Archives for April 2015

This is What “Thinking Different” {and Southern} About Business Looks Like: Southern Airways Express

Doing business different

Image by Ladyheart

Around these here parts, we love to preach doing things your own quirky way in business. (And by “we,” I mean me.)

And we love it when we read about a company that bucks the system, says a big ol’ F.U. to “business as usual,” and follows a decidedly different path entirely of its own idiosyncratic making.

And we especially love it when that company proves you don’t have to follow boring old canned ways of doing things to succeed in business.

Southern Airways Express is that company.

My cousins over at The Bitter Southerner recently featured Southern Airways in a story on their site called Fly Me to the Gulf: How a Gang of Tennessee and Mississippi Entrepreneurs Is Bringing a Little Southern Hospitality (and Some Dignity) Back to Air Travel, written by Richard Murff, with photos by Matthew Jones.

Now this sounds like an airline I want to fly:

So abnormal, sensible and human is the team behind the startup that they just might have saved air travel from the savage jaws of awfulness and made it fun again. Its model — short-haul flights of less than 10 passengers — avoids the Transportation Security Administration policies of treating all passengers like refugees; reduces check-in to a pleasant 20 minutes; makes actual airtime comfortable, even sociable; and has no baggage-claim system to send all your clothes to Anaheim for the weekend. It does this, generally, for less money than the major carriers.”

And while things are good now, the startup had to overcome naysayers and dream stealers and a small-minded consensus among the major airlines that their model was impossible.

But guess what? They made it work.

Here’s COO Keith Sisson:

“Look, we aren’t geniuses here,” Sisson said. “We just did it the way that we’d like to see it done. It doesn’t even cost anymore to do it right; it’s just a little more trouble. You actually have to care.”

And that’s what it boils down to, doesn’t it?

You actually have to care.

And by caring, they’ve carved out a competitive advantage.

They’ve done something I talk about ad nauseum around here: they’ve found a way to stand out in a saturated market — simply by caring, by doing things right.

Love that.

Find out more about how Southern Airways Express is doing business different over here:

Fly Me to the Gulf: How a Gang of Tennessee and Mississippi Entrepreneurs Is Bringing a Little Southern Hospitality (and Some Dignity) Back to Air Travel

 

(By the way, even if you’re not interested in this particular article, but looking for some damn good writing nevertheless, you should high-tail it over to The Bitter Southerner. You won’t find better writing anywhere. Their drool-worthy site is full of insightful essays, beautiful images and new ways to think about what it means to live in the South in this day and age. This is hands-down my favorite website on the whole dang Internet, period. I love it to the moon and back.)

The Friction of Being Visible for Creatives (inspired by Mark Nepo)

Mark Nepo, the friction of being visible

In his wonderful book The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, Mark Nepo talks about something he calls “the friction of being visible,” meaning, as he says, that “no matter what path we choose to honor, there will always be conflict to negotiate.”

He explains:

In effect, the cost of being who you are is that you can’t possibly meet everyone’s expectations, and so, there will, inevitably, be external conflict to deal with – the friction of being visible. Still, the cost of not being who you are is that while you’re busy pleasing everyone around you, a precious part of you is dying inside; in this case, there will be internal conflict to deal with – the friction of being invisible.

Though he’s talking about living more authentically in our day-to-day lives, those of us in creative fields will instantly recognize the friction he refers to as it relates to our creative work.

When we choose to make a living by sharing our creative output with the world, in whatever form that takes – graphic design, photography, fine art, interior design, illustration, writing, flower arranging, web design, architecture, underwater basket weaving, or whatever our gift happens to be – we commit to this friction over and over again.

Part of this friction comes from trying to live up to the expectations of well-meaning friends and loved ones who suggest that maybe we should take a more realistic approach to career and money-making. Or from those who judge or criticize our work, including, sometimes, our very own clients.

In other cases, we are own worst enemy. We’ve limited ourselves by buying into the notion that to be fully self-expressed in our creativity is enough, that if we’re able to practice our creative work and make a living from it, we should be happy to “settle” for barely scraping by. Or that doing our creative thing on the side while working a “real” job is all we’re allowed to ask for.

In my case, I’ve done this number on myself. I don’t recall any adult in my life ever saying to me, “be realistic, you can’t make a decent living writing, that’s something you do on the side,” or any variation thereof.

Even when I was actively practicing photography, shooting rolls and rolls of film (yes, it was actual film then), studying the masters, soaking up as much info as I could, taking photography classes, and applying to art school, no one ever said to me, “be practical, you can’t make a decent living as a photographer.”

So I can only assume that I was making the argument to myself, internally. That somewhere along the line, I had bought into the notion that choosing the path of the creative, at least in terms of career, would mean certain poverty. Or that putting my work “out there,” possibly to be scrutinized and criticized, would feel like being gutted, just too uncomfortable.

But once you understand that the friction of being visible is the price you pay for getting to make a living from your creative pursuits (or from practicing your creative thing with abandon if it’s not your primary source of income), and you make peace with that dynamic, you can go on about the business of your business with less internal conflict.

The friction of being visible, at least for creatives, seems less of a price to pay than the alternative, as Nepo describes it:

Still, the cost of not being who you are is that while you’re busy pleasing everyone around you, a precious part of you is dying inside; in this case, there will be internal conflict to deal with – the friction of being invisible.

While the friction of being visible may make us uncomfortable, the friction of being invisible is potentially much more destructive. It can be ruinous to our mental and emotional well-being, and even detrimental to our physical health.

Many of us go through our lives doing work we don’t love, participating in relationships that don’t light us up, keeping schedules that wear us down, and saying yes to people and obligations we’d rather say no to, all the while putting a happy face on the whole shebang, as if it was our most fervent wish to go around feeling deeply unfulfilled and perpetually dissatisfied.

Then life may throw us a curveball to get our attention. My curveball came in the form of a terrifying episode one fine day in June 2014 while driving to my onsite freelance writing gig at a medical center. Out of the blue my heart started racing wildly and my breathing became shallow and labored.

I pulled into the parking lot of the medical center’s marketing department and struggled to get just one deep breath into my lungs, just one. Then sat in my car gasping for air and crying. I felt like I was drowning. Not fun.

A few minutes later, still not able to breathe fully and deeply, I composed myself as best I could, went inside, and sat through the morning meeting in which we discussed the day’s priorities. I ducked out of the building afterwards to call my doctor to make an appointment for the next day.

Luckily, a chest x-ray and an EKG revealed no immediate cause for concern. But the heart racing and the shallowness of breath (which I now refer to as “SOB” for short, ha ha) continued, sometimes pronounced and nearly debilitating, other times mild and almost imperceptible.

Message received.

That was my call to change some things. And so I did. I left that gig, as wonderful as it was, eight months later. While I enjoyed the work, my colleagues, and a steady paycheck, I felt hamstrung by the 20 hour a week commitment and the requirement to work onsite, and I knew it was keeping me from fully embracing the work I really wanted to be doing – working with creative entrepreneurs, and writing.

My response to this internal conflict, “the friction of being invisible,” as Nepo calls it, was to high-tail it out of that situation and go towards the light. Ah yes, the light – the light of doing work that’s much more in line with my preferred mode and style of working, working with clients I love.

So while it’s true that, “no matter what path we choose to honor, there will always be conflict to negotiate,” I chose the friction of being visible. And I’m much happier for it.

Which reminds me of the Henry David Thoreau quote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Don’t let’s do this.

Or you may find yourself, one day, gasping for air in a medical center parking lot, wondering what the heck is going on and ruining your mascara with your salty anxiety tears.

I don’t recommend it.