Seeing With Fresh Eyes

Everyone from marketers to writers to web designers needs Fresh Eyes. Find out why and how.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

I don’t like to edit. Well, I like to edit other people’s stuff, but not my own. I like what I write. Or I wouldn’t be a writer. That said, everyone needs someone to edit their work.

 

EVERYONE. (Including moi).

Fresh Eyes are other people’s eyes. Or they’re your own eyes after a good night’s sleep.

Fresh Eyes are your eyes after 24 hours away from the project. Maybe 8 hours. Or 2. For longer works, Fresh Eyes, if they’re your own, require time and a blink-worthy dusting (think powdered sugar here) of amnesia.

Stephen King says Fresh Eyes are needed between book drafts. In his writing craft memoir On Writing he says, “How long you let your book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks.”

Fresh Eyes could be called “vu-jà dé” … (I stole this from Adam Grant’s TED Talk at minute:second 10:57 into the talk. Thanks Adam! J). It’s like the opposite of déjà vu, where instead of already having seen it before, you’re seeing it for the first time.

Fresh Eyes bring someone else’s perspective into your life, onto the project.

Fresh Eyes sing new tunes and bring new rhythms.

Fresh Eyes understand there are more ways to approach the problem, write the story, paint the picture, take the photo.

Fresh Eyes are untainted by prejudice. Fresh Eyes are unclogged by confirmation bias.

Fresh Eyes are often “focused” by listening ears and open hearts and reading out loud.

Fresh Eyes are gifted by a willingness to admit you’re wrong. A possibility that you made a mistake. The welcoming of another opinion, instead of an anxiety about being criticized.

Fresh Eyes are not fearful, nor are Fresh Eyes to be feared. They are your friends.

For your writing project, your film, your new product, your idea, your company, or your invention or daring marketing scheme, take a moment and a deep breath. Take two steps back, or take a walk around the block. A trip around the world. A night away. Take in a movie or a play. Read a book.

Then return with Fresh Eyes. And when “Did I really say that?” escapes your lips, you can thank us. Or thank Stephen King. He’ll be glad he could help. I’m sure.

Artwork by Katie Phillips

 

Practice Makes Perfect

Winners AND losers practice 10,000 hours.

What does “Practice Makes Perfect” mean? Most people think it means that if you do something over and over and over, your skill (whatever it is) will be perfect. It will not, of course, but one can hope to achieve as close to perfection as possible. Piano players à la Practice Makes PerfectVladimir Horowitz, basketball players like Michael Jordan, authors, painters, gymnasts, race car drivers, surgeons, repairmen, typists, dancers—everyone that wants to excel at something—has to practice. 

Winners Practice 10,000 Hours

To come in first in a competition, to be paid for their work, and to generally reach the pinnacle of their craft or sport or profession, winners practice and continue to practice even after they’re “good.” Why do they call it a medical practice, a dental practice or a legal practice? Because those licensed professionals have to keep practicing to continue to be skilled to their high levels of satisfaction. In his 2011 book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

There’s a catch, though.

Losers Practice 10,000 Hours Too!

Continue reading “Practice Makes Perfect”

Original Content

“Thou doesn’t want to be stoleth from… right?

What is original content? Original content is unique music, inventive lyrics, one-of-a kind words or works of art that come from our true selves. I love synonyms. Here are some synonyms for the word original: authentic, initial, first. But the more interesting synonyms come in the second layer, as in taking the word authentic and drilling down to the lower levels for the synonyms of authentic: authoritative, accurate, convincing, legitimate. Powerful words, no?

Original Content
Image by Katie Phillips

 

On the opposite side of the writing mountain is the word plagiarism. Plagiarism is the ‘wrongful appropriation’ and ‘stealing and publication’ of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.[1][2] I’m citing Wikipedia here. See? It’s okay to use other people’s work if attribution is given.

Furthermore, Merriam-Webster defines plagiarize as follows: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own:  use (another’s production) without crediting the source.

Trend Alert: The ease of copy-paste tempts the weak, but does not give anyone permission to copy, plagiarize or otherwise “borrow” content. Why would people want to do that anyway? Look at the words above: Authoritative, accurate and convincing. They are not my words. The thesaurus says it’s so. People want to present themselves in their best light, so the best way to do that is through original content.

