Mind Mint: The (not so) secret power of deadlines.

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Mind Mint: The (not so) secret power of deadlines.

I’m a deadline guy. Whether it’s self-imposed or client-imposed, if I have a deadline I’ll meet it. Without a deadline...not so much. It’s how I operate, and I know I’m not alone.

A recent conversation with a colleague on this topic got me thinking about the word “deadline.” The “line” part made sense to me (like a finish line) but the “dead” part? That seemed a little harsh. Enter Google.

Turns out that the term originally referred to a line drawn around a Civil War prison beyond which a prisoner risked being shot. Over the past 150 years, deadline has evolved to mean a time by which something must be completed. (Which makes me wonder what word people used for “deadline” before the Civil War, but that’s another Mind Mint…)

Perhaps it’s a subconscious fear of armed Civil War prison guards that gives deadlines their power; perhaps it’s just the word “dead.” 

The takeaway? None really, except a reminder that language is a beautiful and powerful thing, and a wish that we all use it to promote truth and kindness. 

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Mind Mint: What to do when Rihanna's running late.

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Mind Mint: What to do when Rihanna's running late.

I watched some of the Global Citizen Festival this past Saturday. It was a large concert in Central Park featuring big-name musical acts interspersed with short speeches and videos. Overall, a well-produced event.

But it was an unplanned, spontaneous moment that stood out for me. Right before the final act – Rihanna – Chris Martin of Coldplay walked out with an acoustic guitar, explained that Rihanna wasn’t quite ready and that he was sent out by the producers to fill time.

He proceeded to play two verses and two choruses of Prince’s Raspberry Beret. After the second chorus, while still playing, Martin looked off stage and said “How we doin’ on Rihanna? I don’t know any more verses!” He then improvised a verse of lyrics about his situation; the crowd loved it and so did I.

In the midst of all the tightly-scripted, hyper-produced performances, Martin was honest, spontaneous, and willing to take a risk. The takeaway? Even if you can’t improvise lyrics, you can roll with the circumstances and be real with your audience—more often than not, they’ll appreciate the authenticity.

Here’s Chris Martin performing Raspberry Beret. Start at 2:00 if you just want to see the improvised bit. 

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Mind Mint: Hillary should have called me first.

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Mind Mint: Hillary should have called me first.

“…you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” Three words make this statement problematic: 

Half: Hillary chose too large a fraction. "Half" is just one person away from "most." The whole group ends up feeling smeared when you call out this large a segment.

Basket: Objects belong in baskets; people don’t. Being put in a basket - even just verbally - is dehumanizing.

Deplorables: Deplorable is an adjective, not a noun. I’m fine labeling someone’s actions or beliefs as deplorable. But to label someone as “a deplorable” is to condemn their entire being. 

Here are three basket-free alternate versions that Hillary could have used to make her point with more precision and less controversy: 

  • "Far too many Trump supporters have said and done deplorable things at his rallies." 
  • "A significant percentage of Trump’s supporters hold deplorable beliefs."
  • "Trump supporters are backing a candidate who has made numerous deplorable statements." 

There are times when work (or life) calls for us to be sharply critical of others. When doing so, we need to be clear about our purpose and precise in our choice of words. 

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Mind Mint: Your story's main ingredient.

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Mind Mint: Your story's main ingredient.

After a multi-year hiatus, I recently joined a writers’ group to work on my personal projects. The most frequently asked question in our meetings is “what does your main character want?”

The question stems from the writers’ understanding that great stories start with a main character (a.k.a. the protagonist) who has a pressing need and the motivation to pursue it. If a story (or scene or monologue) is missing this ingredient, it’s unlikely to hold our interest.

The same is true of effective business communications. We’re drawn to narratives about people who are passionate about their goals and are willing to pursue those goals relentlessly.

So whether the main character of your story is you, your company, or your customer, make sure you’re clear about what the protagonist wants and why it’s so important for them to get it. It’s the best way to grab your audience and keep them engaged.

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Mind Mint: This isn't politics as usual.

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Mind Mint: This isn't politics as usual.

A colleague recently posted an article on Linkedin that advised readers to never share political views on social media, as doing so may alienate a significant percentage of potential clients.

Under “normal” political circumstances, I can accept that perspective. But given the dangerous rhetoric that is part of the 2016 presidential campaign, I believe it is irresponsible to remain silent.

I’ve worked successfully with lots of people who hold political beliefs that are in opposition to mine. (Or in other words, “some of my best friends are Republicans!”) But this election isn’t about political issues like the size of government or economic policy; it’s about character, civility, and the future of our democracy. 

