Back to the Blog – The 5 Things That I Love About Blogging

Summer is officially over.  Kids are back at school finishing the end of their 3rd week. Time to get back writing the blog.  I have missed it, but with the busy schedules of the summer it was a nice break.  One of my goals this summer was to be outside as much as possible, and taking a break from the chains of my laptop was a big help in making that happen.

I am refreshed after three months.  I have overcome my lack of ideas which was plaguing me in June.  I have created a mental list of “breakthrough” content and I can’t wait to pour it onto the screen.  Oh wait, when I open the WordPress template this morning, and try to figure out where to start, nothing.  Nothing at all.  How can this be?  Where did all of those late night ideas go, or the ones I had while on the mountain bike trail this summer.  Lost in the land of writers block.  Nothing.

So, the only place for me to start is by reminding myself why I do this.  Here are my top five reasons why I blog.  Let’s hope that this helps me remember that I do love it.

  1. It makes me grateful for what I have in my life.  When writing, I often step back and think about all of the good things around me.  When I am going at 100mph daily, it is so easy to overlook the all of the good around me.
  2. It allows me a vehicle for creative expression.  I have an amazing team at work, and because they are so great, I don’t get to play in the work as much.  Good problem to have, but the blog becomes necessary.
  3. It is something that I do for me.  Given my job, my kids, my husband my family and my friends filling up the time in my life, I rarely do things just for me.  I am realizing this may be a little ironic assuming that someone out there is probably reading this.
  4. It allows me to think further out than just about today.  Often in reflecting about what to write, I take a longer view of life than normal.  When writing, I am not worried about today or tomorrows schedule but instead focusing on something in the future.
  5. It helps me to open up.  I was reading an article today about 5 Habits That Are Destroying Your Ability To Lead.  The first one of these is about “Isolating Yourself.”  Isolation as a leader can take many forms – from physical to mental to emotional.  I never intend to isolate myself from my team, but sometimes schedule makes it happen.  I find that when I write, it helps me become ready to be open with my team and takes some of my personal walls down.

So, it is worth it.  It is worth the writers block and the frustration associated with ideas not flowing.  It is worth directing my small amount of personal time this direction.  At least, that is my conclusion for now.  Stay tuned as I am sure that over the next few weeks as I get back in the swing of things, you may find me writing a blog titled the “5 things I Hate About Blogging”.  But, for now, my commitment is to stick with it!

Embracing the Builder in Me

    This week someone asked me how I would characterize myself.  What a question!?!  Not something that you ask a person like me lightly.  What it caused me to do was to reflect on what is now almost a 39 year old life, a 17 year career, an almost 13 year marriage and the last 5 years as a mother.  

    Is it possible to characterize what I am known for with a phrase or a statement?  I wonder if it can be that simple.  How can I package this life I have lived into a statement without being trite or oversimplifying the wonderful complexity that has been my life.  After a few moments of skepticism and frustration, it came to me.  

    I am a builder.  

    A builder of things:  kiddos, relationships (including the longest, best one with Jon), teams, businesses, marketing programs, friendships and most recently a house.  You name it, I like building it.  One of the profound things you realize when you are building a house is that through a series of micro-choices (the floor plan, the materials selection, the fixtures, the lighting) a house is formed.  It is amazing how relevant this is to life!!  A series of small (and some big choices) help to create the life that you want.  Sometimes those choices feel big – like whether to have kids – and sometimes they feel small – like getting out of bed to go to the gym in the morning.  Either way, they help to determine who you are as a person.  

    So, as a builder, what is the next thing that I will build?  Our house wraps up this summer, my team at work is in great shape, my kids appear to be normal, well-adjusted, kind little beings (at least most of the time), and Jon and I have met a number of the goals that we set out to accomplish.  Enter the problem!  I can’t seem to sit in this new so-called house (otherwise known as my life) that I have buit, and enjoy things.  I am always on the look out for the next thing to build…something to harness my creativtity and the perspective I have learned from all of the other building projects I have completed.    

    This creates mental disonance.  A feeling like I am not living in the moment, but instead, always looking toward the next project.  This evening, as I sit contemplating that next project, I have decided instead of being frustrated by being a builder, I will embrace my pursuit of the next thing.  It is just a matter of picking it wisely.  

