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    At some point, I’ll get back to my regular posting schedule, I promise! For now, I want to share a post inspired by a trip to the bathroom. Don’t worry, it’s not gross!

    Many universities and companies are trying to go green, and they’re installing fancy toilets that allow you to choose the amount of water needed for each flush. Most of these toilets make it pretty simple with a button for solid waste, and a button for liquid waste. The toilet I saw yesterday, however, made it difficult. First, the instructions were really tiny, so I didn’t really notice that it was an environmentally-friendly toilet until I was turning to leave. Seriously, I must be the only nerd that actually looks twice at the handle to see if there’s a blog post waiting to be written, but I looked a little closer at the instructions. The designers wanted you to pull the handle up for liquid waste, and down for solid waste. Now, this, to me, is poor design for a couple of reasons. First, we’re all used to pushing a handle down to flush, so the immediate response from the majority of people would be to do what they’ve always done. Second, I don’t have hard statistics on this, but I think it’s safe to assume that in a public restroom, most people will have liquid waste. So, why make them think harder to go green? If the designers had just flipped the functionality, I think the toilets would save more water!

    I saw some statistics a few years ago about re-wording the forms at the DMV to increase the number of organ donors. In most states, the form reads, “Please check the box below if you would like to be an organ donor.” Very few people checked the box, because most people won’t take an extra step. However, when they changed the wording to read, “Please check the box if you do not want to be a donor”, they had more donors. In theory, the same number of people chose not to check the box, but in this case, that action resulted in a positive consequence for the donor pool.

    So, what do toilets and DMV have in common? They have initiatives to promote, and they’re dealing with a largely apathetic public. If you really want your initiatives to work, it’s gotta be a no brainer for your customers!

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    I heard a blurb on the radio today about Britney and Christina going head to head! Who will win: X Factor or The Voice? Which one will YOU choose? So dramatic and hyped… and pointless. My immediate reaction was laughter, since DVR makes these rivalries a moot point. People can watch BOTH shows!

    In fact, DVR has changed the TV landscape quite a bit for marketers. Advertisements are sold with the assumption that a certain number of viewers will see the ad. In the past, viewers could change the channel, leave the room, or otherwise tune out, but it was much easier to figure out how many viewers watched the show. These days, viewers can DVR shows for later, or watch them “live” but with a 10 minute delay, which allows them to fast forward through the commercials altogether. I’m not knowledgeable about this type of technology at all, so I have no idea if networks can measure how many people DVR a show. But, even if they can measure how many people DVR a show, I doubt there’s a way to measure how many people actually watch all the shows they DVR. So, once again, we’re back to inaccurate or immeasurable viewer figures, and the ability to fast forward through commercials.

    How long will we pretend that one TV show trumps another? I do think there’s still some significance about the line-up and show promotion, but as technology advances, I think these rivalries will be less and less relevant!

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    I’ve written about the need to type your name into a search engine every once in a while, since, you know, they’re talking about you and all. I’ve also talked about ways that some people use the web for evil. Recently, I had an interesting thought collision: am I stalkable? I don’t mean to be creepy in this post, but it’s a question that has previously only occurred to me as a completely ludicrous thought in passing, usually incited by an article about how people were checking in at locations every hour and ended up getting robbed. I don’t check in, so I must not be findable, unless, of course, you know my full name, occupation, and other personal details that I personally give to you.

    My husband occasionally travels for business, and though I lived alone for several years before we got married, I’ve gotten used to having someone at home at night. Thus, when he’s traveling, I’m a bit unnerved to be home alone when it’s time for bed. This basically translates into locking both deadbolts before I go to sleep, so nothing terribly drastic. While he was gone on a business trip, I went to the gym. A young fellow stepped onto the elliptical next to me and apologized for stinking after a sweaty workout. My reply, “No worries, it’s a gym, you’re supposed to sweat!” opened the door to a nice chat about work and education. During the conversation, I mentioned that I’m in marketing, in the aviation industry, I’m working on an MBA at UT Dallas, and I previously lived in California. He shared his occupation, industry, undergraduate alma mater, and the rent he pays at his current apartment (we were talking about the difference in housing prices between CA and TX, a topic that comes up pretty frequently when people find out I lived in CA). He finished his cardio before me, and as he walked off, he threw his first name out there, so I replied with my first name, and that was that.

    On the way home, it occurred to me that I’d given out quite a bit of information about myself to a complete stranger. Then I realized, I do that all the time. I’m a social person, so if you decide to talk to me on the elevator, in the grocery line, or at the gym, I’ll probably engage you if I have a few minutes. With the details I’d given (and regularly give), could you find me?

