The Business of busy-ness.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on all those who fought and died for our rights to a balanced life (Source: FastCompany.com) because after a few quick calculations my conclusion is that many of us are not living the balanced life they fought so hard to achieve.

Whilst their efforts were not in vain, modern society needs more growth to reach a point where we ‘work to live’ not the other way around. Below is a breakdown of a typical working year for most people employed in large corporations*. For all our talk about work/life balance, has anyone done the math? Because things don’t look very balanced to me.

A year in the life of an average corporate employee.

For all our talk about work/life balance, has anyone done the math? Because things don’t look very balanced to me.

We may have advanced from working 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week (wait, what? did they work in advertising? ahem!) but it is not near the equitable distribution of time we need to be mentally and emotionally healthy and creatively contributing to the world at large, beyond only our contribution to the corporate bottom line and our own bank accounts.

It takes 42 seconds to do a google search on the side effects of being overworked, which yields 1,230,000,000 results. You don’t need to be an empath to understand the impact on health, relationships and creativity from work/life imbalance.

Many of you reading may be thinking “do something you love and you won’t ever have to work a day in your life.” Certainly, I think this notion can work for a certain period in one’s life, or for a certain project but not as a long term way of life and certainly not if we wish to divide our focus equally between different pursuits. And considering we are working and living longer, it makes sense to have a well-balanced distribution of time across our professional and personal life.

Wise thinkers have pointed out that we join the cult of busy because we are running away from something else. Socrates warned us to “beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

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Certainly, we are required to work hard to achieve all the good things we wish to achieve in life but the point I am trying to make is that we should get to a point where people do what they love and have time to spend with family, friends and creative hobbies. It shouldn’t be a trade-off and people shouldn’t be indirectly penalised for living with this intent.

The New York Times Magazine recently published an article titled “Wealthy, Successful and Miserable,” which showed that once a person provides financially for themselves and family, additional salary and benefits don’t reliably contribute to job satisfaction rather, factors like ‘whether your job provides the ability to control your time’ become more important.

In my case, I love what I do and where I do it. My workplace is relatively understanding that I have a young family and generally accommodate my dynamic schedule. But the effects of not being more balanced certainly have started to show up in other areas of my life.

Reassessing outdated notions of Work/Life balance.

If you work for an organisation or you are currently a manager who is at all interested in staff retention, great performance, building a great company culture, you will have to get better at adapting to the idea that people don’t compartmentalise their life and sometimes there is spillage across professional/personal life. With that, we need a more accurate and balanced definition of what constitutes work/life balance and how to integrate both areas together.

For example, it no longer makes sense that we have inflexible check-in and clock-off timing inherited from bygone eras that fit around the company but not employee life schedules. This may be difficult for some old-world managers to accept.

There may be days when your staff member needs to work from home. But if you’re a micro-manager who keeps count of how many kitchen breaks your staff take, this might take some getting used to.

Paradigms are shifting and it is necessary that we start to question some of the old structures that have held up our economy for decades.

Work/life balance is a recognition that sometimes we do get out of balance but this can be rectified at a later time. But corporations need to be flexible and adaptive in order for staff to do this. For example, a member of staff may wish to take additional annual leave to participate in a marathon overseas and this could be accrued annual leave from all the additional time in-lieu working late nights rather than taken as leave-without-pay.

A New Dawn

Paradigms are shifting and it is necessary that we start to question some of the old structures that have held up our economy for decades. And one of the main pillars of the old structure has been corporations which push the view that we need to be achieving our KPI’s and sticking to the bottom line without consideration for employee welfare. Corporate success looks like hitting profit and growth targets and achieving management objectives, not how often staff get home to see their kids before bedtime or how many weekend conference calls their executives take. More advanced corporations have begun to examine their company culture and values, and that’s a good start.

But I say there is still more that we can do if we walk down the path of authenticity and consciousness. If we allow people to show their true nature, empower them to self-manage and work in ways that fit around their life, then businesses can be unifying clusters that unite people to fulfill a common aim, and in that way be of service to their employees and humanity at large.

