mention of @prSarahEvans.

How do you keep customers happy? Jay Ehret, @themarketingguy, says to focus on the experience. And at the Brains on Fire blog, here is a fabulous example, with the spotlight on a local Whole Foods store.

[this space reserved for a designated non-mention of Skittles]

How much Money is $1 Trillion? The Anatomy of a Sticky Illustration. Nicely done. Hat tip: Cam Beck.

Give First. Amen. From Mitch Joel‘s Six Pixes of Separation blog.

PLUS: Tabasco advertising. No words needed. Hat Tip: Brand Flakes for Breakfast blog.

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Thanks for tuning in for these 5 months of fun and experimentation. Oh….and I really don’t get up at 5 am most mornings. It’s really 5 (posts) delivered (early) in the morning. But while sipping my first cup of coffee between 5:30-6:00 am, I still get a chuckle out of all of you  thinking I actually get up early…!

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Five in the Morning 020509

Wired interviews Seth Godin at TED – Tribes, timing, and people (not ads). Classic Seth stuff. And, here’s a interesting thought from Seth’s blog, about “solving a different problem.”

Razorfish data tying consumer social media activity to purchase behavior“there are significant differences in both engagement and spend between those who discovered the application or widget through media, versus those who were referred by friends. ..those who discovered the application via a friend were almost four times more likely to download the applicationThey were also more likely to spend money on the client site and spent much more on average.”

From Derrick Daye at Branding Strategy Insider (Hi Derrick – long time no e-contact!), something we really shouldn’t have to say: When Naming turns Deceitful. Some classic examples here.

John Moore riffing on Ted Mininni riffing on coffee…follow the links for some good discussion. My take – it’s not all about coffee taste. It’s also the experience. Getting a cup of coffee at home (8 O’Clock), or at McDonald’s, or at DD, is…well, boring, compared to Starbucks. Starby’s not only has to preserve their unique taste position, they have to make sure that having coffee at their destination is qualitatively different. But you all knew that…

A Fast Company article that you simply have to read, for its throught-provokingness…

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PLEASE NOTE: There is reason to believe that the Google/Feedburner changeover has created “issues” with RSS feeds for my blogs (and others). Here are the feeds for my three blogs; if you’re a reader, would you please re-subscribe just to make sure? Thanks!

:: Subscribe to the StickyFigure blog (that’s this one!)

:: Subscribe to the Steve’s Leaves blog (that’s my personal blog – you’ll see a story from there below)

:: Subscribe to the Impactiviti blog (that’s a pharma-specific blog, for my consulting business)

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Are You Being Pecked to Death?

suetcage-smOutside of my home office window there is generally quite an assortment of small winged creatures, enjoying the bounty of bird food that my compassionate wife puts out regularly in feeders suspended over the deck.

A favorite of some of these fluttering neighbors – especially the woodpeckers – is a cage with suet. They grasp the wires with their claws and peck-peck-peck away, reducing what was once a good-sized cake of suet to a ragged shell of its former self, and eventually making it disappear altogether.

I wonder how many of us have felt that way in our work. Trapped in a cage, and slowly pecked to death. Wanting to do what we love, but spending much of our time bemoaning the incessant beak-intrusions of managers, co-workers, and clients who are not only not on the same page, they’ve never even picked up the book.

I rejoice at a story like Kirsten Wright‘s, who left a position she didn’t enjoy to do something she loved. I’m glad to see Amber Naslund taking on a job with Radian6 that fits her to a “T”. And I read this morning on Twitter of the excitement of Leah Jones, who is leaving a current role (though I have no reason to believe it was a suet-in-the-cage job!) to start her own thing.

I think this will be future for many of us. While others continue to be pecked into smaller pieces, we have the tools and the networks and the creativity to “roll our own” businesses. It’s a scary trip at first, but having a supportive network of professionals eases the transition greatly. I’m certainly glad I went out on that limb – do you have a success story (or aspiration) to share in the comments?

