Giving People A Superior Experience

3 day Uyuni trip San Pedro to Uyuni, salt flat photos locosA few years ago, I read something from renowned editer and author Sol Stein in his excellent book, Stein On Writing. He wrote that the correct intention for a writer was “to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.” I was really struck by that because, like many others who write and enjoy it, I do so “because I have something to say” or “need to get something off my chest” or “have a passion for this or that.” Stein’s point is that the focus of our writing is to enhance the life of the reader, give him or her something better than the predictable, workaday experience they currently enjoy or endure. It’s not about me.

I had to ask myself, “How do people experience my place in their lives?” Being honest I had to admit that at times my involvement in the lives of the people I live and work with have energized them. And at other times—being brutally honest—I’ve drained them. Usually the drain part comes when it’s all about me. And the energizing quality comes when I forget me and seek to “provide (name) with an experience that is superior to the experience (name) encounters in everyday life.”

Be honest. How do people experience you?

The world was changed and moved in a seismic way by the work and thinking of the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers. When Steve passed away, I happened to be reading Leander Kahney’s excellent book Inside Steve’s Brain. The one thing that emerged very quickly from my reading was that the experience of the user was one of the absolute core values of Steve Jobs and Apple. Still is. Millions of dollars and countless thousands of work hours were and are spent to provide Apple customers with a superior experience in their interaction with modern technology. Jobs examined every aspect of the experience of an Apple customer and, with his outstanding team, honed it endlessly to ensure that the complex was simplified and that the experience of the buyer—even down to the opening and assembly of a new computer—was superior to anything else out there. Jobs’ solution to the problem of pirating of music (through illegal downloading) was to provide such a superior experience for one visiting the iTunes Store, that one would be willing to pay for the tunes and files they wanted, rather than pirate them. A superior experience as a curative for a moral and economic problem. Brilliant.

Challenge for the day: Ask yourself how people experience your presence in daily life. Be honest and willing to make adjustments, shifts in thinking, learn new stuff, whatever. You may be surprised how people jump out of the woodwork when they see how their lives are enhanced just by being with you—a superior experience.

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Poke the Box!

poke-the-boxThis past year, I discovered Seth Godin.

You have to check out his writings (blog and books) and watch his videos.  I am currently reading Poke the BoxFirst introduced to his unique view of life, marketing, innovation, the labor force, creativity and status-quo-challenging thinking when a friend sent my wife Seth’s book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Seth has the unique, almost Einsteinian approach to thinking, problem-solving, analysis—the wonder of a child coupled with razor sharp wit, graciousness and complete lack of pretension.

The essence of Poke the Box?  Try stuff.  Do something.  Push buttons.  Get your crayons out and create.  Pay no heed to the voices that say you can’t bring something meaningful and marketable to the marketplace and the human condition.  Again, Seth points out that there are lots of people who make plans and can follow orders, but not many willing to unilaterally start stuff.

Sooooo…..

Go start something and see what happens!

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Currently spinning:  The Best Yet (Switchfoot)

Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

Steve Jobs on Aesthetics

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” (Steve Jobs)

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A Place For Everything

organizedtoolsI’m a very organized male.  I have many weaknesses, but disorganization is not one of them.  (My friends say I’m a retentive.)  Time is something that none of us gets back once we squander it.  And disorganization is a big time-eating monster.  When you are unable to find what you’re looking for, time is a casualty.

Being a messy is very costly.

There’s an old adage that goes “ a place for everything; everything in its place.”  This is a real key.  How many times have you gone to your local Wal-Mart or Home Depot to buy something you know you had around the house somewhere, only to find out when doing a thorough cleaning that you had three or four of the thing you were looking for?

Disorganization also costs money.  I bet that got your attention.

Our public and collegiate libraries have very specific systems for classifying books—the Dewey and Library of Congress decimal systems respectively.  Why? So patrons can get the materials they are looking for with dispatch and little stress.

You can implement the same kind of thinking to de-clutter your life and take better care of your stuff, your money and your time.  And as a corollary, your life.

Here are some suggestions that have helped me.  Perhaps they’ll help you.

  • Allocate drawers and specific spaces in your house for your tools, clothes, cooking utensils.  Try to keep each thing with its family.  Sockets with sockets, chisels with chisels.
  • Make files for nearly everything.  Emails, news articles, documents, spreadsheets.  Files are indispensible.
  • If you’re a collector, alphabetize your collections by author or artist.  I do this for my library and music.  You can also classify by topic.  I have different sections of my library—over 3000 books, currently being downsized—and can point borrowing friends right where they want to look to find exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Use your smart phone, a PDA, or a day planner to organize your days and appointments.  If you use Microsoft Office Outlook, you can use the calendar to remind you with messages for upcoming appointments.  As far as day planners go, if you like bulk, go for Franklin Covey.  I used one for about sixteen years.  Moleskine and others have scaled-down versions that are very helpful.  Check out your local Staples or Office Max for a whole lot more.
  • Use spreadsheets.  Microsoft Excel has all sorts of neat features that allow you to keep track of everything from your stocks to collections to family budgets.

In coming posts, I will share more specific tips.  You will find you get a lot more done in less time and have less loss as you get things in order.

Have at it!

