Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Software for Creating With Index Cards

I’m a huge fan of index cards for any creative project. And now Super Notecard, an inexpensive software I’ve just discovered, takes paper index cards to a whole new level. (For more on using paper index cards, please see “Brainstorming with Index Cards.“)

Paper index cards are great for brainstorming. You can scribble ideas with a Sharpie and then arrange them into categories or topics or strategic groups. It’s easy to change your mind and move them around or replace them with better ideas. The drawback of paper cards is that it’s difficult to move them from brainstorming to implementation.

You end up saying things like, “Nobody step on any of those index cards that are taking up the entire hallway.” Even with our giant bulletin boards at Tribe, there’s no easy way to transfer all that great thinking from its push pins to our computers. Sometimes we take an iPhoto of the arrangement or ask someone in the office to type them into a spreadsheet, neither of which really does the trick.

Mindola has solved that issue with Super Notecard. With their electronic index cards, you can arrange cards into decks, and then arrange those decks into other decks. You can link categories. You can enter information on Factors, which might be a person or a thing or a place related to the project. You can Flag certain cards. You can look at the project from a macro level, or drill down to the micro details.

You can even use Super Notecard to write that novel. or screenplay. In fact, that’s what the software seems to be designed to do. Screenwriters use the companion product, Super Notecard for Scriptwriting. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t perfect for any major project, from research to strategy. At $29, the software costs about the same as 10 packs of paper index cards.

Article: How Your Internal Communication Speaks Most Clearly About Your Company

Great article discussing how a focus on internal communications and building culture helps create successful organizations. David Harding of Smart Business touches on how excelling in these areas can speak volumes about your company to external audiences and offers tips on how to grow in these areas.


Using Flashcards for Training

Flashcards are a simple packaged tool that can be very effective for training. There are a lot of ways to implement your training programs but cards can be one of the most cost effective and easy to implement. Printed pieces can be very powerful during new initiatives and really show the commitment to the program. They are also very easy to distribute and use in a variety of different training scenarios.

The reason a vehicle like cards can be so effective is because they engage “active recall.” Active recall is the need to stimulate memory during the learning process. As opposed to just reading something in a booklet, cards let employees think of the answer that works best for them. They also let employees use their metacognitive faculties allowing for self-reflection between what they think and what the cards says. Flashcards are one of the best ways for motivated employees to retain new knowledge.

Flashcards are a great tool for both the trainer and the trainee. The cards can be designed with multiple audiences in mind. In some cases you might have the trainer use the cards while leading training exercise. This can help the trainer with question prompts, informative sessions or morning huddles. In other cases the trainee can use the cards independently. Designing for multiple audiences allows for a lot of flexibility in your training scenarios.

They can also pinpoint skill deficits and offer practical corrective strategies. Employees can use the cards to help develop effective skills. When creating the content for your coaching cards think about the action you are asking the employee to take. Creating a separate action item on each card is a great way to stimulate activity.

Make sure you keep the design simple for ease of use. The cards should have quick, easy to read nuggets of information. Don’t get bogged down in putting too much content on your cards. It might be necessary to direct them somewhere else for more details. We also often recommend color-coding your flash cards based on subject matter. This makes it easy for employees to focus on just one area at a time.

When creating your cards remember to evaluate your audience, simplify your content and create a cohesive design. These three things will help you build a helpful, informative and even fun training tool.

Navigating Technology Driven Changes

People have an innate desire for order and organization, which is why change is so hard. As communicators, we develop strategies, editorial calendars and content plans and like to be able to count on the fact that things will go as we plan. Employees have expectations based on how things have always worked and when a new communication is added or even worse, taken away, it rocks their boat.

Engage early adopters as collaborative leaders in the changes. To alleviate the stress of communications technology changes, go to your high technology adopters first. This is the group of people within your organization that are the first to get the latest iPhone or another new gadget. Use this group to test your new communication channel, work out the kinks and determine the types of challenges or questions you may experience when rolling it out to moderate or slow adopters.

Technology makes communications better and more challenging. Technology allows us to connect with employees in new ways, creates efficiencies and provides easier measurement opportunities. However, it also opens up endless ways to connect and makes navigating the space more difficult and time consuming.  Trying to determine which channels to use but also keeping content in real time is challenging for even the most complex communication departments, but really hard for departments with limited resources.

Slow down and narrow your focus. With communications technology the possibilities are endless and there is a natural desire to want to do everything that is available. However, you will stress the bandwidth of your department and overwhelm your employees if you do.  Take the time to do an audit of your own communications platform and the new opportunities for the future and then determine what is best for your organization.  The key is to do this audit process on a frequent basis so that you don’t get behind on the options.

