Once upon a time, there was a local charity in need of a website.

Not just any website: a basic website. No fancy Flash animation. No crazy apps. Nothing out of the ordinary.

They went with the first quote they received – a friend of a friend – and excitedly started the project.

We’d like 20 pages, but we’d like to update the content ourselves.

Oh, that’ll cost you, the website designer told them.

Oh, and it would be nice to have our Facebook and Twitter feeds on it too.

Those are quite expensive, the designer lamented, and those will certainly take many hours to implement.

What about links to external websites? Extra fee.

What about pictures? Extra.

Words? Extra.

Colours? Sorry, extra.

By the time the charity’s new website was live, it was already outdated, more than $4,000 over budget and still didn’t meet website visitors’ needs.

The charity’s team in charge of the project spoke highly of the value they place on the completed project. “Of course it was worth it – it’s on the Internet and looks marvellous. It even has pictures!” they said, while cutbacks in their programs and services pushed away those most in need of the few donations they received.

The website designer? She also spoke highly of the value of her services, and was able to place yet another trophy on her mantel.

And both the charity and designer went on with their lives. The end.

Or is it? I’ve said this many times before, but I need to say it again: it’s time that marketers stop pillaging our charities for every nickle they can get, and instead partner with them to deliver exceptional services for the betterment of our entire community – especially those who rely on charities.

I find it embarrassing that so much value is sucked out of the charitable sector for the profit of an individual or two who don’t understand morality.

Some free advice: if you’re a charity, get a minimum of two quotes for any project over a certain threshold. If you’re after a “basic” website, don’t spend any more than $2,000 max. Ask around and see what others have paid for similar solutions.

When it comes to print projects, keep in mind that although you may be using a local marketing team, most large projects are printed in the GTA – you may be spending 100-200% more simply to use a local middleman. Supporting local is important, but be sure you have a clearly defined plan regarding this….what’s more important, supporting a local printer or providing your charity’s services to XX more people? It all depends on where you place the most value. How you do that is up to you.

There are things in this world that we don’t speak of. Things we feel we can’t speak of.

How ugly other people’s kids are.

Employees that fail their employers and employers that abuse their employees.

People who lie about their charitable giving to become wealthier in the eyes of others.

How faith in God has evolved into church routine.

Reaction of terrorist events in a developed nation vs. a least-developed nation.

How much we dislike a friend’s cooking or attitude or habit.

Why we like some movies over others.

And the list goes on. It’s endless, actually. You can likely come up with a totally different list of your own.

One of my goals in life is to make positive change happen in organizations, people, businesses and charities. “Changing lives through the power of Darren”, if I were to rip off one of my client’s mission statements. I do this by communicating. By having meaningful conversations and opening ourselves up to the possibility of having our minds changed, great things can and will happen. (But if I’m wrong, please let me know – I’d love to chat about it!)

Some people think that charitable giving is complicated. It’s not. There are many ways you can give to the people and organizations that have done special things for you and your community. Here’s one way you can give them $$$:

  1. Find some money. (Cash, debit or credit.)
  2. Visit the charity’s office. (I really like seeing firsthand where my donation is going.)
  3. Tell someone you want to make a donation. (Don’t put restrictions on it – they’ll put your money in the place it’s needed most.)
  4. Give your address information for your tax receipt.
  5. Go home, knowing you made a difference.
  6. Proclaim your endeavours to all of your friends and family, to let them know how awesome you are. [Personally, I’m not really that type of person and you likely aren’t either. I love anonymous donations, because each of my donations is personal and I really don’t want anything in return. (Although a tax receipt is a nice perk.) If you’re so inclined, take out a full-page ad in the Sarnia Journal. Whatever floats your boat. Merry Christmas!]

Robots have taken over Earth. They look and sometimes even talk like us, but they don’t act like us. They listen to orders. They compute. They accomplish tasks. They repeat.

They don’t think. They certainly don’t ask questions.

Robots make people’s lives worse. When we work with them to solve problems or come up with new ideas, we’re often met with frantic reactions that robots are programmed to reply with: “Are you anti-robot?” “You are not allowed to disagree with a robot.” “Obviously you’ve had bad experiences with robots. The problem is you!”

