Writing, Marketing, and Publishing Tips

Writing For Your Life Today

How can a brand offer a sense of ultimate self-realization or self-acceptance?

How can a brand offer a sense of ultimate self-realization or self-acceptance? Here are a few ideas:

Inspiration: If an aspect of your brand can offer or be associated with an inspirational fear, open the floodgates. Brands like Red Bull, Harvard Business Review, Under Armour, The Ken Blanchard Company, Michelob Ultra, and even GMC have associated themselves with athletic and intellectual accomplishment and thus a sense of self-actualization. 

Acceptance: Helping people accept themselves as they are isn’t just a thoughtful thing to do; it’s good marketing. Not unlike the Dove campaign, American Eagle turned heads when they launched their Aerie campaign. In the campaign, American Eagle used real people as models and refused to retouch the images. Tackling body-image issues, American Eagle went beyond basic product promotion and contributed to universal self-acceptance among their clientele.

Transcendence: Brands that invite customers to participate in a larger movement offer a greater, more impactful life along with their products and service. Tom’s Shoes built a name for itself by selling stylish shoes while simultaneously giving a pair to somebody in need in what they called a “one for one” model. Those who wore the shoes claimed a major factor in deciding to make the purchase was a sense of involvement with a larger movement. At less than ten years old, the for-profit brand sold more than $700 million. Another example of a brand that helps customers achieve a level of transcendence is Daymond John’s clothing brand FUBU, an acronym for “For Us By Us,” in reference to the African American community being represented in the marketplace. The brand offers more than fashion; it offers a sense of unity, transcendence, and entrepreneurialism for the African American community.

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

84 percent of all businesses started from a random event

Business consultant Martin Lindstrom estimates that 84 percent of all businesses started from a random event. Fortune 500 companies like Starbucks and Home Depot and products such as Velcro, Viagra, Band-Aids, and Post-It Notes emerged from a single customer insight or a serendipitous event. Anita Roddick, a human rights activist and environmental campaigner, founded The Body Shop as a response to one customer’s request for ethical consumerism. 

We love reading these inspiring founder stories but probably don’t consider how random connections are happening to us all the time…..and how they could propel our own momentum. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark Schaefer

The best innovation labs are always a little contaminated

Nemeth has gone on to document the same phenomenon at work in dozens of different environments: mock juries, boardrooms, academic seminars. Her research suggests a paradoxical truth about innovation: good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error. You would think that innovation would be more strongly correlated with the values of accuracy, clarity, and focus. A good idea has to be correct on some basic level, and we value good ideas because they tend to have a high signal-to-noise ratio. But that doesn’t mean you want to cultivate those ideas in noise-free environments, because noise-free environments end up being too sterile and predictable in their output. The best innovation labs are always a little contaminated.

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson

The debased currency of public discourse is what is available to them

Remote as we may think we are from the horrors of the German propaganda machine, the applicability of Steiner’s concern to the condition of contemporary American English may be obvious upon brief reflection. The generation of students coming through high schools and universities now expect to be lied to. They know about “spin” and about the profiteering agendas of corporate advertising. They have grown used to the flippant, incessantly ironic banter that passes for conversation and avoid positive claims by verbal backpedaling: “like” before every clause that might threaten to make a distinction one might argue with, and “whatever” after approximations that never reach solid declarative ground. They also recognize, because these corruptions have been so pervasive in their short lifetimes, how much political discourse consists of ad hominem argument, accusation, smear campaigns, hyperbole, broken promises, distortions and lies. If they’re reading many of the mainstream news magazines and papers or watching network television or following Twitter feeds or browsing social media, they are receiving a daily diet of euphemisms, overgeneralizations, and evasions that pass for political and cultural analysis. Though they are being taught in classrooms to be critical of empty rhetoric and unsupported claims, the debased currency of public discourse is what is available to them, and so their own language resources are diminished and uncertain. They need our help. 

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre

Consistent work

If writing is your gift, then write. Consider it your job. This project you’re working on is the bit of world that you’re holding in place for the rest of us. Your writing is your burden, your joy, your day-to-day time consumer. Figure out how to get it done. Work with your schedule until you manage to do the writing that’s necessary. Write whether you feel like it or not – inspiration is the side-effect of sitting in front of that computer screen and typing. An artist doesn’t wait for inspiration but generates inspiration through sheer work.

