2016, Entrepreneur, Mindfulness, personal branding, Uncategorized

Brain Dates Expose More Heart than Brains

Note: This blog piece was written June 1 2016 but has been migrated onto a new site.

Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.

Imagine a space where you are challenged to intimately and freely exchange expertise and vulnerabilities with strangers. Not just that, but the space itself is comprised of non-traditional seating arrangements. Two swings where knee bumping is inevitable. Rocking chairs. Salon chairs equipped with hooded hair dryer bonnets. Red and white pods. A swinging picnic table. Hammocks. At one point, even the staircase as the other space filled up. This was the crown jewel of the conference and they called these: Brain Dates.

What is a brain date? Every attendee has access to the “HUB” where you have the opportunity to write a little bio and set-up offers and requests. Offers are things you are open to talk about for 30min with people who are interested. Requests are simply you putting out a request to get some advice on a specific subject. My offer was this: “How do you turn a personal brand into a business?” I received 16 requests to speak on that topic and ended up “brain dating” with 14 of those people (I didn’t want to miss out on Martha Stewart talking about pot brownies and her homeboy Snoop).

From my previous posts and watching my weekly Vlog, you already know that online dating is a constant source of inspiration for me when it comes to personal branding. So the idea of brains from all over the world going on “dates” tickled me.

14 dates in 3 days and this is what I learned:

  1. Value does not have an age attached to it. We know this. At C2 you feel it. I spoke with people ranging in ages from 30-65 and often the biggest age gaps meant the best conversations.
  2. Seating had a huge effect on how the conversation went:
    • Swings: Our knees bumped immediately which meant we had to acknowledge a breach of personal space before anything else. Our conversation was playful, bubbly, and nostalgic. We are now collaborating on a project to integrate play into the way people network and learn.
    • Leather footstools (no backing): We both automatically leaned in to talk. Our conversation was brisk and to the point. We spoke in bullet points stopping only to check the time. She walked away with a to-do list.
    • Rocking chairs: Both of us took a minute to breathe and rock before jumping into the conversation. Most of the time was spent exchanging personal histories. We ended up having dinner together and talking about motherhood. We are going to be working together to bring some branding workshops to Toronto for both entrepreneurs and workplace teams to work together better.
    • Salon chairs: The conversation started with a joke about getting perms. Our conversation was driven by humour but relaxed and neither of us felt the pressure of time. We were getting perms after all. This meant I felt comfortable enough to tell him I wanted to meet with him because the language in his profile annoyed me. It was full of “this many start-ups make this many mistakes” and “you should do this”. I wanted to talk with someone who would challenge my more fluid approach to business. This conversation was honest and incredibly helpful. We’ve already connected again!
    • gliderPicnic table glider: You will certainly detect this in my tone – but this was by far my favourite brain date. I actually told this story to Tara Hunt who was part of the social squad for C2 and we totally bonded over it! Just goes to show how the momentum of one great event can lead to another. I added a picture below of a rocking picnic table to eliminate any confusion around how it works. Bill and I sat down and very quickly realized two things. One, we were actually sitting quite far apart. Two, we had to work together to keep the rocking movement of the bench smooth so it wasn’t distracting. This meant we had to not only listen carefully with our ears but with our bodies too. The best way I can describe our conversation is that we took out all our insides and showed it to each other. When one of us became vulnerable or passionate the other immediately felt how it disrupted the flow of our rocking. It meant that I really felt the excitement or nervousness, shared in it, and adjusted to its rhythm. Our brain date ended with big bear hug and a commitment to finding a space to work together in the near future.
  3. Console the broken hearts. E-180 Labs, the wonderful humans responsible for running the brain dates came up with a clever and thoughtful gesture of offering a chocolate with a small “sorry” note to those who had been stood up by dates. It acknowledged the personal aspect of the dates by appealing to the heart via its heart medicine: sweets. It helped set the tone even if you didn’t get to fully participate. Maybe next year we can convince them to hand out mini containers of Ben & Jerry’s instead.
  4. People want to share their expertise with you. Sometimes I met with someone and either because of social exhaustion, heat exhaustion, or in my case, a strong desire to take my 2pm nap, the conversation wouldn’t start out strong, You’d forget what you were there for or dance around a subject hoping the other person will pick up a thread and go with it. This was never a bad thing. Everyone was committed to actually adding value and expertise. The space itself had a lot to do with that. There were just enough rules and guidelines in place to make everyone feel safe, but the playfulness of the environment meant we were energized and motivated to be ourselves and show off our uniqueness. We understood what was required of us when we stepped into either of the roles in the brain date. Maybe I was just very fortunate but everyone I spoke to was committed to either finding value in you or giving something of value to you.
  5. Lastly, I learned that business cards are much more valuable as a token of thanks than an actual means of contacting someone. Give your business card at the end, not the beginning of a meeting. The “HUB” meant we had a way of following up with everyone we met without exchanging business cards. When someone gave me their card right away they set the tone for a specific kind of chat. One which I wasn’t particularly interested in. The kind where they were going to sell to me. When we exchanged cards at the end of the date, it was because we wanted to give the other person a token of acknowledgment for the value they added to our day.

