The Search that Launched a Career

Stacey_CJI met Stacey Montgomery after one of her speaking engagements. She is a woman who believes strongly about empowering kids. She moved to the Chicago area from the east coast for school and stuck around after graduation due to her landing a great job. Since then she’s become an entrepreneur. I asked her how she transitioned to being an owner of a growing company known for empowerment.

“I was looking forward to buying a Christmas card to send out because it was the first time that I sent out my own Christmas cards,” says Stacey. “To me, that’s what adulting is all about, sending out Christmas cards… I wanted a card that represented me, a card that had a relatable character, my skin tone, but also represented my personality.”

Our new inclusive culture hadn’t caught up to the needs Stacey faced in purchasing cards, so she went home and drew her own card.

“I sent it to family and friends, got great feedback, and some of them suggested, ‘You know, you should sell this.’”

Stacey acted on those suggestions and soon had orders from Marshall Field’s, Nordstrom, Carson, and numerous independent stores. She then shifted over to developing licensing deals with companies like Target. The positive cashflow allowed her to expand her offerings beyond Christmas cards. She soon developed invitations, note cards, stationery, and the like.

“I realized that my quest, my obsession with finding a good card, the perfect card, was all about confidence. It was all about me wanting to see something, or wanting to give something that really represented me, my personality, what I look like, all of that combined. I realized that that wasn’t just something that I want. It’s what people want. It’s what kids want. It’s what adults want. We like to see positive images of ourselves and what we like out in the world.”

We like to see positive images of ourselves and what we like out in the world.Her revelation focused her business pursuits on building the self-esteem of kids with diverse skin colors. She wanted her product line to encourage kids and build their confidence.

“I started making illustrations of kids with different skin tones, different skin colors, different ethnicities… I wanted people to see the diversity in the world, and I wanted people to see, kids to see, themselves… Kids would come up and look at it, and they would see something, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s me! That’s me!’ That was what it was all about.”

With thousands of kids trying to build confidence based on who they are, Stacey started crafting special guided journals to help them work through and find their intrinsic value.

“What I wanted to do was to… encourage kids to, again, think about themselves, about their gifts, to have a place where they can… navigate some of the challenging situations and the negativity. In school, there’s bullying, there’s name-calling… There are difficult situations academically, socially… A lot of situations are challenging. So I really wanted the kids to have a foundation that was all about self-love, belief in themselves, (and) self-worth.”

To continue driving success, Stacey sought help from a marketing strategist who had her focus on developing a mission statement, an ideal customer, and a family of related products. She was coached to use the mission statement and her ideal customer as a filter to determine what great products to produce and which ones to drop.

While the process was daunting, she stuck with it to help more kids.

“I’m not trying to reach just one kid, I’m trying to reach thousands of kids,” she says. “I now conduct workshops in schools, I have subscriptions to my journals, I work with somebody to develop a curriculum, and it’s all because I really honed in on my mission and my ideal customer.”

Stacey’s materials are aimed at kids 8-12 years of age. Her website is located at staceymdesign.com and offers an array of items that help build the self-esteem of kids who are of varying ethnicities.

©2018 by CJ Powers
Advertisements

3 Step Creative Team Building Approach

Last night I met several high performance people in back-to-back meetings. I was amazed at their expertise and ability to shine in their sector of the marketplace. It prepared me for a surprise experience later that night that boosted my confidence. I felt like I too could shine in my own way and the test was moments away.

IMG_0142On Monday night, I gave a talk to a group of filmmakers interested in learning about how to protect their intellectual property. The speaking engagement went out on Facebook Live and allowed me to test materials from my new book that’s almost ready for release. The audience response from those in the room was better than expected and the online comments were also satisfying. That positive experience fueled my risky choice to last night’s surprise.

Dale Carnegie shared in one of his books the importance of being ready at all times to give a talk, should you be asked. I’ve heard religious leaders say something similar about always being prepared to share in season and out. Well, my surprise opportunity came last night during my last meeting.

When I entered late, due to my earlier meeting, it wasn’t possible to quietly take a seat without notice, as the host of the meeting welcomed me. I hate it when the flow of a meeting is interrupted and everyone turns from the front of the room to see the guy walking in a half hour late, especially when it’s me—which thankfully is rare.

As I took a seat, the host announced the four guest speakers and their topics. The fourth speaker’s name was CJ Powers. Yep, he announced that I was the last speaker of the night.

