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What’s it gonna be….Maintenance or Recovery?

Good grief…that whole year-end reflection/new goal thing really bit me this time around.

Ahh…the theme is so consistent in the media. New Year/New You, full fitness centers, Auld Lang Syne and the ball-dropping at midnight. Probably some sort of “do” or “don’t” diet, style, money or relationship tips thrown in the mix.

I like to take stock in my life/business around the Winter Solstace to decide what to purge, add, declare, etc. The inventory helps me to determine what is/was working, what I choose for “next”, what needs serious regrouping, what I need to gently put down and what needs to be dropped like hot rocks.

After choking down a few lesson sandwiches, I’ve decided to share one notable distinction that may be of benefit to you as you start filling up your squeaky-clean new 2012 calendar. Here was my obvious, yet hard-to-swallow recognition: If I’m not doing maintenance, I’m going to be doing recovery. If it’s recoverable, that is.

Yes, they both have a “cost” involved – time, money, attention, work. Maybe some soul-searching or writing.

All of us have examples of the need for maintenance:
• If we don’t change oil in our cars, the garages will be fixing more engines – if they can. Oil is easier.
• If we don’t brush and floss, the dentists get more business. Oral hygiene is cheaper.
• If we don’t cut the grass or weed the gardens, the weeds are happy to take over – fast.
• Unwatered house plants don’t live. Unscrubbed showers get moldy.

It’s not rocket science that babies, systems, projects, etc. cannot maintain themselves – they don’t. “Self-cleaning oven” = false advertising. The only thing that has the capacity to maintain itself in some way has a beating heart and a brain with a plan. Well, in theory.

My not-so-easy lesson involved the maintenance and growth of one of my lists. I had started and nurtured a group I built over the last several years and hosted monthly events. Well, I didn’t focus on maintaining that as a monthly gathering during 2011 for reasons I won’t address here, and when I decided to engage again in the 4th quarter, my normally fabulous response was pathetic at best. I didn’t maintain (bring value) to the awesome people that came to depend on the ongoing monthly events and correspondence. My “feedback” was very clear – Cindy who? Yeah… Big recovery opportunity. Big.

Considering we can’t change anything we don’t acknowledge, now the questions becomes…do I choose to invest the time, money, attention, work TO recover it?

That friends, is what I offer you to consider. Be aware that your goals and dreams DO require nurturing and maintenance. You’re going to mess up your squeaky-clean calendar anyway with all kinds of stuff that in the end may not matter.

Make your “This is my best life – ever” list! Be clear about what brings you value, joy, fulfillment. Decide what value/inspiration you choose to bring to your business, environment, relationships, self-care.

What isn’t on your list, let go. What remains, take care of it well.

Cindy

We’re tilting again!

Living in the land of stupid cold in the winter for five decades, I always look forward to the Winter Solstice.  The day the light comes back again.  Nice.

This morning I posted on my facebook page, “The best day of the year…and the official start of gardening season. Tonight we all tilt again as we ride this big rock…and the light starts coming back to the North. 🙂 Happy Solstice!”

What was interesting, was the response.  It’s safe to say that my fb buddies were also looking forward having long hours of darkness shorten again in the Northern Hemisphere.  The comments ranged from my view of gardening season being “optimistic”(I’ll give Bob that, considering the ground won’t thaw for 5 months) to “what a great way to look at it.”

Of course this threw me into a brain spin about “interpretation”.   Again.  We live in an online world of words  – writing comprised of little more than sound bites, 140 character maxes, “likes” and links.   It’s fast.  The reader is in and out of what is said with little thought more than a first impression based on the filters they marinate in day in and day out  – moods, values, background, upbringing, the “jerk” driver during rush hour.  After all…everybody is busy, right?…get on with it!

Yet, when it comes to one’s OWN expression, it’s different.

Everyone wants to be heard.  Feel special.  Be noticed.

Over the last couple of days, I was working with a business owner on some web copy who said she picked me as a writer for my “style”.  When I delivered the first draft of my interpretation of her business/offerings, she wanted me to edit it to be “edgier”.  That’s not all that different than giving free reign to a bunch of first graders in a toy store saying, “have at it!”  I behaved.  It’s publishable.  She’s delighted.

Then yesterday, I got a call from a lovely woman who is concerned that although her work is excellent, creative, and makes a bucket-load of money for her company, she isn’t taken seriously.  There is a common theme in her world that she feels discounted for her research and ideas, while others are more than happy to take credit for her genius.  We got into a conversation about “congruency”.  There is clearly a personal branding problem that she now understands needs addressing.