    Commitments: Leading Change Within My Organization

    So often in my career, I have seen the best ideas get sidelined, smart risks not taken, and current organizational inertia stop the momentum of truly important business initiatives.  I sit here wondering what makes this happen, in hopes to prevent it in my current organization.

    A story tells way more than me pontificating on the philosophy of change.  When I worked at Procter & Gamble, in our Cosmetics division, being a brand manager required a heavy dose of analytics and core business strength.  I had recently moved over from a finance background, so this played to my strengths.  Several months into the job, as I was learning more about the business, and felt more comfortable about understanding my new job, I realized that the sales trend in one of our product lines was dismal.  Given the complexity of our business, this wasn’t an obvious conclusion.  We had been shipping in product to our retailers, and sell-thru was horrible.  The product had been on the market for about a year, and we needed an intervention, and quickly.  The great thing about being a marketer is that it is my job was to figure out and recommend how to fix it, in partnership with my sales peers.  I knew it would be an uphill battle to invest more behind the product, but despite that we came up with a strong marketing plan with general advertising, retail promotion and a sampling plan.  And, after proposing a relative affordable and conservative plan to our executive leadership, we got the fastest no that I had ever experienced.

    Why?  I am sure there was a lot to the “no” that I couldn’t see, but as I reflect on it, much of it had to do with organizational inertia.  We did not make investment decisions lightly as a company.  The degree of analytical rigor needed to gain alignment, and proof in return-on-investment, made most initiatives get stopped in their tracks.  Our then president, had built a number of systems and process stage-gates that decisions must move through.  In the process, needed change didn’t often happen.  The organization was brilliant at change management, but in an effort to “manage” the change, great decisions were getting left behind.

    It is so easy to fall in this trap as a leader.  Sometimes we want to control things versus empowering ideas.  The more I am in my current job, the more I find myself spending my free time thinking about how to unleash ideas.  My organization is built to deliver results, and sometimes we hold ourselves a little too accountable, with a little too much rigor, and thus miss the creativity and the idea flow needed to drive future success.

    At this stage in my career and my job, I recognize both the strength in the “change management” skill but also the need for “change leadership.”  John Kotter, the resident expert in the topic, describes the difference in these two skills in an article that i read years ago.  One of my favorite quotes in the article is about change leadership as an engine.

    “Change leadership is much more associated with putting an engine on the whole change process, and making it go faster, smarter, more efficiently.”   – John Kotter

    As leaders, if we think of our role in change leadership as finding the right change, and adding the engine through our people, we will accomplish so much for our teams and our companies.  With this will come failure, and lots of learning, but hopefully a lot more success.  So, my commitment for this evening is to lead change within my organization.

    Don’t Ever Stop Creating Your Story

    “And, I am a 13 year old cheetah and you are my mommy cheetah and Dad is my daddy cheetah and I am playing with my brother cheetah.”

    “And, I am at a work meeting and on the phone and you are my daughter and you wonder what I am up to.”

    “And, I am a mommy and I just had a baby and I am taking care of her and you are helping me.”

    “And, I am a skier girl and I like to do jumps and the trees are hard and I love to ride Bonanza.”


    The wonder of a child’s mind.  Our little Katharine loves to pretend and to tell stories.  We even have a storybook on my computer where she types her own stories (keep in mind, can’t read or write).  More than anything I love the diversity of her story.  One moment her mind is thinking of being at work, another moment a cheetah, occasionally she dreams of walking in the rain with her pink umbrella, and the next moment skiing fast down a hill.  As we get older, we sometimes forget that we can dream and create stories about so many different things.  Katharine brings me joy through her stories and helps me remember that I can keep creating mine.

