Categories
SYNG

How do you sell your ideas? A Creative Director’s perspective

One question I get frequently asked is, “How did you convince the client into rebranding?” or “How did you get approval on that idea?” when the client appeared to be conservative or rigid or needed education about design. 

And the truth is, I never convinced them because they didn’t need convincing. So I’d say that if you’re approaching a client to persuade them to do something, that’s a missed opportunity. 

Don’t worry; I’ve been there too. I asked the same question fifteen years ago, fresh out of college. What I learned and did is what this article is all about.

The art of selling your ideas.

This article is split into four parts. In the first part, we’ll visit Northpoint to give you a frame of reference. 

The second slice covers why no one gives a shit about your ideas. So, how do you get people excited and interested in your ideas? And, why do you need to be thinking like a pickup artist? 

The third bit dives into having the right attitude, mindset, and common mistakes people make when sharing their ideas with an illustrative example. 

The final breadth is about coming up with relevant ideas that make an impact. We’ll also talk about the pitfalls of assumptions and generalizations with a fantastic story the President of Media Planning, MullenLowe shared with me.

–The First Part 

A trip to Northpoint

In 2007, I was enrolled at Northpoint (an offspring of Mullen Lowe Lintas Group), studying brand, marketing, advertising, media, and communications. 

An institution (overlooking the Western Ghats) designed to address the lack of preparatory grounds transitioning young professionals from text-book to the playing field.

Northpoint had zero on-campus faculty (except for a Director of Programming), relying solely upon visiting practitioners from the industry. A rare sight at the time.

“Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are?”

For a year, Northpoint put us face-to-face with Presidents, CEOs, CFOs, VPs, Heads of Creative or <put almost any agency department here>, Directors and Senior Management (including the client-side) — exposing and expanding our minds on a daily diet. 

Never a dull moment. 

These people brought, to the table, their experiences, learnings, and live case studies — giving us a first-hand account of what they were working on and what challenges they were facing. These conversations built our mental models for how shit got done in the real world and, most importantly, how they sold their ideas (on some occasions worth millions of dollars) day-in-day-out. 

Beyond these “boardroom” sessions, we were thrown into the meat-grinder, working in the different departments of an agency. 

I was carrying a bag full of soap, working my way from shop to shop in the sultry summer of Mumbai, and reporting back to Unilever HQ with findings and observations as part of working at the client’s office. 

By its immersive nature, the Northpoint experience hardwired these real-world problem-solving practical skills into me, leaving no chance for guesswork. 

Anyone caught faffing was at the wrath of Siva sir (Northpoint crew knows what I’m talking about). We took our shit seriously, son.

I spent the next decade applying those skills in an agency and later in a brand consulting firm I founded with a friend. The findings and results of the application and practicing those concepts are what I’m sharing with you today.

–The Second Part

Why you need to be thinking like a pickup artist

“Whatever you’ve learned till now is fucking wrong! It doesn’t work in the real world. So we’re going to unlearn everything.”

There I was, front row and centre, on day one, at Northpoint, and the first thing to come out of Suraja Kishore, VP, Lowe’s mouth (sporting a French beard and bright floral shirt) were those words. 

His statement intended to disrupt our thought patterns and open our minds to new possibilities and a different worldview. Pickup artists and great salespeople use a similar technique when starting any interaction. 

By the way, I’m not suggesting the VP is a pickup artist. However, having the undivided attention of a room full of restless-opinionated minds within fifteen seconds of making an entrance was a technique worth elucidating. 

Here’s the psychology aspect.

As people walk through life, over time, they tend to form secure belief systems; view of the world, view of themselves, view of how things work, opinions of who they are, what they stand for and what they believe. In the case of companies, what the process or culture is, what they can or cannot do etc., becoming set in their ways. 

I get caught up in the hype too. No kidding.

“I’m not creative,” or “I’m an analytical thinker,” or “I’m not outgoing,” or “I’m not a dancer,” or “I’m an atheist,” or “This is how we’ve (or I) always done (do) it.” “We don’t need a rebrand,” or “We don’t need a new website,” or “That new app user flow isn’t for us,” being close relatives of the same mentality.

Some people, clients, brands etc., don’t like change. They like living in the neatly designed shell of their self-image because it’s harder to adjust their view than maintain it. Change is hard, seriously. 

And at the slightest chance of someone changing that reality or offering a different view, “No, thank you, I/we don’t want it,” becomes the gut knee-jerk reaction.

Laziness and fear are the culprits.

Opening up your audience to become receptive to your ideas begins by making the interaction personal and relevant, as the VP had done so successfully by questioning and challenging a bunch of BBA freshmen. 

Being a figure of authority in the room was another factor going for him that day despite the floral decoration. 

Offering an alternate or contrarian view is not about coming from a hostile place or attempting to put others down. I’d be worried if I were in a room where that was acceptable. Instead, aim to inspire and present an alternate reality of success to a client, person, company or business. Remember, you’re not trying to negate other ideas but only bring more perspectives to the table.

The second part of presenting an alternate worldview to someone is freeing yourself of the outcome. Do not be worried about failing, rejection or falling flat on your face. Being able to walk away at any time works in your favour. 

Here’s why. 

You don’t come off as needy (when talking to a hot girl) or trying to be “salesy” (trying to win business). 

On winning and losing countless pitches (in my personal and professional life), I traced the failure to the lack of applying these simple traits.

–The Third Part

Sharing Mindset

Having someone other than yourself listen to your idea- not hear it passively but listen attentively and remain engaged till you stop talking can be a nerve-racking and daunting scenario to some.

In your case, it could be a business case that needs approval, a partner/stakeholder that needs to be “convinced,” or someone from procurement that won’t budge. Who knows what this may entail for you?

The common thread I noticed by observing and working alongside clients, colleagues, and bosses who inspired, motivated and excited me to do my best can be explained simply with this mental model.

When great leaders, people I admire and with whom I go out of my way, share their ideas and invite people into a dialogue (identify whos). They are at the cause being proactive, are open to consideration, and are willing to share ownership (how vs who) with people around them. And finally, they are receptive to worldviews different from their own and can channel their team’s energy towards their vision while welcoming and embracing negative feedback. 