This is not a socialist dream, on the contrary, I am talking about companies like Patagonia and Nadaam who live the ideals they espouse. We can start by questioning what type of company we want to work for, what start-up we want to build, and who we want to buy from, and raise these questions with our teams. Of course, we would need to hire the right people to start with.

Business needs to follow the path of authenticity and consciousness.

Do the math for yourself and let me know what it looks like for you. Change starts from raising awareness and starting conversations about what good can look like.

Live consciously,

Brenda.

Cover Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels.

*This is based on 25 annual leave days and does not include sick leave. Outside of maternity leave, in my 15+ year working career, I have only used my total annual sick leave once when I needed a medical procedure, have you?

Great Leaders Ask Questions.

Many of today’s organisations and even our personal modes of thinking are based on an achievement orientation, meritocracy and sense of competitiveness.

When viewed on a continuum, these attributes certainly helped propel modern society from a feudal, hierarchical state and bring about huge advancements in innovation and accountability, and improved levels of equality.

But these traits have masked society’s unconsciousness in certain areas. For example, this kind of thinking is more likely to lead to a siloed mentality, the notion that for one person to be right another needs to be wrong, people are put in boxes – humans are ‘resources’ to be ‘managed’ in this model, we busy ourselves building plans and blueprints for things that may not necessarily add value only to meet budgets and excel spreadsheets with fictitious forecasts.

And where you have unconsciousness, you have Ego.

Ego finds its home in unconsciousness.

One of the main aims of ego is to look good – intelligent, clever, in control, funny, productive – in front of others. In this mode, leaders find it paramount to have answers, they have been trained to provide direction to their teams, and direction means providing solutions and having a plan in order to look competent.

Emerging Leadership

On the other hand, emerging modes of thinking require mental strength, empathy and self-esteem to allow ourselves to feel vulnerable and open to collaboration.

Leadership in this new mode is about creating space for others to contribute and collaborate. It is having the confidence to recognise that you may not always have the best answer.

The best leaders I have worked with focus on questions, not answers.

By asking the right questions, strong leaders facilitate dialogue which contributes to a creative solution. Having a questioning mindset is recognition that the germ of your great idea, when combined with other ideas can sprout into something much more powerful.

Questions empower others to raise their true voice. Rather than feeling stuck in a silo, people feel heard and valued, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction.

Asking questions opens up space for the team to have a sense of ownership of the process and this ensures that people are motivated to contribute and work together to develop the right solutions.

Leadership is about having the generosity of spirit and confidence of character to work together and not always needing to be the star of the show.

Depending on your category, here are some ways you can facilitate a team discussion by framing questions in the following manner:

How might we think about this from a product design point of view?

What inconvenience can make better for our customer?

What can we borrow from (insert another category than the one you usually work in)?

What if we turned back the clock and redesigned our customer experience?

I wonder what would happen if we transformed our thinking about this from a communication to a customer service approach

I hope this post has helped you begin to transform the way you, your team and your organisation view leadership.

Have a purposeful day!

Brenda.

Understanding Culture

Many brands are using anthropologists to help them identify and understand the forces and themes impacting their customers’ lives and mindsets. And one of the main areas of observation for an anthropologist is culture. Understanding culture helps brands predict and capitalize on upcoming trends.

I personally have an interest in culture especially when I hear it bandied around often without an understanding of what it is, what makes up culture, how it is created and what influences it.

So this post is my attempt to understand culture and how brands can be part of it.

What is Culture?

Culture is fundamentally about meaning and expression. It is how and where we derive our meaning from the world and people around us.

Societies function via written and unwritten ‘rules’ that people ascribe to willingly or unwillingly. The rules that we follow without noticing, and the rules that some people break willingly. This is culture.