Having an outside writer compose for you is cheating if there has been no mutual agreement. So if someone like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future bullies you into writing their papers for them, that’s cheating. Remember? Marty’s father George McFly wrote Biff’s papers for him. Ghostwriting is different. In that case, the person has knowledge that their words are being written by someone else. In fact, they specifically ask someone else to write for them. See my ghostwriting blog post here.

Believe in yourself and your originality. Make your own content. It’s one of the 10 commandments, isn’t it?

“Thou shalt not steal.”

And for good reason. It’s also related to: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.” Who says their writing is better than yours? You’re the expert!

More to the point: Thou doesn’t wanteth to be stolen from. Right? So don’t stealeth!

To see why it’s great to have original content click here for a link to the Ebook by Kathryn Atkins, “10 Reasons to Hire a Professional Writer.”

IKEA Virgin

Have you been to an IKEA store recently?

Back in 2006, we opened season on sending our last son to college. We went to IKEA. I had heard stories, the sagas of the seasons passing during an IKEA visit, but I thought these people must have been exaggerating. They were not. IKEA makes Costco look like a backyard excursion in comparison to the global circumnavigation posed by an IKEA store visit.

 We were in the store for 5 ½ hours.

It was an experience I did not soon reprise: I haven’t been back in nine years. The store was well organized, well lit, fairly well staffed, and clean. It is also cheap and, the 5½ hours notwithstanding, it saves time, which is a particularly important commodity in a working person’s life. For instance, my husband is a lot of things, but he is not a shopper. IKEA is a store for the shoppers of us, but in reality, it’s a store for non-shoppers as well. Why? Because it gets the entire shopping thing done in one, long, grueling, gut-wrenching, foot-searing, back-aching, self-helping, mind-numbing session. In short, you’re your own decorator, designer, shopper, warehouseman, and delivery boy. DON’T FORGET: Bring room dimensions, or you’ll probably end up back there again!

Also, come to your visit with an empty, large vehicle, room on your credit card, and a couple of able bodied, but skinny people that can heft the furniture pieces, but also squeeze into the leftover crevices in your “personal moving van” to get the stuff home.

It’s 2015 today and as I said, I haven’t been back there. I do remember being impressed by the organization and the high-tech environment nine years ago. Everything had a place. Touch screens dotted the pickup area to help you find your items in their vast find-it-yourself warehouse. Thank goodness for numbers! (Who invented those anyway?) Bin numbers, SKUs and part numbers managed the inventory; employees in yellow shirts managed the flow of parts and people.

The food offering (IKEA knew that they should feed customers who would be spending the better part of 24 hours in their clutches) counter-balanced the vastness of the store’s inventory by its marked sparseness: they were out of three food items. There were, however, piles of suspicious looking signature Swedish meatballs, which they promoted with massive colorful signage, take-home offers, and daily specials. I wonder if they’re always on special just to get rid of them.

The store we visited was 28,500 square meters, or about 306,711 square feet. A typical American football field is 57,600 square feet, so we’re talking about five football fields here. We slogged through the stupid thing at least twice, going back to look at different things so our son could mix and match and create his very own college room décor. I found myself biting my lip at some of his choices, but he was spreading his wings and I was grinning maniacally as the grateful almost empty nester.

So while I used to be an IKEA virgin, I am now knowledgeable in the ways of what was then a brave new retail world wonder. As with that other rite of passage, I feel somewhat sullied, but no longer afraid of the unknown. In this case I have sore feet to prove my passage…

Meanwhile, we did right by our college-bound child. He needed stuff, and stuff they had. Lots. Everywhere.

11 (Make That 12) Steps to Great Kids

I have two boys. Ahem. I have two sons that are now late twenties. When I wrote this missive in 2004, they were seventeen and nineteen. I had two great boys then and I have two wonderful young men for sons. It’s not blind… maybe a little prejudiced, but as I muse the truth of their good-ness, I believe that somehow, just somehow, we did something right. We are not alone, of course: we read and see and hear of good things, good people. But more often, we are bombarded with the junk about mankind that makes us feel better about ourselves, as in, “There but for the grace of God go I.” So let’s not make this about good in relative terms… Let’s just say they’re good.

We were lucky. Yes, but we did some things really right, and I will share those 10 steps with you now.

  1. Stay married.
  2. Have grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles in your midst. Let the children get to know them.
  3. One of you stay home or at least work a job that allows shorter hours and/or less stress to save mental and physical energy for your kids.
  4. Join the PTA at your kids’ schools. You’ll know what’s going on (They’re not being coy or private all the time. The kids don’t know or can’t remember —really, they don’t — by the time you see them at the end of the day.) Oh, and stay involved all the way through high school. Most parents drop out after elementary, but it’s almost more important when your kids are older!
  5. Find something that grabs their heart, mind, or body to carry them through the tough times. Being a kid is harder and harder. If they don’t have a talent, hobby or sport to start with, keep digging until you find it. Don’t give up.
  6. Make school and grades important. There is no way they’ll succeed in this world without the knowledge of how to learn. It’s not just the facts and figures that will help them: It’s knowing how to learn to learn. This one ability will serve them their whole lives long.
  7. Talk to them about sex. Really. They get exposed to it in school, but it’s somehow more important to them that you have the guts to talk to them about it. Even as young adults, they’ll appreciate your awareness that they’re tempted, but that it’s dang important not to get pregnant or make someone pregnant.
  8. Have a religion. I don’t care what. It helps them feel a connection to a higher power, and helps them develop a moral compass.
  9. Celebrate birthdays and holidays with abandon. Decorate, invite family, and have big parties. It doesn’t have to be expensive. The 99-Cent store is great. Burgers and dogs. Pizza. Home made and cheap is better. Celebrate family.
  10. Know where and who and when. It’s easier with cell phones than in the past, but don’t substitute technology for knowledge. And finally…
  11. HAVE YOUR KIDS WAKE YOU UP WHEN THEY COME HOME at night. It’s not necessary to stay awake. It is necessary to have them wake you. First, it gives them accountability; second, it’s an easy out for them to blame leaving an uncomfortable situation on their parents, and third, you can look into their eyes and see if they’re “okay.”
  12. LOVE!!!! They’ll know you love them from the other 11 steps, but don’t forget to tell them every single day.

Try to set a good example. We make mistakes, sure, but believe me, your kids know every single one of your faults. They also know when and how you’re trying to be better, that you’re trying to help them succeed, and that you’re paying attention to them. They also know when they mess up, and ours did. They were not perfect, but they didn’t make the big mistakes. We were lucky, as I said.

Two-income working parents are exhausted at the end of the day, and the kids know it. I get it. We’re all busy, but I heard one parenting specialist say, the best rule for raising good kids is “get up off the couch.” (My rule was, “Don’t sit down.”)

I know a lot of people with good kids. I know some that have kids that strayed. I’d say from my limited survey — the above formula works, with minor variances.

Good Luck!

Bonus Material — Definition of “Good kids”

  1. Good kids get relatively good grades. B’s and A’s. With the emphasis on grades, and with tutoring, mentoring, and learning schools like Sylvan and Kumon, it should be doable even for lower income folks.
  2. Good kids have something they care about besides themselves and their friends. It can be a sport or a hobby, a community group or their church. Scouting, if you can possibly sell it, leaves a huge positive mark on the kids’ souls. (Both of our kids are Eagle Scouts.)
  3. Good kids don’t drink, have sex, or smoke cigarettes, and they don’t do drugs. In our day we did some of those, but somehow, we knew where to draw the line. I’m not sure why the line is so murky these days.
  4. Good kids respect adults and the law and they respect themselves, their teachers, and their God, whoever that may be for them.
  5. Good kids care when you do well, when you’re sick, or when someone they know and love has gotten sick or has failed or died. They value life because they value themselves and their family.

Deadlines

Deadlines are the lines drawn in the sand, the air, and on calendars. They are imaginary lines past which one should not go, or you’ll die.  Die of what?  Failure? Disappointment? Losing a job? Not answering a need? Shame?

Deadlines are a form of communication.  “I need this by noon so we can move forward on the project.”

There should be no room for negotiation in a deadline. There is no room for negotiation in death, is there? So why do people push up against deadlines by crushing the work to be done up against the wall of the deadline?  To see if it will move?  Will it give in like a loose door, or an unsure mother or father?  Kids know this instinctively. Will the rules change if we keep ignoring them? Will Mom and Dad change their minds? Will my manager forget? Will the rule/deadline go away in the rush of life?

photodune-1687970-precious-time-concept-clock-mSome of us use faraway deadlines like beacons for purposeful activity, plotting steps from A to B in the final goal to arrive at Point Z.  Others of us assume that there’s still plenty of time and that there’s no use getting all excited — nothing can be gained by starting too early, they say.  It wastes time to start too soon, they say.  Besides, working under the pressure of a close deadline works in in their favor, they think, as in, “I work better because I’m more focused if time is short.”

Oh? What if your computer breaks? What if the electricity goes out? What if you get sick? What if?

I like deadlines. I like setting up a meeting… it gives me a deadline. I like to be early, to have room and time to make one last pass, one final reading, a once over to see if I left a sponge in the abdomen of my patient before they wake up. (I wanted to see if you were paying attention!)

There’s the Leonard Bernstein quote to throw in here, too. “To achieve great things two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” I think that’s the reason deadlines are SO important.  Somewhere along the creative lines of life, the concept of not quite enough time leads us to finality. If we didn’t have deadlines, we would continue to fix, trim, and self-edit until nothing ever, ever was produced. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” as they say. Someone has to say those two wonderful words, “It’s done!”

I like the pressure and excitement of a looming deadline, but sometimes, just sometimes, I procrastinate… to feel that teeny rush. Shucks. My cover is blown.

I write about the things that I would like to do better—largely because I’m not perfect. See my recent blog on “Perfect” if you’re so inclined. Meanwhile, I have a deadline.

“Perfect”

You’ve heard the word: Perfect. You’ll hear people saying it everywhere as you go through your day. Trust me. Everyone is saying the word. And quite frankly, it scares me.

I thought it was just a coincidence at first. Someone at a local store said it—then someone else. A little while after that, I asked a coworker if I had done something correctly, and she said yes, “Perfect.” Then in the next breath she said, “But you forgot to do this other part.”

It struck me at that moment as I replied to her, “Then, it was NOT perfect.” And it wasn’t.

I hear my kids say the word. I started to hear their friends say it. Still, I was in my own “backyard,” so it was continuing to be a local event. The next day, I was talking to someone toll free, back East. I heard THE WORD. “Perfect,” he said. And I knew the infection had spread.

The reason I call it an infection is exactly what happened when I had clearly made a mistake at my work, but was told what I had done was perfect. It wasn’t perfect, darn it. As I look at grade inflation in our schools, and as I continue to see that our California students are becoming less and less able to read and do math, and as our tax dollars to repair this damage become higher and higher, I wonder if the casual use of this simple word has caused the problem or if rather, it is a reflection of the problem. We are expecting less because our common perception of perfection has been tainted.

Webster’s II defines the word as follows:

Perfect (pûr′fikt) adj. 1. Lacking nothing essential to the whole: complete of its nature or kind. 2. Being in a state of undiminished or highest excellence: flawless 3. Completely adept or talented in a certain field or area; 4. Completely reproducing or corresponding to a type or original: exact; 5. Thorough: complete; 6. Undiluted, pure; 7. Excellent and delightful in all respects.

Evidently, I’m a traditionalist from the looks of Webster’s continuation:

usage: Traditionalists consider perfect to be an absolute term and therefore reject its use with modifiers of degree such as more or less. Nonetheless such usage is entirely acceptable, esp. when perfect is used in the sense of excellent in all respects.. . .as in A more perfect example could not be found.”

But I feel cheated. Am I missing something or do I see from the above that even Webster’s waffles on the concept?

The problem as I see it is that we think we see perfection every day. The media has made it possible for us to hear Pavarotti, see Tiger Woods, experience a clever movie like “Toy Story” or “Monsters, Inc.,” and make us believe that the end result, perfection, is within our reach, and easy to attain. The world experiences a shortened end-result kind of view, and it seems that especially kids of today have no concept of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of discipline and practice and work that it takes to approach, much less achieve, perfection. And the schools let kids believe that:

1)     … they are becoming closer to perfect. (Why wouldn’t they think that? Their grades are higher. How is it, then, that many kids are “dumber?”)

2 )    … if the children don’t achieve perfection, they can’t enjoy an activity. At a very young age, some kids are kept from playing sports if they aren’t “good.” Equally, they are not allowed to lose. In fact, soccer games are not scored these days for little kids, because someone didn’t want their child to experience losing. WHAT? Maybe if you don’t lose, then you can pretend you’re perfect? (!)

Here’s an example. A friend of mine attended an art seminar. He’s just learning and is not an artist by profession, but he wanted to enjoy it as a thoroughly escapist experience from his normal work. He was flanked at his worktable by professional artists. His work was clearly rudimentary in comparison, but it didn’t matter. He was enjoying the experience and was not expecting perfection. No one there said his work was perfect. It wasn’t. He knew it; they knew it. But in the vernacular of the day, someone might have said. “Wow!  That’s perfect!” Further, that he was there as a non-professional surprised everyone in the room. Can we enjoy things for what they are and not even strive for perfection?

There really is no such thing as perfection. Ask any artist, musician, athlete, writer, scientist or any professional you want. They will never have reached it if they are worth their salt. The artist could have always “painted those clouds to look just a little more real.” The musician, having not even missed a note, could have “played that passage just a tiny bit better.” A scratch golfer could always have “done a little better on that last hole.”   So there is no perfection in the world. Therefore, the word perfect is only an idea, a concept, a goal, an objective, an ethereal, wonderful target to strive to reach, but not to be used lightly in a casual, offhand manner as it is today. This article, as an example, is not perfect, but it says what I want to say, and is worth writing for that reason. It’s not perfect, dammit, but I felt strongly that society’s current notion of perfection had to be explored.

Next time you hear yourself say “perfect”(and I know you’ll do it), stop yourself and ask if it really is or not. Obviously, it can’t be, as there is no perfection. Instead substitute “That’s fine,” or “That’s sufficient, okay, adequate, or passable.” Or try:

“That works.”

“That’ll do.” (as in “That’ll do, Pig” from the movie Babe)

“That makes sense.”

“That works for me.”

“That’s good.”

Any of these makes the other person feel that although it (whatever “it” is) might be great, there is room for just a little bit more. Because there always is.

One P.M.

Lunch hangs warm in your stomach. Your brain’s fogged. The afternoon looms and with luck, yRestaurantour To-Do list from the morning has some items that are crossed off, or checked. I prefer crossing off. How about you?

As you face the afternoon list, you wonder if it’s prioritized correctly. There are three “A’s” two “B’s” and three “C’s” looking back at you.  Just before lunch one of the A’s became a B because another A stole in when your boss (you?) changed your priorities for you.  That’s not so bad, is it?

You ponder each of the items,  planning your attack when  ** KA-BOOM **  your  email unleashes its revenge: your best client has an emergency.  Order runs for the doors. Calm disappears behind the file cabinet. Control (a figment of your imagination) sidles behind a dusty dictionary.

You’re staring at the clock. It’s now 1:10, and one of the “C’s” has disappeared into the basement. The A that pushed the C down the stairs has been downgraded to B and swings dizzily from a rotating fan blade.

The  new “A”  preens, sitting atop the list. Is that a smirk?

Nice try on the organization. It just went out the window.

**Sigh**

Packaging?!?!!!!

ImageReally? Seriously? Ah, come on… I don’t see how the boxes of crackers can get any smaller, the packages of cookies any littler, the ice cream containers any tinier, or the chip bags any more filled with air (and NOT product).  Do they think we don’t notice? Do they think we’ll be glad there’s less so we won’t eat as much? Do they think we appreciate that we don’t have to carry so many bags to the car from the grocery store? Do they think we are glad we have smaller boxes to clutter landfill? What?  I said REALLY????!!

I feel seriously ripped off. I just wanted to let them know that we are paying attention out here. Thanks for listening.