The woman sitting to my left leaned over and said, “I didn’t know you were speaking tonight.” To which I replied, “Neither did I.”

She was quite concerned and asked if the host was punishing me for being late. I had no idea why I was suddenly named a speaker, but I did know the host well enough to understand his motivation was not negative. I quickly raised my hand and asked what he said the title of my talk was. He answered, “How to Build a Successful Team.” Everyone in the room laughed, thinking it was a joke. At the end of my presentation, the look of amazement on everyone’s face and the hearty applause was well appreciated.

Here is a condensed paraphrase of what I shared last night…

img_0123.jpegThrough my unique experiences working for both Fortune 50 companies and small mom and pop shops, I’ve had the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to exploring the building of excellent teams that drive revenue. I’ve learned the three steps that were always prevalent in successful teams and missing in the less fortunate ones.

1. Diversity of Perspective.

One day I was asked to attend a brainstorming session in a large company’s think tank. They collected together the top creative people from two nearby corporate campuses and placed us in a room with what I’ll refer to as a widget. It was the company’s latest patented invention and no one knew what to use it for or how to promote it. In other words, it was ahead of its time.

The team leader handed us each a piece of paper with 100 numbered lines on it and asked us to list out 100 ways the widget could be used. After fifteen minutes, I had 23 ideas and peeked at a few other nearby papers, not to cheat, but to find out if I was on track. Most had 7-8 ideas at that point, which didn’t surprise me since my thought process is significantly different than most associates. But I too, soon laid down my pen before hitting 30 ideas.

Thankfully the team leader inspired us with a shift in perspective. He suggested that we probably had brainstormed based on our life experiences and should now consider the widget from our grandmother’s perspective. I immediately came up with another two dozen uses. Then he suggested we take a child’s perspective. By the time I reached 100 uses for the widget, I realized the importance diversity of perspective makes in developing a productive team.

2. Empowerment to Fail.

I’ve heard people say that American inventor, Thomas Edison, failed 1,000 times before he invented the lightbulb. I’ve also heard it was 10,000 times. While the exact number is sketchy at best, it was clear that failure was a big part of Edison’s success. He felt empowered to find out what didn’t work, moving him that much closer to the solution he sought.

Cleaning product 409 got its name from the number of experiments it took to come up with the right formula that worked. Numerous stories exist about the failure of people that got to the top because they embraced and learned from their failures. Michael Jordan who still is in the top five of all time NBA scorers is also in the top five list of players that missed the most shots.

I learned that people who fail and push through for success always end up on top, while those who avoid failure rarely get anywhere in life. Empowering a team’s failure to build confidence and knowledge improves their success rate for the long term.

3. Praise for Success.

My upbringing implanted the idea that all incentives must be financial to be effective. However, several recent studies suggest that financial incentives only work well for immediate effect and for most blue collar workers, while events, parties, and excursions work best for white collar employees (The research did not include bonus programs, as it was only looking at project based incentives).

Regardless of the function a person serves, all employees appreciate some form of public praise or recognition for their success. People have always appreciated being acknowledged in some form or another, making praise an essential part of team development.

The common denominator in the above three steps used to build a successful team comes down to the individual. When you attribute the success to the person, allow them to fail forward and gain knowledge, and encourage them to infuse the essence of who they are in the project, success is always the outcome.

If you are interested in having me speak to your company or organization, please feel free to contact me. Also, please check out my new website for speaking engagements at speakercjpowers.com

The Equalizer 2 and More

Here is a link to episode 3 of The Story Behind The Stories, which includes my latest film review of The Equalizer 2, a video worth watching for those who like masculine films with a heart for integrity, and a comment on Henry Cavill’s GQ Australia interview about his fears in dating.

Please consider subscribing to this YouTube channel to get every episode. Thanks!

Responsible For Your Personal Brand

PERSONALI was walking down a corridor when a woman stepped in front of me and shared her amazement for the depth of my soul. I took her comment as a compliment until she added, “So why don’t you live more like the stories in your book?”

The book she referenced was a series of true life events that I had experienced, which meant I did live like the stories in realtime when I actually lived out those moments. But for some reason our casual meetings had never allowed her to see any of those attributes of mine.

She was convinced that I was a shallow man. At first, I thought it was her fault for never taking time to get to know me. But after pondering the idea, I realized that I was in control of what I presented and withheld.

In that moment, I realized I was the only one in control of my personal brand. It was my responsibility, and the neglecting of it was a choice that could promote the opposite of who I am.