Five in the New Year

ny-eve-nyIt’s 2009 (and a beautiful morning here in Boonton, NJ)! And, I’m convinced, it’s a year when many are going to seize the future, thumb their noses at all the bad economic news, and create new careers for themselves.

With that in mind, I thought I’d pull together the year’s first Five in the Morning post with a handful of my posts from 2008 encouraging the networking and entrepreneurial spirit. So….

Do you have an Opportunity Network? (from MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog) – The old corporate safety net is gone. But the new safety network, and the new opportunity network, is here for all of us to weave ourselves into. My faith has grown the longer I’ve participated, that “If we build it, (opportunity) will come”…

Personal Branding – What’s your value-add? (from MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog) – You don’t have a brand worth a nickel unless you are clear in what value you have to offer. That’s true of personal branding, corporate branding, political branding, and whatever other type of branding du jour we’d like to dream up…

You – Projected (from my StickyFigure blog) – My feeling is that if a concept is valid, we should be able to distill it down to a very few words that capture it well. So, with personal branding, here is my take. Two words. You – Projected

I’m Pursuing (Niche) Domination (from MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog)  - What is niche domination? It’s creating, or moving into, a market cavity narrow enough that you can become the big fish, and expansive (or expand-able) enough that you can make a living dominating it…

Be Prepared – Like, Right Now (from my Impactiviti pharma blog) – Your future is in your hands, and you need to be prepared to take the reins at any time. In fact, even if you are gainfully employed, you need to take the reins right now. Let me suggest one simple word for each of us…

But what were my most popular posts of 2008? The StickyFigure Spoofs, of course! And, to launch 2009, here is the latest (or earliest): Social Media Maven named new Head Coach of Detroit Lions.

BONUS – If you haven’t tuned into Rick Liebling‘s Smart People / Smart Ideas series, it’s a good one. Here’s the recap from 2008. You can follow Rick on Twitter @eyecube

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Sarah Sold Me on Opera – Sorta

It was a business trip many years ago, at a conference in Denver. Having some downtime one evening, I wandered into a record store, and killed time scanning through various CDs that I had no intention of buying.

Then I heard it. Or rather, her. A voice that could stop a rampaging bull, and that absolutely stopped me in my tracks.

One of those young twenty-something clerks with odd hair and piercings fortuitously came up and asked if he could help. “Who is that??” I asked, pointing up toward unseen speakers.

sarah-brightman“Oh, that’s Sarah Brightman. She’s awesome – just saw her in concert recently.”

The album was Eden. The song was “Deliver Me.” And I did something I almost never do – just bought something spontaneously based on a very small “sample” of the goods.

Now the odd thing about Sarah Brightman is that she does stuff ranging from pop to semi-classical to opera – all jumbled together on the same disc. And I hate opera. Yet after one stroll through Eden, I was hooked – and I have quite a collection of Sarah’s music now. It was a pop song that got me started; then, having become a fan of Sarah, my mind slowly opened to a new form of music.

I’m still not that much into opera, but I enjoy it more than I used to. I needed to develop an attachment to an individual in order to start to appreciate a genre.

And that, I think, is how people will come to appreciate and use community networking approaches like social media tools. They will start with one person who impresses them, with one approach that appeals. Then the thing will open up over time. Your “voice” may well open up new worlds for others, one note at a time. Sing.

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Five in the Morning 120908

Negative PR in advertising travels fast! Just ask Dr. Pepper (from USA Today – hat tip to @prsarahevans)

Will MLM kill Twitter? What do you think so? I doubt it, but some interesting points made nonetheless. From Karl Long.

Fun - Superlist of what NOT to do in Social Media. Courtesy of Robin Broitman at IIG. On the flip side, Lee Odden shares 26 tips on being Social Media Smart.

Thank you very much for the link, Mike Sansone. Now THIS is how to search for that perfect image in Flickr!!!

How do you compare with other Twitter users? Jeremiah Owyang brings out some very interesting stats from HP Lab’s research on Twitter use.