    That’s when I decided to stalk myself. I used good ‘ole boolean logic to string together some searches on the information that I frequently spill about myself to random strangers. The good news is, it takes quite a bit of detail to actually find me. The bad news is, I usually give you enough detail to do it. The good news is, a lot of other people come up in the search results well before I do. The bad news is, I eventually came up as the #3 search result. I had to search on 5 details for my LinkedIn profile to show up.

    I suppose I should freak out a little bit, since my impetus for stalking myself was brought on by the thought of someone else stalking me, but I really don’t feel any more worry about it than I do about being home alone. I guess I just feel that if someone is really out to get me, they’ll find a way to do it, whether I put myself out there or not. I mean, that guy at the gym could’ve followed me to my car and followed me home… much simpler than trying to find me online, deduce where I live, catch me home alone, and do me harm. Then again, maybe I’M the ax murderer that’s going to stalk him and do harm to him, even though I seem like a friendly person at the local gym.

    This is all just food for thought. How much do we really know or trust anyone we meet? How has the internet changed how we interact with strangers? What’s REALLY so unique to you that you can’t put it out into the world, for fear of it being used against you? Is it worth closing yourself off to all social media, just in case?

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    Whew, I’ve been doing all my writing over at CaringBridge, so it’s nice to be back in my own space! I like to draw some business lessons from my personal experiences occasionally, so today’s post highlights some of the lessons I’ve learned during this family crisis. Let’s chat about brain proxies, shall we?

    Essentially, the brain uses short cuts to make decisions all the time. We live in such a complex world with information overload on a daily basis, and powerful as it is, the human brain simply cannot parse all that information effectively by sifting through each item one at a time. Since the brain is incredibly smart, it came up with some short cuts to process all that information efficiently. Now, most of the time, these short cuts are great, particularly for marketers. These short cuts make things like branding effective. For example, it’s cumbersome and low-stakes for the brain to try to decide if one hamburger is better than another. Sure, you could go to 5 different burger places every time you’re hungry, or you could just rely on the brand recognition and past experience to guide you to the right choice. Or, when you’re staring at 20 SKUs of laundry detergent, you might remember that commercial that promoted a brand known for color protection, so you use a short cut to choose your detergent. The problem is, sometimes we implement those short cuts incorrectly, or too frequently when making high-stakes decisions. Here’s a few that I’ve witnessed recently:

    Authority. One major proxy is that of authority. Studies have shown that we assume truth or validity if it comes from someone or something that we perceive to be an authority. The problem is, we often use proxies like symbols and uniforms to determine who or what is authority. Doctors wear white coats to portray authority, police officers carry badges to represent authority, and the media writes en masse to convey authority. So, our brain assumes that if these people are authorities, then surely, whatever they say, must be truth. However, as shown in the Milgram study linked above, people will often forgo their own best judgements in favor of authority, and the authority may be wrong. So, I’ve been watching the uniforms and symbols wield their power to play mind games on even the most educated people. Heck, my sister is a psych major, and even SHE found herself resorting to the authority proxy!

    Conformity and Groupthink. Humans are social creatures, and as such, we like to go with the group and remain harmonious. However, studies have shown that humans will agree with an obviously incorrect choice to avoid going against the group. Nobody likes to stand alone, unsupported, so the brain will tell us that if the group thinks it’s correct, we should agree. This proxy is particularly powerful when combined with the authority proxy. Since the police and media are a large group, and they are both perceived as authorities, surely anything they say must be truth. Thus, it’s extremely difficult to objectively analyze information presented from both of these groups, particularly if you’re the only one questioning the information.

    Uncertainty and Cognitive Dissonance. Finally, the brain hates uncertainty and dislikes reconciling opposing sides. Human nature tells us that we should seek certainty, stability, and understanding. So, when faced with situations that cause uncertainty or dissonance, we immediately seek to remedy that issue. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether the remedy is accurate, valid, or truthful, as long as it mitigates the discomfort caused by uncertainty. This proxy dovetails nicely with authority and groupthink to produce a sense of certainty. If the group, who also happens to be perceived as an authority, thinks a piece of information is true, and the authoritative group presents this information with certainty, the brain wants to latch on to the certainty to remedy the cognitive dissonance. It’s much more difficult to evaluate each piece of information individually on its merits, so whatever gets us to a feeling of “certainty” quickest will likely be accepted.

