Time to Think

Communications, Growth, Public Relations

It’s hard to do when competing in a truly 24/7 world that depends on constant motion to stay ahead of the curve and ahead of your competition. However, there is an essential element to growth and success that requires leaders to make a conscious, and seemingly backward, choice. Stop. Think.

Instead of pushing for faster and more efficient there are times when you need to look for slower and more thoughtful. In just the PR world, if you search on Google for PR Consultant List you’ll get over 3.2 million results on how to be a good consultant, who are the best consultants and much more. The point of all this? There are thousands of other professionals in any field that are tactically able to execute to some level in the same general way.

Finding creative solutions is not a new problem, every great advance in human history is brought on by the need to solve a challenge that required a different type of thought. The industrial revolution for example was a shift focused on economic development that increased the growth of major cities and moved countries away from a predominantly agricultural model. In 2011, as we collectively look at a landscape of economic challenges, significant global turmoil, and rapidly changing technological advances; it’s time to think again. People in every industry are seeking and desperately wanting to find creative ideas. That desire for truly smart thinking is why TED Talks are so engaging and popular. Smart thinking is not a commodity business, churning out tactics is.

Find ways that work for you to think and evaluate what’s next. A few ideas to consider might include:

Blocking time on your calendar – Literally carve out time on the Outlook or Google calendar that pushes you from meeting to meeting. Close the door for an hour to read, think about a challenge in front of you from a different perspective, or write out a few free-flowing ideas (maybe crazy ones) to spark your thinking.

Talk with others – Go out, get away from your typical environment. If you’re a social thinker you’ll be well-served by gaining energy from the process of gathering input and feedback.

Shut it down – If your goal is to push a 2,000 pound boulder up a hill, just pushing harder isn’t going to cut it. Same thing happens when we try to solve problems by just pushing. Go entirely away from the situation, find a place where you’re relaxed and can find new perspective. Maybe you’ll find that there’s actually a good boulder on the other side of the hill and you don’t need to push the first one at all.

The communications profession is not just a collection of tactics. It relies on smart thinking, problem solving, and understanding human dynamics which cannot simply be found on a checklist.

There is no right answer and everyone will find their place and style but having a place to think and create is critical. It’s what separates you from the 3.2 million other options out there for your clients and employers. What do you do to think and find focus? What has worked for you?

Where Are You Going? Three Benefits of Setting Goals.

Communications, Growth

As fall begins to settle in here in the great state of Minnesota, it gets cooler and the leaves fall. We collectively drag out some warmer clothes and bitterly put away those summer shorts and wonder why we do live here year after year. Fall also reminds me of looking forward and sorting out what’s next. You see, despite Outlook for both the office and my phone, Google calendars, a calendar on the fridge, a calendar in my office (you’re getting the idea) I still keep a planner too. It’s nice for me to make notes or change appointments on the go and it’s always with me. As I get ready to order the 2011 planner, I looked back and flipped through the pages of the last year. It’s amazing to see the journey you take in a year. There are reminders of successes, failures, and moments to remember both personally and professionally.

I also set goals in the back of said planner. Some are for the next year and some are significantly longer-term. I recently hit one that I’d set out more than 10 years ago when speaking with the president of the first company I worked for out of school. He’d asked “how will you know if you’re successful in your career? My response was, when my peers and those I respect come to me for thoughts, assistance, or to chat when they hit challenges in their careers. It was an answer rooted in what I saw in my dad growing up as he worked hard but gave freely of his time to try to help others and his profession. It was a surprising moment for me and one that probably wouldn’t have meant much if I hadn’t set out some goals about what I want to achieve and how to do so.

So, as we enter 2011, consider the benefits of goal setting in your career.

1) They provide focus: The process of goal setting is one where you need to stop and think. These goals aren’t just the tactical elements that need to be covered for you team/boss next year but think about where you really want to be in three years. What are the steps you need to take to make that possible? It’s difficult to take time to stop and slow down but it provides clarity to what you truly want to achieve.

2) You have accountability: The simple act of writing out goals provides you with a measurable timeline. You’ve laid out your goal, perhaps some building block goals along the way, and you have a path to guide you. You’re far more likely to meet your goals when they are written out than just saying “someday I want to…”

3) Goals serve as a reminder: When times get tough, which they will, looking at your written goals can provide you inspiration to keep moving forward. The challenges remain but when aiming for a larger goal, you can ride out the ups and downs along the way.

