How we innocently put obstacles in the way of creative insights

 Business, productivity  Comments Off on How we innocently put obstacles in the way of creative insights
Jan 192017
 
Mist on the estuary

Like mist obscuring the view, we can innocently block creative insights to our business problems

If obstacles to business development seem to come at you from all directions, you may be innocently putting obstacles in the way of creative insights that could help move your business forward.

A friend’s mother once said, in response to her farming son complaining about problems he had to deal with in his business,

“That’s what being in business is, solving problems.”

It always struck me as wise.

Rather than seeing problems as something that get in the way of the business of doing business, see them as inevitable, a natural part of the job in hand. That change in perspective is the first step to allowing the mind to settle down. If nothing else, this step reduces the irritation and frustration of yet another escaped animal, burst pipe, website crash or other apparently unwelcome interruption.

The next step is to look towards creative insights but first let’s look at what goes on when we get carried away with frustration and impatience.

What obstacles do we put in the way?

That frustration is just one type of obstacle we can put in the way when we face problems or issues in the development of our business. At one level we know it isn’t helpful yet we can easily fall into the trap of adrenaline fuelled crisis management. Rushing to keep up and fire-fighting as issues arise, seeing a calm and measured approach to business as a pipe dream. Available for others but not for ourselves.

At this extreme end, it is obvious from the outside, how seeing problems as inconvenient might not be helpful in solving them. However in far more subtle ways we put obstacles in our way every time we approach a business problem in a particular way.

How do we put them in the way?

This way is so common we probably think its normal. It is the approach that begins with panic, attempts logical analysis and ends with spirit draining rumination.

You can spot when you are approaching a problem this way because you tend to get tight in your body and mind. You think about a problem endlessly and experience a sense of stress and even unpleasant sensations in your body. And most importantly, the situation seems more and more hopeless. Any solutions that do arise are quickly shot down as “impossible”. From this state of mind the chances of solving business problems are slim.

Why do we end up in this frame of mind?

We think this is a normal and necessary way to approach so called problems because we’ve been taught to rely on analysis and intellect. Our society and education prizes logical, analytical thinking. How many times have you addressed a problem by taking out a sheet of paper and doing a set of pros and cons to help you come up with an answer?

This approach innocently puts obstacles in our way.

What is the result of putting such obstacles in our way?

This approach not only creates stress, it tends to get in the way of finding answers to our problems. In a tense, tight, state of mind it is difficult to come up with new ideas.

Most problems are only problems while we look at them in the same old way. With our old perspective, the issue looks like a problem. Sometimes, a simple change of perspective is enough to dissolve the problem, so that it no longer looks like a problem.

For example you might see your location as a disadvantage because it is inaccessible for your customers or visitors. While you continue to see it in this way, you will miss opportunities that come from being remote.

For example people living in crowded cities prize and will pay for the peace and tranquility that you find in places far from the madding crowd. Suddenly that fact that your place is up a no-through road becomes a selling point. It will change how you write about your place, even how you write up the directions to your place.

The key thing is, you cannot see that alternate view when your mind is closed, tight and stressed. In that state we tend to re-run the same limited set of thinking. Going round in circles and ending up in the same place each time. It is exhausting, frustrating and leaves us feeling powerless. So what’s the alternative?

How do we avoid doing this?

Have you ever experienced the delight of a solution suddenly popping into your head when you least expected it? Maybe in the shower, out running or while cooking food.

These moments often share certain characteristics:

  • Usually we are not actively thinking about the problem
  • The solution seems simple and obvious
  • The solution is new i.e. doesn’t come from our existing knowledge or experience
  • The solution often comes as a whisper rather than a dramatic noisy insight with bells and whistles
  • We often have little on our minds

And these are the very conditions that provide fertile ground for creative insights. That is for new, fresh thinking.

Have you ever wondered where such insights comes from? Clearly they don’t always come from our personal knowledge base and experience.

The great innovations throughout history have apparently come from the minds of men (and women) but in fact they must have come from some higher, more universal pool of wisdom. Where else can they have come from? We all have access to this higher intelligence.

You might know it as gut instinct, wisdom, insight, intuition. And you’ve almost certainly experienced it at certain times in your life. We tend to dismiss it. Explain it away or even overlook it. What if you acknowledged it and sought to harness it in your everyday life? Imagine the impact that might have on your business and your personal life.

