3/30 The District of Christmas (And All Holidays Too)

My clients and friends tell me I’m more of a coach than a consultant and that I am at my best when I’m able to relate my experiences to theirs.  This has been a random journal in the past, but I’m transforming it to a space where I can share the stories behind my work.  This is the third of 30 year-end posts I will devote to “Things You Can’t See On A CV”.

“Is that what your little note says? It must be hard living your life off a couple of scraps of paper. You mix your laundry list with your grocery list you’ll end up eating your underwear for breakfast.” – Natalie, Memento

For some, life as a creative can involve a certain amount of mess and list making.  I myself am a list maker, I do it not only so I can measure my productivity but also because I am cursed with an overabundance of ideas on a daily basis.  Thats not to compliment myself, because it literally keeps me up at night.  Visions, just random thoughts, things I saw that I make into other things, ideas for people that aren’t even paying me, it never ends.

So, one of my contacts in my phone is myself.  I can send myself a text with any extra thoughts or a grocery list and have it right in my pocket as a reference, I use twitter the same way as well.  These are my sticky notes, my Leonard memos that keep me “organized”, or just nuts, who can tell the difference.  Hopefully one day I wont end up like Howard Hughes.

I took the metro yesterday for the first time in ages and it felt nice to commute into the city.  As a freelancer, I work from my home studio, which I’ve loved, but there are days when I never leave the house.  That sounds worse than it is.

As a ad/branding creative, its not only nice to see people bustling about the city (Chinatown in DC around 9pm and 45 degrees is magical), but you get to see the various ads and messages they are receiving and observe the mundane moments that connect people, places and objects.  Ok, maybe I am a shut-in.

DC is gearing up for the holidays, and with it comes plenty of decoration and a myriad of events, galas and parties.  I have kept a mental list of some of the projects I have in mind for DC, a few of which I am working on now, but some of which I share just because.  There should be pieces of yarn linking my tweets to my autobiographical texts and now to my blog.

HOLIDAY ARTISTIC THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE HAPPEN IN DC

1. Why does the National Christmas Tree have to look exactly the same every year? Why aren’t local artists tapped to decorate it differently?  While I appreciate tradition, shouldn’t this say more about us as a country?  Its looked like a tree trapped in a fishing net of lights for decades.  And ps, that aluminum hangar disaster that sits in Georgetown,the one anchored by sandbags, is embarrassing.

2. The lighting display hanging at Convention Center’s breezeway is one other missed opportunity.  With all of the Holiday events hosted there, we need something more dramatic and elegant than white lights strewn back and forth. Cummon people.

3. Public Transportation/WMATA: While our metro is by no means the wonder of the world that is the NY City Subway, there’s plenty of culture we could capture to showcase the peculiarities of our buses and trains.  A photo campaign stuck to the floor, decorative smart cards, catchy phrases for the different lines…so much could be done.  During the holidays we should pick a few major stops to host a lighting installation, those ceilings are beckoning.  And oh yeah, the space man in the L’Enfant stop has gotta go.

4. The Washingtonian, DC Modern, Capitol File or Washington Life should publish a DC Fashion, Music & Art issue every year.  Preceding gala and auction season.  One big fat huge book.  We may be scrappy, but our artists, musicians and designers are only getting better.

5. Sidebar: I think there should be a parade here on the Fourth of July.  This should be the only city you want to be in that day.

6. I live on a stretch of Columbia Pike that is tree lined, I think everyone in the neighborhood should donate a strand of white lights and we should light it up.  Im just not sure where the plugs go.

7. For the holiday, The Proper Topper should ask local artists to design signature hat boxes that feature Washington scenes.  Woodies did this years ago and I covet the black hat box I found at an antique shop years ago.  People would buy the hats if only for the collectible boxes.  I also think DC could single handedly make awesome hat wearing standard again.

8. Last sidebar: There should be a coffee table book about The Tiny Jewel Box released over the Holidays about gift giving tales.  That place has too many stories, some of which they cant tell.

9. Store windows in Georgetown and 14th St should light up like Old Town does.  Make it international, interreligious, I dont care, but those strips could be our Macy’s windows.

10. Speaking of, on the night the National Tree is lit, museums along the Mall should invite artists to create a display that is appropriate to each museum.  Reindeer at the Natural History, a special exhibit on religious art at the National Gallery, you get the drift.  And special evening hours, maybe even libations, are a must.