Because the stakes are so great, I have freely shared my opinions about Donald Trump on social media and elsewhere. If any of my friends, connections, or followers choose not to do business with me as a result of my views on this topic, that’s a price I’m willing to pay. 

On a related note, I recently published an article on Linkedin that explores the ethical dilemma faced by Trump’s former ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz. It’s too long for a Mind Mint, but I've received lots of feedback on the piece. If you have a few minutes to read it, I'd love to hear your comments as well! 

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Mind Mint: An offer you shouldn't refuse.

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Mind Mint: An offer you shouldn't refuse.

We’ve just lived through two of the saddest, most disheartening weeks in recent memory. And we’re on the eve of a political spectacle that promises to take us to new depths.

It's a struggle knowing how to respond to the chaos around us. My best idea at the moment is to fight off the feelings of hopelessness with an offer of helpfulness: What can I do now or in the weeks ahead to help you?

I’m not talking about paid work (though that’s always welcome); I’m talking about being of service to you in any way I can. For example, I could:

  • provide feedback on something you’ve written
  • support a cause that’s close to your heart
  • listen to you complain about your boss/spouse/kid/coworker/neighbor/etc.
  • brainstorm about a business or personal challenge

As long as it doesn't involve moving heavy furniture, I'm open to your requests. 

I can’t end racism or terrorism or gun violence, but I can try to bring an open heart and a helpful hand to the people around me. I hope you’ll take me up on the offer!

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Mind Mint: "That's interview talk."

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Mind Mint: "That's interview talk."

An elementary school buddy (let’s call him Glenn since that’s his name) told me this story, which he swears to be true. The story begins with Glenn interviewing for a job…

     Boss: How do you feel about working long hours?

     Glenn: It’s no problem. I like to be the first one in and the last one to leave.

Glenn got the job. On Friday of his first week, Glenn was leaving the office at the stroke of 5:00 (as he had done every day that week) when his boss approached him. 

      Boss: Didn’t you say you were a “first one in and last one to leave” kind of guy?

      Glenn: (Genuinely surprised) C’mon…that’s interview talk!

Don’t be like Glenn. Make sure you can walk your interview talk.

Postscript: Glenn has worked for the same company for 18 years, so clearly he either improved his walk or changed his talk! 

Post-Postscript: Glenn is a long-time Mind Mints subscriber, and he approved this message.

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Mind Mint: Blood, Sweat & (lots of) Tears.

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Mind Mint: Blood, Sweat & (lots of) Tears.

Blood, Sweat & Tears was the second highest paid band at the 1969 Woodstock music festival; only Jimi Hendrix was paid more. Yet few people know that Blood, Sweat & Tears playedWoodstock because they aren't in the Woodstock movie or on the album.

BS&T was on fire in 1969: they had a #1 album with three Top 10 hits. So they probably felt okay about turning down the mediocre movie and album deal. The terms might be good enough for Hendrix, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane, but not for Blood, Sweat & Tears.

BS&T became musically and commercially irrelevant within two years of the festival while most of Woodstock’s acts continued to rise. Might things have turned out differently if they'd been part of the movie and album? Well, it wouldn't have hurt...

For me, this is a cautionary tale about letting sudden success go our heads and cloud our judgment. And I'll leave you with this fail-safe piece of advice: if someone offers you the same deal they’re offering The Who, take it.
 
Have a soft spot in your heart for jazz rock with horns? Check out BS&T’s first and second albums, two of my all-time favorites.

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Mind Mint: How much spice can you handle?

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Mind Mint: How much spice can you handle?

A client was invited to speak on “how technology is enabling omnichannel commerce experiences.” When I asked what her top goal was for the presentation, she said, "I want to grab their attention and stand out from the parade of speakers." 

I suggested she open her speech as follows: “I’ve prepared two presentation options for you to choose from: Option 1 is ‘The Future of Omnichannel Commerce.’ Option 2 is ‘5 Secrets to Being a Great Lover.’ Which would you like to hear?”

She went with this idea, the audience chose Option 2, and my client shared the “5 Secrets to Being a Great Lover.” Each "secret" helped introduce a related insight on omnichannel commerce. Gimmicky? Sure, but it worked. My client has had people recognize her and say “hey, you’re the Love Lady!” And she’s been invited to give the presentation at other conferences.