In stark contrast, clients, colleagues or people I try to avoid exhibit traits commonly found in amateur talent to prove themselves. They behave reactively, fearing their ideas may get hijacked or stolen or have to be shared by other people, acting defensive, trying to protect their ideas by playing bank with cash. They are not receptive or open to feedback or different worldviews—attempts to help come off as stealing or putting down their idea.

It’s the fear of having someone else improve upon your idea. If another soul made your original idea great by adding to it, would that still be “your” original idea? To resonate with the thought of not being the one to have had that better version? Not getting one hundred percent credit or losing the limelight are a few susceptible causes.  

Whenever I get caught up in this feeling, I shake it off immediately, knowing nothing good will follow. 

It takes guts to be transparent and open by putting yourself and your idea out in front of the world, vulnerable to external forces beyond your control. To a certain degree, a level of detachment is required from your idea for it to become a living, breathing dragon indeed. Ha! You get the point.

–The Final Part

Why assumptions are bad news

Premjit Sodhi, President of Media Planning, MullenLowe, started his workshop with a lesson he learned during his days in business school. He recalled his professor putting the class to task with the story of a farmer. It went something like this (this was a while ago, but I’ve got a handle on it).

There’s a poor farmer living in the middle of the Rajasthani desert. He can barely make ends meet; his house is falling apart, the nearest hospital is hours away, there’s no water supply, and so on, describing the apathetic conditions of the villager. How can you improve and make the farmer’s life better?

The students, including Premjit, assembled in teams, spending the day debating and ideating. Then, they returned to class that evening, in time for presentations, with unique ideas. 

From getting the government involved, interconnecting the remote village with satellite towns by road and having a school built, digging a community tubewell, giving the farmer a tractor and supplies (even a laptop), fixing his house to finding him a job and having a municipality setup. 

The professor listened, chiming in on occasions, patiently till the last student spoke his last word. And, when all was said and done, he had only one question, to their dismay, for his hungry-for-praise students. 

“Did anyone bother to ask what the farmer wants?”

Today, product designers are labelling it “User-Centred Design” as if it’s a concept dropped out of digital heaven, wedging the divide between the agency and product world thinking. Maybe we can debate this topic on another day? 

But broadly speaking, very early, we learned to leave our assumptions at the door, question everything, talk to end-users/customers, arrive at true insights by research and observation, and have multiple points of view even if some of those views were conflicting. Lead with curiosity and form opinions by doing the work.

No shortcuts, ever.

That’s why when you approach a client with your ideas early in the conversation (without identifying the problems to be solved or knowing jack shit) for rebranding or app design or recommendations on solutions out of context, the gut knee-jerk reaction of the client is to reject it. The client is busy solving “real” problems and doesn’t see the value. So instead of being salesy, get curious early, ask informed questions and be genuinely interested in the client and their business.

Data speaks

(A pun on deeds speak) 

Instead of wasting time assuming and imagining the needs of a product, client, or user, I learned to dig for insights, do the leg work, and become an investigative journalist.

Ingest and soak in the business, client, or person you will meet. Then, absorb everything you can find on them (and their direct competitors) across any medium you can get your hands on. Get inquisitive and find the pulse.

Research, read, and read some more (bookmark that shit) on what company leadership is saying in blogs and articles, read the annual report, tap into the perspective of thought leaders and opinion-makers, and check out employee reviews on Glassdoor. Put an ear to customer feedback (in forums), and take snapshots of press and media. Engage in social media conversations and comments across the spectrum, and if you have access to the product, take it for a spin. 

Let all the research, data, and findings feed your mental mood board. You don’t have to be a practitioner from the client’s or product’s industry to have an informed opinion. I assure you and promise you these efforts won’t go unnoticed. 

A few things will happen with this approach. One, you’re going to understand the bigger picture at play. You have a context to the client, product, business, or person, throwing light on their vision (or its absence), their problems (your opportunity) and what day-to-day activities they might need help with. 

In love, looks don’t matter. 

Secondly, you’re not pitching pretty designs or (what you assumed to be what the client needed) anymore but having meaningful conversations of “business transformative” ideas that are tuned in with the client’s business outcomes.

Making it personal and relevant.

And thirdly, you’ll be talking to the client about the client, their product, and their customers; excited to share your findings. You’ll be surprised at how many people walk into a room and talk only about themselves. Stop being salesy. 

If one thing I have learned from my travels over the years is people (irrespective of age, caste, sex, religion, or place in society) around the world love it when you talk about them. Listening with genuine interest is at the heart of it. 

Present your ideas, perspectives and pitch with the precision of a meticulous Swiss watchmaking craftsman and be willing to walk away. There’s a slim chance, despite your efforts, you won’t get heard, and you’ll be OK with that because you’re ideas are not meant for everyone. 

Remember, great ideas don’t need convincing. 

Think of a prized possession you own or a person you admire in your life. Did they try and “convince” you into liking them, buying into them or was it voluntary submission to the cause? Occasionally, you take pride in being the evangelist of that idea, person, or cause. Let that thought sink in.

Categories
SYNG

Do you sell the drill or the hole? Putting the urban legend to rest #sales

Today, we’ll challenge the age-old chestnut, what your customer is buying: the drill or the hole? Spoiler alert, none! They’re neither buying the drill nor the hole.

And this urban legend story has been used by sales and marketing people to help others identify the difference between a product and its benefits. In our example, the product is the drill, and the benefit is the hole.

So, what will you learn from this? Number one, how to better speak to your customers; you will be writing much better copy that attracts the right audience and gets more conversions in your sales funnel or your marketing communication. Number two, you will have a much better perspective on positioning your product to your customers. Number three, you’ll also better understand why your current approach and style when selling the drill is not working with your intended target audience. And finally, I’m going to share some fun stories about how I approached this while running my agency and developed this skill and framework.

So let’s dive right into it. But, first, let’s look at the world view of the people who make and sell the drill. They have a product-centric view of the world, focused on our product, our technology, our people, our features and the benefits customers get from using our product or service. And they seldom talk about the outcomes.