Now that I read through this, its pretty heavy on the lighting ideas, but its not meant to.  I just think that we can do more to engage the artists in our community to decorate the city year round.  Christmas makes me so creative, as exemplified by my Holiday Shop on Zazzle.  I also have a few clients that are stirring with ideas and the new Mayor is welcome to call anytime.

 

 

2 of 30: How Being A Theology Major Helped Me In Business

My clients and friends tell me I’m more of a coach than a consultant and that I am at my best when I’m able to relate my experiences to theirs.  This has been a random journal in the past, but I’m transforming it to a space where I can share the stories behind my work.  This is the second of 30 year-end posts I will devote to “Things You Can’t See On A CV”.


“Story, businesses are realizing, means big money.  Economists Deidre McCloskey and Arjo Klamer calculate that persuasion-advertising, counseling, consulting and so on-accounts for 25% of the US GDP.  If, as some posit, Story is a component of half those persuasive efforts, then Story is worth about $1 trillion a year to the US economy.” – A Whole New Mind

I failed out of school twice.  On my third attempt to finish what I had started, I had to convince an admissions board of one Jesuit, a Dean and a Professor of my worthiness as a student at Georgetown.  The reasons I failed are for a different post and are ancient history really, but when I think about how I responded, I revisit why I have been valuable to my clients, partners and managers: my ability to tell a Story.  While I had satisfied the technical requirements of my candidacy, the University needed to believe why I deserved to be readmitted, so I had to persuade them, earnestly, about my worthiness and why I wanted to be there.

When I sat in front of them, I was honest about my previous lack of direction, a few learning issues and a newfound passion in Theology.  My curiosity as a student was never in doubt, but my focus was.  I had blown through Government, English, Art History and Sociology before finding Theology, quite by accident.  So I told them a story.

While I was out of school, I worked at Olsson’s Bookstore on M St, which for fellow homers, was a landmark in Georgetown and is now the site of a Ralph Lauren.  I occupied my time as a register jockey reading voraciously and had stumbled across Joseph Campbell’s A Hero With A Thousand Faces.  This book, unequivocably, changed my life.

For the first time, I was exposed to philosophy and writing that made sense.  He was able to talk about it all, history, politics, art, humanity and show the corresponding elements between myths, religions, movies and books.  I was hooked.  I blew through his books, then on to CS Lewis, Aquinas, Whitehead, and Augustine.  I had never known that CS Lewis was a theologian and I wanted to be able to tell stories the way he did and explain them the way Campbell did.

For those that aren’t familiar, Campbell argued that the every story, myth, religion was based on what he termed, “The Hero’s Journey” which consists of the Departure, Initiation and Return.   Read more about it here.  I wanted back in to the school I loved and I wanted to study theology.  When I looked through the curriculum for the upcoming semester, I had read most of the books mentioned in the Theology class descriptions, and begun to assemble a last stand with my University.  For me, my life was fitting into this pattern, and it was this journey that I ended up conveying to the admissions panel, which also helped me be readmitted.

Although theology wasn’t always the spiritual and creative exploration I hoped for (it is a science just like anything), it enabled me to unpack some of humanities most popular and widely accepted stories .  I learned to explore the intracacies of symbolism, to understand uniformities across modalities of thought and to translate experiences across cultures.  In business, we call this branding, marketing and communications.

Organizational storytelling is a movement that has been adopted by Xerox, The World Bank, Hewlett-Packard, and NASA.  Richard Olivier, son of Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright now advises large companies about how to integrate Story into their operations and calls his technique “mythodrama”.  Of his techniques Olivier says “Successful businesspeople must be able to combine the science of accounting and finance with the art of Story.”

When I think back to the bravery, patience and persistence I taught myself going through that process, I realize that is what has made me a trusted problem solver and a chaos manager for my clients and managers.   All of these qualities effect my ability to discover brands, describe a company’s identity and communicate on its behalf.  A priest friend of mine has termed my genre of consulting “pastoral advertising”.

I whether adversity well, I know how to learn from failure and pursuade skeptics.  I’ve met folks that haven’t had the pleasure of failing as I have, and I’m stunned at their discomfort with the experience.  They waffle, deny, avoid or even lie and its embarrassing to be party to.  Frankly, in a market like this, I think a few us failers become even more valuable, we know how to rebound and better yet, how to tell a great story about it.