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Factors In Success

outliers_gladwellLast year I read a remarkable book, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  I am stunned by the results of Gladwell’s investigation into the hidden causes of success.  It is one of the most fascinating and upsetting books I’ve read in a long time.  Upsetting in a good sense, that is.  It upsets commonly cherished ideas about how people attain success in life.

In his book The Road Less Traveled and Beyond, M. Scott Peck argues that one of the characteristics and problems of our age is what he calls simplism.  Simplistic thinking fails to take into account that life is complex.  There are many variables that make up the people we live with and the challenges of our time.  The rub is that the variables are not always apparent.  It takes probing, time, patience and labor, for thinking is work.  Really.

The strength of Gladwell’s work is the way he demonstrates that, for example, 1) Bill Gates was not just a computer genius who came on the scene in the 1970’s and through sheer brilliance became the richest living American, 2) Asians aren’t necessarily “better” at math than Westerners but are more patient and their numbers nomenclature more user-friendly, and 3) that some recent airline disasters have more to do with overarching cultural distinctions vis-à-vis authority and power distance rather than simple “pilot error.”

I’m not writing today’s post as a spoiler for Gladwell’s book.  You owe it to yourself to get your hands on it and read carefully.  When I finished the book, I was struck with the reality that I am far too quick to pass judgment on the issues of the day, on why some fail and some succeed, even on theological issues—the area that I’ve given the most attention to since the early 1980’s.  Rarely are all the facts and evidence on the surface.

We are all composites of the influences and environments in which we were raised and in which we now spend our lives.  We are not simply our genetic makeup, products of our DNA.  More often than not, there are hidden factors that figure into the success of some, the failure of others.  Timing often figures in as much as raw ability.  We can thank Malcolm Gladwell and those like him (Scott Peck, Geoff Colvin, etc.) for digging deeper and giving us the full picture.

Here are a few brainteasers with which to bait yourself:

  • What cultural and economic tides are coming in right now that I can make the most of?  In other words, can I discern the signs  and trends of the times?  My friend Christopher Hopper has written extensively on the emerging wave of self-publishing.  You can read about that here.  It most certainly will be a force in the literary world in the days to come.  But it needed a level playing field, courtesy of the World Wide Web, to function and in which to be established.
  • What current politically hot issue engages me the most and do I have solid, consistent thinking and evidence to support my position?  Democrats routinely chide pro-life evangelicals for being oxymoronic—at once militantly anti-abortion and also vehemently pro-war (or pro-death penalty).  Are the criticisms valid?
  • Am I patient enough to thoroughly research problems and find meaningful solutions? Peck again.  You must be patient and resist the urge for simplistic, easy answers.  Thinking is work.  Are you up to it?

Digest Gladwell’s book.  It is a very important contribution!

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Why Recording Engineers Matter

andy-johnsI watched an interview last year with legendary recording engineer and producer, the late Andy Johns (shown in the above photo).  He sat behind the mixing desk for a lot very famous rock and roll albums.  Seminal Led Zeppelin albums (II, III, IV, Physical Graffiti). Rolling Stones (Exile on Main Street, Sticky Fingers, and others).  Plus a host of great artists.  Rod Stewart, Eddie Money, Blind Faith, Joe Cocker.  The list is endless.

In the course of the interview, Andy discussed microphone placement on drums and guitar amps.  I’ve spent a very modest amount of time in recording studios over the past 31 years, not least with the inimitable Peter Hopper, veteran who has engineered over 6000 recordings and worked with the best in the music business.  I must tell you I’ve been highly privileged to see that skilled engineers are a breed apart.

Garage Band® and Pro Tools® can give musicians an incredible palette with which to create.  What these and other technological marvels cannot give is expertise–the knowledge gained by spending years and years behind a recording console.  Knowing which mics to use and exactly how to place them.  It makes all the difference in the world.   Great engineers and producers know these and a thousand other things.  Read Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music (Phil Ramone & Charles Granata) for a lot more.

What is their secret?  Mastery

We have a cliché we use about people who dabble in all sorts of things: “He’s a jack-of-all-trades, master of none.”  It’s not very complimentary.  There is something majestic and profoundly inspiring when you are in the presence of a master.  Someone who knows his craft cold.  Can answer any question.

To become a master, a journeyman in any discipline takes long years of diligent effort.  You’ve got to love what you do.  As a friend of mine has said many times, “If you love something, it will show you its secrets.”

Here are some things to ponder:

  • What do you love so much that you’d do it without pay?  Remember it was Babe Ruth who was overwhelmed by the fact he was getting a salary to play baseball.  A master who made history.  Pay attention to what you do in your free time.  It is a clue.
  • Go to those who know.  To learn from the best is both fruitful and incredibly efficient.  To reinvent the wheel is foolish and a waste of time.  Study at the feet of the masters.  I’ve learned guitar from Jimmy Page, Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream and Wes Montgomery.   I’ve honed my writing with the aid of Strunk & White, Sol Stein, George Will and Daniel Silva.
  • Work very hard and never, ever lose your hunger.  Complacency will neuter you.  Coasting will set you back.  Resting on your laurels will make you a has-been.  Seek to learn something new every single day.

Excellence and expertise come at a price.  It costs one’s life but is a sound investment!

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