Think + Do » an exploration of nonprofit marketing and design

Overcoming Fear

vintage commic book illustration, woman dramatically screaming "AAAA!"Terrorists. Security breaches. Zombies. Our media, entertainment, and political figures fixate on imminent perils to captivate audiences. Fear may be a great motivator, but unfortunately it tends to make us feel powerless rather than proficient.

Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy. We live in a time of unmatched abundance and technological wizardry that dwarfs the wildest imagination. We have decoded the human genome, developed new cleaner energy, and made advances in human rights. We carry hand-held computers that can map every location we visit, play every song we’ve ever heard, and show cat videos on an endless loop. We land a spacecraft on Mars and people yawn.

We should feel empowered by our triumphs against long odds and all manner of dangerous obstacles. One would think we’d be more optimistic about outcomes based on our successful track record. Why aren’t we brimming with confidence?

The missing ingredient
Some people just have that “it” factor. In the boardroom, on the big screen, or on our bookshelves, we gravitate to confidence. It may show itself in different ways. Confident people can be funny, smart, or kind, but they are all driven by a passionate belief in what they are doing. They seem fearless – willing to go, say, and do what others are too timid to try.

When developing an organization’s brand, we often talk in terms of brand personality. I guarantee that not one successful brand is aiming for mousy, ambivalent, or feeble.

A lack of confidence is one of the biggest shortcomings in nonprofit marketing and communications. Most work is cautious – competent not compelling – because few are willing to passionately say or demonstrate how amazing their organization really is.

The fear of making a mistake – the fear of standing out – is a real problem in an undifferentiated marketplace. Throw in myriad personal quirks and office politics and it’s evident there are obstacles to confidently crafting stories that connect with the hearts and minds of your audience.

Leading the engagement
Confidence can’t be faked. False bravado or arrogance make timidity look like a desirable character trait in comparison. But it can be earned through practice that reveals your passions and expertise.

Here are a few of the ingredients necessary to taking charge of an assignment, or better yet, being asked to lead the way.

Know your shit.
Confidence comes from experience – a depth of knowledge gained through studying and applying what you believe to be important and true. This choice is better than that one. It comes from taking calculated risks and recognizing that the world didn’t come to an end.

Be a generous guide.
When you seek services – a restaurant, a hotel, an auto mechanic, an accountant – you want to feel like you’re in good hands. Understanding the context of an assignment – using situational and emotional intelligence – enables leaders to develop empathy for others. This, in turn, builds trust.

Survey your options.
What is the worst-case scenario? The most confident people are able to reduce the risks of the unknown by believing – even if it’s not readily apparent – that they will find an acceptable fallback position if the first plan fails.

Narrow your target.
Confident leaders excel at sifting through ten pages of information and distilling it into one, taking five bullet points and cutting it to three. That ability to focus applies to your target audience as well. Defining and prioritizing project goals is key to making better and more decisive choices.

Ask for what you want!
Whether you’re communicating with colleagues or your target audience, it’s surprising how often the “call to action” is overlooked or buried under the weight of competing priorities (see above). Nobody succeeds alone. If you care about and believe in your offer, you’re doing the audience a favor by making your expectations clear.

Attitude adjustment
Confidence is essential for changing the conversations around what we see, hear, feel and know to be true. Good designers and writers see a project’s potential, and tell powerful stories that inspire action. Mediocre marketing and design has none of that.

The most valuable thing a designer provides is not the creative product – a website, a logo, a publication. The most valuable thing a designer provides clients and colleagues is the confidence to move forward.

Related content:
Confidence Makes Great Marketing
Do It Anyway

Mind the Gap

Politely but firmly, as any traveler boarding trains in London’s Underground can attest, an insistent female voice reminds passengers to pay attention to their surroundings. Unfortunately, there is no similarly effective system for urging those who work in non-profit organizations to “mind the gap” between the current and desired state of things.

Every night we ask our two boys to set the table as my wife or I prepare dinner. After the older boy asks “What are we having?” and the younger one distracts himself with the dog, almost invariably the conversation goes something like this: Is the table set? Yes. Everyone has forks? Yep. Did you set out cups? Uh-huh. Looking from the kitchen into the dining room, it appears both boys have cups but neither parent is so fortunate. Were you planning on giving your mom or me a cup? Oh! I didn’t know you wanted one.

