The Best Ever Failed 63% of the Time

Ty Cobb failed 63.4% of the time, finishing his career with a .366 lifetime batting average. The ultimate benchmark for greatness for a hitter is the .400 mark, and that has only been eclipsed 26 times in history. Hell, some of the sports’ greatest hitters failed 72-73% of the time, and made up for it with the ability to hit homeruns.

Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson
Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson

I think life operates much like baseball does. What makes professional athletes so incredible is the resiliency required to perform at such high levels in pressure cooker situations when the odds show that you will fail more often than you succeed. They endure weeks-long streaks of failure and still figure out a way to dust themselves off and return to (relative) success.

Would your job keep you if you failed at your primary function for a week straight?

The reason that batting averages vacillate between .200-.400 is because of the high level of competition and the incredible skill required to hit a 4.5 ounce ball which is traveling upwards of 90 mph all the while moving laterally, dropping or changing pace as it covers the 60′ 6″ from the pitchers hand to the plate. Some consider it the hardest feat in all of sports.

In comparison, I just have to navigate clients, come up with some fun creative concepts, move some pixels around, and make some things look pretty. Success in my industry is measured by the ability to increase sales (and/or membership), effectively communicate and inspire a message, spark conversation with the design, and an increase in site traffic (or brand engagement, if not an online project).

What are the benchmarks for success in your life? In your career? When you fail, do you learn from your mistakes? How do you deal with failure?

Loss is research.

It’s not always straightforward quantitative research, but if you mull over the situation you’ll be able to figure out what went awry and why you failed if you are honest with yourself. That is the ultimate key. Self-honesty, if taken seriously, can provide the greatest insight into your own performance and weaknesses (strengths, too, of course). While there might be external circumstances adversely affecting you, figuring out what you need to change will always keep you ahead of the game.

As long as you are willing to fail, and learn, you’ll continue to find overall success.

Crowdsourcing Is Poison to the Design Community

Pawning sites like Crowdspring, Bootb.com, GeniusRocket, Worth1000.com and 99designs off as “crowdsourcing design networks” is covering the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s one thing to run a design contest online – a true contest where there’s an objective, a prize or prizes, and most importantly a singularity of purpose.

sheep
Don't get stuck moshing around for the scraps

It’s a completely different thing to build a contest factory that milks a large group of eager and hungry individuals for their best ideas with no promise of compensation. It, simply, is against design business ethics. This is spec work, plain and simple.

If you are a hungry designer, I promise, this will not keep you fed well. They say that they “pay cash for real work”, when in fact the client will pay a pre-determined amount of money (in other words, a budget set by someone who might have no clue what design budgets should be) to one (or more) winner(s). This is not “work”, this is a circus. This will not create a career for but a few people. Perhaps it’s a short means to an end for some people keeping food on the plate, but this it completely counter to the ethical guidelines for designers.

What these sites will do is drive the prices clients pay for design down, and allow companies to receive tons of unpaid-for design comps. Companies have an eager audience and can set low “prizes” for the winner, but are receiving tens if not hundreds of submissions – while they only own the winner’s concepts, do you think that they don’t take and incorporate other ideas they see in unselected submissions?

Hopefully you’re able to find work. Hopefully you don’t have to resort to throwing away great ideas for a chance to sit at the client’s table. I’m not judging anyone – times are tough and work is much more scarce than in years past – but I have little problem judging the companies who have the money to be paying proper rates and budgets to designers.

While the design contests will continue for sure, I hope that more designers take a long, hard look at their involvement in such practices. It runs counter to all of the groundwork designers have been laying for decades.

I pray the tides change, or who knows, in the future we all could be making our living through such competitions. With a bit of despair, I feel like I truly understand the feeling behind Murrow’s famous “Good night, and good luck.”