Here’s something fundamental: benefits are not outcomes, and outcomes are not benefits. It’s the context—the why and the who shifts our perspective from a product-centric to a buyer-centric view.

Now, look at the example of the drill versus the hole analogy from a buyer-centric view. Focus on who is using the drill? And why are they using the drill? Is it a construction worker who depends on his drill every day? Or is it an artist trying to build an installation? Or is it some handy person who likes to fix things around the house?

Knowing who, how, what, and why paints a vivid picture of the different use cases. And the benefit in all those instances is that the drill makes a hole. But the outcome is very different. And by having cognitive empathy for your buyer, you can begin to look at the world view of how they will interact and live with your products. So even though they’re all making holes, the intention and context are very different.

And why is understanding your buyer’s context important? Because of how you will communicate with them, the messaging you will use in your sales and marketing efforts to target them in a specific way will change dramatically. We can all agree when you’re talking to a construction worker versus an artist trying to build an installation; one might care more about the technical aspects, the other might care more about the aesthetics, and both of them will care about different features. They will care about various reasons to buy that product, and you can communicate to them in a way that resonates with them.

So why does your communication flop in campaigns, presentations or pitches? Reason: you are trying to speak to all of these people from a product-centric versus a buyer-centric view. You want to focus on how and why they’re using your product.

I want to share some fun stories of how I built this framework over time through real-world experiences while running my agency. The first story dates back to when I was a teenager, and at the time, I was probably the only person with a CD recording device and an internet connection at home. I had “exclusive” access to some of the best songs, and I would burn CDs and sell them to my friends. Having that monopoly, I would speak to my friends and peers and learnt, through curious conversation, that they all had a different reason for buying them. For some, it was a status symbol to impress their friends and girlfriends, and for others, it was a passion for listening to the songs on repeat. Same product, different use case! By having this information, I was able to jack up the price! Capitalist, Paul!

Number two is the iPhone. It speaks very differently to the creative community and creators who use its camera to take pictures or record videos versus stock traders who keep an eye on their portfolio versus product or interior designers who use its 3D and depth-sensing technology. Now, what’s interesting is that Apple is very well aware and has loads of cognitive empathy towards these different use cases. If you were to scan the Apple website, you would notice that they very clearly speak to diverse audiences by communicating the outcomes, the benefits, the features and putting use-cases centre stage (who, why, how).

Another fun story, I know people back home in India who would buy the most expensive iPhones but won’t even purchase a data connection. For them, it was never about the features. Instead, it signalled other people that they had a lot of money. That’s it. So just by observing people around you and applying some cognitive empathy, you can be aware of how people think, talk, act, and feel about how they use your product and why they use it. That gives you the fuel to communicate to that audience precisely.

What about books? And you might have observed this with your friends and family. Some people purchase books because they want to read them. Reading one book a week, are we? Others buy books for ornamentation; because it just looks pretty in their house on the shelf. Having a pulse on how the product will live in your buyer’s world and what outcomes they care about helps you shape and articulate your offering to demonstrate your understanding of them better than they do.

Another controversial example is a sports car. For some it is purely a status symbol or a license to fraud people on how to make money online. And on the other end, you have an auto enthusiast who cares about every little detail about how the car rides, how it feels, the engine sound and things of that nature.

All the previous examples seemed pretty simple, right? What about B2B? Salesforce, a very complex product, has many diverse stakeholders who will care about very different things when using the product. And let’s say Salesforce is trying to sell/license the product to a large organization; that large organization will have a buying committee, and that buying committee will care about very different things.

As a salesperson trying to close the gap and sell to the buying committee of a large organization, you have to have cognitive empathy for not only the buying committee but the end-users. And you understand not only the benefits and features but the outcomes. Armed with that knowledge, you can begin to craft messages that speak not only to the features, the benefits and the product but how different stakeholders will use that product.

The frontline sales workers capture leads and prospects into the CRM, whereas the CEO will care about the global dashboard view of what’s happening across the organization. My goal is not to get into the weeds of selling Salesforce to a large organization and how to craft those messages. My intention is only to help you shift your perspective from a product-centric view to a buyer-centric view. And to clarify and re-emphasize that benefits are not outcomes and outcomes are not benefits. They’re very different things. And by having this buyer-centric view, you can demonstrate to your customers and buyers that you understand them better than they understand themselves—using this simple framework (who, how, what, why).

A buyer-centric understanding of the world will give you exponential results in your sales, marketing and advertising efforts because your messages will just hit differently. And finally, if you have any questions, drop them in the comments below, and I will be happy to answer them.

Categories
SYNG

How a poor villager’s story from the Indian desert taught me human-centered design

Today’s story takes me back a decade ago when I was at the Northpoint Centre of Learning doing my post-grad in Marketing, Media, and Communications. One day, I had the chance to participate in a workshop by Mr. Premjeet Sodhi, the President of Lintas Media Group at the time.

In that workshop, Premjeet shared a beautiful story with us about empathy and curiosity. Today, I’m going to paraphrase it for you to the best of my memory because it contains a very important lesson on becoming a better designer, marketer, and advisor.

The Power of Curiosity and Empathy

Premjeet started by telling us about the time he was doing his MBA and his professor gave the class an assignment. After dividing the students into groups, the professor gave them a simple task by saying:

“There is a poor villager in the middle of the Indian desert who lives in an old hut. He is a farmer with very little resources who barely makes enough money to survive. So, what is your strategy to help him?”

The students quickly huddled in groups and started working on their strategy. At the end of the day, they presented their ideas with much fanfare! They were all about giving the farmer government funds, providing him with a tractor, giving him access to clean water to drink and use for irrigation, fertilizers for crops, some cows and goats, more land, education, etc.

At the end of the final presentation, the professor asked a question that blew everyone’s minds: “Did anyone bother to ask what the farmer wants?”

Just like that, this professor taught his students how important it is to get curious (about finding the right problem to solve) and show empathy before scrambling to find solutions. This lesson has stayed with me through the years because it’s truly fundamental to what we do as designers, marketers, and advisors.