Whether it’s due to existing organizational systems and culture, our education, or our job description, too often we find ourselves overmatched by the problems we’re asked to address. Hampered by a fixed-view, linear mindset, there is a gap between the problems we face and the skills we bring to bear in solving them – almost a planned obliviousness.

A dynamic environment
Few things exist in isolation. Sick people need doctors. Cars need fuel. And a flower needs sun, soil, water, bees, and an environment free of feet to stomp on it or tires to run it over. In all endeavors multiple factors affect one another, yet our response in the face of complexity has been to evolve into a collection of specialists where one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. As the Epicurean Dealmaker observed:

As the body of scientific and technical knowledge swells exponentially, scientists and engineers by definition simply must become narrowly focused specialists. You cannot be effective as a scientist or engineer nowadays if your knowledge spans too broad a field.

He continues:

But who will aggregate and balance the competing viewpoints, suggestions, and research programs of all these specialists in highly complex microdomains? Who else but someone who has been rigorously educated in the general discipline of how to think, of how to evaluate competing claims and conflicting evidence under conditions of extreme uncertainty?

Who else but a designer?

Inconceivable
Before accusing me of being delusional, let me explain. Most people think of design as an act of creation. Among other things, designers make products, buildings, posters, and websites. But design is as much – if not more – about how we think than what we make.

If you had customers facing physical danger in the course of receiving your product or service, it’s safe to say that fixing this problem would be a priority. Less alarming, but similarly, if your website was difficult to navigate or your process for thanking volunteers was too slow, these might also be identified as problems worth solving.

These are all design problems. And, since design is part of everything we do, all of us have a stake in thinking like designers.

Recognizing patterns
Psychologists have long identified pattern recognition as essential to human intelligence. It’s the only way our powerful, but limited, brains can process massive amounts of stimuli. Imagine reading, playing chess, solving equations, or understanding human behavior – all rely on keen recognition of patterns.

The problem with relying only on specialists, is that the patterns they’ve learned can make it harder for them to consider and integrate new thinking. They know too much.

Design thinking is a structured approach to generating and developing ideas to meet a specific challenge. Fostering the conditions in which insider knowledge meets outsider perspective encourages the kinds of questions and breakthroughs that remain largely absent with a more insular approach.

Solving problems
What’s needed now, more than ever, is for recognition that “business as usual” is a pattern that doesn’t exist – the status quo is forever changing. We need specialists with their deep, but narrow, expertise to collaborate with less linear, more iterative thinkers – the designers in our midst. In other words, in an age of increasing specialization, we need to be paying attention to both the forest and the trees.

When that happens, we’ll make a regular habit of improving our organizations, not just our logos and websites, and eliminating the gaps between what exists and what is possible. As the web application developer and founder of 37Signals, Jason Fried, has said: The design is done when the problem goes away.

Related Content:
The Cognitive Cost of Expertise
Design Nations

Seeking Expertise

During a recent conversation, a friend asked me “How do you get all your clients?” It got me thinking about the flip side of that equation: How do non-profit organizations search for and hire consultants or firms? More importantly, what can be done to ensure that they hire the right consultant?

While each organization has unique circumstances, based on our experience, taking the following approach offers the best chance for a successful collaboration.

Have a well-defined problem.
This has greater impact on the work than anything else. If the problem to be solved is unclear, the work will be too. Allowing time and budget for an experienced consultant to help refine the project brief leads to even greater clarity – and great work.

Be candid with prospective firms.
If an RFP must be issued, by all means include a budget. Providing complete responses to questions before proposals are submitted shows respect for others’ expertise and time, and indicates an interest in establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.

Hire the best expert you can afford.
Relevant experience and expertise matters. A consultant or firm is hired to solve a problem or seize an opportunity that the organization does not have the capability to address internally. What’s that worth? It depends how much a successful outcome will mean to the organization.

Define success.
Use objective, specific language to help both the consultant and internal team understand by what measure this project will be considered successful. All measures should be defined to allow acknowledgment of progress along the way to the ultimate goal.

Follow the leader.
Every project needs a champion with the authority to make decisions and the public, explicit backing of the organization’s leader. If you’ve watched much football, inevitably you’ve seen a close play at the goal line in which two officials run toward the ball carrier looking at each other without signaling a call. Your consultant needs to know who has the final say, and that person needs to be decisive.

When good intentions aren’t enough to address an organization’s toughest problems, it may be time to bring in someone to help. By following the steps above, the chance for a successful outcome will rise dramatically.