Without a doubt, “Theology” isn’t listed on most pull down menus on creative job applications as “related majors”, and it certainly draws it’s fair share of chuckles and jokes about becoming a nun during interviews.  In a world of specialization and technical degrees (to which I have much respect), my major looks pretty confusing or worse, vanilla, when it is anything of the sort.

I don’t hit homers every time, not by a long shot, but the ability to fold my wins in with my losses, to relate to the challenges of my clients and even better, to help them tell their Story is one of the best parts of my career in as a creative.

Post 1 of 30: There Are No Small Businesses

In order to transition out of government contracting and into a more creative commercial career in branding and interactive strategy, I began freelancing in 2007 and accidentally started a small agency.People talk about the entrepreneurial boom taking place in Washington, they brag about crushing it, and they update Facebook and Twitter with glory stories about startups, but this is going to be my attempt to share a more personal and candid account of the risks and rewards that I’ve faced with my clients and working on my own.

My clients and friends tell me I’m more of a coach than a consultant and that I am at my best when I’m able to relate my experiences to theirs.  This has been a random journal in the past, but I’m transforming it to a space where I can share the story behind my work.  This is the first of 30 year-end posts I will devote to “Things You Can’t See On A CV”.

“If you knew what you would go through, you would never move forward”
– Poet in LA who’s name I forgot

A little over a year and a half ago, with business development cash was drying up, the owner of my company told me I had two choices: 1. Go back on direct client support to the Navy or   2. Take a severance check and walk.

I had a few creative projects, and a side web development project but that was it, but I walked.  Looking back on that decision (one of many I’ve taken) I’m startled by the risk I took.  Sure, I knew I was taking “a risk” but I literally had no idea the amount of overhead that was needed in this city, especially Arlington County, to just survive, let alone thrive.

A  quick example: In Arlington County, if you can’t pay your property taxes on your car, you can’t get your tags updated, and if you cant get your tags updated they suspend your licence.  If your tags are expired you can’t even park the car in private lots so you are left to leave it on the road, where it will inevitably be towed. Oh yeah, and they they doubled the fines for reinstating licences in Virginia.  Thanks.

Why do I mention this? Because there are no “small” problems when you are a small business.  If a client drags their feet paying you, if a roommate ditches on paying you utilities money, or say, a friendly neighbor decides to have your car (the one you bought on your previously cushy salary), the 200 bucks you were going to spend fixing your laptop and buying your way out of your Sprint contract to get an iPhone gets blown and you are left laptop-less and texting on an lame outdated Rumor during Digital Capital Week.  This doesn’t win you new business.

Mind you, I didn’t “walk” without assessing the risks involved.  How do you assess risks you don’t know about, even if you read and ask, there are things you’ll never know.  Its dark matter, and even if you try to shine a light on it, there are other things you are ignorant to. My best friend read books on childbirth for nine months straight when she was pregnant and still reached a pain level she never thought could exist when she actually delivered.  Perfect knowledge isn’t something one can wait around for, so when I walked, I walked right off a cliff.

But I learned to climb, I got a few new tools on my way up, I learned to ask for help, I learned when to stay still and the importance of training.  I wasn’t destined for a life in contracting for defense so despite the pain of the transition, it was both necessary and timely.  I moved back to this city because I knew LA was dead and that my hometown would undergo a renaissance and the longer I put off diving into it, the harder it would be.  But my ability to relate to my clients through these experiences is why they trust me, and like something out of  The Dancing Wu Li Masters, we’ve learned together which has made me a partner of theirs not just their project manager.

However, dealing with such “small” issues has made me rethink the words “Small Business”.  With a small business, nothing is small.  Problems like the ones above become small only when you are a big business.  While “small” businesses are lean, have “low” overhead and a hungry workforce, they also face greater challenges surviving.   When you walk, don’t ask yourself “Do you want to work on your own?”, ask yourself, “Do I want my bosses job?”  People might brag about setting their own hours, being their own manager and the freedom to take only work they want, but for myself and many of my clients, it’s like being a canoe in the middle of an ocean squall. Some days, all you can do is paddle and pray to God you don’t hit anything.


Small businesses aren’t small, they are compact.  You can’t be a “startup” forever, so you become a compact business, an entity that much like the Ford Fiesta can zip along swiftly but can also be flattened easily.  This doesn’t mean you can’t test, measure and plan just like the “big” guys do, it just means that the desire and ability to take more responsibility for what goes right is more closely wedded to taking responsibility every time something goes wrong.  But inevitably, you adjust, you learn to work smarter not harder, to be quick but not rush and the pressure of managing scant resources gives you an envious amount of budgetary prudence, without making you cheap.

