Start here

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Earlier this week I was watching a fantastic interview between photographers Chase Jarvis and Brandon Stanton.    During the interview they talked about ideas and how to get started with a project. We’ve all been there.  We need to find the next big idea, the next great ad campaign, but we often get overwhelmed because we’re starting at the end.  We are trying to start at “the big idea” and not at the beginning.

Brandon was a bond trader in Chicago when he lost his job.  He moved to New York with 2 suitcases and the goal of taking 10,000 portraits.  I completed a project where I took a photo every day for a year – 10,000 portraits would be much more difficult. He didn’t have a lot of money, he slept on a mattress on the floor, and now he has a New York Times #1 Best Seller.  His 10,000 portraits project turned into Humans of New York, which is a phenomenal photo project that has earned him more than 3.2 million likes on Facebook and has provided us with an amazing glimpse into the lives of every day people living in New York.

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During the interview, Brandon said some amazing things that everyone can take to heart.

You have to be your own fan first. When Brandon said this I thought, well yes, obviously you have to be your own fan first. Then I realized that I’m not always my biggest fan.  I thought back to a year ago when I was in the Creative Strategy & Execution class and remembered how frustrated I got trying to come up with great advertising ideas.  I always liked my ideas, but didn’t always believe they were great until I read my professors comments.  Why did I expect him to like what I was doing if I didn’t love it?  Why would I even bother showing it to someone when I didn’t believe it was great?  At times, I think we are scared to say we like or even love our ideas because we’re afraid they’re not good enough.  It breaks my heart when I overhear students in my office talking about doing a project in a particular way so that their professor will give them a good grade instead of doing what they really believe is great.  Stop it!  

When I started asking people if I could take their photo two out of three people said no. Can you imagine this?  I’m working on a new portraits project now and have tried to go up to strangers and ask to take their photo and am terrified they’ll say no.  They are strangers, what’s the worst that can happen?  They say no and I ask someone else.  Can you imagine if every time you presented an idea, 2 out of 3 people said no?  You’re not presenting to strangers – these people hold a place in your life.  Their opinion means something.  What would that do to you?  Would you second guess yourself?  Would you change your project?  Please refer to the above paragraph for the answer.  If you don’t love what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing, how can you expect someone else to love it?  When you’re starting a project, or when you have an idea, it doesn’t take 2 out of 3 people to say yes – it starts with one.

So much of social media is stage managed. This is the most accurate depiction of social media I’ve heard yet.  Brandon is right.  Social media is becoming a series of carefully orchestrated words and sentences designed to sell products, but fall under the guise of being social and building relationships with community members.  On the Humans of New York Facebook page, Brandon shares very short responses from the people he photographs.  They’re beautiful snippets of their lives and the reason they’re so amazing is because he cares enough to ask questions and tries to get to know people, even for a short amount of time.  Above all, we need to remember that social media is social.  Yes, there are so many business benefits to being on social media, but promise me this…don’t get into the habit of bulk uploading and scheduling your posts and tweets.  Don’t take the social out of social media.

Thousands of very tiny evolutions created Humans of New York.  This simple concept was like an electric shock to me.  Whether it is photography, marketing, advertising, public relations, or branding, we think we have to come up with the big idea right away.  We see another company make a stellar ad and suddenly that’s what we’re aiming for.  I’m not saying don’t aim high, but start small.  When I started the IMC program, when I started taking photos, and when I started blogging, I assumed that everything I did had to be my life’s greatest work.  It wasn’t until recently that I realized how ridiculous that sounds.  (I’m not even 30, I pray I haven’t done my life’s greatest work yet.)  Great ideas are built, they are not born fully developed and foolproof.    Great ideas take time and they change and grow.  As a process-orientated planner, that is absolutely terrifying.  I think we all need to slow down, enjoy the process, and concentrate on each next step as it comes instead of trying to jump to the end.  Don’t be afraid of the little steps.

The interview is worth watching no matter what field you are in or want to be in.  It reminds us that there are little things we can do that will make a big difference in our lives.  Most of them start with not being afraid and believing in yourself and your ideas.  After all if you don’t, why would anyone else?

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