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Set Your Clients Up to Succeed

Every service provider, regardless of their discipline, has at one point or another performed great service for a client only to have them call back a month later saying something broke. For us designers, we cringe as we close the email or set down the phone, and type in the client’s web address “brokenwebsite.com”, because 9 times out of 10, someone decided that they should play around with the HTML or CSS and broke the site or created a 403 error.

iis_errorBut as time wears on, and more experience is packed into your belt, is it your client’s fault for breaking something you’ve built, or yours for not properly planning for the inevitable? If I know that my client is going to keep trying to mess with the HTML of the webpage that I’ve delivered, shouldn’t I give them a CMS solution that will avert their desire to muck around, allowing them to make all necessary changes in a way that can’t completely destroy the site? When I see images being formatted incorrectly, repeatedly, shouldn’t I make a tutorial showing the client how to set up batch actions in Photoshop to help them prepare correctly?

Perhaps sometimes it’s our improper planning that is to blame, not the knuckleheadedness (lovely, Webster’s, please take note) of our beloved clients. Of course, clients are still going to break stuff (just ask the plumber who comes back to your apartment over and over telling you to make sure that you clean your drains regularly to avoid clogs…do you ever listen?). But as service providers, we have to go the extra mile because we want our work to show beautifully and for our clients to be happy. Happy clients are always talking up to their friends, family, and colleagues.

Besides, don’t we get paid to make the best possible product? How would my employers feel if I was cutting corners and not always setting our company up to succeed? I think too often we get myopic on our approach to projects, focusing on the design, the beauty, the aesthetics; at times forsaking the most quintessential piece of everything we do: creating happy and satisfied customers.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

Microsoft Songsmith Ad Crushed By Blow-up Condom Animals

Let me start off by just squashing all of the “you can’t compare those two videos” kinda comments. Because two things: a) I am fully aware that these ads are not going to run against each other, are in completely different genres, and that the Durex ad will most certainly be blocked and prevented from making it to televisions in the US, and b) I just don’t care. These are just too hilarious when viewed next to each other.

Microsoft Songsmith ad

Watch this ad for Microsoft’s new application Songsmith, which will operate only on the Windows platform (thank god). Please, try to watch the entire video so that you can fully see what I’m talking about:

Inspiring, huh? Makes you wanna go out and start making videos with your band, or quit your day job to become a dingle dong…err, or maybe not. Maybe, in fact, this is one of the worst promotional videos ever created. (Credits go to Techcrunch for the find.)

Durex Commercial

I don’t even think there’s a point in introducing this video. Just watch, and enjoy.

This video is just hands down awesome. It’s one of the better ads I’ve seen in a long while. It says, very clearly (at least to me), “You can have lots of fun having protected sex. Condoms don’t stand in the way of you having a blast (no pun intended).” Nevermind the fact that it won’t be shown in the US. It’s creative, engaging and just the kind of video that will enjoy rampant You Tube success.

(Important to note: the Microsoft video will probably get far more views on You Tube, but I think it will only reinforce their struggling brand identity issues.)

Wrap up (pun intended this time)

I’m not entirely sure what is going on with Microsoft’s advertising efforts lately. It’s clear that they’ve been getting worked over by the Mac vs. PC ads, but they are just fishing for gimmicks, and failing miserably. The Jerry Seinfeld / Bill Gates ads were horrendous. I actually liked the “I’m a PC” campaign, but it didn’t fair too well in the market either. This however, should never make the light of day (beyond the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve already viewed it on video sharing sites). It is attrocious.

The Durex commercial is just pure fun. It’s creative and carefree. Remember, it’s not like Durex is the market leader, nor the media darling in its space. Trojan owns 70% of the market share, and has had quite a bit of success in its recent campaigns. They definitely deserve credit for taking a risk on this one, especially because it won’t ever be viewed in the States.

So while these videos aren’t an “apples to apples” comparison, I think it’s totally fair to say that one has taken the right route, while the other continues to flounder. (All inuendos appear in this article free of charge. You’re welcome. Hehehe.)

The Self-Proclaimed Expert

If stock market experts were so expert, they would be buying stock, not selling advice. – Norman R. Augustine

experts-090109So-called experts are quickly flooding the relatively new social media niche in large numbers, each and every one clambering for attention. While Facebook, Myspace, Virb, Flickr, Twitter, and countless other social sites and apps have been around for years, we are currently experiencing a significant boom in focus, understanding and adoption. There’s a massive influx of new users, people that normally remain on the sidelines waiting for the early adopters to help apps through beta phases and assist in ironing out the kinks.