Over the past two years I have gained a greater appreciation for former bosses, owners and a few of my clients as they all had, at one time, stepped off the same cliff.  I’ve zeroed out a few times, rebuilt and rebooted which has made me more compact and agile.  I’ve helped my clients rediscover why they love their businesses or products and in doing so, have helped them craft a message or launch a brand that customers will believe in too.  I learned that having a good idea or product, being talented or even being a good manager, doesn’t equate to running a successful business.  But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

A Few Logo’s To Add To Gigwise’s List

A company I’d love to work for tweeted a link that has eaten my morning, thankfully I worked over the weekend so I have a few moments to enable my own logo addiction. Besides, I am someone that would watch a show titled “Behind The Logo” for hours.

Gigwise published a list of the 50 best band logos, and while their list is interesting and thorough, a few bands shot to mind that I couldn’t believe they either missed or omitted.  The list is a little obscure ska/punk/metal heavy and clearly left out a few obvious ones.

One sidebar: I find it pretty funny that underground or counter-culture bands place such a heavy emphasis on the logo or “brand”.  I also might disagree with Gigwise over font focused logos.  I think typography can say a lot without having to rely too heavily on pictures, if anything sometimes it can say more.

With that said, we’ll start with the most obvious omission:

The logo for the most famous rock band of all time has perhaps the simplest origin story. It was designed in 1963 by Ivor Arbiter — merely the man who sold Ringo Starr his drums — and applied on Ringo’s bass drumhead by London sign painter Eddie Stokes.  You could replace the band’s name and you would still recognize this font as belonging to four lads from Liverpool.  Now, one could argue that the brand is only recognizable because of the band, but there is something quietly elegant about the extended T, almost like the band itself is emerging from a heard of wannabes.  The centered “the”, the languid B, the way the word “the beat” kind of stands out, just like the music, there’s something soothing, familiar and charismatic about these two words in this particular font.  Like Sunday’s Wapo article on Facebook’s design, or the Gap logo, its no longer a logo, its just a part of life.


Ironic that the band’s first commercial mega-hit was a song titled “Give It Away”, a reference to an experience lead singer Anthony Kiedis had with an ex girlfriend regarding altruistic behavior and the value of selflessness.  All that aside, I can’t believe Gigwise would omit the Chili Peppers and will lean on one of my favorite sites, Logo Factory Blog, for a little back history.

RHCP front man Anthony Kiedis, as outlined in his book Scar Tissue, the symbol has no particular meaning, but began as a simple icon he drew on a piece of paper when asked by record label executives to create a band logo for promotional purposes. The eight pronged asterisk is a popular tattoo, and is often worn by fans as a sign of their affinity with the band. The merchandising rights to the Red Hot Chili Peppers logo are owned by Bravado International who recently sued Back-Lite, a Florida clothing company, for $11 million dollars after the company used the logo on a single jacket, at the request of an individual customer. 

Of course, fan subculture involves cultural myths including Angel’s nether regions and human orifices, but I sort of believe Kiedis’ account.  I’ve seen this as a tattoo one many times, the logo still adorns their drum set and I’d argue, the band technically has two logos: one being the asterisk, the other being their name in alternating white and red letters.  Oh yeah, Logo Factory has a pretty neat band logo quiz here btw.

Speaking of famous black and red logos, no question that RUN DMC deserve a place on this list.  J5 made the list, and sure, they’ve got a great logo, but why no black hat tip to Reverend Run?
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Sure, its a simple font and somewhat bland design, but the impact of this logo is still felt.  They haven’t had to mess with it to stay relevant.  People have ripped it off to sell other ideas or products.  It’s still political even for different reasons. It’s timeless, and the shirts still sell.  The end.
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Google this band and take in the range of artwork that has been done with their logo and identity.  Yet, the basic logo still finds it’s way onto the poster every time.  I’m not even a big Allman Brothers fan, but I know what this logo means. It means country, rock, folk and one endless instrumental riff, which is why I think the logo does a great job of representing their flavor of music.  The letters weave together just like the band does, and one has trouble finding where one word, letter, song or verse begins and ends.  It doesn’t have a political message and isn’t considered a graphic, but admit it, whether its peaches or mushrooms, this logo has been adorned with some mighty fine art.

