Thursday, April 26, 2012

Proud of My Team Today

I rarely use my blog to talk about company stuff.  Lord knows we have plenty of outlets for that.  But today is different.  We’re launching Aspen today and Aspen is the culmination of a lot of work and ‘what if’s.’  I’m very proud of my team because they’ve worked very hard.  More importantly they’re proud of themselves.  In a very real way, Aspen is their dream, their vision, their sweat and it is, 100%, their creativity.
First off, since this is outside of the walls of Pictage let me kill a bunch of rumors.
  1. Pictage does not charge photographers per image.  We charge per page just like everyone else.
  2. New Sequoia and Aspen Albums do not warp.  They can’t.  In reinventing this line we searched high and low for the highest quality materials.  We’ve tested them in ways you couldn’t imagine.  They come with a 100% no-warp guarantee.
  3. New Sequoia and Aspen Albums are not expensive.  In fact, Sequoia 2s are among the lowest priced, highest quality albums you can buy.  (this leaves room for you to make money).
  4. You do not have to use Pictage Album Design.  Obviously you can if you like but we built the easiest album ordering tools available for folks who want to make their own designs their own ways.  (Seriously - like 3 clicks).
  5. Pictage does not take commission on wholesale albums. We don’t take commission on any wholesale sale.  
  6. Once you add in the subscription, etc it’s the same price as everyone else.  Not likely.  You have to see the prices of these books to believe that.
Ok.  Enough of that.  I sat down with my team last year and asked them what they would do if they could go ahead and do anything.  They scratched their heads and thought about it (for the uninitiated, head scratching is a metaphor) and they came back and said they wanted to build exceptional products and sell them for low prices.  It would seem like you couldn’t do that.  We can.  The reason that we can is because we don’t spend lots of money marketing.  We already serve 10,000 photographers.  Their subscription subsidizes our product development efforts.  We can (and do) pass that savings right back to our clients.
Since then we’ve been on the product development express.  The Gallery Series was launched last August, featuring innovative print treatments like Acrylic and Bamboo prints, framed fine art prints, etc. Earlier this year we released Sequoia 2.  A simple, well made album for price conscious customers and today we’re releasing Aspen, an entirely new line of handcrafted books made with the best materials available but priced in a category that allows our photographers to make real money reselling these products.
Aspen albums are made right here in Los Angeles.  We’re excited about the product line we’re releasing, with new Leather, Acrylic and Silk cover options and lots of fun new colors and combinations.  We’re more excited that this is just a beginning.  We have plans for many new options including photographer-branded packaging, mat/flush hybrids, high relief cover leathers, all ‘green’ books, fine art books, etc.  All of these options are being put together to allow our photographers to create a book that is unique to their studio and their preferences and 100% branded to them.  None of our books carry any Pictage branding at all.  (Frankly, I can’t understand why anyone would ever sell an album by its brand.  Very few consumers will ever have heard of them and something that is branded to your studio can only be acquired from you.) 
When I say “we,” I really mean “they.”  For our team here this is probably the most exciting new product release in years.  This team is justifiably proud of the work they’ve done and they are excited about creating these books.  (I think they’re also excited about ordering them with their employee discounts - but I love that too!) Aspen is a real example of what happens when management gets out of the way and lets the smart people do what they think is right.  Congrat’s y’all.  Great job!
(and remember... what’s next is what’s important).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Grumbling is Good. (Even when we don't want to think so!)