Frank_Cutitta“A personal brand is really a story that highlights your attributes,” says Frank Cutitta, founder of the Center for Global Branding. “This story will help others understand who you are and where you fit into your industry’s or company’s marketplace.”

While many people have created personal brands for themselves via their choices of what is published on Facebook, they really aren’t aware of how the style or imagery represents them. Few people know how to assess their posts, which becomes the foundation of their personal brand or story.

What You Play Up Stays Up

Raynard_JacksonRaynard Jackson, President & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C. public relations/government affairs firm, who is regularly on CNN, MSNBC, BET, FOX News, and C-SPAN, giving his analysis on subjects from politics, culture, foreign policy, and economics, recently addressed the black community about their personal brand.

“What have Black folks done that causes police to totally undervalue our lives and causes others to feel threatened by our mere presence and immediately feel the need to call the police?”

In a controversial statement, Jackson put the onus of brand on the individuals. He also suggested things that fuel misperceptions can create an artificial reality, including the television shows like Empire, Insecure, and The Quad that showcase and popularize Blacks in very negative roles.

“We glorify the thug life in our music; scantily-clad Black women have become the standard in music videos,” he says. “Put yourself in the shoes of a White person riding public transportation that sees a train full of Black teenagers with their pants hanging halfway down their butts, calling each other n–gers, and constantly grabbing their crotches.”

“Or the police pulling up to a crowded park and hearing loud rap music being played talking about ‘f-ck the police’ or ‘b–ch this’ or ‘b–ch that.’”

“We have almost thirty years of negative images about Blacks throughout every media platform available and now you want to act surprised that people have these negative perceptions about us? Come on, man. Let’s be real.”

“Don’t tell me you are a hoe and then act surprised when I treat you like one. Don’t introduce me to your best friend by saying, ‘this is my b—ch, Jennifer’ and then get mad when I call her a ‘b–ch.’”

“Maybe Whites believe in the old adage that says, ‘when a person shows you who they are, you better believe them.’”

“So, what I am saying to Black folk is pull up your damn pants, stop calling each other n–gers in public and private, stop calling each other b–hes and hoes and thinking these are terms of endearment because they are not.”

The film, television, and music industry is known for focusing in on stereotypical angles of life for any given community to save development time. Breaking away from these misperceptions can be done with a personal brand.

Develop Your Personal Brand Before Society Does

A personal brand matters and happens every time we communicate in business and socially.

Your personal brand will develop your online (and offline) reputation, increase trust in your authority and ability, make you more memorable, and open networking opportunities for your future. Therefore it is worth our time to take responsibility for our personal brand and not leave it to stereotypes or the media.

The following steps will help you take control of your personal brand.

  1. Define who you are professionally.
  2. Define who you are socially.
  3. Craft responses on key topics that reveal who you are.
  4. Adjust your online presence to match up with 1-3.

The goal is integrity, to make sure you seem like the same person across all of your social media sites. If you want certain things to remain personal, then adjust your online settings to keep it private. The key is taking responsibility for your image or personal brand, and not leave it as prey to be gobbled up by stereotypes or the sum of misperceptions.

(Raynard Jackson quotes are attributed to the Freedom’s Journal Institute’s article titled “Black Hollywood is Complicit in Negative Perception of Black Community” by Raynard Jackson.)
Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

Disruptive Creativity Drives Success

september 5, 2016arcadia football field6_00 pm

This past week I gave a talk on how creativity fuels innovation, which in turn generates departmental and business success. Several business owners were thrilled to hear more about the steps they need to take in order to compete in this new socially-driven marketplace. Many have heard about disruptive technologies, but the core ingredient to the marketplace disruption process is what I call disruptive creativity.

I’ll lay out how disruptive creativity drives success using the New-Different-Better-More (NDBM) principle below.

NEW

The introduction of new products and services only lasts 90 days in today’s society. Once day 91 hits, the item or service is no longer new. It’s therefore the goal of every marketer and salesperson to take advantage of their opportunity window. However, to be successful the product or service must be new.

The definition of “new” gets a little slippery when companies attempt to come out with something that already exists. If the offer is a first for a certain group of people or demographic, the product or service might be considered new regardless of preexisting competition. A safer release would be of a new product or service that can easily be differentiated from the competition based on it being unique, superior, or of greater value.

DIFFERENT

Offering the same thing as the competition will not drive business growth. By only shifting the color, model, or offering leaves little room to distinguish a company in the noisy marketplace. The product or service must be positioned using something that clearly differentiates it from the competition.