Favorite Links – May 2018

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect marketing for mission-driven organizations. This eclectic list features some of our recent favorites:

How to Keep Going
Good advice for living a creative life – or a life.

Gun Deaths in America
This is not a pro- or anti-gun post, but an excellent use of interactive graphics to aid in clarifying a complex subject.

Direct Mail in a Digital Age
Blending new technology and old-school familiarity can spell future success.

Why Talented People Don’t Use Their Strengths
Our “superpowers” are things we do effortlessly, almost reflexively – and we often undervalue them.

Touch Me

Underwater scene, showing different tropical fish swimmingWhen you live in Minnesota, where we endured a record-breaking mid-April blizzard, social media feeds are regularly filled with friends’ vacation photos from exotic getaways. It’s not so much the severity of our winters, but the length, that inspire dreams of beaches and drinks with little umbrellas. But it’s not as good as actually being there. Not even close.

I recently returned from a spring break trip on the Mexican Riviera. We stayed in Puerto Morelos, a sleepy fishing village 25 minutes south of Cancun. While there, we spent one afternoon snorkeling along the reef about 400 meters from shore. The variety of fish and coral was spectacular – every shape, every size, every color – an extraordinary day.

You had to be there
If I owned an underwater camera, I could show you photos of our family swimming in what looked like a saltwater aquarium. But the images wouldn’t capture the sound of the waves lapping against our ears, the feel of the water being displaced by our fins, the dappled sunlight illuminating the crevices where tropical fish were hiding, or the taste of the saltwater on our lips.

Back on shore, the soft ocean breezes, the sound of Bob Marley singing, the sweet smell of sunscreen, and the taste of fish tacos washed down with ice cold cervezas only added to the multi-sensory experience.

In a world made faster, smaller, and more connected through technology, researchers assert that millennials value experiences over stuff. Traveling, attending a concert, or eating at a new restaurant with friends brings greater satisfaction than owning a fancier car or working long hours to earn a promotion.

No matter the generation, I would argue that the same holds true for a great majority of people.

The digital divide
Technology opens new avenues for communicating and doing business, enabling a previously unimaginable level of direct and personal marketing. But even when artificial intelligence and super-smart algorithms make technology more human, it is still one step away from the real thing.

Facebook is more like a pen pal than a true friendship. Playing video games across a network brings people together, but the effects of that interaction are not as deep or profound as when friends gather to play in the same room. The distance is digital.

Technology can simulate or facilitate many things, but it cannot adequately replicate real human connections.

If we accept that experiences are more memorable, and certainly more valuable, than things, how does that alter our approach to designing for mission-driven organizations? We can’t fly all of our customers to Mexico!

Here are three ways to create better experiences and connections with your audience.

Human-centered design
It’s tempting to tell potential customers all about our wonderful products and services. Enough about you, let’s talk about me! But the best way to make meaningful connections is to truly understand the behavior, motivations, and desires of the people we are trying to serve – and then communicate accordingly.

Last fall, we worked with Prepare + Prosper to understand why more people who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) don’t file for this effective anti-poverty program. The average refund is more than $2,000, yet as few as one in five eligible taxpayers claim it.

What we found through personal interviews and surveys was that leading with even basic information about the EITC left people feeling confused and skeptical. Getting one’s taxes done for free was less important than having confidence in the tax preparer’s skill and training. And a large tax refund has an emotional resonance that is every bit as important as the practical benefits.

All of this research led to defining the importance of that “money moment” for qualified taxpayers – the feeling of accomplishment upon getting your finances in order – and influenced everything from the design of the website and printed materials to how clients were greeted when they arrived at a neighborhood tax prep center.

Lights, camera, action
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a video worth? Thanks to video, in the past couple weeks I have learned how to play a new song on guitar, replaced a part on our dishwasher, and binge-watched a TV show while waiting for our airplane.

Whether we’re entertaining or informing ourselves, video stimulates more senses than written communications. That’s why four times as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it. Because video more closely simulates real-life experiences, it is more likely to both capture attention and be memorable.

Short, compelling videos are a good way to bridge the time and space between your organization and the people you are trying to reach.

Just my type
People are making buying decisions based on what a company stands for, now more than ever. Mission-driven organizations have always tried to connect on a values level. But now, major corporations and hybrids, such as public benefit corporations, encourage people to purchase with a purpose.

