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Monday, September 13, 2010

Presentation is everything!

I had the opportunity to design a project during my 3rd year of architecture school. The assignment called for the construction of a model, floor plans, and a series of presentation boards which highlighted images in 2 dimensions and three dimensions to illustrate the intent behind the overall solution to the problem presented.

If you are unfamiliar with architecture education, the classes are rigorous and are set up to allow for students to be given an imaginary client by the professor. Not only does the professor assign a client with a built in program but they establish a time-line for completing a solution and meet the necessary requirements for presentation. This presentation usually involves your classmates and professor as well as a standing jury that takes pleasure in utterly scrutinizing your project from as many vantage points as possible.

For this particular assignment we generated boards and models for the final presentation. Not every solution worked as some students missed key requirements. Others solved the problem, but their presentations fell short of winning the eye of their peers.

The project most well received was accepted because of its overall presentation. Along with engaging our attention with a winning design the student that caught the eye of all the jurors was the classmate that held his model up with both hands well above our line of vision and with a thrusting force slammed the model over his knee.

The model broke in half perfectly split down the middle showing two equal parts. My classmate then held up the two parts like the ten commandments and showcased the interior of the two sides of his model which complimented his boards. Now that's a presentation! Of course every presentation can't be that dramatic, but to create a place of connection with the class was an awe-inspiring point of presentation. Here I am 17 years later and I can still see the model and the looks on everyone's face. His presentation made history.

So you represent a minority business. What is it that makes your company unique? Your package goes beyond the service you provide or the product you sell. As a business owner or aspiring employee your brand starts with your appearance and ends with your product.

I had one of my fellow board members for a local organization tell me he has often walked out interviewees to their cars. If he looks in their cars and sees a mess he won't hire them. Though this was his practice for interviews related to an office administrator position it goes to show that people are watching how you present yourself and making sure all the dots connect before they invest, hire, or partner with you.

Here are some key points that I have tried to be mindful of when presenting to an investor, client, future project business partner, and former bosses. I try not to state the obvious even when it plays to my advantage. For example, yes I am a minority. I am not trying to sell them on my need for them, but on their benefit of having me or my company available to them.

Try to think at the level of what the receiver is accustom to seeing as a starting point and aim at exceeding their expectations. Presentation starts with listening and ends with clear communication in a display of images and or words. Use your words wisely. Present at the level that you can commit. If you over present your ability and under perform you disable your potential to be positioned to advance.

Lasting impressions highlight competence, ability, and innovation. A polished presentation reveals a level of confidence, sophistication, and professionalism that gives you position.

Do your research! When you are presenting your firm, idea, product or service make sure you know the end user and their habits well. The more you know your end user the more stable your presentation will be. If you are in position to choose your location choose somewhere comfortable to you, but also inviting enough to keep the receiver of your presentation intrigued and attentive. Make sure you create lasting anchors with words, location, and images that give your presentation presence and staying power.

At the end of the day your presentation will move you up the field or cause you to loose ground. Make sure you give yourself time and devoted focus to making the best presentation possible.

Presentation is everything!

To Infinity and Beyond

My first project in architectural school was to transport an object from one level to the next without destroying the object in the transition. The object had to travel three floors. It was my introduction to problem solving as it relates to architecture.

The project exposed me to a wide range of thoughts. At the core of the issue was boundaries and limitations. We were limited to the materials we could use. We were bound to the rules of the project. We were also bound and limited by time.

From birth, limitations and boundaries have the potential to guide our actions. As a child, boundaries give us structure and help identify direction. Limits provide parameters that do just enough to engage us in a steady pursuit of a desired outcome without going overboard.

As we grow older, our limits tend to be marked by our fears and our failures. It is at this point that we establish life routines that lessen our potential to achieve innovative solutions to problems that seek out our abilities to solve them.

Fear marks failure. I consider it the single most debilitating force that keeps us from achieving our goals. How many times have you heard, "We've never done it that way before?" or " I am afraid that might not work."

In local government, in our churches, with our school system, and on the job, fear imposes boundaries that may not be healthy for advancing anything progressive. In most cases outstanding solutions are met with impediments that either block our vision of constructive solution or surround us with walls that keep us focused on the problem and alleviate any opportunity to creatively problem solve.

As a business owner or employer, the daily challenges presented always boil down to some level of problem solving. How do we increase sales? What is our niche market? How do we provide a superior service over our competition? How do we achieve our market strategy in a down economy? As an employee, some of the same questions exist but on a different level.

How do we arrive at solutions to our problems related to our companies as minority owned and operated businesses beyond our preconceived boundaries/limitations?

