Jennifer B. Davis
Creative Outlet Labs is running a promotion. Be one of the first to send 10 free mini-tributes at and be entered to win a stamp you can use to personalize your print correspondence. It is another way to share free mini-tributes with friends and family! More details about the promotion are posted on the Creative Outlet Labs blog. Happy smile sending!
Jennifer B. Davis
I recently read Christine Comaford-Lynch's "Rules for Renegades." Christine sound like quite a character. One of those high-energy, mile-a-minute folks who is constantly pushing into new areas. Intermixed with stories of dating Bill Gates and Larry Ellison, she had some interesting stories and advice.

She told one story about how she was a contractor at Microsoft, when they decided to convert a bunch of contractors to employees to avoid IRS trouble. In a big meeting, she did a back-of-the-envelope calculation of how much the recommended temp agency was going to make if all the contractors went that route. On an impulse, she stands up and announces that people could contract with her new agency. She had no temp agency. She had no company. She didn't have a business plan. She didn't have any idea how she was going to fund her first payroll. She did, however, have a customer (one she sort of backed into a corner to hire her) and several clients in short order. From there, she figured it out.
I thought this story was funny because it illustrates how easy it is to overthink business plans and not take any actual action that relates to getting customers. Let Christine's boldness be an example of what can be accomplished by running when you see open space!
As Christine summarized in her "Rock Rejection Mantra":
Some will.
Some won't.
So what?
Someone's waiting.
Jennifer B. Davis

Is your Mom, your friend, your sister, or your co-worker absolutely remarkable? Then, you will love using the new Absolutely Remarkable mini-tribute. This new application allows you to create a custom, animated mini-tribute honoring someone and view it, send it yourself, or let us send it for you. If you know someone who is absolutely remarkable, you must check out this fun, free site.

Sort of like a movie studio will issue a trailer to build excitement for their new film, we are doing the same, building excitement for Remarkable. If you like Absolutely Remarkable mini-tributes, you will love the full-blown application and should sign up for the beta for Remarkable by Creative Outlet Labs.

Have fun using this and sharing it!

Jennifer B. Davis
Want to test your touch typing speed for fun and bragging rights. Check out 10-fast-fingers and see your words per minute. Thanks Kristi for pointing this out.

Before you go out to check it out, however, ask yourself this: Are you more of a phone person or an email person? You know who you are and I have rarely met someone who didn't have a preference (sure there are some things you'd only do in person or over the phone, but most communications are not like that and you can choose without seeming insensitive).

I bet there is a correlation between the likelihood of being an "email person" and typing speed. I'd be interested in your thoughts. I type fast and am an email person.

I wonder if there is a similar test for reading speed. I even like my voice mails converted to text (using SpinVox) because they are so much faster to get through in this format. Then I can respond via email or call them back...inevitably getting their voice mail and repeating the cycle. I hear about services like Jott which let you call their number to leave yourself messages they will transcribe and e-mail to you, I can't help but think that someone really gets me.
Jennifer B. Davis
So, along with the dream I have of one day having a publicist, my own patent attorney, and my own image stylist (ha!), I sometimes long for a capable assistant who can handle the details and allow me to focus on the important (I really mean fun) stuff.

Zirga is an interesting entrance into the virtual assistant marketplace, popularized by Tim Ferris in his provocative book the 4 Hour Work Week. For $95, they will complete 35 tasks a month. They work all year, all day, and are US-based. They track the tasks on the website and as long as they are not waiting for a response, they will complete the task in an hour. The examples they give are things like travel arrangements, gift buying/sending, waiting on hold, etc. The kinds of things you would probably ask an assistant if they were handy and capable.

I think that these types of services have an untapped market in Moms. Rather than targeting jet-setting executives who need to arrange travel arrangements on the spur of the moment, why not market the services to busy moms (working or full-time moms) under the tag line "because they haven't invented cloning yet." The tasks would be making dentist appointments, finding a private French tutor, finding a spot for your parent's 50th anniversary party, or sending out birthday cards. Now, that is an untapped market!
Jennifer B. Davis
Earlier I posted on the value of stretch goals that are unbelievable. Seeing no way to reach a target price point on an evolutionary or incremental path, people must thing revolutionary and be relentless.

So, how does this apply to service businesses? Seth Godin has blogged about the discipline of answering the phone in one ring. What other metrics like that could challenge your teams to think in new ways about the old problem of how to provide great service?

