Knowledge, wisdom and trust

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

The above quote is either attributed to Miles Kington, a British writer, or to Brian O’Driscoll, an Irish rugby player. I’m not sure who of the two was first, but it raises an interesting question: how would your company interpret this statement?

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Some companies would certainly issue a standard operating procedure, create a work instruction template, or publish a corporate policy document on what to put into and not to put into a fruit cocktail. Never put tomatoes in a fruit salad. Full stop! Period!

While other organizations trust on the wisdom, common sense and competence of their people and assume that they will be perfectly capable of making a decent fruit salad. Creative staff members might even engage in product innovation by adding some exotic berries or nuts to the mix.

This observation leads me to another quote, by Simon Sinek:

When leaders are willing to prioritize trust over performance, performance almost always follows.

How about the company that you work for and the leaders that you work with?

Is digital killing creativity?

Yesterday, I was writing copy for a paid search and social media campaign and, considering myself a creative content creator, the job made me feel really unhappy. As a guest blogger I’ve gotten used to writing articles with a 800-100 word count and since the start of the COVID crisis I’ve been video-recording keynote presentations with a duration of 10-15 minutes, but the guys from Google, Twitter, and LinkedIn were actually instructing me to start counting c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r-s. Even worse, each of the respective media platforms impose their own length limits. For some fields you can use up to 150 characters, but other ones only allow 30 for conveying a similar message. As a result, I had to trim all content separately, manually, and repeatedly.

Of course, I will get a bit of creative compensation when crafting the infographic, video clip or white paper to be linked to the social media post or to be hidden behind a lead generation form. Though a click-through rate of a few percent is not always a huge motivation.

Video killed the radio star and – in my humble opinion – digital is killing (part of) human creativity. I know we’re living in the internet age and that paid social media is a good lead generation tool, but I would be happy to leave this ‘copywriting’ to the AI robots. They don’t have a heart or a soul, but these aren’t necessary qualifications for this kind of tasks.

No such thing as writer’s block

I wrote my last blog on this page about a year ago. My key messages were that I had run out of inspiration and that I was starting a non-writing sabbatical.

Earlier today, I was a watching a LinkedIn course about creativity at work by Seth Godin. One of Seth’s statements was that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s only a fear of bad writing. Most people are afraid of being wrong. But everyone has some good ideas. It’s easy to get your audience to be negative, but hard to get people to speak up. And sometimes, something good comes out. So, do more bad writing and have more bad ideas!

Godin also drew a parallel with the board game Pictionary: when one guesses for the word that’s being drawn, there is no cost of being wrong. There are no points deducted for bad guesses. No one blames you for drawing bad pictures either. And as people start guessing, the drawer hears them talk and responds to what they’re saying by improving his drawing or creating new ones.

So, that’s why as from today I’m picking up my pen – or typing my keyboard – again to start writing fresh blog posts. Some of them will be long, some of them may be short. Some of them may be good, some of them could be trash. Some of them could be on topic, some of them will be just a diversion. Some of them will teach you something, while others won’t tell you anything new at all.

As Seth Godin says, we need to start doing the urgent, important, and thrilling work of being more creative – even if many of our ideas will be bad. Stay tuned for my next article on this page…

My design agency is called none

Following a conference talk, one of my fellow keynote speakers once asked me which agency created my slides, because he “liked my visuals more than his”. My answer was straightforward and simple: I always create my own materials.

For sure, crafting a nice looking PowerPoint takes a good chunk of your time, but IMHO it’s always worth the effort. Of course there are graphic design agencies, who are more than happy doing the work for you. There are many good such agencies, but also mediocre ones. No offence to the good ones, but I had a not-so-positive experience working with a graphic (re)designer in the past. That’s an understatement, as he totally ruined the concept behind my presentation when he neglected and overrode some (implicit) color coding I had built in.

At another occasion, another graphics guy introduced an overload of visual effects and animations to my slideshow. I had to tell them that such animations distract the audience from my key messages, and force me to concentrate on ‎timing and control instead of on my narrative. Furthermore, animated slides are often hard to edit and/or update, because of duplication and non-accessibility of grouped and hidden objects.

For a colleague’s presentation, another designer (?) created a single slide with 133 (!) words, written in 10 point (!) font size. I’m aware that not everyone is a follower of Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule, but this specific visual was unreadable, unpresentable, and thus unacceptable.

Here’s another piece of advice: always double-check your original messages after bullets or handout texts have been rewritten. Particularly in the case when you’re using technical language or subject specific jargon I once discovered that my Linux kernel was faulty replaced by a nucleus. If content needs to be translated to a foreign language (even if it’s one you’re more or less familiar with) it may be a good idea to have the presentation reviewed by a native-speaking colleague.

Finally, like every father who thinks his kids are the most beautiful children on earth, I often prefer my original slides over the revamped ones. They contain my visual signature and they’re part of my personal brand. That’s why my graphic design agency is called None. And when I asked the other speaker about how much he had paid the design company for authoring his presentation, I was flabbergasted by the amount of money he spent per slide. Well, if I ever lose my voice, I know a lucrative alternative to public speaking: creating or remaking other people’s slides…

If you’re looking for slide design tips and some do’s and don’ts for using fonts, color, images, bulleted lists, multimedia, and templates in your slides, you may read my article “Why look and feel matter in business presentations“.

A new year’s cocktail recipe

“If you want an interesting party sometime, combine cocktails and a fresh box of crayons for everyone.” ‒  Robert Fulghum

May 2015 be a wonderful year for business storytelling! I wish all readers of my blog a persuasive cocktail of ethos, pathos and logos and a shiny box with three hundred sixty-five bright crayons for coloring outside the lines.

new_years_cocktail

Simplicity always works

Yesterday I was confronted with a complex and technical topic to be presented to our customers. To be honest, it took me quite some time to fully grasp the full scope of the solution we offered, as well the associated business proposition.

Albert Einstein once said:

 “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself,”

so I decided to take a helicopter view, apply the KISS principle and build a message house. As such, I iterated both the problem and the solution, until I could fit everything into an overarching value statement (roof) and three simple key messages (pillars).

The final result, was –at least in my humble opinion– a good piece of work. A short, sweet and simple presentation, not obscured by technical details, that explained the big picture, the pains and the gains on a handful of slides. I’m not sure if my six-year-old niece will understand it (yet), but there aren’t that many little Einsteins after all.

albert_einstein

When driving back home last night, a composition by Charles Mingus played on my car radio, which made me remember another quote, attributed to this American jazz musician:

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesome simple, that’s creative.”

Another creative day in the life of a business storyteller had passed. A day on which I look back with a simple feeling of satisfaction.