Please feel free to contact Tribe to help navigate this space.  We are always happy to help!

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Monday Zen: Make a Treasure Map to Reach Your Career Goals

A treasure map is a tool to help you visualize your goals more clearly. The better able you are to see your goals, the easier it is to bring them to reality.

Why does it work? There are plenty of opinions on the matter. Some say it just helps you feel more accepting of that particular vision of success, better able to recognize opportunities when they arise and more confident that it’s an appropriate reality for you. Others call it a way to channel the right energy, to magnetize your higher good, to shift your thinking so that your thoughts attract what you desire. Plenty of people might find it a little weird, but if it works, it works.

I’ve seen it work in my own life. The first time I ever tried it was back in the early ’80s when I’d first read Shakti Gawain‘s classic book, “Creative Visualization.” I was a recent college grad with no clue how to get a job, procrastinating in my job search by crashing my parents’ summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

After reading Shakti’s chapter on treasure maps, I tried making one myself. I remember it included plenty of pictures of newspaper offices and writers hard at work (on typewriters — this was way before computers). But it also had a picture of a young woman who looked a little like me wearing a navy blue pullover sweater. She looked confident and happy, interviewing someone and scribbling notes on a pad of paper she was holding. She looked the way I imagined I would feel, if I could only land the job of my dreams as a reporter.

It took me several months to get the job, but I found the sweater the next day. I walked into one of the Vineyard’s finest thrift shops and there was my sweater. For 25 cents. Wore it all the way home, which is where I finally noticed it was black and not navy blue. But it was not bad, for a first try.

Years later, I’d gotten a little better at the whole visualizing thing. When my husband and I first met and were moving back to Atlanta from our stint in Florida, we created a giant treasure map together on a large piece of black foam core. That treasure map depicted everything we desired in our new life together — from our ad agency dream jobs, to the sort of home we wanted, to the music and books and art we hoped  to surround ourselves with.

There also were some very specific items on our map that were important to us. We included visuals of me having the time and space to write fiction, Steve having a large space for playing music and recording it, and of Steve’s three-year-old son spending time in our home, which had been geographically and logistically impossible. Mostly we found the pictures in magazines, but we also cut up recent photos so we could glue ourselves right into the scene. We even added fake business cards we’d made  for the jobs we wanted.

Suddenly everything fell into place very quickly for us. In one week, we each landed ideal jobs in great agencies, found a perfect little condo with a writing loft for me and a basement rehearsal/recording space for Steve — and a sunny bedroom for my stepson, who began a long tradition of spending every other weekend with us. One of my few regrets in life is that we tossed that old treasure map years later when we were cleaning out the basement. We’d love to look back at it now, 20 years later.

Here’s how to make your own treasure map: Grab all the old magazines you can find and start cutting out pictures that feel good to you, whether they’re a literal portrayal of your goals or symbolic. You also can search online if you have specific visuals in mind, using Google Images or even Pinterest. As you begin to achieve critical mass, start arranging your visuals on a large piece of poster board or other stiff backing. Once you find an arrangement that feels right, glue them down with Elmer’s liquid or a glue stick.

Then put your treasure map somewhere you’ll see it. Spend a few minutes looking at it every day or so, and  try to feel the same emotions you would feel if your map were reality. If you can possibly stand to show it to someone else without being embarrassed, do it. There’s something powerful about someone else seeing your dream and believing in it too.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Cogswell Hausler Had Engagement Before Engagement Was Cool

What makes an office a good place to work? Nowadays we call it employee engagement, but when I was a kid hanging around my father’s architectural firm, it just looked like people having a good time doing work that would shape their careers. My father, Arthur Cogswell, was recently nominated for the Kamphoefner Award, and I noticed that one of his letters of recommendation mentioned that the way they ran their office decades ago would be a good model for companies today.

At Tribe, we look at five critical elements when we’re helping large companies build their engagement. I thought it might be interesting to interview my father to see how Cogswell Hausler Associates, founded in 1967, delivered on those five elements:

1. VISION (Leadership steering culture): “The vision? We just wanted to do the best design we could,” Cogswell said. “We were part of something bigger, the Modernist movement.” In my experience I’ve seen many small creative businesses, ad agencies particularly, where talented young employees are all about doing award-winning work while the ownership is more concerned with making enough money to grow the company — or at least keep the doors open. My father and his partner, Werner Hausler, were not those kind of business owners. “We were one of a kind.” Cogswell said. “The other firms were big and established and did mediocre work. And made more money.”

