Dion's Blog

Failing to Listen: A tragic shortcoming

I was shocked to hear that the CEO of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center was stepping down.  I was saddened and surprised at the shortcomings he professed to in the article in the Houston Business Journal.  Don’t let the failure to listen damage your future.  Learn more here.

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Life Changes You … no kidding!

One of the outcomes of the LIFElines process is being able to see your life and influences in a way that makes sense of how and who you are today.  The writing exercises reveals even more.

Today, I saw research that proudly proclaims that life changes personalities.  To use the parlance of today … “No duh.”   Take a look at the article here.  Better understand who you are and why by going through the LIFElines process — four views of your life’s experiences on time lines and writing prompts.  What you see and learn will help you see differently, change perspectives and grow authentically.

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Things That Inspire

The sophomore at High School for Performing and Visual Arts’ Creative Writing class shared her observation, “I found that the things that interest me inspire me in not just my writing, but in this photography and other ways, too.”  She seemed surprised, but also quite proud of the insights.  Her point is not to be missed.  (…more)

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The Pickers’ Treasure is Not a Thing

The occasional watching of the American Pickers has revealed a treasure in their clutter.  It is not what they see or buy, or the knowledge about the items that they share.  It is not their banter.  It is more valuable than anything they ever purchased or bid on.  It is something they occasionally hear.  (more)

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Guarantee That Your Team Can Produce

Every business wants a harvest, and every business needs its team to produce. Think of your business and its culture like a garden and you’ll improve the quality and quantity of your harvest.

I’m not a good gardener, but I’ve read much and practiced to learn the ways of my forebears. A million times I have heard a message similar to the one on the sign above. What is true for the garden is true for your business, too. Continue reading

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Rejuvenate Copy With an IV

The copy on your site or blog, in your fundraising proposals or letters, or in your catalogs or sales letters need an IV.  They could probably use several.  Don’t go searching for a hospital IV … I mean an interview.

I developed for a new private high school the bulk of a fundraising proposal that could be tweaked for different submissions, and a case statement for the fundraising effort. Last I heard, those documents have played key roles in at least $3 million in contributions.  Similarly, another half a million or more for another small nonprofit.  I believe IVs – interviews – changed the copy from cogent to inspiring, from clear to engaging and from interesting to compelling.

Maybe it is my old journalism background, but I have always used interviews when writing, no matter what the purpose of the article was.  Since the newspaper days, I’ve written membership and gift solicitations, content marketing, blog postings, product or service descriptions, stories and articles, columns and more … you name it, I used interviews.

For copywriting – blogs, web sites, fundraising proposals, sales or membership acquisition letters, and so on – I make access for interviews a condition for accepting the assignment.  I must be able to interview some people.  Potential interviewees include customers, employees, managers and owners.  Find the founder or inventor … gold mine!  There are four reasons to include interviews in developing copy for any of the purposes referenced above:

Perspectives

Various perspectives about the business and its culture, about service and its quality, about experiences and purpose … these perspectives sometimes appear in final copy but always, always influence what is written.  To effectively write copy that appeals to various audiences and individuals, the writer must get perspectives other than his or her own.  I take highlights from my notes, write them on a whiteboard and then reference them when organizing content or writing.  The whiteboard of perspectives also provides ideas for keywords, hashtag terms and much more.

 

Personality

Face it, who wants to do business with a non-emotional, sociopathic, sterilized business?  Interviewing provides insights and inspiration into how to convey the personalities of the business, the customers it serves and the culture it has created.  Humorous or serious, calm or bodacious, adventurous or inhibited … the personality of the business and those it serves should be conveyed in copy.  Don’t imagine what that is like, interview to learn!

 

Passion

“Passion,” a word that is quickly moving from poignant to cliché status.  If you’re using the word, you are almost signaling to the world that you don’t have it.  Sort of like when the shifty salesperson says, “You can trust me,” the business that always says “We have a passion for….”draws skepticism.  Passion is exhibited and communicated, so interview to find examples of passion.  Find stories, quotes, insights and experiences that convey a passion for the work, the use of the product and so on.  Try to NOT say that the business is passionate or that the product was developed out of a passion for … show by example and by word choices.  Again, the results of the interviews migrate to the whiteboard for reference and inspiration.

 

Participation

Most everyone agrees that anything to do with sales and sales relationships should be more than transactional.  They should be interactive.  Interviewing provides insights and examples that inspire participation.  Maybe the participation involves use of the product or service, or the process of purchasing and/or giving feedback, or engagement of the business’ employees … there are so many options.  Break down siloes and invite participation.  Where are the words and the ideas for that?  In the interviews!!