I don't just want to be the top minority architect in my city. I want to do something in such a way that my contribution to my career field transcends my title as "young black architect" and reaches the point of "world class designer."

There are several dynamics that play into this accomplishment, but instinctively there is a philosophical approach that I believe positions minority companies to achieve overwhelming success.

Think bigger!

If you had the ability to operate your company as a fortune 500 company how would it differ from the way you are running your company today? If the same obstacles that present themselves to you today as boundaries/limits didn't exist what would you do differently and where would you be today?

Think bigger!

What if you thought like your boss instead of like his/ her employee? How far ahead would you be in assisting in advancing the company? Big thinking has an association policy attached to it. Generally the bigger you think the more apt you are to be surrounded with people just like you. Try to find the value in what you have to offer instead of what you would like to receive. I have a family member who has offered me the constant reminder that experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.

The architecture project of transporting an object from one floor downward to the ground floor without destroying it introduced me to a new way of thinking even back in college. Nearly everyone was planning to solve the problem the same way. Wrap the object with the given materials and drop the object three stories and hope it stays in tact.
While others of us launched our objects and use the material to create parachutes or landing pads to receive the objects below.

The best solutions evolved around viewing the problem from different perspectives and responding accordingly. It meant that for a moment in the design process we removed our fears, our limits, and our boundaries to work from the outside in.

For us to capture the essence of success as minority businesses, I believe we have to think broader than we ever have with the hope that what we dream will take us to infinity and beyond!


For the last couple of months, I have been a part of a joint effort to attract retailers to the local mall. The experience has offered an in-depth exposure to the retailers, large and small, and to their perception of our mall and the citizens of our community.

It has also added yet another dimension of experience related to inviting someone from outside the community into the community to do business.

The business of marketing, advertising, and leasing a mall has its similarities to that of marketing a city government or even local businesses.

These similarities lie in the questions that the outside businesses always want to know.

What is the average household income?

What can the city offer us?

What is the population of your town?

What are the vital demographics associated with this market (married couples, employed, education, etc.)?

I have seen local business owners work feverishly to improve every aspect of their business to accommodate anticipated inquiries from new tenant solicitations.
I also have watched as multiple government agencies, past and present, work to package the city/ county to be attractive to potential employers.

In general there is a misunderstanding from people who are not involved in the day to day process. There is a relationship process that is involved in establishing a community for attracting new companies to town.

For all of the warranted and unwarranted complaints about creating more jobs, better stores, and a higher quality of education, there is a prerequisite to accomplishing this goal.

Neither jobs and retailers nor education and quality of life concerns get better because we wish them to do so. It involves improving the product or service offered while marketing and advertising the advantages/ vision of our product or service over every other competitor. It comes from a concentrated effort of improving reach and frequency to solicited companies that might choose to plant themselves in our town.

It means nearly every citizen making sacrifices that are for the benefit of the entire community. It means company mergers, partnerships, acquisitions, and whatever it takes to remain relevant and in business under times of economic uncertainty.

Having evaluated our community from both a public and private perspective, I firmly believe our greatest assets are our work force and our location. These assets should be held up as the beacon of hope for our community.

It will be a joint effort of the small businesses in our town along with the robust companies that offer opportunities to boost the local economy that will differentiate us from everyone else.

Building relationships that leads to business takes time and an investment of someone's money. Lasting change starts with the right approach. Quick fixes hinder our ability to reach and sustain real change.

Opportunity is a Destination

As an elementary student, I had the opportunity to raise money for multiple sclerosis. I raised the most money in my class and was featured in the Anderson Herald for winning my very first dirt bike.

In high school I took drawings I had completed in my drafting class to a local architect (John S. Kane) and asked for an opportunity to work after school. John was gracious enough to hire me and I have been working in the field of architecture ever since.

While in college, I was heading back to my dorm and saw a posting for a study abroad trip to Italy. I took the opportunity to fill out the paper work and raised money from family members which allowed me to travel to Milan, Venice, and Lugano, Switzerland.

Opportunity is everywhere around us. Opportunities are places that we all pass by, some cease the place in time opportunity presents them, while others aren’t prepared and have to watch the opportunity escape them.
Opportunities have the potential to link us to places by our memory of them. Places are important!

Remember the last important decision you made? What opportunity presented itself that caused you to be where you are today?

Every opportunity doesn’t always lead to success. But the opportunity for success always exists.

How do we capitalize on opportunity? There are all kinds of opportunities which allow all of us to look at the same situation and even view the same facts but see something entirely different.