Cause marketing attaches a better story to any purchase or investment. If you can’t be there to personally clean up the river or feed the hungry, you can belong to the tribe that supports it and, by proxy, experience the feel-good benefits.

When both the organization and the consumer show that they’re here for the greater good, they form a stronger connection.

The need for touch
We are the sum total of our experiences. What we touch shapes what we feel. If money is made for memories, and not just acquiring more stuff, then we need to consider how our work on behalf of mission-driven organizations can fulfill that need.

As technology is incorporated into every facet of our lives, and all human interactions are converted into numbers, we would do well to remember that what we feel almost always outweighs what we think.

Favorite Links – February 2018

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. This eclectic list features some of our recent favorites:

8 Ways to Give Better Feedback to Creatives
Suggestions for bringing project goals into better focus when your creative team misses the mark.

The Definitive Guide to Working with the Millennial Species
Humorous look at the idiosyncratic traits of that generation no one is writing about.

USA Facts
Federal, state, and local data from over 70 government sources presented in accessible, searchable format.

How Gatorade Invented New Products by Revisiting Old Ones
A preoccupation with creating shiny new products can blind people to the most profitable and low-risk opportunities.

 

Make It Personal

The side project.

Whether it is pursued to scratch an itch, get out of a rut, or seek fame and fortune, not all work neatly fits into the parameters of a traditional job – if there is such a thing anymore.

Google famously encourages employees, in addition to regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on self-generated ideas. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin believe that “this empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

Book cover of book about Minnesota inventions

Minnesota Invents – one of the unfunded, entrepreneurial projects by Jeff Johnson’s Replace design studio.

But as my friend, Jeff Johnson, a serial entrepreneur, prolific designer, and all-around force of nature, likes to say, “There is no such thing as a personal project. They are all just projects.” He spends about 30% of his time on speculative, unfunded, entrepreneurial projects of all kinds.

One never knows where a personal interest may lead.

Pursue obsessions
Gary Hustwit, a photographer and independent filmmaker, is best known for his documentaries: Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. Through his work, Hustwit shows that even the most esoteric interests can be fascinating.

At a conference, Hustwit’s presentation focused on how his various obsessions inspired work over the years. What usually spurs a project for him is a simple calculation: “I think ‘this should exist’ and if it doesn’t exist, I make it.”Home page of LoveMplsParks.org website

That’s sort of how I ended up creating LoveMplsParks.

Make an impact
Among other activities, I have biked, paddled, coached kids, walked dogs, attended concerts, skated, skied, and proposed marriage in our city’s parks. The parks and lakes make Minneapolis one of the greenest and most livable urban areas in the country.

But while I served on my neighborhood advisory board, I became aware of the financial plight of the Minneapolis park system. It suffers from a nearly $30 million backlog of deferred maintenance, and it relies on the whims of other governmental bodies for its funding.

I decided to create a new, dedicated revenue stream selling parks-branded merchandise printed and shipped on demand. Profits are split 50/50 between People for Parks, our non-profit partner, and the designers who created the apparel and posters. Since its launch, the venture has generated $80,000, with almost $20,000 donated to preserve Minneapolis parks.

One thing leads to another
Eric Kreidler has been in love with cinema, animation, and visual effects ever since he saw Star Wars as a child. From super-8 cameras in junior high, to experiments in stop-motion animation, and a detour to graphic design after college, Eric’s roundabout journey led him back to motion graphics in 2010.Album cover for The Bazillions Rock-N-Roll Yearbook

Prior to his focus on animation, most of his side projects were music-based. When his good friends in The Bazillions released a fantastic album of children’s music, an opportunity was staring him in the face. Seven years and 14 critically-acclaimed animated videos later, a serendipitous encounter gave Eric and his partner, Gretchen, the chance to explore new techniques and rebrand eg design as a motion graphics shop.

Two worlds collide
I always keep a sketchbook nearby both to explore illustration ideas, and because moving pixels around with a mouse is often less satisfying than getting one’s hands Fantastic Beast – a set of five postcards for LoveMplsParks.orgdirty. Last year, an owl led to an egret and then to an idea for a series of animal illustrations inspired by Charley Harper – the fantastic beasts of Minneapolis parks.

After the Posters for Parks show in the fall, Eric asked, “Would you ever be interested in doing a little collaborative animation for the parks?” Over coffee and cookies, we discussed a number of ideas, scribbled on napkins, and settled on a series of 15-20 second videos for upcoming park events.

