Monday, January 30, 2012

I Love Chocolate (and Happy Chinese New Year to You)!

Oddly enough, the start of Chinese New Year and its corresponding festivities enabled me to indulge my chocolate obsession. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

Monday, January 23rd marked the first day of Chinese New Year, and specifically the Year of the Dragon. With it came the first extrovertic celebration in its honor.

To help mark this holiday, we were fortunate enough to have someone truly knowledgeable about the proceedings on hand—our recently appointed extrovertic cultural attaché, Desmond Yuen. Having grown up in Malaysia, Des has celebrated this holiday his entire life. As a result, he is a font of knowledge about the traditions associated with, and the reasons for celebrating, Chinese New Year.

As with many holidays, food plays a vital role in the merrymaking. So, after a brief introduction highlighting the:

·          Whys (involving lions that feasted on villagers),
·          Hows (involving cleaning one’s house), and
·          Whens (involving the lunar calendar),

we proceeded to enjoy a traditional Chinese New Year luncheon. The traditional staples included whole fish (for good luck) and noodles (for longevity). We also feasted on a number of different Malaysian dishes, including nasi lemak, sambal shrimp, and kangkung belacan.

The highlight of the meal, however, was the yu sheng, a salad comprised of many different vegetables, raw fish, and noodles, literally tossed together by the whole office. Standing around a table, we collectively mixed the salad in the symbolic hopes of bringing fortune and prosperity to us all (and to extrovertic in the process). The higher we tossed, the greater our fortunes in the coming year!

Another memorable tradition we experienced was the handing out of red packets, or hóngbāo, in which unmarried (traditionally younger) folks receive gifts of money symbolizing luck from the older generation. For our extrovertic party, red packets packed with chocolate gold coins were distributed (hence the title of this post).

In keeping with extrovertic’s tradition of utilizing analogs and drawing inspiration from outside sources, celebrating a hallmark of Chinese culture was as good a subject to learn from as any. And so we kicked off Chinese New Year with a bang.

Interesting factoid: If you were born in the years 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, or 2000 (or if your age this year is divisible by 12), 2012—the Year of the Dragon—is your year:


Monday, January 23, 2012

Simple On the Outside Doesn’t Always Mean Simple On the Inside.

Steve Jobs’ legacy of incorporating design into EVERYTHING, no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential, inspired extrovertic to seek out design elements in unexpected places within the agency model.

Seeking inspiration (and new ways to approach this goal), I purchased the new Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson as soon as it was available. And I loved every word of its 656 pages.

Now, if you’ve ever tried to write anything (even a blog post), you’ll know that the creative process is never simple. In fact, a key takeaway from the book for me was that simplicity requires relentless effort, revisions, editing, and reediting.

Given the runaway success of all things Apple, one might assume that the iPad and iPod had easy births. However, Jobs dispels this myth, saying, “It takes a lot of hard work…to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.” Isaacson notes, “Jobs had aimed for simplicity that comes from conquering complexities, not ignoring them.”

To conquer these complexities, Jobs went with his gut. While creating the iPad for instance, instead of doing consumer research to find out what people wanted, Jobs expressed Apple’s approach as, “We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too.”

In addition to the tireless pursuit of an elegant solution, Jobs encountered other speed bumps on the road to success. His former CFO Joe Graziano infamously dismissed the Apple Store concept by saying, “Apple’s problem is it still believes the way to grow is serving caviar in a world that seems pretty content with cheese and crackers."

Fortunately for Jobs, at the end of the day, his naysayers became inconsequential because he had the internal resources to see his vision through.

After spending some time processing Jobs’ situation, I began thinking about times when I didn’t succeed in realizing my own vision. Was there anything about my mindset in those situations that got in the way? How could stronger internal fortitude help me slay those “I can’t do this” thoughts that arise when facing a difficult challenge?

With a little introspection, here are a few lessons I came up with:

1.      The little voice inside your head doesn’t always require medication. In fact, I’ve found that ignoring that voice has always gotten me into trouble. In the early years of forming extrovertic, I sometimes didn’t push enough on some critical fronts. When starting a business, there will always be things that get in the way of pushing yourself to the limit. So, trust your instincts and push, push, push for a better solution.

2.      Leaders—broadcast the little voices in your heads. On a personal level, it’s not always easy to be relentless. As extrovertic has grown from a 4- to a 40-person agency, I’ve realized that success is directly linked to the performance of each and every extrovert. To gain maximum leverage, my job is to set the bar high and keep raising it.

1.      Do not be a “blame sponge.” When I was at Pfizer, during our first attempt at building a patient database, I got myself into a lot of trouble for accepting cockamamie excuses for numbers that made absolutely no sense. I blamed myself for not understanding. Finally, I found someone who could explain to me what had gone wrong and how to fix it. We then made a plan, executed it, and built a functional database. 

So that’s the tack I am going to take in my quest for simple, elegant solutions. Does any of this resonate with you? How do you bolster your inner resolve to achieve your goals?


Monday, January 16, 2012

“Soldier on, partner,” and other notes of inspiration from a cough drop.

