Creative (and other) Problems

Yesterday I noticed this painting while attending my daughter’s art show. It’s an open house for the art school as well as an opportunity for the students to showcase their work. It was done by a 15 year old which, in my opinion, was one of the best works on display.


What I like most about this painting is the message (intended or not) contained within the work. We’ve all heard of writer’s block, a condition among writers that prevents them from producing new work. It may also be safe to assume that artists also suffer a similar condition as evidenced by this painting. It’s also safe to say that we have all suffered from a similar condition. Artist or not, we have encountered a professional or personal moment of paralysis whereby we feel as if we cannot move forward.

This “problem” is not limited to the creative community but as we can see here perhaps there’s an opportunity to learn from the citizens of that community. As this artist has done so perfectly it may be time to turn these moments of defeat into moments of opportunity. You can almost envision this artist painting her way through the her “creative problem.”

The next time you hit the proverbial wall in whatever you do think about this artist and think about how to change that moment in time into a moment of opportunity. Write, post, capture, or develop your way through your problem, have faith in your abilities and maybe the product you produce will turn into a work of art.

*The painting was created by a student at the Kaizar School of Art. For more information on this image or the artist that created it please content them directly.


Making Something More out of “Going Global”

For the past 18 months I’ve been working on a globalization strategy on behalf of my company. Ultimately the strategy resulted in a partnership with a company based in Italy with dual headquarters in both Rome and Milan.

Our Guest Attends a Family Birthday Pary

In November 2010, the “Alliance” was ratified and our organizations began to work together; with our team traveling to Europe twice and members of their team coming to the United States last year. However, in between the email, Skype, virtual calls, business plans and time zones, an opportunity developed that has changed the meaning of “Going Global,” at least for me.
Several months ago a colleague from our global partner informed me that she would like to take her holiday here in the United States, working at our office for the entire month of August. Her plan was endorsed by her company but mostly driven by her own interest to learn our business from our perspective. She also insisted that her 20 yr. old daughter and husband remain at home. This was to be her experience.
She arrived this past weekend and is spending the first week in my home with my wife, my two daughters and my mother-in-law. We’ve only spent two days together but so far she’s been exposed to my niece’s sixth birthday party, my two daughters knocking on her door at 6:30 a.m., and a day in-the-life of me at work, which isn’t all that exciting.
Anyway, as we sat around the dinner table tonight, sharing stories of work, family, and of course, favorite dishes, it occurred to me that we, as a global community, have yet to integrate the “personal” element to going global. We’ve successfully discussed the notion of work-life balance across several disciplines; we’ve spent ample time on the diminishing walls between the public and private spheres; and we’ve embraced the notion of personal and professional brand and how they’ve almost become one. Yet, when we consider “going global” we rarely entertain the notion of how we can integrate the “personal” with our global colleagues to the point where it assists or strengthens our global strategy.
There was never a question that our colleague from across the Atlantic would stay at my home and the home of several members of our team. It’s the culture we’ve developed at our company – professional yet personal, and it’s what we prefer. However, and even after just under 48 hours, I’ve begun a journey toward gaining a better understanding and perspective on our global partnership, as well as our partnering company’s approach to business, through this personal approach; a perspective that could not possibly exist had this person not been in my home, with my family, under my roof.
I have never been involved in “Going Global” discussion or strategy session that has involved a mandatory colleague exchange program or an element, objective or tactic that included the “personal” piece but perhaps it’s time we re-examined our approach. After all, there’s nothing that replaces the in-person meeting and there’s no better way to solidify a relationship than at a kitchen table.
If anyone has experienced a personal element to a going global strategy please share your experience here. In the meantime, I’ll continue to listen and learn as my house guest continues to share and work alongside my wife and I at 10:08 p.m. – laptops open.