    So what do these mind games and proxies have to do with business? EVERYTHING! Proxies are the reason offensive marketing campaigns make it to print or TV. Surely, if the Marketing Director (authority) says it’s a good idea, it must be. And, if the creatives agree (groupthink), then I can’t be smarter than the group. If the board (authority and groupthink) approves this position and says the candidate is acceptable, but I think they are incompetent (cognitive dissonance), then I should probably stick with the group’s opinion. This is why there’s such a movement for diversity in the corporate world, focus groups prior to product launches, and general encouragement to offer up outrageous solutions. These actions challenge our proxies and force us to consider the ultimate truths, both in business, and in life.

    I’ve been evaluating my proxies at every level, and I plan to bring this questioning nature into the workplace. What proxies are you using? Are they right? Have they lead you astray?

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    Alright, readers, I’ve been off the blog for about two weeks, and I’ve got posts in my brain that need to come out to the blog. If you’ve seen the CaringBridge updates, my mom is progressing well, and she continues to improve each day. I’m planning to get back to some regular posting next week, with some thoughts on the tricks your brain plays on you and how business people benefit from those tricks, handling personal PR, and time/stress/crisis management. At some point, your personal life WILL impact your professional life, so let’s stare those times down and keep climbing the ladder! Thanks for the kind emails, tweets, and texts during this time, I appreciate it! Cheers to getting back on the keyboard in just a few short days :)

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    For those who are unaware, I am currently dealing with a serious situation with my mom. She is stable and responsive, but she was shot in the garage of my parents’ home on Saturday night, in what appears to be a robbery attempt. We have started a page on Caring Bridge for her, and you can find detailed updates here: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/nancyhowardtx/journal

    We appreciate prayers, thoughts, and virtual hugs, and we have a strong network of support with family, friends, and church members. My mom is fighting like a champ, and she makes progress each time we see her. Our family is holding up well, and my dad remains hopeful and positive.

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    I’m excited to have another article posted on Forbes! My Daily Muse article, “4 Career Lessons I Learned from Gymnastics” is on ForbesWoman today, under the “Leadership” section. You can view my other articles on Forbes here, here, here, here and here. Make sure to check out all the talented writers at the Daily Muse as well!

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    Just one day into summer break, and I’m already spinning up a new venture :) Like I said, I suck at vacation! However, this venture has been in the works for several months, and we finally had to kick it out of the nest and let it fly. I’m excited to announce a new side business with my husband, Faus Photography. This brings up all sorts of fun topics about business and marketing, so let’s ponder a few things!

    I had a guest poster a few weeks ago that talked about turning your hobby into a business, and that’s what we’ve done with Faus Photography. For us, the biggest thing was making sure that we are professionals, not just in our equipment and skill, but in our presentation. I think this is a key point that a lot of amateurs miss when they decide they want to make money at their hobby. When my husband and I started seriously discussing this as a business, my first comment was that we’d need to work on our branding. What is our style? What does our brand mean? Are we elegant, edgy, classic, whimsical? We settled on “authentic”, because don’t like overly photoshopped pictures that make you look plastic, and we don’t like overly staged photos that make the moment look fake. We think life itself is full of beauty, so why ruin the natural beauty by altering it? However, we also believe in using technology to enhance life, which brought us to our tagline, “Authentic moments, perfect memories”. We spent a lot of time picking out a font for our logo and browsing themes for our website. I think a website is something that can make or break a professional image, particularly for creative endeavors like photography. Do all the links work? Is it aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate? Is everything spelled correctly? Does it load quickly? All of these attributes are hallmarks of a professional site, run by professional people, so it was important to us to make sure it was perfect before go live (speaking of which, perfection is impossible, so if you see something wrong on the site, let me know!).

    Next, the publicity. Clearly, this is my area of expertise and my passion :) Here’s the thing: DON’T SELL! I’ve said time and again that my philosophy and practice of marketing is not based on selling things that people don’t need, but rather connecting problems with solutions. Tons of people need photographers, and there are literally thousands of options to choose from. Why choose Faus Photography? I don’t want the answer to be, “Well, I know Ashley, and it would be a nice thing to do for her, so I guess I’ll suck it up and pay her to take some pictures.” NO! I want you to choose our services because you believe you’re getting quality, and our style meshes well with your style. To that end, I didn’t send out a big note to friends and family to request that they “sell” us to others, I haven’t been spamming Facebook with big “news” (which, in my extended circle on FB would probably lead to pregnancy rumors. So we’re clear, no, I’m not pregnant), and I won’t be Tweeting links to Faus Photography every 5 minutes. Yes, you need to make people aware of your new venture, but you don’t need to badger them about it. I think sometimes hobbyist-turned-professionals get too bogged down in staying top-of-mind. Granted, corporate companies do the same thing with email blasts and billboards, so the amateurs learned it somewhere! In short, my publicity strategy is going to be more about word-of-mouth and occasional links if we have a new album to share, but not overload on all my social platforms.

