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Posts tagged ‘writers’

an encore performance

December 11, 2012


Last time I posted, I mentioned there were a couple more stories from my other blog, 365, that I’d re-post.  Here’s one of them.  With one more to follow soon.  Again if you follow both my blogs, thank you for doing so; and I apologize for the repetition.  Hopefully you feel these few posts are worth reading more than once.

Last time I talked about a lot of ways non-creative people are still creative.  See, it’s not an oxymoron.  But I did confine the conversation to those of us who work in ad agencies, an industry perceived as being ‘creative’ anyway.  And because I think it’s important for you to know I’m a firm believer in the fact that creativity can, and should , and does, exist outside of ‘creative’ businesses, I’m approaching the idea from a different perspective this time.

At its very simplest, it’s called out of the box thinking.  Being willing to turn a problem, or a tough challenge, on its ear, looking at it from a different angle, through a different lens.

Being willing, regardless of what you do for a living, to sweep aside the status quo and embrace new ideas.  Different ideas.  Unconventional ideas for your industry.  Client-centric ideas.  Revolutionary ideas.  Never-before-considered or tried ideas.  Regardless of whether you work in the private or public sectors.  Regardless of whether you are a health care worker, an educator, a politician, a CEO, a sales person, a scientist, a researcher, a lawyer, or an accountant; or even a tinker, tailor, soldier or spy.

What I’m talking about is ‘design thinking’.  Born out of industrial design, design thinking is a very disciplined, systematic, strategic process (yet intensely creative) that is used to solve what most of us would consider unsolvable challenges, like finding an innovative way to deliver clean drinking water in the developing world.  I find it absolutely fascinating.  I’m obsessed with it, in fact.  And I am a rabid fan of a global consultancy based in California, IDEO, who are pioneers in the field, and worked on the drinking water project.  I am also a huge fan of their President and CEO, Tim Brown, who has written a book, that I have read at least two dozen times.  Buy it, you won’t be sorry.

He spoke in Toronto earlier this year, and I went.  Surprise, surprise.  He presented a lot of impressive and varied case studies, but my favourite was a project they did for the Singapore government.  I have actually written it up, here on Fransi Weinstein Et Al.

I follow a lot of very good WordPress blogs.  One of them is called Book Peeps.  And the other day its author posted an interesting and provocative piece on education.  Specifically, what’s wrong with our educational ‘system’, who’s really to blame, what role both parents and teachers can play and what can be done about it.  Her post was inspired by an article (there’s a link to it in the post) she read, about the differences in how eastern and western cultures tackle teaching.

As I read her post, all I could think was:  “Now there’s an ‘opportunity’ that’s just crying out for a team from IDEO.”  And that’s what inspired this post, of men.

Any other issues you can think of that could benefit from some innovative thinking, IDEO style?  In my not so humble opinion, the U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’ issue is a perfect candidate.  If I was President Obama I’d be thinking seriously about bringing them to the table.  I’m certainly in no position to speak for the management of IDEO but I’ll bet they might even consider doing it pro bono.  I sure would.  Talk about a juicy assignment.  And talk about the fame (and fortune) that would follow, if you could wrestle that problem to the ground successfully!

But in all seriousness, that issue is going to take creative thinking to solve.  And from what I’ve seen, at a great distance I admit, I’m not so sure the people involved have what it takes.

For that mater, the Middle East crisis desperately needs some innovative thinking, as well.  But not all the ‘problems’ need to be as grand as these few examples I’ve cited.  Even in our local communities there are many opportunities to look at things differently.  To improve the way they’re done.  Make them more efficient.  Make them easier to use or access.  Make them more end-user friendly.  Make them more relevant.  Make them more cost effective.

The solutions are within all of us.  We just need to climb out of the rut we’re in.  We just need to open our eyes and ears and minds to the possibilities.  We just need to learn how to collaborate, because non of us has the answer on our own.  We just need to embrace change.  And most of all, we just need to want to have the time of our lives, because there’s nothing more stimulating, or fun, energizing and exciting, than solving problems, brilliantly!