The best type of difference in products or services include an intuitive interface or process; additional or unique features; and, easily obtainable benefits from using the product or service. Clarity can also drive delineation from the competition by using mascots or the endorsements from celebrities and public figures.

BETTER

Building the better proverbial mousetrap is an age old scenario that has perplexed businesses for decades. The first company to market always gets a greater share of business, but so does the company who finds ways of improving on the product or service. The groundswell of early adopters drives more development monies into businesses, but it’s only the company who determines how to make things better that survives for the long haul.

In today’s society, better must also be disruptive. The goal of every new product or service must be to reinvent how the marketplace will embrace the offering, while displacing the competition. Survival today means changing the playing field to favor the company. In the same way, the company that convinces the client to let them help write the RFP going out for bid will be able to seed the document with requirements that match their strengths.

MORE

Buffets have been successful for decades because the hungry person sees them as being far more beneficial than ordering a simple meal. Discount restaurant coupon books also give a great perception of a two-for-one value since most people dine with a friend or loved one. The idea of getting something more from a package or offering grabs the potential customer’s attention.

The “more” can be an increase in value, quantity, or add-on benefits. Many online sellers offer bonus products within a certain ordering time constraint to increase the product’s worth. When the offering includes a how-to book, the “more” can be additional details that brings overt clarity to the reader’s next steps, compared to the competition’s short, high-level book that alludes to the right answers.

The NDBM principles are a direct extension of disruptive creativity in action. By creatively putting NDBM into practice, a business can position itself well within its market and drive away or absorb competitors. The key is making sure each step of the NDBM elements are built creatively and not copied from another business. The company’s style must shine through when presented.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

 

A Creative’s TO-DOs

The Creative's TO-DOs-9I was taking a walk the other night weaving and roaming through very different areas of town not normally visited by the average person out for a stroll. My goal was to get an hour of fresh air to clear my thinker, which works far better than you might suppose.

The journey took me past multi-million dollar homes, a homeless person sleeping on a hammock strung up between two park trees, and a curious person who wanted to know what creatives should do to keep fresh.

A smile came over my face as I shared my Top Ten List:

10. Change Your Place and Pace

To alter your perspective it’s always good to change your place and your pace. Putting yourself in front of people you haven’t yet met will also give you an opportunity to stretch your perceptions to new ideas and viewpoints. When my family was young we attended a church made up of over 70 different nationalities. During my travels overseas I stayed with locals every chance I got.

Being in a new place that moves at a different pace than what I’m accustomed to creates a plethora of benefits. Add to this the interaction with people in accordance to their culture, always gives me a fresh perspective. And sometimes, just a simple walk around the local lake is sufficient to clear my thoughts.

9. See Activities as Productions

Viewing social and work activities as things that add or detract from your brand of creativity is essential to productivity. Social? Productivity? “How do the two relate?” you ask. Well, creatives use both sides of their brain. The right side is where their genius comes from, while the left side allows them to manage their business.

Everything they touch must be modular and seen as a production requiring both the creative inspiration and the methodical process to finish the project. When all of the creative’s work is segmented into projects, he is free to jump around between them in his mind when he is relaxed or socializing. This shift in perspective fuels the creative genius and generates solutions far more powerfully than planned brainstorming sessions can provide, although done properly, brainstorming can work wonders, too.

8. Reduce Ideas to Writing

Ideas pop into my mind at lightning speeds and disappear once the next distraction or greater idea pops up. By making sure some form of the idea is quickly reduced to writing ensures that I have a trigger point to regenerate the idea for further exploration. Without a handy note, the busyness of the day can slow my recall for several hours or even days.

Most creatives I know use a creative journal, commonplace book, lookbook, capture book, or vision board. Most business people I know use Evernote or OneNote software. I’ve used all the above depending on the project. Anything will work to collect the information you want to keep for further use in one place.

7. Capture All Feelings

All forms of artistry are able to directly impact the culture when it is emotionally charged. To that end, it’s important for creatives to capture the feelings they experience and what happened to elicit the response. By collecting these expressions for study, the creative is able to explore various methods or techniques to become an added tool in their entertainment belt.

A commonplace book can be a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and the feelings the information generates. The captured notes of expressions can be organized for later use in your writing, speaking or other art forms.