Both of these talented professionals believe that they project one image to the world, yet their feedback proves differently.  NOTE:  That only happens with human beings who interact with other human beings.  To change the perception, one needs an outside perspective.  We cannot change anything we don’t acknowledge, and sometimes we need some help getting there.  Thank goodness for coaches!

Which brings me full circle.  All of us are riding this same rock that tilts back and forth every six months.  Why not pay attention and lend a hand , or an ear or some words that encouragement to our fellow passengers?

Here a little visual for you.  When a dog is curious (once you’ve gotten its attention, of course) it will often tilt its head in curiosity, in wonderment, as if what you have to say is the most important thing – ever.

As our entire planet tilts, all of us could use a bit more curiosity and wonder.  In this time of bringing more light to parts our world, let’s take some time to see how we can see the light in others as well.  They want to shine and be heard.  Just like you do.

Joy, Blessings and Happy Solstice!

Cindy

I’m not doing that anymore.

As is our family tradition before we begin our Thanksgiving feast, we each take turns sharing what we are thankful for – a most heartwarming time for me as the mom.  I love that our country celebrates one day per year when gratitude is actually expressed amongst the masses.  I extend that blessing to all who read this post, too.  Thank you.

Where my brain started wandering, as I sit here beached on the couch in front of my son’s ginormous screen now airing the third football game of the day, was the awareness that there are only about five weeks left in 2011.  It’s really been a big year of change for many.

Only these changes had a notably different theme.  The shifts were more related to “I’ve about had it”, than from the result of something happening externally, like downsizing resulting in a job loss.  In most cases , there was a moment of drawing a line in the sand with a determined, “No more!”  My friend and colleague, Kathy Garland, has an effective “SO DONE” process for when it’s time to move on from something once and for all.  In some form or another, that concept has been pervasive this past year.

The news is full of stories about protests stemming from those fed up with a “system”. Larger scale issues or situations have worn out their effectiveness.  This same form of change has been happening at a very personal level, too.

In one instance, a friend was of great benefit to his organization.  He supported two of the top three accounts within his company.  His position kept evolving over time, eventually to the point that it was not longer working for him.  As a result, he decided it was time to inform his employer that he wasn’t interested in working with them as an employee any longer.  He now works as an independent contractor for the company, working with those same customers, only now on his terms, with more money, flexibility and happiness.

As a result of one of my “I’ve had it’s”, I moved into a different home this year that hadn’t had some updating for awhile.  Ok…like 30+ years.  One day, I just “had a moment.”  I looked at the wall in the foyer, walked over to it and started stripping the lovely mirrored wallpaper. That pretty much opened up a complete overhaul of the place, which brings up another point:  Saying “No more!” to what is no longer working can be messy.  It may involve changes in routines, finances, customers, relationships, tools, beliefs or being right.  Ouch, that last one can be painful.

As you count your blessings during this time of gratitude, ask yourself what you’ve about “had it” with so you can leave it behind as 2011 comes to a close.  You know something better is waiting for you.

The Next Step on Our Journey to Genius

The really cool thing about a solid partnership is being able to splat things on the table, knowing that anything and everything is open for discussion.  That’s what my fabulous friend and partner WQC did the other day.

Cindy was feeling particularly gutsy, so it was she who first acknowledged that something about WordQueens was not serving her fully.  That, of course, made it super-easy for me to acknowledge that I was feeling the same way.  It turns out that both she and I had been feeling a little off balance with regard to the business.  We both know we do great work, we feel it’s a flippin’ great name, we love our website, and still…

During the course of a thoroughly supportive and authentic conversation, we came to several conclusions:

So…That’s what we’ve decided to do.  Cindy will take point in running WordQueens, and I’ll be available to write on those projects where she feels I am the perfect person for the job.  Each of us will operate in her zone, enjoy renewed energy, and continue to enjoy a profoundly valuable friendship.

Damn, we’re good!

Cindy here.  To add to Kathleen’s discussion of our table splat last week, one of the several cool things I’ve observed from that chit chat is that we both had some pent-up energy to move forward with our respective businesses as writers and communicators – and “forward” for each of us wasn’t the same direction.  The time had come to morph to something different.  What a blessing to understand it was time for change and both of us were ready at the same time!  Kind of a God-thing, I think.