But these rules are constantly changing and evolving, in fact, most of the time, we don’t notice them until they are broken. For example, the act of ‘gathering people to eat’ is draped with cultural meaning – otherwise, the pictures below are just people having lunch. But a family lunch, team lunch and quiet romantic getaway are draped with different traditions, meaning and emotional attachments - this is culture.

What meaning do you derive from these images?

Artists, Musicians, Comedians, Journalists often bring to light or challenge culture in their work. They make observations and statements about culture in their music or writing.

How can we get better at Cultural Understanding and Culture Spotting?

In order to understand culture and cultural meaning, we need to investigate the meaning behind certain rituals and phenomena.

As we observe and become curious about events around us, we should be asking: what does this symbolise? why is this important? what is changing? where are we going?

Can you think of some cultural rules that have recently been broken in MENA? Here are a few:

  • The resurgence of artistic expression? What does this mean about how people are expressing themselves?
  • Women driving in KSA? What does this mean about the way society is changing?
  • Cinema in KSA? What does this mean about entertainment in the region?

Brands that wish to be more culturally relevant could choose to follow either of two directions:

  • How can we be part of the cultural conversation?
  • How can we challenge cultural assumptions in a way that attracts people to our brand?

The main goal of producing brands and their branded content is to ensure they resonate with their audiences so that they connect with them and provide solutions to their life, making the brand more salient. Being culturally relevant helps achieve this goal.

Brenda.

Cover Image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-group-of-men-wearing-assorted-scarves-holding-sticks-667200

Strong Brands ge​​​​t Angry.

Anger that is uncontained is a sign of not being present in the moment, and, therefore, being unable to manage our emotions . However, when used appropriately, anger can be harnessed to muster the courage to speak out against something we disagree with or to defend ourselves when being attacked.

I’m not espousing being angry at all times, nor lashing out at others, or hating on yourself, but if we use our intuition to recognise that a situation or person is causing us anger, then we can investigate what it is about that person/situation making us angry. If we are aware of what is making us angry, we can use that as a learning opportunity to uncover hidden feelings (guilt, grief, helplessness, disappointment, feeling trapped) or fears.

You can read more about anger and anger management from a psychological perspective on MentalHelp.net

My point is, understanding Anger or Tension helps recognise that an issue or misalignment exists, moves us to define a problem and seek a creative solution to it, and this practice applies as much to brands as to people.

What is Your Brand Angry about? 

From a communication or brand planning perspective, strong brands usually stand for something. They have a sense of purpose which creates a sense of community and common interest around the brand.

Another way I like to look at it, strong brands have identified an ‘enemy’ or something that makes them ‘angry’ and they address this with their product or service or communication campaign. For example:

Nike, ‘Just Do It,’ is against procrastination.

Ikea, ‘A better everyday life for the many people,’ is against hierarchy.

Patagonia, ‘If it’s broke, fix it! is against consumption that negatively impacts the earth.

Next time you’re thinking about your company purpose, or your next creative brief, start by thinking about answers to the following questions:

  1. What is your brand angry about?
  2. What problem does your brand find annoying that it aims to solve?
  3. Who / What is your enemy? And how can you speak out against it?

By defining your purpose this way, you ensure that your brand is of value and service to your users and community by solving existing probelms. And ultimately, this is what defines a strong brand.

Live consciously,

Brenda.

Be UNrealistic.

Are you are realist? Do you pride yourself on being pragmatic? Or do you consider being realistic only for the faint hearted and risk averse?

My piece below is inspired by a similar post from Kate Megee that helped me get real about being realistic, and face some deeply ingrained ideas I have held for a long time.

Read through and see if any of it resonates with you.

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The Problem with Dreaming Big

People often tell us to “dream big”. In fact, I repeat this mantra to myself and my kids often, but then I get tough on myself for not doing just that!

This idea to “dream big” cannot happen if deeply ingrained in us is also the ‘sensibility’ to “be realistic.” We can’t beat ourselves up for not “dreaming big” when being “realistic” is actually ingrained in our subconscious from an early age, sometimes by well meaning adults. Many of us grow up in cultures / environments that train people (handicaps them!) to be “realistic,” but then celebrate those who “dream big.” Society often contradicts itself.