 

Stay tuned for more posts on C2 as I untangle my thoughts and feelings.

2016, Branding, Entrepreneur

Is Branding Just BS?

Note: This blog piece was written March 1 2016 but has been migrated onto a new site.

For a number of reasons we are all resistant to the idea of assessing or even creating a brand. As a small business or start-up we think, “Well this isn’t a priority. I haven’t even made money yet. A fancy logo and sales language can wait.”

I posted an article on Facebook a few weeks ago dissecting the notion of brand as a luxury expense but I want to tackle this from a different angle.

I consider myself very lucky so far that in my career as a branding coach I have come across almost no one who didn’t have some idea of why branding is good. Then, just as my comfy couch of perfect clients was starting to form its perfect butt indentation, something or someone jabs me in my left ass cheek. Perhaps its because I’m forced to use words like branding and marketing when even I find them cringe-worthy. I hate having to rely on industry jargon to simplify my ideas around marketing. It makes them feel empty and manipulative.

Coming from an arts background means my education opened up my world vastly. So vastly that it let in a lot of ugly lofty thoughts and judgments about the value of creating. Art school teaches you many valuable things but when it forces you into a competitive environment with yourself and your peers, creates a highly structured grading system, and tells you that you should be “industry ready” by the time your program ends, it does something to your creativity. It eats it up and spits out cookie-cutter thoughts disguised as discerning taste, analytical thinking, and success. It took me a long time to shake the feeling of being inadequate or not living up to that lofty idea of what a true artist is. I still fall into this trap. Most days though, I am reminded of something inherent in all creators – resourcefulness. I am reminded of this because each and every day I work with clients who introduce new levels of scrappiness into my world.

Innovation, creativity, and art are all forms of resourcefulness. It is about using our imagination to stretch beyond the immediate meaning or use of the thing in front of us. When else do we see this? Well, when we play – or more accurately, played. So is our job as creators then not to create the most bad-ass sandbox to play in? Is it not to immerse ourselves in an environment where boundaries are bendy and following rules is failure. This doesn’t sound much like any education system, does it?

Before I digress into one of my most adored ranting topics –education – let’s keep this train on its tracks.

This is how I define branding – being able to express who you are, what you do, and how you do it in both a literal, symbolic, and visual way. Good branding should be so embedded in who you are at your core so that whether people are looking at your website, hearing you speak, chatting with you over a glass of rouge, or working with you, they know what type of experience they can expect from you. Before you can get to that though – you’re going to need your sandbox. You’re going to have to forcefully inject creative problem solving into your world. Now you try explaining this to someone who has no concept of branding. It’s seriously fucking hard. So you turn to your marketing jargon encyclopedia and begin spouting out buzz words like “social media engagement”, “conversion”, “web traffic”, and “sales”. No doubt these things are all extremely important. But they are not at the core of a brand. YOU are at the core of the brand. YOU are the common factor. Your thinking, your method, and your obstacles. Those other things are – mind you quite amazing – tools to help sell, get people to read your authentic content, and spread your good-hearted message to the world.

Think of your business as that beautiful sand castle you want to build. The things you find in the sandbox are the tools or add-ons for your biz that can help you build it, and make it better. The other kids in there are people who will believe in and work for your vision. So what’s missing in all this? Well kids, the sandbox. Part of what I teach in brand coaching is play. Get back to that core version of yourself. That version of yourself that could build worlds, delegate roles, invent new rules, and solve problems creatively with only sand and discarded, often broken, tools or throwaway toys. That version of yourself that could intuitively spin a tale and have people begging to be a part of the crew, even it is only to scoop and pile dirt.

Branding is not just developing your credibility, reputation, and visual language, it is knowing on an intuitive level who you are, how you do things, and how you solve problems. This is what you want to communicate consistently to your clients or customers. That is how you become a many-pronged market superstar. In a nutshell, be the shit out of yourself and share it with everyone. If you can’t do this – cool. Hire me. I will be that nurse you love/hate who injects play back into your world.

Ps. Warning. This blog is sweary.

2016, Entrepreneur, Mindfulness, personal branding

The Mindful Entrepreneur

Note: This blog piece was written January 11 2016 but has been migrated onto a new site.

Entrepreneurs are often a labeled as aggressive, stubborn types who let nothing and no one stand in the way of their vision. I have no qualms with this type of entrepreneur. They have given us Facebook, intuitive tech and software, and agency to customize our daily experiences from apps that track our monthly cycle (down to our eating and pooping habits) to adjusting to our music tastes to give us only what we desire. But I am finding another type. They have existed for a long time but their space is opening up in a more integrated and interdisciplinary way. These people I am going to call “Mindful Entrepreneurs” and as it happens, my clients so far all fall into this category and it’s exhilarating.

These are some traits I have found these people to possess in various combinations:

  • Holistic in their approach
  • Their mission involves contributing to a social good
  • They desire a “tribe” and often feel lonely or disconnected in traditional friendships
  • Their inspiration can reach the heights of Everest but just as quickly they can get caught up in a web of existential worry about their own worth.
  • They’ve undergone at least one major transformation if not more
  • They have not always known exactly what they wanted to do but they had a pretty good sense of they wanted to feel about what they do
Photo by Kaj Peterson. Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Photo by Kaj Peterson.
Licensed under CC at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

So why do we need to pay attention to these people? They are going to be the ones who connect the two seemingly disparate paths of our desire for the simplicity of the past and the drunken lust with which we stumble to our complex futures. When I talk about the past I mean our dreamy vision of “simpler” times where language was less important than spirituality and storytellers played the roles of healers and magicians. I also mean our own simpler pasts as children. The time where we felt an inherent connection to the dirt beneath our feet and freedom felt like outside.

So now that we understand these types a little better let’s talk about their typical business challenges and is often what brings them to me:

  • How to monetize (this being the biggest and most difficult challenge)
  • How to balance maintaining professional relationships without comprising their natural desire to connect deeply with people on a truly personal level
  • What to call themselves (job title, position etc.)
  • How to make a sustainable business out of doing but also teaching others how to do
  • How to make a living doing what they love without losing the love by making it about money
  • When to protect their ideas and when to share them with anyone who will listen

An unexpected calling that has revealed itself to me this year has been to understand these challenges and find solutions for them that resonate with the mindful. Second to that, I feel a strong need to curate these ideas and solutions into a larger vision for the world to start seeing how valuable these people will continue to become.

I’m not one for New Year resolutions since my feeling of renewal and the need for freshness only came Jan. 8th after an impromptu night out with my tribe. That aside, I am on a clear path to deep dive into these topics and challenges. Because I believe that we do not need to be afraid of business. We do not need to feel like a cop out. We just have to pay attention to what we are offering in the exchange between us and a client or a customer. Because while money is a necessity of modern life, we are all capable of more meaningful exchanges and one does not erase the need for the other.