Human-Centered Design

“Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving. It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing with and ends with new solutions that are purpose-built to suit their needs. Human-centered design is about cultivating deep empathy with the people you’re designing with; generating ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made together; and eventually, putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” — IDEO

In other words, human-centered design puts the farmer at the heart of everything and asks what he wants. Then, it leverages that information to deliver the best possible product or service.
Human-centered design cultivates empathy for the people that are meant to benefit from the design and it gives us a creative boost that inspires us to generate different ideas, create a variety of prototypes, and share what we’ve made together before we land on an innovative solution.

As Steve Jobs once said:
“Some people say to give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me they wanted a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

The Essence of Good Design

Good design puts humans first because products or services are meant to cater to people and their needs, to provide solutions, innovate, benefit, and make a positive impact on their life. If it fails at that, it’s because the people behind it failed to be empathetic and curious about the end-user.

As Frank Chimero, Brand & Product Designer, put it: “People ignore design that ignores people.”

Design also influences the way we use products, services, and technology, it gives everything shape and creates culture. This is why curiosity and empathy need to be at the center of the conversation before we get to the “making” part.

At the end of the day, we don’t need complicated or complex frameworks to focus on the end human experience of the products and services we provide or help sell. We just need to be curious and empathetic about the end-users to create something truly exceptional and life-altering.

Categories
SYNG

CEO Mindset — Strategy Masterclass with Steve Jobs (Apple) & Sandeep Goyal (Rediffusion)

The only thing standing between you and your success is your focus, willpower, and gameplay. So, what can you do to set yourself up for success?

The big game mentality theory by Dr. Sandeep Goyal depicts the difference between the winners and the runner-ups. It is a simple yet strategic mental model to separate big business tycoons from seasonal businessmen. 

Mr. Goyal described this mental model with a very simple analogy based on cricket. He said: “It’s like when a batsman goes up to the pitch and is surrounded by thousands of fans but is still able to focus on the ball and hit a sixer.” Cue Yuvraj Singh and the time he hit six sixes in a single game.

For most of us on the sidelines, we see the glam, the revenue, and the profit of the big businesses but often fail to see the struggles, the hurdles, the hard work, and the dedication in the bigger picture.

Similarly, entrepreneurs, starting on their journey, dream big but often overlook small or basic factors that can break or make their business. They shouldn’t forget punctuality, being transparent and honest, have a clear strategy, building the right culture, and having shared values and focusing on helping customers.

In a nutshell, the Big Game Mentality is all about focusing on your vision and not ignoring the small stuff. Little things matter and they go a long way in cementing how people perceive your business.

Takeaways from Steve Jobs’ Keynote

This conversation with Dr. Goyal reminded me of the keynote Steve Jobs made when he returned to Apple, where he talked about vision and focus. This keynote is an amazing masterclass in vision, focus, and strategy. I have to say, I am biased because I’m quite the Apple fanboy, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s a lot of useful information there so I want to provide a few takeaways from that keynote.

Even though this talk is over two decades old, it boils down strategy to its most essential parts; the who, why, and what. At one point in the keynote, Mr. Jobs addresses the fact that Appel suffered from lousy engineering management.

In Jobs’ words: “People were going off in 18 different directions, doing arguably interesting things. Good engineers, lousy management. So, when you look at this farm with all the animals going in different directions, it doesn’t add up. The total is less than the sum of the parts.”

What Steve Jobs is saying here is that, as a company, you have to focus on the things that work and add value by identifying the fundamental direction you should go in. A company without focus is doomed. Focusing is not about saying yes, it’s about saying no to the things that you want to do but don’t make sense within your vision or strategy.

Steve Jobs also made a point about the importance of being different while remaining relevant to your audience. To drive this point across, he said: “I think it’s important that Apple is perceived as much better. If being different is essential to doing that, then we have to do that. But if we could be much better without being different, that’d be fine with me.

I want to be much better, I don’t care about being different.”

Jobs also swears by the top-down approach, where the strategy is clear in terms of what the vision is, and then you bring in the right people and build the right culture around that. If you do that, your company will be a success because it will be able to produce the right products. There’s a lot more we can discuss about Steve Jobs’ keynote, but for now, I want you to think about the following important points:

1. Focus and have a sharp vision

You might have interesting ideas boiling to skyrocket your business’s sales but with an ambiguous vision, you are headed nowhere. An important aspect of focus is to discard the ideas that don’t align with your business strategy. Businesses with a sharp vision are not apologetic about being different than others. Instead, they complete the market gap and attract audiences by pulling on their emotional strings — logical and illogical. 

2. Be different but relevant

A business with a truly unique vision has to be relevant if it wants to be competitive. You can’t develop an application without analyzing and understanding the market needs. 

That’s why it’s important to think of the following questions when developing a unique application: 

  • Does my audience need the product, service or application I am developing?
  • Will it fill the market gap?
  • Are there similar solutions in the market?

Steve Jobs says, ‘We are focusing our energy on the right products, the right marketing strategy, the right communication strategy, and the right distribution strategy.’ That’s a good example to follow!


Pro tip: Think like the CEO of the company

If you want to go from order taker to trusted creative advisor, always think like the CEO of the company that you’re working with. They are thinking about everything and not just visual design. Here are a few to start:

  • The product
  • The customer
  • The market 
  • The stakeholders
  • The media 
  • The competition
  • The company value
  • The company model
  • Perception and innovation
  • Operations and logistics

Thinking like the CEO of the client that you’re working with will allow you to have a completely different perspective and approach to delivering value. You also want to be curious and ask the right questions to learn about the business and industry. That is the secret to becoming the most amazing advisor.

Additionally, having a customer-centered approach will allow you to think from a different perspective. In fact, this can help you develop a four-dimensional perspective to build the greatest solution for your client. 


3. Handle criticism with wisdom 

Steve Jobs once said, ‘I don’t feel my job is to win a popularity contest right now’ when he was asked about handling criticism during an interview. Handling critical feedback with wisdom takes you one step closer to running a successful company. 

4. Attract the right audience

Focusing on what your company has to offer means you need to focus on attracting the right audience. The way you represent your business in the market should be a reflection of the audience that will buy your products and services. 