To do the work that needs to be done, you will spend your life negotiating schedules and day jobs and housework and childcare. You will fight every year for some retreat time that you need to prime the pump and feed your creativity. You will learn how to write in all kinds of weather, during various times of day and night, with people and noise around and in total solitude and quiet. For a while, maybe you’ll write at the coffee shop. But that won’t work forever so then you’ll write in the spare bedroom or at the kitchen table. You’ll keep figuring out how to get the work done. Figuring it out is simply part of the work.

The same is true for spiritual work. I’ve never held the same prayer practice for more than a few weeks, if that long. So I just keep changing the practice and keep working at consistency. There was a time when I drove a car to work, and so my praying happened then. There have been weeks at a time when my best prayer happened on a crowded commuter train. I’m not happy with how difficult it is for me to be consistent. But I keep trying and figuring it out. I edit spirituality writers, and I do some writing, too, so giving up on my Christian practices is not an option. They may change and develop; some things stop working, so I shift to other things. But I keep going. 

from “The Art of Spiritual Writing” by Vinita Hampton Wright

We tend to forget the luck that is the wind at our backs

Chilean sociologists Mario Molina and Mauricio Bucca noticed that when their friends played a card game that was totally based on chance, they insisted that their winning streak was based on superior skills. This inspired Molina and Bucca to do experiments that helped them discover that same fascinating pattern repeating over and over – if a person has success , they are almost entirely unable to separate their role from the role played by sheer luck.

“Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men,” E.B. White wrote many years ago.

In this entrepreneurial economy, there are more and more self-made men and women, and they are becoming increasingly convinced of their own success, even when they’ve had a lot of luck and help along the way, according to the economist Robert H. Frank and other researchers.

Of course hard work is necessary for success. If we’re biking into the wind, we’ll feel the difference right away. We have to pedal harder, we’re sweating, and we’re getting tired.

But if we have tailwind, it feels different. After a while we don’t even notice its assistance anymore. We can easily picture people heading into a strong wind, but it’s far more difficult to capture an image of the wind at our backs. It’s almost as if it were invisible.

In short, we tend to forget the luck that is the wind at our backs, but we never forget the headwind and the hard work. And that becomes our public narrative. 

From “Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business, and Life Against All Odds” by Mark Schaefer

The consequences of language abuse

Warnings about the consequences of language abuse have been issued before. George Orwell in 1946 and George Steiner in 1959 lamented the way that language, co-opted and twisted to serve corporate, commercial, and political agendas, could lose its resiliency, utility, and beauty. Their arguments are still widely cited. Orwell, for instance, makes this claim:

[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits, one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. 

This description, like Orwell’s ominous vision of “newspeak” in 1984, may have an unsettling ring of familiarity. In a similar vein, but rather more bleakly, George Steiner reflects on what actually happened to the German language under the Third Reich:

The language was infected not only with….great bestialities. It was called upon to enforce innumerable falsehoods, to persuade the Germans that the war was just and everywhere victorious. As defeat closed in….the lines thickened to a constant snowdrift….

He goes on to comment,

Languages have great reserves of life. They can absorb masses of hysteria, illiteracy, and cheapness… But there comes a breaking point. Use a language to conceive, organize, and justify Belsen: use it to make our specifications for gas ovens; use it to dehumanize man during twelve years of calculated bestiality.  Something will happen to it…..Something of the lies and sadism will settle in the marrow of the language. Imperceptibly at first, like the poisons of radiation sifting silently into the bone. But the cancer will begin, and the deep-set destruction. The language will no longer grow and freshen. It will no longer perform, quite as well as it used to, its two principal functions: the conveyance of humane order which we call law, and the communication of the quick of the human spirit which we call grace. 

Steiner makes two other points worth mentioning about the consequences of language abuse: as usable words are lost, experience becomes cruder and less communicable. And with the loss of the subtlety, clarity, and reliability of language, we become more vulnerable to crude exercises of power. 

From “Caring for Words In A Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre

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