2. ACCESS (Sharing information, knowledge and feedback): “It was an open office with no walls. Everybody could see what everyone else was working on. That created a lot of give and take,” Cogswell said. “Lots of peer-to-peer interaction. Someone would say, ‘Hey, look at this. What do you think I should do here?’ Or one person would suggest something and the next person would play on it.” The managing partners shared a big glass office with their desks facing each other so they could talk easily and listen in on each other’s phone conversations with clients. But they both also kept a desk out in the studio and spent a lot of the day out there with everybody else.

3. ACKNOWLEDGMENT (Recognition programs and indirect recruiting): Cogswell Hausler hired mostly fresh graduates of the renowned School of Design in Raleigh (which had a faculty that read like an International Who’s Who of Modernist architecture, thanks primarily to Henry Kamphoefner, the first dean). “People wanted to work for us because we were doing good work,” Cogswell said. “We were recognized for it. Won a lot of awards.”

4. GROWTH (Training and development): “We ran the office like a design school,” Cogswell said. “We’d give them an outline of the problem and the general direction without telling them what to do. People had a lot of freedom in their work. Then they’d come back and we’d critique it. We’d say ‘That’s not good enough. Try it again.'” Although Cogswell points out that there was “no harsh criticism. We tried to follow the old Navy scheme. You never say ‘That’s a stupid idea.’ Instead we’d say, ‘Well, we might make that work if we did so and so.'”

5. IDENTIFICATION (Engaging employees with the culture): Employees at Cogswell Hausler may have identified with the culture even before their first day of work, since they had just stepped out of the Modnernist culture at the Design School. “It was a very free, creative atmosphere,” Cogswell said. “Someone once said that true happiness is doing work you know is really good. And I’ve always said that there’s nothing more exciting than working with talented young people who are just hitting their strides professionally.”

For many years they had a Friday lunch ritual that seems emblematic of their office culture. “We’d send someone out to pick up a chicken and then I’d put it in a big pot on the stove,” Cogswell said. “We’d put in some onion and celery and maybe some tomatoes. It would cook all morning, and once in awhile someone would walk over and give it a stir. Maybe add some rice. Then around lunchtime we’d pass a bunch of bowls around and open a bottle of wine.” That sort of esprit de corps does indeed provide a fantastic model for workplaces large and small.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Does Your Business Need the iPad?

Could the iPad be the presentation tool your business needs? That’s what I’m wondering every time I find myself in a client’s conference room with the Tribe team racing to set up the projector for our presentation.

Setting up the projector feels a little too much like a scene out of Apollo 13, where the astronauts are struggling to repair a sensor malfunction. One person is crawling under the table to reach the electrical outlet and another is connecting cables and cords as fast as humanly possible, while the rest of us stand around urging them to hurry. Then we complain about the projected image looking so washed out and we adjust a few things, none of which ever work.

Lately, I find myself spending that pre-meeting time mentally calculating how much it would cost for enough iPads to go around. I imagine how crisp and rich our presentations would look on the iPad, and how satisfying it would be to have clients follow along with a finger swipe to move to the next screen.

We could walk into a meeting ready to begin instead of making our clients wait around for us to hook up the technology. We could spend those initial minutes chatting about the weather instead of digging around for extension cords. We could focus on the business at hand instead of worrying about whether the projector will work. It sounds like a much more relaxed way to start a meeting.

Ellen Madill, the founder of Home Stages in New Jersey, is also considering an iPad. Her company consults with clients on cosmetic updates and simple changes to make their homes sell faster and for money. With the iPad, she could sit down with her clients on the couch or at their kitchen table and take them through her sales presentation, and then also upload photos of their rooms and show them how she might rearrange furniture or what paint colors she would recommend. Sure, she could do pretty much the same thing on her laptop, but the iPad would make it a lot more fun.

The best business presentation use of the iPad I’ve seen is by Harry Wood, a leading Atlanta hair stylist. Harry uses his iPad to show clients his portfolio. Touch on the  “Long and Straight” button, for instance, and you can swipe your way through a dozen photos of gorgeous long and straight looks. He sometimes uses the iPad to show clients videos of his television appearances or his how-to videos on YouTube. Now he’s added an app from People magazine that allows him to instantly pull up photos of celebrity hairstyles. You say you want to look like Charlize Theron? Harry will swipe you through a series of photos with Charlize wearing her hair different ways, asking, “Which of her looks?” You want hair like Brad Pitt? He’ll pull up another series of photos and ask, “From what movie?”

Maybe the iPad is just the latest cool new thing. Maybe it’s no more useful in business than any of the tools we already use, from laptops to cell phones to projectors. Perhaps something else even cooler will replace it soon.

But I’m thinking it could help us serve our clients better, and that’s a product benefit that never becomes outdated. Although I can see us now, walking into a meeting with six iPads, worried that seven people might show up. Impressive as it is, even the iPad can’t completely eliminate that pre-meeting stress.