 

And the reason those four work?  They provide insights and direction to humanize your business and its offerings so shoppers get connected to people and an organization that they come to know, like and trust, which converts shoppers to buyers. #shopperstobuyers  #copywriting #copywritingthatsells  #empoweredcreativity

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Quick Check on Your Site’s or Blog’s Words

Web pages and blogs must engage readers.  Words must convey ideas, thoughts or perceptions that connect to readers’ lives, circumstances, challenges and dreams.  Compelling, persuasive, informative writing that connects to readers doesn’t just flow with “off the top of the head” messaging.  Here are a few ways to check your site’s or blog’s content.

1.       Pick a page or a posting.  Copy the content and paste into Word.

2.       Try a few word searches.  How many times does “is,” “are,” “have,” or “was” appear?  Those are warning signs for weak writing.

3.       Try a search for “ly” to get an estimate of how many adverbs are used.  More than likely, words with “ly” at the end are adverbs.  Adverbs may not be a pariah, but they shouldn’t be used often.  Some successful writers (Stephen King, for one) believe adverbs should almost never be used.  And for good reason.  They are weak.

4.       Try the Flesch-Kincaid analysis (in Word, the option resides in “Spelling and Grammar” under “Review” tools). This review will give you a sense of the writing’s grade level and the amount of passive sentence construction.  Try to stay at about the eighth-grade level for most writing.  And keep your passive construction to a minimum.  Also, for sites and blogs, don’t get too hung up on AP Style.  While it is “correct,” its rules (like all rules) are made to be broken when done so with purpose.

 Those quick tests show you the issues.  Invest the time and/or resources to get the copywriting that works.

Remember, your writing should engage your readers by connecting to them, their lives and their circumstances.  When you connect and engage, you form a relationship and reveal understanding.   Isn’t that what every client or potential customer wants from a business?  They want to hire or buy from those who they like and trust (relationship), and are attuned to their needs (understanding).  The right words empower relationships, connections and understanding.

 

 

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Creativity Colonic

I needed a cleansing.  A clearing of obstacles to my thinking, self-talk and distractions that keep me from creating in my preferred forms of expression:  writing and photography.  So I did something about it.  You may want to give it a try, too.

Twenty-four hours of creating.  8:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.  Writing, thinking, photographing, planning, exploring, creating.  Everything during the time was focused on visualizing or creating images, conceptualizing or writing, or somehow engaging my brain and senses to those ends:  writing and photographing.  You can find a short reflection on the day at my photography blog.

More than a few discoveries presented themselves along the way.  I believe they apply to anyone who wants to access more of their potential (which should be everyone).

 

You Can Do More With Your Time Than You Think

I paused for a moment to relish the images and review the words that I had created.  I was proud of them, and enjoyed all that had already been created.  It was less than three hours into the process.  By focusing on creating, but not so tightly that I didn’t allow for discovery and exploration along the way, I was able to produce a lot.  Good stuff.   It won’t all hang in galleries or win literary awards, but the words and images already created gave me momentum for the process.  Pacing is for racing, not creating.  Burn.  Burn bright.  Re-light.  Act with the energy and gusto you have in the moment, allow breaks when you feel the need for rest and you will find you get more done than you considered possible.

 

Never Surrender.  Never. 

At 21 hours, I was toast.  But I kept the pen moving, the camera clicking or the eyes wandering for inspiration.  Good things happened.  I created the “last” image at 23 hours (early sunrise) as a symbolic image.  Then I took another “last” image a bit later when the sun was higher, revealing looming thunderstorms.  That would make a good closing, I thought.  On the short drive home, I saw another image that beckoned me – a basketball backboard lit for just a few moments as the sun dodged clouds.  Lit against the dark shadows of the trees behind it, the backboard called out, “A new day!  Come play!!”  Indeed.

The point is, never give up seeing, being inspired or creating.  No matter how tired, no matter how much you have done … never surrender, never give up, never stop living and creating.  The “last” wasn’t, and rarely is.

 

Moats and Walls Don’t Work

Though this experience was largely isolationist by nature, it could not be successful if I had drawn up the bridge and filled the moat.  Creativity requires interaction with the world in some way.  Walk outside and feel the breeze instead of just the air conditioner while sitting at the computer.  I went to Waffle House for breakfast at 2:00 a.m. to have the chance of meeting someone with real character and without pretense.  The old woman who served as my waitress filled the bill.  Even while going inside ourselves for creative energy, you should stay connected with your senses for inspiration.  Sure, it’s a bit more complicated than those statements, but staying tied to the virtual, digital world is not a solution.  Get away from virtual; make it real.

 

Curiosity Rules

“I wonder what the cup will look like if I…?” I thought to myself.  So, I explored with my camera and played.  Curiosity empowers play; play brings discoveries to curiosity.

Be curious about everything.  Wonder.  Doubt.  Challenge. Grow.