There are Two “C’s” in Success

Line outside Mack & Mancos

If you’ve ever been to the Ocean City Boardwalk on the New Jersey Shore (and no, not that “Jersey Shore”)then you’ve heard of Mack & Manco, the most famous pizza shop around. There is always a line to get in and the wait is always worth it.

This past Sunday our family made our annual early Spring trek to “the boards” to grab some quality time away from the madness and to have lunch at our favorite sea shore eatery. As I sat and waited for our large pie to be delivered I began to wonder why this place, out of the hundreds along the Jersey coast, remained so popular and successful. Was it the pizza? Sure, but why this particular pizza shop. The two things that stood out to me were clarity and consistency.

Clarity: This is the one place where you won’t be confused by what’s in front of you. On the table there will be a napkin dispenser, crushed red peppers, salt, pepper and garlic powder. The menu, which is on the wall, contains two things – five or so pizzas and drinks. That’s it. No appetizers, desserts, coffee, spaghetti, or anything to complicate the decision making process. It’s that clear.

Consistency: The pizza is made the same way every time and its delicious. Beyond the great pizza there are other consistencies that lead to the success and unforgettable experience at Mack and Manco’s (and this goes for each one of their many locations.)

There is always a line to either grab a table or take it home. Always. You will always be sat in the order you arrive. You can always count on the entire staff being dressed in white. White shoes, white pants, and white shirts.

The process is also consistent: they drop straws in front of each person at the table and take your drink order first. Once everyone has a drink then they’ll take your dinner order. I’ve never seen anyone write anything down and they only take cash (clarity). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a check or bill and think it’s a requirement for the staff to tell you what you owe. The food and experience are always consistent, and consistently good.

Mack & Manco’s has great pizza but their success is also be due in large part to a focus on consistency and clarity. They make it easy and clear for their customers and their customers reward them by remaining loyal.

Inside the Creative

One of the biggest challenges I face is a commitment to process – but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it. In fact, I strive for it because I often look past it. It’s a fault of mine that I continually work on.  I also understand that I may not be alone.  Innovators, “big picture” thinkers and everyday people often have trouble sticking to process.  However, it’s important to always recognize the value of process and what better way to examine process than through the eyes of an artist.

I caught the following sequence of paintings on Facebook and was instantly taken by the imagery, the dedication, and of course, the process.  The paintings were done by Dan Reed, an artist in the Philadelphia region who focuses on automotive paintings.  His gallery can be found here.

Shortly after seeing the paintings I reached out to Dan to see if he would discuss his process with me in hopes that it would shed some light on how to refine my own processes. The interview is located just below the presentation and sheds some light on how, perhaps, the creative process isn’t unlike the process by which we approach our own projects.

1. How do your drawings, or visions, first appear? Are there certain elements that trigger inspiration?

In a way that’s a loaded question because practically every painting  was derived from its own inspirations. However, I can point to a  couple of paintings in particular. The painting “I Can Make It”  (see website) was inspired by my desire to incorporate trains into some  of my classic automobile themes. I didn’t want to repeat what other  artists have done – specifically having a car and train racing side by  side. I gave it some thought and came up with the idea of having the  driver of a car attempt to outrun the train through the crossing. Its  a dynamic scene and led me to create another in that series “I Can  Make It II”. Both paintings caught the attention of a top automotive  magazine, Hemmings Classic Car, and they featured both paintings last  summer which resulted in orders for prints from all over the country.
There’s another painting which had an interesting start. My 1955  DeSoto painting (see website) was inspired by the roof of a neighbor’s  barn roof. Not the roof specifically, but the extreme contrast I saw  one day between the bright, sun lit roof against a deep blue cloudless  sky. I knew I had to incorporate that contrast into a painting so I  made sketches as soon as I got home. The extreme low vantage point in  this painting was determined by the fact I needed the bright sunlit  building to be backdropped against a deep blue sky. The byproduct of  this vantage point resulted in a very unique view of the car itself.

