Sandra Rossi

Marketing Strategist and Business Coach for Independent Retailers, Makers, and Creative Entreprenuers

Market Travel & Inspiration: Tampa Florida

This past winter my family did its bi-annual pilgrimage south for the holidays. My family lives in Tampa, FL and my husband’s family resides in Atlanta, GA (LOVE). It was a trip filled with micro-blast visits with family, but I had set an intention to seek out some new and upcoming retailers and spaces that were adapting to new lifestyles and demands that would inspire me and only validate my gut instincts.

First stop was Tampa.  We only had 3 days in Tampa and one of those was Christmas eve.

Greetings from Tampa, Florida

Tampa is the epitome of all I despise in our modern retail world. Mega-stores, strip malls, neighborhoods you can’t walk in, and homogenization in all places. It’s hard to tell what city you are in when you fall asleep in a car on Dale Mabry Highway in Hillsborough County and then end up on US19 in Pinellas County. It all looks the same.

That said, I grew up in Tampa and know some secret stash spots that have managed to stay special and are now even becoming revitalized with the times.

South Tampa is the trendy hotspot and it’s booming. It’s the local where young professionals flock due to proximity to active lifestyles and nightlife. I was shocked at the amount of condominium development and new eateries.  Happy to see it, but also sad to see some of the beautiful art deco buildings and dive bar haunts that I used to frequent in my youth, that had been torn down for new residences.

First stop for me is always the Yoga studio I practice when there. There are few places that offer Ashtanga yoga by authorized teachers, and as a niche practitioner I seek them out. Yogani Studios, where the lovely Jessica teaches, was recently acquired by Bella Prana Yoga.

Upon entering  I was happy to see some updates to the interior and boutique. They added to their store assortment and had improved visual displays, but it was still a bit scattered. They carried some beautiful jewelry pieces, home goods, yoga clothes, etc. But the overall boutique lighting was dark.  It was hard to see the beautiful macrame pieces for sale that hung from their walls because there was no accent lighting on them, clothing and jewelry didn’t pop.

Lesson: If you’re going to commit to retail, do it right or don’t do it at all. There are so many variables in play beyond having “stuff to sell” that influences conversion and helps with overall customer experience.

After yoga practice, I hit up my friend Kelly’s amazing cold press juicery, Squeeze Juice Works. She launched in St. Petersburgh and now has three locations.

Imagery all from  Squeeze Juiceworks.  So awesome that the girl with the orange bag is my Tampa yoga teacher Jessica from Yoga Chikitsa.

Her husband Todd Bates is the creative guru behind their branding and packaging. There are a lot of cold press juice micro brands, but in my humble opinion, I love Squeeze Juice Works’ branding and their behavior in their market. They are engaged, involved, and active within their community, and that’s always good business.

I had myself a One Night In Bangkok.  If you like spice and feeling cleansed—this is it. I am going to try and recreate this bad boy, but I may end up begging her for the actual measurements for balance. I, like many others, am happy to off the holiday food circuit.

While in Tampa, Yelp led me to the Oxford Exchange. A kind of uppity mixed-use space with retail, dining, a Warby Parker with a shared workspace and event space that’s added some revitalization to a wonky corner near University of Tampa (UT). Upon entering the space I felt the aesthetic of Renovation Hardwear, a hark back to the Florida Art Deco era that was far more “sophisticated” than the casual and sometimes lazy nature that Florida sometimes cultivates (tank tops, cut offs, shirt and shoes optional). It was nice to see people a bit more dressed up and a long wait for the restaurant.  I love interior design and all I can say is the team and the contractors nailed it.  The only thing I was bummed about was that the cafe did not have the most critical thing that I’d like to find when in Tampa—a Cuban coffee.

From Oxford Exchange we steered ourselves towards Hyde Park Village. At one point was the “place to be” when built up in the late 80’s then sputtered out through the 90’s and into the 21st century. It’s struggled to get strong anchor stores that drive consistent traffic and many of the smaller businesses and restaurants seem to be in constant rotation.There are still spaces that seem to be in constant rotation and I noticed vacancies. So either rent is too high, there isn’t enough traffic, or the flow and layout don’t work for stores to survive.  Today, key retailers include The Paper Source, West Elm, Pottery Barn, Anthropologie, Lululemon, and a few revolving restaurants.

