Across the World and Back Again

After a ridiculously fun and exciting month away, I’m back! I can’t believe that my trip is over, and I’m still a little jet-lagged, but I want to get everything I can down about the trip before it all starts to slip away. I don’t know how I’m even going to begin to tackle this, but I think it’s all still fresh enough to recount to my satisfaction. And to Sarah’s, as she’s told me she is looking forward to my recap, and I don’t want to disappoint!

But a quick note before I do: I want to thank my lovely sister, Stephanie, for keeping my blog company while I was gone. She’s currently loving LA and getting closer and closer to getting a job everyday. She’s definitely doing much better than she’d been doing in NYC, so I’m happy for her!

And one more note: I wanted to make this recap complete with amazing pictures, but unfortunately, I’m the forgetful type who leaves cameras and iPods in my sister’s car before getting on plane rides home…so no pictures as they are currently traveling home through the kindness of UPS. Fail.

So…here we go.

On Tuesday, I left my house at 4AM (painful, I know) and traveled to LA. I ran into my American camp BFF, Sharon’s, arms around 2PM Cali time, and we proceeded to spend a ridiculous EIGHT hours in LAX, waiting for our flight. (My dad wanted to pad my flight time, just in case…they wouldn’t even let us check our bags until 6!) It seemed an endless wait. Finally, at 10PM, we boarded our 15 hour flight (economy seating surrounded by 4, yes FOUR, babies…for 15 hours.) Luckily, I’d been up for about 22 hours at that point, so I fell asleep halfway through Mamma Mia, which I couldn’t even see as in economy, the only screen you get is a giant projection at the front of the section, which short people can’t see. Again, fail.

But when we got off the plane in Melbourne, it was totally and completely worth it. We walked out of baggage claim, and standing in the middle of a huge crowd of people, was Sarah’s smiling face. She screamed. We all ran to each other and hugged, and I instantly felt somehow at home, halfway around the world.

That was instantly tested when we got in the car, which if you don’t know, is doing the whole other side of the road thing, which you don’t think will be that weird, but it totally is! Every time Sarah made a quick left turn, I had a heart attack. On the drive, Sarah pointed out some landmarks to us as we drove through the heart of Melbourne, and I could tell how excited she was to tell us about the city.

Sarah warned us that the first day would seem like a blur, and she was definitely right. I know we got back to Sarah’s apartment in a very posh neighborhood on the cutest street ever, before heading out to explore the city. We walked around one of the big shopping streets then met Sarah’s dad for lunch (who, over the course of the trip, became one of my favorite people ever), but the whole time, I just felt weird. I thought jetlag was just tiredness, but it was really just an off-feeling. It was bizarre.

That night, I somehow pulled it together enough to make a good first impression on all Sarah’s friends at their favorite pub, the Knott. We (Sharon and I) got a Pot and Parma (pot of beer and chicken parmesan – omg, so delicious!), and met some fabulous people – Anna, Katie, Taryn, Sheeho, Dan, Steve – I didn’t know it then, but many of them, too, would soon become some of my favorite people. I should have expected that Sarah would have amazing friends – I mean, she’s friends with me! – but I was surprised by how welcoming they were and how genuinely excited they were to meet us. Sadly by nine, the jetlag got the best of us, and we had to head home.

Friday we hit the ground running. We drove about an hour outside Melbourne to hit the first of many elementary field trip-like attractions we would visit on our trip. Seriously, everyone we told about this outing had the same reaction – Oh my god! Puffing Billy! I haven’t been there since I was four/three/two! (The age somehow always got younger.) Basically, the Puffing Billy is a historic steam train in the Dandenong Mountains.

It’s tradition for kids to sit on the railings with their feet hanging over the side of the train (affectionately know to us later as sitting “Puffing Billy style”) We thought we would go for a half an hour ride (courtesy of Sarah’s dad – a big wig in the tourism industry who, along with Sarah, a force herself in the industry, got us tickets to EVERYTHING.) We got on and enjoyed the ridiculously beautiful views of the countryside. When we got to the first stop, however, we were ready to head back.

Unfortunately, we were told we had tickets to the next stop then an hour “layover” of sorts until the train went back the other way. We made the best of things and decided to get lunch at the little snack stand, which we were told was the only place to eat. We ate outside, where Sharon and I had our first sighting of a magpie, a freaky looking bird who got entirely too close to my sausage roll. (I also tried my first bite of meat pie!)

We then walked around the area to look at some more animals when we discovered an actual restaurant with indoor seats and non-microwaved food. Thanks Puffing Billy workers for that tidbit of information. Oh well. We had fun. On the way back, we got an indoor “private” car, since it was a bit chilly, and had some…interesting conversations until a couple got in the car behind us and proceeded to make out the entire ride back!

We then rode back into town to meet Sarah’s work friends for drinks, but not before stopping at her office and taking some ridiculous photos. (They’re coming, I promise!) Sarah’s work friends were lovely, again not surprising, but also not surprising, jet-lag kicked my ass again around 6, and we had to head home before I fell asleep at the bar.

And, now I have to go get ready to go grocery shopping with my mom. This recap is going to take longer than expected…luckily, nothing interesting is happening to me at all right now, so I feel like I have time to do this trip justice.

On one more note: class starts today at my college, and for the first time in four years, I’m not there. I’m trying to ignore this fact t0 the best of my ability.

He’s Just Not That Into You…

I headed up to Philly today to say goodbye to Jenny and Steve. Jenny’s visiting Steve as usual, before she heads back to NYC. They’re both my friends from Syracuse and they have a very complicated relationship.

While Steve was playing bball, Jen and I hung out at Starbucks and ended up having a conversation about our boy grumbles, as per usual. She complained about Steve and his commitment phobia, and I complained about Blake and my constant inability to understand how he feels about me.

Jenny was on a roll, when this older lady sitting behind us got up to go throw something away. As she stood up, she turned to Jenny and said “You just need to forget him! You should have boys begging to be with you. He’s crazy”

I exclaimed, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell her!”

The nice lady came back from the trash can, and added that she needs to read that “He’s not into you book.” We chatted a bit, and when she left, she wished her good luck. “It’s a new year! Time to start fresh!”

Oh the wisdom you pick up from random Starbucks patrons.

I should really take the same advice. I told Blake I had some stuff to deliver to him, and he asked if I wanted to just mail it to him. Because apparently he’s not planning on seeing me when I get to LA in two days? Because he’d rather just text message me. All. The. Time.

But, you know, that’s it. Because it’s not like he cried when he said goodbye to me. Or texted that he missed me for weeks after he left.

Exasperation.

Rising up, back on the streets

Hanging out in Baltimore at my friend Hope’s house. She’s watching the Ravens game. I’m taking a break from football, since the Steelers are comfortably in the playoffs already.

Last night I slept over at my aunt and uncles house and my cousins and I played a lot of Rock Band. Fun times all around. They, being 16 and 11, were much more fun to play with than my 8 year old cousins. 8 year olds are irrational and don’t like to let their older cousins have turns. They also play the same two songs over and over again, because they have a limited musical knowledge. If I ever here “Eye of the Tiger” again, I’ll scream.

So the Brown family extravaganza was pretty fun. Sort of tiring and sort of gave me a three day headache. Kids are a lot to take. When my one little cousin was saying goodbye, he went to give me a hug, and then slapped me in the face instead. And then laughed. Oooh, children. Heh heh.

Also, because Amanda is gone, I didn’t get a stocking this year. And everyone else in the family got a Wii except us. Ha.

So I’m going to LA a week from tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll find a job so I can finally have an answer to give people when they ask. I’ve just started making stuff up for people I don’t really know. I’m so sick of explaining my life. When I went to get my haircut last week, I just pretended to be from Delaware and I pretended to have a job. I really just didnt feel like putting forth the effort to explain anything. So sick of it.

I also hate explaining that no, I don’t have a job lined up. You can’t line up jobs in the entertainment industry unless you’re real well connected. Blarg. I’m not an accountant!

Ok, back to pretending to care about the Ravens game. Can’t wait to see Amandini next week.

“Run, run away from crazy snake man, they’ll shout!”

I feel sad that my post made Amanda cry more. I wish she were here and not sad! I also hope she brings me back an Australian boyfriend.

We’ll make up for it with the “Amanda gives Steph a tour of LA” fun times we’re gonna have in a week and a half. Ahh! A week and half. That just freaked me out a bit. New life ready go.

Days 1 and 2 of the festivities were fairly fun. Yesterday didn’t feel too much like Christmas, since I got no stocking or presents, and we didn’t eat ham loaf. But whatevs. Hearing about all my cousins’ presents and friends’ presents was good enough for me.

Speaking of cousins, my 11 yr old cousin Grace is now almost as tall as me, and my 16 yr old cousin Taylor now towers over me in his tallness. I told them I remember when they were babies. And then I realized that I sounded like one of those old aunts who pinches your cheeks and squeals “OH, how much you’ve grown!” And that scared me. Being an adult is lame.

The most amusing part of the night was around the dinner table when we somehow got to talking about weddings, and every family member recounted a funny story from his or her wedding. This made me laugh while also making me feel like an old maid when I realized that all of these stories took place when my relatives/parents were younger than I am now. I’m going to be a cat lady.

The best story was recounted by my 98 year old great grandmother, who got married in 1934 during the Depression. Her wedding was dry, but apparently her photographer showed up wasted. So, all her pictures came out sideways or blurry. Then my dad told us the story of how he got his best friend completely drunk at his bachelor party, and then left him in the basement of the bride-to-be’s parents. Oh Brown family stories.

This conversation was ended by Grace asking if “We could please talk about something in this century.” Ha.

Now my mom and I are prepping the house for the Hanukkah party tonight. I’m starving myself as long as possible so I have room for all the brisket, latkes and challah that will be inhaled by me later tonight. Off to the grocery store!

How to Win Clients and Influence Customers

The pursuit of new business is an opportunity to shine on multiple levels. Think of a pitch as a mission in interpersonal relations mixed with a little bit of firsthand insight.

However, the only way to gain those new found tidbits of insider knowledge is to peel back layers of uncertainty and assumption.

Focus on getting to know the client on a level playing field.

What makes them tick?

Who are they as a person?

Here are five tips on winning opportunities of influence and driving new business outcomes:

  • Be personable.
  • Respect the suit.
  • Embrace the hustle.
  • Know your differentiator.
  • Be real.

A client is only as valuable as your commitment to look beyond the money.

Build meaning and win. Win big.

A More Meaningful Story

Every business is in the storytelling business. The ultimate challenge for brands of all types is crafting relevance along the journey of life. Consumers are seeking a meaningful story.

If we can somehow channel the best attributes of our existence as a brand, individual, or ideal then we will be equipped with the right tools to help share our story.

But sharing our story is only the beginning.

The next step in engagement is placing your audience at the center of attention.

How do we accomplish this?

By making your customer the lead character.

Take your audience on a journey of challenge, accomplishment, purpose, and success.

Doing so will unleash an immense arena of relevance and maybe even lead to fresh advocacy.

Here’s to the story. Make it a meaningful one.

What’s In a Brand Name?

The contextual testing of a brand name is a good exercise in directed effort.

Coming up with a name for a new or existing venture can be quite a challenge. Opinions may flourish. Winning ideas may get lost in the shuffle without some type of control mechanism.

Naming provides its participants with an opportunity to pull from history. The past, present, and future all play a role in naming. Inspiration is everywhere.

  • Language
  • Books
  • Technology
  • Science
  • Art
  • Color
  • Commerce
  • And so forth.

What are the attributes of a winning brand name? Perhaps, those are measured and explored over time. A closer look at the process of naming and its required techniques can help ease the journey.

The following are some exercises or ideas for coming up with the one:

  • Brainstorm using mind maps.
  • Test the name in context.
  • Say it out loud.
  • Put it everywhere.
  • Be methodical.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Play around.
  • Explore variety.
  • Capture everything.

The right name could mean the difference between success and failure and it is this simple truth that should drive all who are called to a more distinct approach.

Build brands that matter.

The Startup Pyramid of Needs

We might be familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but are we in tune with the impact of relevance and resonance? Moving individuals from a point of awareness > interest > desire > action is a lot like Maslow’s pyramid, in that, it’s a process.

As entrepreneurs, we often face moments of inspiration and strive for immediate confirmation of our ideas. For it is the idea that sparks energy, commitment, and eventually, market validation.

However, an idea is just an idea.

But an idea that moves is much more powerful.

When canvassing your startup or business idea, do you strive for the top of the pyramid or basic foundational existence in the marketplace? This is an interesting question for several reasons.

At the Top of the Pyramid

The point of self-actualization is very similar to the question of Why? in Simon Sinek’s famous Ted talk. If you know why your business idea exists you’re well on your way. Always strive for a powerful why.

The Bottom of the Pyramid

At its most basic level, the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid is a case study in necessity. These are the fundamental needs that must be met before we can even ask why or move up the pyramid.

Winner: The bottom of the pyramid.

Here’s why:

Is your product a nice-to-have or a need-to-have type product?

Most would probably prefer need-to-have.

Now it’s up to you to sell why people simply cannot move forward without your product/service/widget and piece of startup awesomeness.

A Focus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the Central Coast

We must embrace and leverage rising trends to survive the changing landscape of technology. Silicon Valley is a popular post for new business growth and entrepreneurship but the fact remains that we must see Silicon Valley not as a destination but rather a mindset. Bringing this same mindset to the Central Coast was the topic of conversation during a recent Futures Forum event held by the Innovation Initiative of the Economic Alliance for Northern Santa Barbara County in Santa Maria, California. (Disclosure: I’m an active participant of this initiative.)

We are enabled with an immense opportunity to increase the vitality of our region and pioneer a new era of innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the Central Coast. Close to one hundred people gathered together at a state of the art facility located in the heart of the Santa Maria Valley. An old special efffects studio played home to our discussion on innovation and emerging trends. Topics included the rising influence of the Latino market, coworking spaces, innovative agriculture, open education, and of course, entrepreneurship.

A highlight of the Futures Forum included an effort to showcase a unique online ideas campaign aimed at sparking discussions around what locals see as the vision for the future of our region. Several exciting ideas shaped the conversation around what kinds of activities and levels of focus is desired including key participation from young professionals on a panel.

Another exciting highlight of the event was active participation by Simon Anderson, a Chief Futurist at Futur1st.com, consultant, speaker, and co-author of Foresight 20/20: A Futurist Explores the Trends Transforming Tomorrow.

A successful event featuring a virtual keynote fueled by real discussions is only the beginning of what expects to be a budding community of innovation, startups, economic vitality, and regional possibilities right here in Santa Maria, California!

The Ultimate Innovation Model

The race for impact and forward momentum often requires that decision makers invest in strategy and iteration. Several prominent models exist that help organizations from startups to Inc. 500’s navigate the waters of possibility. Appreciative Inquiry is one such model that has the potential to change both outcomes and organizational culture.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a capacity-building process that begins by valuing the organization and the culture in which it is embedded; by learning about the organization, its relationships, and its environment; and by identifying and building on existing strengths rather than examining in detail problems and deficiencies. Appreciative Inquiry puts organizations back in touch with their “deepest living values.” And it can help an organization create its niche by identifying its collective hopes and dreams and then designing a process for realizing them.

Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a unique model aimed at helping individuals focus on the positive and build upon what’s working. The 4D model is based on several steps that move the needle of progress.

a cycle of activities that guide members of an organization, group, or community through four stages: discovery – finding out about moments of excellence, core values, and best practices; dream – envisioning positive possibilities; design – creating the structure, processes, and relationships that will support the dream; and delivery – developing a plan for implementation.

The 4D model is a useful tool for startups as they move through iteration and its build–measure–learn steps or for organizations seeking an alternative to traditional plan–do–check–act plateaus.

AI is typically thought of as a “soft” strategy used in creating organizational visions, aligning groups, and building cultures. – The Art of Appreciative Inquiry by Theodore Kinni

Appreciative Inquiry is an innovative approach that should rightly find its place in the toolbox of decision makers and champions of opportunity.