But, for people like me, before we are able to aspire to “think big”, perhaps first we should strip away the handicap of “thinking small”, that’s a BIG step change. It’s the notion of stripping back – reducing – rather than adding. Start by taking away some of the toxic thoughts already in there.

Before dreaming big, perhaps we should first strip away the handicap of playing small

Be Protective About What You Allow In

I’ve always thought achieving our ambitions was about instilling ‘confidence’ or developing a ‘can do’ attitude, and then I berate myself for not being able to do that. But  it’s not always about what you add in, it’s sometimes about what you keep out – not instilling a limited or “realistic” belief to begin with.

When people tell me (or have told me in the past – teachers, well meaning adults, work colleagues) to “be realistic” my heart sinks, I feel defeated, sad and sometimes frustrated. It’s a sort of unrealised potential. But I have never gone that one step further to think that perhaps they were being unrealistic! I believed their truth rather than fire up my own reality. These become the recurring stories we tell ourselves.

The Secret to Success is Setting Your Intention

Most successful people (the definition and parameters of success is another topic) are those who laid a plan and took a step.

I’ve always been happy for others who have been unrealistic and achieved their dreams, whilst I have been content to just sit on the sidelines, never quite getting ‘in the game’.

Perhaps they didn’t have self-limiting beliefs, or perhaps they weren’t self-conscious. Or maybe they did, but were able to quiet the noise in their head, whilst I listened to the voice in my head that told me to “be realistic.”

I should have instead made a plan.

I believe that there is abundance in the world, but we cannot tap into this and truly manifest it, if we are being “realistic”. In this way, being “realistic” becomes a block, a form of self-deception and code for staying comfortable, within the confines of current norms. It is an invitation to think small and stay within predefined boundaries that others have set for us.

The question is, what does ‘realistic’ look like? One person’s reality may be another person’s dream since people’s ‘realism’ is based on their own reality (perceived reality) and life experience. Nothing is actually realistic or unrealistic, it’s how you look at it that matters.

A New Definition of Reality

What happens if we look at ‘reality’ in a new way. That things don’t already exist in the world, they are born into reality. So we need to create our reality in order for it to exist. Therefore, everything is unrealistic when we don’t try becasue we must first create them into existence or they will always be unrealistic and out of reach.

Fears and doubts are a natural part of growth, but they become easier to deal with on a rational level as challenges to overcome, when our deeply held underlying belief is that anything can be realistic, anything is possible.

Let’s move ahead and think big and be UNrealistic.

If you’re alive then you’re already winning at life.

What an amazing thought…

“Every living thing is, from the cosmic perspective, incredibly lucky simply to be alive.

Most – 90 percent and more – of all the organisms that have ever lived have died without viable offspring, but not a single one of your ancestors, going back to the dawn of life on Earth, suffered that normal misfortune.

You spring from an unbroken line of winners going back millions of generations, and those winners were, in every generation, the luckiest of the lucky, one out of a thousand or even a million.

So however unlucky you may be on some occasion today, your presence on the planet testifies to the role luck has played in your past”.

Source: Daniel Dennett.

Do you realize how special you are?

According to natural selection, you are perfect just the way you are, that’s how you’ve made it here.

If we believe this premise, it follows that our role in life is to live this perfection – not by being perfect – but by shining as the unique individuals that we are.

Luxury Design​ is now Organic.

Times have changed since gaudy accessories and gold foil symbolised luxury and wealth implied overspending on things that drained earth’s resources.

An increasing awareness around the impact of our consumption on the planet including our food supply has been accompanied by a rise in the organic and sustainable movements.

Identity design has also shifted in line with these trends.

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No longer about overt bling, simplicity, muted tones, textured finishes and earthy or quirky graphics are the order of the day.