It's been a few weeks since we extroverts embarked on our quest to identify how good design can add value to the healthcare agency model. As a result, I am now seeing smart design everywhere, from the construction of our company chairs to the wrappers on my cough drops.

To be more specific, the power of design really hit me as I unwrapped a cherry-flavored Halls Defense drop. I had recently stocked up on them to help fight off an impending cold. While looking at the packaging, I expected to see the usual ingredients—zinc, Echinacea, and vitamin C (to give me a little boost). What I hadn't expected was, "A pep talk in every drop." But that’s what I got.

Printed on each Halls wrapper were 3 or 4 brief, aspirational messages. My wrapper reminded me, "You've survived tougher," implored me to, "Be unstoppable," and told me, "Don't give up on yourself." As intended, the drops gave me both a physical and a mental boost.

What a great example of taking customer insights and transforming them into a design element aimed at generating customer delight! Halls takes the concept further with their corresponding TV spots, which are sure to put a smile on your face. The print ads are great too!

Halls’ clever design makes me wonder how we can incorporate little pick-me-ups into all the patient education, packaging, relationship marketing, and digital programs we create for our healthcare clients.


Monday, January 9, 2012

First, AIGA. Next, Jetpacks.

As Extroverts, we are naturally inclined to seek out others whose work relates to what we do. That’s why, in keeping with our Designing Extrovertic theme, we recently took a company field trip to see the best of the best in design, as captured in an exhibition sponsored by the illustrious AIGA.

For those who are unaware, AIGA is the professional association for design. Their philosophy is to highlight exceptional pieces in every product category whose design particulars increase their ability to communicate.

Our team of Extroverts walked down the block to the AIGA NYC chapter on Fifth Avenue and 21st street to view offerings from the winners of the AIGA 365 Design Effectiveness competition. We saw a collection of clean, sophisticated items that clearly outshone the pedestrian designs we see on a daily basis.

Two features stood out to me as consistently effective design elements—strong geometrical precision and clutter-free layouts. These elements were utilized on a wide range of products, from 3-D design books to coffee bean packaging to corporate financial reviews.

With these pieces fresh in our minds, we returned to the office, where we had a free-flowing brainstorming session. We discussed our thoughts on the out-of-the box design principles we’d just seen, and shared personal insights. Feedback on various design elements ranged from “niche ideas work(ing)” to  “surprising and delighting (your audience).”

Beyond the elements of design, we began thinking about ways to apply these approaches to our own work. Taking a “no ideas are wrong” approach, we shared our thoughts on different ways to improve the agency’s design profile. The resulting suggestions ranged from “embracing cool for cool’s sake” to “providing company jetpacks,” (which was my personal favorite tidbit).

What I am learning at Extrovertic is that advertising doesn’t begin and end with fulfilling client requests. It also involves looking to the forefront of creativity. Every piece we produce should explore different ways to present material that will benefit our clients and the patients they serve.

This ability to integrate design and creative problem solving into everything we do will eventually become part of Extrovertic’s status quo. A smartly designed communication affects account people and creatives alike—it makes our collective work better, which benefits everyone involved.

That’s why we look to AIGA to identify pioneers at the forefront of integrated creativity.

Who knows, maybe someday Extrovertic will be the first agency to introduce jetpacks into everyday office life. An AAE can dream….


Friday, January 6, 2012

Brilliant—A Gift Card That Doesn’t Work At Any Store In Town.

Who doesn’t want to give back? We all like to think that most people are inherently good and, if given the opportunity, would donate either time or money to worthy causes. That said, people are also busy, perhaps now more so than ever. There are tweets to tweet, Facebook posts to post, blogs to read, and trends to follow. We also need to find time for those family, friend, and job things that seem to take precedence in many of our lives (for some reason!)

But what if giving were made easy? Isn’t that what holds us back from giving back—not having the resources to do something good simply and efficiently?

This holiday season, I received a truly inspired gift from a friend via GlobalGiving defines itself as:

“A charity fundraising web site that gives social entrepreneurs and non-profits from anywhere in the world a chance to raise the money that they need to improve their communities.”

The front of the elegantly designed white gift-card holder reads, “Brilliant. A gift card that doesn’t work at any store in town.” The back of the card holder offers the headline, “But gladly accepted in over 100 countries throughout the world.”

Below that is a biodegradable gift card that, after removal from the holder, reveals the instructions:

1. Go to

2. Find a project you are passionate about.

3. At checkout, select “pay with a gift card.”

4. Feel good about changing the world.

Donators (and gift card recipients) are urged to “select the projects you want to support…and you'll get email updates from the project so you can see how your gift is making a difference.”

Everyone loves getting presents, but this was a different sort of present that really made me feel good. Aside from being impressed as a writer/creative with its cleverly written copy and tasteful design, I also love the idea behind it. Both giver and receiver benefit, as does the global community at large. It’s the type of Big Idea creatives aspire to stumble upon and the sort of big idea we work to produce at Extrovertic. In pharma especially, we strive to employ these same themes—simple, elegant, and easy to understand and implement.

You can do it anytime, but isn’t this holiday season a great opportunity to visit and give back, simply?