I was underwhelmed because there was still no strong local business vibe. Then…I stumbled on one gem.

Albisia Jewelry store. An engineer turned into a self-taught jewelry designer with a workshop in store, she is a true artisan and she’s beautiful. Her design aesthetic is minimal, modern, with a hint of wabi-sabi. She works with 14kt and 18kt gold and includes some precious gemstones found in her travels.

Images below from Albisia’s Instagram.

Her website and store are sophisticated, simple, and beautiful. But the brand person in me wants to know more about her and her design process. Her work is too beautiful and she is too talented to not try and understand it. I want to know her story and how it all happened. Stories are what draw us to you, not just what you put out. Perhaps I can convince her to let my partner and I do that for her (dreams).

Interesting to note: Albisia had a pop-up shop in the International Mall for the Holiday. This to me is very telling that the International Mall is suffering from mall syndrome. Tenants are either not meeting rent or it’s costing them money to be there.

Overall trip to Tampa was two thumbs up! As a family, we spent one day on the beach, where I got a small sunburn, slid down the Hippo Slide, watched volleyball players and collected some seashells while having some mini adventures in town.

Our next stop Atlanta.

Photo Credit: Tampa Postcard, Boston Public Library Archives 

Finally…momentum

It’s been two years since I’ve worked in a corporate setting. I spent nearly 20 years in an industry where I climbed the ranks of product people, merchants, and brand builders for big brands and retailers. On paper, my resume is impressive. In my heart, I could only ask, “Is this it?”

In January 2015, my husband and I bought a two family home; I resigned from a 2-year consulting contract from a company where I was asked to stay on for a large sum of money and then spent nearly $30K of saved money on home renovations. In February 2015, my father-in-law died tragically and in the summer of 2015 my mother-in-law came to move in with us.

Part of a Series of The Anxiety Project featured on Unsplash by Photographer Mike Wilson

In April of 2015, my anxiety began.

A once career focused woman, who had climbed the proverbial ladder, and who was highly driven, I found myself at odds with none other than me. I was the one who ripped my career band aid off and for some reason I thought that figuring out next steps would be easier than they actually were. It wasn’t a pretty time for me. It was, in fact, one of the darkest moments for me in nearly 15 years. I found myself anxious, doubtful, and resentful. I started questioning, comparing, and searching for answers externally. I found myself jealous of my husband’s successes at work. I was hanging on tightly to a career that I had self-identified with but was no longer serving me.

I felt like I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t productive, wasn’t contributing. My internal radio (ego) had landed on station KFKD, a station Ann Lamott calls K-Fucked, in her book Bird By Bird. She discusses how writers become paralyzed due to self-flagellation. As a human, I realized this problem was not for writers only. It can happen to anyone.

She writes, “If you are not careful, station KFKD (K-Fucked) will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on. You might as well have heavy-metal music piped in through headphones while you’re trying to get work done.

Let me get real vulnerable for anyone who knows me or thinks, “I have my shit together.” In 2015 I suffered from bouts of anxiety that had me on the floor. I couldn’t handle large crowds or loud noises, in fact, I became quite unsocial (which only perpetuated the problem).

Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom

(This image captures exactly what was causing my anxiety, I was free which felt amazing, but at the same time it was daunting.  Photo Cred: Justine Warrington, Flikr)

As a 20 year student of yoga, I knew what was happening, but for whatever reason, I fought it, until I surrendered and began what was needed to move through it.

2015 was a year of detox and me beginning some very personal work. It required asking for a shit-ton of help and learning to be in the midst of the unknown. It allowed me to recognize that I’m a perfectionist and that, that needed to change ASAP or else nothing would get done. The year included this one gem from Byron Katie (which I still use regularly), restorative yoga, beginning an insight meditation practice, a therapist, a life coach, and long, long silent walks where my thoughts could unravel. It required me to take on some part-time work so I could be of service to others and allow my mind to focus on something other than “what do I really want to do next?”. It required me to take action, to just do something that would get a ball in motion. It also meant removing things that created anxiety for me, including social media, getting off LinkedIn (I could blog on how LinkedIn sucks for anyone in career change), caffeine, and no more wine with dinner.

Note: I also became one of those Adult colorers. If you suffer from anxiety chances are your mind needs a “binky” — this is it.

In the process of all this work, I learned.