 

Your Creativity Comes From Who You Are … Who You Really Are

A few weeks before this project, I read two books that probably influenced the timing of it:  Daily Rituals—Habits of Artists by Mason Currey, and Blissful Affliction—The Ministry and Misery of Writing by Judson Edwards. Daily Rituals provides the habits of many great creatives.  There are similarities between many and tremendous differences.  There is no specific path to success other than to use what habits, techniques, tools, processes, mindsets, experiences, etc. that work for you.  You.  Just you.  Blissful Affliction reminds with humor and directness that the call to write comes from a place far deeper than the wallet. You must respond to that call with your creative expression, whether it is photography or knitting, dancing or cooking, singing or strategic planning … go to the place where you are genuinely you.  Create from there.

I had gotten into my mind the “wisdom” of those who proclaim that artists must create from their deep, dark, emotional places.  I figured that 20 hours into the project, I would be tapping into that wellspring and entirely new work would be the result.  Nope.  For my entire life, I have, with few exceptions, had a hard time remembering the wrongs done me.  A good friend reminded me that I am not one to fight “against” something; I fight “for” things … I work for the positive, not fight against the negative.  I’ve always been that way, and in my most exhausted hours I did not see darkness, but beauty.  Fifty years ago, mom said, “Your enthusiasm will take you far.”

Create from who you are.  Period.

 

 

When I returned home 24 hours and one minute later than my start, I was exhausted, depleted and smiling.  After a two-hour nap, I awoke and worked for a few hours, then took a three-hour nap.  I was back “in cycle” for sleep patterns, though still a bit worn down.  The process works, but like any cleansing out process, it is important to consider what is put back into the system afterwards.  For me, I must be very watchful of the thoughts that creep into my head, the self-doubts that blow against my flame.  I must fill my system with confidence, faith and courage to use my abilities in response to the inspiration-every-moment way that I view life and living.  You will discover what belongs in your gut, too, after you complete a creativity cleansing.

If I still worked in a team environment, I would find a way to provide them the gift of this sort of experience, except in an eight-hour work day format.  No meetings, no distractions, auto-reply email mode:  eight hours of creative thinking, using whatever methods they wanted to scrape off the rust, dig out of ruts or unshackle burdens to their innate creative thinking.  It works.

 

Check out my upcoming book that holds the key to finding and tapping into creative nature in personal and professional life:  Lifelines:  Empowering Creativity in All Aspects of Life.   www.DionMcInnis.com/books-media .

 

 

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Creativity and the Fountain of Youth

…from my column, the power and potential of your fountain of youth–your creativity.

 

Creativity is the fountain of youth

Creativity is the fountain of youth

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“The ROI for a team that grows and flourishes is….

….whatever it means to you,” I thought when the man asked me about the ROI on my concept of focusing the human resource process (posting, hiring, managing, promoting, leading, coaching, disciplining and, when necessary, firing).  He answered his own question before I responded.

ROI seems pretty fluid to me, and to the people that I have worked for, coached and worked with.  And so it should be.

“I have a good team.  They are all talented, but there is some tension and other issues.  I’m not as concerned about a huge performance change as much as a decrease in the tension and for me to have to ‘babysit’ them less.”  A local business owner shared her thoughts about the team situation for her company that has four employees.  The main return on investment that she wanted was for decreased tension, less drama and a happier environment at work.  She knew that the change of conditions would enable her team’s capabilities to grow with the business, and both the business and her team would flourish.

“I need to add a contract employee.  What do you think about this job posting?” the executive director asked.  Measuring ROI should begin with the job posting.  Team development begins with the job posting, too. The investment of time in posting, searching, interviewing, hiring and the probationary period is certainly nontrivial, and the “return” should be a successful hire of an employee that contributes to the organization’s success.  Unfortunately, the posting I was asked to review seemed to fly in the face of the allowed expectations of a 1099 employee.  I suggested that he contact an HR professional for a review (the job had already been posted), and I pointed out some expectations in the job that would tend to filter out the most capable, experienced candidates.

Examples range from ineffective committee/team development, to septic office chemistry, to ill-advised placement of offices and/or employees, to processes and programs that stymy growth.

Quit thinking of the team as a group of people to put on a bus to carry out a mission.  Think of placing them in ways that encourage, empower and expect growth and flourishing.  Think of the workplace’s culture as one that can use the chemistry of diversity, the synergy of growth, the power of “pruning” and “harvesting”… think of the culture like a garden.

Planting seeds, transplanting plants, fertilizing, companion planting, pruning, harvesting, weeding and more…they all apply to the culture of your organization.  The ROI depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Is ROI a percent sales increase, a reduction in days off by a certain amount, improvement in morale by whatever indicators your business uses, or…?  Each company and organization measures for different things, and everyone wants a return on investment.  In some ways, asking for the ROI regarding a team that grows and flourishes is like asking for the ROI for drinking water.  You can measure it many different ways, but those simply justify what you know to be true and critical.

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