President Obama’s campaign theme was ‘Forward’.  I’d like to add something to that:  ‘Forward.  Redefined!’


at a loss for words …

May 25, 2012


It’s not close to being a life altering epiphany.  It’s not as big as an AHA! moment either.  But a small current of self awareness and understanding did just buzz its way through my consciousness:

Must start writing my client’s website.  So here I sit, at my neighbourhood Starbucks, where I often come to work.   I’m all ready to go.  Notes at my side.  Laptop on.  Fingers poised over the keyboard, tingling with anticipation (hmmm, wonder if this is how Mozart felt when his fingers were flexed over his keyboard??).  Grande iced coffee far enough away from my computer and my iPhone to cause no concern (I’m a klutz — spilling is second nature to me).

Fingers stay poised.  Turns out I’m not ready, after all.  Seems I’m not in the mood yet, so I decide to take my mind of the task at hand by blogging.  Hmmmm …

Surprise!   I’m at a loss for words.  And just then, it hit me:

This is not writer’s block.  I am so filled up with the words I plan to use for my client work, there’s no room for me.  For now I’ve turned my brain over to him.  I’m in his head now.  There is absolutely no cause for panic.

So now I’m thinking that maybe this is a bigger revelation than I first thought.  Like actors, writers are chameleons.  We leave ourselves behind when we take on the personas of the brands, the companies and the personalities of the individuals we’re portraying or, as in my case, writing about.

As long as I’m not at a loss for my client’s words I have nothing to worry about.

looking for an idea? Just look around …

March 27, 2012


If you follow my blog you know I love Magnificent Nose.  It’s another WordPress blog.  Recently Sara Goas, one of the writers who contributes, had a great post: “Inspiration” — a fictional story about an English teacher, her students and ideas — and where they come from.

I loved this story because my entire career has been about ideas.  So for me, it was very personal.  Thankfully, it’s only happened to me once, but I have suffered through writer’s block, and let me assure you, it’s terrifying.  So I know first hand just how hard to come by an idea can be; and, like the teacher in Sara’s story, I also know where to look for inspiration.

All around me.

People watch, in other words.  Listen to what people say — about everything.  About the books they’re reading, the movies they’ve seen, the fights they’ve had with their spouses, how their kids are driving them nuts, why they want to lose weight, why they want to gain weight, why they hate their job, what they’re looking for in a relationship, what they like to eat, why they can’t eat broccoli, where they like to travel, what the dog did, what their mother-in-law said, why they broke up, what they like and dislike about themselves.

Pay attention to what they do when they’re checking out the cereal aisle in the grocery store, when they’re stopped at a red light beside you, at the movies, in the departure lounge at the airport, at the dentist’s.

Become a voyeur.  Eavesdrop.  Just try to be discreet about it.

Which reminds me of a ‘discussion‘ I once had with a former boyfriend.  Okay, he was pissed off and decided to let me know it.  We were at a restaurant and when we were having our appetizers he suddenly stopped eating.  Waving his fork in my face he threatened to leave if I didn’t start paying attention to the conversation he was trying to have with me.

Instead of listening to him it seems that I was totally engrossed in a couple sitting two or three tables away from us.  They sat there like two total strangers.  There was no warmth between them … no familiarity.  They weren’t speaking.  They weren’t even looking at each other.  They were each lost in their own thoughts, and even looking in different directions.

Without really being aware of what I was doing, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  And unconsciously, as I sat there watching, in my head I was imagining their entire relationship and what had led up to this oh-so-lonely dinner, where the only thing they were sharing was the table.  What’s more, I was writing dialogue — which I was sharing with my boyfriend, instead of having a conversation of our own.  Hence his frustration.

He wasn’t wrong, of course, but the writer in me was happy.  In the space of the hour or two that we all found ourselves under the same roof, between what they didn’t say, and their body language, I got enough material to write a book, or a movie or a play — or, as it turns out, even a good portion of this blog.

See.  Ideas are everywhere.  So let this be your warning.  If you ever feel someone staring at you, it’s probably me.  Don’t take it personally.  And please don’t think I’m being nosy or rude.  I’m just counting on you for some inspiration.

is it just me, or do you also find it easier to write in some places than others?

January 15, 2012


Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been thinking about my writing habits today — and how they’ve changed over the years.  No less weird, just different.

When I first started to write professionally we didn’t have computers; and yes, I did hesitate to ‘say’ that out loud for fear that you’d immediately jump to the wrong conclusion:  No, I am not living in a nursing home.  I have all my teeth.  I do not drool.  I have no need for adult diapers, pureed food, pull-on pants or a walker.  I was born post WWII, and 1984 (when Apple was launched) is not really that long ago.

I’m just saying.