Most content we encounter is bland. Adding some spice can make yours more flavorful and memorable…just ask the Love Lady!

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Mind Mint: They didn't follow my script.

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Mind Mint: They didn't follow my script.

A few weeks ago, I met a potential new client. Her company had a sales meeting coming up – their first one ever. After a few conversations, we agreed that I could help them. So I presented a proposal to the company’s leaders.

The presentation went well. I could clearly envision the project moving forward: providing a steady stream of work and income for the next four months, and resulting in an event that exceeded all expectations.

Yesterday I learned that the clients decided they can handle the workload internally, without my assistance.

Today, as I recover from the sting of seeing a large, interesting project disappear, I’m reminding myself that though I’m a writer, I can’t script the outcomes I want. What I can do is faithfully play my part: show up, listen carefully, offer to help, and respect the client’s decision.

By definition, this one was not meant to be. Which means I’m ready to tackle what's next. Bring it on!

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Mind Mint: Judge a book by its sample.

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Mind Mint: Judge a book by its sample.

I love downloading book samples on my Kindle. Here’s why:

  • The samples are free (even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can get the Kindle app on virtually any device)

  • The quality tends to be much higher than the typical “click bait” that fills my Facebook and Twitter feeds

  • I usually pick up some insights from reading the first chapter or two

  • If the sample is compelling, I can buy the book with just a couple of clicks

So when someone mentions a subject, book or author that sparks your interest, just open your Amazon app, download the sample, and enjoy!

Got a better way of exploring new ideas? Let me know!

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Mind Mint: A non-standardized education.

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Mind Mint: A non-standardized education.

Over the next two weeks, my kids’ school schedules are dominated by standardized tests. With this season comes lots of healthy debate about the role of these tests in education. For me,test season brings to mind a story about the photographer Ansel Adams. 

When it became apparent that Adams was too restless and scattered to sit still, his father pulled him out of school. At age 12, Adams was allowed to freely roam the dunes and cliffs around his San Francisco home. At 13, his father got him an annual pass to the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, a world’s fair held in San Francisco.

This freedom to explore the fair and the wilderness on his own terms enabled Adams to find himself, something that would likely have been impossible for him in a traditional school setting.

Adam’s childhood reminds us that we’re best able to realize our individual potential when our experiences are personalized, not standardized. And it’s an example of how a powerful story can help us see a familiar issue (like the standardization of education) in a new light.

Check out Ric Burns’ documentary about Ansel Adams, available on YouTube. The story above is beautifully told starting at 12:00, ending at 17:00.

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Mind Mint: My formula for successful mornings.

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Mind Mint: My formula for successful mornings.

I’m not a morning guy. I feel intense pangs of jealousy when my cat settles into a comfortable position on my bed just as I force myself out of it. But there are two rituals that I find to be remarkably effective in helping me get the day started. 

The first is a moment of gratitude. Shortly after getting up, I pause and silently list a few things I’m grateful for. I try to vary what’s on the list each day. This ritual injects some positive energy into my morning. 

The second ritual is making (and drinking) coffee. Before doing anything that requires thought, I brew a small pot of French Roast. The coffee injects some caffeine into my bloodstream. And with the caffeine buzz comes another moment of gratitude. 

Gratitude and coffee: a simple, effective, low-cost way to start the day. I hope you have a great one!

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Mind Mint: When tech goes bad.

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Mind Mint: When tech goes bad.

I recently received a meeting invitation from a new contact that included this message: "I had Charlie, my assistant, gather some research on the meeting attendees.” I quickly realized that Charlie was a virtual assistant; basically, an app. 

I eagerly clicked the "Information about Gary Forman" link to test it out. I was pleased to see that Charlie grabbed the headline from my Twitter profile. It was all downhill from there.

The “news about Gary Forman” section was filled with recent articles about Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) referee Gary Forman, whose “questionable officiating” may have contributed to a fighter’s eye being gouged. There was also a 2013 blurb about Gary Forman of New City, NY being inducted into the Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI) Hall of Fame.

Turns out this virtual assistant was very virtual but not of much assistance (other than providing material for this Mind Mint). A good reminder to make sure the technology tools we use actually perform as promised. 

Follow-up: to drive home the point with my new contact at our meeting, I gouged his eye out with my POPAI award. 

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Mind Mint: Fighting for your audience.

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Mind Mint: Fighting for your audience.

Last week I was in Las Vegas for a large tech conference. The opening session took place in an arena that seated more than ten thousand people. At any given moment, I’d say that 25-35% of the crowd was engaged with an electronic device.