Evolved Luxury

Increasing global wealth has made luxury products and services more affordable and whilst those playing catch-up are still intrigued by glitz and glamour, new luxury has evolved to be more discreet.

The evolved luxury consumer is prepared to pay more for artisanal products and natural sources. They are willing to wait for months for unique handcrafted products in order to forgo heavy processing and drowning in a sea of sameness.

Society is moving away from conspicuous consumption and into conscious creation.

Imperfections are now prized as an indication of a products’ craftsmanship and personalisation, as is a willingness to pay more for brands that are not overly designed.

Conscious Creation

Perhaps the world needed to go through the long period of industrialization and unprecedented growth that we have seen in the last 100 years in order to reassess our values.

Next time you absolutely need to buy a new gadget or can’t live without the latest wireless headphones, ask yourself if the ones you have absolutely need replacing and reflect on the kind of world your choice will contribut to.

Let’s keep pushing to create the healthy planet we desire to live in.

Live consciously,

Brenda.

Telling your brand story.

Originally posted on Not another dinosaur.:
Previously, I’ve written about the progress of Marketing and Communications over time (Marketing Era’s; From-functional-to-aspirational-to-meaningful-economy). One might argue that such definition of trends and cycles is outdated even irrelevant, since the pace of change in society and culture today is so fast, things move on before we can even discuss…

I’ve written about the evolution and development of Marketing and Communications over time (“Marketing Era’s“, “From-functional-to-aspirational-to-meaningful-economy“). One might argue that such a discussion of trends and cycles is outdated even irrelevant, since the pace of change in society and culture today is so fast, things move on before we can dissect them.

But, I believe it is worthwhile to scope out the landscape we are working in, if for nothing else, just to know its modus operandi. Once we dissect and understand changes in people’s attitude and behavior, we will be better able to respond  – to inform policies, product development and even brand conversations. It is also important to understand the impact of these changes and how to navigate and inspire the future. After all, the intelligent brand | corporation | individual is one who can adapt and be ready for the future.

With that in mind, I believe that the current brand / communication cycle is one of conversation | experiences. It is one where stories shine. If we consider the rise of Micro-blogging sites WordPress, tumblr, Wordpad and even Pinterest and Instagram, I believe one thing they have in common is the idea of sharing our ‘stories’ with people. Even when we tweet we are sharing a ‘story’ of sorts.

Thanks to (as a result of) the digital revolution, people have become accustomed to giving more media more of their time. People spend short – sometimes long – chunks of time engaged in watching videos (Vimeo, youtube), reading (slideshare, blogs, facebook and twitter links), playing games (with all the emotions they involve). Only an interesting ‘story’ makes people do that.

If you look at the print ads below (source: Archive magazine vol.3 2012), you will see that they tell interesting stories. They engage people with an introduction, main plot and conclusion of sorts.

The notion of stories in marketing is not new. But what I believe is important is the way we look at stories from a brand viewpoint.

A brand story is not just a manifesto. Everything the brand does is part of its storyline. Unlike in the past, the ‘storyline’ doesn’t need to continue identically through all communication touchpoints. In fact, we can consider all touchpoints and all aspects of the brand as having unique stories with unique sub-plots, characters and settings across all touchpoints. They don’t all need to look or feel or sound identical. As long as they tell the story in total! At different points in time, one may outweigh the other.

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So, next time you’re briefing your agency, make sure they understand and have a plan to tell your brand story though various touchpoints. And make sure each touchpoint has its own engaging story. That’s what we do for our brands ☺ It’s what keeps our work fresh, intriguing and interesting.

Designing the Future

I love Design for many reasons and I think it will save the world.

One of the things I love about it is that it helps us crystallise conceptual ideas into a form that people can understand and interact with. In this way, good design can be seen in medical devices that save lives, toys that bring joy and provide entertainment, or websites that deliver a great shopping experience.

For me, good design is about improving user experience and thus improving lives.

Click on the image below and watch how Hellicar & Lewis design beautiful and unique experiences.

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