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The Negative Path to Happiness and Creative Pursuits

Positive thinking make you cringe? Hate self-help, or worse, addicted to it and can’t stop the cycle of elation and despair that accompanies the reading of these “reframing” texts?  There may be an “antidote.”

Oliver Burkeman tackles this problem head-on in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking  and may have a solution for the rest of us.  Personally, I have to admit I keep going back to those books, looking for that positive psychology fix but knowing ultimately it doesn’t hold for long. Lately, with a few life-altering life events, disasters, and other general chaos, I’ve realized that there’s no way around uncertainty.  There may be some underlying order to the chaos, but we don’t really seem to have access to that order for the most part, and embracing the uncertainty instead of trying to make our lives fit the mold seems to be the best way to combat the eternal stress that otherwise accompanies us on our trek.

Burkeman went around the world looking for examples of cultures and individuals who took the downward path to happiness, and he found some surprising results.  Check out the following video introducing the concept of his book:

You may be wondering what this has to do with business. The reason I posted this here on the Royal Pain blog is that I think the premise upheld in this book, that “learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure” (as Burkeman writes in The Guardian),  can help us with that ever-elusive pursuit of happiness and boost our creativity in life and work.

IMO, it frees us up to try new things, take that creative or entrepreneurial dive into the unknown, or take our businesses or our creative pursuits to the next level.  Maybe it’s the equivalent of saying, “ Screw it!” and going for whatever kernel of an idea you had instead of brooding over it in fear that it won’t work out.  Maybe this book should be the bible of the startup movement.

In any case, even just thinking about the premise makes me feel a little more at ease.  I’m not a failure because I can’t maintain positive thinking indefinitely.  And neither are you.  And if you are a failure at something else, so be it!  Roll around in it, let it cover you like catnip, and run into the next big idea, taking everything you learned on the way down with you.

Inspired by a post on, Against Positive Thinking: Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness:


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Daniel Pink Talks About Motivation and Purpose

Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, A Whole New Mind, and Drive gives a great TED Talk on motivation and business.  He’s a riveting speaker, and the 18 mins of video fly by.  Even if you’re not running a business, it’s useful to understand where we get our motivation from and what a large discrepancy there is between science and business on this subject (and likely many others).

Basically, Pink argues quite well that rewards don’t work on creativity.  We need to tap into autonomy, mastery, and purpose to get innovative results from ourselves and others.  He brought up Google’s 20%, the time allotted to each employee to work on personal projects, as well as several other examples of companies gaining from trusting their employees to be passionate about what they do and bring their work and outside creative impulses together to make business better.  It’s really worth taking a look/listen, especially if you are a company that employs creatives in any capacity.

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Small Business Identity Crisis: The Genius of Landing Pages

Ever find that as a business, you have multiple personalities? That you can’t claim just one type of audience and you don’t know how to address these disparities, these fragments of identity that keep you from being able to write to one type, or have your web site formality set up to attract one type?

This is a common problem in business, especially small business.  Small businesses don’t feel they have a big enough operation to set up landing pages and separate sites or areas for each type of audience.   How will people know where to go? they say.  It’s hard enough getting them to my web site in the first place. 

Sometimes you can write to a variety of audiences, and provide content that resonates with all of them – like Web developer freelancers and CIOs, or teenage girls and their mothers.  But sometimes it just doesn’t work. 

If you sell cakes, you’re not going to appeal to brides and parents of little kids on the same page – unless your audience is

Optimus Prime Cake: More Than Meets the- Naah. Too Cheesy.

like my best friend, who had a Snork cake at her wedding.  You need landing pages to appeal to these specialized audiences, so you can provide your bride with beautiful wedding cake photos that evoke the emotions of her special day, and tout your partnership program with the florist next door who makes the most ethereal arrangements.  The Dad on the Run looking for the perfect Transformers cake for his 6-year-old, a man who wouldn’t know “fondant” if it hit him in the face, will not stay long enough on your Web site to find your Optimus Prime masterpiece if he sees a bunch of frilly wedding sculptures tufted with pearls.  You get the picture.

5-Step crash course in targeted vertical marketing.

  1. So you set up tabs on your web site, and link to them all clearly, with photos if possible, on your home page.  Make the navigation easy as pie, or cake.  Fill your lovely targeted pages with copy and content directed only at the audience for that page.  Have your main navigation bar always visible on the side to help others find what they need if that page doesn’t have it (help Dad discover Optimus instead of Bridezilla).
  2. Write about your various skills in your blog and create categories with lots of keyword tags.  Register your blog on Technorati and hook it up to a Twitter feed, if you have the time to post something to Twitter (or “tweet”) an average of once a day.
  3. You research keywords on the Internet and find out what people are searching for – bless you Google Keywords Tool – then you put some of those keywords on your pages along with great, educational, informative content.  In your own style.  Polished but approachable. 
  4. If you post any ads online, link them to special landing pages just for those customers (your designer will know how to do this, or you can just set up a separate tab in your blog or on the site template and DIY), and add in a promotional code you can track or a coupon they can print and bring in, so you know it’s working. 
  5. Measurement is important (see step 4), which is why you should also visit Google Analytics and register your site so you can look at who is visiting your page, where they are coming from, and how long they stay.  Then you can play around with the site and see if more videos, more photos, or different headlines make a difference. 


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Chris Brogan’s Batman Formula for Branding

Chris Brogan’s blog post Personal Branding Basics for 2011 offers pop culture pearls of wisdom for both individuals and businesses, managing to work in Batman as metaphor and, in contrast (or perhaps not), a little Madonna for effect – she is the quintessential brand reinventor of pop culture and a superhero to some Gen X ladies, after all.  It’s an entertaining read even if you’re not into branding, but the post reminds us of some important considerations regarding names (not gimmicks), content, action, and tools – as in not getting overly caught up in the tools you use to put yourself out there.

I am Batman

I am Batman, by Thomas Hawk on Flickr

Brogan’s formula for success is common sense, but contains elements and calculations we often forget in the mad rush to keep up with the Big Brands. And there’s an overarching theme about helping others, which is already a focus for many community-oriented businesses and individuals out there, but still isn’t the overarching principle it should be in the 21st century, given all our talk about talented free agents, right-brained thinkers, cultural creatives, and other revolutionaries.

Probably the most important bit of advice from Brogan: Figure out your promise and execute.  That means action, and not a lot of talking about action.  Doing can be a problem for many folks, especially in businesses that require multitudes of checks and balances and that have a hard time with transparency (e.g., not letting employees on Facebook for fear of what they’ll say).  And we all talk about that novel we’re “working on” that never quite comes to fruition.  Maybe it’s perfectionism, but this market moves at light speed and if we think too long about acting, the opportunity evaporates.

Speaking of light and speed, Brogan points out, “Batman showed up every time the signal was lit. He seemed to be everywhere to stop crime and to build momentum on the fact that crime wasn’t a good idea in Gotham City.” So act on your promise and be everywhere.  Great advice for anyone, individual or company.  And Batman’s a stellar role model, maybe minus the vengeance thing.

So here’s the formula:

“You want to crush it in branding?” says Brogan.  “Focus on:

1. experimenting to improve your abilities,
2. executing to bring your promise into the real world, and
3. telling stories by making useful media to build relationships with your buyers and supporters.

That’s where you’ll see your rewards. Repeat, repeat, repeat.”  No rinsing required.  Armored rubber suit optional.

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Creativity – Not Just For Marketing Budgets

Creativity is the crux of business marketing and operations right now.  People have been forced to get creative in all sorts of ways with the economic crunch, from free advertising to DIY projects.  But this effort shouldn’t end with ways to save money.  With so much competition for business, the ones who win the pot, so to speak, will be the businesses and entrepreneurs that stand out in creative ways. 

This means brainstorming new methods for capturing attention, from starting a blog with personality to inventive contests and promotions.  This means putting your brand “out there” a little more through public speaking engagements with the Chamber of Commerce or hosting events on subjects of importance to you.  It means starting a social media campaign if you don’t already have one, because if you’re not listening to the buzz and getting your name out, someone else who is may soon be taking your customers. 

To stand out in a crowd like this one, you have to be willing to risk putting your authentic self or business brand – what you and your company really stand for – at the forefront of the whirlwind of activity in the marketplace.  Because there is just too much noise right now to go about it any other way, and it will probably only get more crowded.  But being part of your community and getting in front of people both physically and virtually will gain you loyalty and trust, the biggest prize of all.  So sit down with your team (or yourself) and start brainstorming some creative ideas for getting your name in metaphorical lights – or actual ones if that’s what it takes!

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Email Marketing Primer

Email marketing can be a great place to start to stay in touch with your customers or donors on a grassroots level, especially if you’re old school and are still learning some of the social media tools – or your customer base isn’t likely to be on any of the new sites.  But many people don’t know where to start with email.  The best place?  Your current customer list.

image by renjith krishnan/

Permission-based email marketing is the rule these days, and you need to have a prior relationship with people you email to avoid violating CAN-SPAM laws.  Sounds scary, but it’s not really so bad.  CAN-SPAM, or Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (whew!), is Congress’s method of protecting citizens from spam and governs email and other marketing contact.  Most of the time we are glad for the rule, when we’re on the other end of the email.  But if you start by sending to your current customers, you meet this rule head on with no worries.  And you can end up growing your list through WOM (word of mouth), the best way to do it anyway.  So start with who you know, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

The second consideration is content.  You have to have something worth reading, or you may end up in the junk mailbox despite your best efforts.  No need to fear this part.  Basically, marketing now is about providing education and resources and starting a conversation with your customers.  You do this anyway every time you do business, so go with what you know here.  Chat up your customers, and tell them a little about what you know.  Be a tease, and lead them back home to mama (or papa) where the motherload of knowledge resides.  That’s you if you weren’t following the parental metaphor….

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Small Business Networking

Here is a tip for you small businesses trying to cut back on marketing dollars while still getting your name out there.  We’ll add more tips in the future, but this one is important and you can do it continually while working other forms of marketing into your day:

Network: We’re not talking about conferences and association events, though those help, too.  Network where you are.  Talk to the other moms at day care, the families at church, the guy you play disc golf with. Don’t push your business, but get to know people wherever you go and eventually it will come up: “So what do you do?”

Chances are, your friend knows someone who knows someone who needs your services.  It happens all the time.  It’s called “stirring the pot.”   Do it.

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