I learned how to live with a different rhythm. Learned that I was capable of doing more than just working in the same industry and taking on similar jobs within it. Learning how to be okay with not be validated by a boss, team, or industry. Learning how to come up with creative answers to others about “what I do” even when I didn’t know what I did.

I inhaled books: The Obstacle Is The Way & Ego Is The Enemy, by Ryan Holiday, Leap by Tess Vigeland, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, The One Thing, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

I love Ryan Holiday’s Obstacle Is The Way, because avoidance is never the answer, and his historical references are awesome.

Near the end of 2015, I began to find the core tenants of inspiration that drove me into my career in the first place and dusting them off.

2016 was a year of trying new things and getting out of my own way. Of dipping my toes into new fields of work and new industries, where I realized that I underestimated how much experience I have and how so much of it crosses into various areas. Of taking classes. Of becoming clearer of first steps in my own business development and bringing on a partner, because I can’t and don’t want to do it alone. She, by the way, quit her job to launch this thing with me (no pressure). Of pitching and taking on a project I knew I could do but had never really done before, and finding success. Of learning that boundaries are going to become a theme of 2017. Of realizing that an idea (that still wasn’t super clear to me) that I grasped so tightly ten years ago but was so afraid of, was still nagging at me. Of learning to hold onto that idea softly so I could at least begin to start asking the right questions and being okay with not knowing the answer, knowing that through action it would present itself.

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten.—Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins said something that stuck with me and is still with me. He said “Most people over-estimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” As an impatient woman who is learning patience, this has been my go-to when I feel as if I’m not getting anywhere.

For all of you still feeling in the haze or are in the midst of radical change, let me remind you to be kind to yourself. Real lasting change takes fucking TIME. It requires you to unlearn what you’ve been conditioned to. To get to know yourself again. To remember the parts of you that have been waxed over by society, media, and buying into a personal belief hook line a sinker. It requires action because without action you get no clarity. It requires removing the distractions and the things that create noise for you.

In yoga, we say that when the sheaths of illusion are removed, and we get real honest with ourselves, it’s then that we can see clearly and change can happen.

You don’t need some gigantic purpose. Just find one thing every day that can be your purpose, that you can do to help move you in the right direction. Even if that’s just going for a walk.

Just begin and know, you are not alone. We are all in this together.

How Crafting A Point Of View Helps To Cultivates Empathy

“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and you reflect back to them that emotional understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen” – Stephen Covey

Early in my career we did a workshop where we were broken up into teams and were given the opportunity to role play various customer types.  We were given personas and descriptions of their problems and needs. There were a few a-typical personas that proved to be the most powerful in terms of empathic insights.

According to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford  great points of view can fit “onto a bumper sticker”.

The sticker: User + Need = Point of View

According to the Hasso Plattner Design Institute the state a point of view will:

  • Provide focus.
  • Allow you to determine relevancy of competing ideas.
  •  Inspire your team.
  •  Empower colleagues to make decisions independently in parallel. • Fuel brainstorms.
  • Capture the hearts and minds of people you meet.
  • Save you from the impossible task of developing concepts that are all things to all people.
  • Be something you revisit and reformulate as you evolve.

 

While designers always bring an angle to their work, it’s just as important for business owners and merchants to also think like a designer when solving problems for their business and or customer.

Beyond understanding need,  it asks that we understand the user, and to understand them well.  By digging deep we begin to cultivate empathy by not just listening, but resonating with their troubles. It is in understanding the user emotionally that we become more clear on the various hierarchies of needs that inform decisions. design needs and the various things they consider in the decision funnel.

“When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and you reflect back to them that emotional understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen” – Stephen Covey

Campaigns can also be empathic and address needs emotionally.  REI’s #OptOut compaign proved to be of major success in terms of resonating with their customer. The “tone” they took mirrored the exact feelings of their user group. This in turn created a wave and viral push across social media. The campaign elevated awareness and served as a catapult of their brand and business in a time when Sporting Goods/Outdoor Retail has seen its share of slash and burn.

By getting real clear on the people you seek to engage with via. products or experiences, the more clear you will be about the problems you need to solve and the better you will be at providing this “emotional oxygen” referenced by Stephen Covey. While the work is a little clunky at first I have found that it can serve as the grease in the wheels of a business that needs a “push” in the right direction.