    My Top 10 Lessons in Making Organizational Change Succeed

    This week at work I heard the phrase “just because you didn’t plan well, that doesn’t make it my emergency.”  It brought me back to my last job where seemingly everything was an emergency due to lack of planning. We were launching 300-400 different products every year and most of them got out the door only with sheer grit and determination at the 11th hour.  There was no plan on what to launch, why to launch a particular product and how to launch the products successfully.  They had been amazingly successful despite this based on some amazing products and an amazing team who was committed to putting in the effort required to make it happen despite the barriers in their way.  This approach brought a lot of good:  a camaraderie within the team, a commitment level within the people to succeed, and an amazing creative spirit to solve what seemed to be unsurmountable problems.  With those good things, came many bad: higher costs of manufacturing, excess inventory costs, incomplete retail launch plans due to insufficient time, ineffective marketing plans given limited lead time for planning and perhaps most importantly – organizational stress and pain.

    So, the senior leadership team set on a journey to introduce business and marketing plans to this team.  And, when I say journey, I mean journey…an ever-winding journey.  Our goal was to evolve to a company with a plan so that our launches would be more successful and our business more successful.  We talked a lot about doing this while maintaining the strengths that the organization demonstrated throughout its history.  It sounded good, and per all of the business school lessons and the experience our management team had in prior companies, it should’ve worked.

    What I underestimated, and can only see clearly in arrears, is how the culture of this company impacted the degree of change that would be accepted.  The culture was built as an entrepreneurial startup team – doing anything needed to make things successful.  It was built for variety, unpredictability and wacky, late stage brilliant ideas winning the day.  Even the slightest move toward an annual operating plan felt so imposing to this team.  Their skills were not set up to succeed in this environment and it not only felt overwhelming, but it did the exact opposite of what we desired.  We simply doubled the pain.  Now, there was a fair amount of organizational stress and strife about the product planning process in addition to the stress (and cost) we incurred for late-stage changes that put our shipment dates at risk.  So – double the pain, no gain.

    Ultimately this journey was one of the factors that made me leave this job.  Sitting here 5 years later, after hearing someone refer this week to a lack of planning driving unnecessary organizational stress and cost, I wonder out loud (is that possible on a blog?) what lessons I have learned (mostly through mistakes) in the last five years about introducing change into a team or company.  Nothing like a list to make you think about it.

    My top 10 lessons in Change Management:

    1. Don’t underestimate the story of an organization. This story often time helps you uncover the culture, the values that the team lives by and the strengths the organization has to help you succeed.
    2. That said, don’t be scared of change.
    3. If people don’t understand the reason for the change, the context as to why it is important, and they don’t buy-in, the change will not be broadly successful.
    4. Just because something is written in a textbook or theoretically the right thing to do, doesn’t mean it will work.
    5. Having a plan is important….being willing to adjust the plan as it meets barriers is essential.
    6. Creating allies in your change, particularly those with high organizational influence, is critical for your success.
    7. Don’t just change for change’s sake. You don’t have to make your impact through large change and innovation. Strength is often found in accepting what already is and making minor improvements that drive high value.
    8. Be inquisitive in everything that you do.  There is most often a great rationale for why things are as they are, and understanding this rationale will help necessary change be adopted more smoothly.
    9. Every person accepts change through the lens of their personality. Identifying an individual’s state of mind and meeting each where they enter a conversation on change will help reduce fear of change.
    10. There isn’t one way things should happen. Your way is often wrong, and can be made better through leveraging the strengths of the people around you.

    Commitments: Create Space for New Ideas

    This week I was at the CMO Club Summit in Beverly Hills. It is a great event, drawing 150+ heads of marketing from across the country for a few days of networking, inspiration and learning from each other. This is the second time I have attended, and something I am excited to continue to be a part of in future years.

    One of my favorite sessions was one from novelist and screenwriter Justine Musk on “Finding Your Creative Voice.” Justine authors a blog that I have followed for sometime about embracing your creative badass. During her time at the CMO club event, she spent time discussing the hero and the heroine’s journey in a story. You can find her take on it in a recent post.. One thing that really stood out for me was in her account of the heroine’s journey. She spoke of how the heroine goes internal to her (or his) own space to to deal with whatever internal demons are there, and emerges in a better place. She describes this journey in a story as enclosure, transformation and re-emergence. Gender aside, Justine shared that as a heroie goes to this private place to think it is a place of “creative incubation.”

