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Five Lessons Your Dog Can Teach You About Blogging

© Krista Stryker 2011
There's a reason why dogs are so often called man's best friend.

They're devoted to us.  They make us laugh.  They're always there to greet us after a long day.

In fact, dogs can teach us a thing or two about blogging.  Or more specifically, five things: 

1.  Loyalty 

Any dog lover knows that one of the best things about the furry creatures is that they're incredibly loyal.  They'll stick by your side no matter what.

This same lesson can be applied to blogging.  If you're loyal to your readers, if you stick with them through their ups and downs, and pay attention to their comments and concerns, they'll return the loyalty.  

In turn, this loyal readership will translate into higher traffic numbers, greater RSS/e-mail subscription rates and if you offer products or services on your blog, higher sales.  

2.  Personality 

Though she may annoy me at times with her constant need for attention, my two-year-old Beagle, Rocket (pictured above), is never short on personality.  She has an endless number of quirks, and I would never mistake another dog for her because of these easily recognizable traits.

Similarly, you need to insert your personality into your blog.  Your readers want to get to know you, and will relate to your posts much more if you talk about your kids, the terrible day you had yesterday, or of course, your pets.  

Just make sure you relate your experiences back to your blog topic so your readers don't get lost.

3.  Humor

Another reason dogs make great companions: they make us laugh.  

Dogs have all sorts of funny habits that make us humans smile even when we're having a bad day.  My dog does this thing my husband and I call "flat dog" - she lays on her belly with all four legs extended, seemingly defying the laws of physics - and it never ceases to get a chuckle out of me. 

Add humor to your blog posts!  Humor lifts the mood of any writing, and can be especially beneficial to lighten up a more boring, informational topic, but adds value to any post.

4.  Playfulness

Rocket is always ready to play.  As a Beagle, she's not as into playing fetch as other breeds, but one of her favorite activities in the entire world is to go to the dog park.  

She'll run in circles and play with the other dogs for as long as I can keep myself from getting bored (I know, bad owner).  

Add a sense of playfulness to your blog posts.  

I realize this isn't possible with every topic and every post, but readers will be much more likely to want to come back if you add some fun here and there to your writing rather than keeping it all doom and gloom and seriousness.  

5.  Forgiveness 

Going along with their loyalty tendencies, dogs have a wonderful ability to forgive, no matter what.  

For instance, I just gave my dog a bath - her least favorite activity in the world aside from being in a car - and though she was not exactly happy at the time, she quickly forgave me and is now laying at my feet while I write.

Forgive your readers if they don't like your post.  

Or if someone makes a mean comment you don't think you deserved, or don't comment as often as you'd like.  

Or, simply, if they choose to not come back.  

You can't please everyone all of the time.  

Just do your best to keep readers as engaged as possible, and don't take it personally when someone criticizes you or doesn't like what you have to say.

Similarly, forgive your fellow bloggers for their bad days as well - no one is perfect!

So the next time you're looking for blogging inspiration, look no further than your four-legged friend.  That wagging tail may be just the push you need to spark your creativity and get your blog to the next level.

Why the World Needs Introverts

© Krista Stryker 2011
Did you know that around 60 to 70 percent of the world population considers themselves to be extroverted? 

(These numbers may vary and were based on none-scientific Googling, but still!)

That means that the majority of humankind is outgoing, and therefore tends to be energized by people, loves being around crowds, feels depressed when they don't have constant human interaction, etc.

What about the other 30 to 40 percent of us?

We are introverts.

I am an introvert.

This means I:

  • Feel most comfortable by myself
  • Though I enjoy interaction with others, need time to "recharge" after even a few hours of being with people 
  • Feel drained rather than energized by parties or large groups 
  • Am particularly selective about who I spend time and don't want to "waste" time with people I find uninteresting 
In short, I find being around people tiring.  Not that it's not worth it at times, but even the thought of being around too many people for too long makes me anxious.

Understanding introverts

To an extrovert, these qualities no doubt sound crazy.

Extroverts are adored by society, seen as loving, friendly, warm, approachable, etc.

Introverts are often misunderstood and even looked down upon because of their strange and perplexing qualities.  As Jonathan Rauch, well-known self-proclaimed introvert and correspondent for The Atlantic says, extroverts have little understanding of the introvert mentality:

"Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion. They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion."

Extroverts dominate the social scene.  They are better networkers.  They make friends quicker.  

I've often felt left out as an introvert.  I've never been an instant hit at a party.  I've never wowed the room with jokes.  I envy the people who do.

Rauch says being an introvert is even more difficult as a female, as women introverts are more likely to be perceived as timid, withdrawn or haughty.  

Damn, sometimes, I wish I was an extrovert.  

The world needs introverts

Over the past 24 years of my introverted existence, I've had many people tell me that I'm hard to approach.  That maybe I come off as being "snobby" at times.  I've never known how to change it - I'm simply a person who likes to observe, rather than initiate conversation.  I'm introverted.

Introverts think before they speak.  They are pitiful at small talk, gravitating instead toward meaningful conversation.  They often are able to more deeply understand others because they spend so much time observing them.  

In short: we need introverts.

Introverts listen.  They have quality conversations.  They feed the extroverts' need for attention.

But it's not easy to be an introvert.  

So if you're an extrovert, understand that the person next to you at a party might not be rude, snobby or even shy - they may be an introvert.

Understand that we have a place in this world, too.  

Though you may dominate most of public life, we are here, and we are making a difference in our own way.

And as Jonathan puts it: 

Being an introvert "it's not a choice.  It's not a lifestyle.  It's an orientation."

Read Jonathan Rauch's full article on introversion here.

Focusing on Strengths Rather Than Weaknesses

© Krista Stryker 2011
As a society, we devote most of our energy to focusing on our weaknesses when we should instead be embracing and improving our strengths.  

As adults this habit comes naturally to us, and we're accustomed to concentrating on our faults the majority of the time.  This leads us to spending a disproportionate amount of time fretting over the skills we are "bad" at: public speaking, organization, time management, (insert thing you'd like to be better at here), etc. because we think we need these skills to be a successful person.

This obsession with weakness has been ingrained in us since we were little kids, where we were taught that our strengths just don't matter as much as our weaknesses.  This was reinforced by our teachers (through no fault of their own - they are just following the system), and usually through our parents as well.

An A Doesn't Matter as Much as an D...

Think about it.

If a student brings home an A in science class, but a D in English, he is told to focus solely on improving his English grade - while ignoring his obviously natural ability for science.

If a JV basketball player is an incredible defender, but misses every free-throw shot she takes, she is instructed to spend all of her time practicing her free-throws, not further developing her defensive skills.

If a shy teenager is forced to take part in the school's debate team in the attempt to make him a more outgoing person, this is ignoring his natural strength to quietly observe and connect with others in a calm manner.

This is not to say that there is no benefit in having some level of ability to do a lot of things - from a young age onward, kids should be learning a variety of different subject matters and acquiring many different skills through their education and outside activities.  

But young people shouldn't be punished because they don't have a natural ability for something.  They shouldn't be required to spend all their time improving their skills on a subject or activity that they have no interest or natural talent in.  Instead, they should be given ample time to focus on improving what they already have an innate ability for - and so should we.

Stop trying to be average at everything 

As an adult, it's highly counterproductive to focus only on our weaknesses.

Even if we spend hours, days, even years trying to develop our perceived faults, we will only ever really become mediocre at these weaknesses (or they wouldn't be weaknesses, would they?).  By spending all of our time attempting to improve our public speaking ability, we will generally become an average public speaker, never an outstanding one.  

But what if we took that same drive to improve and put it towards our innate writing ability instead?  We would then have the possibility of becoming a fantastic writer, rather than a tolerable speaker.

Discover your strengths...and work to improve them 

There is an entire book devoted to the subject of discovering and improving upon your strengths aptly titled, Strengths Finder 2.0.  It's an overall interesting read and discusses further why you should focus on your strengths, but the most useful part of the book is its Strength Finder assessment.  The test uses a series of proven questions to determine your top five strengths.

For example, my top five strengths were:

1.  Learner: I have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve.
2.  Futuristic: I am inspired by the future and what could be.
3.  Individualization: I am intrigued by the unique qualities of each individual person and can figure out how people who are different can work together productively.
4.  Input: I have a craving to know more and tend to collect and archive information.
5.  Command: I have presence, can take control of situations and make decisions.

Of the five strengths listed in the Strength Finder results, the last one - command - was the most surprising to me.  

I've never thought of myself as a person in control, someone able to make decisions for myself or others.

Obviously, this is a strength that is largely undeveloped, giving me a lot of room to improve upon.  Which is kind of exciting.  (Me?  Have presence?  I like the sound of that...)

Finding your own strengths

There's no need to buy Strengths Finder 2.0 if you don't want to spend the money (if you're interested though, you can buy it here through an affiliate link).  All you need to do is to start becoming more aware of your own abilities and ask yourself these questions:

What have you always felt that you were "naturally good at?"  Helping others?  Leading?  Coming up with great ideas? Focusing?  

Do you take the time to practice and improve these areas that you're already strong at, or do you focus instead solely on areas of weakness?  

If you asked your friends and family what your strongest attributes were, what would they say?  (If you don't know, ask them!)

Once you have your answers, take the time and create a plan on how to further develop your strengths.  They are likely your best attributes, and will lead to greater success and confidence if you take the time and effort to develop them.

This Year's Top Five Inspirational Books For Your Summer Reading List

Now that the weather is scorching hot (seriously, fellow East Coasters, what happened to spring?), we all could use some new reading material.  Here are my top five books from the first half of 2011 that will inspire you as you huddle by your air conditioner this summer:

Poke the Box1.  Poke the Box by Seth Godin

Seth Godin has incited a following (or Tribe, as you might know it as...) for a reason: he's incredibly inspiring.  His latest book, published under his new experimental publishing platform, The Domino Project, falls nicely into this category of inspiration.  

Poke the Box is a quick read packed full of ideas about how to stop asking for permission and just do.  It will call you to action and encourage you to take initiative.
So shake up your life and read it!

Do the Work
2.  Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Do the Work is Steven Pressfield's followup to The War of Art, the book where the thought-provoking author introduces the concept of Resistance to the world.  

This new manifesto is designed to take you through a project from A to Z, helping you work through the entire process of its creation - from the inevitable sticking points in the middle to the fear-inducing shipping point at the end.  Do the Work will inspire you to not only do your real work, but to finish and ship it as well.

I love this book.  Read it.  Enough said.

Just kidding.  I'll give you a little more information - but I do just absolutely love Evil Plans.

For one thing, the title rocks. 

And the book itself is incredibly inspiring.  It introduces the idea that everybody needs an EVIL PLAN to get away from boring, dead-end jobs they hate, and to start doing something they love.

Ignore Everybody will inspire you to do something that matters - and to have fun along the way.

For anyone interested in business (and we all should be - who really wants to be a starving artist?), the newest book by Apple's former chief evangelist is a must-read.  

The book outlines Kawasaki's method of how to enchant and draw customers into your business by using technology, and emphasizes trust and likability as key points on the road to success.  

Whether you're part of a small business, an artist or entrepreneur, Kawasaki's art of how to influence others is a fascinating, inspiring read.

Bossypants5.  Bossypants by Tina Fey

Yes, I realize this book doesn't fit in exactly the same category as the others.  It's not a self help-book, and won't tell you what to do to change your life.  But the 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live star is insanely funny, and hey, everyone needs a good laugh sometimes.

Plus, Tina Fey's story is incredibly inspiring - being a woman comic takes balls (chuckle), and she's got 'em.  While you may not be itching to become a comedian superstar anytime soon, her life may just infuse you with so much warmth and fuzziness that you become motivated enough to do what you were always meant to do in this world.

Become a Creative Doer, Not Thinker

© Krista Stryker 2011
Everyone loves a great beginning.

At the beginning of a new diet, it's easy to be motivated (not so much so after a few weeks).

At the beginning of a new relationship, both people easily look over one another's faults, spending their energy instead on the intoxicating feeling of new love.

At the beginning of a road trip, driving sounds fun (not so true by the end).

Let's face it: beginnings are exciting.

And the conception of a new idea is one of the most exhilarating beginnings of all.

But when it comes to ideas, not only is it important to be passionate and motivated at the start, it's crucial to stay enthused throughout the process of making the idea happen, or you'll risk turning into a thinker, not a doer.

Committing to an idea

When creative people first conceive a new idea, the idea is treated as if it's the most brilliant, exciting thing ever dreamed up.   As someone with an idea, if you're really passionate about it, you may find yourself jumping up and down, telling all your friends and family, and becoming obsessed with the idea. It's going to be the greatest business/book/website/product ever, you'll tell yourself.

But as the reality of actually doing the idea sets in, your enthusiasm will most likely fade.

You'll realize it's going to take a lot of work.   It may also take time, and money, and make your friends and family mad at you because you no longer are focused on them, and take away any social life that you previously had.

In fact, after giving it a lot of thought and maybe even trying out the beginning stages of creating your idea, you may start to doubt that this idea was ever that good in the first place.

If you're a freelancer, or thinking up a project outside of your normal workplace, you'll become highly aware of the fact that you are trying to tackle this idea on your own, with no one to be accountable to, no one to tell you what to do, and worst of all, no outside support.  You may suddenly realize what you hadn't fully thought of before: it's all on you to complete this idea.

As if all that isn't enough, you'll also become hit with the reality that this idea, if you actually try and do it, will take over your life, leaving you no room to tackle any other brilliant ideas that may come your way. Everything else will be put on the back burner - this idea, if you make it happen, has the potential to take up months, years, even decades of your life.  (Whoa!)

Facing Resistance head on

The actuality of completing an idea and all the work that you'll need to put into its creation is scary enough in itself, and Resistance doesn't make it any easier.

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, explains Resistance as the negative force that keeps you from doing your real work.

Resistance will undoubtedly show itself differently to different people, but here are some of the ways Resistance may show up when you try to make your idea happen:

  • You may all of a sudden think you're not a good enough writer/artist/musician/businessperson to complete your idea
  • You may be so obsessed with being "perfect" that you never actually ship your idea to the world
  • You may encounter writer's block (if you're a blogger, novelist, etc.) or a block in your creativity 
  • You may become deathly afraid of failure
  • You may become deathly afraid of success 
Resistance can show its head in countless other ways, but it always acts as a form of doubt - the voice inside your head that tells you that you can't do something.

Don't let Resistance steal your dreams

Don't give into the Resistance.  Yes, attempting your idea will take a lot of work, time and maybe even money, but if you're really passionate about it, if you really believe in it - it will all be worth it in the end, I promise.

Don't think.  Do.

The world needs you to make your idea happen!

T-Shaped Creativity

Image by David Armano
As a creative generalist, I pride myself on my tendency to pursue multiple interests and attain a range of skills rather than focusing on one specific expertise.

But we all have strengths in certain areas - there are very few of us who are actually jack of all trades.  T-shaped creativity is a way to showcase these core skills against the secondary skills and knowledge that make us unique as creative thinkers and doers.

T-shaped individuals

I first learned about the concept of T-shaped creativity through Mark McGuinness's Creative Pathfinder course, but IDEO's Tim Brown is also a big proponent of the idea.
Basically, the T-Shaped model takes creative generalism a step further, essentially suggesting that we're all both generalists and specialists.  The simple design is a way to map out core skills next to the knowledge and secondary skills that help make these base skills so meaningful.

So, if you look at T-shaped creativity in terms of an individual's skill set, the vertical stroke consists of specialist skills and knowledge while the horizontal stroke comprises generalist skills that allow the individual to position his or her specialism in a way that's useful and desirable for others.
For example, while I typically categorize myself as a creative generalist, I specialize in the following areas:
  • Writing
  • Health and Fitness
These specialties are the vertical stroke of the T, my core skills and knowledge.  My generalist skills are:
  • Journalism
  • Copywriting
  • Freelance writing
  • Blogging
  • Photography
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Marketing
  • Non-profits
  • Technology 
  • Research skills
  • Travel expertise 
  • Personal training
My (doodled) T-Shape, therefore, would look like this:

While my skill set is fairly well-rounded as-is, I'd ideally add a specialty or two and several generalist skills (as well as strengthen some current ones) throughout my lifetime.

T-shaped creativity in the workplace

Companies like design and innovation consulting firm IDEO are making a concerted effort to put together teams of T-Shaped creatives in order to cultivate a more experimental, curiosity-driven workplace.
David Armano of Edelman Digital explains the concept of T-shaped team building and how it can fit into a workplace environment (described in more detail in a post on the Marketing Profs Blog):

The notion is simple - cultivate people on your team that have a core competency, but can easily branch out (like the shape of a T).  They ideally possess traits such as curiosity, empathy and aren't afraid to ask why.  And there is a distinction between this type of individual vs. a jack-of-all trades.  The core competency and branches are complimentary, with branches being secondary strengths.  It represents breadth and depth of skills.

His image of how a T-shaped workplace can be applied to the creative process of interactive marketing and experience design is shown above.

Everyone is a generalist

The T-shaped creativity model suggests that while some of us may have a longer vertical stroke (suggesting more of a specialist mindset) and others may have a longer horizontal stroke like my T example (indicating more of a generalist mentality), we are all generalists and specialists to some degree.

What does your T-shape look like?