Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Read This!

I was asked by another media business newsletter to put together a reading list for the end of summer.  I share it with you here - as the summer draws on and all those things we have put off until after Labor Day are starting to loom! 

Summer reading is a wonderful thing. I have read in tents high up in Yosemite, on a cruise from Venice, on the beach at Bridgehampton, and on a bench in Central Park. Out of your routine, your mind is attuned to pay extra attention and reap fresh insights. Here are some ideas for the last precious days of this summer.

1. How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. Perhaps this is the first book you should pick up as it delves fascinatingly into the processes our minds go through when we are - for example – deciding which book to pick up next. It tells you that in an MIT test, a group of stock investors with less information have ended up earning more than twice as much as a well-informed group.

2. A must-read for all creative thinkers is James Webb Youngʼs classic: A Technique For Producing Ideas. First published in 1965 this small but important work has helped countless ad guys and painters, poets and engineers to break the deadly jam of the blank page and let their creativity do what itʼs supposed to do. To me this is not an optional book.

3. Innovate Like Edison by Michael Gelb and Sarah Miller Caldicott. This account of Thomas Edisonʼs life and methods tells us that apparently he invented everything: integrated marketing, smart hiring practices, networking, oh yes the light bulb, methods for innovation, even for thinking. This book will leave you bursting with ideas and annoying your family with his famous quotes.

4. John Steinbeck's delightful book Sea of Cortez. This is a great travel and science book all in one. Wonderfully written, it is exceptionally joyful reading. He tells of an expedition made around the coast of Baja California. It's witty, humane and most charming. Itʼs about survival and biology and exploration and discovery and politics and "civilization". And drinking. One of its most vivid characters is the Sea-Cow: his willful outboard motor!

5. For lovers of history and politics, David Kynastonʼs account of the rise of the welfare state in Austerity Britain gives us much to think about as we review our own political system. This is a story full of anecdotes about activist government - and how the British felt about it.

6. The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, by Sonia Shah, is a page turner. We learn how the Plasmodium parasite carried by mosquitoes, constantly adapting to outflank our attacks, has controlled so much of our history. This might be a fight we canʼt win. The book is spellbinding investigative reporting.

7. This is a controversial pick, but we are grown-ups here and can understand and interpret. The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell is a novel about a man who worked for an organization. He had to deal with tedious bureaucracy and arrogant bosses. (Sound familiar?) He was measured by his success at the task with no thought as to whether the task was right. His job? He worked for the SS and his assignment was to ensure that killing was done as efficiently as possible. The book is violent and nasty. It was hugely successful in France, Germany and England, winning two major French literary awards. It is not for the squeamish. But this book will surely jolt us into reflection on the value of our own work.

8. The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis brings him back to his early “bad boy” style. His 21 year old hero is inching toward a stunning 20-year-old blonde called Sheherazade, with whom heʼs sharing a summer in an Italian castle, along with several friends including his semi-platonic and semi-liberated girlfriend, Lily. Itʼs the summer of 1970, with all that that entails!

9. Stefan Sagmeisterʼs Things I Learned In My Life So Far is really 15 small booklets. Shuffle them and youʼll drastically change the look of your book. Itʼs a series of design projects spelling out personal truths that he identified in his diary: “Worrying solves nothing," "Trying to look good limits my life," “Complaining is silly: either act or forget” and so on. It is visually stimulating, provocative and fun.

8. I just finished the third of Stieg Larssonʼs Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked Over The Hornets Nest. I couldnʼt put it down. There is plotting and hackers and politics and murder and bikers and shady dealings on all fronts. See the Swedish film versions and tell me what you think. A friend, seeing that David Fincher is slated to direct a US version, wondered why another one was needed. For myself, I canʼt wait to see what he does with it.

Michael Pollock is President of Pollock Spark (www.pollockspark.com). He is an Executive Coach and Consultant to Creative and Media professionals. He works with people in film, TV, journalism, advertising, design, marketing, music and the Internet, bringing them the experience, techniques and inspiration to take their businesses and careers to new levels of success.

© 2010 Pollock Spark

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Changing technology, storytelling and evolving skills.

I was in a conversation today about the importance of evolving our skillsets as media technology changes, and was reminded of this story from early Hollywood.  What follows is excerpted from a book which has been lost to me; it was given to me by a wonderful production assistant many years ago.

Ernst Lubitsch - Film Director
Lubitsch had a habit of crooking his forefinger over that enormous nose of his, and he said, “Junge, I want you never to forget this - what I am about to tell you. When the decision was made to change from silent films to talking films, the producers called together the greatest stars they had - this was in each studio. And the producers said, ‘You ladies and gentlemen who are the stars of the great silent screen, you must now learn to talk. You can no longer make faces and look camera left, camera right, up, down, what the director tells you to do, and then hope that he can put it together into a performance. You’ve got to learn to talk dialogue and play it. Those of you who can - you'll be greater than ever. Those of you who can't - overnight, no matter how great you are, you’ll be finished .’
“Then,” said Lubitsch, “they called together all the great directors. And they said, ‘All you directors of the silent screen, no more running out in the morning with that box, a camera and an assistant, you shoot something here and you shoot something there, and then you bring it back . . . No, no. You gentlemen have got to learn to read scripts, to digest characterization, pace and how to tell a story that is written - and those of you who don’t - overnight, you’ll be forgotten .’
“And then,” said Lubitsch, “they called together all the great title writers, those who’d been the biggest of the silent screen, and they said, ‘You writers, no longer is it going to be something that you can bring in on the back of an envelope, - you have to become dramatists - you have to learn how to write dialogue, conflict, and so forth. And those of you who can’t - you’re finished .’
“And,” said Lubitsch, “that really happened, as you know. You could name the great stars of the silent screen who were finished - the great directors, gone - the great title writers who were washed up - but, boy, remember this as long as you live: The producers didn’t lose a man. They all made the switch! That’s where the great talent is. Remember this.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Basic Presentation Tips

It never hurts to restate the things that we all know but don't always remember to do.  I recently turned up these old notes from an Edward Tufte presentation. 

Tufte's Presentation Tips
1. Show up early.
2. Early on in the presentation, tell your audience what to expect from you.
3. Give everyone in the room a piece of paper, such as detailed evidence of a point you are going to make.
4. AVOID OVERHEADS.  (Today = Powerpoint?)  Use them only if you are showing very complex information.
5. Never apologize.
6. Practice and rehearse.  (do both I guess!)
7. If you use humor, it should be directly relevant to the target at hand.
8. Don't use the singular male as universal; use the plural "they/them" instead.
9. Finish early.
10. Be very careful when answering questions. You're often judged solely on Q & A.   If a question requires a long answer, you may be better off answering it privately, after the presentation.
11. Don't be afraid to show pride in what you've done (often accomplished thought your gestures)
12. Drink a lot of water. (Public speaking and flying are the 2 most dehydrating things you can do.)

 Here is more Tufte

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A way to help your client and grow your business

Do you have clients who don't know what else you can do for them?  You know all the things that your company can do, but unless you tell your clients, how are they going to know? 

I was talking to the client of a design firm I was working with, and discovered she was taking a huge chunk of her creative project - which my client could have been doing - to another company.  "I didn't know they could do that too," she said.  "Why didn't they tell me? It would have saved me a lot of trouble." 

And she's right.  You can't just assume that everyone knows what's going on in that room down the hall.  Since your client already trusts you creatively, she will very likely consider a new service or talent that you are offering.  So it is up to you to make sure she knows about them.  Introduce her to your other teams.  Cross-sell her your other services.  Show her the work and tell her how it can help her. 

How to Develop a Happier, More Productive Creative Team

There are people in your company who don’t know what your company does.  Sometimes people who sit right next to each other have no idea what their colleagues do, and they don’t have any way of understanding what it all adds up to.  Are the designers talking to the tech people?  Do the creative directors talk to each other?  Does the receptionist know what the company does? Do they know where their part fits into the overall vision?  Do they know what the overall vision is?  If each understands what the other can do, they can use it and learn from it.  If people know where their part fits in and what the company as a whole is trying to do, they can help to support and grow it, and the organization will get stronger.