Photo Cred: Tower View Jonas Nilsson Lee – www.stocksnap.io

 

 

The Shrinking Waistline of Retail, The Experience Economy & The Future

Macy's

Photo Courtesy of: “Scott Beale / Laughing Squid” laughingsquid.com.

On January 7, 2016 CNN reported that Macy’s would close 40 doors with thousands of layoff’s associated with it.

On January 21, CNBC released an article and video that Sports Authority will be closing nearly 200 of it’s 450 doors.

Online shopping is challenging the “core”/volume/replenishment business of retailers and shifting what in-store assortments will look like.

An entire generation of consumers are in debt, and transforming the concept of consumption, with another large generation about to retire (or not) with a bulk of disposable income.

None of this happened overnight. Economic shifts after 9/11 and the recession of 2008 were seismic.  Add in the the new faces of retail, a disappearing middle class and technology, and we see massive shifts in how we live, consume and engage in our communities and world.

The Shrinking Waistline of The Middle Class & Moderate Retail 

According to Erik Sherman, we are the richest country but the most unequal with a shrinking middle class.

Macy’s & The Sports Authority both represent “moderate price point/value channels”. Both targeting the middle class and who don’t have a lot of clout with a younger generation.

Think of the competition here: Target, Kohls, TJX/Marshalls/Home Goods, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Zappos, Amazon, Outlet Stores, Nordstrom Rack, etc.  The list goes on depending on where you live in the country.

Let’s also throw in the fast fashion merchants who’ve disrupted the low/value chains, moderate chains and drawing from their customer base.

The ever abundant and overstuffed moderate retail landscape, in my mind, is righting itself.

Less Time & Less Attention

Time crunched and low attention span consumers are laser focused especially if it involves driving and parking.  If they find what they are looking for, at the right price, that fits their needs, at the right time, they buy (or not).

For example:  Mrs Jones, a value/family shopper, is at Target buying a some clothes for the kids, toilet paper, dog food, cleaning supplies, and underwear for her husband. She spots a top, in a seasonal “it” color and silhouette. She looks it over, it’s “nice enough”, the price is right and she puts it in the cart. She’s probably thrilled that she didn’t have to make an “extra trip”.

There’s one way a customer who’s time and attention was captured.

The other way, is that she might determine she doesn’t like the top that much, and that she doesn’t really feel like going to the Mall Macy’s and why should she? She, like me,  can “find it online”.

Seth Godin says products are a non-scarcity, and that attention is the new scarcity. I agree.

Sales are 24/7 in our online world. We consumers can find what we want, when we want it, at a price we are willing to pay.  So much so that we have the ability to choose who get’s our attention now.

The rise of the “Experience Economy”

“The concept of shopping has shifted from owning stuff to buying into new ideas.” – Josh Dykstra

The Experience Economy is a product of our zeitgeist.

Girls taking selfies at “Coachella” Courtesy Of The Bull Pen.

In an article in Fast Company by Josh Allan Dykstra , he states that “The concept of shopping has shifted from owning stuff to buying into new ideas.”

According to the article, “Humanity is experiencing an evolution in consciousness. We are starting to think differently about what it means to “own” something.”

In order for brands and businesses to stay relevant their ideas and behaviors have to be worthy of buying into (beyond physical product), otherwise it’s just more of “stuff” in a sea of “stuff”. It has to create the notion of being able “to do something with it” to engage and connect with others/us in some way.

While this article is intended to speak about Millennials, I personally believe that this “mind-set” is not partial to a younger demographic. It is cultivating movements such as solopreneurship and minimalism. New tribes are redefining what success looks like from more free time, jobs with more meaning, less stuff, and getting out and staying out of debt.

Trends and Opportunities

As a futurist I see huge opportunity for those willing to take it and key trends and game-changers already leading the way.

“If we’re going to shop, then, there’s an imperative to make it engaging, thrilling and worth the resources we put into it. – Seth Godin

Get creative in figuring out how to get your sales per square foot. Retail is about real-estate, so it’s important think like a property developer.  There are creative ways to skin the cat of earning dollars per square foot beyond stuffing a store with product and then figuring out how to move it all.

My latest intrigue, The Stores At The Soho House, Berlin. – a model that to me epitomizes the future of “mash-up” collaborative merchandising and business concepts.