That Sucks…Kidding, Haha. No, Actually That Idea Does Suck.

Business Communications, Communications, Growth

You’ve probably been there too.  Maybe in a meeting, maybe at an awkward social gathering where an idea is raised then gets rolling and all you can think is “how did this catch on?” “Am I crazy? Is this brilliance that I just can’t see?”

You may not want to be the naysayer in the bunch and be perceived as negative but you really don’t want to get stuck with a lousy idea either. We in Minnesota especially struggle with this issue as we’re taught to be Minnesota Nice. Ok, now I’m obviously just having a little fun here as no matter where you’re from it can be a sensitive subject in shooting down someone but in an attempt to help, here are a few ways to actually try to get at the age-old issue of delivering feedback in a work setting.

Blunt Honesty Approach

Pros: Should be clearly understood, To the point with minimal wasted time filled with less than sincere positioning.

Cons: Can leave bad feelings on part of recipient, You can wind up looking like quite a jerk.

Some can pull off blunt honesty and be just fine with the approach.  Heck, some are actually praised for their “straight shooter” nature.  Doesn’t work in practicality for many people though.  If you need practice in this method, perhaps turn to where most of life’s answers are found, Office Space.

The “Help me Understand” Method

Pros: Allows you to be “nice” but still hoping to poke a hole in the idea, Can provide actual constructive feedback in some cases.

Cons: Still may put you in a position to just need to go with blunt honesty if your hinting doesn’t get it done.

This one is a regional favorite here in the Midwest. You can ask questions to make it seem like you’re confused and asking because you care….however, most that use this method are actually going with this as a defense to avoid the direct route. Ask relevant questions to help you understand where they are coming from and maybe see if there is some good thinking going on that you’re missing. It can also help them start to see some possible failings if they haven’t thought of some of the pitfalls you’re seeing.  You know you’re losing the positive vibe and need to switch approaches when you hit phrases like “huh, that’s one way to look at it” or “that’s a different idea” and maybe even the granddaddy of them all “well, that’s unique” (accompanied by slightly rolled eyes for style points).

Idea Building and Constructive Feedback

Pros: Can really lead to better ideas moving forward, Doesn’t shoot down a person that really does feel good about an idea.

Cons: Still may not wind up with an idea you entirely believe in but you can collaboratively determine that based on this style.

Idea building is a way to begin with sucky idea number one and help add some thinking to it in order to help move it to a more palatable concept.  In finding a piece of the idea that has merit, you may be able to support a concept if not the exact model that someone brought forward for execution initially. You’re actually working to engage in a good discussion and brainstorm at this point which can keep you in a positive mode and helping someone improve their own thinking. This really is the best option in giving feedback though it can be challenging and while it can be hard to tell anyone that their ideas just don’t work for you, it’s going to be the best option most of the time.

Or just try to distract them so you can run out the back door….kidding, haha….mostly.



PRSA Progression

Business Communications, Leadership, Public Relations, Social Media

Let me get this out-of-the-way right at the beginning.  I am a huge PRSA supporter.  I’ve been a PRSSA and PRSA member for roughly 15 years now.  This could be construed as negative but I want to make sure that everyone understands it is meant only as a valid question in the hopes of continuing to consistently improve the offerings provided to the organization’s membership.

When I began as a recent graduate, I recall attending monthly meetings featuring some of the best and brightest in the Twin Cities.  I was honestly in awe of what many of these professionals had accomplished as I was starting my career.  Over the next decade, I was able to build relationships and connections that helped me along as I learned how to stand on my own.  PRSA played a valuable role in enhancing my career.

However, in today’s environment when so many senior communications professionals are only a Tweet or webinar away, I”m wondering if PRSA needs to alter its traditional approach to delivering value to its membership.  Access that was stunning to me years ago is now commonplace, and expected.  As professionals continue to shell out a few hundred dollars each year to be a member, what can the organization do that really delivers a significant benefit to those of you out there that support it?  What methods of programming are you interested in? Should there be a greater emphasis on webinars or perhaps more focus on a regional set of programming versus strictly local?  Or does the price point need to change to more frequent but targeted lower cost events?

As more and more professionals are struggling with justifying the cost of professional development to their employers (or paying it on their own during a tough economy) what’s the mix you’d like to see?