Grumbling is Good.
“If you are grumbling then you aren’t a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”  “Don’t listen to people who grumble, they just tear you down.”  “All that guy ever does is grumble, I’ve gotten so I don’t even listen to him anymore.”  “She used to be really involved and now all she does is grumble.”
The hardest thing for any organization to do is listen to criticism.  In this day and age criticism is rarely offered in a straight forward, “you need to improve this,” statement.  Most often it is in the form of an email complaint, a social media comment (or conversation) or a third hand conversation.  However, successful organizations know that listening to the “grumbling” undercurrent is one of the most important elements of driving positive change.
Leaders often make the mistake of telling their constituents not to grumble.  After all, grumbling often focuses on the leaders.  It questions their skills, talents, motivations and efforts.  It’s insulting!  I’ve always found this kind of funny.  It doesn’t stop the folks from grumbling, they just stop grumbling in a way that you can hear.  (and when this happens you lose the positive input you might actually be getting from those who grumble).
There are two forms of grumbling.  Grumbling from people who just generally grumble and grumbling from people who genuinely care.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.  I don’t try.  Here’s my recipe for handling grumbling.  I’ve had a lot of practice so if you’re in a position where you are “hearing it” this might help.
  1. Listen to the message, not the tone.  It takes a mature soul to be able to see or hear a perceived insult and not take it personally.  I try to determine the origin of the complaint and decide if it is worthy, if it is something I’m already doing something about and if it merits a response.

  2. People are going to complain.  Make sure they complain to you.  You’d be amazed how often a ‘grumbler’ can become a stalwart defender of your character, most often because you took the time to listen to what they have to say and respond in a way that honors their opinion.

  3. Don’t respond when you’re mad.  I’ve probably written a thousand emails that I never sent.  I have a simple rule.  If I’m mad I don’t press send.  I make sure that I don’t by leaving the “to” field blank.  I save it as a draft and come back to it the next day.  Sometimes I send them and sometimes I don’t.

  4. Teach your people to listen, too.  The single most destructive thing a leader can do is tell the leaders in an organization that they should not listen to criticism, whatever its form.  No one person will ever be smarter than the collective view.  Good ideas nearly always come from criticism.  This doesn’t mean you always have to do what a critic says.  In fact, the opposite is almost always true, but the problem with not listening is that you turn off the information inputs and that will ultimately kill an organization because the people who contribute will stop caring.
Ultimately, someone who grumbles compliments you.  It can be hard to see this when you’re in the line of fire.  (Again, trust me on this, I know this well).  Here’s the thing.  If they care enough to grumble it means they care.  If they stop grumbling it means they’ve written you off.  You may not care when things are good, but if you maintain that perspective for long enough you will regret the things you didn’t change.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Do You Refill Your Tanks?

Will Jacks corrected me every time I called it a conference. He corrected me again when I called it a workshop. Rebirth is neither. What is it? I actually don't know that I can really define it even after having been there. It's sort of a retreat, but with projects.


Rebirth is a different experience for everyone who attends. There were folks who were there this year who were there last year. I can see why. I, too, want to go back.

I made it clear that I wasn't coming either as a photographer participant or as Jim Collins, CEO of Pictage. I was just coming as Will Jacks and Chris Williams and Sarah Hodzic and Jess DelVecchio and Chris Pike's friend. I also had to admit to myself that I needed a break. We've been going 10,000 miles an hour around Pictage for about the last 7 months and my creative energy was getting really low.

There was nothing convenient about going to Rebirth. I'd been in Massachusetts for 10 days, flew home on a Monday, spent the night on Monday and flew to Memphis first thing Tuesday morning to drive 1.5 hours to Clarksdale. On Hwy 61 between Memphis and Clarksdale I drove through near biblical rain. I loved it. It was like a curtain that separated the baggage I'd brought from the experience I was there to absorb. What came next was what was important.


For me visiting Mississippi is always somewhat mystical. My Dad grew up on the coast just outside of Biloxi, 'dirt poor' (his term), and the son of an english teacher and a writer. I visited Mississippi when I was in high school and got my first real introduction to the deep south in a little town called Mendenhall. It is somehow appropriate for me that this is the place to go back to.


Will, Chris, Sarah, Jess, Chris Pike, Thom Bennet, Euphus (Butch) Ruth were this year's teachers. But in real ways everyone there learns from everyone else (present company perhaps accepted). While I was there I was reminded that it is in the doing of new and different things and sometimes in the act of being quiet that our mind has a chance to soar.