Specialize & Get Portable. Go to where your customer is, don’t wait for them to come to you. Pop Up Shops that feature your best sellers or key items and spread your message are effective if done intelligently.  You don’t have to limit yourself to your landing page, or your 4 walls anymore.

Warby Parker

(Photo Credit: The Blonde Mule, Flickr. Warby Parker Class Trip, Nashville)

Collaborate and converge with a complimentary partner. Partner with local restaurants, artists, a vendor partner.  Rent out space to a vendor or another business that compliments your business and aligns with your customer.  1) You’ll have a marketing partner 2) You capture new customers 3) You pull off each others strengths.

Hybridize &  Create A Space To Hang Out. Create a draw into your store beyond “buying” and encourage folks to “hang around”. When people are hanging out in your store, it naturally creates a pull, as others want in (it’s how we are wired).

Cultivate your tribe beyond digital engagement through human centered experiences. While a younger generation is highly digital, they are also highly social. Our need to connect and socialize face to face is how we are wired and creates much more meaning than a story we read online.

 Services, classes, gatherings, VIP events, movie nights, talks, FOOD TRUCKS, etc.

The shrinking moderate/middle, while challenging for those in the business, is stuffed.  As we continue to see shifts it will be interesting to see what transpires.

I think this is one of the most exciting times in retail; there’s opportunities to think different, to try iterations of old models, and even perhaps get back to novel analog concepts that are human centered and a bit slower.

I look forward to its evolution.

5 Lifestyle & Beauty Products I Swear By To Help Me Deal With Winter

(Just a prologue –  I was not asked to make these reviews – my intention is to simply share why I love what I love.)

Winter finally made it’s debut. It hit 8 degrees farenheit this week with a windchill in some areas double digit below 0.

It just gets bloody cold here.

I swear like a sailor on those days.  Well, I just use the F word a lot until I warm up.

And since we are on the subject of swearing, there are a couple of things I am swearing by this winter.

Staying hydrated. I don’t drink enough water.  I get headaches and fuzzy brain, and it’s always been hard for me to hold myself accountable to managing something I can’t measure.  So Santa brought be this 72 ounce water bottle for Christmas – costs less than $10.00. If I drink it’s entirety in one day, I’ve done my duty and then some.

(You’re supposed to drink 1/2 your body weight in ounces daily).

Protecting my skin from cold and raw conditions. I discovered Weleda Everon Cold Cream after the birth of my daughter because I needed something gentle for the both of us on cold winter days. I’ve always been an outdoor lover and guilty of putting waxy salve on my skin while snowboarding to prevent the chaffing. My skin is sensitive and dry and my daughter’s gets red and chaffed easily in the cold months.  This great smelling potion provides the perfect barrier and keeps skin protected.

Weleda Cold Cream photo credit: Babilagges

Getting warm and staying warm  is a constant battle for me. Once I get cold, I find it hard to warm up. I wear socks to bed (to be kicked off middle of the night ), a knit hat, and I wear my Patagonia down vest around the house most days . It keeps my core and key organs warm to push warm blood around the body allowing me to keep the thermostat at a moderate temperature.

I layer it under coats and over layers as needed.

(Love versatile and multi-use products.)

Photo Credit: Michelle Edmonds – with the same Patagonia Down Vest I have!  Love it.

Drinking hot fluids are key to cultivating warmth.  My mother-in-law hooked me up with a Stelton Insulated Carafe  for Christmas, and I am in love with it. Not only do I love it’s design and function – it keeps my water hot throughout the day so I don’t have to reheat water continuously. I just grab and pour.

Stelton Vaccuum Jugs holds hot liquid for 10 hours!

Keeping feet warm in an old New England home was a challenge til I got LL Beans Wicked Warm Slippers. They are my one pair of winter slippers and help keep the F words at bay.   They are also guaranteed for life.

Gotta love any company that makes it easy to do business with.

LL Bean Wicked Good Slippers. I’ve had mine for nearly 7 years and they are still going strong!

And last, but not least (and this makes 6 things), Smartwool socks. I have all heights, but I favor the knee high lengths as as they serve as leg-warmers under denim or under my running pants (and they stay put).

Worth every damn dollar.

Merry, merry to everyone. Hope today was amazing. #happyholidays #gofarfeelgood

A photo posted by Smartwool (@smartwool) on

I don’t need a lot of things. Just the right things.

