Do you know when to follow the process and when to invent your own?

Follow your instincts

You arrive at work and find a lovely gift on your desk – a brand new box of Legos.

Do you dump them out on your desk and start stacking?

Or do you flip through the enclosed book to find a project you think you can tackle?

Legos are a double-edged sword. They literally provide the building blocks of creativity – versatile tools that allow kids and adults to experiment, envision and eventually build amazing creations. They are basically open-ended and come in a wide variety of colors and sizes.

But they also come with guidebooks that show you step-by-step how to build completed projects.

My kids get frustrated when they think they must create the projects outlined in the book. My husband and I love the fact they are trying to follow the rules (it’s a rare moment) but we are also dismayed when they refuse to strike out on their own and build “whatever they want.”

There are lots of reasons they’d rather follow the steps in the book, and they are the same reasons people are reluctant to be creative in their professional careers or work place.

1. No ideas. They don’t know what they want to make. My kids don’t have a brilliant idea or end product they want to build. They like the idea of building but have “Lego-builder’s block.” But they know they want to build. So instead of being patient and working on an idea or inspiration, they would just rather do what someone else tells them to do. How often do you just check the boxes at work instead of seeking a new idea or inspiration?

2. Fear of the unknown. They think they have to know what they want to make. My kids want to build, build, build. But they are not comfortable with just randomly stacking bricks until a idea comes to them. They don’t know how to explore without a goal. How often do you feel more comfortable just following someone’s else’s instructions instead of striking out down a path without a real goal in mind?

3. Scared to fail. My kids are really Lego-newbies. They don’t know how to make curved sides out of rectangular bricks. They don’t know how to build the internal structure that will give them the external design they envision. So instead of trying, failing, trying and failing again, they would rather just work through each project as laid out on the pages and guarantee a nice, unoriginal, project. Do you pick the path everyone’s already walked because it’s safer than trying something new that might not work?

When is the last time you played with Legos? If I handed you a pack today, would you follow the steps in the book or work on your own original design?

What did you create today?

Running helps me think.

My kids see the world differently than I do.

I don’t understand a lot of modern art but I appreciate the unique approach.

Some people believe creativity can be taught. Some believe it can’t. But we wouldn’t be where we are as a society today without it. So find your spark and share with me how you keep it burning bright.

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Find the right writer for your project

How can a great freelance writer make your hard work shine? Consider one of my favorite writing assignments.

Tell me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

The worst answer is “you put some peanut butter and jelly on bread.”

Where do you get peanut butter? Where do you get jelly? What kind of bread? How do you put it on the bread?

It sounds so simple, but to really give the complete answer is difficult. There are so many pieces of information and steps to list.

Your business has a story to tell – it is unique and stands out from its competitors. But it can be difficult to express what makes your business special. Often you overlook your own best qualities, those details that set you apart, because you’re embedded in the day to day tasks.

An excellent writer can tackle this task and pull out the essential information and provide the details that your customers are clamoring for in a friendly, informative way and make them your fans.

Businesses that blog have 55% more business than those that don’t! What valuable information could your blog give your customers and win their loyalty?

Email me. Let’s talk about your ideas.

Do you make this common email mistake?

(The emails below are completely fictionalized and do not at all represent a real thing that happened to me or anyone I know about a year ago. I did change names to protect the privacy of the people this didn’t happen to.)

Sent: July 1, 2010

To: Employee, Quicktyper

From: Judgmental, Boss

Subject: Important Creative Project leading to  possible promotion

Hi Quicktyper,

I have the final details on the project we discussed. We loved your ideas but we need your summary and recommendations in 48 hrs. Is that going be a problem?

 

Sent: July 1, 2010

To: Judgmental, Boss

From:Employee, Quicktyper

Subject: Re: Important Creative Project leading to possible promotion

No a problem.

 

Sent: July 1, 2010

To: Employee, Quicktyper

From: Judgmental, Boss

Subject: Re: Re: Important Creative Project leading to possible promotion

Ok, we’ll give the project to Slowthinker down the hall.

 

Did you catch the typo? Neither did Quicktyper. And now Quicktyper is either typing really fast again (will they never learn?) or sprinting down the hall to unscramble the eggs. It may be too late reclaim that project and Quicktyper learns a hard lesson – emailing is tough.

Don’t tell me you’ve never sent an email off quickly without proofreading only to discover later that a small mistake, like a missing letter or misplaced comma, ended up costing you something big.

Some of you may be thinking, “I’ll just use that feature on my email server called “recall email.” Go ahead and try it, but someone once tried that with me, only I received the recall request AFTER I had already read the email they didn’t want me to read. So I knew exactly what they were thinking about my request, and I knew they were too nervous to talk to me directly. It was an excellent learning experience for me, and for once I didn’t make the mistake to learn the lesson.

Your homework today is to find the “Save as Draft” button and actually USE IT.  Too many of my co-workers, and myself included, have sent off emails without re-reading our words and without re-reading the original email and making sure we’re answering the right questions.

Saving emails as drafts gives you a chance to take quick break from your immediate reaction and review your words carefully. In heated email exchanges, you might want to let your reply mellow in the Draft folder for a few hours, maybe a day. If you feel you need to wait longer than a day, perhaps what you really need to do is have a face-to-face conversation.

Replying too quickly in verbal conversations can indicate you’re not actually listening to the other person’s words, and replying too quickly to emails can mean the same thing. You’re not paying attention to their questions or your answers. You want your boss or your client to know you will be on top of even the smallest details, ensuring the highest quality from start to finish. And besides, you don’t want to look like you’re just sitting at the computer with nothing else to do but answer emails all day, do you?

At least 8 (and possibly more) of these common email mistakes can be avoided by using Save to Draft and thinking before you hit Send.

What the heck are homonyms?

What the heck are homophones?

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings, no matter how they are spelled. Bear/Bear (the animal/put up with that annoying co-worker) is a homophone but so is red/read (my stylish iPad bag/what I wish my blog was more).

Homonyms are spelled exactly the same, pronounced the same but mean different things. These can trick people who are reading aloud especially if they are not familiar with the content. Like read/read (“Please read this aloud and act like you’ve read it before!”) or rose/rose (“The Bachelorette rose up and handed that loser a rose.”)

Here are two new ones I hadn’t heard of but now love.

Heteronyms, completely legal in all 50 states, have the same spelling but are pronounced differently and mean different things. Tricky again for public speaking!  A challenging heteronym is the word desert, as in “If you’re going to desert the army, don’t try to escape across the desert (and you definitely will miss dessert).” Dessert, in that last example, is not a heteronym but is a …. you guessed it! Homophone for the first version of desert.

The English language is so beautifully complex, isn’t it?

Last, and let’s have fun with this one, let’s learn some oronyms. These are groups of words that sound the same but are spelled differently. A very cool example is realize, real eyes, real lies – I just got chills thinking about how crazy that is.

Props to someone who can post their own exciting oronyms. No Googling. Use your brain writers!

Special thanks to Grammar Girl for inspiration!

A tribute to tone in writing

Talk about upbeat! The Oct 3, 2011 issue of Woman’s World magazine featured a tiny article titled “The Upside of Allergies!” that explains how people who get “rashes, itching or other such skin woes from touching certain materials, such as nickel or perfumed detergent” may be less likely to develop some kinds of cancer, like breast and skin cancer. I guess avoiding cancer is a really shiny silver lining around a rashy cloud.

This small segment of writing is a glimpse into the overall tone of the entire publication. It’s punchy and kicky like a super-happy pom-pom. Other headlines squeal “You Need More Chocolate!” and “Slim Down with doughnuts!” and my personal favorite, “Protect Your Heart with cheese!”

There’s a general myth that travels around offices, whispered from cubicle to cubicle, that “email doesn’t have tone.” It’s one of those warnings you get at a workshop promising to help you email your way to the top, but it’s misguided. Of course email has tone. Writing has tone. Some writers are just better at elucidating their tone than others. The folks at Woman’s World magazine have laser-focus on a perpetually upbeat, can-do, eat sweets and feel great tone.

At a recent business development workshop at the Center for Women’s Entrepenuership at Chatham Universtiy, I was assigned to read this segment on the Rapid Growth stage of the business lifecycle.

“In the rapid growth stage, the business outpaces industry growth rates…This stage is very risky since many resources are dedicated to the business but there is no guarantee of continued success. …Some entrepreneurs decide to sell their businesses…some find their businesses have outgrown their skills because they are unable to cope with the increasingly complex management and growth challenges.”

Did you have an emotional reaction to that abbreviated passage? I felt stressed, nervous, doubtful and anxious, and it wasn’t even my business. The tone was gloomy, foreboding and negative. All in all, the writer did a great job of using words of warning to convey the chaotic and uncertain atmosphere of this stage of business.

Two excellent examples of tone, from two widely divergent kinds of writing, but both accomplishing their task. I tip my pen cap to both writers, whomever they are.

The Best Fitness Advice for your Social Media Strategy

If you don’t already go running, walking, lift weights, or some other kind of physical activity to increase your creativity and productivity, stop reading now and do 50 push-ups. If it takes you all day, so be it. Get it done.

During my most recent run, I realized that the best fitness advice is also excellent advice for businesses embarking of their first forays into social media.

1. Set goals. You don’t want to start any running or workout routine without a goal.  Couch to 5K is a great program with a reasonably challenging long-term goal – get off the couch and run a 5K. Your social media goal could be similar. For instance, “Connect with 250 followers on Facebook.”

2. Start small. A friend’s personal trainer asked her to see how far she could run in 12 minutes.  It was a very small step toward her goal but it was essential to completing the 5K. Same goes for your social media campaign. Set a goal like “Create a Facebook page for my business today.” You’re not going to get any followers unless you start somewhere.

3. Be consistent. Every day, do something to work toward your goal. Some days you may walk more than others, but you have to get out there. For your Facebook followers goal, make sure you work on this every day. Plan relevant content to share. Reach out to potential followers and engage on their terms.

4. Be honest. Don’t cheat your running goal by stopping short on that difficult hill. Don’t cheat your social media campaign by avoiding customer research, addressing negative feedback and product improvement. Give your best in each endeavor.

5. Be accountable. A great tweet suggested marking red x’s on the calendar when you miss a workout. The same thing goes for building your online relationships. It takes work. Seeing a lot of red x’s in a row could be the thing that motivates you NOT to skip your activity for the day.

6. Get a partner. Running is lots more fun with someone and you’re less likely to bail if you know someone else will call you out! This can work for your Facebook strategy, too. Find a non-competing fellow business owner or even a willing friend and ask them to check on you. Bounce ideas off them, too.

7. Cross-train. You get better at running if you add in stretching and weights. You’ll get better at social media if you experiment with different methods, like using video or images to build relationships, engage customers and earn followers. Try out some other platforms, like LinkedIn.

8. Limit your junk food. Eating healthy will help you run better. Include some fiber in your diet. Check the nutritional content of your own social media feeds. Are you including too much junk? Are you filling up on empty calories and left feeling hungry? Get some high quality content from leading experts.

9. Get good gear. Those high-end running shoes cost more but can improve your total workout experience. And ladies, do not neglect the sports bra. Great gear can prevent injury, increase your enjoyment and enhance your performance. Try a refurbished smartphone if your budget is tight. Other tools can be accessed for free, like HootSuite and LinkedIn.

10. Reward your efforts. When you finish that 5K, celebrate! It doesn’t matter how fast you did it, save that kind of competition for your next effort – the 10K! When you hit 250 followers, celebrate! Host an event for your followers and promote the heck out it, starting with the next social media platform you plan to master…there’s no stopping you now!

A version of this post appeared on 12Most.com – read it here!

Do You Take Twitter Seriously? I do!

I read my Twitter feed several times every day.

I read it for humorous tweets, tweets about what my friends are doing and tweets from business, political or social leaders that interest me.

I don’t read the newspaper everyday.

I don’t read a magazine everyday.

I don’t even watch television everyday.

But I read Twitter several times a day. It’s content I can access 24/7, customized completely to my interests. And I frequently look for new Twitter accounts to follow.

So when I noticed @_workingmother_, the Twitter handle of a magazine and website that I enjoy, had several typos in the recent tweets, I sent a quick reply.

@epagelhogan @_workingmother_ seeing typos in your tweets! Careful!

The typos weren’t huge. “Your” instead of “you’re” and “Kid’s” instead of “kids.” The typos didn’t bother me as much as this response to my tweet:

@_workingmother_ @epagelhogan We all type so quickly & take this kind of social media less seriously, esp. when trying to fit into 140 characters!

So the communications team at Working Mother  take this kind of social media less seriously? I’m hurt! I’m a customer who basically only interacts with them via Twitter and they don’t care if they are sending me quality content?

In 2009, over two years ago, Twitter was already the 3rd highest ranking social media site according to Compete.com. It has a top ten Alexa rating. Remember how the raid on the Bin Laden compound broke on Twitter first?

My personal usage of Twitter should indicate to media outlets like the folks at Working Mother that Twitter is their main way of reaching at least one reader and since I’m a very busy working mother and I bet I’m not the only one.

I love the content and editorial perspective of Working Mother magazine and Working Mother online.  I’m a big fan.  But I don’t always have time to read their emails let alone follow one of the links. I really appreciate the info and links they send out via Twitter a lot more, because I see them more frequently and can quickly read one article. Clicking on a link in Twitter on my smartphone, which I always have with me, is easier than enlarging an email and trying to tap through to an article.

I think reaching customers via Twitter should be taken pretty seriously.

Social media is a great way to build customer relationships. Don’t take chances with your social media feed. Make it as precise and effective as every other communication strategy and use it to build better relationships with your readers, your subscribers, your followers, your buyers.