But, how are those new to the scene supposed to find their way? Who are the leaders?

Perhaps these self-proclaimed experts are under the impression, as Seth Godin suggested in his review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers last week, that it’s much easier for people to get past The Dip1 and find success in “niche areas, new areas, unexplored areas. You can get through the Dip in an online network…because being seen as the best in that area is easier…”

What are the benchmarks for success? Is it number of blog readers? The size of your Twitter following? Is it your ability to soapbox, wax poetic and pontificate with confusing 2.0 jargon?

Or is it the ability to convince a town to rename itself for one of the largest marketing coups in history that makes you an expert? While Mark Hughes is undoubtedly an expert, he isn’t the benchmark either. He is one of those grand slam success stories.

So then where is the marker for the upper echelon of thought-leaders and exemplary masters? Do we leave that title reserved for people who have figured out how to make a name for themselves, or are we frugal with the moniker, giving it more often to people who are masters in making a name for others?

Does being an expert even matter in this landscape, or are we all just people trying to figure out the best way to connect with each other?

Just whom is that “expert” stamp in the social media arena reserved for?

1 Godin defines The Dip as “a temporary setback that will get better if you keep pushing.”

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Make your suggestions on who you think should be classified as an expert. Thank you kindly.

To Friend Or to Follow

Facebook Profile BarThe connective branches of the web are spreading out at an ever-increasing rate. Have you noticed how many of your old friends from high school and college are showing up in droves on Facebook? If you’re on Twitter, have you witnessed the literal flood of new registrations each day?

As more and more people jump into the social media space, regardless of their motive and catalyst for doing so (which we’ll address in a minute), you are going to be faced with the questions: should I accept that friend request and/or should I reciprocate following that person that just followed me on Twitter?

On Facebook, I have made very few exceptions to my general rule: I only accept and make friend requests to people that I am really friends with, online or otherwise (after 10+ working in the digital arena, I certainly have friends on Facebook that I’ve never met face-to-face). There are a very few exceptions to that rule – like, under 10 – which I made in either the interest of developing a friendship or widening a networking relationship with someone in or around my field.

With Facebook, there’s a simple reason for the wall. I use Facebook to share my personal information. I share pictures of my wife, my kids, and my closest friends. It’s my private space. Ha, it’s my space.

Twitter on the other hand, is a completely different beast for me. I find myself constantly squabbling with myself over whether or not I should be following everyone that follows me first. And so at the same time, I have to set my expectations on other people following me just because I followed them first.

Listen, I’m all for following people out of kindness and reciprocity. But the more users that fill up my Twitterstream with nonsense, the less I follow the stream. I originally fell in love with Twitter because of the amazing content that was steadily delivered to Tweetdeck.

I felt like I was getting smarter by spending lunch at my desk eating and reading Twitter. Now, as I follow more people, I don’t really feel the same way. I feel like I’m wearing waders and searching for post-rush gold.

So, what I’ve been doing as of late is checking out every single person’s Twitterstream that follows me, if only for 5-10 seconds. I look long enough to read the bio, check a handful of Tweets, and maybe 50% of the time I click on their URL to see what sort of stuff they write about (or design).

Twitter ProfileHere are the things I’m looking for:

  • Humor
  • Links
  • Information relative or useful to me
  • Retweets and @replies
  • Engaging gravatar (lets me know the person has a good idea what they’re doing)
  • People I recognize in their followers list

Here are the things I try to avoid:

  • Rudeness
  • Tweets about the sandwich you just ate
  • Pointless rambling
  • An entire list filled with only “New blog post: How to make your Mac look like D.A.R.Y.L.”
  • Following 1995 people, with only 32 people following back
  • Under 10 posts (unless they are totally brand new, and those 10 pass the criteria in the first list)

I would say that 75% of the people make the cut. I mean, really, the list of things that I’m trying to avoid are pretty basic. I just don’t want to fill up my Twitterstream with useless nonsense, and since I’m not trying to win any popularity contests or prepping for Magpie ad insertions, the size of my following is far less important to me than it’s quality.

