Sunday, February 21, 2016

Idea Block

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on………………."

Professional (and I suppose even amateur) writers often complain about "writer's block" - that frequent malaise whereby one sits staring at a blank page and is seemingly paralyzed by the inability to come up with anything to fill the space.  No ideas come, no profound thoughts or insights -- no thoughts really at all - and certainly no way to communicate in a way that makes the words come alive for the reader.  Those with a deadline for a report or other written document may be all too familiar with this ailment.

And, I think, the phenomenon isn't limited to writers.  There is a similar reality that often affects many when we are trying to come up with really good ideas about how to move forward in some area.  Idea block is pretty common I think.

What causes these (hopefully) temporary setbacks in thought processing?  I don't know.

What can you do?  There are a few things people try when faced with these challenges.

First, is to walk away and abandon the idea that you can overcome the empty warehouse of your mind by sheer will power.  Sometimes, you need to change your environment - mental and / or physical - so as to put distance between yourself and……….well, yourself.

Brainstorming - with other people - may help.  There may be ideas you seek, but you just can't get them out.  Sharing them might allow someone else to give them enough form for you to again have a breakthrough.  Often times a random thought will trigger the mental processes that allow you to again take command of getting your thinking back on track.

Riff off a small part of the idea you are working on, and maybe by flushing out that small part, the bigger picture will come into focus.  Songwriters use this approach sometimes,

Table the idea and come up with another one to work on that seems to have more life for you.

Float any idea that is even remotely related to the project or challenge and ask people to pick it apart.  In facing what is lacking, you might be able to again move towards something that will work.

I think everybody runs out of ideas at some point - at least temporarily.  Don't panic.  It seems to be a cyclical occurrence with dry periods, followed by fertile periods and probably back again.  

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Life's A Pitch

Good morning
"And the beat goes on…………….."

Have a break from doctors this week, so am trying to get a couple of posts up.

Thoughts on the Pitch Meeting:
Hollywood long ago institutionalized the "pitch" meeting as a way of doing business.  Producers, writers and those with ideas for a project (movie or television) would get a brief (five / ten minute) opportunity with someone who could "green light" their idea.  Their job is to "pitch" their idea so convincingly - make it so attractive -  that they get a go-ahead.

While I'm sure today some tech guys could write an algorithm to enhance a "pitch", the Entertainment Industry relied pretty much on a pitch as an art form - just the right mix of excitement and temptation, an encapsulated plot, dropping a name or two of who might star in the vehicle (or at least a star "type" - "imagine, if you will, Meryl Streep in the part……."), all designed to appeal to the universal desire for box office success.  (The music industry version was a pitch accompanied by a "demo" tape - and so, while still selling a dream, had attached to it an actual example of the potential - both a plus and a huge minus in that it's sometimes easier to sell a dream if the particulars are left to the imagination).

The Hollywood version of the "pitch" was unlikely the first use of the tool, as "pitching" ideas or projects has probably forever been part of business, and really, of life itself. Today the idea of the "pitch meeting" was itself a "pitch" --  the result of which is the television program Shark Tank (which we in the arts have borrowed with the Art Tank concept done in Arizona - and more recently a version done in Silicon Valley).   The same concept of the Hollywood pitch is embodied in the idea of the "elevator pitch" - wherein you have a very limited time to get your idea and "ask" out.  

People have been "pitching" ideas, pleas for help, solicitation for support and participation for eons.  Twitter is largely built on one of the hallmarks of a pitch - expressing yourself and getting an idea across in a very brief period of time, with limited verbiage.

And pitches are hardly limited to ideas or projects.  We all pitch things both personal and professional all the time.  We're pitching when we apply for a job and when we try to recruit talent.  We're pitching when we invite people into our circles, and when we seek to be included in other's spheres.  We're pitching when we seek a raise or try to raise money - whatever the purpose.  In fact, while we don't necessarily think of it as "pitching", we are probably pitching things on a daily basis.  Recruiting a new board member is a pitch, courting donors is a pitch, negotiating an agreement on something is a pitch, selling audiences is a pitch, arguing for a marketing approach is a pitch..  Even your suggestion to your spouse of where to go to dinner, or what movie to see, is a pitch.  