Take a moment to bring to mind a time when an answer to a problem occurred to you quite spontaneously.

What if you can’t wait and need a solution urgently?

In most situations there is time to let new creative insights arise. Rushing and being in a perpetual state of mild stress are unhelpful and unnecessary.

Even those who are used to existing in this state will usually find time away from their business yields interesting insights.

In reality most business problems are not life threatening. When we turn our minds away from the problem and perhaps take on a low intensity or enjoyable business task we are freeing up space in our busy minds, allowing us to access a deeper wisdom, available to us all.

What if, like the wise mother of my friend, you can begin to see ‘problems’ as a natural part of business (and indeed life)? This is the first step to relaxing into the knowledge that insights can occur to help you find solutions. And you never know, what at first looked like an obstacle or problem, might wind up looking like an opportunity.

If you’d like a conversation to learn more about accessing creative insights for your business please contact me.

P.S. Since drafting this article, I spotted an interesting article on a similar theme,

'A-ha!' Moments vs. Analysis: Which Really Solves Problems Better?

The first, crucial step to creating more sales

 Marketing, productivity  Comments Off on The first, crucial step to creating more sales
Sep 132016
 

Red shoesYou see a beautiful pair of ridiculously expensive shoes in a shop window and you think how wonderful it would be to have them. For just an instant you see yourself in those shoes and feel like a million dollars. All to quickly, a voice in your head tears that idea to shreds. You can’t afford them. They are ridiculous. When would you wear them?  To afford those shoes, you’d need a different life, or so you think. Because you can’t ‘see your way’ to affording the shoes, you sadly conclude the shoes will never be yours and turn away.

In the same way we can look at what we think is involved in getting more sales and conclude that getting enough sales is just out of reach for our business. It looks as if getting more sales is going to need a whole host of things to change, things we feel are out of our hands or at least difficult. Such as:-

  • An upturn in the economy
  • A better website
  • More exposure
  • People appreciating what we do
  • Less competition
  • More chimney pots
  • Lower rates
  • Better weather
  • More hours in the day
  • More marketing skills
  • More digital skills
  • Getting on Twitter or Instagram or another social media platform
  • Better advertising
  • Better labelling
  • Better signage

What else is on your list?

Take a moment to jot down all the things you think need to change in order to create more sales.

Now let’s take a closer look at what is going on here. By believing that all those external factors are dictating your level of sales you have overlooked a crucial factor.

Your own thinking.

While undoubtedly working on some of those areas may see an increase in your sales, if you only ever look on the outside, working in your business is going to be a bit of a slog. You will have little control. Like a ship tossed about on the waves in stormy weather, you will just deal with whatever seems to be coming at you, without any strong sense of purpose.

What could you do differently?

When you look at enterprises with healthy sales and profits, they all have something in common. It’s not the amazing websites or impressive user engagement on social media (though they may have), it’s the buzz about their business. There is a feeling you get when you engage with that business as a customer or even as a fan on social media sites. That feeling is one of fun, confidence and excitement. It’s genuine. It’s infectious.

Where does it come from?

It comes from the inside out. That’s right. It doesn’t come from the website or the Facebook page or a buoyant economy. It comes from within the people that run the business. At core it is an openness, immersion and joy in doing business that is not dependent on the weather, the number of hits on the website or the number of sales made. It comes from a deep engagement with what the business offers.

You probably had that when you first went into business, but maybe it has evaporated and you find yourself working all the hours and yet not achieving the sales you want.

Take another moment now and remember what it felt like in the early days of your business. Capture that feeling of excitement and possibility you had when you thought about your business. Bring into your awareness that sense of bringing something to the world. Something that would enhance your and your customers life in some way.

Just rest in that feeling for a while. Close your eyes.

In that place, everything seemed possible. The journey ahead looked exciting. You were fully engaged with what you were trying to do.

To create sales in an enterprise, you need to be coming from that place of engagement.

The good news is, you don’t have to pretend or fake it ’til you make it

That place is available to us when we allow our thinking to settle down. Your thoughts about the external factors that you see as responsible for sales, create stress, pressure and a sinking feeling.

Look past those external factors and see that it is not the factors themselves but your thinking about them that causes stress and discomfort.

Let your thinking settle down

When you let your thinking settle down, you come to a much clearer place from where it becomes obvious what you need to do and what you don’t need to worry about.