I expect that someone has followed me because they enjoy what I’m adding to the larger conversation. If they aren’t and are just baiting me for reciprocation, I don’t mind if they unfollow. I still don’t think I’ve unfollowed someone once because they hadn’t followed me back, and I don’t plan on starting to do so anytime soon.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining (or starting) the conversation by leaving a comment below. Thank you kindly.

What Did You Want To Be When You Growed Up?

Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing with your life? Are you happy with where you’re at? Do you have any regrets about the decisions that you’ve made? Many of us end up down far different career paths than what we envisioned for ourselves. While it’s not necessary that you follow that path your 10 year-old mind set out for you so many years ago, it is important to remember that you can (and should) always try to seek out the same level of joy and satisfaction you anticipated for yourself when you were younger.

All kids have dreams

I can remember as far back as five or six years-old telling people that I wanted to be a dad and a professional baseball player when I grew up. I worked at being a baseball player very hard as a kid along with all of the other sports you play like soccer, basketball and football, but baseball was clearly my love. Once I got to high school, I ditched the other sports and started playing year round.

After a mediocre high school career and my first long bout with tendonitis before my senior season, I went on to play college ball at University of Redlands, and majored in everything in the first two years: International Relations, Accounting, Economics, a minor in Chinese, etc. After a great sophomore season (easily the best in my life), I decided to transfer to a better baseball program and a school where I could study my lifelong love of architecture more seriously.

For some strange reason, I changed my mind and returned to Redlands days before classes started and quit baseball to focus on my education. In hindsight, walking away from baseball is the only regret I have in my life, albeit it a minor regret (I don’t really believe in the word, but perhaps that’s an entirely different article). Either way, this decision started things in motion that have brought me to where I am now.

There is life after the dreams change

During my sophomore season, one of my buddies was a transfer from Montana who was about as bright as they come. He was a writer, and since I’d always fancied myself the same, I kinda jumped in his back pocket and joined the campus weekly as a staff writer.

After baseball, I wrote much more extensively for the paper, and really started to feel strongly about my course of study. I was terribly interested in anthropology, environmental studies, and of course, writing. I rolled them all together and majored in Ecological Anthropology, with a minor in writing.

My senior year kicked off early and halfway around the world on the small islands of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Tanzania, East Africa. I was writing correspondence articles from abroad, and studying marine biology and coastal ecology with the trailblazing group of American students (the first group to live in Zanzibar).

My life began to feel focused. I was sure that a master’s degree, PHD work, and an academic future lie ahead. I could feel everything starting to come together.

Upon my return home, I took over as editor-in-chief of The Bulldog Weekly at Redlands, and began my education in Adobe programs as I helped transition the newspaper to a fully digital pre-press operation.

I had no idea that I was beginning my career in those late night editing and layout sessions.

Graduation brought with it a whole new level of confusion and question all surrounding the main theme: “What’s next?” I didn’t want to go back to school immediately, and I decided that temping at Wells Fargo, part-time shifts at Trader Joe’s, and healthy amounts of drunken frisbee golf would be the best bet.

Life was going smoothly until about December, when my first college loan payment notice arrived. Two nights later I stood up at a coffee shop – after probably 48 hours straight searching for editing positions, layout jobs, staff writer openings – and asked if anyone in the room needed a designer. I realized my incoming cash flow was not going to pay the bills, and was willing to do just about anything to find a job that I wanted to work.

Okay, so I’m a designer

Oddly, someone said “yeah, actually, we are looking for a junior designer right now.” I laughed, and double-checked to make sure that the guy wasn’t pulling my leg. But sure enough, he was serious. I interviewed a few days later, and started the job the following week. I’ve called myself a designer ever since.

I didn’t go to school for design. Even though I nearly transferred after my sophomore year to enter architecture school, and have sketched my entire life, I have no formal design education.

So, as soon as I started my career, I started reading HOW Design Magazine, devoured books by Steven Heller, Milton Glaser, and Paul Rand. I read on Helvetica, about Bauhaus, and fell in love with the institution of design. Without classes on color theory, grid, and typographic basics, I felt naked at times. My designs exposed my weaknesses, and I often cursed my inabilities to translate my ideas and concepts into well-executed design.

