Ich Kompromittierte Meine Direktion

– by Albert Berkshire

I thought it would feel better in a different language.

It doesn’t.

I have, on occasion, asked myself, “Why did I just do that?” It may have been after I overstated the obvious when attempting to make a point. It could have been when I ordered fish when I really wanted the salad. It could have been when I used Hotwire to book a hotel knowing that I was risking a stay at the lovely, doily-appointed Sutton Hotel when I really wanted to stay at The Westin. It could have been when I had a beer instead of a much more enjoyable option like a vodka-club soda-lime. But until now, it had never been after I agreed to take on a job that I really, really…really didn’t want to do.

I compromised my principals.

I did a project for a client I really, sincerely, like; with a talent whom I never wanted to hire; for a fee that made me scratch my head.

Now, the fee part is my own issue. I have a client who has been here from day one. Always pays his bills, is always clear and concise with in expressing his expectations, and is genuinely appreciative of my time and work. And he always buys me dinner and drinks when we are in the same city. Without fail, he is a generous man.

But doing the job I didn’t want to do…well, that’s just a small thing about not wanting to hire a certain talent because of my own little set of rules. You put me in a difficult position once, and we’re done. I don’t risk my reputation, or my business relationships, for anyone. No matter how good you think you are at what you do.

You may wonder why I would take the job. Why anyone would. Why it matters. Why I would write about it. Why the sky is blue. Actually, I can answer the latter more easily than I can any of the previous self-inquiries. But like anyone like me who does what I do for a living…(actually, there is no one like me who does what I do for a living. Sure there are others who do a similar kind of work, or may seem to be similar to me in some way or another, but they are not like me. I am Albert. That’s who my clients hire.)…feels the need to write and explain and tell stories. It’s just what we – what I – do.

And then there’s the other, directed, or instructed, “do”.

We, business people, do things in the course of our daily business activities that astound us, and most certainly, the pundits and consultants (certified or otherwise) who observe that which we do. We make adjustments to our day to make a client, or even the housekeeper, happy. Some of us might even have a “drop everything for that guy” policy. It’s not always fair, wise or enjoyable, but that’s a part of doing business. It is, however, never unethical in my world. THAT’S where I draw the line. Yet, we never tell the clients we are doing something beyond the scope of our professional comfort zone (unless we aren’t going to do it, then it is a reason), we just suck it up and do it.

So at what point do we stop the bloated rolling medicine ball of commerce and say; “I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to compromise my better judgement, my sense of self worth, my personal time with my family, or my peace of mind to do that for you”?

Sidebar: I am quite certain that at “I’m sorry”, the response, or more accurately, the interjection, would have been, “Don’t apologize. Just get it done.” And this takes me back to the day back in 2005 when a fellow worker stood at my, then, desk tapping his foot waiting for me as I typed on my merry way down the cart path of the creative world in which my brain was vacationing at the moment, and then barked instructions at me in a less than polite way that ended with “just get it done”. That was the day I decided to quit my day job. I couldn’t imagine 20 more years of that environment…or that guy peering over the top of my 14-inch CRT monitor (yes, even in 2005) barking instructions that I knew would always end with “just get it done”. Jesus, I hope I either outlive him, or retire before him. Success, they say, is the best revenge. 

So, anyway, there I was on my now faux vacation…working. Seated in my hotel room, laptop on the makeshift office desk, my family all sitting around having drinks, laughs, and snacks; and I’m sending work to a voice talent I didn’t want to hire, and getting ready to produce concert tour commercials for a radio campaign. All because a client I really like and appreciate – asked me to do it.

And I’m pretty certain I won’t be getting any Paul McCartney & Bruce Springsteen tickets in the mail for my efforts. I just know the voice talent I didn’t want to hire, will.

As a good friend likes to remind me; “The suckage ratio on that is pretty high.”

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He considers “time off” to be more than just a sport. It is the bridleway to regaining workplace sanity where the vehicles of business are not welcome. And as such, he vacations with vigour…even when there’s work to be done. Getting the job done, despite his crumbling fortress of self-imposed principals, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit www.greatcreative.com. And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

In Lieu Of Flowers

– by Albert Berkshire

In December of 1997, Hilary Montbourquette taught me two of the most valuable lessons I would ever learn in business.

1) Never be the drunkest employee at the company Christmas party when you know there will be cameras present; and

2) Always make your Thank-You’s personal.

As I opened his card in my office, a few days before Christmas, he exposed a rather disturbing grin as he walked away from my desk, and on to see the next person, who, I was about to discover, would likely experience the same fate as would I.

Inside the Christmas card, was some cash, a personal note thanking me for being a loyal and hard-working guy who was always ready to step up when needed (I was) … and a photo of me … well, I was indeed the drunkest person at the party, and there was evidence…and possibly a wig. I still have it in a box labeled “Shit Albert, For Some Reason, Can’t Throw Out”.

Sidebar: Also in that box are three Toronto newspapers from January 1, 2000, a number of photos I shot and particularly liked from my days in Journalism School, a video tape of the artist L. Hope Young smoking a cigarette to the music of Sinead O’Connor, a few important-to-my-security photos of some people I know, a couple of photos from Nassau in 1995 documenting my friend Jen consuming a lot of beef noodle soup, and me with the Stanley Cup (also very drunk and again in front of a camera, despite having learned the photo lesson from Hilary two years prior). The Stanley Cup story, by the by, is particularly odd and wholly deserving of its own story…and thank you card. Oddly, I drink very little these days. There’s just no time. There’s writing to be done.

The photo from Hilary was amusing, and I wasn’t the only person to receive one, thusly, we all had some good laughs recalling the 1996 Q93 Christmas Party. (Sometimes holding onto a photo for an entire year is worth the self-imposed suspense. I’ve done it myself.) And while I may to this day question his motives in presenting me with what was certainly a ‘copy’ of the photo, I do know that even if it was a reminder to me that he had the upper hand, it was also very personal.

I don’t know of many instances when I have received a photo of me from someone else. I’m sure the guys have shared some pictures, and a few colleagues have done the same, but those are more common since the explosion of the digital age, where it is quick and easy to email or post a photo and tag a friend in the process.

Instant. Cold. Impersonal. Yes decidedly convenient. Meh.

The fact that Hillary took the time to write a personal note, in a card, and include a copy of the photo (actually on Kodak paper), meant more to me than the $50 or $100 bucks in the card – despite my paltry salary. I am, perhaps, more touched by the recollection of the sentiment, than I was back that December day. Still, 15 years later, it remains fresh in my mind.

The personal thank you card; one you actually write in, sign, and post, is the quintessential form of communication. And I will defend it beyond the day Canada Post, USPS, or even the Royal Mail cease to exist.

Digital junkies, hold-over yuppies, corporate multi-multi-multi-taskers will argue it takes too long and they can send emails with their signature already formatted at the bottom of the page to fifty clients in the time it takes to send one, personal card.  But to what end? Anyone can type (or copy and paste) a thank-you email, complete with the luxury of digital editing, spelling and grammar check – although it seems to be less important to an alarming number of “corporate” types. On the flip side (a place you know I like to spend my time…debating…everything), there is something profoundly special about a) receiving something in the mail; b) the unedited, personal note in the sender’s handwriting – however unpracticed it may be since we all spend far too much time typing and very little, if any, time writing with a pen or pencil; and c) having something to display on your desk, night table, studio speaker, cork board, refrigerator, or the like.

It is real. It is tactile (humans being a tactile species – we like to touch). It is far better, more important, better received, and more fondly remembered for years and years and years than any email you could ever write. I’m a writer. I know this fact because I carefully craft every email I send. (Yes, you may have received a few quick replies form me, but I am very anal-retentive about my grammar and spelling. Typos are free game from time to time – everyone has to have a signature quirk.) Plus – you can’t delete a real thank you card.

And if that doesn’t convince you; it is something in the mail that isn’t a bill or a flyer.

I have received a lot of thank you cards from people over the years. I love every single one of them. I keep them all. From family, friends old and new, employers, past lovers, business colleagues, clients, and my spouse. Some come in the mail, some are hand delivered. One client likes to courier them to me. (seriously)

The thing is, if you really want to be remembered – a month from now, or 15 years later – be the person who took the time to send a personal note, penned in your hand, with something personal that you know will matter to the recipient. Even if you print a couple of photos on standard printer paper. Because short of sending a person flowers (Oh, the cliche) with a little card on a pitchfork wedged into an oddly textured green sponge-like substance, nothing says I appreciate you more than the Thank You card.

I smile every time I read, and re-read them. And I fondly remember the sender.

It matters that much.

What you write, in your own hand, means far more than you could ever imagine.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes for a living, and refuses to allow the digital world to erase the purity and significance of the hand-written word. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Pouring his heart onto a page, and relentlessly appreciating the emotion found in the written word, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit www.greatcreative.com. And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire. 

Live…From The Intersection Of Determination And Despair…

– by Albert Berkshire

I could write an article for just about every conversation I have each day. I could. Not everything would be relevant – to you or me – but I could. And since I have a lot of, sadly, irrelevant conversations in the course of my business day, I like to stick to writing about the conversations that inspire, or on the other end of the pendulum’s swing – infuriate.

Today, my morning being relatively devoid of colloquial spam, I’m happy to write about business, and the ideas spawned from a conversation this morning.

Damn. This already smells of self-help for the budding CEO. It is what it is. Oh wait, I hate the grossly redundant expression. Mostly because I have something valuable to add (I suppose, otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this article, blog, post, update, material, or whatever you prefer to call this electronic invasion into your psyche), and that expression is akin to throwing in the conversational towel and calling it a grade-eight day. I feel like I should, instead, for ratings, hits, or notoriety, talk about Katie and Tom. Scratch that. I’m better educated and far more interesting, and just a little more confident – in case you didn’t notice that personality trait.

Back on the dusty, exhaust-riddled, cobblestone corner of Determination and Despair, an intersection, which I am inclined to think is visited by many of us in the course of life and career, I find myself watching from a nearby coffee shop. A euphemism, if you will, for my voyeur state of professional and career mind. I see from my outlook point, seated on a wrought iron chair that is destined to leave a grid-like pattern on the back of my legs, the faces of people who are overcome with the world. Most of us, at some or several points in our collective careers (we will all have many in our lifetime), come up against challenges that we feel are insurmountable.

Roadblocks, if you will.

Without getting into any heavy research here, which means you’re about to be subjected to my opinion and insight – a wildly fun and exhilarating, career-baggage-riddled roller coaster ride in itself – and not withstanding the matter that I don’t want to ever solicit valuable research data from that Neurophychologist I dated briefly back in 1998, I’m going to offer some conjecture regarding why we do the silly career things we do.

Or maybe you. I’m perfect.

Okay, maybe not perfect. But for the next few hundred words, let’s pretend that I have a handle on the topic. It remains necessary that you humour me because I could never survive a research conversation with the obsessive compulsive brian-poker from my past life.

Byegones. (I prefer this to “it is what it is”, as you may have guessed. It’s a Fishism. If you get that, you get me. Mentally, not physically. My character is already spoken-for.)

We are pros. What we do for a living is what we do almost every day. And thanks to email, zee interwebs, and your fikkin‘ Blackberry-like device, (while I use an iPhone, I do prefer a real keyboard. I like how it clicks. It had substance. I’m a tactile kind of guy.), we do what we do far earlier in the day until far later in the day. It’s the way of the world. It is what…nawww, that’s too easy. So I often question what we we, or maybe you, question those things in which we (you?) are most confident. What makes us go from presenting an idea, a plan, a pitch with confidence to constantly rehashing the presentation, conversation, adulation (hey, it rhymes like an REM song) in an almost obsessive manner? Do I hear ‘ledge walking’ coming from your brain? Do we replay our ideas in an effort to convince ourself that we said the right things, made the right moves, presented the right material – used right instead of correct, correctly – so that we eventually give ourself a ‘job well done‘ pat on the back?

Or are we, as a species, a sucker for self-inflicted punishment and denial.

Oh my GHAD. Are we all Catholic?

<Albert, now in third person, returns after a short interlude. He had to get a drink after that moment.>

We are successful. Unless you run your business out of the local library (if you do, and I’m not one to judge – we all need inspiration – thank you for paying your dues and supporting one of the last government run agencies supporting and promoting literacy in the Western World), you have a computer, possibly a phone and internet connection and that, for the purpose of today’s demonstration, will serve a representation of some modicum of success. Thusly, your past experiences have brought you to this point in time when you are actually researching career ideas, insight, and opinion. So why are we worrying about what is to come? Are you financially overextended? I think there’s a special Chapter for that matter, and if it has come to that, you should be working on documents and an exit strategy, and not reading the foolishness I write, and if it hasn’t come to that, then you are still in business. Okay, it’s not all foolishness that I write. So stop worrying about things you can’t change. Focus on the goals you have set and be the successful professional you really know your clients, employers, and colleagues  know you to be.

My retired housing industry consultant friend, Bryan, always talks about perceived image. How it looks matters in business. (reread that if you must. It took a few passes for it to make sense to me) If you look busy, act busy, and perform like you are busy (but never too busy for those who matter – like paying customers or your employer) you’ll be busy and successful. It’s why my clients hire my company www.greatcreative.com (plug) to update their blogs – they’re too busy being busy. So I do it. And because I write for a living, so I have a small handle on things in that literary category. Anyway, I do it because that’s what the consultant told me works. And when the consultant speaks, or writes, or pontificates, it is always worth hearing. Even if his mouth was full of pancakes. (He’s retired. He likes IHOP.)

And like the advice of countless others, I’ll offer you my little titbit (yes, it is a “titbit”, not a “tid-bit”. There’s no such thing as a tid, or any bit of it):

When you find yourself standing at the intersection of Determination and Despair, look over to your left and I’ll be sitting at the corner cafe (well, I may not be, but someone will) sipping on a coffee, a book on the table (hopefully one of mine) and I’ll (or that someone) be giving you a knowing nod. And then you’ll wonder what in life could be worse than taking advice from that guy?

And then you’ll know that like any intersection in your travels, commute, or life, you eventually pick a direction and move on.

Moving on, I like to think, is a great thing to do when you are focused on the negative things in life.

Around some corner from Determination and Despair, is Success and Achievement.

Yup. This smells like self-help.

Hope it helps. Or in the very least, amuses.

Like the lead character in his forthcoming freshman novel of fiction, We Made A Pact, Albert, too, likes a comfortable seat with a view at a coffee shop.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes for a living, and sometimes, to get the cobwebs out of his creative head. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Giving clients and friends advice, or something to consider, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. To read about his professional side, visit www.greatcreative.com. And for a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire. 

No Help From Self-Help

– by Albert Berkshire

I’m afraid to be old.

I’m not afraid to grow old. I’m not afraid to die. I am afraid to be old.

I know plenty of people who one might categorize as old. It’s not comfortable. They don’t have it easy. They have to give their children daily bowel reports. I’m certain it is written into their genome. They are, as I fear I will be one day, beyond the point of growing old. They have grown old.

It’s very past tense.

You might argue this is nothing more than forms of adverbs and a series of conjugations that make add up to semantics, but it is more than the meaning of these words. It is the thought and process of where it takes us.

Few of us ever think we are getting old. We think other people are old. When I was a kid, I thought my dad was old. Odd thing is, as I realized today, the age I am now, he was when I was born. And I probably only thought he was old because all my friends’ dad’s were much younger than my dad; me being the youngest of my six siblings. Maybe I thought dad was old because my friends thought he was old. I’m sure the grey beard didn’t help him look younger – by the time we were at the age of recognition – but it certainly was something that everyone else noticed. Being a kid, I just accepted it for what it was – he was old. In hindsight, he never got to grow old. He was there, and then he died.

No one in their 58th year is old.

I’d never given being old much thought until tonight. I’ve felt I was “getting old” after a half marathon, or a long mountain bike ride, or a four or five day backpacking trip in the mountains, or even after 13 hours on a airplane in a seat designed for the passenger who is going home to Hong Kong, but those are just feelings of fatigue. Being old was never a consideration, or a concern, until  I saw the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

It’s pointless to try to explain the plot, and really, why would I ruin it for you any more than I would tell you the dénouement in my novel (yes, I’m still writing it, Mom), but consider the movie to be about people facing the fears of old age. And before you yawn, let me tell you it’s the best film I’ve seen so far in 2012. If only I had Academy voting privileges. Yes, it’s that good. The point is, it was like a self-help movie for the person who’s never felt the compulsion to read a self-help book. I guess the closest I’ve every come to that is Jeffery Gitomer’s Little Gold Book Of YES! And that was more “self-business-help.

The self-help in the movie, for me, was that being old is probably not as scary as we might think. I always figured if I focused on not focusing on growing old – the thing I least feared – that one day I would just be old and since I was already there, I would just check in and resign myself to the fact that I would, sooner or later, check out. If you follow that at all. I’m not sure I do.

This may be why I avoid all self-help books like a plague. Firstly, and certainly most dear to my heart, is the crude fact that I like being a terribly flawed individual. I may not have shared this before, but I firmly believe that Jimmy Buffett’s friend Desmadona was right, “Human beings are flawed individuals. The cosmic bakers took us out of the oven too soon.”  I am completely okay with my squirrel stashes, my annual failure to get my taxes done early, and my unique ability (at least I feel it is a rather unique quality) to master the art of deadline procrastination. A consultant friend of mine likes to pile work on my plate at the last moment because he says I work petter under pressure. Procrastination, in his eyes, is my Muse. Ghad, if he only knew. What he doesn’t know is that it only sheer panic that sparks my creativity to the levels I like the to be at, and subsequently when the levy breaks, Albert’s brain barfs all over the page.

Maybe that is my best work. When I just page-purge. Sounds dandy, but it is usually pretty good stuff. Well…that was self-satisfying to say aloud.

Roit. Back to my point. The second reason I avoid self-help books is because the whole self-help book thing leaves me wanting for a match. I could be the guy on the pitcher’s mound having a book burning party. And while I believe every book is sacred – EVERY book, no matter what you posses for a belief system – some just will never get read, or have any shelf space in my book case. They make me wonder how a one-size-fits-all approach to psychology, or psychiatry, can possibly work. It makes me wonder why we need to self-analyze. And really, it’s one step closer to self-diagnosing. Being married to a medical professional, I know how much self-diagnosis is not appreciated by those educated and experienced in the science of diagnosis. It’s like the time I had hot tub folliculitis. I was convinced I had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. That was met with a swift, “No you don’t. And stay off the internet.” 

If I told my wife I was old, she’d just tell me I am aging. And that’s the whole reality shaker about growing old. If you just roll along with what is happening around you, you’ll never really notice that you are growing old – or aging. Sure you’re going to take a little longer to get up that mountainside, or to run that last five kilometers, or you’ll feel it in your knees after a long run or a big ride, but it passes with a little rest and a few little blue pills – Aleve, not Viagra (although that’s another part of aging, I guess.) The physical aches and pains are not that different from the mental aches and pains. Just the physical ones leave shallower scars and heal more quickly. The mental ones linger for as long as we have our memories intact, but that’s the beauty of being a flawed individual devoid of the need for self-help of any kind, you just roll with the flaws like you roll with changes in your life. In all, it’s a process. It takes steps. It takes time. There is a starting point and an ending point.

And as I learned today, watching The Very Best Marigold Hotel; In the end everything will be okay. And if it is not okay, trust me, it is not yet the end.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes more now than when he was younger, and appreciates everything a lot more each day. Unlike his father, he didn’t have six kids by the age of 43, but he has a lot of things to accomplish in the next 15 years. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Gaining knowledge and insight as he grows older, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

On The Trail Of Bacon Crumbs

– by Albert Berkshire

I was doing research for a project, recently, when I got hit with one of those internet distractions. It was a senseless, but whimsical, deviation from my path. You know the kind, a friend sends you a You Tube link to a cat named Maru – who, by the way, is the world’s funniest cat –

Wait a second. This is where I need David Mitchell to chime in because I’m not 100% certain that a cat is a “who”, or a “which”. And while it does have a name – Maru – it, the cat (now I’m really pronoun challenged, or shy) isn’t a person, in which case I am compelled to ask; “Is a cat a thing?”

This is perplexing, and I apologize while I take time away from this thought, or what was originally to be the thought, while I confer with the Oxford English Dictionary.

<musical interlude>

Hmmmm. I expected as much.

Now I can’t remember if Maru is a male or female or a formerly male or formerly female cat. Either way, a pronoun is appropriate and it shall be “it”, not “who”.

This love of the English language is quite taxing.

So, as I was saying, one moment you’re watching Maru, which (grammatically correct) is the world’s funniest cat, and the next moment you’re watching Luciano Pavarotti performing live with U2 on stage in Modena and you have no idea a) how you got here; b) how much time you’ve lost; and c) why you didn’t run into Kevin Bacon in those six degrees of separation.

Please don’t ask me to explain the latter. Oh, very well then… <Me-Adam Bernard-Rick Schroeder-Kevin Bacon>

When I finally realized where I was in my day, in the web, and in my fruitless search for information, I started to become overly focused on the amount of time I spend wasting time. Now that, to a former Journalism instructor of mine, might be considered grossly redundant, but the fact of the matter is, it is accurate. I have actually invested time in the art of wasting time.

You know, the more I try to explain it, the more it makes sense to me. And normally I’d feel slightly embarrassed about admitting something so ridiculous, but in reality, it is the sublime that I find the most appealing. Now, you, if you care for definition and proper use, as I do, might argue the use of “sublime” in that context, but I like to think of the ridiculous as being sublime, or lofty, or elevated or grand (in the sense of a writing – no irony there. No chance here).

Were we going somewhere with this? Hells yeah!!!!

I was heading in one direction when something caused me to take a sharp left turn, then a right, then a left until I zig-zagged my way to the two-thirds point in a novel I started more than a year ago. Writing, not reading. I thought I had my story. I thought I knew what it was going to be about. I thought I had it all figured out. Then, as I started writing more and more, as I delved (was that too predictable a word?) deeper (now it is) into the characters, as I found not my story, but their story, I realized it was no different from my frequent – far too frequent – forays into research on ye olde world wide web-thing.

You might like to think that you just never know where you’re going to end up. And in some cases, you may be under the correct assumption; but I like to think of it as knowing where I am going, it’s how I get there that is the nebulous journey.

But that’s me. I’m big on dank adventures. Yes. I wrote dank.

Last night at a wine and cheese reception at a conference, I was chatting with a person who told me the many directions her career took her – so far. And in the core of that conversation I came to have a better understanding of how we, as humans (more particularly at this stage of our online social development), go through life searching for something that gives us direction. But if you, at some point in your life, stop to connect the dots along your path, the path behind you, you’ll discover some very interesting degrees of separation.

And that realization, however “Aha!” it may be, just might be the defining moment in your life…or at the very least, your career.

I had mine sitting outside a pizza joint last Sunday night. And I am indebted to the connection of the dots, and an old friend who is just one more degree of separation away from Kevin Bacon.

How far I am from Maru, the world’s funniest cat, is another puzzle all together.

I'm a vegetarian, and as such, am happily more than six degrees separated from THIS bacon.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He writes for a living, and for the love of the art. He is now focused on finishing the last third of his novel. He lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. Listening to others, and caring about their stories has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire. 

Dénouement de Léonard

– by Albert Berkshire (the real one)

You know the expression – “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”  Yeah. I guess.  But I also value the pee stops. Sure, the journey is half the fun, but getting to the finish line is pretty sweet, too.

From March 30 to April 29, 2012 (yes, I guess that was just the other day) I was engrossed in a project with a fellow writer, a colleague, a friend. Tommie Lee (no, not that one, the real one) is working on his fourth novel; I, on my first. The project was called 30 In 30.  Our goal was to each add 30,000 words to our projects over 30 days. Some days were a struggle. Some days it just flowed. Some days I needed more and more wine. Some days I just needed to have a conversation, and then the words poured out of me. Some days I just needed to be left alone. Some days I completely understood how writers, authors, could become antisocial, brooding alcoholics. Some days I loved what I wrote. Some days I didn’t think I would ever make any progress.

In the end, we each added around 32,000 words. We succeeded in our goals.

The book isn’t done. I probably have another 20,000-30,000 words that need to be written. I tell you the word count, because based on they story so far – the story that is nothing like it was when I started – I know there is still a lot of ground to cover. And after twisting and turning through character development, new character introductions, and bizarre twists that even I, as the author, didn’t see coming, I am finally enjoying the process.

Writing a book is a lot of work. A LOT of work. But it is good work.

Over the course of my professional career, in radio and advertising, I changed my title many times. I was once a “radio personality”, a “presenter”, a “creative writer”, a “producer”, and for some time, a “writer, producer, voice actor”. I keep trying to simplify, or fine-tune my self-description. In all honestly, I would simply like to be known as “author”. That’s the end game. That’s the resolution. That’s the dénouement.

When I tell people I am a writer, they often ask me what I write. Thing is, I am a sarcastic bastard. I have often responded, mostly out of frustration with having to explain my career – the one that hasn’t yet produced a complete novel – with “Well, I like to start with words, then sentences, and if I get on a good roll, I feel I can step it up to paragraphs.” I’m often met with a blank stare. Deserving, I am sure.

The other challenge I face, and forgive me if I have shared this before, is the typical response to the revelation, “I’m a writer”. That usually gets me a “Oh. You should write a book.” Yes. I should. I am trying. Believe me, I am trying.

Here’s the thing: A writer writes a story when the writer has a story. No sooner. No later. No pressure can create it. No pressure can stop it. It is either there, or it is not. There is no middle ground.  And if there is middle ground, I sure want to know where that is so I can plant my flag and call it home.

Actually, check that. It sounds like a mediocre compromise. I’m not interested. I’d rather have the extreme highs and extreme lows of storytelling – and believe me, the highs are really high, and the lows are really low. My friends know all about it. I am either excited to talk about my work, or I want to erase any memory of ever having mentioned what this is about.

Today, is a good day. So let me tempt you with this notion: Someone loves. Someone lives. Someone tells the story. Someone better buy this thing…because I already have the characters and outline for my second novel. Funny how that happens.

This journey has been interesting. It has taught me a lot about my day job – perhaps the only reason you read this Blog. There are times I wanted to throw it all away and start over. But I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into it, and it will pay off – either as a successful novel, or a complete project that bleeds bliss. It’s like your marketing. You put a lot of time and effort into building your brand (or having my company, Great Creative.com, do it for you), and then you just have to be patient.

Sooner or later, when everyone is ready, they are going to want what you have. You just have to be diligent, be focused, and be original.

There’s a character in my novel who is willing to wait forever for something. But he never focuses on the waiting, he only focuses the benefit of the wait.

The benefit, in the end, is the one thing you (or he) want more than anything.

For what are you waiting?

Some things are worth the wait.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He just wants to be an author, which is why he’s so focused on finishing this novel. Currently, he lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. He’s waiting for something, and it is definitely worth it. Patience and determination has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Be Not A-Mused. I’m Not Either.

– by Albert Berkshire

I get hung up on things. It’s a curse. Or perhaps just a quirk. It can be overwhelming in person, and exhausting in the written sense, but when I get high-centered on a subject, I have trouble letting it go until I either rant, vent, or fall asleep.

We creatives are a tiring lot.

Recently, a person who, knowingly or not, often helps fuel my creativity directed my attention to an article in the Harvard Business Review. Despite being in the advertising and marketing business – and knowing full well that I should be in touch with all and anything written about business – I tend to shy away from some publications do to an apprehension of drowning my creativity with fact and fear…

…or stupidity and disrespect.

In general, I have a few simple rules. I’ve written in the past that I don’t discuss religion or politics. This Albert Rule is more about respecting the lifestyle and ideologies of others than it is keeping my blood pressure in check (117 over 69, usually. I’m pretty relaxed and not easily excited – unless there’s Vodka). My rules work for me. They keep me safe and serve to not offend most people. I like it that way. See? Simple man. Simple rules.

The article that forces me to break my rules and will now send me into a spin can be found at the Harvard Business Review website. I am not responsible for anything on that external site, nor will I offer a link for the foolishness I read, but I will tell you it was titled “To Inspire Innovation, Get a Muse”. It was written by Michael Schrage.

Sidebar: The word “rage” appears in his last name. How appropriate, ‘cause I’m about to rage against his machine.

The article, in short, suggests that a company should budget to hire a Muse. He wrote, “After all, executives hire coaches, why shouldn’t creative innovators budget time and resources for a muse or two?”

A “muse or two”?

The fact that he wrote this should have made him stop dead in his tracks and say, “Do I really want to go down this road?” Or better yet, “Where did I leave my brain last night?”

I’m sure that Albert Berkshire spiking the sphygmomanometer to about 190 over 85 matters little to him. Or maybe you. But there is something fundamentally wrong with that suggestion. And if you’ll humour me, I’ll explain why this is a bad thing to suggest to desperate-for-a-profit companies and individuals.

First, it is the religious factor. A muse is a sanctity. In Greek Mythology, a Muse was regarded as the inspirer of learning and the arts, especially of poetry and music. Such an influence was considered a goddess or adored woman. A muse is so very special and rare to a Creative (innovator or otherwise) that is cannot simply be categorized as a line item on an expense report. To do so is to invite the ire of many, the understanding of few, and to have your board of directors ask you, “Is that what you call your hooker these days?”

It’s wrong. It is disrespectful. It is an abomination of the value and importance, actual and historical, of the Muse.

Secondly, a Muse is not a profit centre. This premise (in the article) is a feeble attempt to take a valued and admired individual – the Muse – and turn he or she into a profit centre. It is a silly juxtaposition for the purpose of creating a catchy name for an age old thing – a mentor. Neither, in my mind, are remotely close in description or purpose.

A mentor leads and teaches in a formulated way based on rationale and experience. And any company or business professional would be well advised to seek out the advice, guidance, influence, and expertise of a mentor, business coach, or consultant. These individuals are the Sean Luces and the Jeffery Gitomers of the world. They are the mentors and advisors who analyze, dissect, and focus your company with a plan specific to your goals and needs. They, in effect, lead you in a specific direction.

A Muse inspires in ways that cannot be rightly explained – nor should they have to be explained. They just “do”. And they just “are”. A Muse is in the mind and heart of the Creative. There is no logical road map. There is no schedule or format for their contribution – it is always there.

Unlike a mentor, or a consultant, whom you choose; a Muse chooses you. No one looks at a person and says, “I like this one. This one will be my muse.”  That’s just not how it happens.  A connection, an understanding, a spark ignites the Creative-Muse relationship.  And this isn’t something that is sexual or romantic. I suppose it could be, and certainly has been portrayed that was in mythical, fictional, or historical accounts of creative greats like Monet, Mozart, Shakespeare, Alobar, or countless others who have been romanticized by Hollywood and or literature, but there simply aren’t any parameters for this type of connection.

A muse is a very sacred individual. And I say individual in an effort to exhort my belief that it is a person who is a Muse. My cat does things that makes me laugh, perhaps because I anthropomorphize all animals for the humour of it, but the old girl doesn’t inspire me to write. She simply sits here looking cute…or asleep. A landscape might evoke a specific emotion or sentimentality for me, but it does not fuel my creativity. A person, with whom I have an unexplainable connection – who understands me in a way that no other could possibly understand my mind, or my heart, or both – inspires me. That person is a Muse in its most pure fashion and definition. And male or female or somewhere in between is neither relevant nor open to disclosure, because a Muse is a private part of the Creative.

In fact, now that I think more about it, I would suggest a Muse may not even know this is who they have become to the Creative. Perhaps explaining to a Muse his or her role and value might put undue pressure on the individual, causing the person to act out of character, or feel the need to do something special or specific in an effort to assist the Creative. That, in itself, would defeat the purpose…and circumvent the connection that joined the two in the first place. It may even irreparably damage the bond. For while a Muse may unknowingly imprint oneself onto the Creative, the Creative would be best served not to cloud the mind of the Muse for fear of forcing a change in the naturally occurring inspirational behavior. (There’s an annoying acronym in there somewhere.)

In other words, you were given a gift. Shhhhhh…shut up and tell no one.

The author in the article that drove my blood pressure through the roof, and oddly left me speechless on the topic for more than a week (no easy feat), is effectively suggesting that I can walk down the hall, grab a person who fits in my budget, and bring he or she or shim home so that my buddies to can look the individual over in hopes of finding some inspiration.

That’s a HOOKER.  I’ll pass.

You can’t hire someone to inspire you any more than you can hire someone to love you.  It either happens or it does not. There is no middle ground. The Creative-Muse connection is as rare as a soulmate, as precious as a non-conflict diamond, and should a Creative be so fortunate as to be found by their Muse, the Creative (innovator or otherwise) is among the fortunate few to enjoy by default the one thing that separates the great from the forgotten.

Get a Muse? Get a clue!

When it becomes a job about profit, it is no longer about a passion for creativity.  To me, the article represented the author’s terrible misunderstanding of the value of a Muse to a Creative.  He should stick to 1s and 0s. The tangibles for which a company can actually pay, and see some measurable return on investment.

The influence of a Muse, is priceless, immeasurable…and precious.

And I know this for a fact…because I have listened to Mozart’s Divertimento in D countless times.

The Muse shows up at the most important twists in the road of life. A welcome influence, always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults for clients on Canada’s West Coast. In his lifetime, he’s explained to only two people when and how he does his best writing – a fellow writer; and a person who should not feel undue pressure to act out of character. He also believes the word Muse is rightly deserving of a capital “M”. Finding the right words to express the right message has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.  

 

Smoked Gouda & Curry

This is not the cooking channel.

I’m not a fan of predictability.  I don’t know many who are fans.  In fact, predictable equals boring in my world.  I can’t watch a murder mystery with my mother because she has it solved before the murder is committed.  That’s not the experience I want.  I want to be pleasantly surprised.  Even taken aback.  I appreciate that which is somewhat out of character.  I like things to be unexpected.  Those are the best outcomes.  And I am certain this Notion Locomotive runs contrary to the standard business world.

If you like to know how a movie will end, before you watch it, you may not be comfortable with the cubicle in which my brain is presently parked.

In the advertising world, the one from which you are bombarded with 5000-plus messages a day (I’d apologize, but it’s a living), we play around with a little thing called Broca. It’s the area of the human brain that anticipates and ignores the predictable.

Sidebar Quickie: I know someone who would argue, possibly quite successfully, that men have a more developed Broca area than women because we are able to tune out predictable messages like, “You left the toilet seat up again!” – and so forth. 

Byegones.

In the process of delivering advertising messages – be that audible, visual, or neither – the latter being a long stare into the eyes completed with a “blink blink” (ask me something truly ridiculous and that will be my response) – we strive to create a message that will hold your attention beyond your natural urge to change the channel, continue with your conversation, or pay attention to the road.  Fell free to offer the “blink blink” for the latter. While it may be absurd to read, I have, in the past, worked with clients who couldn’t care less if you crash, as long as their message compels you to buy their product after you finish your post-accident interview and sign off on the police report. (Do we sign off on police reports, or is that just fiction on the instruction box in the living room?)

Broca comes into play when we creatives secure a client who is capable of thinking outside the box, and allows us to use word combinations and/or phrases that defy predictability.

Without going into the whole Wikiscience of it all (yawn), I consider it a valid and necessary point to make that the whole purpose of advertising is to influence the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex (oddly named considering it is at the back of the brain). That’s where you find all the buttons and control knobs for emotion, planning and judgment (and likely poor judgment, lack of judgment and the increasingly popular complete lack of judgment).  To get there visually, you have to pass through Broca’s territory. Even more frustrating is that the ear is parked next to the Broca region…so there are essentially no shortcuts around Mr. Broca to the “I gotta own that now” planning centre.

So you have to do a little dance, ante up some foreplay, or at least buy Mr. Broca a drink or six.  And it works when you do it right.  When I look back at my favourite campaigns (my campaigns) it was the application of the Broca Method (for want of a better descriptor) that made it so memorable.  I once sang (quite terribly, I might add) about “Sheepskin Boutique” – that campaign ran every Christmas for seven years.  I’ve done commercials for liquor stores that convinced me to go buy wine. (Okay, that’s not a stretch.)  And still to this day, my favourite of all time was a commercial that talked little about product, and mostly about love.  Actually, two of those campaigns were narrated by the Canadian actor Michael Richard Dobson which confirms that a great message requires a brilliant delivery…and Michael, being a master of timing (and a great voice & character actor) created a turnpike bypass that cut through the centre of Broca-ville.

These creative moments of delivery come from the most unexpected places.  And maybe that’s the beauty of Broca.  My favourite recent example is the famous Washington State Lottery commercial called “Every Bird Should Fly” – created by Publicis Seattle.  And even though I’ve seen it 20 or 30 times, and can now predict the ending, it never gets old, because it is art.  It entertains.  It says something other than, “Buy a ticket. Never work again.”  It says something my brain doesn’t want to turn off, and it offers something for which we all yearn – hope.

Much like my commercial campaign selling “love”.

I never saw the message coming.  The truest form of Broca I’ve seen in years.   And then on Sunday I was riding up the chairlift at Big White Ski Resort.  On the six-pack were a mom, four kids and me (not my kids – mine have fur, sleep a lot, and don’t like snow).  These kids were all talking about skiing, and snow, and video games, and playing – as, I assume, all eight or nine year olds do – and then one girl looked up into the sky and said to no one in particular:

“I always thought the mountains were ice cream cones. And the snow on them was vanilla ice cream. And I thought I would have a different birthday every year…and that the moon was staring back at me.”

Art Linkletter, RIP.

The little girl sold me on rediscovering the innocence of my long past childhood without ever mentioning childhood.  In exactly the same way, Jeff Siegel of Publicis Seattle sold me on winning the lottery without ever suggesting I buy a ticket.  They bypassed the Hominid Objection Centre, passed go, and collected two hundred dollars…or at least peaked my interest enough that I felt compelled to learn more.

They did what every advertiser should do.  Make me, the consumer, think about how their product fits into my life, and convince me I can’t live without it.

I want that shiny thing of great value in my life.

On the other hand, sometimes the most straightforward message using simple words is all you need.

“Our shit is cheap. Come and get it.”

There, you’ve just trained your client to wait for you to discount your stuff, completely removing any value from its existence and thusly dooming your business to the perpetual cycle of “Sale”, followed by another “Sale”…and then another “Sale”.

Blink Blink.

The smoked gouda was melted over curry-sprinkled free-range, vegetarian-fed eggs. Cracked black pepper danced across the heaving yolks. On lightly toasted flax flour bread sat perfectly ripe and thinly-sliced avocado. The strangers, who all lived in different neighbourhoods in Kitchenland, came together as a community in concert to create a brilliant breakfast sandwich.  The flavour combinations were completely … unexpected.

If only my taste buds were clients.

If only my childhood never ended.

If only Michael Richard Dobson narrated recipes.

Waterfront Wines – A Meal

Waterfront Wines – A Bottle

Jason Goldsmiths – Reliability

Jason Goldsmiths – Quality

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults with his clients around North America from Canada’s West Coast. And while he rarely shares his work, because unoriginal people steal, he does like to dig through the memory vault from time to time. It reminds him that the things from then, are still important now. It also helps keep him motivated, further helping to continue the success of his company, GreatCreative.Com. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Nothing Of Consequence

Tim slid the chips towards us. It was the last of the aquamarine chips at the roulette table.  He never cracked a smile, but my friend was grinning ear to ear.  Back to back hits on 21.  Jase had just cleaned them out.  And as the chips slid past me, I thought about Tim and his job.  After all, I was on vacation having fun, and he was at work at Casino Royale.   Little did Tim know standing there, back on to the smoke filled pit, he was doing more than running the table.   He was making people smile, even if he chose, or was decreed, not to show any emotion.   What he was doing was entertaining.  And to us, it mattered.

When I strolled up the street that afternoon, Vegas was alive in all its Vegas Glory.  Excess in pursuit of compromise…or perhaps the opposite.  Maybe those barking “Smash Toys”, “Half-price show tickets”, and the más viejas madres Mexicanas flicking cards with semi-naked girls with an offer of “girls direct to you” are living anything but the dream.   Who stops to ask the street vendor his or her story?  We only speculate on their life, should anyone other than me with my inane curiosity and a few bible-thumping save everyone types care to think about them.   Happy.  Sad.  Content.  Fulfilled.  Real.  Tragically trapped and faking it for the eyes of the world.  Who are they really?  Does it matter?  Still, like Tim, they are providing a service, be what it is, a service some value and others dismiss as being nothing of consequence.

As it often happens, post cocktails and a few days departed from the office, I contemplated the value of my work.  And even returning home to face the accumulation of new projects that pile up in my absence.  Do I do anything of value?  Does anyone notice the approach I use in my day job?  Does my focus on correct grammar, reality based advertising from the consumer’s perspective, and a sincere sense of obligation to be honest to my clients, really matter?  That latter being a self-destructive practice founded in my refusal to sit here and tell a client what I think they want to hear.

I’m big on brutal honestly.  Sure it hurts sometimes, but only because we, as a species in general, have evolved to the point of self-importance and thusly, we greatly dislike being in the wrong. (get married if you really want to know how many times in a week you are wrong. And that’s not a mean thing to say. It’s fact. Some relationships are best managed on Brutal Honesty terms.)  Brutal honesty – as an art – certainly makes people stop and think.  And in a world where everything is automatic – “Smash toys! Smash toys!” (seriously, this requires no thought whatsoever) – stopping to think is a good thing.  And in all honestly – my aforementioned goal – I want to work for (with) people who think about their marketing…and their place in the world.

And I want to do something of consequence. Every. Single. Day.

So where does that take Albert as a writer – or marketing consultant – in the drab and dreary 7a-2p? (Please note that I could never work 9 to 5. It just sounds too structured for me. I’d be a terrible employee.)  Applying what I love – writing – to my client’s need for growth and profit is more than just pounding out generic eighth-grade-comprehension-level crap.  Those in the eighth grade world will buy anything shiny if they can get the credit (and really, who can’t get credit these days?), but those who have found more to life than social media and reality TV are far more difficult to reach. It takes thought, creativity, and brutal honesty.   Three things I count as vital to creating something of consequence.   Three things I know I can offer my clients…or clients-to-be.

So the questions remain.  Do I accept that I just get paid to make up shit?  Do I numb-out like Tim and the Smash Toy girl?  Or do I challenge my clients to challenge me?  I prefer the latter.  It’s time we all started to “think”.  It’s the kind of change the advertising world needs.

And change is good.  I’m all for it. I’m starting 2012 by taking a trip to broaden my horizons (not that trip taking is lacking in my world), and painting my studio an energizing green.  I like green.  It’s refreshing.  It’s no grin-inducing aquamarine a la Casino Royale, but it can tell a wonderful story if you stare at it long enough.

In an effort to keep everyone focused on the end goal, Albert takes one for the team. His best acting role in 2011.

 

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults with his clients around North America from Canada’s West Coast. He writes about both personal and business experiences, and is focused on taking his clients to the next level – whatever that “next level” happens to be for each client. In the process, Albert strives to create something that matters. And will almost always “take one for the team”. All of this has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.

Business Is Always Business. Personal Is Always Personal. Please Make A Mental Note.

This might get harsh.

I’ve come to accept there are three things I will never discuss, debate or pontificate upon in public, and in business.

Religion. Politics. Abortion.

Religion. It’s one of those “no proof no winner” topics. Those who love religion and feel it is the source of all the good in the world will never be swayed from their beliefs, religion being rooted in beliefs. And those who don’t love religion and see it as a source for all the troubles in the world, will never be swayed from their beliefs, their value system being rooted in beliefs. It is, essentially, a Mexican stand off. So, in terms of the business world, we should all just take a nap.

Politics. Red or Blue. That’s the Western way. (Okay, in Canada we had an Orange Wave that eclisped the Red, but that was unexpected. RIP, Jack) One wins the argument for four to eight years in America, a term or two in a Parliamentary Democracy, and till someone lops your head off in a dictatorship…then someone else takes over and spends their time blaming their predecessor for all the woes in the world. In the end, we digress, digress a little more, and then forget why we’ve digressed, so we go back to blaming someone else. The topic is a general lose-lose in business, so we should all just take a nap.

Abortion. This is an easy one. I pee standing up, by design, and while I applaud those members of the feminine gender who have acquired the skill of bellying up to the aluminum concert trough to relieve oneself (the female self), it doesn’t change the fact that this is not a topic for the genetically engineered up-right relievers. It is a topic that neither I, nor anyone with a grain of sense, would bring up in business. Standers or squatters. No need for a nap. My eyes are WIDE open on this. Noooo talkies.

In an effort to take this in a direction devoid of hate mail, let me weed out the topics that are not up for “Albert Opinion” today. Religion and the other one no one wants to debate.

So I guess that leaves us with Politics. Or me, at least.

In a recent municipal election campaign, I was added to a mailing list of “supporters” for a local mayoral candidate.

I should stop here for a moment: If you added me, it was okay with me. If you didn’t, it wasn’t you. And if you couldn’t help but Google me after our email exchange on the weekend, yes, I’m writing about you. And reminding you of one house you’ll never list. Oh, the power of the internet. Old angry guys from the Old Boys Club never really see these coming.

So I was getting these friendly update emails from the election team for the previously mentioned, but not named, mayoral candidate, and I’m sure in a moment of need to correct an error in shared information, the “sender” sent out an update without suppressing the list. An innocent mistake, but none the less, everyone on the recipient or “supporters” list was exposed. Big deal, right? We’re all like-minded folks. Apparently not. There was a reply from one guy. A very stupid guy.

He went on a tirade asking why he was receiving the emails, and explaining why he wouldn’t support this candidate. Hey then proceeded to explain all the reasons not to support the candidate and why he was supporting another candidate.

This was all written to an entire list of supporters.

Following? Amused at the stupidity?

The person hit “reply to all”. He’s a businessman. And he just went on a rant to the candidate’s supporters as to why he didn’t support the candidate.

Here’s the simple math:

“Reply to All” + “Unlike-Minded Recipients” x “Politics” = REALLY Bad Business Decision.

Imagine telling a hundred, or several hundred, people that they are wrong; that they are making a mistake. Okay, that’s a political opinion. That’ll get a few people riled up. Now imagine telling the next 100 or 200 people who call your business – or walk in the door – that they are wrong about their opinions. They haven’t asked you for your opinion, mind you, you have just decided to launch an “Opinion Assault” on them for no reason other than to satisfy your uneducated ego.

Sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it. But it happened. Probably not the best thing to do for his business. Especially when his business category (real estate) relies on referrals. And for the life of me, I can’t imagine what that guy was thinking.

Maybe that’s it. Like to many business people, he probably wasn’t thinking.

Politics. Religion. And the other one. It is never worth it in business.

Just shut up and sell my house.

Albert Berkshire is a writer, producer and voice actor. He lives, writes, plays, and consults with clients on Canada’s West Coast. He writes about both personal and business experiences, regularly helps his clients make good decisions, and always suggests you not hit “reply to all” unless you’re replying to your family – and even then, it’s not always advisable. Clarity of thought and no “reply to all” button on his email program, has helped make his company, GreatCreative.Com, successful. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, follow Albert on Twitter @albertberkshire.