I’d like to see numbers behind stoner consumers.  Because I’m willing to bet, that they outbuy, outmerch and outdo Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber tweenagers any day, any show, any year.  Despite their perceived anti-consumerism, nobody buys like Patagonia wearing hippies.   With that in mind, my short list isn’t complete without the above. 

I’m guessing Gigwise would find this suggestion abhorrent, but speaking objectively, you can’t ignore the purchase power of Phish.  They’ve taken over where the Dead left off and demand a cult following that’s indisputable.  There’s something to be said about a band that inspires such loyalty that pacifist hacky-sackers will go to blows over your primacy as a band.  Click here for some great stoner conspiracy theories on hidden letters, pictures or pipes and to read about the injunction they’ve been given to control bootlegging and logo usage.  “Phans”, “phriends”, “phamily:, “phiends”, “Phishheads”, when you create a language, you’ve surpassed a logo.

Honorable mentions go to Journey, ABBA, Jimmy Buffett and Madonna.  I mention you because while I can “see” your logo even when I write your name, something just didn’t feel right adding them to a list of Best Of.   Buffett was a really tough one to ignore given Margaritaville is like Disneyland for 50-year olds. Madonna, on the other hand, has opted to start her own religion rather than a brand and Journey, well, I couldn’t find any info explaining that damn scarab, but it did inspire a cover band and a video game.

 


“Free”Lancing

Not a day that goes by that I don’t hear about the joys and excitement of being an “entrepreneur”.  You’ve read them, either considered it or have done it, so maybe some of this will be relatable.  Make your own hours, work at home on all these amazing projects, choose your clients, take vacation whenever you want, and the dreaded: “be your own boss”.  Four words have never been more misleading in the history of human kind.

I never lept off the corporate cliff  to start a business, but rather, to reroute my career.  I’ve spent the last year working harder than I ever have before.  I’ve given up more for my work, and for my-self, than I anticipated and gotten more than I ever hoped for out of it.  I’m still learning what I’ve learned about my work, so for a talker like me, its actually managed to make me less long winded.  Which is probably why in the past year I’ve favored the blue bird over the big blog.

There are young graduates, 20-somethings, former cubicle-mates and general job-haters that have told me they envy me, my “freedom” and the fun involved in freelancing.  Which is funny, because “free”lancing has meant less freedom and it certainly hasn’t always been fun.

So just so we can catch up (since like all bloggers I imagine I have a larger audience than I actually do), here are a few things that I’ve felt and learned over the past year.

– I knew this world was big, but I also didn’t realize how small it can be, especially in this town.

– I keep planning and strategizing, but the more I plan, the more I learn to improvise.

– Things have a way of working out, even when they dont.

– People will help you if you ask for it.  But don’t expect it.

– Like tough teachers, tough bosses and clients are to be valued.  I learned more from them than the easy ones.

– I wish I could bottle what I felt when a client told me I saved her business and changed her life.

– Newton was right, ah ha moments really do come while staring at trees.

– Most of the time, things are right under my nose.

– My ability to grow roots has been valuable, but my inability to build walls is something I need to work on.

– Learning how to drop a client is more valuable than winning new ones.

– Pride is not the same as confidence. But they can look a lot alike.

– I think less about what I would be doing and more about what I have to do.

– Sometimes my instincts are dead, flipping, wrong.

– A lot of times they are dead, flipping, right.

– Exercise is critical.

I kept thinking that this was, by far, the hardest year of my life.  So many hurdles were either tossed in my way or self-inflicted, but at some point I realized that by deciding to leave the cozy nest of my last job, I asked for it.  Everything I’ve gotten I’ve asked for and has been a direct consequence of that fateful day nearly two years ago.  It’s made me a better manager, it’s made me more creative, and a more conscientious team mate.

I don’t want to be labeled a buzzkill, but I find articles, blogs, tweets and FB updates a little too rosey-colored about what’s involved when working on your own.  No one wants to admit the panic, sleepless nights or nerves that will be tested when you try operating without a net.  I’ve heard “fake it till you make it” too many times, and frankly think its bubkis.  A little reality makes us all play better and work harder.  And, I suppose the good news is, I’ll never wonder what if.

Anatomy of a Storm

As seen from under the Pentagon Metro canopies.  Facing out to Crystal City business district.  The buildings completely disappeared in under 3 minutes.  Have to say, was impressed by how well the E Rings tent configuration heldup, it was lke being at a covered drive in.

Clouds Barreling In

Buildings Still Visible

Gonners

Just A Message From Me Today

Still catching up, didn’t want you to forget.