2.  Can you walk us through the creative process?

Once I have a vision for a painting I begin to make sketches. This  allows me to get the ideas out of my head and on paper before I forget  it. In a way, the sketch stage is the most creative part of the  process because this is where the composition, color, and format of  the painting are really determined. A canvas is never even placed on  the easel until I know what’s going to be on it.

3. Do you ever feel like giving up?

Yes. Every day…………………. Kidding:) Actually, not often.

4. Are there any “failures” along the way and if so, how do you  overcome  them?

I don’t want to talk about failure. NEXT QUESTION!…………Kidding again:)
Regarding the painting process itself, any failures are typically very  minor – nothing that can’t be touched up once the paint dries. This is  another important factor of the sketch process. If I loose inspiration  at the sketch stage I wouldn’t move forward to the canvas. I only put brush to canvas once I have confidence in the composition of my sketches.

5. How structured is your creative process? do you employ timelines  or is  it more or less an evolving process?

The creative process is not structured – not in a time-line sense. I  don’t employ time-lines in the traditional sense by having certain elements of the painting completed by a certain time. I will give a client an estimated completion date and keeping to that date simply means staying disciplined to the overall process and the time it takes to follow through.

6. Is there ever an end goal for your paintings – meaning, how do  you  envision there life once you’ve completed them?

As for a long-term goal? No. If the painting is commissioned, the long  term expectation is that the painting will remain with the owner for  the foreseeable future. If its a painting I create for myself, the  intent is to produce a line of prints that can be sold through my website and at automotive events throughout the following seasons. The original paintings are offered for sale as well.

7. Do you think there are parallels in your creative process that  would  resonate with how non-artists approach projects in their  everyday life?

There certainly can be parallels in the creative process with other  non-art activities. To pinpoint what I do on a daily basis and draw a  parallel with another person’s activities, I can’t answer. However, I did  work in the corporate world for 12 years, in the engineering field. In a broad sense, you have to be self motivated and have a good work ethic. These traits will serve a person well in the corporate world or being self employed. Funny side-line; I had a friend tell me when I left my day-job to paint full-time that her husband “could never work from home. He needs that boss-over-the-shoulder as his motivating factor.” I think creativity is a mindset and therefore I’m not quite sure how you would teach it. I’ve worked with people who were very good at executing a given task, but once that task was completed they came to a stand-still until directed to do another task. Others seemed to have the ability to extrapolate from that task and move onto other related projects. The selling and marketing of artwork takes a certain amount of creativity as well. You can create the most outstanding artwork, but if nobody sees it you can’t sell it. Being a self employed artist means you have to wear many hats. For many years while working in an engineering testing lab I essentially had one job – test and evaluate the company’s products. I didn’t have to manufacture it, market it, create profit/loss analysis on it, sell it or ship it. When your on your own you have to do it all. And that too takes some creativity.

8. Would you say there are more creative outlets, opportunities for   individuals to create, than there were 5 years ago? If yes, what  does this  mean for the everyday person who is interested in  advancing their career.

My answer to this question is time sensitive. My answer could change  again in 2-4 years. For me personally the opportunities were more  plentiful 3 years ago mainly because the state of the economy. I bill  myself as an automotive fine artist and my lifeblood are the car show events. When the economy tanked in 2009 corporate sponsorships for some of the top tier events (know as Concours d’Elegance shows) dried  up. Some shows were dropped from the 2009 and 2010 calendar years,  which directly effected the number of exhibition opportunities.  Without those potential customers my request for commissions dropped  off as well. Not all is doom and gloom though. I never stop working  and there’s never a day I don’t have something in the works. When my  commissions drop off I just shift to creating more work of my own  ideas that I can then produce a line of prints from. Having a greater variety of prints to sell  helped to offset the lost income from private commissions. Not only  that, I can continue to sell the prints year after year and when things pick up I’m just that more prepared to take advantage of it.  One thing can be said for starting any business in a down economy – yes, it will take a bit more work, but if you can succeed now you’ll do great when things improve. I began painting full-time in 2005 when I had months worth of backlogged work in the pipeline. Things were easy and humming along. Then came 2009 and it seemed people just stopped spending money overnight. I had to scramble and think fast, be more creative, and adjust my thinking a bit. One thing I do better today is keep more money in reserve so I don’t get caught off guard. Seems so common sense and yet it eluded me when times were good.