For all of my life, and much of my parents’ lives, most North Americans are robots. They have plenty of power and are dependable, but can only do the tasks that they’ve been programmed to do.

Do not fret, friends.robot uprising

There has been an ever-growing tide of change from the people who we’re counting on to bail out humanity: our youth. Bright minds are fostering the proliferation of technology and the exchanging of ideas faster than ever before – faster than robots can ever do individually, and are unable to ever catch up to. Today’s youth are (perhaps) unknowingly working together to leap the human race forward for the betterment of civilization.

So, when exactly is this uprising of youth going to happen? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll guess. My grandparents’ generation spurred great innovation. My parents’ generation was fuelled by exceeding the limits of excess through innovation. My generation has begun to understand what’s happening, although it’s mostly robotic misdirection. So I would say that it will be my child’s generation that will greatly change the direction humanity is headed in.

These young people will be even more connected than they are today. They will have a global plan. They will use their large, unified approach to correct the wrong and launch an uprising against the robots.

You can already see it developing today. Youth around the world are forming global interconnected communities built on foundations that make sense and contribute to the greater good. They’re passionately piecing this together through communication tools that unite with others at the speed of light.

The initial corrections will seem frivolous, at first. For example, youth will no longer use social media upon realizing that the overly positive Facebook updates are harmful. They will stop buying new cars, especially ‘eco-friendly’ ones. And they will grow gardens instead of shop for groceries.

Then the major changes will erupt. What will happen when youth refuse to vote because a political system built on the popularity of candidates is corrupt? What if Christians wash the feet of the homeless instead of going to a temple with a curtain torn in two? What if youth decide that maximizing profits at the expense of others is wrong, and must be forbidden? What if it’s discovered that most charities are doing everything immorally? What if youth can finish their work in only four hours every day? What if post-secondary students decide that education loans aren’t worth it? What if they stop buying houses, since the average house in Canada is $420,000, and launch co-operatives? What if youth stop using banks to save their money? What if a group of keen programmers write a virus that takes out a government’s digital communication system? What if the Internet goes down…forever?

These will seriously adjust our fragile democratic societies and robots won’t know what to do, since they’re not programmed to do anything else. And like we’re already seeing in many circumstances, they will do everything they can to correct the perceived mistakes. It won’t be pretty.

Will the robots realize that the way they’ve done things is wrong? Will they admit that their battles have been for nothing? Let’s hope so.

Until then, we need to keep telling our children that they don’t need to be robots. They have the power to make things better for our world – and humanity – if they work together and do what’s best for everyone.

Yes, everything is going to change. Nothing can stop that. It will get worse before it gets better. But it will get better.

Darren’s definition of success: never giving up anything I care about and being able to give as much as I receive. If I can do these two things, I would consider my life a pretty big success. Every day I aim to get a little closer.

Recently, a credit union going throughbank puberty thought that bigger is better, and merged with another credit union. Its Amalgamation Business Case, states that the newly merged organization will have better benefits for members, such as more managers and an increase in risk management and administrative functions.

How will these wildest dreams for members come true? This is how:

  • More money from existing members;
  • Money from new members within its communities; and
  • Money from with new members in new communities.

So, they’re going to ask everyone for more money. That’s a creative way to do it.

But how will they be any different from their competitors? They will:

  • Be flexible;
  • Be experts;
  • Be convenient; and
  • Be accessible.

Hmmm. Not sure if I’m switching yet, sorry.

But that’s not the only way it will see increases in profit. They’re cutting costs in areas that they think no longer need funding: up to $500,000 in human resources, technology, marketing and consulting.

Sigh.

Not sold yet? It already has plans to merge “with other credit unions in the region.” Focused, presumably, on reaping more money, acting less local and standing taller than ever…even though the credit union says it will always remain focused on “values, community and family.”

Isn’t that a cute thing to say to its members.

As much as any organization doesn’t want to admit that it has problems, sometimes it’s best to confess. This credit union’s problems had nothing to do with community members or government regulations or the economic climate or local geography. The problem is, the credit union’s main competitors are doing a much better job at making their members happy – they have stronger brands, they’re making wise decisions and it’s paying off. The problems are internal.

Hiding problems through a merger instead of addressing them isn’t going to fulfill goals any better. To be successful, you need to be honest and open, not just outside of your organization, but especially inside. Achieve inner success and all your other problems don’t matter as much.

Unfortunately, this credit union is already going down a path that it can’t turn around on. We the non-members will continue to watch it struggle, giving up things its members care about and receiving more than it gives. Hmmmm…this sounds a lot like it’s no longer a credit union at all, but another type of financial institution – one that doesn’t require membership. It’s like it has become an entity that has little to do with values, community and family. And doesn’t pretend it does. Could it be a bank?

The vast majority of people learn in similar ways.

We want to interact. We retain information best when we actively work with something, instead of reading about how it works. We also want to learn with others, especially friends, instead of strangers or superiors.

We want to research. We want to be able to know why and how something works, not just facts found on the surface.

We want to repeat. We want to interact and research forever, in part to retain our knowledge and memories, but also to grow on them.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were told that the best way for children to learn was to show up at a large building, file into a rectangular room and sit, facing forward, and listen for six hours. I, along with many of my schoolmates, couldn’t learn like this, but we were told that the problem isn’t in the delivery – the problem is us.

My high school history teacher once called me out on my lack of attention to his talk on something to do with dead people. With my mind in a totally different world than the classroom, he asked me something to the effect of, “Darren, what did I just say?” (I assumed that he also said this in a lame attempt to embarrass me in front of my peers.) I bluntly replied, “I have no clue.” And he then asked me to pay attention to his lecture. [1]high school

Today, there’s a movement happening in our schools called ‘21st century learning’.

“The key features of this new model are an emphasis on creativity, innovation and digital literacies, with more discussion of broad concepts and big ideas and less emphasis on factual knowledge. Courses will be personalized to suit students’ learning preferences. Classes will be student-centred, and feature far less direct instruction and far more project and group work.”[2]

The principles of 21st century learning aren’t new. Interacting and researching with peers in unique ways is a recipe for success, not only for children, but for adults too. But it’s quite new for educators, or at least they’re hoping that we think it’s new, and not remember that teachers have had decades to revolutionize education and have so far failed to do so.

As you can imagine, I grew to dislike history. And math. And French. And English. And pretty much any subject that involved sitting in rows listening to someone talk at a chalkboard. If 21st century learning will help children grow greater appreciation for important puzzle pieces of life, I’m all for it. I just hope that those given the task of educating our youth will take this opportunity to stay focused on providing quality education for all, not just the minority who are blessed with well-absorbing brains.

 

[1] History is now one of my favourite areas to explore. I have frequent discussions about most areas of history and occasionally find myself exploring Wikipedia for hours!

[2] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/the-brave-new-world-of-21st-century-learning/article19355298/

There are certain unwritten rules that restaurant personnel should follow if they want to have a consistent flow of patrons. Everyone’s different, but I don’t think that I’m asking a lot in this list of standards.

Service

  • Greet me. Say “Hello”, smile or even just usher me to my table. Anything to immediately acknowledge my presence, really.
  • If my glass/bottle is empty, ask if I want another one.
  • If my dishes are lacking food, ask if I’d like to order anything else. If I’m fine, then please remove the dirty dishes.
  • I don’t mind hearing about servers’ life stories. Many are fascinating. But try to avoid the tales of your child with serious health issues and how you need to work a lot to pay for treatments.
  • If my food comes out after the rest of my table is already eating, make sure it retains the quality of everyone else’s. I would rather wait longer than be served sub-par food. That being said, if it’s a very long wait, I shouldn’t have to ask for compensation.
  • Be honest.
  • Tipping ‘should’ be a reflection of the service that I’m provided. This includes servers as well as kitchen staff.

Food

  • Remarkable
  • Consistent
  • Special, but not pompous
  • Has substance

Atmosphere

  • Warm ‘feel’
  • Free Wi-Fi without a password I need to ask for (maybe include it in the menu)
  • An extraordinary view
  • Comfortable chairs/seats
  • Clean table

If you can’t meet these standards, then I probably won’t be visiting/revisiting your dining establishment. That doesn’t mean you won’t be successful. There are many people who regularly eat out and are happy with far less, while tipping far more than I do.

After reflecting on this short list, I’ve realized how creepily similar these standards are to other businesses I like. They have service that’s honest and efficient; a product that I want to tell my friends about; and an atmosphere that makes me feel comfortable and welcomed.

How often do we customers have to ‘settle’ because of business leaders who refuse to rethink their practices?

I read and write. Sometimes, I even edit. This post was written to address things that make me cry when I read. Please read it. Then write gooder.

Do not double space. This is especially directed toward those who never read books or newspapers, since these people obviously are not aware that this is a rule. Do not use two spaces after a period. Not before a period. Not after quotes. Not before them. Not in the middle of a sentence. Your teachers were wrong. Yes, all of them.

Do not capitalize random words because you think they look better beginning with capital letters. “My Eggs were delicious.” That’s great you want your eggs to be a proper name, but the rest of the world doesn’t care.

Do not put double quotes inside of double quotes. Use single quotes. Bob said, “When people do this, they make me scream out ‘I hate you!’”

Do not design your copy deck. If you’re changing copy in an advertisement, you don’t need to spend your afternoon redesigning it in a Microsoft Word document, and then emailing it late to the designer. You can just say “Change the headline to <insert new headline here>.”

And related to the rant above: do not design in Microsoft Word. No, you’re not helping.

I could care less. You may be able to care less, but you probably mean the opposite.

Use your tab key. This is found on the left-hand side of your keyboard. Do not hit your space bar 13 times. Use your pinky finger to hit this ‘magical’ key. For those without pinky fingers, use your pinky toe.

There’s a difference between single quotes and foot marks. The same is true with double quotes and inch marks.

‘E.g.’ and ‘i.e.’ have different meanings. E.g. = for example. I.e. = that is.

  • For drivers to know how to turn their vehicle at the Indian and Cathcart/Errol intersections in Sarnia
  • For users of Facebook to type less and think more
  • For people in power to give it up
  • For organizations to update their online profiles semi-regularly
  • For people to say it like it is
  • To eat more salad
  • For my suppliers not to openly lie to me or the charity I’m representing
  • For it to stop snowing
  • To discover what the question to the answer “42” is
  • For my new client’s project to proceed
  • More time to drink coffee with people who are doing great things
  • For my boss to have a nacho bar for lunch at least once this summer
  • To play a role in an amazing project that I can’t even fathom right now
  • To hear back from people I want to buy products/services from within 24 hours
  • To thank my favourite restaurants for ‘getting it’
  • Satellite radio in my mode of transportation
  • To find a special way to thank my grandpa for what he gave me
  • For every project I work on to be helpful to my clients
  • To encourage my friends to be the best they can be
  • To be closer with Aubree every day
  • To play more board games with my family
  • To explore a new place for more than one day
  • To intentionally not check my phone messages for two days in a row (such a rush!)
  • To volunteer less time and accomplish more
  • To finish my book

I often think back on my short existence in the marketing world and remember how incredibly weird some moments were. They were so crazy it’s hard to believe they even happened.

I was reminiscing about these times while I was watching Saving Mr. Banks. In the film, author P.L. Travers sits in a rehearsal room with the award-winning Sherman Brothers, songwriters who are turning her beloved story of Mary Poppins into something that they feel will resonate better with moviegoers. Ms. Travers wants nothing of it and tells the Sermans that their songwriting is rubbish. Not only does she insist that the movie should mirror her novels in every detail, but she also demands that the Banks’ house must look identical to her own and the colour red can’t be used at all. No red, really?

I’ve had experiences with co-workers and clients insisting on revisions not too dissimilar from Ms. Travers’. Most times, I just dealt with the demands and added them to my ever-growing list of Things I Can Laugh About Later. Other times, they are the ones who eventually understand and relent…but that’s a rarity.

Think of all the brilliant ideas being dismissed because of what I call the Travers syndrome. Let’s all take a look at ourselves and see if we can open our minds, even if it’s just a little, to making creative excellence happen in 2014.

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