BONUS – As a rule I don’t watch long videos on the web, in particular not 15-minute ones. Yet, very late one night, when unable to fall back asleep, I stumbled across this one on Cheryl Smith‘s site, and it captured my attention. The message continues to resonate in my mind and heart. It may seem hokey the first few minutes, but stick with it. You may need, as I did, a reminder about the importance of Validation.

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I am not a “Salesman”

For two decades, my primary professional role was Sales. Yes, I did marketing as well, and some biz dev strategic stuff, and some management, but my primary role was getting business.

I succeeded. And never felt comfortable doing it.

used-car-salesmanI’d see “real” salespeople – folks who could establish rapport at the drop of the hat, or relentlessly drive a deal to its conclusion, or blast past yearly quotas by July, and I’d feel thoroughly inferior. Yet there I was, in Sales (ummm…high-end healthcare stuff, not like the guy you see over to the right!)

Over time, I came to realize that my discomfort stemmed from a mis-match – pushing a product, or hitting numbers, or winning a deal, simply didn’t drive me. I want to help people. I want to think things through, and solve problems. I care more about telling the truth than making the sale. I am an analyzer, not a promoter; a native introvert, not a schmoozer.

But, people bought from me because they trusted me. So I succeeded anyway. Until hitting the wall and finally admitting to myself, “I’m not a Salesman.”

This was a liberating realization. Now I could be free to tap into what I truly was – a problem solver. A resource-finder. A connector. A consultant. And I decided to go off on my own and create my own job/role/company built around precisely those things.

Can I sell? Actually, yes. I can be very persuasive. People listen to me and follow my advice – not because I’m a promoter, but because I’m a listener and a problem-solver. And is there a place in this shark-infested business world for someone who wants to help other people, for someone who cares about doing what’s right, for someone who wants to build a network in order to do good?

Yes, there is. And that’s why I’m sharing this. Are you mis-matched in your role, driven by something other than what that job requires? Get honest – don’t be afraid to look in the mirror and say, “I’m not a….” Then work on identifying who/what you really are, what your value-add truly is.

Perhaps you can make a new professional life for yourself. It’s worth the effort, time, and risk. And if you do it, let me know if I’ve “sold” you!

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Five in the Morning 112408

5-dotHow NOT to: Build your Twitter community. Good tips from Sarah Evans. Oh, and the other side of the coin – How TO.

Growing through delegation/outsourcing – valuable thoughts here from Chaitanya Sagar. I’ve walked this same path and probably have other decisions to make in the future…and I agree that outsourcing (rather than do-it-all-yourself or hiring) is a very valuable and important strategy. There is potential business strength and growth on both sides of this equation.

Drew McLellan on the Best Way to Grow your Business. You might be surprised at his answer – but then again, I hope you’re not. Plus, this poignant remembrance of an effective leader.

42 Content-building ways to Attract and Retain Customers. From Joe Pulizzi over at Junta 42 blog.

Building your Brand through Networking. Walter Akana interviews Liz Lynch, author of just-released book Smart Networking: Attract a Following in Person an Online.

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Five in the Morning 100308

How to create on-line videos – a nice post by Deborah Brown with helpful links, including one to the ever-helpful Jim Kukral.

Telling your company’s story: Good stuff from Drew McLellan, and from Director Tom (for the video/documentary perspective!)

What’s a clig? Find out on the Livingston Buzz blog!

50 brands for 50 years – see this celebration of 50 top brands over the last 5 decades. Hat tip: Plaid (Brand Flakes for Breakfast blog)

Start-up stories – great new series from Scott Allen kicks off with links to informative stories about people who followed their dreams.

FRIDAY PHOTO BONUS: Top contenders for  Nikon’s Small World photography contest. Awesome micro-photography!