Kathleen stated the results of our splat-it-on-the-table talk quite eloquently.   “Eloquent” isn’t a natural state for me.  I have a more direct form of commentary.  I was admittedly nervous about bringing up whatever felt “off” in our business model because…let’s just say I don’t “test high” for Partnership on profile tests.  I test high in independence/leadership/freedom.  Marriage?…cough-cough…oh, sorry…hairball.  I digress.  Yet, Kathleen does do Partnership.  I’ve learned a ton from her about how to make that type of relationship function.  As a bonus, I was not only lucky to be in business with a gifted, hilarious writer; she also does “direct” well, which works nicely for me after so many years of “feedback” in my coaching/training world.

That said, I’m thrilled that Kath’s next step with her make-a-difference-in-the-world life with SIB is what makes her happy, fulfilled and successful.  I’m just as excited to take the roll as boss – or as Kath calls it, Uber-WordQueen – and build the Queendom with a new/different focus, not limited to marketing copywriting.  I get to have Kath write as a key part of the expanding WordQueens services with other gifted writers, editors and proofreaders for hire.  As a bonus (one of my 2 favorite words), I’m delighted that our strong friendship made the table-splat easy and I walked away with the understanding that I don’t completely suck at partnership.

We would love it if you would “Like” both of our facebook pages:  Stepping Into Big and WordQueens … where you will be sure to find some value…or at least amusement.


Using Rules of Improv Comedy to Build a Better Business

If you’re serious about your business, you can learn a lot from improvisational comedy.

I’ve taken several improv classes at Stevie Ray’s School of Improv in Minneapolis.  I went in to my first one feeling very confident.  After all, creative use of language is one of my greatest strengths, and people are always commenting on how quick-witted I am.  Improv was obviously going to be a piece of cake.

What was I thinking?!?

The most memorable lesson I learned was this: Beginning improv is an excellent way to develop humility.

However, I also learned that, far from being a free-for-all, good improv actually follows clear rules.  Applying these rules in an improv class enables you to progress from deer-in-the-headlights mode to feeling fairly confident that you can actually avoid public humiliation.  As I progressed through my classes, I realized these rules of improv could profitably be re-named Rules of Smart Business.

1.      Trust yourself and your partner(s).  This is sometimes easier said than done. As entrepreneurs, we’re committed to doing what’s right for our businesses, but we sometimes second-guess ourselves.  However, when you choose to trust yourself and your own capabilities, you create a positive Pygmalion effect; that is, you tend to get positive results because you trust that you’ll figure out a way to create them.  As for trusting your “partners”, I feel that can refer not only to your actual business partner (if any), but also to your referral partners, strategic allies, vendors, prospects, and customers.

2.      Think “Yes, and…”.  Put another way, “Don’t negate or deny.”  This is absolutely one of my favorites.  It means to accept whatever is thrown at you and build on it.  Nothing will stop an improv scene deader quicker than having one performer toss out an idea and having her partner say, in effect, “No, I won’t work with that.”  In the business world, this may sound like “We tried that once and it flopped” or the more subtle (but equally squashing) “Yes, but…”.

3.      Listen, watch, and concentrate.  This rule can be particularly challenging to follow.  Entrepreneurs are typically very creative and very curious.  While these traits can be immensely useful, the downside of them is what is often called Shiny Object Syndrome, or—as I like to put it—Squirrel!! *  We can be developing one new product, or creating a nurturing campaign for existing clients, or working on a new professional-development activity when, all of a sudden, some other exciting thing catches our eye, and off we go.  In both professional and personal settings, far better results will come from taking a focused, “be here now” attitude.  So few people are skilled at listening, watching, and concentrating that those who are  skilled at these activities have a strong competitive advantage.  *(If you haven’t yet watched the movie Up, I strongly encourage you to do so this weekend; that way you, too, can learn why using “squirrel” as a verb makes perfect sense.)

4.      Don’t ask questions, make statements.  You get to be careful in how you apply this particular rule of improv to your business; it’s not  one you can apply indiscriminately.  (For example, you do yourself and your clients a huge favor when you do  ask clarifying questions to ensure that you understand exactly what outcomes they want you to produce.)  To my mind, the value of this rule is found in the realm of visioning and goal setting.  When you state what goal you intend to achieve in your business, this strong declaration serves to get the energy and creative juices flowing so that you can, in fact, create that outcome.

5.      Make assumptions.  This is another tricky one, because you need to be careful about what type of assumptions you make, and when.  Things you don’t assume: that you know what your partner (client) wants; that you’ve understood what they mean despite not having clarified the meaning with them; that all parts of a project are progressing on schedule.  However, you do assume that you—and your partners/team/client—are smart enough to figure out how to create the desired outcome.  It’s amazing how assuming that there’s a way to get what you (or your client) want acts as mental WD-40, loosening your old habits of thinking and enabling you to tap greater creativity than you perhaps had given yourself credit for.

6.      Give and take.  Far too many people come across as desperately trying to take-take-take anything they can get.  Certainly a business owner who provides great value deserves to receive great compensation for it.  However, if we get caught up in thinking only  of ourselves, our clients will stop giving us anything to take.  Giving and taking are best done in balance.

7.      Make “actional” choices.  In an improv scene, this means physically moving to introduce some action into the scene.  This not only gives you time to think, but physical activity keeps the audience engaged.  As entrepreneurs, we can put this rule to especially good use when we’re feeling stuck in our thinking.  Taking a stretch break, walking around the block, or even just playing with your pet can often help you break free of the barrier that stymied your progress.

8.      Work to the top of your intelligence.  In improv terms, this means choosing to avoid the obvious (and often crass) response to a comment your partner has made and instead choosing to challenge yourself to NOT take the easy way out.  In a business setting, it’s sometimes tempting to say that the service or product we’ve provided is “good enough”.  Often times that’s true, and it’s a way to avoid falling prey to perfectionism.  However, if we find ourselves frequently performing at a level that’s merely good enough, we risk losing a great deal: customers who get tired of slowly declining quality, our competitive edge, pride in our work.  That’s a high price to pay to make life easier in the short run.

Bonus Rule:  Make your partner look good.  (I created this rule myself.)  Assuming you do, indeed, follow Rule #1 by trusting yourself and your partner, it becomes easier to follow this Bonus Rule.  If you’re doing an improv scene with another person and focus on making her look good, you get to trust that she will be focused on making you look good.  This has several advantages. It allows you to lose any self-consciousness, because it’s not about you—it’s about your partner.  It moves the scene forward, because you’re actively collaborating, not competing.  It creates hugely positive energy.  It encourages risk taking, because each person knows her partner has her back.  Think of the huge leaps forward you could make in your business relationships if this were your underlying attitude.

Serious about your business success?  Maybe it’s time to improve through improv.

“Do you want my input or do you just want me to write?”

Opinionated WQ Cindy here.  Yup, have one about most topics.  If I don’t know something about a given topic, give me about 15 minutes of some exploring on the subject and I’ll fabricate an opinion.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I have an exclusive on that skill.  Even scarier is when I have some experience in a given subject; my opinions can even form into a strategy or provide solutions.  Ooooh, Ahhhh.  Then there comes the added dilemma of when to express my opinion – especially when no one really gives a hoot, or, as l like to think, they must have forgotten to ask me. *grin*  My ability to shut up and stuff it isn’t one of my best attributes.

The other night I was helping a friend get some clarity for a marketing piece he asked me to write.  He had years of experience that needed condensing into a concise piece to not only gain attention of his prospective audience, but also to introduce a new, innovative concept.

Being that I also fit the demographics of his target market and have had decades of intimate experience with his topic (although not with his new approach), I asked a lot of clarifying questions…and I found that they seemed to frustrate him.  As a copywriter, how am I to articulate his intent without getting clear myself on “what’s in it for the customer?!!!”?  Being a coach, I’m aware that clarifying questions can be a general annoyance to those who would prefer to keep skimming rocks across a lake when what they are seeking is deep IN the water.  Dang!  Diving can be scary to professional rock skimmers.

To mitigate the frustration, I needed to stop the train on the tracks.  “Do you want my input or do you just want me to write?”, I inquired.  I could define his message, focusing on his desired facts, figures and structure, or I could add my input of a couple decades of knowing what his ideal clients are seeking and how to get them engaged.  The two options were not the same in this case.  My friend concluded he wanted “both with multiple options”.  I clearly need to be a better teacher about my craft.  “Whipping up a few options” to produce marketing content that converts is something any good copywriter can do in a few minutes, right?  Ok, I digress…

As an expert in your field, when you find yourself in a moment where your last nerve is being rubbed and you feel yourself ready to spout, “Yeah, my last trick was walking on water”, just sit yourself down.  Take a breath.  Remember that your clients don’t live in your world, and that’s the reason they hire you – to do what they don’t choose to or don’t know how to do.  They likely don’t have a clue about time frames and hurdles involved in research, creative processes, intellectual property issues, laws, rules or even professional protocol like you do, so educate them early and educate them often.  It’s my opinion that both of you win in the end.

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