Hockey the way nature intended
Since both of us are huge hockey fans, our first effort was for the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. Hundreds of teams from across the U.S. and Canada gather on a frozen lake for four days of action at the end of January.

Sketches of frames from pond hockey animation

I wanted the spot to move like a game with the focus in tight – all angles, and overlaps, and changes of direction. The distinctive look and sounds of an outdoor rink were the inspiration for the sketches that capture key frames within the sequence – illustrating how we would get from start to finish.

color illustrations of frames from pond hockey animated video

After another conversation and some refinement, I turned the black-and-white sketches into vector-based, color files. From there, Eric brought them beautifully to life with Adobe AfterEffects, and used Adobe Premiere to do the edit and sound design. Here is the finished spot:

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships from eg design on Vimeo.

Make it happen
Your mind is your most valuable asset. Jeff Johnson believes any project that engages the mind and feeds the soul expands that asset – no matter any potential commercial application. He advises to always be working on something that frightens you a little: “Make friends with that scared shitless feeling.”

Eric Kreidler knows the value of doing the kind of work you want to do – whether anyone is hiring you to do it or not – as he and Gretchen used personal projects to shift into a whole new practice they are more passionate about.

As designers, we have the extraordinary ability to conjure something out of nothing. But no matter your profession, the best, most meaningful, and magical work happens when you risk bringing yourself to the table.

Go make great ideas happen!

When is it Time for a Redesign?

Collection of luxury smart watches on a white backgroundNothing lasts forever. At least that’s the way it seems in a world where constant change is the norm, and “new” barely registers before it’s back to the drawing board.

Should I strike while the iron is hot? Or am I better safe than sorry? As with relying on aphorisms that have an equally true counter-argument, it is difficult to know when the time is right to examine the design of your organization’s logo, publications, or website.

In theory, a redesign begins with a problem.

Designers excel at guiding clients from Point A to Point B – and helping them define what Point A and Point B are. Without proper diligence, a lot of time and money can be spent addressing the wrong problem!

The better the problem is defined – the better the solution will be. As Albert Einstein liked to say, “If I only had one hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and then five minutes solving it.”

One of the first questions I ask when considering a new assignment is: “How will we know when we’ve been successful?” If there isn’t a rock solid answer, the problem has not been well-defined.

Common mistakes
The process of deciding whether the time is right for a redesign can be complicated by myriad reasons. Some of the most common ones include:

  •  Some clients have an itchy trigger finger. They want to do something – anything! – and the sooner the better. The new boss wants to make her mark, and a new design serves as more of a signal than a solution. This can create the veneer of change – which can have value – but if product, service, or operational issues are holding an organization back, better marketing will provide a temporary boost at best.
  •  Everyone else is doing it! As a teenager, this excuse didn’t sway your parents, and it isn’t a good enough reason to undertake a major redesign. Trends come and go (remember QR codes?), but makeovers should be driven by strategy, not tactics. Taking the time to understand customer needs and habits is always fashionable.
  •  Going too big – or too small. The project needs to be properly scoped to match your time and budget. You may end up with a better design if you focus on solving one high-priority problem rather than chasing multiple fixes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that other problems go unaddressed, but they may need to go on the back burner. If forced to choose, how will you prioritize?
  •  Discounting equity. We had one client that began an assignment nearly certain – based on scant anecdotal evidence – that the organization’s name was a problem. Had we listened only to them, and not also to the voices of customers and partners, their new brand would have been misguided – and required years to rebuild the name recognition and hard-earned trust that comes with it.

The time is right
Some of the best reasons for green lighting a redesign include:

  •  The story has changed. You may be serving different or new audiences than you were when the current design was adopted. Maybe the competitive landscape has changed. Maybe you’re celebrating a major milestone or anniversary. If the organization you have been is not the same as the one you will be going forward, your design – and your story – needs to reflect that.
  •  Your customers tell you. Whether anecdotally or by something that can be measured (web traffic, donations, sales), there are usually signs that your performance has slipped or your audience has changed. A redesign may be an appropriate response.
  •  Technology has changed. A logo never used to need to work as an avatar. Before responsive web technology, websites often worked better on desktop computers than on mobile devices. Technology continues to be a moving target – both for marketing professionals and for the audiences they are trying to reach. When existing formats don’t work as well as they used to, it may be time for a redesign.
  •  Does this logo make me look fat? No one wants their design to make them look bad or out of touch. While some companies have what appears to be a timeless identity that never wavers, most have undergone several subtle (and not-so-subtle) updates over the years. This sort of refresh serves as a signal for others to take another look – to hear the story again. And the refresh isn’t the story as much as how the new design will support your goals.