    This speaks so much to me because I feel like to truly accomplish creative solutions in my job and my life, it takes me moving into a quiet, internal place of my own to be able to think clearly and to figure things out. Often times I find this quiet (internal) spot on my mountain bike, at the gym, or when traveling alone. However most times, I find that I crave for more time in my “own” place. This could be the ultimate example of marketing meeting motherhood. I need that place to think both for my success as a marketer, my own sanity as well as to be a better mom. And.there.just.isn’t.time. Or at least that is how it feels.

    So my commitment for this evening is to create space (time) for new ideas and for my own transformation of ideas to happen so that I (as a heroine) re-emerge with strength. I don’t know how I am going to make this happen, but it needs to happen. I need my creative incubator running. Continue reading

    Commitments: Staying Fresh

    How do you stay fresh amongst an ever changing marketing landscape?  I was reading a number of things this week regarding programmatic buying.  I am amazed at the speed of change in marketing as well as the amount of content written about it (insert irony as I am writing about it!).  It made me think a lot about staying fresh.  It is so hard to do while trying to spend my day doing my day job – or at least what I perceive as my day job.  On a daily basis, I pride myself in linking what we do in marketing to sales results.  I often worry that by spending my time so focused on analyzing this linkage makes me and my team too focused in the past.  All the while the future is being scripted through change in the marketing landscape.  Welcome to my mental dilemma.

    So, I am channeling my inner problem-solver, and here is what I am going to do…

    Listen to my customer:  No matter the change in the marketing landscape, one thing never changes….what my customer needs, we should deliver.  Without listening, it is impossible for our marketing, and ultimately the products and services we sell to deliver.

    Ask more questions that I ever have:  I love inquisitiveness.  That said, sometimes it is easy to get lazy versus to ask why.  With enough questions, I learn from every encounter and experience more than I ever could another way.

    Read everything for real:  Sometimes in light of my busy life, and my short attention span, I skim.  The number of content outlets, particularly Twitter, just makes this worse.  There is so much to consume and not enough time to consume it.  So, instead of the skimming, I am committing to really reading again.  This almost makes me giggle just writing it.

    Look for inspiration in the unlikely:  An Executive Creative Director I know preaches to look for creativity in the ordinary.  My version of this is looking for great marketing in the unlikely.  This evening while watching a movie with my kids (from Disney’s Fairy series), the power of marketing was crazy.  Matthew (my two year old) told me in his toddler-speak, “Mommy, me go to magic kingdom.”  Say what?!?!  How does he know this already?

    Discuss:  Per a previous post of mine, often time the best ideas come through discussion.  I am surrounded by smart people every day, and to talking about marketing with them and what is or isn’t changing can help sharpen my point of view.

    I am committing this evening to staying fresh and making this a part of my day job.

    Commitments: Creativity Through Discussion

    Today I was able to attend a meeting with my creative team brainstorming ideas to make one of our conventions impactful for the physicians who will be attending, while helping to grow our business.  I loved the vibe…we were all standing amongst an open, collaboration space; bringing ideas to the table; laughing and being serious all at the same time.  I was reminded of the good that can come when you allow boundaries to drop, don’t bring a perceived right answer to the table, and allow for freedom of thought and discussion.  It reminded me of a quote from a great book I read earlier this year and am thinking that I need to go back to study again:  Creativity, Inc.:  Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration.

    “Frank talk, spirited debate, laughter, and love. If I could distill a Braintrust meeting down to its most essential ingredients, those four things would surely be among them.” – Ed Catmull

    Catmull uses this book to share the lessons he learned as the co-founder of Pixar as they grew from an idea to a widely successful movie studio.  He is passing on great advice to those of us who want to bring creativity into business every day.  These Braintrust meetings were a gathering of most talented minds at Pixar that reviewed projects and ideas to help make them successful.  What I love about this quote, and what I felt today in my meeting was the collective group of brains that were coming together to make something better.  What made this stand out is that so often I feel like within my marketing team individuals feel like their idea is the best idea.  They have a lack of willingness to share their idea for fear of it being taken, critiqued, or worst-case shelved.  Todays meeting, and the fundamental premise of the Braintrust concept, is that ideas flourish with discussion, debate and commitment from individuals to deliver excellent work.  So, a commitment for the week.  Build a culture on my team that encourages creativity through discussion.  Help people learn to realize the strength in sharing their ideas so that the ideas become better.