Puppy Monkey Baby

With the right brand, going weird is often the best strategy.

How to Come Up with Creative Ideas

I like to keep art and books in my office to inspire me.

My students often ask me for advice on coming up with creative ideas.  But they don’t really want advice.  They want THE ANSWER or some sort of formula.

But creativity is one of those tricky skills that you don’t learn by following a formula, by memorization, by hiring a tutor.  Rather creativity requires critical thinking, playfulness and perseverance.  It requires trial and error and often nonlinear thinking.  Finally, it requires us all to risk looking stupid or failing.  Out of several bad ideas is usually something quite usable.

So, no, I don’t have the answer.  But I do have some tips.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

  1. Go for quantity over quality.   Come up with twenty to thirty bad ideas and then refine a few until they are good.
  2. Check email, Twitter, the NY Times.  Go back to number 1.
  3. Look at art.
  4. See how other people have solved similar problems.
  5. Procrastinate and then wake up at 2 am with a good idea.
  6. Talk through the problem with a friend.  In the process of outlining the issues, the answer sometimes comes.
  7. Brainstorm:  Write the main problem on a post-it and place it in on a blank wall.  Let your mind free-associate any ideas that related to that one problem.  then group the ideas on the wall according to by subject.  Then stare at the wall until the solution appears or does not appear.
  8. Order food.
  9. Watch HGTV.
  10. Keep trying until you get it right.*

*This is the most important thing to do.


Sam Sifton Knows Persuasive Writing

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 8.43.42 AMIf you follow me on Twitter, you probably know I have a (purely harmless) writer crush on Sam Sifton. For the uninitiated and un-smitten, Sifton writes about food for The Sunday Times Magazine and he was previously a national editor, restaurant critic and culture editor of The Times.

But my favorite writing he does is for the promotional emails he pens for the NYT Cooking App, of which he is the editor.  These emails are jaw-dropping, excellent examples of the fine art of persuasive writing.

Being persuasive is tricky-business.  The best way to do it is to slyly tuck your mission into your prose and surround it with a breezy, this is easy, I understand you tone, like those crazy moms who sneak blended cauliflower into their children’s mac-n-cheese.

Take for instance, Sifton’s email right after the most recent snow storm:

“But what’s this? Eight inches on the sidewalk out front, easily shoveled. It is much worse east and north of our kitchens in the metropolitan region of New York City, but still: The snowmageddon is not upon us. Breathe easy. If you’ve taken off work out of what the folks in external affairs call an abundance of caution, today is the day to spend the afternoon making a stew or chili, some pizza, a cake, any recipe that allows you time spent over the stove, making nice with the world. (Here’s a start: 37 recipes appropriate to stormy weather.)”

With a cool in-the-know wink he plants the seed: you have an afternoon off.  Make the day better by slow-cooking a stew or making a cake.  Sifton’s goal is to bring back the lost art of cooking, but this approach could work for any cause.

Activists, organizers and others in the business of persuasion could learn a thing or two from his approach:

  • Show don’t tell.
  • Tap into what your audience is thinking about or going through.
  • Don’t hit them over the head with your point; seduce them.

Do you need a personal mission statement?

According to the NY Times personal mission statements are the new New Year’s Resolutions.

Yes, I’ve read the responses around the internet making fun of the article.

It reminds me of the old journalism joke:

“What do you call a trend?”

“Three examples and a deadline.”

In its defense, Creating a New Mission Statement was not published in the Style section, which excels at these sort of empty observations, but rather in the Health section and was written by Tara Parker Pope, a thoughtful writer who normally eschews fads and trends.

While I don’t think we need to replace resolutions with mission statements, I have found having a mission statement helpful in my own career which has had its up and downs, and has veered in several different directions.

In the piece, Pope quotes Jack Groppel, co-founder of the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, an Orlando-based coaching firm.

 “A mission statement becomes the North Star for people,” says Dr. Groppel. “It becomes how you make decisions, how you lead, and how you create boundaries.”

I have been a freelance writer and brand strategist for the past fifteen years (except for a few full-time stints at ad agencies).   Running my own business hasn’t always been easy (or frankly as lucrative full-time agency work), but it has allowed me the flexibility of being a more hands-on parent with the ability to pick and choose projects and clients.

Having a mission statement (whether written down or not) and developing my own sense of priorities has been key to my “success.”  When a project doesn’t go well or I find myself with less work than I would like, I can look back to my mission statement and know I am on the right path.

If you are like me, and need reminders to keep you moving ahead, a mission statement is a great place to start.

There are lots of resources out there on how to write them.  Here are a few to get you started:

What’s your personal mission statement?

Do you have a mission statement or are you on a mission?

Strong personal mission statement works like a career GPS.



10 Tips for Writing Better Headlines

a closeup shot of pile of newspapers

Creating killer headlines is an essential to writing for the web.  Here are ten tips to get you started.

1. Don’t forget the message that needs to be conveyed. Start with writing a headline that is as straightforward and clear as possible. Then you can get clever in subsequent versions.

2.  Never write just one headline—it’s a sure-fire way to shut down your creativity.  Write at least ten headlines and then choose your best one.

3.  Keep it brief:  10 words or less. 8 is better. 6 is best.

4. Don’t show and tell. You might be matching your words with a visual. Don’t say exactly what’s going on in the visual — let the visual speak for itself. Write something to complement it.

5. Stay positive. Negative messages in headlines turn readers off.

6. Don’t forget subheads. They’re there when you need them.

7. Don’t use more then one 3-syllable in a headline—simple is better.

8. If possible, try to weave in a few keywords into your headline. This can help with SEO.

9. Do not repeat a sentence that is in the paragraph below. It’s annoying.

10. When you have a draft of your headline, enter the phrase into a search engine and compare the results. Obviously you don’t want the same headline as one of your competitors.

Why Feminists Should Care About Branding

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 9.53.02 AMI was honored to lead a workshop on storytelling for Feminist Camp, an intensive training in NYC organized by Soap Box: Speakers Who Speak Out. Here is a summary of what I spoke about:

  • Simply put, branding is about telling the best, most compelling story about yourself, your cause or your business.
  • From the worlds of cognitive science and anthropology, we know that stories allow us to make sense of the world.
  • If we want to change the world, our messaging must be persuasive.
  • If  you construct an authentic, well-told story about what is it you do, you have a greater chance of getting what you want.  A laundry list of skills without some sort of context doesn’t cut it. You need to fill in the gaps and create the narrative.
  • This is why it is no longer enough to have a good resume.
  • Think about it this way: if someone Googles you, what story will they uncover? Is it a blog on design thinking or a bunch of Twitter rants?
  • Having a strong brand-story and translating that story across multiple platforms can help you to find an audience and bypass the gatekeepers.
  • Example: feminist author Roxane Gay is incredibly active on Twitter & Tumblr and has a huge following.  She uses those platforms, along with her books, to tell a powerful story about women, culture and feminism. To wit, her book Bad Feminist is currently a NY Times Bestseller.

Art as Therapy

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.37.21 PM


What is the purpose of visual art?

This is a question that Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s generous book Art as Therapy grapples with. Ultimately, the authors make a case for art that provides emotional, spiritual. even moral support for its viewers.

I found the book remarkable in that it helped me articulate both my love of art but also my ambivalence with the art world and the ways in which art is consumed, particularly in New York City, where coolness seems to be an overarching aspect to both art and artist.  The idea that art can be more than an investment or an historical artifact or a piece of provocation—that it can (and should and often does) provide  solace or remind you about the absurdity of life, or just make you feel less alone— renewed my faith.

Art As Therapy

What if, as Botton and Armstrong theorize, we arranged museums to “work in line with the concerns of our souls, bringing together those objects which, regardless of their origins in space and time, address the troubled areas of existence?”

I would love to see experience designers who work across multiple platforms and disciplines take on this task. Interested in exploring a collaboration on this sort of topic?  Contact me.



Thinking About Another Kind of Market

Union Square Farmer's Market

I live and work ten blocks from New York City’s famed Union Square Green Market but somehow only visit a few times a year.

I could blame looming deadlines, unanswered email and the myriad of volunteer duties at my sons’ school (every year I vow not to sign up for any more committees and then break my pledge by the second week).   But none of these excuses hold up when I consider the amount of time I spend each day on social media, news sites and blogs. Certainly I can find an hour a week to do something that is both personally enjoyable and supports the local farming community?

Last Wednesday provided me with the opportunity. I had a break between client meetings and instead of doing what I would normally do—check Facebook and Twitter and CNN and the NY Times or simply do the dishes from breakfast—I went to market.

The vegetables greeted me in all their fantastic shapes and irregular sizes, showing off like an array of supermodels; Gisele Bündchens and Kate Mossess and Miranda Kerrs in sweet potato and radish and pepper form.


A woman from a lavender stand was handing out bits of dried lavender and it filled the air with the scent of what I imagine Provence smells like. Right here in NYC a little piece of Southern France. I took a deep, deep breath.

Then I met the cutest little girl with black braids and big eyes who told me:  “I just love vegetables. Aren’t those carrots beeeeeyouteeefull?” I told her I loved vegetables too.

“He doesn’t like vegetables,” she said pointing at her three-year old brother. Her mother, tall and regal, eyed me suspiciously as she paid for her lettuce and carrots and potatoes with food stamps and shuttled the children along.

In my vegetable reverie, I bought some apples, baby carrots, sweet potatoes, an carton full of brightly colored peppers for pickling, squash, kale and the most amazing green cauliflower. Then lettuce and ground turkey.


This trip reminded me of something essential—like most Americans I want to work to live, not live to work. What I love most about NYC is not to be found sitting in my office, or on social media or some news source, but in the crowds, the streets and the outdoor markets.  I am fed creatively by going out and experiencing life—and this inspires the work I do for clients and leadership that I bring to my students.

As someone who has created and studied digital culture for almost twenty years, it goes without saying that I am a fan of social media and the interactive world.  But when the balance is off, when I spend all day at the computer and not enough time outside, somehow I feel unconnected from what is essential.



I Won a Davey Award!

davey_silver_bugLast year I was part of a team that put together a fundraising campaign at my sons’ school.  The work was submitted and we won A Davey Award for a non-profit multimedia campaign.  I love when my creative work is used for good—and it’s recognized.

Here is an example of the work we did:

the village

attentionhands dirty


The Funny Female Memoir

Screen shot 2013-05-29 at 12.03.23 PMLena Dunham, creator of the HBO hit series Girls, recently signed 3.5 million dollar book contact for a memoirWhen published, Dunham’s book will share shelf space with bestsellers like Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:  A Mostly True Memoir and Heather McDonald’s My Inapropriate Life: Some Material Not Suitable For Small Children, Nuns Or Mature Adults. Part humor, part memoir, books in this category are almost always written by women and openly explore sex, drinking and even mental illness in a brazen and unrepentant manner.  And readers, especially those that are not offended easily, are snapping them up.

Listen in as I report on these memoirs for public radio’s Word of Mouth.