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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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    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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    No, no, I’m not about to re-hash the debate on how we all got here, but I am going to talk about the best choice for a brand roll-out. I’m working on a couple of projects that involve creating a brand from scratch, and I just switched to the new Microsoft Outlook email system, so I’ve been following their roll-out of the re-brand. So, which is better: the brand evolution or the big bang roll-out?

    Honestly, I think both have merit, depending on the situation. The brand evolution is a piecemeal roll-out, where you implement new product lines, logos, campaigns, and platforms as you create them. The big bang roll-out goes all in from day one, with a content-rich website, booming Twitter presence, snazzy ad campaign, and forums with a ton of information. Can you guess which company chose the big bang? Microsoft, of course! One of my projects is for a musician, and I’m advising the piecemeal roll-out for him. So, why do some projects need evolution, and some need a big bang?

    The Big Bang:

    - Ideal for companies with an established brand identity

    - Companies with the time, money, and manpower to create, distribute, and manage content across multiple platforms

    - Companies that need to make a splash in the press – nothing says “big news” like the buzz of something big, and then flipping the switch on a new brand identity!

    - Products with a broad market appeal – you need to make a splash in the press to get their attention, remember?

     

    The Evolution:

    - Ideal for brands that are new to the marketplace

    - Roll-outs of each new aspect of the brand creates more customer touch-points by offering new reasons to invite your customers to view your content

    - Small companies/individuals will NEVER release a brand if they have to wait until it’s completely finished because they’ll be wrestling with themselves forever! (Trust me, I’m struggling to kick a project out of the nest right now, even though I know it will fly!)

    - Limited resources necessitate making a little money before spending a long of money, and the steady roll-out allows you to get a little business before you invest in the next piece. You won’t get in over your head by trying to manage a web site, an ad campaign, a Twitter presence, and… oh yeah, actually making and selling your product or providing your services!

    - Ability to test, try and fail. You might not need every tool in the marketing tool box, so start with the most effective tool, and work your way down. It’s easier to add it on later than to watch your whole brand crumble because you took on too many ineffective tools.

    I think there’s a strong case for each option, but it depends on your goal and your resources. Microsoft is a well-oiled machine when it comes to re-brands or brand roll-outs, and you expect to hit a fully formed marketing effort when they flip the switch. My musician, on the other hand, will be well-served by a slower release of his content. He’s excited to jump in with a website, blog, YouTube channel, and Twitter presence, but I’m advising him to slow down the releases. Instead of posting all 6 videos on launch day, just post one. That way, you already have a bank of content to draw from, and you can release the videos over several weeks to keep people coming back. Don’t commit to blogging every day, start with once a week. Again, you can always build up to multiple posts each week, but posting weekly will give you a reason to talk to your customers in the beginning.

    Do you prefer evolution or a big bang? Do you think one method is truly better than the other, or does it depend on your business?

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    My travel schedule has calmed down quite a bit, but I was thinking about something odd: why is it so weird to eat alone at a restaurant, but it’s not weird to get coffee by yourself?

    I got funny, mostly sympathetic, looks while dining alone during a business trip. I got knowing looks while dining alone at a tradeshow. I get no looks while consuming coffee alone at Starbucks. Why? I think it’s partly because there’s nothing to “do” during the longer wait period at a restaurant. You are seated, and you wait. You order, and you wait. You hand your credit card to the waiter, and you wait. During this waiting, you have nothing to do but awkwardly glance around the restaurant, occasionally catching someone’s eye, and quickly looking away. I think this is less problematic at a coffee house, because the time between ordering and drinking (ie: doing something!) is so much shorter. And, at tradeshows, you’re probably flipping through marketing collateral or glued to your Blackberry, and the lunch is only about 5 minutes to scarf down stale pizza, so there’s much less time between actions.

    Hence, the reason people advise you to bring a book if you’re dining alone. Except, I never just sit quietly. Have you ever forced yourself to just sit quietly with your own thoughts? Maybe it’s just me, but this can be unnerving! You’re just sitting there…. quietly…. thinking the thoughts that come into your head! As business people, we’re always working out the next deal, hustling to the next meeting, or trying to answer email while talking and walking. Maybe it’s weird to go to a restaurant alone because no one just sits quietly alone. We always need something to entertain us, someone to talk to, some purpose other than reflection. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read, and I think bringing a book is a viable solution to avoid the funny looks from people in the restaurant. But, for those who rarely find themselves alone, I might suggest leaving the book at home, and absorbing the quiet time between sitting, ordering, and paying.

