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Jim gives 8 lessons in marketing, design, technology, and life

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Hey everyone. I was struggling all last week for a podcast topic, and nothing was coming to mind. I was looking at Wired stories, items on Mashable.com, thinking about past case studies, and marketing in general.

It was midnight on Thursday 10/20 and I needed a story to post for the week.
(Note: As it turns out, I copied the wrong file to my thumb drive and thus couldn’t post it on Friday, and forgot again on Monday. Thus, the plan is to try and post two this week.)

In the end, my thoughts drifted to my friend Jeffrey Baun, a former co-worker who recently passed away. I figured it would be a nice little tribute to do a show that highlighted some of the things I learned from him.

The quick background is that I hired Jeff at my startup back in 1994, a few years later he got in a terrible car accident and was disabled, went home to live with his parents to rehabilitate, and had worked his way back for the last 13 years before passing away suddenly on September 16.

Here are the eight things I chose to remember and celebrate:

As always, the podcast contains the full story… here are some highlights of what I cover.

1. Design matters
The startup job was my first exposure in the workplace to true design, and Jeff was the first designer I knew. I always wished I was better at it, and he taught me a lot.

2. Embrace new software
The thing I remember specifically while I was there was that Photoshop introduced “layers” in one of their software updates. It was a radical change, being able to ‘undo’ and show and hide dozens of revisions of a complicated graphic. This was heaven to Jeff, and he dove in and figured it out with vigor.

3. Get the hardware to back it up
With the software bloat in the 90s however, more features meant more processing power was needed. He needed more ram. A LOT more. Suddenly we were going from 100k jpgs to 10, 20 or even 100 MB PSD files containing our user interface designs.

Jeff’s design vision quickly outpaced the hardware he was on, and because our startup was bootstrapped, we were too cheap thrifty to buy better computers. What I soon realized — that the partners took longer to appreciate — is that while it was expensive to spend thousands on a better computer or even several hundred dollars to bring his RAM from 16MB up to 64MB or 128MB (which makes today’s 4GB of ram on a 1/2″ thick Macbook Air look laughable), we were losing so much more in terms of productivity 10 hours a day, 5 days a week as Jeff had to wait while his designs rendered.

4. Always keep evolving
The nature of our business was that we had lots of clients doing the same basic thing… using interactive video and text to do corporate training. That means our writers cranked out scripts, our video team cranked out video, and our production team cranked out the finished product.

For maximum efficiency, we needed an assembly-line style process, with everything working off a template. I designed a template best practices document, based on our most successful designs and brought it to Jeff to show what we should be doing moving forward for all designs. I didn’t expect that he would voraciously disagree with me.

I argued that using these templates would streamline the work for all involved. He countered that restricting our designs would throttle the creative process, and that we would just become a factory and never grow as a company. It was if I was proposing that we build a website that would never be updated.

In the end, he was absolutely right. While we struck a balance at keeping the navigation and types of pages very very consistent, he was allowed free reign to push his design skills and that of the company farther with each iteration.

5. Fight for your worth
I once had to tell Jeff what his annual raise would be. Showing his pride once again, he showed great displeasure when I told him the number that management had given me. So much so, that I cut short the rest of his review discussion, as I could tell that the only thing he was thinking about was how disappointed he was with that figure.

I explained that I was just the messenger in that situation, and we settled things with the management team. But what I took away was that you could — that you should — know your worth in the marketplace and fight for that under the right situations. Perhaps that was one factor that led me to writing a book on the subject.

6. Sports matters
Whenever a national tragedy strikes, or a player is badly injured in a pro sporting event, the announcers go right into the mode of “and suddenly you realize that this is just a silly game and there are more important things in life.” And yes, during those circumstances they are right. When I broke my arm in 2010, I wrote a post called Why a distal humerus fracture has NOTHING to do with social media. It’s true. Your health is paramount.

But that is far from saying that sports doesn’t matter. I think the NFL games in the wake of 9/11 is just one example. Sports DOES matter. And for Jeff, he had several loves… the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Fantasy Football. I remembered the time I got to bring Jeff to a Steelers-Patriots game (and the outcome in the final minutes). And once again, perhaps it was Jeff’s passion in our office fantasy football league, that led me to pursue an 8-year career in that field.

7. Make time to connect
I’m a busy guy. Work, podcasts, books, teaching, speaking, friends, family, and more. We’re all busy. And it’s way too easy to forget about returning a phone call or email or postponing that lunch or drinks an old friend wanted to set up. So when Jeff reached out to me a year or two ago after a 10 year absence, I am so glad that I carved out time to reconnect. Don’t wait. Do it.

8. Life is fragile
You never know what life will bring you. Things change on a dime. Make every moment count.

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