For example, if you feel stressed about getting more orders or clients, it would be easy to sit down and write a sales email that sounds, well, a bit desperate. That’s the feeling you are in. If you can settle down, look past the desperation, you will find, new thoughts arise about the next step to take. That might be picking up the phone, writing an article, attending a networking event, writing a product review, doing some further training, hiring a web developer. Whatever it is, it will be a step you take with confidence.

You may be thinking, ‘it’s all very well to say there’s no need to get stressed, but with Brexit and all the uncertainty, I can see it having a negative impact on sales’. If you think your falling sales are coming from problems out there, then yes you will feel uncomfortable. Like the unaffordable shoes you may well just throw up your hands and stay in a place that feels horrible. Yet we all know, if you took the idea of owning those shoes away and just settled down about it, a way to buy those shoes would eventually occur to you.

It might take time. You might not pursue it, but an idea would occur. In the same way, when we realise our thinking about external factors is getting in the way of good ideas to actually make sales, then we can settle down, let that original enthusiasm for our business bubble up once again and from that place, the next step will be obvious.

If you’d like a coaching call to help you get more sales, please email me to book a time.

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How to import subscribers from your Apple Address Book to a MailChimp List

 Email marketing, Farm Diversification, productivity  Comments Off on How to import subscribers from your Apple Address Book to a MailChimp List
Nov 212013
 

How to import subscribers from Apple Address Book or (Contacts application, as it’s been called since Mountain Lion) to your MailChimp Lists

If you’re using OS X 10.6.6 or later, Mail Chimp has a lovely app called Chimport to get your subscribers’ details from the Contacts (the name for Apple’s Address Book application since Mountain Lion) into your MailChimp List. Here’s MailChimp’s article showing you how. Fine……….

If it works!

I’ve just tried it and although it claimed to import the subscribers, they have not appeared in my MailChimp List. Uh Oh!

Don’t let that put you off, others have made it work. I’m on OS X 10.6.8. If you have a later operating system, it may work for you. Give it a try! Or you can try my work around below.

Another way

My workaround may seem to have many steps but it is simple and straightforward. If you can copy, paste and drag, you’ll be able to follow this tutorial.

Before you tackle this, make sure people on your list have opted in to receive marketing messages. If you’re not sure of the rules check out the law in your country. Here’s what the UK Information Commissioner’s Office has to say on the subject. Scroll down for regulations on Electronic Mail Marketing.

If you’re ready, let’s get to it.

Getting set up

1. Open a blank spreadsheet, use either Microsoft Excel or Numbers for Apple Mac.

2. Open Address Book

3. Close any other open applications.

4. Re-size the Address Book and spreadsheet windows so you can see both on the screen.

Selecting the contacts in Address Book

1. Click on Address Book. In the first column, called GROUP, select ALL CONTACTS or choose the GROUP containing the email addresses you want to export to MailChimp.

2. To select more than one GROUP, hold down the COMMAND ⌘ key and click on the GROUPs you want, one by one.

3. When you’re done, click on one of the contacts in the second column, NAME. Then select all the addresses. You can do this by holding down the COMMAND ⌘ key and clicking A or choosing SELECT ALL from the EDIT menu.

Dragging the contacts onto the spreadsheet

1. Now you’re going to drag those contacts onto the blank spreadsheet. So simply place the cursor somewhere on the selected addresses, click and hold while you move the mouse to drag the cursor to the spreadsheet.

2. As you hover over the blank spreadsheet, you’ll see a white plus sign in a green circle and a red circle with the number of contacts in it. Let go of the mouse.

3. Next, you want to select the contacts in the spreadsheet. It’s very important, you only select cells that have contact details in them. Don’t highlight the column names. To do this click in the first cell of the first column that has data in it. Then hold down the SHIFT key and click on the last cell that has data in it.

 

If you have problems clicking on a cell containing an email address, hold down the SHIFT key and click on the cell to the left of the last one, then still holding down SHIFT, use the right arrow on your key board to move into the last cell.

Don’t worry about the order of the data. It doesn’t matter whether your first column is LAST NAME, FIRST NAME or EMAIL ADDRESS. You can sort this out during the IMPORT process.

