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JUNE 2003 BRAINSTORM

I spent three weeks in the United States recently and ran across a few "only in America" items. For instance, in the States you can now have the ashes of your loved one compressed into a diamond mounted on a ring … You can take an animal on board an airplane with you if you have a doctor certify that you need it for "emotional support." … Airlines have had to up their estimate of average passenger weight by 10 pounds because so many Americans are obese. And most fast food places now let you "supersize" your order for only a bit more money.
Anyway, I hope the following will be useful.
What would make your summer successful?
Often we define what "success" means to us in terms of our careers, but have you stopped to think about what it means in the other aspects of your life? How about what would make the next three months of your life an outstanding period?
Your turn: This is a good time to define what will make this a successful summer for you. What do you want to do? When do you plan to do it? What will give your summer a good balance of work and play? What pictures do you want to have in your photo album in the autumn?
Turning a potential weakness into a strength
Drew Hodges, creative director at Spot Design in New York, explained how he was able to turn a potential weakness into a strength in the advertising campaign for a Broadway production of "Chicago." The show was a stripped-down production, with platforms but no sets. In an interview in Creative Arts magazine, Hodges said: "We often try to support a show's weak points … We had to find a way to own the show's minimalism." They decided, he said, "let's make it look as if we always wanted it that way. Let's use black-and-white. Let's use fashion photography in which minimalism is an asset."
Your turn: What is one weakness you know you have in your work (or another part of your life)? Brainstorm some ways you could turn it into an asset. For example, let's say you're an introvert who finds it difficult to go to business events to network. You could make up a list of people you would like to make aware of what you offer, then write them a letter that starts: "I confess! I hate networking events! But I'd like you to know what I offer, and to find out whether there are ways we might benefit each other. That's why I'm sending this letter…"
I'll bet at least half the recipients will feel the same way about networking and will like the letter.
Are your eyes open?
When we travel, we tend to notice all kinds of things, maybe because we have a different mindset when we're away from our usual surroundings. Can we do the same thing at home? Artist Barbara Gordon has noted how one can tune in to the national psyche anywhere: "Start by absorbing like a sponge. Read: Read newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books. Try to read all views, liberal, conservative, radical. Make note of the popular songs, movies, TV series that are succeeding and those that are failing.
Go to seminars and meetings. Talk to friends, family, clients about their fears and aspirations. Talk to children, strangers about the same things. Listen with an open mind to all points of view, and slowly you'll see a pattern evolve. You'll have your finger on the current pulse."
Your turn: Spend a day pretending you're a tourist in your own country and city. As you travel around, read the billboards, look at the store signs, eavesdrop on the conversations. Find an excuse to talk to a few strangers and ask them their opinions about where they live. You can take a camera along and record the most interesting things you see.
What's your USP?
I've encountered the idea of a Unique Selling Proposition before. It means the aspect of a product or service (or the person providing the service) that sets it, him or her apart from the competition. However, I was a bit surprised to read in International Artist magazine that it's an important concept in the art world. Art consultant Graeme Smith wrote: "When I was running my own gallery, we tried to identify the USP for each artist we represented … The more we cemented the USP in the minds of our clients, the more easily they were able to remember each artist and their work."
Here is Smith's advice on how to identify your USP:
– Write down everything you do that is characteristic of you or your work.
– Now go through your list and cross out all those points you have in common with other artists (or others in your profession).
– What you have left is your USP. If you have crossed everything out, you need to consider what you'd like your USP to be and then work toward it. Smith advises: "Don't allow yourself to be sidetracked. You must be persistent." Without a USP, "you are lost; you won't even get noticed."
Your turn: Do you already have a USP? It can be useful to ask colleagues what they think your USP is, and find out whether you are being perceived the way you'd like to be.
Big ideas from small pieces
Related to the notion of a USP is the idea of identifying a niche market. In the book "Niche and Grow Rich" by Jennifer Basye Sander and Peter Sander, one suggestion is to look at how a big market can be broken up into smaller ones. They give the example of an entrepreneur who saw the popularity of frozen meals for adults and came up with a line of frozen meals for kids. The low-budget airlines are thriving now because they identified a sub-set of the traveling public, namely those who don't want frills if that means they can have rock-bottom fares.
Your turn: Within your field, what smaller chunks of the market might you serve? The elements you can play with include geographical location, characteristics of the target audience, speed of service (remember Domino's Pizza), quality of service, exclusivity and many more. This is a great exercise to do with friends, especially if they aren't in the same field you're in. They'll bring fresh ideas to the table.
A quote of note:
"When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as 'rootless' or 'stemless.' We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required by a seed. When it first shoots out of the earth, we don't condemn it as 'immature' and 'underdeveloped'; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care that it needs at each stage of its growth. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time that it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each stage, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is."
– Timothy Gallway, from "The Inner Game of Tennis"
Until next time, Jurgen
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