If a call center could always pick up after the first ring, here are some challenges for other service businesses:
  • Could a retailer guarantee that you'd never wait in line? I mean never. Not even for a second.
  • Could a beauty salon guarantee that your manicure will last until your next appointment or it is free?
  • Could a town car service provide flight delay insurance or traffic jam insurance to ensure that any costs and travel rearrangements associated with either would be handled? See previous post about bundling products and services.
Jennifer B. Davis
There is nothing uglier than a compost bin (okay, other than the smell). A company in Bangalore, India called Daily Dump (a horrific name to be sure) has created some products that look tons better than the green plastic bins available at Home Depot. Cool Hunting suggested that if someone can do it "Banglore, there's no reason why people can't do it in Baltimore."

It somehow seems poetic that in a container garden of the future, some of the pots have things that are growing and others contain things that are decomposing.

This brings to mind however how so many utiliarian things could be made beautiful and marketed as a desirable, upscale product when today they are industrial products. Better yet, combine an element of green lifestyle and you have a winner. Why not rain collection systems that look like water features in the backyard? Why not solar panels built into pavement tiles? Why not a solar oven that looks more like a stylish backyard BBQ (and less like a space communication device)? And I am sure you can come up with a better company name!
Jennifer B. Davis
Unbelievable price point targets have inspired innovation over time. Today I read about two such targets that may inspire you to think differently about your own product or service.

Tata Motors, India's largest automaker, unveiled today the $2,550 car. Some are applauding this as India's crowning achievement. Others are bemoaning that the bicycle and public transportation may have been dealt a death sentence. In any case, that is an unbelievable price that was before believed unattainable. Ok, it isn't right for American drivers and tastes, but at what point in the future will a $2,550 car include some of the necessary performance and creature comforts to make it an acceptable commuter car?

Pixel Qi has announced plans to develop a $75 laptop (granted they have never been able to get below $188, but even that is something remarkable.
So, what if you had to deliver a version of your core product for 25% less than you charge today? You probably could get there by lopping off some performance or making packaging changes. What if you had to had to have a product that sold for 5% of what the average in the market sold for? What would you have to do differently?
In that mode, every feature, every component, every whiz-bang or essential thing would have to fight for its place on the bill of material. Why don't we do this more often? I think that in many cases, a "zero-based budget" approach to product design would result in simpler products that more closely addressed the real market needs.
What would it look like in your industry?
Jennifer B. Davis
But this is a new twist...original art subscriptions. For $150, The Present Group will send you an original art piece (could be a painting, could be a sculpture). If you are still in the gift-giving spirit, they do have gift subscriptions.

They are quite upfront that the art might not suit your taste, but they remind you that it is "cheaper than what one might pay in a gallery." I think this might be another way to say that if you like one piece a year, you are probably getting your money's worth.

Makes me wonder why more things are not sold in subscriptions, if something as personal as art can be distributed in this way. I'd subscribe to a shoes-of-the-month club if the price were right and I had a little control over the style. I bet I am not the only one.

Why doesn't a jewelry company charge a single young woman for the year and then send them gift on the dates they specify (their birthday, etc)? Technically it would be a gift to herself, but the element of surprise might just add enough delight to make the idea work!
Jennifer B. Davis
Now for some news you can really use...scientists have unlocked the secrets of rock-paper-scissors and victory can be yours. Their advice - start with scissors.

Jennifer B. Davis
Years ago my husband drove a Toyota Tundra pick-up truck that was painted a rich blue with red tones in it. I believe the paint was called "Midnight Blue," and to my husband's color-blind eyes, it was navy blue. To everyone else, and especially in sunlight, it was purple. This drove him crazy and every car we have owned since then has been black. Don't-argue-with-me-about-the-color-of-the-car black.

So, imagine my surprise when Pantone selected a similar color for the "Color of the Year 2008." Blue Iris, they call it, as it clearly strattles between blue and purple just like the Tundra.

Frankly, I didn't know they had such a thing as a "color of the year." Let that be an inspiration to all of your marketers that wish to claim thought leadership and get some free publicity...issue a press release that sounds like news!
Jennifer B. Davis
Dr. Bertie Kingore is an educator, author, and recognized expert on giftedness. She published an interesting article that contrasted the High Achiever, the Gifted Learner, and the Creative Thinker (complete with an illustrative cartoon, not that I am jealous).

As a child of teachers, an alum of honors programs and a self-described type A, I could see myself in all three columns (and then again, not fitting the pattern exactly).