4. Copy the data either using ⌘C or the COPY option from the EDIT MENU.

Copying and pasting the contacts into your MailChimp List

1. Now, go into your web browser (Google Chrome or Firefox for preference) and log in to your MailChimp account.

2. Select LISTS from the left hand side.

3. On the far right of the screen is a downward pointing triangle next to a button marked STATS. Click on that downward pointing arrow for the list you want and select IMPORT.

4. Scroll down and click on COPY/ PASTE FROM EXCEL. It is the second button in the top row.

5. Place your cursor in the box below where it says PASTE YOUR LIST. And paste your contacts using ⌘V or choose the PASTE option from the EDIT MENU.

6. If you have set up groups for this list, you’ll have the option to choose a group at this stage.

7. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see the IMPORT button. Hit the button.

8. Next MAILCHIMP will ask you to match columns. In the first column you will either see MAKE A SELECTION or MAILCHIMP will suggest a column name e.g. EMAIL ADDRESS. To make a selection use the pull down menu, to find the appropriate column name, e.g. FIRST NAME. Then click OK. If MAILCHIMP has already made the correct selection, you just click OK or if you don’t want that data imported e.g. Phone numbers, then click SKIP. Then you’ll move to the next column. Check each column and click OK or SKIP. There’s a short cut if you have a large number of columns.

10. If you have brought in a large number of columns and you realise you don’t need most of them, there is a SKIP ALL option, it is above the columns, in blue text, in brackets after the text about how many unmatched columns are left. Only use this once you have hit OK for the email address column, first name and last name (if you have them).

11. Once the IMPORT is complete, check the list to make sure it has come in as you intended.

That’s it. Use the comments to let me know if this worked for you or if you tried out Chimport, I’d love to hear how you got on.

Why sustainable productivity is a better goal than increased productivity for micro business owners

 productivity  Comments Off on Why sustainable productivity is a better goal than increased productivity for micro business owners
Jun 212012
 

salad leaves

This time of year always reminds me of growing vegetables for our Box Scheme back in the late nineties. Unbidden, Spring fever used to hit as the days lengthened and by mid Summer, the place was a hive of activity. Of course there was much to do with planting, weeding and all the deliveries. We pulled out all the stops, knowing work would quieten down in the winter. The type of business we ran had its own rhythm, governed by the seasons.

Today we hear so much about increasing productivity but is it always a desirable goal?

What’s all the fuss about productivity?

No-one seems to question whether ‘more’ is necessarily better. So we all search for tips and techniques to eek more our of each day. It’s easy to end up feeling you’re missing some key part of the formula. Where is that magic ingredient to turn you into a super productive business person?

As with all quick fixes, trying to increase productivity with the latest theories, is almost certainly doomed to failure. Mainly because ‘more’ is very often of lesser quality.

While increasing productivity is a matter of survival for a large manufacturing business where thousands are spent on production, for the sole trader or farm partnership business, increasing productivity could spell disaster.

Isn’t increased productivity essential for business owners?

Doing ‘more’ in a micro business usually translates as working like a dog. It asks you to work longer days, weekends and not take holidays. While you may get a short term increase in ‘productivity’, long term, it’s a downward spiral. It ignores any natural working rhythms and ends up forcing you to ‘do’ hour after hour.

Apart from being miserable, forced productivity like this is counter productive. The reality is that our productivity waxes and wanes. We’ve all had super productive days when we motor through tasks as if we’re fueled by Super Unleaded. It is no surprise, those days are often followed by a super UNproductive day. We seem to need time to recover.

Find your own rhythm

We are first human beings, second business owners. Our minds and bodies are governed by complex chemical and biological processes, each unique to the individual. So where one body can get up at 5am and routinely work intently for 3 hours, another person may not into the zone until 9pm. Some work best with music, others need complete silence. Some need sustenance every 2 hours, others don’t eat until midday. Some work better outdoors, others are happy behind a desk.

Machines can be upgraded for faster, smarter models, but we, alas, are stuck with version 1.0. So understanding and accepting your own rhythm of working is not only far less of a struggle, it also leads to more sustainable productivity.

Looking back it was a luxury to work in sync with the seasons, but even without that external guide, you can still positively embrace your own style of working. Accomodate it, enjoy its quirks and unpredictability and revel in being unconfined. And when you do, you’ll have taken another step towards that freedom you were seeking when you started out in business. Isn’t that what we’re all seeking?

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