I came across this speech by John W. Gardner today. I don’t often get stopped in my tracks by speeches from nearly 25 years ago, but when Harvard Business Review posted an article on lifelong learning, my curiosity was piqued. I was rewarded by this beautiful speech that inspired me to live with purpose, meaning and interest. The quote below is just a snippet of the full speech, which is worth the time you will spend reading it and digesting its meaning.
I read a great article on Agency Post today about seeing yourself as a partner in your client’s business, rather than as a vendor. Partners are fully vested in the business, will put in the extra hours needed to let it succeed, and will allow their minds to dwell on creative options to solve everyday challenges. Partners will have “Eureka!” moments in the shower. Vendors, on the other hand, do not. They provide a service or an engagement and walk away.
Our companies have always approached clients as partners without actually using those terms. That focus on learning a new business and truly wanting what is right for our client makes doing this worthwhile. It’s been said so many times that it is almost a cliche, but we fire bad clients. We really do. If we can’t fully endorse and evangelize for a brand, we let them go. We lose a little money in the short term, but the end result is a roster of clients we’d be happy to sit down to dinner with, in a manner of speaking.
The Agency Post article is worth taking the time to read. It has some good prompts of ways to engage with your client’s business and how to view yourself as a partner. While I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think that the principle holds true for a lot of things in life, too.
I’m at the point in life where I don’t have time to engage in activities or relationships that are counter-productive or meaningless. I want to invest my life in the things that matter, in deep relationships and creative passions. I want to take my faith seriously and not settle for a surface engagement with the people and places that prod me to do better and to rest in God more each day. I want to jump into creative pursuits that bring let me breathe and fly. I want to steward my health so that I have the depth of energy and physical ability to travel the world and see the sights that reduce me to tears. Most of all, I want the people I’m with day in and day out to know that they are integrally wound into my life, and I would go to the wall for them.
The vendor side of the equation holds true as well. There are moments in life when a client relationship or a personal one seems to be merely transactional. They are less than fulfilling, and barely register on the blip of my life screen. Choosing to view every engagement as a potential partnership, however, helps me reframe even those small moments in time as important and meaningful. Many of my relationships in life have started off as transactional moments, but they develop into a rich engagement over time.
Some quotes from the Agency Post Article
- “Those that treat their customers with respect also treat their service providers with respect. They’re the most successful. They’re the brands that people aspire to own, work for, and work with.”
- “Beyond respect comes the ability to take your client’s business personally. How their business does should matter to you personally. It should matter on a human level, not just on a financial level.”
- See the full article here
Blessed are those who make You their strength, for they treasure every step of the journey. On their way through the valleys they stop and dig wells to collect refreshing spring water, and the early rains fill the pools. They journey from place to place gaining strength along the way, until they meet God in Zion.
– Psalm 84:5-7 (The Voice translation)
On a recent airplane flight from LA to Hawaii I found myself without a book to read. My iPad mini was loaded with at least ten books in the “to be read” queue, but I was thinking about beaches and sunshine. I knew I needed a real, physical, old-fashioned book. Without much hope, I popped into the airport sundries shop and managed to strike gold.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, is one of those books that is likely to change my life over the course of the next year in ways I did not anticipate.
Bottom Line Premise: Once you stop trying to do it all, you can make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.
We are in a society with an over-abundance of choices. We have too many choices of how to spend our time, our money, our calories and our passion. Not only do we have too many choices, but we have too many really great choices and very few ways to escape the frenetic pace. The message in essentialism is not the minimalist, ascetic message of yesterday. It’s rather, a call back to conscious choice in how we invest ourselves in the world around us.
McKeown, after a discussion on the basic philosophy of essentialism, breaks the book down into exploring useful habits (escape, play, sleep etc. — all welcome topics when vacationing in Hawaii), eliminating non-essentials and executing a plan.
I took away several action points that we put into place almost immediately in our personal life and in our business:
- Get over the social awkwardness of saying “no” to social commitments or unwelcome business opportunities. You know the kind of thing I mean: the dinner you don’t really want to attend, or the job that is outside the sweet spot of your company’s profile.
- Add in healthy habits and schedule them. It sounds ridiculous, but my husband and I used to feel proud of our ability to be night owls, and almost ashamed of going to bed before midnight. Our daughters would poke fun at going to bed during “dork time,” as they called it. No more. Sleep really helps. Small habit change….huge payback.
- Add a buffer. Whether pricing jobs or booking a calendar, not scheduling everything so close to the edge provides huge peace of mind.
- Editing is one of the most important tasks of day-to-day life. As a writer I was already well-aware of the value of a great editor. Video productions pop with the right editing. The scenes left on the cutting-room floor are what create a truly great storyline. In life, as well, we need to edit. We need to edit our possessions, our activities, even our thoughts. One of the first suggestions McKeown makes is to go to the closet and eliminate some nonessential items, just to feel the lightness of letting go.
The author intersperses the benefits of essentialism throughout the book, but the last section highlights the increase in concentration, focus and flow you will reap from paring dow to the essentials. Well worth the read, and worth spending some time processing the true essentials in my own life. Not bad for an airport book!
Some quotes from Essentialism:
In order to have focus, we need to escape to focus.
Saying no is its own leadership capability. it is not just a peripheral skill. As with any ability, we start with limited experience. We are novices at “no.” Then we learn a couple of basic techniques. We make mistakes. We learn from them. We develop more skills. We keep practicing. After a while we have a whole repertoire available at our disposal, and in time we have gained mastery of a type of social art form. We can handle almost any request from almost anybody with grace and dignity. Tom Friel, the former CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, once said to me, “We need to learn the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no.’
An essentialist produces more — brings forth more — by removing more instead of doing more.
In life, disciplined editing can add to your level of contribution. It increases your ability to focus on and give energy to the things that really matter. It lends the most meaningful relationships and activities more space to blossom.
One of the perks of my job is getting to dive into our client’s businesses during the course of our work with them. I love our Discovery Process where we lead the clients through really fun exercises that lead to deep insights about their industry and their brand. In the process, our team gets to learn details about another industry from the inside out.
A favorite client of ours has been Farm Credit of Florida. It turns out that the Farm Credit system was established by the government back in 1916 to provide stability and financing to the agricultural industry. Nearing 100 now, Farm Credit has seen a lot of ups and down is in the business. And in Florida, apparently, times are good for farmers! From timberland to cattle grazing, farming is a good business investment in this state.
In recent years there has been a rise in multi-generational farming down here. Just when I thought family farming was dead! Nope! The next generation — the adults in their 20′s and 30′s — are coming back to the family farm and integrating new technology with their parent’s farming methods. Somehow this makes me happy, thinking about something so traditional adapting to the next generation and going strong.
Filming the local farms, however, made me realize that farming isn’t exactly what I had pictured. At least it isn’t in Florida! There were no red barns in sight, and the crops were grown under amazingly strict regulations. Did you know there are no animals allowed on a farm growing food products? Even birds are technically prohibited, though apparently there is no way to enforce the bird regulation. I also saw an errant alligator who technically wasn’t allowed to live in his canal…but who am I to complain?
So thankful to Whitworth Farms for opening up their fields to our team. Of all the video projects Visual Creatives has produced, this is my favorite.
Farm Credit of Florida — We Are Ag
And while you are in the farming mood, watch this trailer from the new Farmland movie!
I’ve spent a good chunk of my life telling stories in one form or another. What time I didn’t spend telling stories was spent reading them. I could consume good books at a rate that would have bankrupted my parents if I didn’t know where the library was! David likes the story of my 8 year old self declaring I was going to read the entire children’s library in my town of Belmont. I smile now, but I’m also proud of the fact I made it through the A’s and had made headway into the B’s before I realized I’d bitten off more than I could choose. Go ahead, ask me about Aardvarks, Ants, or the Appalachian Mountains.
These days I’m spending my days weaving different kinds of stories. We started a company recently called Visual Creatives, and it’s based on using “story” to communicate better, clarify what it is we are trying to say. It turns out story writing is sometimes called “branding” in the adult world. Who knew.
Stories have a lot of value, too. Jesus was a pro at knowing what kinds of stories would tug on heartstrings, or perhaps reveal a flawed and decaying heart. He knew how to hone his message down into a few simple words that pierced to the soul. Above all, Jesus always knew who his audience was, and who he was talking to.
That’s what we are doing for the Visual Creatives clients. We’re helping them see themselves clearly so that the stories they tell (their brand) are authentic and honest and have a purpose.
When I was a little girl reading those books in the back of the library, I didn’t realize I was setting the course of my life through high school, college, homeschooling and beyond. I didn’t realize that I was steeping myself in the dreams and forms I would need for my life. I did know, however, that I loved a good story.
I still do.
I sat outside on the hammock tonight, ignoring the incessant clatter of my to-do list. Since launching our new company (have you seen our Visual Creatives website yet? We’re really pleased with it!) these moments have been few and far between. Travel, connecting, doing, creating: these are the new words of my days.
But not tonight.
Tonight I sat and watched the one lone doggy left living in the house. I watched the branches of my favorite tree and realized they were a stage play of birds and squirrels locked in never-ending battle. I listened to the peacocks, haunting, but so familiar. I listened to the people sounds that intruded once in awhile. I sat and I remembered.
I remembered all the nights just like this one. Nights filled with swimming and fence gates swinging, back doors slamming.
It’s just all been so very good.