For instance, Steve Jobs once said, “Apple is still the dominant leader in education.” By saying that, he clearly stated that his company focuses on educators, creative thinkers, students, and the future generation. He knew exactly who he was catering his products to, and so should you!

5. Find meaningful partnerships 

Developing meaningful partnerships with dominant leaders in the industry will only open your business to more growth opportunities. Not every business in the industry is a competition, so you need to be smart about the stakeholders you choose to collaborate with inside the market. 

Summary 

As you can see, the big game mentality is all about the gameplay you put forward to grow your business. Entrepreneurs are often tempted to act against their business strategy. However, only those who stay laser-focused on their goals win the game. 

Instead of creating a complex plan, stick to the simple strategy of, ‘why’, ‘who’, what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’. That way, you will find the success you’re looking for. 

Categories
SYNG

The Power of Contrast and Self-Value

Today, I would like to jump right into the topic of self-value. A while back, I was going through Twitter, as you do, and I came across a tweet from Blair Enns that said, and I’m paraphrasing:

“If you’re not willing to pay for value, then you can’t learn how to value-price effectively.”

Blair Enns

That got me thinking about the power of contrast and self-value, so I want to explore that topic with you today.

Why Is It So Important to Value Yourself?

The first thing I’d like to say about self-value is that how you value yourself is the same way you value others. If you don’t value your time, you won’t value anyone else’s time either. For creatives, independent freelancers, and artists of all kinds it is very difficult to see your own value and even fostering that value in the first place can be extremely challenging.

However, it’s so important that you learn to value yourself and your time sooner rather than later. The lack of self-value creates the kind of inner conflict that keeps you from realizing your full potential. Once you sort out that conflict, you won’t hesitate to ask for more money when you’re working on freelance projects. We see this all over the freelance market; people don’t feel confident enough to ask for the remuneration that they are worth.

Why? Because they don’t value themselves, their time, or their skills enough to confidently price their services or product as they should. It is very important to spend time self-reflecting, looking inward, and honing in on how you value yourself and how others value you. It is also important to understand your relationship with yourself and with time because it’s such a finite resource.

Get Invested in Something Greater Than Your Ego

There’s another tweet that got me thinking and this one is from Diego Zambrano, one of my subscribers. In the tweet, he talked about how “real friends are the ones who stick around when you’re happy; the ones who disappear were feeding on your misery.” He also provided great advice for people who want to be happy in saying that they should “attach their ego to a higher purpose than themselves.” There’s a lot of truth to that.

When you’re working on something new that goes against what’s expected, whether that’s building a new business, starting a YouTube channel, or whatever project you have in mind, you’ll notice that a lot of people around you won’t support you like you thought they would and you will actually find that support in strangers.

That often happens because you are going on a new path and the people around you are stuck in their ways, so it’s difficult for them to come to terms with you taking steps forward while they are glued to the same spot. Of course, this is not all black and white. There’s a lot of nuances involved! The type of value you offer has to also be relevant to the people’s attention you crave! See value pyramid.

Have a Healthy Competition With Yourself

Another tweet that truly got me thinking comes from Sahil, and he said: “Competing with yourself is the ultimate positive-sum game.” This got me thinking about how we often fall into the comparison trap. We look at the best version of other people, which is what they show to the world, and we compare it to our version of ourselves, which is still under construction.

You may be having a rough time and then you go on social media and see all these people living the perfect life. That automatically makes you feel defeated and bad about yourself. However, you have no idea what those people are struggling with because that’s not what they show you. That’s something you have to keep in perspective.

The Importance of Contrast

Contrast is everything in life; black and white, sweet and salty, day and night, cold and warm. As human beings, our senses operate from contrast and everything we enjoy has contrast.

For example, there’s a big difference between eating something that has the perfect balance of sweet and savoury and eating something overly sweet and has no nuance to it. Which one do you enjoy more? It’s often the former because it has contrast.

That is true for everything in life. Contrast is always present and it’s what makes things interesting. You can use the power of contrast in your thinking and day-to-day life to make everything so much better. Learn to hack it and you will see a big difference in your career and your life.

View this NFT art on Opensea here.

Follow and bookmark this blog post as a Twitter thread here.

Categories
SYNG

How to Lead With Curiosity

All the major breakthroughs and inventions in the history of the world derive from one thing: curiosity. As defined by Mirriam-Webster, curiosity is the desire to know and I would add that it is inherently intrinsic to who we are as a species.

Curiosity is linked to all aspects of human development and it’s what allows us to acquire knowledge and skills so we can support our lives and have an impact on the world around us.

It inspires us to ask questions we want to understand something, create something original, or solve a difficult problem. This is why curiosity has led to so many wonderful breakthroughs because it’s not too far apart from creativity. In fact, it fuels it.

As humans, we have an instinctive desire to seek and explore. It’s a natural, insatiable drive that we should prioritize as much as any other drive because it can lead us to greatness in all aspects of life.

The question I want to work with today is this: if curiosity leads to breakthrough innovations, unbound creativity, and transformative ideas, why aren’t we all tapping into this powerful asset?

The Fear of Saying “I Don’t Know”

Saying “I don’t know” is something most people tend to avoid like the plague. But why is that? What is wrong with admitting that you don’t know everything? Absolutely nothing. Not knowing is a positive. In fact, it opens us up to possibilities.

“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer.”

Richard Feynman

What happens when we ignore something? We take steps to seek the information we need and we end up learning a lot more than we originally intended to.

As Chamath Palihapitiya said, “It’s really powerful to be able to say ‘I don’t know’. American culture is this weird thing of know-it-alls. When is learning going to be valuable?”

What We Are Taught About Failure

If you remember what it was like to be a child or if you’ve had the chance to observe a child, then you already know how much curiosity we have in those early years.

Sir Ken Robinson has a great story about this, “A little 6-year-old girl was in a drawing lesson and she was in the back drawing. The teacher was fascinated by it because the little girl could never pay attention so she went over to ask what the girl was drawing. The girl answered, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God’. And the teacher said, ‘But nobody knows what God looks like’, to which the girl said ‘Well, they will in a minute.’