FRIDAY VIDEO BONUS: From last year: surely by now you know the story about Paul Potts, right? The opera-singing winner of Britain’s Got Talent? If you didn’t catch this one, you’re in for a treat; and even if you did, here’s the whole sequence of videos all together for you:

If you haven’t seen the sequence of videos from this stirring event, here they are, in order:

First Audition:

Semi-final Performance:

Final Performance:

Winner Announced, and Encore:

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9 Words to Live By

I’m not sure what feels more like a new beginning for me – January 1st, or September 1st. And I’m not a fan of resolutions, mainly because of my thorough inability to keep them! Nonetheless, I’ve tried to boil down my life aspirations into a handful of words. Some of these are unique to me and a bit personal, but perhaps you can relate.

Nine verbs to summarize how I seek to live/want to live:

1. Listen.  I need to learn better how to shut up, look into people’s eyes, listen to their words and heart, and seek to understand.

2. Learn. I’ve been on this earth for more decades than I care to admit. Long enough to recognize that in the vast sea of knowledge, I’ve only gathered a few drops, and the best way to grow is to keep learning. I can’t know everything, but I can’t afford to become calcified, and lose child-like curiosity.

3. Love. Life is all about serving others. Even if I’ll never (naturally) be a touchy-feely kinda guy, I’ll always be surrounded by people who need kindness and help. No matter how introverted I might feel, others are more important. Reach out!

4. Strive. I guess I’ll never be satisfied – always wanting to improve things. It’s a blessing and a curse. Until my dying day, I hope I’m encouraging myself and others to push forward. No status quo! – passivity doesn’t produce much fruit.

5. Surrender. The other side of “striving.” God’s will supersedes mine; reality and circumstances aren’t always open to change, and people are people. Deal with it, Woodruff. Accept reality. Embrace and enjoy the fact that you’re not in control.

6. Share. Don’t keep it locked up. Time, talent, money, ideas, acts and words of kindness – it’s all a stewardship, to share with others. The upside benefits to all far outweigh the downside risks to me.

(these last three have to do with my particular professional and personal focus)

7. Consult. Think with people. Analyze problems. Come up with ideas. It’s a unique gift and calling – put it to use!

8. Connect. Most needs will be met by other people. Find as many ways as possible to help people with needs find people with solutions. More and more, become a hub for others.

9. Create. What could be? What should be? See what isn’t – dare to think it, and design it, and push for it. Leave something unique behind that makes life better.

If I’m doing all those things, I figure I’ll never lack friends, never be at a loss for something to do, never need to worry much about income, never feel unfulfilled. Which leads to an interesting metaphysical question: is being unselfish selfish? That’s too much work to think about on this Labor Day! And it doesn’t matter – because those are my words to live by anyway.

What about you? Add your ideas in the comments, or on your own blog!

Your Personal Brand – Does it Matter?

I was at a facilitation workshop last week, at which I gave an impromptu “from the heart” mini-talk on personal branding.

People often question if they “need” a personal brand. Here’s the news – you already HAVE a personal brand. The only questions are, what is it? And are you projecting it effectively?

When people see you, think of you, and relate to you, words and images and feelings come to mind. That is your personal brand. If people who know you think “friendly,” “diligent,” “kind,” when they see you and talk about you, you are well on your way to possessing a positive personal brand. Of course, you can easily see the flip side of this as well…

So, you have a brand. Do you know what it is? What distinguishes you from the teeming hordes of humanity? What are you known for? Here, you need some self-examination, maybe some personality profiling (I found the Gallup books on Strengths to be particularly helpful), and some honest friends to help you distill it down.

What you’ll find is a constellation of qualities, and perhaps 1-5 characteristics that really stand out. Those are what you build your brand on. And, once you really have a grasp on it, you can communicate to people much more effectively what you’re all about. Where you fit in. Even what your future business endeavors should look like. You project your brand NOW – but you can project it more effectively when you actually know what it IS, and feel comfortable in your own skin.

Here’s another reason why identifying your personal brand is so important – it frees you for paralyzing comparisons of yourself to others. Yes, there are many people whose gifts and abilities I’ve envied and still envy (sorry, 10th commandment breaker here) – but I’m reconciled to being who I am, and tossing the only hat I really have in the ring – my own.