Holding an audience’s attention isn’t easy under any circumstances. Even before the invention of electricity, our minds had plenty of bandwidth for wandering. But it’s one thing to compete with a wandering mind; competing with a device that provides instant access to a world of information, connection and distraction is something quite different.

Those of us who help create live events and presentations have a choice to make: accept that our audiences will be distracted or engage fully in the battle for their attention.

I choose to fight. I know I’m up against a powerful opponent. So I will focus relentlessly on making every moment of my event or presentation more compelling than a smartphone.

Who’s with me?

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Mind Mint: Developing a split personality.

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Mind Mint: Developing a split personality.

One of the most helpful suggestions I’ve ever gotten about writing comes from the book Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. I find that it applies not just to writing, but to any creative pursuit. And I define “creative” very broadly. 

Brande argues that we each have an artist and a critic within us. The artist is spontaneous, sensitive and creative; the critic is workman-like, rational, and yes, critical. Brande believes that we need to cultivate both sides while keeping them separate.

Here’s how I put this advice into practice: I’ll often plow through creating the first draft of a speech or an important email (or a Mind Mint) with a commitment to not judging the quality of what I’m writing. Once the first draft is complete, I invite the critic in to do his work.

What happens if the artist and the critic try to work at the same time? The critic stifles the artist and nothing gets done. Fortunately, both sides agree that a bad first draft beats a blank page any day.

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Mind Mint: Go for the spike.

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Mind Mint: Go for the spike.

My son is in 10th grade and starting to think seriously about college. He recently discovered (and became a fan of) an online guide to admissions written by Allen Cheng, a smart guy who co-founded a business selling test prep services.

Cheng’s main point is that top colleges prefer candidates who have one area of focus and accomplishment over those who are more traditionally well-rounded. He urges his readers to “develop a huge spike” by following their passion so that they can “do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way.”

I’m happy to have my son take his advice, not because it may make him more attractive to colleges, but because I’m a believer in the value of spikes. When we allow ourselves to dive into the things we’re most passionate about, we experience our greatest growth, achievement, and satisfaction.

If you’re like me, this topic gets you thinking about the spike moments in your life. Remember what they felt like? Can we find room in our lives for another spike or two?  I hope so. And the great thing is, now we can pursue those spike experiences without having to write the college admissions essay. 

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Mind Mint: In defense of "help."

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Mind Mint: In defense of "help."

I have a client who gives me a hard time whenever I use the word “help” in describing his company’s services. “It sounds too weak,” he complains. And since he’s the client, by definition, he’s right.

That doesn’t mean I agree with him. In fact, I use “help” twice in the first three sentences of my website! While some have a bias against admitting it, help is something most of us need across many different areas of our work and lives.

I’ve found that asking for help has a couple of benefits: 

  • It gives us a good chance of getting the assistance we need, and
  • It gives someone else the chance to be of servic e by lending a hand.

May 2016 be a year of helping and being helped for all of us. And by all means, let me know if I can help!  

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Mind Mint: "What do you do?"

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Mind Mint: "What do you do?"

Whether we’re speaking for ourselves, our company, or our product, we need to be able to provide a simple answer to that question.

Coming up with a simple answer isn’t easy. It means doing the hard work needed to encapsulate your story in a few words. I suggest using the following questions to guide the creation of your answer:

  • Is it clear and understandable?
  • Is it short and simple enough for people to remember?
  • Does it invite people to ask more questions?

Your initial answer doesn’t need to be complete; you can fill in the blanks if the other party wants to know more. But having a strong one-line response helps open up conversations, and conversations can lead to opportunities.

I’m a communications consultant who helps people and companies create better stories. What do you do?

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Mind Mint: Giving thanks.

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Mind Mint: Giving thanks.

Over the past year, I’ve received many compliments on my new website and Mind Mints, which are the two biggest elements of my online identity.

Thanksgiving seems like the perfect time to express my gratitude for (and share credit with) the folks who contributed their talents to help me look my best:

·      Daniel Boyles of LightPress.net designed my website.
·      Tim Townsend took photos of me for my website.
·      James Worrell created the photo for the Mind Mints home page.
·      Avi Graiver of Animation Cowboy created my new explainer video.
·      Jim Coleman composed music for the video.

I’m grateful to each of them for their great work and great attitude.

While we're on the subject, I’m grateful to all of you – my clients, colleagues, and friends – for your business, friendship, and support. Happy Thanksgiving! 
 

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