It is the way we see things that allows us to arrive at different opportunities. For instance, if we look at the unemployment rate of 10%, some people sign off in situations like these as hopeless, their words and actions follow their thoughts and before you know it when you come into contact with them they are walking billboards of despair.

While someone else might look at the unemployment rate and see the opportunity to market, sell to, or take advantage of the 90% of people who are still employed. Their energy and attention is fixed on solving a problem or servicing a need.
Opportunity is a destination. It is a place that is made by a sequence of decisions. It is a place that can be used to take us farther, higher, deeper into life changing life alter experiences. For some experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. For others experience represent some of the most cherished moment in our lives.

To be prepared for the destination of opportunity, begin to take a holistic approach to every situation that you come in contact with daily. If you were on the outside of the situation how would you view it, what decision would you make? Our response is inevitably shaped by what we feed ourselves for information. Take inventory of your thoughts.

The opportunity is yours!

The act of giving involves more than monetary giving.

The act of giving involves more than monetary giving.

For the last few years I have had the distinct opportunity to serve on a number of boards. The experience has been engaging and insightful.

Of the few boards and committees that I have served I have been exposed to the heart and will of some of this community’s largest givers.

More recently, while serving on various boards, I have been fortunate enough to observe how men and women who understand the importance of giving operate.

When we think of giving we tend to associate it strictly to monetary giving. Though monetary giving is a large part of many non for profit organization’s existence, there are other categories that seem equally as viable and have drawn out the best of people in this community who not only want to see our community organizations, non for profits, and churches succeed, but will not stop contributing until they have nothing else to give.

This time of year especially represents the time of year when people begin to express their gratitude and take self inventory of things that are most important to them like the less fortunate and family.

I have often heard it said by my peers that you should establish a plan of giving in the areas of time, talent, and treasure.

With the constant reminder of the downturn in the economy and an almost disciplined reaction to request for financial assistance many people have chosen to cut back on what seems to be non essential giving.

It is impossible to give what you don’t have. For some people the very thought of giving makes them cringe.

This year as you prepare to gather holiday gifts include ways to give. There are a plethora of organizations, churches, and non for profits that will not meet their goals this year. Your service in time, your offering of your area of expertise, and of course your treasure might just be what is needed to help some organizations stay afloat this holiday season.

It is your time, your talent and your treasure that covers a holistic approach to giving.

I used to believe in the phrase give till it hurts, but then I realized giving doesn’t hurt, it helps. Whatever you choose to give when done with a right heart is never lost.

I am learning that those who are the biggest givers never go without. They always seem to have what they need when they need it. It is as if they need to give. They do it unselfishly, not to be recognized and not to receive anything in return, but to satisfy the part in all of us that was designed to help others.

From personal giving to corporate giving, our time, talent and treasure is required of us. Give what you can!

Involve yourself in being a part of the solution!

There are few things that move me more deeply than seeing an expression of undeserved hatred acted out in violence.

Over the last several months I have written this column with a solution based focus. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out the problems in our community for our businesses and its citizens.

Though a presentation of solutions could be criticized as not possible, it is my hope that the ideas presented open the door to like-minded individuals who will engage themselves in active duty of building this city.

Who has the right to criticize what is being done by our local business owners, our pastors, our community leaders, our school system, and our community organizations? It can’t be the people who sit around and do absolutely nothing because they weren’t elected to office or given a position of leadership! They serve no capacity in their time given to this community, yet their voice rings loudest with complaints.

I personally don’t care if you are a Republican, a Democrat, Black or White, young, old, a resident of the west side or east side, business owner, employee, employed or unemployed, until you’ve given your time and best effort to make this community the best it can be, your words should be seasoned with a proactive message of what you can and will do to contribute or you should be silent.

I believe it’s time we weed out the voices of those who have so much to say about this city yet they have not taken 1 hour to contribute to our youth, who are nearly beating each other to near death! They haven’t given their time to clean one street nor have they offered a single encouraging word, yet they bleed hatred and animosity towards this community.

If our community leaders and business owners would rally together and put forth a plan to build and enhance the lives of people here in this town I believe that together we could do something that has never been done before. I believe this community could create a model of the idea city. I believe that each person here could play a role in actively serving at some capacity. You could serve the school system, the church, local non-profit organizations, nursing homes, hospitals, or even start with your own family.

I am challenged to do more. I am challenged to start in my own house and be a better husband and father, to be a better friend. I am challenge to give more and talk less, to get myself to an even greater position of strength with my own personal disciplines of faith.

If you are going to live here then make sure you do something to make your life count. We all face struggles and have challenges that could potentially sideline us, but the truth is you and I have a responsibility to contribute to this community’s well being.

Start now!

Value Your Time

There are very few things that are considered more valuable than what we do with our time.

We tend to center our lives around its worth in one way or another. We give 40 hours or more a week of it away in exchange for some level of financial security and health benefits. The rest of our time is even more valuable as it is considered our own with no boss attached to it. We give it away to entertainment, education, family, friends, and any and everything that fits our own personal life desires.
However you define it the mastery of time and the application of knowledge and /or information separates modest achievers from some of the most successful people in the world.

How valuable is your time?

Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with several developers from around the world. These men and women have achieved a certain level of success in their lives. Their calendars are packed with speaking engagements, meetings, and events. They tend to think so far ahead that their year is tentatively planned out. Their time management is reflected in everything they do.

How do you make sure that you are getting the most out of your day, month, and year?
It starts with an executable plan. I have developed several plans over the years. The plans that have been accomplished were manageable within reason and I knew what steps to take to achieve my desired goal. I worked vigorously at eliminating everything that was unnecessary.

On the other hand, I have made plans that were overreaching. In both cases I have worked from the perspective of setting a goal and then working backwards to figure out every step that might need to be taken to reach that goal. In some instances I managed to work backwards far enough to figure out what needed to happen each day on an hourly basis. Sometimes you are thrust into a position that requires immediate time management.

Whatever position you find yourself in here are some suggestions and questions that I have read or researched that are a continual help to me. When applied this information it has helped me steer clear of potential pitfalls in my personal life and business career.

What is it you want to achieve?

If you value your time others will as well. Figure out what is important to you. How many hours a day should you give to what is most valuable to you?

What is it that presently takes up the majority of your time? Organize your day by responsibilities. Plan out as much activity as you can. Be flexible. Reward yourself for meeting mile markers along the way to your goal.

You can always make more money, but time and what you do with it is harder to recover.

Why do people run for public office?

Tomorrow people all over our country will head to the polls to follow a tradition of voting in the primary elections.

Slogans, advertisements, logos, yard signs and mailings blanket the community for the opportunity to gain your allegiance.

Your coveted vote will place someone into a role of responsibility regarding the future of our community.

Who are these people?

Last week I had a brief conversation with an elected official. The gist of our conversation was “Why do people run for office?”

I know some people desire to make changes because they feel they can do a better job than someone else that occupies the current office. Then there are those that are out to prove a point, so they run with the hope of making a statement (and sometimes there is a need for a point to be made).

And then there are those who want to be in a position of power. They have no real plan, no vision, and no concept of what they are getting in to, but meet the qualifications to hold office and some times gain the position they wanted and don’t know what to do next.

There is a difference between a thrill seeking power hungry politician and a public servant.

Who do we elect?

For all of the blood, sweat and tears that were shed for men and women to have the right to cast their vote, I feel personally responsible to make sure I know who deserves my vote and who is best equip to enter into the position they are seeking.
For some people it always boils down to political party. For others it is merely a popularity vote. For all of us shouldn’t it be the individual that has demonstrated the highest level of competence, desire, and track record of service and lays out the best plan of action.

Can we afford to support someone who if they lose the election we will never hear from them or see them until the next election? Service starts at home. It starts with people who don’t care about being re-elected more than they do about doing what is best for the community.

I plan to cast my vote for individuals who are service minded first. If they by chance happen to lose an election they stick around and still participate in making this community better.

It is the candidates that after this election never show up for another community meeting, never speak out to hold those in office accountable, never show any initiative to build a better community that we have to steer clear of giving our vote.

Do what you can with what you have?

One of my first assignments in college was to carry a boiled egg from one floor level to another with a range of materials given to me by my professor. The challenge was a straight forward lesson in problem solving.

For many students it meant finding a way to design something around the egg to absorb impact as the majority of designers dropped their eggs over a wall to a designated position multiple floors down. It was a great introduction to architecture.

Regardless of the many approaches at some point everyone who had to deal with this design solution had to evaluate what resources were available to them. We had to do what we could with what we had.

I heard this phrase in church and couldn’t help but wonder about our community. Does anyone know what we really have here? Aside from the nostalgic memories of this being a basketball town or a GM based city, does anybody remember what we were 50 years before that?

Somehow we have ended up conveying on our community billboard that we are only a product of who we were 10, 15, 20 years ago. What if that is the real problem that we need to address?

Bill Gates story always fascinates me. His innate ability to be able to see a problem allowed him to understand what the solution was even before the solution had technically been created. He identified the problem as need for the design of a next generation operating system and he convinced others that this is what they needed as well. He took what he had and made history.

The principles of design are applicable anywhere. I heard an architect in the documentary by the son of the late architect Louis Kahn say the challenge was not to design buildings, but to design a path one must take for their life. Yes we need jobs but we need an identifier even more. We need something that at its center gives us a collective identity, legacy, and future all at the same time.

There is a bigger picture to the problem we have here. There are certain variables about community that may never change. The problem might have one singular definition. We live in a community like other communities that suffers job loss, aging work force, and brain drain.

What solution best fits our town? Solutions that begin with ideas like having our own T.V. station, our own convention center, signing large companies to come to town to employ our capable workforce, strengthening our local businesses to gain a national presence, hosting our own national technology and trade shows or even retooling our school system to compete with the top school systems in the world.
Whatever the problem is the solution is surrounded by us doing what we can with what we have.

What is the difference between you and I?

What is the difference between you and I?

Have you ever sat down and thought about all the things that potentially divide us? At the end of the day what makes us all different?

Is it our faith, our race, our upbringing, our education, the people we choose to call friends, the decisions we make, the way we choose to dress, our choice of employment, the cars we drive , where we do business, or even our political affiliation.

Whatever the differences are for most people they are ways that we identify ourselves to others Differences aren’t bad. Some differences should be celebrated and even used to help diversify a collective view of a particular subject matter.
Some differences drive us all apart. They separate us from people we grew up with or make some people who have the ability to be able communicators to shut down.
What really makes you different for me?

Last week, our family lost a loved one (Christine Wilkerson Harris). I watched as extended family which has grown over 4 or more generations gathered to celebrate one of the most giving and generous people I have ever known.

I can’t say I understand what makes us all different, but I have concluded that despite all of our differences our truest identity lies within what makes us all alike.

We all have one life to live and the decision we make in this life effect others around us for generations to come. I am learning that I don’t know how to die, but by their example I have learned how to live.

Live full throttle ahead, maximizing every opportunity, giving, sharing, learning, from people you have the privilege to meet along the way. I have learned to live by listening to others life lessons and stories who you might think are much more different than yourselves, but they’re not.

I am learning that our personal decisions can lead us down the path of great success or great failures. Time is an unforgiving opposition. At times it doesn’t give us the opportunity of second chances or the ability to relive certain life altering situations.

I recently interviewed the young millionaire Jordan Wirsz for my radio show on WHBU. He said something that has made me think intensely about the difference between how to approach failure and people who have a true fix on our common life goals.

Thomas Edison failed many times trying something he believed in. The more he failed the more he was determined to find success.

For a moment lay aside your differences and try to find the common ground that makes us all human. Give where it counts. Live in such a way that people will remember you after you are long gone which

Gossiping, Fault-finding, Backbiting, and Slander

The last few articles I have put forth an effort to address healthy communication in our offices, in our schools, at our churches, and amongst “friends.”

When I watch people who grew up in this town together take on new titles politically, in leadership, or in business and those same individuals spew all sorts of hatred about one another privately or expose each others faults, but in public they seem the best of friends, something is wrong.

Have you ever stepped into a room and felt the eerie feeling that someone was talking in a negative way about you? It is as if they have two faces, one for show and another for private.

Someone has been sharing information about you without you present. The same individuals hold small meetings in the office, at lunch, in private to discuss how they really feel about you.

It is as though their true nature and intent is to tear you or someone else you know down while building themselves up.I can’t help but imagine that healthy communication helps business, church, local government, and community.

It is the raw nature of back biting, conniving, ill willed people whom considered every opportunity one that is to be taken to tear down others that destroys community from the inside out.

I was in a group of individuals who had been lead by one individual into a conversation about someone else that wasn’t present. I excused myself because the conversation was building to a point that if the person were with us they might have felt uncomfortable.

I have heard it said that if someone will talk to you about someone else they will also talk to someone else about you.

How does that help? How can we prance around with smiles on our faces while inside we can’t stand each other. I would think it is better to maturely communicate how you feel about someone in a civil way rather than wait until you get a private moment with a co-worker, fellow elder, or colleague, and gossip and express your dislike for someone.

Here are some things I try to put into practice in my own life.

1. Don’t say something about someone to someone else that you can’t say to the
person face to face that is the subject of your conversation.

2. If someone wants to make you their dumping ground for their feelings about
someone else ask them if they would feel comfortable talking directly to the
person they have a problem with instead of you.

3. Make opportunities to be direct. Stop smiling with one part of your face
while whispering out of the other.

Every face has two sides. Be consistent and remember what you say about others may just come back to you in another way. Healthy communication strengthens everything around it.