The insight for me came when they discussed motivation for learning. The gifted learner is drawn by curiousity and asks "What would I like to do?", while the high achiever asks "What do you want me to do to perform well in this class/assignment/project?" On the other end of the spectrum is the creative thinker who isn't motivated at all by what the teacher/professor/authority thinks.

Then you look at the signs for innovative thinking, invention, and creation and you see the following (unscientific) correlation.

So, this is could be the core of our "managing innovation" problem. The folks most likely to innovate in really new ways can't be motivated in traditional carrot-stick methods. Perhaps this is why we so much innovation in start-ups?

As an aside, I wonder how many "Creative Thinkers" are now diagnosed with Attention Deficit because they can't seem to concentrate, when in fact, they are concentrating so intently on creating something new that they can't stay in the present and keep pace.

Jennifer B. Davis
Bert Decker has published his annual list of the best and worst communicators of 2007. The best, mostly because they have gained fame or recognition, almost exclusively because they could communicate better than others in the field, were Governor and Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee, Dr. Mehmet Oz (of You, the User Manual), and good ol' Al Gore (who now can claim to have invented the internet and global warming, but I digress). His top picks for worst communicator was Alberto Gonzales (former Attorney General whose credits include "several controversies" and "allegations of perjury"), Michael Vick (professional athlete, animal lover, and role model - ha!), and Robert Eckert (Mattel chairman caught in toy recall).

I catch a common theme here. I suspect all of the top communicators keep their body language in check, dress the part, and have pleasing tone and pace to their speech. They have credibility in their fields and avoid (at least publicly) reputation disparaging controversies and crimes. But most of all, they have something to say. Something they are passionate about (which is hard to fake in today's media-saturated, cynical world). The ones on the bottom list showed a total lack of empathy for their audience (their customers, fans, voters/taxpayers, employees, etc).

So, as you and I think about our communications for the coming year, perhaps it is better to focus on the things that are worth saying. Develop true convictions about the content of our speech and true empathy for the audiences and individuals to whom we speak, and let the rest take care of itself.

Maybe one of you will top the list next year!

Jennifer B. Davis
I am back from my winter hibernation and ready to post! In some ways, blogging is an expression that is akin to singing. My voice is rested and I have some things to sing about.

I have enjoyed people's different posts and approaches to New Year's Resolutions for 2008.

  • Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, wants you to set goals and enlist others (via his Facebook application, cleverly named "Goal Post") to keep you accountable.

  • My friend, Lisa, is determined to focus on 9 or so concepts this year, short enough that she can capture each on a Post-It Note.

  • Penelope Trunk, of Brazen Careerist fame, says pick just one goal (and really commit to it).

  • Others, like the folks at Andy Wibbels' BlogWild, have suggested picking a theme, instead of a laundry list of resolutions (destined to be ignored come January 7th).

  • Ali Edwards, a gifted visual artist and scrapbooker, suggested selecting a word for the year. Her's is "Vitality." Here is everyone else's who responded to her challenge. I, of course, love the custom product tie-in possibilities for a one word resolution!

For myself, I am following the general gist above and selecting fewer things to focus on, making sure they are specific and attainable, and asking for your help.

My resolutions this year are simple. The personal ones including celebrating my 15th wedding anniversary this Summer in some memorable way and some specific ones for my family. The business ones include the successful management of a huge project at work and launching a new offering from Creative Outlet Labs.

However, there are two goals that I'd like to accomplish this year with the help of this community.

1. I'd like to learn how to draw one-frame cartoons. As the cartoon above illustrates, I am a fan of Hugh MacLeod (warning: some of his cartoons are not family-friendly) and wish I had thought about drawing on the back of business cards first, as I think it is brilliant format. Not only that, but I can try out my new Christmas gift from my husband, a Wacom tablet. This year, I want to have some blog posts that are just cartoons that I have drawn.

You can help with this in a number of ways: encouraging my early attempts that I might post here with positive comments/trackbacks and sending me your cartoon ideas (I understand that is how Scott Adams has gotten most of his Dilbert material for years). I will never be a professional cartoonist, but I'd like to be able to find new ways to communicate insights on business, innovation, and life... and cartoon drawing is it.

2. I'd like to make 1 million people smile. I mean be personally responsible for enabling 1 million people to have a positive, encouraging moment in time. I have some specific ideas of how to accomplish this, so stay tuned for more specific requests in the coming weeks.

I hope you are already off to a pulse-racing, mind-blowing new year!