    How do you make dining alone feel a little less awkward?

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    Sigh. I’m finally overcoming my writer’s block on the blog, but the last few posts I’ve written are still sitting in the “draft” folder, because I feel like I shouldn’t publish them. I’m back to the transparency debate about what to put out there for the world to judge.

    Once again, the posts aren’t controversial or damaging in a way that really warrants such internal debate. But, there’s things we just don’t talk about. Like frustration and burn-out, or anger and stereotyping. It’s interesting, because I feel like I’ve put some pretty bold topics on the blog from the “things we don’t talk about” category. It’s as if I think that if I don’t put it out on the blog, no one will find out that I’m a whole person, with thoughts and feelings that might conflict with their own. But, these thoughts and feelings don’t mean that I can’t still be a good employee, a good friend, a good whatever.

    I wrote about social media profiles being scrubbed clean of personality, in the interest of being “appropriate”, particularly when judged by a prospective employer. I feel like the posts languishing in the draft folder fall into that category. Nothing inherently wrong with going to boxing boot camp, but if I post that as a Facebook status, will potential employers think that I’m militant at the office? THE HORROR… ok, delete that status update, and post something mundane about how I like the sunny weather. Who could be offended by the sunny weather? And yet, anyone who knows me realizes that boxing boot camp is a perfect addition to my repertoire of activities! It’s the same with the career postings. One post is a bit rant-y about the media constantly telling everyone that we’re all “entitled’ 20-somethings. Who likes to be called “entitled” by every 3rd article in their newsfeed? But, again, what if someone reads it, and lumps me in with the whiners? Ok, delete that blog post.

    I’ll be wrestling with those posts, with the intent to publish them, over the weekend. We’ll see if they make to the blog. Anyone else want to open the discussion for things we just don’t talk about?

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    There’s been a ton of virtual ink spilled in discussions over this article, The Busy Trap.  Essentially, it’s the phenomenon in America (and other parts of the world, but largely the US) where everyone is “too busy” to do anything, yet we aren’t really accomplishing that much more with our full schedules.

    This is me more often than not. I’m running around like a crazy lady because I don’t know how to live any other way. I’ve got to keep 20 plates spinning in the air, otherwise, I’m a failure. This is stupid. Who really needs 20 plates spinning to be fulfilled? I’m started to feel overwhelmed by all the activities, dreams, and obligations I’ve packed into my life. You know it’s a bad sign when your husband tells you that you’re not mentally present and your mom tells you that she hopes you won’t continue at this pace for much longer.

    I’ve taken their words to heart… sort of. This will inevitably be another failed challenge to myself: to slow down a bit. I just don’t know any other speed besides “fast”. It’s interesting, because I look at the Olympians and think that I’ve failed because I didn’t win medals at 16, or look at the latest pop stars and think I’m a failure because I didn’t top the charts at 20, or look at the tech billionaires and think I’m a failure because I didn’t found Google before 25. The thing is, all of those people have on singular pursuit that consumes them. Yes, they stay busy, and yes, they have a ton of activities filling up their days. But mentally, they’re running toward a singular goal, and the busyness is just a set of tactics to reach the goal. Technically, there’s an end in sight!

    I’m going to do my best to relax and re-charge during my 2-week summer break, but I’ll probably be so busy trying to relax that I’ll fail completely. Anyone else fall into the “busy trap”?

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    As you’ve probably noticed, my posting has been quite infrequent lately, as I’m too busy with school, work, and personal commitments to dedicate a lot of time to the blog right now. That, and I’m doing a ton of writing for two of MBA courses, so the creative energy and general flow of ideas is being funneled elsewhere. So, I’ll leave you with a few snippets of song lyrics that have been playing in my head over the last few weeks for a little inspiration:

     

    “Even the best fall down sometimes. Even the wrong words seem to rhyme.” – Howie Day, “Collide”

     

    “Until the referee rings the bell, until both your eyes start to swell, until the crowd goes home, what we gonna do y’all? Give ‘em hell… this one’s a fighter.” – Gym Class Heroes, “Fighter”

     

    “I’m bullet proof, nothing to lose, fire away, fire away, ricochet, you take your aim, fire away, fire away. You shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium.” – David Guetta with Sia, “Titanium”

     

    “It’s time to try defying gravity. I think I’ll try defying gravity, and you can’t pull me down.” – Wicked, “Defying Gravity” (especially as sung by the original cast or me belting it out in my car, around the house, and walking randomly in a parking lot)

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