What is my personal brand? I listen, analyze, distill, and rapidly find the core, then communicate it fairly effectively. There’s a lot more to Steve Woodruff, the brand, but that is the chief distinguishing trait. And, it’s a gift. It’s a hard-wired capability that I’ve been given, sought to cultivate, even built a consulting business around. The fact is, it’s just ME. And as I look to short-, mid-, and long-term personal & professional goals that brew in my mind and heart, the areas of endeavor that I’d like to pursue always have that personal brand at the center. Because it’s who I am.

Let’s make one distinction. There is your personal brand essence, which is that grouping of personality traits, character traits, strengths, and capabilities that make you you. Then there is your personal brand role, which is how you function in the world and marketplace. Your role may change, but your essence remains the same, and hopefully, your functional and professional role is increasingly aligned with who you (essentially) are.

I’ve had live and on-line conversations with several people in the last 2 weeks who are wrestling with how to define themselves, and project their personal brand. As it turns out, my core competencies of analyzing,  distilling, and expressing makes that a very enjoyable and meaningful exercise.

You don’t have to be a personal branding guru, or a consultant, a blogger, or an entrepreneur, to have and project a brand. You simply have to have a pulse. And a willingness to discover what really makes you tick. You DO have a brand, and you DO have something to offer. What endeavor could more rewarding and noble than identifying that brand and running with it?

(Update: some related thoughts on differentiation from blogging friend Jane Chin here)

Related prior post: Personal Branding

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I’m “Out of the Box” – how about you?

In the narrow old days, before the advent of all these social media tools, most of us had a very defined and constrained outlet (if any) for our creativity. Our jobs required that we occupy a certain role, and if we were lucky, one or even two creative strengths might get exercised.

And might get noticed by a handful.

With few exceptions (artists and musicians who became famous, the idle wealthy, etc.), whatever talents we had tended to stay in a box, or slowly decay due to lack of nutrients. My father was an inveterate tinkerer and a closet inventor, who had some pretty cool ideas – virtually none of which saw the light of day outside of his shed, and the eyes of his boys.

Now, if I have an idea, or a picture, or just about anything else, it can be moments from conception to birth. Talent has immediate outlets, and a potentially exponentially-growing audience.

Instead of having my “voice” pent-up and unheard, I now struggle with which “voices” to let out at any given time. The marketer? The professional? The comedian? The friend? The family man? The philosopher? In fact, they all end up coming out of the box, because they’re all…me. If anyone looked back on my posts and tweets and comments over the past few weeks, they’d have a hard time classifying me into any narrow box. And that is probably true of you, too. I say – good!

It’s nice to stand here with the cardboard pieces scattered about.

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When the time is right…

How many times have you had a dream, or a goal, hanging out there like a brass ring, and determined that you’d start reaching for it “when the time is right”?

The time is right. Now.

Not that you can necessarily bring home the entire pot of gold at rainbow’s end by 4 pm today. But you need to zero in your sights where the rainbow hits the ground, and take a step. Then another one.

About 2 years ago, I started my own business. It was a risk, and by all objective measures, the time probably “wasn’t right.” Five kids. Mid-life. No major capital backing. Just an idea, a drive, a network of people, and a fair amount of experience.

I could easily have settled. But, you see, the time WAS right. I had an epiphany about 6-7 months before venturing out: No-one was ever going to offer me the ideal job. If I wanted to pursue my dreams and maximize the use of my abilities, I had to create it myself.

And I have further, longer-term dreams. Each week, I’m trying to move – in incremental steps – toward those goals. This week, I did my first video blog post. That was not just for geek-gadget purposes. It’s part of a much longer-term vision.

When will the time be right for you? Actually, today is good. Take those steps. Build YOU – your skills, your network, your opportunities. Tune out the naysayers, because the time is right…now.

(Image credit)

Thanks to Jeremiah Owyang, for the spark that led to this post.

UPDATE: Here’s a great post from Seth Godin that ties in perfectly.

Thank God for Antonin Dvorak!

I mean it. Sincerely, and without using God’s name in vain.

I thank God for Dvorak, Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and many other composers and musicians (not all of them classical, by any means!) whose productions fill my ears with beauty and my heart with joy.

wonderful-life.jpgLast week was rough. An uninvited intestinal bug raged through the entire family, leaving churning stomachs and blecchhy minds in its wake. Recovering, but in a physical and emotional funk, I left early Thursday morning for a business trip, to spend some time with (fortunately) a favorite client. Nonetheless, I felt drained and worthless, driving past bridge abutments on the highway and having some of those Jimmy Stewart/It’s a Wonderful Life moments (“maybe the world would be better off without me…!”). Ever felt like that? Well, despite the fact that I even had the collision damage waiver on the car, I stayed on the road and spent the day trying to concentrate on client needs instead of my own blah.

Friday the funk began to lift, creativity began to flow, and I felt like I was finally back to adding some value. But, the best was yet to come. My bride of (almost) 27 years picked me up at the airport, and we headed off for a bite to eat, and for a performance of Dvorak’slogo_njpac.gif Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The Czech Philharmonic Orchestra was on tap – fitting, since Dvorak was a Czech.

(NJPAC, by the way, if you’ve never been there, is a lovely facility right in downtown Newark. The building, and the logo, have always been favorites of mine).

njpac.jpgThe first piece performed was Dvorak’s Carnival Overture – it was an OK performance, nothing earth-shaking. Then, in a late substitution, the second piece was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #5 (Emperor), a real favorite of ours – stunningly performed by a subset of the orchestra and a talented pianist named Simone Dinnerstein. Wonderful.

After intermission, it was time for the New World, and the performance was spine-tingling. The conductor was quite animated, the musicians clearly well-familiar with the piece, and the audience was barely able to contain its enthusiasm. Once the vigorous and stirring final movement was done, the place erupted in applause. By then, I was utterly transported out of my prior lethargy and thrilled to the marrow by such marvelous musical talent. The sounds coming out of those instruments – sounds that somehow, were once envisioned and created in the astounding mind of an amazingly talented composer – carried my feelings through the range of exquisite pleasure to minor-key sorrow to triumphant rapture.

(If you’re not familiar with the New World Symphony, waste no time getting a CD! The second movement, Largo, is one of the most hauntingly melancholy and beautiful pieces of music you’ll ever hear. The Allegro, which closes it out, will have you leaping out of your chair as your hair stands up on the back of your neck. Yes, it’s that good!)

njpac-czech.jpg
(picture taken from my handy iPhone)

dvorak.jpgLet’s be honest – sometimes, life can feel like sandpaper. Coarse grain sandpaper, on a fresh wound. Even old Antonin doesn’t look too thrilled in the picture here! But then, we have the gifts of music, food, wine, family, friends…and remembering those things, those Clarence-like reminders, we push through the bad stuff and acknowledge that we are blessed. Blessed, sometimes, beyond our wildest dreams…

Steve’s Sticky Stuff 12_18

A high-end narrated 3-D animation of the “inner life of a cell.” Very cool. Warning: lots of medical terminology.
Where can you find some good (low-cost or no-cost) images? Here’s a helpful list.

If you use Facebook at all, you’ll get a kick out of this spoof glimpse into Facebook 30 years in the future.

And finally, an inspirational year-end treat. Patrick Hughes – born without eyes, crippled from birth, gifted musician – and a member of the University of Louisville marching band. Amazing.

The Lecture of a Lifetime, reprise (with complete video)

Last week on my Impactiviti blog, I wrote about a moving speech by Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor dying of pacreatic cancer, who delivered “the lecture of a lifetime.”

This story, which was featured by the Wall Street Journal and grew viral on the Internet, led to an explosion of attention and has deeply impacted many.

Today, the WSJ does a follow up story (below; site link is here, subscription may be required) about the aftermath. Also, at the bottom of this post, a link to the full video of his speech.

The Professor’s Manifesto; What it Meant to Readers

As a boy, Randy Pausch painted an elevator door, a submarine and mathematical formulas on his bedroom walls. His parents let him do it, encouraging his creativity.

Last week, Dr. Pausch, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told this story in a lecture to 400 students and colleagues.

“If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ‘em do it,” he said. “Don’t worry about resale values.”

As I wrote last week, his talk was a riveting and rollicking journey through the lessons of his life. It was also his last lecture, since he has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months.

After he spoke, his only plans were to quietly spend whatever time he has left with his wife and three young children. He never imagined the whirlwind that would envelop him. As video clips of his speech spread across the Internet, thousands of people contacted him to say he had made a profound impact on their lives. Many were moved to tears by his words — and moved to action. Parents everywhere vowed to let their kids do what they’d like on their bedroom walls.

“I am going to go right home and let my daughter paint her wall the bright pink she has been desiring instead of the “resalable” vanilla I wanted,” Carol Castle of Spring Creek, Nev., wrote to me to forward to Dr. Pausch.

People wanted Dr. Pausch to know that his talk had inspired them to quit pitying themselves, or to move on from divorces, or to pay more attention to their families. One woman wrote that his words had given her the strength to leave an abusive relationship. And terminally ill people wrote that they would try to live their lives as the 46-year-old Dr. Pausch is living his. “I’m dying and I’m having fun,” he said in the lecture. “And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it.”

For Don Frankenfeld of Rapid City, S.D., watching the full lecture was “the best hour I have spent in years.” Many echoed that sentiment.

ABC News, which featured Dr. Pausch on “Good Morning America,” named him its “Person of the Week.” Other media descended on him. And hundreds of bloggers world-wide wrote essays celebrating him as their new hero. Their headlines were effusive: “Best Lecture Ever,” “The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Seen,” “Randy Pausch, Worth Every Second.”

In his lecture, Dr. Pausch had said, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.” Scores of Web sites now feature those words. Some include photos of brick walls for emphasis. Meanwhile, rabbis and ministers shared his brick-wall metaphor in sermons this past weekend.

Some compared the lecture to Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man Alive” speech. Celina Levin, 15, of Marlton, N.J., told Dr. Pausch that her AP English class had been analyzing the Gehrig speech, and “I have a feeling that we’ll be analyzing your speech for years to come.” Already, the Naperville, Ill., Central High School speech team plans to have a student deliver the Pausch speech word for word in competition.

As Dr. Pausch’s fans emailed links of his speech to friends, some were sheepish about it. “I am a deeply cynical person who reminds people frequently not to send me those sappy feel-good emails,” wrote Mark Pfeifer, a technology project manager at a New York investment bank. “Randy Pausch’s lecture moved me deeply, and I intend to forward it on.”

In Miami, retiree Ronald Trazenfeld emailed the lecture to friends with a note to “stop complaining about bad service and shoddy merchandise.” He suggested they instead hug someone they love.

Near the end of his lecture, Dr. Pausch had talked about earning his Ph.D., and how his mother would kiddingly introduce him: “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”

It was a laugh line, but it led dozens of people to reassure Dr. Pausch: “You ARE the kind of doctor who helps people,” wrote Cheryl Davis of Oakland, Calif.

Dr. Pausch feels overwhelmed and moved that what started in a lecture hall with 400 people has now been experienced by millions. Still, he has retained his sense of humor. “There’s a limit to how many times you can read how great you are and what an inspiration you are,” he says, “but I’m not there yet.”

Carnegie Mellon has a plan to honor Dr. Pausch. As a techie with the heart of a performer, he was always a link between the arts and sciences on campus. A new computer-science building is being built, and a footbridge will connect it to the nearby arts building. The bridge will be named the Randy Pausch Memorial Footbridge.

“Based on your talk, we’re thinking of putting a brick wall on either end,” joked the university’s president, Jared Cohon, announcing the honor. He went on to say: “Randy, there will be generations of students and faculty who will not know you, but they will cross that bridge and see your name and they’ll ask those of us who did know you. And we will tell them.”

Dr. Pausch has asked Carnegie Mellon not to copyright his last lecture, and instead to leave it in the public domain. It will remain his legacy, and his footbridge, to the world.

(The complete 1.5 hour speech is here on Google Video)

The Man who Saved the World

A story that has gone basically untold for many years.

Between millions of lives lost in a nuclear holocaust, and the relatively normal life we live today, stood the judgment of one obscure Soviet officer. His risky decision to forestall an all-out nuclear launch, just because something didn’t make sense to him, saved more human lives than any other act in history.

Story here.

The Lecture of a Lifetime

A very stirring story last week in the Wall Street Journal, about a professor giving one of his final lectures. Here is how it starts:

Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor, was about to give a lecture Tuesday afternoon, but before he said a word, he received a standing ovation from 400 students and colleagues.

He motioned to them to sit down. “Make me earn it,” he said.

They had come to see him give what was billed as his “last lecture.” This is a common title for talks on college campuses today. Schools such as Stanford and the University of Alabama have mounted “Last Lecture Series,” in which top professors are asked to think deeply about what matters to them and to give hypothetical final talks. For the audience, the question to be mulled is this: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?

At Carnegie Mellon, however, Dr. Pausch’s speech was more than just an academic exercise. The 46-year-old father of three has pancreatic cancer and expects to live for just a few months. His lecture, using images on a giant screen, turned out to be a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life.

Read the whole thing, with a (brief) video link, on the Impactiviti blog

UPDATE: when you’re done reading the initial story, here is a follow-up story, including a link to the FULL video of his speech.

Paul Potts – now on CD-ROM!

You remember Paul Potts, the winner this spring of Britain’s Got Talent? His astounding performance of opera captured many hearts, certainly including my own.

His first CD is now out. We just got it in from Amazon. I am not, natively, an opera fan, but if you enjoyed Paul’s performances from BGT, you’ll like this disk – very good stuff on it!

Do you Hear what I Hear?

Is this marketing?

Nope.

Branding?

Nope.

Just a very cool story about a life changed by medical technology.

Brand Paul Potts

Like many around the world, I have been taken up by the wonderful, unfolding saga of Paul Potts, unassuming mobile phone salesman who suddenly burst on the scene like a supernova of singing ability on Britain’s Got Talent.

If you haven’t seen the sequence of videos from this stirring event, here they are, in order:

First Audition:

Semi-final Performance:

Final Performance:

Winner Announced, and Encore:

Why has Paul Potts captured the imagination of so many? And, what makes up the core of Brand Paul?

It’s the story. There are many good tenors in the world. But here’s a Joe Nobody, with crooked teeth, unimpressive bearing, and a humble heart. He’s been bullied growing up, lacks confidence, seems to be going nowhere…but hidden under all of that is a wonderful talent. It’s irresistible. You have to be utterly heartless not to be rooting for a guy like this.

paul_potts.jpgNormally, a somewhat overweight, nondescript fellow with a shy smile and a clear discomfort in the spotlight would not be chosen as a brand icon. But it’s that very thing – the humble packaging – that makes Brand Paul compelling. Some strapping Italian lothario belting out operatic notes on-stage – so what? But Nobody/Everyman Paul? – hey, maybe there’s hope for all the rest of us!

I hope he remains Paul Potts, Everyman, and chooses to spend his days inspiring others. Lord knows there are millions beaten down by the (literal and figurative) bullies of life, and we need the Paul Pottses of the world to remind us that it’s worth taking the risk to bring forth whatever gifts we have, naysayers be damned. Go Paul!

(now, a quick marketing exercise, for you brand experts in the audience – what tagline would you affix to Brand Paul to sum up who he is, as he is “marketed” to the world?)

(Image credit)

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