Clearly, not all, and perhaps not even most, of our pitches are successful.  Sometimes that's because our pitch wasn't very good, or not good enough. As both art form and acquired skill, we can always improve our pitches. But more often than not, it has little to do with how artful the pitch itself was, or even, how we performed as pitchmen.  As often as not it's simply that what we are pitching isn't something aligned in a way that works for the person to whom we are pitching.  It isn't personal.  Rejection of pitches we make is just part of the reality of life - very likely the norm.

There are two simple rules of pitching I think.  One, where the pitch is unsuccessful, move on.  Time is the most precious commodity, and wasting time on a failed pitch makes no sense on any level.  Two, we can learn something from every pitch - large and small, successful and unsuccessful - and being aware of recognizing when we are pitching, and then learning from what worked and didn't work may well make us better pitchers in the long run.  

Because we are all pitching constantly, it might help if we pay attention to the phenomenon.  A good pitch has some identifiable threads:  1) Brevity - it gets the idea across quickly; 2) Substance - the idea has merit and legs and deserves consideration; 3) Realism - the idea is do-able on every level; 4) excitement - the pitch promises a valuable experience; and 5) Benefit - realization of the substance of the pitch is beneficial to both the pitcher and the pitchee.  But even if all the elements are top form, a pitch may fail. And as all pitches are, on many levels, personal - the benefit being pitched must be accepted as such by the person to whom it is being pitched.  

Even when we are not pitching something specific, thinking like a pitchman may have benefits.  Communicating with others in a concise, organized, and brief way is a good habit.  Making that communication interesting and appealing, as well as reasoned and realistic makes for increased success in getting across our thoughts.  A successful pitch is rarely an argument for or against something, it's rather a portrait of the benefits of embracing that which is being pitched.  That is usually the call of the person being pitched something.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we don't.  Such is life.  

Go through an entire day, and note how many pitches you make - small and large, intended and unintended.  And note too which ones were weak and why, and which ones worked better, and why.  And, at the same time, be aware of people pitching you.  Awareness ought to help you make better pitches, and thus more successful ones.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, February 1, 2016

Awards / Rewards

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on……………"

Note:  I've been having problems with the blogger platform and email account.  It may have been hacked.  Working on a solution. 

Another post from the queue:

A lot of leadership comes down to two tasks: 1) Find and recruit the very best people you can to work with you, given your resources and circumstances; and then 2) motivate those people to do their best work.

There are numerous ways to motivate your people.  Finding fault is not one of them.  One of the easiest and most inexpensive ways is to acknowledge their contributions.  Everyone likes a pat on the back, particularly if public.  It's nice to be acknowledged and recognized for hard work done well.  While an occasional word of thanks is often enough, something more goes further.

An easy way to elevate those acknowledgments is to present people with a more formalized recognition of their contributions - in the form of some kind of award (be it a certificate, a plaque, a trophy or whatever).  I don't think we do nearly enough of this kind of thank you to our people.  Some might argue that such awards are diminished by giving them out too frequently, to too many people, but I disagree.  I don't think this kind of formal award is lessened, or in any way cheapened, by the fact that there are many within our organizations that deserve them - from our staff and board members, to our volunteers and donors / supporters.

When I first got to the California Arts Council and noted that many staff members had been serving for years and years - without any recognition at all - I arranged for small (but elegant) desktop, engraved lucite trophies to be given to staff that had been around for five, ten, fifteen, and even twenty years - acknowledging and thanking them for that service. I believe this simple (and long overdue) gesture was appreciated by the staff and that it helped forge a good relationship with me (being new), and most important, the recognition and simple thank-you relayed the message to the recipients that they were important to the organization, and that I knew it.  I think it helped in motivating them to continue to do the excellent work they had been doing.  It was relative inexpensive to do, and paid big dividends.  And it made the recipients feel good - and that is important.

I think more organizations should do just that.  And not only with their staffs, but with their Boards, their donors and supporters and even partners and government authorizing agencies (if applicable).

Of course, rewards are always appreciated.  Days off, special parking places, bonuses, salary increases,  increased decision making authority, and other tangible expressions of thanks go a long way, but I believe just the formalization of recognition and thanks is the key.

So, I would urge all of you to consider who within your organization you might be overdue in acknowledging and thanking for their past and ongoing contributions, and then do it.  Google "trophy / awards" and you will be surprised how inexpensive you can get engraved awards.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit