I had a conversation this week that reminded me of this old post I wrote back in 2010. I’m still waiting for hardcover books to include a digital file in the purchase price.
Originally published on Wise Elephant on Mar 23rd, 2010
At first it seemed so convenient and full of instant gratification to buy music online, or even from my phone. I’ve been purchasing music via online download almost exclusively for the last four years. This was fueled in part by my green side telling me I’m saving on packaging materials and the transport of the product, and also by the fact that I had moved away from my favorite record store in Chicago.
Recently, I began to feel more disconnected from the music I’ve purchased. I missed checking out the album art, the process of browsing in the store and the recommendations you can get from shop employees. I had also read two blogs posts that got me thinking about buying vinyl again – this one about digitial readers and this one about tactile user experience. So, I broke my digital download streak and headed to LUNA in Indianapolis, an actual bricks and mortar shop.
The last time I had been vinyl shopping, maybe one out of thirty records offered a free digital download with purchase. But this trip, they filled the shelves. How awesome is that? You get the quality of vinyl, plus the ease of a download to enjoy the music the way we do – on the go, in the car, on our phone and iPods.
I am fascinated by this idea of combining old and new school. This movement toward vinyl+digital manages to satisfy the collector and the demand of current market trends. It forgoes forms that are often treated as disposable. Vinyl is typically bought for keeps, cds or other formats less so. How many people do you know who ditched their cd collection after downloading all of the music to iTunes?
Think of the other creative products that could benefit from a similar melding. I would love to see books go the same route. As a former bookseller, I personally had a hand in preparing hundreds, maybe thousands, of mass market books for the incredibly shameful practice of pulping (which is no different than the fiasco of H&M over disposing unsold goods, rather than donating them). That doesn’t even include magazines, which suffer the same fate when they languish on the newsstand. When a product is seen as so disposable by the very publishers of the material, it begs the question: Isn’t there another way?
What if publishers offered a free audio download or ebook version for your choice of electronic reader with the purchase of a hardcover? We can apply it to magazines as well. In bookshops and newsstands, we want glossies to thumb through. Maybe the shop could carry a few copies to browse and then serves as an access point to buy a digital version. With a year subscription, give readers a monthly online version that includes all of the ads and short articles, then provide one annual, high quality print version. Think coffee table book with the best articles and photos of the year, the features that merit a second look.
Despite declining sales in multiple sectors of the music industry, vinyl actually showed significant growth in 2009 according to statistics released by Nielson. Whether other products adopt this model remains to be seen, but there is a lesson to be learned from the vinyl+digital movement. There’s always a fresh outcry when magazines and newspapers fail. Who really wants to see the end of print? Or the disappearance of music and book shops? Consumers still crave these spaces where we can engage with products, rifle through them and talk with proprietors who know the products well. And we will spend dollars on the products that fit with our lifestyles, that come in the form we want to consume. If you’re in an industry with shifting markets, can you find a way to please our nostalgia and modernity at once?
A challenge was issued: Let’s play the silent game for 15 minutes. If you do it, I’ll give you a quarter!
I remember sitting in the living room of my great aunt Pat’s house, restless, picking at the dark carpet. I’m guessing that I was six-years old, maybe seven. I’d probably talked the ears off of the adults, until ends of wits had been reached and frayed. I started talking late in life (my mom was worried I’d never speak) but then, apparently, didn’t learn to shut up. At least not for a really long time.
A whole shiny quarter? Yes. In those days, that meant a ride on one of the mechanical horses, or a tiny fistful of candy from the red machines lining the windows at the super market.
Think I made it? Not a chance.
As I sat, squirming, I played with my old-school, knee-high tube socks. This pair I wore didn’t quite match, having different color rings. In my 90 seconds of silent introspection, I got completely enamored with the stripes, rolling them down into donut socks, then back up to mismatched tubes. I was pretty sure other people needed to know about this wonder, and before I realized it, I blurted, “Hey, look at my socks!”
Game over. No quarter. Silence challenge completely and utterly failed. I’ve never re-visited a slience challenge again, nor given much thought to it.
Today, my husband is practicing a day of silence. In this strange quiet during our morning routine, this vision of my six year old self, so naive, so fascinated by the world, came rushing back. After processing this dusty memory, I was suddenly hyper-aware of the mindless chatter that fills the day. My own voice, a strange interruption. Silence. I haven’t given you enough thought of late.
Decades later and sans tube socks, I still don’t always know the right times to be quiet. That’s something I imagine will be a life’s work in progress. But I am at least asking: is this worth saying? Some days I get it right. Some days I quietly notice.
Months in the making, my impossibly long scarf is finally complete. As I finished weaving in the ends, I pondered over this work marked by uneven stitches and why I sink hours into the pursuit of making imperfect things.
There are different kinds of knitters. There are those who can knit on through mistakes, overlooking a purl that should have been a knit stitch. There are some who would rather rip out hours of work than wear a scarf with one wrong stitch. I’ve admired in wonder those I know who knit in perfect, even stitches, achieving uniformity on par with any machine. And then there are those, like me, fated to knit the occasional loose stitch.
Somewhere along the way, with years of knitting and many projects under my belt, I realized this tendency wasn’t something I’d outgrow with practice. It just is. And so knitting has become an exercise in patience and acceptance.
With $26 worth of yarn and unknown hours of needling loops into loops invested, this handmade thing absolutely looks the part. It wasn’t always so, but I can now say this and really mean it: I’m good with that.
Confession: I’m terrible at keeping house plants alive. We’ve had a thriving, bountiful garden outside, but my indoor plants? I over-water. Or I put them in the wrong light. I leave them in the cold of fall too long, shock them to death when bringing them inside. My husband thinks I’m silly to keep at it, but I just can’t help myself. I love the way plants add color and life to indoor spaces.
There’s actually something affirming about a dogged dedication to this thing which does not come naturally. I know I may fail yet again, and I’ve decided it’s okay. Each plant I drag home, I wonder, How long will you be with me? A season? A couple of years?
I’ve learned a few things along the way. The plants I’ve kept alive include cacti and a Zamioculcas. I seem to fare better with plants who prefer drying out between waterings.
In making my plant choices, I’ve been less ambitious. To replace my latest victim, a Shefflera, I only considered plants marked as resilient. (Thank goodness for garden centers who mark them this way!) I have withered away a fair number of more delicate plants — clearly I need to build success with more tenacious varieties first.
Welcome home to my latest, a fine looking Sansevieria. I look at this living thing with hope. This is the one I can manage, the one I’ll look back on in awe when I can’t remember how long it’s been in my life.
Should I fail, I will keep at it. Even if I have to buy a few house plants every year for the rest of my life, my house will always be marked with some bits of green life.
This is a tale of when two projects collide. Ever have a lucky intersection, where work on one project informs another? My YES! moment of the week came on the heels of a really rewarding session of facilitation.
Recently Jason, Leigh (two of my SmallBoxer team mates) and I had the great honor of leading a strategic session with Growing Places Indy, a small nonprofit doing great things in urban agriculture and sustainability.
We hung out with their board and staff for the better part of a day, working through exercises and conversations that will lead to a three year strategic plan for the organization. We covered a lot of stuff, but perhaps the most meaty – we sank our teeth into organizational values. We use a few sources as inspiration for this work, including two highly recommended books, The Advantage and Tribal Leadership.
Back in the office, I’ve also been tasked with rethinking how we set individual goals and support the professional development of each team member. A couple of days after our Growing Places session, I happened to have a few monthly check-ins with some members of our team. It got me thinking:
How do we live our core values through our individual roles? (For SmallBox, our core values are collaboration, curiosity and growth.) And how can we each use our personal values to complement that?
And then that YES! moment. We all have personal values, but we haven’t shared them with each other, much less considered how to leverage them for individual and group professional development. In Lencioni’s model from the Advantage, he defines different types of values – permission to play are baseline values, aspirational values are things you strive for, but haven’t yet begun to live, while accidental values are those for which you didn’t plan. Are their various kinds of personal values that might be channeled to improve our work?
With this mash up of value soup sloshing in my head – everything we’d done with Growing Places and my conversations with the team, I couldn’t help but think about leadership values. When it comes to leading, how do I want to behave?
Two things came very clearly to me:
When you balance deep empathy with high standards, you can lead people nearly anywhere.
Leading is something I still earn and grow into. With a team full of so many bright minds, the right to lead at a company like SmallBox is an honor. Everyone on our team, from the interns, up to the CEO is a leader among us. We all lead at one turn, follow at the next. A third core leading value emerged from this line of thought: flexibility.
When I say flexibility, I especially mean openness to sometimes follow, so that others may be empowered by leading and to recognize that everyone has different communication and work styles and may need a unique approach to further their professional development. This aligns closely with one of the greater lessons I’ve learned in leading teams: everyone can be reached. It’s just a matter of finding how.
My coworker Lydia just celebrated her fifth anniversary with SmallBox. Not only is she our champion of collaborative processes, she also is the sort of gal who has a word of the year. This year’s word: PLAY. As part of her anniversary gift, we decided to make and frame a collaborative piece of art inspired by her word.
Each participant was to create a 5″ x 5″ piece to be framed together – any style, any medium, so long as it was flat and related to the theme PLAY. I chose watercolor for my medium.
One of my evergreen goals is to create more. It’s a balance I struggle to find – connecting time with ideas, loving what I’m making in the moment, finishing. On the morning I painted my contribution, it all came easily. That’s not always the case for me, so I wanted to get at why.
The importance of getting started.
Just getting the watercolors (or whatever supplies) out is half the battle. I set out to paint one watercolor, but ended up with four. It’s surprising how much I need to remind myself this simple thing. Resolve to start, even without clarity of what exactly to make.
About that whole getting started thing. Another simple revelation: I should be giving myself specific assignments with deadlines! It’s funny to think back on the productive days of school, when writing and making of things piled up in heaps. Parameters give a starting point, so there is less stress over concept. It’s also fun to push to be creative within a boundary.
The assignment also forced me to allow a few flops. I threw away my first attempt, and 2 others in between. I might have given up on a normal day after the first bad watercolor.
Knowing she takes playful and interesting photos, I looked to Lydia’s instagram feed for inspiration. Though I haven’t ever turned to a social site for art ideas, it worked really well. I tried painting one image of “December Mushrooms” which ended up looking a little like mustaches. In one image she wrote: “Sky. And it smells like campfire. My heart explodes.” which inspired the final watercolor. Another reminder: sometimes I take art too seriously. Find inspiration in unexpected places (yes, even the internet).
I mostly work alone in art. Working with others toward this larger goal was rewarding in a very rich way. Added to my to do list: find art partners.
In theory, last Monday started out perfectly. I got lost in writing until it was time to race in to work. Trouble is, that meant I never made it through my morning weekly planning. Writing is also part of that typical routine, just not so much of it.
Before I knew it, the week was a run away train. I never framed up my priorities just right, and so I swung at things as they flew at me, boxing through the week blindfolded, feeling a little lost. Yuck.
I never could get back on track, and just resorted to slogging through til the weekend.
Thankfully, there was no crisis, nothing major dropped or forgotten, but I can’t help but wonder how I let this happen. After spending so much of December reflecting and realizing the importance of mornings (among other things), how did I get so far off the rails?
With the promise of fifty degree weather and no ice on the trail, I set out for my first run in the great outdoors for some time. And I thought, This is it!
It wasn’t just that I decided to write Monday morning. It’s that I lacked the mental clarity or the discipline to recover later that day, or to carve out the time to refocus throughout the rest of the week. And the reason I couldn’t refocus?
Bringing myself out of the muck that is ‘computer brain’ increasingly requires physical activity. That’s what was missing. There’s simply no substitute for it.
I’ve suffered a bit of a double whammy. My regular yoga teacher moved to a studio way up in the ‘burbs, too far for me to follow. Add to that the weeks of iciness of the side streets and Monon Trail (meaning no outdoor running for me, falling expert that I am), and my whole physical routine was off.
I’ve made some trips to the gym, but it isn’t the same. It’s hard to find any kind of clarity with all of the smells and sounds of the gym, when working out requires a machine and forces a different kind of screen time.
Today, on that rare winter day that teases spring, my intended two miles turned to four.
Pounding, heart in chest, feet on pavement, wind and breath. Then, that flood of thought that comes with a good run.
The other night, after much tossing and turning, I gave in and got up out of bed. I wanted to see why things seemed so bright. There was so much light pouring in through the windows at the back of the house, I thought there must be someone working in the alley, a car idling with their brights on, something.
But, no. It was just the moon.
It’s hard to share just exactly how captivating that midnight moon was. In a half-tired state, I grabbed my camera for a mini-photo shoot to try to capture its beauty. This photo doesn’t do it justice.
A couple of things:
1. The moon will never look just like that again. Isn’t that a wonderful thing to consider?
2. Standing there in my pajamas and house shoes on my back deck, snapping away in the iciness of twenty degrees, snow on the ground and icicles overhead, I felt truly alive. This is the type of moment that reminds me I still have it. That old fire to discover, to experience, to create. Even when it isn’t easy or comfortable. Even when nothing to show comes of it.
That feeling. That’s the keepsake of that midnight oil.
Brainstorming can be a randomly beautiful thing, with no structure, just shouting it all out: a worthy idea appears. Sometimes that is enough. Other times, putting a new lens or technique on a problem is helpful. If you need more of that, I’d recommend checking out Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming by Ellen Lupton.
Many of the techniques will be familiar for creative agency types. Mind-mapping. Sprinting. Co-design. Each description is simple and concise, and as a whole, the book provides a great overview of techniques. Even if you already know them, no matter. Where the book really shines is the real world examples paired with each technique. It’s incredibly inspiring.
One example of collaboration, the Reinvent Mural really struck me. A group of designers collaborated to create a a series of images for a gallery installation. Each image leads to the next, a similar shape, but also something new.
It got me thinking of it as a sort of a visual version of the telephone game, or chinese whispers. Remember that old game? The one in which words are whispered into the next person’s ear, on down the line, and then, ta da! Out the other end comes, more often than not, an entirely different word or phrase.
It might be a silly child’s game, but it very effectively illustrates the potential for re-framing, even total warping in human communication. Each individual perception, each new touch has incredible power to shift things.
I played around with this idea in a quick sketching session. Oh, the strange paths that can unfold out of the brain!
Parentheses >; Black-eyed peas >; Macaroni >; Old school telephone handset >; Magnet >; Lightning bolt. This ended pairing the pea and the bolt, a bit of nonsensical fun.
From Indiana >; Creepy bird mask >; Tornado >; Stairs.
Or another path:
Indiana >; Thought bubble >; Whale.
X >; Pliers >; Tooth >; Rockin’ guitar >; Rocket >; Spotted shark.
This was a solo experiment, but as fascinating as it is to marvel at the leaps one mind can make, a group application is what I’m more interested in. For this experiment, I’d set it up so that only the first participant sees the source image, and each to follow would see only the most recent sketch in the series.
The reason I’m so taken with this is this: it reminds me of how brands evolve as they’re carried. As an organization, we may design a logo, choose our words or how we want people to feel, but the moment it’s out in the world, it gets touched, shaped and shifted by others. Customers, fans, friend or foe can perceive what they will and share your brand with others through their own filter. Like it or not.
Think about this: if you were to telephone sketch your logo, where would it take you? If your customers or fans did it, where to then?
I’ve been here before. Standing at the end of the sidewalk of another year, thinking how fast time vanishes and how little I have to show for it.
In work and volunteering, I’m very driven toward excellence. I don’t always achieve it, but in the process I give much of myself (energy, time). The sum of that effort has often left me falling short on more personal goals and pursuits. At the end of long days and weeks, it’s quite easy to deserve relaxation and forgo all other priorities.
Understanding the balance of discipline and creativity.
I’ve seen the fruit discipline bears this year more than any other, namely in the pursuit of health. Think Kit, too, has had a hand in this realization that’s been in the making for the last six months. Looking back on this and the last 30 posts, not all are created equal. While there are a few I’d gladly scratch from the blog, more powerful that that: I can write and create daily.
Discipline. Why have I resisted you so thoroughly for so long?
I’ve prized chaos, surprise, even random luck. I’ve frowned at a life too scheduled, convincing myself structure equals rigidity, fearing discipline would snuff out any chance for surprise and delight.
I’ve declared I could never get “facing of the page” to work for me. I’ve long given myself the excuse in the form of rally cry, Let us all be enjoyers of things!
I admit it with some shame: I believed with such fervent folly that one day I’d just wake up and create something miraculous. When I read the words of wisdom from writers and artists of yore about their discipline, I always thought, Bah! I don’t believe in that. I can’t sit down to write or draw or make things when I don’t have an idea, without that initial spark of inspiration.
It’s taken a lot of life changes and the wisdom granted with another passing year to get here. Most of us are not gripped by madness at 3 a.m. one random morning, and continue working day and night for three weeks straight to publish the great American novel with barely an edit. This is the more rare thing.
Creativity might be fed from some unknown forces, yes. It sometimes springs forth, all mysterious, dark and seductive. Once it appears in this way, it’s easy to be deceived, to believe it will just appear again and again, and good work will follow.
But no. It’s the ones who get up early, or reserve the hours before bed, who find a way to commit time and keep focus who look back on their year and feel satisfaction in their body of work.
Feeding creativity isn’t as tricky as I credited. It isn’t so dark or secret, it’s there for the taking by any who care to make space for it. It’s the flexing, just like a muscle. The commitment to doing and making, even when that creative spark seems elusive. It will come. It will come, I realize now, if I am there to meet it.
I know I’m joining a chorus of many others who have come to understand this. With one foot in 2012, and the other stepping toward 2013, I’m glad to welcome this strange new fellow, discipline. Let’s see what I can do with you.
This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Today’s prompt: “What are you looking forward to the most about the next 365 days?”