When children don’t know something, they simply take a stab at it because they are not afraid of being wrong. That’s why they are so creative! If you are not prepared for failure, how can you expect to come up with anything original?

By the time we grow up and become adults, we become scared of being wrong, and that’s why there are so many leaders out there who stigmatize mistakes and failure.

This is how people are educated out of their creative potential because we are taught to stick to the left side of our brains, but in doing that, we stop questioning things.

The Work Culture Issue

Work culture often consists of an incentive structure that is set up to stifle and silence curiosity and creativity. However, as Elon Musk has said, “The massive thing that can be done is to make sure that your incentive structure is such that innovation is rewarded and not punished.”

When curiosity is incentivized, innovations occur left and right, so people rise through the ranks and meet their goals a lot faster. As a result, the organization thrives more than ever before.

So, you can see how our curiosity is silenced by external forces since we are children, but that changes today. From this moment on, you are going to turn things around.

Take the stigma and fear out of not knowing and turn it into a positive because that allows you to honor your curiosity by wondering, investigating, exploring, and learning.

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

When you learn to say “I don’t know” you go from being the carrier of knowledge to being the person who asks interesting questions, and that is a lot more valuable than we’re taught to believe.

One of my favorite things to say in meetings or conversations is “I don’t know, what do you think?” This propels the conversation, leads to collaboration, and it allows you to empower people.

When you stop offering solutions, in the words of Michael Bungay Stanier, “You begin to empower people not by giving them the answer, but by helping them find their own answer. Not by holding onto control, but by giving up some of it and inviting others to sept in and step up.”

Categories
SYNG

Forget the T-shaped skillset: Try being a comb instead!

Landing your first job might be tricky if you don’t have a specific skill set, but you know what? Getting hired with a plethora of skills is even more challenging contrary to what you might think. More means more chances of getting noticed by the hiring manager, right? No.  

Don’t sweat it; I’ve been there, done that. I’ve field-tested and learnt what works the hard way, so you don’t have to. And that’s what we will explore in this article. How to pass the recruitment process like a silk scarf through an engagement ring when you are a comb? It’s the Indian rope trick equivalent, except you get hired at the end, and no one disappears.

Here is what you will take away from this article:

  • What are the different types of skill sets, and which one is right for you?
  • How to show up in front of potential recruiters / hiring managers? 
  • What to put on your resume?
  • How to get work? The dos and don’ts of being a comb.

Before we dive into the differences, let’s clearly define each of these concepts. There are three commonly known skill sets T-shape, Pi shape and Comb shape. But, for this article, I’m going to make a case for the comb because I want you to aim higher than lower.

The short version goes like this. 

One area of expertise: You’re a T

Two areas of expertise: You’re a Pi

Multiple areas of expertise: You’re a champion (or a comb)

I would argue that a polymath is the embodiment of a comb. Did I lose you there? It’ll make sense in a minute. Hang tight. First, here’s a good definition of T-shape by Jason Yip:

Image source.

“A T-shaped person is capable in many things and expert in, at least, one.

As opposed to an expert in one thing (I-shaped) or a “jack of all trades, master of none” generalist, a “t-shaped person” is an expert in at least one thing but also somewhat capable in many other things. An alternate phrase for “t-shaped” is “generalizing specialist”.”

Jason Yip

Being a comb comes from combining several T’s, meaning you have expertise in multiple verticals and a multi-disciplinary approach. Full-stack, baby!

Cariel Cohen captures it quite well in his article here.

When you have a T-skillset, you become confined in a uni-dimensional box- a niche. You might know the whole ball of wax about it, but you are entirely clueless about other skills related to your career. And that’s where being a comb helps you bridge the gap. And that’s what we are doing here. 

Some areas where T-shaped works better than anything else include specialized doctors, lawyers, athletes and professors.

A T-shape skilled person is ideal for filling a role in a large company because all the skills are distributed, and you act as a cog in a piece of large machinery. 

On the other hand, Combs prefer to take on more responsibility and are usually leading companies or teams because they have a knack for understanding and solving complex situations and problems. 

Disclaimer: Agreed, this can sound a bit overwhelming to a few and being a comb can be challenging! It’s also not for everyone. There is no one right way. However, if there’s a spark, then I encourage you to read on.

You’ve probably heard the most famous and familiar quote used in arguments for specialist vs generalist: Jack of all trades master of none. Yep, that one! It’s factually incorrect. The complete sentiment goes as: 

A jack of all trades is a master of none but often better than a master of one.

To be a comb, you need to be hyper-curious, live in the nuance and the chaos. It would help if you got away from the mindset that you are only required to excel in one field and not know a dime about others. 

Elon Musk is a comb. He has disrupted banking, rockets, the auto industry, ai, and so on. 

The biggest challenge of getting hired is when you’re a comb, provided that is your predicament.

It is about time we address the disclaimer given earlier. While it gives you a competitive edge, the considerable skill knowledge can act against you too! 

Wonder how? Well, it’s from the hiring manager’s perspective. The wide range of skills leaves the potential employer baffled as to where to fit you. The only way out, according to them, is simply negating your application. 

And here is how you will play a different hand! Look, talk, behave like a T-shaped skill person when preparing your resumes and giving interviews. Acting like a T early in the conversation is to eliminate the decision-making fatigue for the recruiter. You’re thinking from the hiring manager’s perspective and making it easy for them to hire you. You’re giving them evidence to solve a problem they have. 

However, that doesn’t mean you will have to act like a T all the time. Once you have landed a job, start being a comb by taking an interest, being curious, and demonstrating your expertise in every facet of the role, team, and company you sit within.

How will the employer or the organization take it? If you’ve played your cards right, slowly but steadily, you’ll sit at the heart of several functions and projects, making you indispensable and the ideal candidate for a promotion.

There you have it! You’ve either come out wanting nothing to do with combs, or the torn voice inside your brain which desired more has finally discovered its path and place in the world.