(I think that’s true for most of us.)

Bring on the longer days, pray for some snow so we can play in it, and let’s see what  (usually ) the 2 coldest months of winter serve up.

I’m fuckin’ ready.

Featured Image Photo Credit:  www.unsplash.com / Natalie Gouzee

 

 

What An Independent Retailer Can Learn From The Grizzly Bear

The Retailer:  Independent On Main Street

It was 7 days before Christmas with the last shopping weekend before the big day just around the corner. The new store owner called me in to refresh her store as it had been rampaged since our complete floor overhaul 2 weeks prior.

She owns a bustling independent store with high foot traffic, in an excellent “main street” location adjacent to a busy restaurant next door and a Starbucks across the street.  Key wins for any retailer wanting natural traffic.

The owner had acquired the store nearly 6 months ago and was new to the business.

“Do you want to still carry this line of product into next year?”  I asked, pointing to a product line of soaps, lotions, and potions that in dire need of visual merchandising in order to convert the “browser to buyer”.

“No.” She said. “I inherited it from the previous owners, but I’ll wait until after Christmas to put the inventory I no longer want on sale.”

I looked around.  Lines at the register, people talking, laughing, enjoying what they were finding. The store was busy!

“Don’t wait.  Put it on sale now and take advantage of natural foot traffic while you have it.” I told her.

She agreed.

I re-merchandised the product, pulled stock out of boxes so people could touch and smell it – pulled all inventory that was invisible out in order to fill the fixture with intention and we put it all on sale 20% off.

I checked back in 5 days later and she was 90% sold through.

By Christmas it was gone.

Lessons From the Grizzly

Fish where the fishes are. Photo credit: Paul Sauders www.worldfoto.com

The Grizzly lives independently near grassy plains most of the time and makes the journey towards the river during certain times of the year to capitalize on Salmon during their spawning runs. This natural harmony is necessary for survival.  The caloric intake and fat storage helps beef them up during sparse times and of course during their hibernation.

As an independent retailer you work smarter not harder by capitalizing on natural traffic ebbs and flows intelligently. It costs time and money to raise awareness and run events to drive traffic in order to create conversion, and you’re a one man band!  This is a great opportunity to ramp up on best sellers and promote/clear seasonal items or items you don’t want in the upcoming quarters.

Like the grizzly, you’re in tune with the natural flows of traffic and know when to capitalize on it. Not only is there traffic, there are people who have SPENDING ON THEIR MIND and lower inhibitions.  If you wait until after the season or when traffic dies to clear old/seasonal goods, your efforts will be thwarted by natural downturns in traffic, a consumer with little money left in their wallets,  and their attention shifting on to what’s next.

Don’t become the fish monger with a rotten fish problem.

Be the bear. Get synchronized with your fish and capitalize on traffic intelligently to keep your inventory turning and fresh.

This summer I took a stand up comedy class at the Boston Improv with intentions to hone story-telling, public speaking, and to “do one thing that scares me”.  Our teacher was the master Dana Jay Bein.

We met once a week for 11 weeks and it required me to develop material, learn comedic elements, and do a 5 minute public “bit” for a paying audience.

I got more than I bargained for, made new friends, and realized that many of us have some hilarious stories in the closet that reveal how incredible funny being human is.  All of which provide fertile soil for joke material and lessons in resilience.

I found many learnings transcended into other areas of life and work and here are the takeaways.

1. Assumptions are made immediately, and they can be used in your favor if you are wise.  The first exercise we had to do was stand up in front of our crew and have people blurt out assumptions about us. “You like to shop at J.Crew”, “You wish you were more athletic”, “You like the beach”, “You hate country music”, “You sit in board meetings”.

I was wearing tan pants, I had gone to the beach and was tan, and I was wearing a men’s watch. These were many of the assumptions about me. Some right. Some way off.

In constructing stories and engaging we were informed to know those assumptions, use them to our advantage, and most importantly, shatter them.

2. Record your ideas/observations.  “If you think you’ll remember your idea later, your crazy.” Dana told us. Ideas fly through our brains like birds, in, out, and gone. Getting into the habit of capturing them is important. Eventually ideas connect and have “idea sex” according to James Altucher , who claims that writing 10 ideas a day is part of creating personal mind magic.

I’m putting his theory to practice and try to write 10 ideas a day.

Mind Map or Idea Chain

 3. Authenticity demands us to embrace our whole self (including the good, bad, and ugly). I did an authenticity exercise where we have to draw an oval, like a boardroom table, and write all the voices that sit at the table. Some of my voices included, “Funny, mean, jealous, happy, angry, frustrated, scared, excited, depressed, loud, quiet”.

The lesson it taught me? You can’t be your whole self if you’re only embracing one part, you gotta embrace it all.  Trust me, the exercise was a quick jolt of realizing that one voice can not exist without the other, I need them all to thrive.

4. Failures and setbacks are your creative steroids, learn to use them to your advantage. At first, I was struggling with what stories to tell, we were advised to find some pivotal moments in our lives where we were emotionally charged based on an experience like: love, betrayal, anger, embarrassment, losing a job, disappointment, etc. Emotions are the juice to fuel stories that connect via empathy, identification, admiration, and validation.

Here’s Louis CK coming clean on vices.

Note: Language and drug references (and if you don’t like bad words, then don’t keep reading this blog, because I swear like a sailor, and that’s me embracing my “wholeness”).

5. Feedback Loops.  After we started getting our ideas down we had to “workshop” them. Workshopping asks that the presenter presents their bit to his/her comedic colleagues for feedback and is all part of a development phase before going live. I found workshopping to be one of the most constructive and effective ways of finding areas to clarify, edit, focus, and expand.

6. Edit & Create Focus. Great crafters know the power of “taking away”. Insanely Simple is a great book of this art-form used in the culture of Apple, one of the most iconic brands in our culture today.

At Nike, part of the company vernacular is “Edit & Amplify”, it permeates the culture in multiple constituencies from Innovation to Merchandising.  In this article from Fast Company, Nike’s CEO Mark Parker, states they had 350 ideas presented by R & D teams to explore, he had to work with them on developing criteria to evaluate the ideas to reduce them to 50.

In comedy, you only have a certain amount of time to speak, and the science is in laughs per minute. You can’t succeed in reaching those metrics if you’re putting too much back story into your story.

It requires vision, detachment, and getting clear on key themes/values so you can focus energy and efforts on those.

7.  Tame The Inner Critic.  My inner critic is a monster. Without recognizing it for what it is and learning to squelch it, I would not be writing this blog. From my years in yoga, self-study, working with coaches, and therapists (yes, I am a human who see’s a therapist from time to time), I’ve learned the inner critic is a protection mechanism of our ego or who we “think” we are or “should be”.

It shows up in the form of doubt and judgment. It’s not from a single part of us, it’s from many different sub-parts of our whole being (based on our own history) and can often be debilitating.

Recently, I spent 12 weeks in a positive psychology course, and here’s the thing, it doesn’t really go away. We just need to learn how to recognize it and confront it. The more we do this, the mind muscle needed to shut it down gets stronger, meaning the inner critic may have less of a chance of showing up as frequently. And, we like that.

The 3 tools I’ve worked with in dealing with my inner critics (7 have been identified) are:

  1. Awareness/Mindfulness. Our mind is pretty amazing, it keep us safe from harm, helps us solve problems, learn, create, etc. Being aware of one’s thoughts, understanding the nuances of the mind, and discerning what is rational vs. irrational, real or not real, can help with non-identification and disengagement.  This is a daily practice for me.
  2. Turn it Into An Ally. This requires some compassion (yes, I used that gooey word). Tapping into the root of the fear is not comfortable because it requires us to actually get to a still place, and calmly greet it.   When I’ve taken the time to do this, most of my fears are generalized and I can determine actions I need to take to diffuse it.  Action, being the critical word here.
  3. Shut it down or squelch it (immediately). Basically telling it “NO”.   If I can stop it in its tracks, I can move on and I don’t find myself stuck in that lonely sea of doubt for too long.

8. Find the tools & practice methods that work for you. One size does not fit all.  To assume that Dick Jones’ tools for writing, idea capturing, organizing, and practicing will work for you is a misconception.  I went through a phase of being all about Getting Things Done (still love David Allen), but I learned tools don’t mean shit if you never use them.  Experiment, find what works for you, and roll with it (it has to be easy). Who cares what Dick Jones uses.

9. Create a positive rituals before public speaking. Rituals turn into habits over time. Ever see what Tony Robbins does before speaking? Read what Steve Jobs did? It’s interesting to learn.

Some positive rituals I use that help release energy from adrenaline and anxiety:

  1. Going for a walk/exercise/movement before speaking to move excess energy created by adrenaline out. I did 2 laps around the block before the show.
  2. Speech exercises such as motor boat with the lips, big A, E, I, O, U’s, tongue twisters like Peter Piper.
  3. Simple Breathing Techniques to calm the nervous system. I am not going to show you a crazy yoga breathing video – but rather this one that I find pretty straight forward.   My add on’s: relax your face and body before breath work and begin with a few (3 or 4) cleansing breaths (deep inhales through the nose and long deep sigh exhales), allow the space between your brows to soften as well as your jaw.  

10. Have fun.  People who are fun are infectious. When you have fun, you engage, things become easy, you “let go”.  In turn, it creates a magnetic attraction.

I once was consulting on a project and advised the client that they shouldn’t continue in what they were doing because they were going to lose more money. Pretty much letting myself go from a job.

If what you’re doing isn’t fun, you’re not going to deliver the magic, and it’s hard to get people to buy into it.

11. We are in this together.  This class gave me permission to tap into the power of vulnerability, to expose parts of myself to complete strangers, and realize “we are all in this together”.

I coached a 22-year-old who was scared to tell his story on going to rehab. Guess what? He was hilarious! And, he was all the better for it because people empathized, admired, and validated him.

We are humans who make mistakes and fuck up. When we expose ourselves and share our shit, we rise out of it, we expand, AND we can inspire others.  In Positive Psychology vernacular that’s Post Traumatic Growth. We actually don’t go back to a baseline of normal, we are on higher ground than before.

I succeeded in doing my bit alive.  Won’t lie folks, I realized how fast my heart could actually race before speaking, experienced the worst case of dry mouth, drank 2 bottles of water in 2 minutes, sweat half the water out my arm pits, and almost peed my pants, but I had a hell of a time doing it and made some new cool friends.

Big thanks to Boston Improv and teacher extraordinaire Dana Jay Bein – for getting me out of my comfort zone.

P.S. My husband has one video copy of my performance, but as Juba in “Gladiator” said to Maximus ,”Not yet. Not yet.” (Cue the Lisa Gerard song now).

One Lesson From A Great Manager

In college I worked at one of the hottest restaurants in the country to help keep me out of trouble while making great money.  One busy night I was in the weeds. We were one staff member down and I had absorbed 2 additional  tables until support arrived.

I had checked all my hot tickets against tables that were almost done with salads and noticed that I was one hot ticket down.  It was gone. I looked everywhere – in my apron pocket, under the soda station, under serving areas.

Gone.

Then, I found it in my apron. Their salad plates were removed and they were already waiting for their dinner to arrive.

“Oh my God, I’m so fired!” I thought.  My head was hot and my body was shaking.

I got sense of calm and went to the table.

I told a lie.  I told them, “…the hot ticket fell and was missed by the line cooks.”

I approached the Proprietor/GM of the restaurant. “Larry, table 6, their hot food is not coming out and the line cooks don’t have the ticket. I need a hustle on the food.”

“What did you tell them?” He asked me.

I was scared.

He grabbed both my shoulders and looked me square in the eye. “Sandra, what did you tell them?”

I was quiet.

“Sandra, I need to know what you told them, so that when I go out to speak with them you and I say the same thing. Doesn’t matter what happened.”

A sense of relief washed over me.  He wasn’t judging me, angry at me, or scolding me.  He was asking me to work with him and that required me to be honest.  He had my back and in turn we became a unit, a team.

I told him what I told them.  He went to the table and did his manager talk.

He returned with a wave of his hand and said, “They’re all set Sandra. I got them cocktails and a free dessert. It’s an exceptionally busy night and mistakes are bound to happen, work with me and I can help you where possible.”

That was it. It wasn’t discussed again.

I pressed on the whole night lightly and with ease.  I was happy.  I was able to focus, sell, and serve.

Can you imagine what would of happened if he would of done otherwise?

I would of flailed, cried, shut-down, and also not help drive sales and service.

Then, I really would of been fired.

He elevated the team over him.

I never made the mistake again, but it wasn’t the first lesson in being a good manager that I learned from Larry.

Note: This post was inspired by my latest read, Multipliers by Liz Wisemen.

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