While I was able to get along and ultimately succeed without a design education, I’m not suggesting that is the right path for everyone. In fact, it’s an uphill battle for years and years without one. You have to constantly be improving and learning.

My career path since those early days slinging Photoshop for minimum wage (literally) has been filled with ups and downs. I’ve had a blast to be sure, and have learned a ton. I have since had a chance to contribute on a variety of articles about design, and a few years back had a chance to be interviewed by the first designer I ever read back in 1997, Steven Heller. That was the point when I felt like I’d arrived as a designer.

As for the original dreams?

I started playing competitive adult baseball a few years back, and really loved being back on the diamond. There’s something in me that just purrs when I get to compete physically. My soul really had a chance to heal playing baseball for the better part of 6 years, from the spring of 2001 until the fall of 2006.

I’m now married as well, and have two beautiful kids and a third on the way.

While slightly modified, my dreams as a five year-old have been reached. Being a father is the most important thing in my life, and I fill my need for competition and sports by staying active and by writing on Bleacher Report. I didn’t ever get to be a professional baseball player, but had I continued playing I can very safely say that I would not be where I am today. And I could not be happier where I’m at.

I did go back to school, to UCLA for a master’s degree, but that was put on hold when I started working at (mt) back in 1999. Someday, I plan to return, finish my degree and work towards that goal of becoming a professor some day.

Please, share your stories about your first jobs and what got you there. Did you take a critical path to get where you are (that is to say, for example, let’s take a designer: high school art classes to design school, intern with an ad agency, and climb the design ladder)? There’s no right answer. Share your experience and maybe you’ll have someone reply that you’re telling their story. It’s fun to find kinship in common experience.

The One Thing To Work On

“We shall never have more time. We have, and always had, all the time there is. No object is served in waiting until next week or even until tomorrow. Keep going… Concentrate on something useful.” - Arnold Bennett

I was sitting down to write a response to ChrisBrogan’s article, “12 Things to Stop Doing in 2009“, when my answers started to develop a trend. When I whittled each of my 6 things (I decided to stop and write this article instead) down to their core, it looked the same for each: procrastination.

If I look down the last 15-20 years of my life, through the first decade of my career, through college, even through my high school years, procrastination is responsible for probably 90% of my frustrations. At this point in my life, I’ve learned how to work through the habits at work, largely, but at home and in my personal life it’s been a more uphill battle.

I am the king of “in a little bit” or “I don’t know when…later”. Which has to be quite frustrating to my wife, kids, parents, and friends. I know the fine art of self-rationalization too well, and will be working against years and years of habitual repetition breaking the cycles.

I’m realizing that I spend too much useless time on the computer, without a specific goal or focus for my non-work time on the computer. I need to work on staying focused, reading, making comments, writing, and getting out. I think I could make my non-work computer use much more productive.

So this year, instead of putting together some long list about eating better, working out more, and taking more time each day to smell the roses, I’m just going to work on procrastinating less. Because, for me, so many of the things that I would write about will happen more often if I just do the things that need to be done, instead of always putting them off for later.

I’m not going to put it off by reading a GTD book before getting started either, though I somehow think that would really help. I know I’ll put that off though, and keep myself hovering. For me, procrastination is about three different things:

  1. Putting things off until later, the obvious piece of the equation
  2. Getting stuck in thought – I will start to think about a task and/or its pieces and get lost in thought, and totally forget to do what needed to be done in the first place
  3. Thinking that somehow I need to rest in front of the television or computer screen because of how hard I work everyday. It’s true, I am a hard worker, and do run around from morning ’til night, every day. But, getting things off of my plate frees me up mentally and emotionally, thereby reducing my stress level far more significantly than an hour of television. This is something I need to remind myself of constantly.

Maybe over time I’ll have to enlist a GTD program like Backpack (which I already use, but just not in a GTD way or with that level of precision) or Omni Focus. But for now, I’m going to just get started trying to stay in action as much as possible. Starting, right now.