Categories
SYNG

The Art of Remote Storytelling

Virtually presenting your creative ideas and telling engaging stories can be limiting and challenging. Most people observe passively and multitask in the background adding to your frustration. Is there a way to get noticed and replicate the in-person experience remotely, influencing and winning the audience? Don’t sweat, I’ve done the leg work and have got you covered. 

Calling out the audience in the room.

The medium of communication may be different, but one element remains unchanged: people. And, since the dawn of time, people have loved telling and listening to stories. Ironically, filmmakers have mastered the art of telling people stories on a screen! Imagine if Hollywood directors and editors, the likes of Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrik, were guiding and helping you execute a virtual presentation. 

Park yourself in a comfortable chair, kick your feet up, make some popcorn. Let’s dive into the 3 acts of preparing, delivering and closing virtual presentations like a boss (cue drum roll).

Prepare.

Tell a story without slides.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s to stop prioritizing your PowerPoint slides and focus your efforts on content and storytelling. Don’t get me wrong, professionally designed slides are a great tool, but no one cares if you spent 3 hours selecting the perfect sans serif font and shade of incarnadine on the cover. How many big-budget production-heavy movies can you think of that tanked at the box office? My point precisely. Your audience will remember the story you told and how you made them feel. 

Begin by thinking like a movie director and an editor. You’re taking the audience on a journey from point A to B, so be surgical and omit the riff-raff. Zero in on what emotions you’d like people to experience during and after the meeting. Ever come out of a full-day session feeling charged up and ready to tackle the world or come out of a 30-minute rant and felt drained?

Apply the simple three-act story arc to your presentation with a beginning, middle and end. Open by drawing your audience into your big ideas. Think of this as your hook point. Next, why should they care, and what will be the reward at the end? Heck, spice it up and throw in a plot twist. Five-finger discounts, anyone? 

Get into your audience’s head.

We love talking about ourselves, our process, our charts, our projections, our slides and spraying the room with our industry lingo. I’ve been there, guilty as charged.

In your next meeting, flip the switch, think about your audience’s experience – their needs, fears, challenges and what drives and excites them. Use their words and lingo. Win them over emotionally, and they’ll rationalize analytically. 

For example, even before the meeting day, level-set your audience expectations by adding the high-level schedule in the calendar invite, just like a snappy movie trailer. 

Your first assistant director or moderator

If possible, get someone on your team to help moderate and scribe. From giving others screen sharing permissions, muting guests (we’ve all been there) to scribing and noting action items, a moderator can help keep the conversation on track. This way, you can remain focused on storytelling.

Deliver.

Warm up the crowd. Get ’em stretching, literally.

Empathy reels them in. Depending on the time of day, duration of your scheduled meeting and context, use the first few minutes to make small talk (ice breakers) get people out of their chairs to stretch, drink water, eat something or use the bathroom. You don’t know how their day has been leading up to your presentation—ever heard of Zoom fatigue? By having empathy for your audience, changing their physiological state, you’ll make them far more receptive to your ideas. 

Use these initial minutes to share your meeting structure and set some simple ground rules. A few examples include: 

  1. People should say their names before they speak. 
  2. Have attendees drop their questions in the chat window to be addressed at the allocated time of the session (your first assistant director can help prioritize them). 
  3. Set roundtable checkpoints with key decision-makers to ensure they get a chance to speak. 

By doing the above, you keep everyone engaged and add transparency to the conversation.

Help people imagine. Think like a sound designer.

You ranted for an hour, and towards the end, during QA, one could hear the crickets in the hollowing silence. Can everyone hear you, and are they listening? Someone famous once said, “people see with their ears.” To keep your audience engaged, speak in a clear and balanced voice. Limit talking to short bursts of one to two minutes. Pace yourself and take deliberate pauses to emphasize specific points. Ever heard Obama recite a speech? Sprinkle in anecdotes and experiences. Nostalgia can be even more powerful than memory.

Remove any audio distractions (do the best you can with your situation): mute cell phones and other electronics, schedule your child’s trombone practice in the next room before or after your meeting. Sound about right?

Technology is wallpaper. Ten tips, tricks and hacks!

Your tech and production should work comfortably in the background. Here are some simple tips in no specific order. 

1. Stick to the technology you know well or, better yet, learn what your audience uses.

2. Despite preparation, there could be unforeseen hiccups. So be prepared to go without your slides. 

3. If you’re using Zoom, when setting up your meeting, select the “Mute upon entry” option. This ensures you avoid disrupting the flow of your presentation.

4. Turn on your camera and frame yourself. Sit bang centre of the screen and have the camera be at eye level (throw some books under that laptop). Have the light source be in front of you, so your face is lit up properly. Occasionally look into the camera. 

5. Get that sweet podcast voice. Connect an external mic to improve the fundamentals in your voice and reduce the echoey sounds. 

6. Clean up your background. Get rid of laundry or any distracting elements. Zoom backgrounds are great, but keep it simple and avoid overdoing them. 

7. Connect and use a secondary monitor so you can have easy access to your notes, chat window and any additional presentation materials ready to go.

8. Practice and test before. You can also start the meeting early with your moderator to iron out any issues. 

9. Be mindful and keep meetings short. Schedule multiple if necessary. 

10. Consider the different time zones when scheduling and send passwords in advance.

Close.

Give people time back in the day. 

Take deep dives offline, being mindful of others. With the help of your first assistant director (moderator/scribe), share notes, action items, next steps, roles and responsibilities etc., immediately after the meeting while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. Then, schedule a follow-up (include movie trailer).

Remember, your story will make or break the presentation. Be ready to scrap your slides. Have empathy for your audience, keep it short and sweet – staying razor-sharp focused on their experience. And finally, no one can read 12 point font on your slides, bruh! 

Categories
SYNG

Missed Connections — Short Film Series

Hello and welcome! Everyone is trying to cope with the current strange situation in their own way. I’m making a series of short films. Why am I making films? Have I made some already? Where am I posting them? Who watches them? Should you be watching them? Feeling anxious and excited? Don’t sweat or panic; I’ll explain everything.

The short version. Start watching.