Beyond Apologies

I just read a story (actually it was read to me) that I thought I’d share. It’s about terrific customer service and  the importance of creating touch points throughout an experience that in most cases can lead to lasting memories.

Friends of ours  just posted a quick story on Facebook about a recent experience they had at an area restaurant.  The evening was particularly special because it was one of her last big meals before preparing for serious back surgery. She jokingly referred to it as “the last supper,” and you’d have to know her to appreciate the humor in her comment.

The evening got off to a slow start when they were delayed forty minutes past their seating but it was a celebratory affair, kind of, and were eventually seated. Instead of simply apologizing the team at the Franklinville Inn went a step further.  In short, and following a brief explanation of the delay, our friend’s message read as follows:

Image Credit:

A bottle of wine was sent over as an apology and before the end of the night my husband was all giggles. If that weren’t enough, yesterday a $25 gift card showed up in the mail. I guess they liked seeing my husband a little giggly.

Her summary, which she posted to her profile page, not only summed up two really important actions (touch points) on behalf of the restaurant, but it was positive in its delivery and tone. An organization can’t pay for that kind of delivery. (or maybe they can – bottle of wine and $25 worth)

Touch point # 1 –

Instead of simply apologizing, offering a discount off of the bill, or even presenting them with a gift card at the table, the manager sent over a bottle of wine. A nice way to enhance the evening, add value instead of removing value, and creating a memorable experience.

Touch Point #2 –

The restaurant took the time to mail a gift certificate in lieu of handing it to them while they were seated at table or presenting it before they left. This extended their experience and reminded them of the “giggling” long after the laughter subsided. Most importantly has given our friends a reason to go back for a post-op visit.

As soon as I heard this story I wanted to share it.  It’s an example of an organization that “gets” customer service.

Disclaimer: I have not affiliation with the restaurant although I have eaten there and the soup is outstanding.

Lessons of Leadership from #17

Rod Brind’Amour played the majority of his NHL career for two teams, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Carolina Hurricanes. He retired after the 2010 season and now works in the front office for the ‘Canes. On February 18, 2011, when his number was formally retired and a banner was hoisted in his honor at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. , Brind’Amour gave compelling speech that embodies what it really means to be a leader.

In his more than seventeen minute speech (irony not lost on the length of his speech and the number on his jersey) Brind’Amour spoke of his family, his teammates, his tenure with his former team (the Flyers), his former coach (the now current coach of his former team), the fans, the community, and the year his team won the Stanley Cup (2006). In each case, he rarely spoke about himself. Instead, he made that night, the night in honor of him, about everyone else.

A true leader always looks outward and never inward. A true leader recognizes that they are part of a community, a community that relies on them as much as they do it. A true leader is able to raise the level of play of everyone around them, often without anyone realizing it is even happening.

Rod Brind’Amour is a former hockey player, a father and husband, a member of a special community and a leader on and off the ice. There are many lessons one can pull from the following speech here are a few that resonated with me:

– Always look outward to see who or what you can lift up.
– Always remember that your community is as much defined by you as you are by it.
– Always remember that when you focus on your goal, instead of the distractions that enter your path, you have a better chance of reaching it.
– Always remember that our family, friends, coaches (mentors), teammates (colleagues), and the random people we meet are members of our communities and that each member plays a role in our success; and that each member of our community is our teachers and students.

Click on the image below to view Rod’s speech – it’s worth every minute. (the sound gets better after 30 seconds)

Image Courtesy of

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