There are people on your team who aren’t on your team.  You might have a hard time believing this (or not), but I have actually met someone in a company whose personal agenda is working against the greater good.  (“Say it’s not so,” I hear you cry!)  The creative business encourages individualism and outside-the-box thinking, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some common goals and work together.  There are creatives who go to their workstation, put on their headphones and don’t resurface all day.  You know who I mean.  Get in there and talk to them.  Find out what they want.  Find out how you can help them, and how they can help others in the organization: and in so doing make a better product and build their career and the business together.

These things could never happen in your company …right?  But I’ve seen it happen all around. Take a look and see.  Maybe there are some simple ways to engage and involve your team so you can build a stronger, happier, more cohesive and more productive creative operation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Put Serendipity to Work for You

Knowledge of all sorts - including where the perfect job or client is waiting for you - is spread far and wide. Itʼs easy and cheap to connect and interact with people who we never thought in the past would be reachable. The Internet makes it possible for us to tap into so many fast-moving resources and information streams.

This is bad news and good news. First the bad: since what we need to know is so widely spread about, it has become harder than ever to get what we want with a traditional search. But the good news for us is that it is more likely than in the past that we will find something valuable through a chance encounter.

I have been inspired by The Economistʼs review of a book called The Power of Pull: How Small Moves Smartly Made Can Set Big Things in Motion. It speaks to something I believe is most important in a job search, indeed in all of our business development: and that is being open to serendipity - even actually encouraging it. The authors propose a straightforward three-pronged strategy. First: approach the right people. Second: get the right people to approach you. And third: use these relationships to do things better and faster.

They have three tips. One is to live near brainy changophiles. For example, people of interest cluster together in Silicon Valley, NYC, London, Shanghai, Bangalore and so on.

So if you are in such a locale, every social interaction is potentially profitable. Even chatting to your dentist, or to another parent at the little league game could lead to something interesting.

Second go on the conference trail. There are many new conferences popping up as our businesses are changing so very rapidly. They remind me, as I have so often found, that corridor conversations are far more often useful than the formal sessions.

Their third tip is to make better use of online social networks; particularly to make contact with new people. Your friendsʼ friends may be just who you need to be talking to.

So get out there. Be open. Be smart. Ask questions. Ask your friends who you should meet. Do it online, do it in the flesh.

Make the serendipitous possible. Position yourself both physically and psychically. The chance encounter could be your ticket to a new gig or to the new idea that changes everything.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Goofing off can be good for business

I can’t stress enough the importance of downtime.  And this is the time of year when you can practice taking some and remember how good it is.  Turn off your internet (but not until after you’ve read this article). Put away your smartphone.  Tell people you have gone away and can’t be reached.  Go away and be unreachable.  Read a novel.  Catch a fish.  Build a wall.  Cut the grass.  Go to a concert. Invite your friends for a bbq.

And do these things whole heartedly.  Don’t be checking in.  Don’t be planning next week’s to-do list.

And here is an interesting idea I got from a commencement address given by David Foster Wallace shortly before his death – don’t be the center of your own universe.  Or at least consider the universe that you inhabit – whether its your family or your job or your town – and look at it afresh and consider your position in it and where it fits with everything else and what everyone else in it is doing and feeling and what the opportunities are and what your dreams are and close your eyes and let them fly.

DFW tells the following story:  “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

So go think about your water.  What is your water?  And where can it take you. Go read the inside of your eyelids and see what they tell you.

It is summer.  Give yourself a break.  All the stuff you have been thinking about and fretting about and staying awake about will still be in there, but it will be sorting itself out in your unconscious.  It will be making connections you couldn’t make if you were trying.  Let it simmer and percolate.

Put on the calendar the days you will be taking off and go camping.  Or hiking.  Go on, challenge yourself. There is nothing like some serious walking to keep you concentrated, focused.  You think about your feet and your water bottle.  You think about your food and the awesomeness of nature, or you think about how waterproof is your poncho and where you will pitch your tent.  It is completely engrossing and it is a wonderful way to put the cares of the workaday world aside and sort themselves out without your conscious interference.

Give it a try.