The long version. You and I are going to be looking back at this blip and have worthy historical stories (hopefully nothing traumatic). I’m doing and making something positive we can look back at and be like, “remember how we made a cool short film during that time…”

Let’s dive right into it now. Are you familiar with Craigslist, Missed Connections? If not, check out this page. In a nutshell, these are stories people post anonymously. They missed an opportunity — stories of individuals who had a chance to make a connection with another human but lost it — ever swiped left to life? It’s not platonic if that’s what you were wondering.

I find them to be relatable and nothing short of a mental tickle. Last year, I turned these stories into graphics on my Instagram page.

Now, I’m making these anonymous posts into a series of short films. By short, I mean no more than 60 seconds. Did you watch them on Youtube yet?

Oh, Paul! This is SO cool! You’re so cool. How can I get involved? My voice is no David Attenborough, but I did make that speech at the park, by the sand pit, in the general direction of people. One kid was paying close attention only for me to realise later there was a butterfly in my hair.

Cool. Cool. Cool. Cool.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested. You can read through some of these anonymous stories (they are from the Toronto area, but you can pick any city of your liking). If you want to tell your own story, heck, I’m open to that provided you can keep it under forty seconds.

If you choose to go the Craigslist route, we can shortlist 1–3 stories (or as many or little as you like). Friends who have recorded them say it took them roughly 2 minutes per account as they recorded each story a few times to get the rhythm right.

Rhythm? Turn off the mental alarm bells. All that means is you’re reading them as if you are the person writing it with natural pauses to sound like a human and not a digital assistant.

To record on your iPhone all you need is the default installed Voice memos app and a closet. Pretty sure Android phones have an equivalent.

Paul, I love what you’re doing and would prefer to enjoy it as an audience. That’s awesome! Subscribe to my Youtube channel, hit the bell notification and sit back in your easy chair and enjoy the series. No hard feelings, bruh!

And lastly, this is a not-for-profit side project. In other words, no money will be changing hands. I’m happy to share your social channel (of choice) in the video description.

Email me: paul@syng.cc if you’re interested ;–)

Categories
Write Every Day

The desk

Working from a café, on your laptop, is a trifle at best and a trek if you’re carrying a laptop bag. A coffee shop, in my mind, is suitable for meetings, quick last-minute edits, chatting and “coffee” but the absolute worst for doing focused work.

“Oh, look! There’s Paul at the coffee shop working on his laptop. Boy does he look engrossed. He must be very productive getting all his shit done,” said no person, ever.

This segues into why one should fashion their own Batcave. Or the close cousin, a desk in mom’s basement. A creative space (doesn’t mean artsy-fartsy, bruh!) equipped with all the bells and whistles turns me on. Like, a lot. It’s frightening.

Allow me to explain. A corner of your house or studio or mom’s basement, away from all the distractions is a space littered with natural light, decked with a loveseat or bed, to take power naps. Heck, throw in a bookshelf and hang art on the wall.

And now the workstation.

Imagine a desk, preferably white and standing. Large enough for your imagination and small enough to fit in a downtown shoebox apartment.

Besides your laptop, secondary monitor (only for high rollers) and speakers, the desk should have sufficient room to spread two books, a notepad, a coffee mug, a pair of wireless headphones, reading glasses, and your phone.

The only thing left to do now is to finish this rant. Run along now. Shoo!

Categories
Write Every Day

Naked ankles


It’s been half a decade. And I can’t seem to stop. I’m finally coming out and saying it. Ready? Naked ankles are my weakness. Folding my pant cuffs, revealing the hairy flesh underneath, is a habit I picked up from GQ. Shameless plug alert. I wrote for GQ. So when I say GQ was my bible you know, I have a biased opinion.

On any typical evening, I’d lay back in my brown bean bag, beer in hand, with an issue of GQ — scrutinising the flood of ads, semi-nude photography, drool over things I couldn’t afford and study the informative articles and giggle baloney banana over the cheeky columns.

I can trace back to the first time I folded my pant cuffs. I felt liberated, free and sexy. Like the time you pooped, for the first time, without your pants and underwear hanging around your ankles.

Right!

Sure, GQ had influenced my style and taste, but one can’t forgive the sultry Indian summers for partly being responsible — giving “wind in my hair” an entirely new meaning, eh?

To my fellow Canadians, the habit appears a little odd in – 30-degree temperature. I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint hearted.

“You keeping your ankles warm?”

Something I regularly hear from near and dear ones — who worry about my health and are a bit confused about my sexuality. You know who you are. I love you too.

Hey! I don’t see anybody rallying behind Sally. Sally who? She’s a basic bitch, sporting a skirt ten inches above the knees. Are we neighbouring in sexism territory, yet?

Moving along now. The fact of the matter is, I don’t mind the attention. Yeah, a whore for all the eyes. So what? I catch girls (even men, sheesh!) staring down my pants all the time.

Now I know what it’s like to have a revealing pair.

Categories
Write Every Day

The lonely nose hair

Tell me you haven’t looked someone in the eye, noticed a single strand of hair poking out of their nose, and been a) sick to your stomach or b) made attempts to stare without getting caught or c) imagined not one but a hair flower. Nose hair extensions, anyone?

I don’t like to stick my nose in other people’s business but to let one’s hair down shouldn’t be taken literally. Sure, one could argue the merits of nose hair – they’re the first line of defence against bacteria and smelly farts.

By that token, the renegade strand dangling dangerously out of one’s nostrils echoes Tom Hanks (remember Apollo?) trying to save humanity from extinction.

It’s worse when the person in question appears well-groomed from afar and, BAM! You’re in for a rude shock once you lock square with them. Maintaining eye-contact at this point induces deep psychological, character and personality changing pain. Why do I suddenly feel the urge to clean my nose?

To be fair, in my mind’s eye, I see nostrils flaring, large volumes of air moving in and out of the nasal cavity (like Bullet trains from a tunnel) while a fruit fly is trying to escape the gravitational pull of the black holes. Yes, two of em.

Shaving your face? Doing your upper-lip? Scrutinizing the pores on your chin, post bath? Do humanity, or the likes of me, a favour and get a little tweezer action up them nostrils.

Give Tom Hank’s some respect, please.