So … back then we didn’t have computers.  We did have typewriters , but I didn’t use one — at least not to ‘create’.  My preference was to write everything out by hand; and only when I had a draft that I liked, did I type it up.   Even more bizarre, though, was the fact that I never used a whole piece of paper (I promise I am much more environmentally conscious/friendly now).  In fact I probably went through a pound of paper each time I wrote something.

I’d write a line on one sheet, then a couple of lines on another sheet, a thought here, a thought there — and on and on it went.  Once I had some critical mass, I’d start weaving all those thoughts and words and sentences together until I had a few paragraphs I liked — which could have taken countless tries on countless sheets of paper.  Then I’d carry on — again using many sheets of paper for many versions — until eventually, I’d have enough to type my first draft — which I’d edit by writing all over it, making the changes in pen, first.

I simply could not seem to sit at a typewriter and write from scratch.  I also needed total silence.  And every couple of sentences I had to have a cigarette and a cup of coffee.

In 1985 I moved to Toronto (from Montreal) to work for the ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather.  Needless to say we all had Macs.  Mine collected dust.  I continued to work the way I always had, until one day another writer — who had been watching me in disbelief (and disgust, and probably pity) for months and months — came into my office and shut the door.  She told me that she wasn’t going to leave until I started to use my computer.

I gave her every reason why I couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t and it all fell on deaf ears.  She removed everything I’d piled on top of it, dusted it off, turned it on and sat down next to me — ready to start my tutorial.  I don’t know if she follows my blog but just in case, “Thank you, Erin Moore!”  But the little writing muse inside my head was still hooked on quiet, coffee and cigarettes (I had an ashtray the size of a spare tire and it was always filled to the brim with smoldering butts).

Until I decided to quit smoking when all the anti-smoking laws started taking effect in Toronto — which dates back about 20 years.  Agency management were quite concerned — they were worried that my productivity and my ability to write might be negatively impacted.  Truth be told I think they were also worried about mood swings.  Smoking is an addiction, after all.  As I recall they did check my office for sharp objects and I also remember that my letter opener mysteriously disappeared one day.   Yep, you got that right — instead of encouraging me to stop, they encouraged me to “think it over carefully, and not to rush into anything.”  Only half in jest, by the way.

I quit cold turkey and thankfully my talent stayed intact.  I did have the odd tantrum but I don’t think the lack of nicotine had anything to do with it — probably had a lot more to do with difficult deadlines and unnecessary revisions (I am all for constructive criticism — it’s the minutia that kills me.  All would not really be lost if we didn’t change the comma to a semi-colon, would it?)

And that was the way I worked for quite a while (with my door closed and bottles of water by my side) — until 2000, in fact.  That was the year I was recruited to be a partner in an independent start-up agency.  Up until this point you were defined by how big your office was, whether or not you had a window(s), whether or not you had a couch etc.  But now ‘cool’ was large, open-concept, loft-like offices with brick walls, wood floors (or industrial carpet), high ceilings with exposed pipes and play areas (pool tables or basketball hoops or putting greens etc.).

So that’s what we went for.  Most of the people in our agency hated the idea — at least at first.  For some unknown reason I absolutely loved it.  It was so much more collaborative.  And honestly, when I was engrossed in what I was doing I totally blocked out any conversations people were having.  I never heard a word and I was never distracted.

Now I work alone, from home.  When I first went out on my own I furnished myself a lovely home office.  Good lighting.  A nice desk.  A fabulously comfortable, ergonomic Aeron chair, bookshelves, good storage space — everything you’d need and want.

I hate working in there.  I don’t work in there.

If I must work from home, I prefer my dining room table.  Why?  God knows.  I guess some things don’t have to make sense.

What I’ve realized is, I don’t like working at home because it’s too quiet.  And by quiet, I don’t mean I want noise.  Playing music or putting on the TV don’t help.  In fact they make it worse.  It’s the ‘sound’ of human energy I crave.  It’s a ‘buzz’.

So now I work most of the time at Starbucks — primarily because there’s one just across the street from where I live.  But I have worked at other cafes and all sorts of public places; and while they’re all pretty good, some are better than others.  There are some Starbucks I don’t like.  The buzz isn’t right for some reason.  Again, don’t ask me why.  Just one of my peculiarities, I guess.  It appears that I’m not just strange, I’m also picky.

But it is working for me, so who am I to question it.

What about you?  I’m curious about your writing habits.  Hope you take the time to share them.