Know when to say when
There is no industry standard – a seven-year itch – to dictate when it’s time for a redesign. You need a compelling reason to invest the time and money (see reasons above). And while change doesn’t guarantee success, an intelligent redesign that solves the right problem can make a world of difference.

Related content:

Makeover Mania
How Lacroix Water Became a Millennial Sensation
The iPhone X is a User Experience Nightmare

Favorite Links – August 2017

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. This eclectic list features some of our recent favorites:

Is Your Nonprofit Built for Sustained Innovation?
Six useful starting points for mission-driven organizations that want to build their capacity to continuously innovate.

Your Customers Still Want to Talk to a Human Being
Most people will call instead of reach out online when they are making a high-value decision.

Ideas are Just a Multiplier of Execution
Ideas are worth nothing unless executed.

Creative Collaboration is What Humans Do Best
We are neither the nicest nor the nastiest species, but we are the most creative.

Alternatives and Facts

Photo of tile floor seen from above with men's shoes and three directional arrowsDoes diet soda keep us thin or make us sick?
How can we be sure that humans are a major cause of global warming?
Will we ever know if the Russians interfered in our election?

Americans clearly lack confidence in the institutions that affect their daily lives – governments, organized religion, banks, and the news media among them. As trust in institutions has dropped over the past twenty years, our access to information has exploded.

Contrary to the gospel’s assurance that “the truth will set you free,” many now seem to subscribe to the notion that the truth is unknowable. A steady stream of conflicting and/or confusing information will do that.

It causes anxiety and indecision.

Patience is a virtue – except when it’s not
Wisdom is difficult to come by, as one tried-and-true piece of advice often conflicts with another.

Look before you leap.
Strike while the iron is hot.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Out of sight, out of mind.

Birds of a feather flock together.
Opposites attract.

The fact that both can be true only underscores the complexity of designing for human beings.

The firehose effect
We now have access to a greater volume of information, delivered instantaneously to our fingertips, than our brains have the capacity to process. It changes the way we think and the way we behave.

Moore’s Law is based on the insight that processor speeds for computers double every two years. This remarkably prescient, 50-year-old observation, might also explain how society has seemingly moved from a seven year itch to a seven second twitch.

With a multitude of choices, the fear of missing out (FOMO) fuels the pursuit of the newest shiny object – a tactics-obsessed mindset that leaves most people neither current nor effective.

Finding perspective
Like day traders following the minute-by-minute fluctuations of the latest trendy stock, when we evaluate changes in marketing through a short enough window of time they can seem wildly unpredictable and confusing. But time is a paradox. Step back far enough and changes seem much smaller and gradual by comparison – and much easier to explain.

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.
– Albert Einstein

A good designer moves between short- and long-term perspectives to find direction and insight. Details matter, but so does the big picture. There is a method to balancing the two.

  • Start by asking questions. Listening, observing, and collecting information provides the context to understand the problem. It’s important to set aside assumptions.
  • Analyze and combine ideas and insights. Define success, propose a strategy, and align the people necessary to make it happen. Leave room for the plan to evolve.
  • Explore possibilities. Give ideas physical form to evaluate the merits of one option versus another. Refine and repeat the process.

Does it pass the eye test?
I’ve worn glasses or contact lenses since I was 25 years old. My right eye is naturally better at seeing things far away. My left eye is better for viewing things up close. It’s known as monovision, and has grown more acute as I age.

My optometrist could make both of my eyes great for reading tiny type, but everything in the distance would appear blurry. Instead, my prescription is a compromise between the two, with my brain asked to synthesize the visual stimuli and make sense of it.

I’ve spent the past two weeks working through treatment for an infection in my left eye. In addition to an increased sensitivity to light, this has messed with my depth perception and ability to focus as my brain struggles to adapt to impaired input. Regular headaches ensue.

As we choose which marketing channels, strategies, and tactics to pursue, and debate what appear to be conflicting facts, keep both eyes open. Trust that a more holistic view of what you’re seeing will lead to more effective solutions.