6. Kill the Mediocre

A writer’s group I attended recommended we “kill our darlings.” The reference was to get rid of those little scenes that we personally adore, but don’t move the story forward. Killing the mediocre is also vital to the life of any creative project. Items on the Internet need to regrab the individual’s attention far more often than an orchestra playing lakeside at sunset.

I’ve been called my worst critic on more than one occasion. While my budget typically determines the quality of my projects, my desire for adventure makes sure I avoid boredom at all costs. I have no problem dropping complete scenes in films if I feel boredom slowly sneaking into my life while viewing the piece. I’d rather drop the scene than lose the audience. Most everything that is not excellent must be cut.

5. Build Posterity

I’m amazed at how the works of Mark Twain have survived several lifetimes. Even some of his quips out lasted his life as quotes, crossing into another century thanks to great orators. The concept of developing an idea and presenting it in a way that future generations can admire and grow from is a wonderful legacy and worth achieving when the subject matter permits.

Posterity can only happen when a creative puts a great deal of thought into the universal truths we all face. Those truths shall always out live the test of time since every generation deals with the same issues in its own unique way. During my childhood I read a comic book about cloning. Later in life I learned about cloned animals being used for mass produced foods. Recently I read about medications made through the DNA splicing process that can pinpoint only disease ridden cells. The human condition that forces us to consider whether or not cloning is good or bad for society will be around for decades to come. Therefore any works created that addresses the decision process will be timeless.

4. Fail Upward

I like to see “the artistry of mistakes” (a title from one of my future books) in all of my goof ups and foolish moments because most come directly from my heart. There seems to be a seed of creativity within my errors that will be cultivated into something special later in life, since all things have an opportunity to be redeemed.

The very concept of failing upward suggests that we can learn from our mistakes, and we can stumble across new ideas that we would never consider without our initial bumbling idea that humorously caught our attention. I’ve learned that my greatest works were birthed from my greatest pains—a subject all creatives must embrace.

3. Stylize Your Projects

Branding your projects is essential for people to learn about what’s important that’s birthed from within your soul. For the audience to see your heart, they must see your flair. It’s the creative touch from a passionate heart that attracts a following or fandom, which eventually pays the bills. Creatives must be found before they can inspire others and a creative’s style is his calling card.

It is easy to see when the creation of a stylized product came directly from the artist’s heart. It’s like a fingerprint that makes it theirs. I’ve heard numerous speakers that are really good, but the thing that distinguishes one from another is the amount of heart or passion they put into their subject. The more stylized a person is in their heartfelt presentations, the harder it is for them to present something that isn’t truly theirs. I’ve seen the disconnect become more obvious with speakers that use ghostwriters and filmmakers who direct a script that they don’t believe in.

2. Share the Wow

According to eMarketer Pro, the average adult spends 12 hours and 7 minutes a day consuming media. There are over 5,000 new television productions and 600 movies released every year in America. The audience has gotten so good at “reading” media that they are no longer impressed unless the creative takes them somewhere they haven’t been, shows them something they’ve never seen, or revealed an angle of an idea they’ve never considered. To get their attention, the creative must share something that wows.

Pixar came onto the scene with a product that caused everyone to say, “Wow!” When Toy Story 2 was in development, the team had in mind to make an inexpensive follow up video that would quickly add money to the coffers. The thrown together story was terrible and the creative team finally decided to rework it, breaking their goal for achieving a quick, cheap money making product. Adding more time to the production schedule, the team focused on making sure each sequence had a wow factor. By the time the film was ready, they shifted from a video to a theatrical release that generated a far greater income than the original film.

1. Make it Meaningful

The worst words for a creative to hear from their audience is, “That’s nice.” The best words would touch on how the art stirred the person’s heart or changed their direction in life. To receive this type of encouragement, the creative must be vulnerable and put their heart into their story or production. And, the story must have something meaningful in it, which is why Oscar contenders always touch on society’s greatest barriers.

That’s not to say that a fun adventurous story can’t be meaningful, it can. The best way to encourage a person is through fun and entertainment that opens their mind to consideration. In the 1620s the meaning for the word entertain or entertainment was “to allow (something) to consideration, take into the mind.” This referred to the person being entertained to consider the notion or opinion shared within the entertainment. The more meaningful the theme or story was, the more it directly impacted the way the person thought going forward.

When creatives focus on the above Top Ten List of TO-DOs, they succeed in articulating, whether visually, orally, or in writing, their heart and the direction or journey they feel others should travel. A creative’s art becomes the cornerstone of change in their community, whether global, national, or local.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers