Andy Swindler

March 11, 2016

Real Words I Hope Don’t Become Buzzwords

This month we’re talking about buzzwords we don’t like, mainly because they distract from clarity or the meaning of the word’s themselves.

These two words I don’t believe have become buzzwords quite yet, but as they gain momentum in mindful business communities such as Conscious Capitalism, I hope they are not re-purposed and thwarted by marketing people who insist on turning everything into a buzzword.

Authenticity

Thankfully in much of life and business, there is a growing movement concerned with being mindful and authentic. I believe this will drive humankind prosperity at the most intimate and important levels.

To me, this one is really simple. You can’t fake authenticity. You can’t calculate it. You can’t determine it based on market strategy and committee votes.

You have to be real.

You have to be you.

You have to be vulnerable and open to other perspectives.

You have to know something about who you are. For a company, that has a lot to do with understanding Why you exist. And so you must establish shared values in your culture.

So if you’re in a position where the conversation is leaning toward developing a strategy about how to be (appear) authentic, just leave the room and be yourself.

Ecosystem

This is another term that’s used more commonly, particularly when describing a forward-thinking company’s approach to culture and business development via though leadership.

The reason I like this term is that ecosystem is a concept borrowed from nature. As mentioned above, this is a mindful approach since nature rarely rushes yet there is time for everything to get done.

My concern is that like so many other terms, it will be co-opted by people who don’t understand or don’t care what it means in a business context. They simply want to sound like the know the lingo, and their misuse of it will dilute the meaning of the word.

As with authenticity, building an ecosystem is something that takes real time and attention. Ecosystems are fragile by nature and this is one of their most important characteristics. They are far easier to destroy than build.

So using these terms flippantly runs exactly counter to the meaning behind them. By all means, if you are invested in being authentic and building lasting ecosystems, use these words. But if you’re just looking to latch on to a movement without doing the work, please say (and do!) something else.

Andy Swindler

January 8, 2016

Work Clean

At the recent FITC Form conference in Chicago, I attended Erin Sarofsky’s inspirational session, “Putting your Passion into the Details.

Erin spoke about her team’s process for producing the high level of quality their clients expect. It goes well beyond talent and collaboration. It falls more squarely into the category of discipline. Here are a couple of her recommendations that stuck with me:

Work Clean

For me, this is easier said than done. There is a chaotic open-minded part of the creative process, but it should be moderated with clear goals and parameters and the discipline to make hard decisions to stay focused.

One must develop frameworks for collaboration including process and file/asset management.

At the end of a project, it’s critical to make time to put everything in its place using the rules of those frameworks. This way, when the project needs to be reactivated or expanded in the future, anyone on the team could jump in an know how to get started without sorting out a mess. This saves everyone time and annoyance that could undermine project success.

Erin-Sarofsky-work-clean-cluttered-desktop

Schedule Time for the Details

This is also sometimes challenging in the fast-paced agency world. Clients often expect perfection in limited time frames. But it’s important not to let those expectations derail the process that leads to great work.

She attributes the quality of their work largely to having the discipline to schedule time at the end of the project to dig deep into the details, refining until the work matches their quality standards. Even talented teams need this time to review and reflect, dialing it in as much as possible. While scheduling this time may seem impractical, particularly with a demanding client deadline, it’s important to build it into the project from the beginning.

At Astek, we are always looking for ways to improve our process. These simple guidelines have already proven effective in making us more efficient so we can spend more time on the details.

Erin’s firm, Sarofsky Corp, created the main titles for the Marvel blockbusters “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Be sure to check out her full presentation:

Andy Swindler

October 30, 2015

A Mindful Approach to Business

In our ever-busier world with new distractions and technology pulling us in every direction, it can be hard to manage stress levels and remain focused, efficient and happy. This is certainly true for business leaders, where a lack of clear direction or making a decision based on emotion may have consequences that affect many people adversely.

Most people tend to squander a significant amount of life becoming attached to unproductive thoughts. These might be about the past, which is useful for context but otherwise no longer exists. Or they might be able the future, which is beyond our control no matter how much we worry.

We also tend to waste time by piling and mixing up tasks, believing we are capable of multitasking, which we are not. I know I often think I can do this because I am good at faking it by switching rapidly back and forth between tasks. But as I explore the slower pace of mindful awareness, I’m realizing that completing one task at a time well actually saves me time overall.

For the past few weeks, I’ve attended A Mindful Course™ offered by Dr. Chris Johnson of Q4 Consulting, one of Astek’s clients. It’s largely based on the decades-long work of John Kabat Zinn and his work to develop the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in his own clinic, where he sees consistent first-hand success helping people handle life and pain more effectively.

Dr. Chris Johnson, Q4 Consulting, mindfulness business training

In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Zinn discusses the seven attitudinal factors of mindfulness. They are:

  1. Non-judging
  2. Patience
  3. Beginner’s mind
  4. Trust
  5. Non-striving
  6. Acceptance
  7. Letting go

As Dr. Chris puts it, mindfulness is an intentionally focused awareness — a way of paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally. I won’t go into detail about these since there are multiple resources for you to explore if you’d like, including the book itself, which I highly recommend.

So how to we pay attention in the moment rather than reaching for our smartphone every two minutes?

Meditation is an important aspect of the practice. Your mind is a muscle like any other that can be strengthened through practice. Meditation, starting with being aware of your breath, is a way to practice how you can stay calm when dealing with a more stressful moment. Your breath is a grounding resource that can center you to the present reality at all times. Once you are facing reality, rather than what you may wish is happening, you’ll be better equipped to move through it with focus, balance and grace.

Mindfulness tree branches crossing by Andy Swindler, copyright

And what does this have to do with business?

In the short few weeks that I have engaged in a daily meditation practice, as well as other exercises, I have noticed an increased ability to handle stressful situations and sidestep communication patterns that I may historically have been drawn into. I have focused on completing one task at a time. This translates to stronger mentoring and communication with my team; setting clearer expectations and boundaries with clients; and creating focused direction for the company.

Writing this blog is a good example. I haven’t blogged in months since it always falls to the bottom of my to-do list. In my experience working with clients to set up blogging programs, this is a very common pattern. A mindful approach asks the question, “why is it on the to-do list if it’s never going to get done?” Either do it or simplify by removing it. So I made time for it.

Of course I’m not always great at doing this. That’s not the point. We are human after all. It’s more about practicing and not judging yourself when you make mistakes and go awry. Mindfulness practice focuses on developing the ability to be aware of emotions while they are happening so that you can make better choices about what to do with them. Emotions are a wonderful part of being human, but they can be their own distraction if we let them take over.

Here’s a simple meditation exercise:

Try sitting still, in an upright yet comfortable position, for five minutes. See if you can focus on your breath for that time without altering it. If that’s too much, just try two minutes. I can promise you will get distracted. Once you realize you’ve stopped focusing on your breath, take note of the thought and its intensity, and then return to focusing on your breath. The mere act of practicing this repeated return to focus helps strengthen your awareness and focus.

Then try it every day for a week. Then a month. You get the idea. I hope that you’ll start to see the clarity that this practice is bringing to me in my daily life. If you like it, Q4 Consulting is a wonderful resource to get more information about a formal study of mindfulness.

Andy Swindler

June 12, 2015

How Can User Experience (UX) Improve SEO?

I recently had the great privilege to speak at the Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA) annual conference in Washington, D.C. I was part of the “Focus on your Customer” track and decided to mash up two of my favorite subjects: SEO and UX.

Google’s ultimate goal is to provide the best user experience. Websites that pay attention to UX are consistently rewarded with higher SEO rankings and spend less time reacting to search engine updates, giving them a competitive advantage that leads to more relevancy, efficiency, revenue and purpose.

If you’re aligned with Google and play by the rules, you are less likely to be surprised when they change something. And that means you’ll be immune to the next mobilegeddon.

Check out the slides below or feel free to contact me directly with any questions.

Andy Swindler

April 21, 2015

Google SEO Update: “Mobilegeddon” Key Points

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By now we’ve all heard plenty about “Mobilegeddon,” Google’s SEO algorithm update today that will start giving ranking preference to mobile-optimized sites.

This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Google’s core philosophy is “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”

That’s a powerful statement and one with which I happen to agree.

Andy Swindler

September 11, 2014

How Will Apple’s iPhone 6 Affect Mobile Web Browsing?

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We’re almost as thrilled with the iPhone 6 as the people who waited in line for 24 hours… almost. It’s packed with powerful new features deserving of a new model number and that simple, sleek design. Other than the Apple Pay (NFC) feature, which could revolutionize how we use money, the most notable are the two new iPhone 6 screen sizes of 4.7 and 5.5 inches. While this reflects Apple’s continuing defensive posture by reacting to larger Android screen sizes in a market they created in 2007, it’s still a welcome advance.