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From the category archives:

Innovation

Do What You Want Now

by Elena on December 11, 2009

Elena VazquezSomething one of my professors told a class of mine really stuck with me throughout the years.  It was a class on television and media, and although the exact details on the curriculum are fuzzy, his words are very clear.

He knew that there were a lot of aspiring writers, producers, directors, and creatives in the lecture hall, currently vying for intern positions at big media companies throughout New York City.  He also knew we were all anxious to work long hours, mostly for free, performing menial tasks just to get our foot in the door.  He told us of the importance of gaining personal experience by ‘being in the game’  but he also told us how easy it was to get stuck and lose focus on what we really wanted.

“If you want to be a film maker, make a movie.”  He said.  “Stop getting all those people their coffee and pick up a camera.”

Getting someone their coffee most certainly won’t make you a director, accomplished producer, or whatever else you set your heart on.  The key is to distinguish between what pays your bills and what helps accomplish your goals.  If making that coffee gets you in contact with the right people that’s great, but don’t wait to start doing what you love until after your big break.  You might be waiting a long time.

The fact of the matter is, bills need to be paid and food needs to be put on the table, which is why so many artists and entrepreneurs pursue their true passions on the side, until they can do it for a living.  In my past post about Carr’s NY Times article, I discussed the ways people in publishing are taking matters into their own hands.  Laryssa at Comma ‘N Sentence recently wrote about the ways she is handling the new media landscape by creating her own endeavors along the way.  The message is to simply do what you want now and not to wait for anyone.  If you want to direct movies, pick up a camera and start filming your own.  Start writing, taking pictures, making clothes, creating a business, cooking, or teaching, Whatever it is you want, start doing it now.

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Is Travel Good For Business?

by Elena on December 7, 2009

Antwerp Central Station, BelgiumWhile reading the innovation article that inspired the majority of my posts last week, I started to think about the connection between travel and growth in business.  It seems inevitable especially in our ever globalized business market.  Based on the findings in the innovator study, managers who have been on assignment abroad show about 7% higher market performance when they become CEOs, compared to the CEOs without the international experience.

One of the most powerful experiments innovators can engage in is living and working overseas.  Our research revealed that the more countries a person lived in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience to deliver innovative products, processes, or business.

I am not a CEO of a major company and I cannot personally recount the truth of these statistics; however I do feel that they are reflective of the benefits of travel.  There are plenty of people who tell how travel has affected their lives.  There are thousands more people who, despite short vacation time in the US, are dreaming about their next vacation.  To some, travel is merely an escape from the rat race, but maybe it can be much more.

Rick Steves argues in his book Travel as a Political Act that travel can help us form our political opinion.  By experiencing the way other countries are run firsthand, we can eliminate past prejudices, assumptions, and fears.  We can even start to reshape opinions about our own countries.  In regards to business, this awareness can reshape the views of a company, as well as the assumptions of the way companies should be run.

Travel can help your professional career in many ways.  There is a reason many reporters and researchers go ‘in the field.’  There is invaluable information outside of your cubicle.  In this age, where the consumer has loads of products to choose from and thousands of outlets in which they get their information, it is much harder to get your customers to listen.  Marketers need to find innovative and unconventional ways to run successful campaigns.  Of course traditional advertising can be clever and effective (think of Geico’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’) but just because people remember that Maxwell’s is ‘good to the last drop’ or the McDonald’s catchphrase ‘I’m lovin it,’ doesn’t mean that they will drink Maxwell coffee or eat McDonald burgers.

Not everyone can live by gallivanting outside of the office forever, but when you get the chance it will create lots of opportunities that can spark new ideas and revitalize your career.

Image via: antwerpenR

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It is impossible to judge who has the best job or lifestyle, since everyone has different aspirations and ideals.  Some celebrities gripe about the pitfalls of fame; yet there are many more people searching for their 15 minutes.  Not everyone will become the next creator of a popular social networking site, nor does everyone want to be.

Yesterday I wrote a post about the qualities of an innovator and the process they use to create something new; however that need not be your goal.  There are many other ways to use the qualities of innovation.   If you want to change your lifestyle, by working from home, starting your own company, or traveling more often, it is possible.  There will always be constraints, but sometimes constraints garner creativity and dedication.  I realize that as a woman in my twenties, I don’t have the responsibilities of a family or a mortgage.  It would be naive of me to assume that it is just as easy for everyone, however it is not impossible to make changes little by little.

Travel is something I consider to be a very important part of my life.  If travel and working for yourself is something you are passionate about, you can start off by trying these strategies:

Use Past Experience: Many people who love travel find ways to travel so despite having a job.  Alan from The 9 to 5 Alternative works as a surveyor for an information services company.  He is able to travel the world as he gathers cost-of-living data for his company.  Jobs like his allow for lots of travel.  If you would like to quit your 9-5 someday, you can start save up money now, until you are ready to start your new endeavors.  I used to work in media and now have ventured into the world of online/new media.  Things I’ve done in the past help me to move forward with what I’m doing now.

Do Your Research: Before  you make any big life decision you should be asking a lot of questions.  You need to do your research and make sure you are making the right moves.  Granted you don’t want to worry needlessly, and being prepared will take away some of that worry.  You also need to figure out your expenses and income, and if you have enough saved to make a transition.

Learn From Others: You can learn so much from watching others doing what you would like to do.  I have been inspired by so many people, and I continue to learn from them every day.  If you are considering life on the road you should check out others who are already living the life you desire.  Some of my favorite examples of people who have successfully accomplished introducing travel into their lives are Christine Gilbert at Almost Fearless, Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity, Alan Perlman at The 9 to 5 Alternative, and Matt at Nomadic Matt.  Their posts will inspire lots of people to start traveling.

Experiment: Start slowly and try out your new lifestyle before you jump right in.  It is easy to idealize a situation without considering some possible downsides.  Traveling for a living, starting your own company, or being a freelancer may not be the right choices for you.  Before you quit your job and make any big decisions, you should try things out in small bursts.  You could use a bulk of you vacation time and live they way you would be if you were on the road for awhile.  That means no fancy hotels, unless you have a trust fund or some kind rich relatives.  If you want to work for yourself, start doing so right now (without quitting your day job).  Sure it seems nice to work in your pajamas and enjoy breakfast at your personal computer, but it is often hard work in the beginning.

Network: Once you make a change in your lifestyle, you will encounter a whole new set of demands and social network.  It is important to get involved with this network whether it be fellow travelers, fellow writers, or fellow artists and designers.

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Be an Innovator and Create Something

by Elena on December 3, 2009

GoogleWhat do guys like Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos have in common?  Yes they are insanely wealthy, and yes they were young when they made their millions, and ok yes a few of them started their companies in their garage; but besides all that, what I want to focus on is the fact that they are true innovators that changed they way things were done in their fields.

While rummaging around Barnes and Nobles, I came across an article in The Harvard Business Review about innovation in business.  I felt guilty spending $16 on a magazine, so I opted for a $5 foam something or other from Starbucks instead and sat down to read the article.

The following couple of days I was telling anyone who would listen about “The Innovator’s DNA.”  I usually avoid titles with the word business in them, but this article struck a chord.  “The Innovator’s DNA” discusses what sets apart innovative companies like eBay and Amazon.  They may be big corporations now, but they all started with an idea, no matter how small.  eBay started because its founder wanted to help his fiancee find rare Pez dispensers, you know, the plastic toy that releases candy from its head.  Google, known for its innovative products, completely changed the way we search for information.  Their work ethic, offices, algorithms, advertising, products etc. etc. continue to influence and dominate the search landscape.  (Admittedly, Google makes my nerdy heart flutter, so I may be a bit biased).

The review studied the habits of 25 innovative entrepreneurs, as well as thousands of other executives and individuals involved in such companies.  As it turns out, there are certain “discovery skills” that innovators use to get ahead.  The good news is that these skills are most often learned.  In other words, you aren’t born with the gene to create an empire.  It’s also fascinating because they aren’t limited to entrepreneurs.  Anyone interested in living outside of the box can use them to get ahead.

Associating
Innovators are open minded and can relate various ideas from various fields in order to be successful.  A rather famous example is Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college  and took a course in calligraphy.  A career in calligraphy is not a traditional career  choice, however years later while designing the first Macintosh computer, Steve Jobs was able to use his calligraphy skills.  He introduced various typefaces and fonts that were later copied by Microsoft and used today on all computers.

Questioning
Innovators ask questions, simple as that.  They ask the easy questions and the hard ones.  They challenge assumptions and don’t believe that things need to be done a certain way.  Maybe that’s why Sergey Brin enters business meetings on rollerblades.  Why not?  By asking lots of questions you get down to what people want and the ways to make your products and information better and more useful.

Observing
Innovators learn from what is around them.  Even Shakespeare borrowed themes and storylines from the great writers before him.  New technology builds upon the technology before it and the media is constantly changing.  By studying those around you, the successes as well as the mistakes, you gain insight for your future endeavors.

Experimenting
Innovators aren’t afraid to experiment.  With experimentation you risk failure, but they are willing to risk some failure to attain their goal.  As an innovator, you need to learn from your mistakes and go forward with your successes.  After being fired from Apple, Steve Jobs started Pixar, and as luck would have it, he returned to Apple when they bought his other company NeXT.

Networking
Innovators network because they can learn from others.  Not only do they need to test out their ideas, but they also gain a greater perspective from others, inside and outside their field.

Image via: Yodel Anecdotal

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The Fall and Rise of Media

by Elena on December 1, 2009

New Media Tag CloudMedia and print journalism traditionally are difficult industries to enter.  Most prospective employees have numerous unpaid internships under their belt.  They work countless hours each day, often for very little compensation.  The stereotype of the lowly intern getting coffee for the reporters in the newsroom has been true for some time.  He pushes through piles of paperwork before getting a single word he’s written printed anywhere.  Times are a changing however, and the media world is changing as well, bringing new obstacles that bright eyed college graduates can anticipate.

David Carr of The New York Times recently wrote an inspiring article about the changes affecting the media landscape.  Any writer and editor knows the tribulations that print media is encountering.  More and more magazines fold each month, revenues are down, spending is down, and each magazine seem slimmer than the previous year.  Postings on ed2010.com have gone from lots of promising jobs at glossy mags, to the current array of dubious positions at new online magazines.  The reason: glossy mags aren’t hiring anymore, and when you do come across the open positions, the competition is fierce.

While these changes may seem difficult at first, they are just the progression of a malleable medium.  Media has always changed and grown.  What Carr recognizes is that people are finding other ways to find success in this industry.

For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

It is no longer a privilege of the few in the industry.  People with something to say can do so rather easily.  The question is how do they get people to listen?

Photo via: uhlandfriends

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