    Finally, the question of turning your hobby into your full-time pursuit. We have no plans to do this any time soon, but many side businesses turn into full-time jobs. I think the approach is very different if you’re intending to quit your day job, and I think for most, a gradual shift in priorities is much safer than a giant leap. A few considerations before heading into the great unknown: Do you have all your paperwork completed, like IRS forms, permits, and registrations? Can you do all the business functions yourself, or will you need to outsource things like accounting and marketing? Is your business scalable, and can you actually make enough money to live? Many people think that starting a business will be “fun”… yes, it’s fun, but it’s also a lot of work, particularly if you’re not a fan of every function of business! My husband dislikes the marketing side of the business, and I dislike the technical side of the business. We’re fortunate to have a built-in partnership, and we compliment each other perfectly in this pursuit. But what if you don’t have a spouse or friend to go in with? All of these questions need to be considered before exiting the corporate world.

    I won’t be quitting my day job to pursue photography any time soon, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about cameras, lights, and editing! But, I’m excited to say that Faus Photography is officially open for business!

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    FREEEEDDDDOOOOMMMM!!!!! Ok, sorry, I just had to get that out of my system, now that my summer classes have finished. I get a ~2 week break before jumping in with 9 hours this fall. Two more semesters left before graduation! I tweeted that I take life too seriously sometimes, and I decided that attending Bollywood Dance one night would help me combat that mentality. While it helped immediately in the moment, the class, and my motivation for attending, have been bouncing around in my thoughts for the last few days.

    When I lived in California, I took Zumba (dance class featuring music from hip hop, to pop, to salsa and merengue!) once a week with a close friend. Then, I’d go to a show rehearsal, and dance for another couple of hours (usually jazz-based or ballroom style). Between rehearsals and Zumba, I was dancing at least an hour a day, 4-5 days each week. I got my groove ON! Since I’ve been back in Texas, I’ve been attending boxing boot camp and weight classes 2-3 times per week, and doing a heavy lifting day on Saturdays with my husband. I’m still staying active, but my training regimen is significantly different from my workouts 2 years ago. You know what I noticed during Bollywood? I move like a boxer. I think like a boxer. I’m cut like a boxer. I’m not fluid, I’m precise. I’m not graceful, I’m sharp. My grapevine looks more like a boxer’s shuffle, and my step-tap looks more like a cut-and-run.

    Funny thing is, I started getting really introspective on how this relates to my life, and my motivation for dancing in the first place! I’m nose-to-the-grindstone all time right now. I’m focused on my career goals, sharpening my skills, and punching life square in the face with fierceness. Sure, I think I’ve built in time for fun and relaxation, but the reality is, I have trouble embracing those times to their fullest. There was a time when I could truly relax, a time when I could truly appreciate fun, a time when I could let my hair down. Now is not that time, and I’ve convinced myself that I’m the best version of “me” during this time.

    “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, says the famous boxer Muhammad Ali. Notice anything profound about that statement? Yeah, me neither. Ok, I do, but I don’t want to admit it! Ali advocates boxing with BALANCE. You can be the quickest guy on the mat, but if you can’t throw a punch, you won’t win. You can be the heaviest hitter in the ring, but if you can’t stay light enough on your feet to keep from getting knocked out, you won’t win. Business is the same way! It’s great that you can follow a rigid schedule, micromanage your time down to the minute, and power through all-nighters, but if you can’t relax and let your mind recharge, the brilliant ideas have no room to grow. Can you be flexible when the numbers don’t match, when 24 hours isn’t enough time in the day? When was the last time you tried to solve a problem with a completely off-the-wall solution that turned out to be genius?

    I used to be a dancer AND a boxer, and I think I’ll be the best version of myself when I get back to that balance… both in business and the gym!

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    I’ve got another article on The Daily Muse today, with “Lessons I Learned from Gymnastics“. I’ve posted many times at The Daily Muse, and you can check out my other articles here.

    The Daily Muse is a site that caters to professional women, and I encourage you to check out the other articles, written by a slew of talented authors!

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