Brain Freeze: how to get over a creative slump in 3 steps

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We’re in the midst of a brutal winter here in Canada, and while its a struggle just to keep your brain from getting frostbite, the dark cold days can start to weigh on our creative flow. But polar vortex aside,  there comes a time in everyone’s life when they hit a period of creative stagnation: we can’t write another sentence to save our lives.  So how do we escape the block? Here are a few tips and tricks from.

1. Get outside

Once your creativity is blocked its easy to get into a vicious cycle of trying to be productive, getting frustrated, trying even harder to be productive, and getting even more frustrated. The challenge here is to stop the loop and get outside. It may seem counterintuitive to do something other then work when deadlines are starting to creep up, but its the best way to get started on the task at hand. Go for a walk, read a new book, go look at art, go to a new class – anything that will engage your brain. Immerse yourself completely in the experience and stop thinking about anything else.

2. Write your way out

Once you’ve submerged your brain in a new topic/environment write about your experience. Write a few short sentences or write a letter to your dog about it. Just write a few words about what you’ve experienced. The temptation here is to go directly back to work, but its not time yet. After you complete this exercise, step away and go do something completely different.

3. Assess the situation

This can trigger another blockage if not done correctly, so be gentle, and try not to freak out. Take a deep sigh and start to map out what needs to be done. Sketch out your main thesis and break it down into sections, or if you’re writing non-fiction, develop the arc of your story and main characters. Next, give each section a timeframe, leave twice as much time for edits and block off the time you need to get this done. Now step away and do something fun.

3. Get cracking

Start tackling each section according to your plan and do as much as possible in each work session. Seriously, don’t stop in the middle of a session. What’s one sleepless night or missed dinner date if you can just get this damn thing done?

Now that you have the formula you can just rinse and repeat as often as necessary, or better yet, make time in your busy schedule for inspiration and creative thinking. You would be amazed at how much richer and engaging your work could be if you gave yourself time to soak-in new experiences and experiment!


Where do today’s kids hang out on the internet?

adults-teens-social-media (1)

Apparently there is a mass exodus taking place on the internet, everyone under 35 years of age is leaving Facebook to avoid Facebook’s newest and lurkiest users: their moms. This phenomena has been discussed at length by social media experts since as early as 2012, leaving digital marketers in a panic. So where are today’s kids hanging out on the internet?


It’s true that Instagram has become the fastest growing social network. It’s mobile friendly, rant-free, technicolour platform is quickly replacing Facebook as a place to see what your friend’s and favourite celebrities are up to.


This parent-proof app has become a top social media tool for the youth of today. Snapchat lets users send pics to their friends which remain visible for only a few seconds before they disappear forever — a perfect way to avoid snoopy parents.


Yup. While Millennials and Generation Z are starting to use other social networks, they still using Facebook. Gen Z ( anyone born after 1990) are  more likely to disengage from Facebook, with more than 25% of 13- to 17-year-olds having left the network in 2013.

To learn more about age and social networking, check out Pew Research Centre’s Social Networking Fact Sheet.

How To Leverage Your Social Media Accounts To Provide Better Customer Service

Whether your customers are tweeting about how much they love your product, or complaining about your return policy on facebook, it’s out there for everyone to see. Customers now expect customer service via social media, with over 50% of customers expecting customer service through a company’s social media accounts. If you’re still not convinced, consider this: in a poll conducted by Conversocial, 88% of customers said they were less likely to purchase from a company that ignored social complaints. Leveraging your social presence to provide better customer service is an effective strategy to attract and build your customer base. So how can you turn the chatter into excellent customer service?

Listen and learn: why waste energy explaining your way of doing something (or not doing something) when you can improve your offerings by listening to what customers really want. Monitor comments and social media, and start tracking the frequent comments and questions.

Answer the burning questions: sometimes good customer service can be as simple as reminding customers about your products and policies. If you find that many people are asking you the same question, take the time to address the question on your FAQ, create a how-to guide, or a quick video to share on social media.

Acknowledge your number one fan: is there someone who loves your product so much they’ve blogged/tweeted/pinned about it? Be sure to thank them and share their content with your other followers.

Respond to comments and mentions: If you’re not listening to social media channels, you might be ignoring your customers. Most people expect that if you have a social media account, it means you’re available to connect. Consider your social media accounts right up there with phone and email. You wouldn’t dream of responding to a customer’s email three weeks later, well the same goes for that Facebook comment.

Get friendly with your influencers: If there’s a blogger or instagrammer  that your customers follow, make sure you’re friends with them too. Following these key influencers will provide you insights into what your customers are interested in, and ideally help you establish a relationship with your influencers for future endorsements.

Crowdsource ideas through customer feedback: Are you working on new ideas for your business? Get your customers and followers involved through social media. People love to get creative and share their ideas.

Deal with negative feedback ASAP: Once you’re listening to customers on social media, be sure to respond to any negative feedback ASAP. Mistakes happen. Taking a positive and helpful approach to any customer complaints will go a long way to establishing trust with potential customers. There are times when the customer isn’t right (or is just plain rude), in that case, be sure to remain positive in your comments, and take the conversation offline.

Easy enough? or are you starting to feel overwhelmed by the limitless customer service channels? While larger firms are opting to hire entire social Customer Service teams, this is unrealistic for new entrepreneurs. Luckily, there are many great social media tools for you to use to make this process much easier.


Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a very rudimentary listening tool that can be used to setup alerts anytime your product or business or a key term related to your product or business is mentioned on the web. Unfortunately, this tool will not include results from social media or most blog posts. It’s free and very easy to setup, and while it barely scratches the surface,  you will at the very least have some type of monitoring setup.



Many entrepreneurs use Hootsuite to pre-plan their social media posts, but did you know that you can use this tool to monitor your brand’s mention on social media? Hootsuite is a social media dashboard that lets you monitor, post and interact via social media. Hootsuite provides the tools necessary to monitor direct mentions on social media, as well as setup individual streams for key terms or phrases. You can also setup templates for your most frequent responses.

For more information on how to use Hootsuite as a listening tool, check out their blog post on the topic.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is another great social media dashboard. Much like with Hootsuite you can listen, plan and view in-depth social analytics reports. As far as social Customer Service, Sprout Social has one key advantage  over Hootsuite – is it’s integration with Zen Desk. Zen Desk is a customer service application that let’s small to larger sized businesses deliver customer support through an integrated system. This partnership allows you to use both tools to seamlessly turn a customer’s tweet into a support ticket.


In terms of function, the Mention App falls somewhere between Google Alerts and a social media dashboard like Hootsuite. Mention lets you monitor for key words and phrases, as well as, you guessed it – mentions. This tool lets you respond in real time, save for later, or delegate the task to a team member.


More than ever, customers are using social media for customer service issues. By leveraging your social media accounts to provide customer service you will not only be able to meet individual customer’s needs, but you will have the opportunity to showcase your awesome customer service for everyone to see. While it might seem overwhelming to communicate using so many different channels and tools, there are many great tools you can use to aggregate your accounts and track your results.

Why do we post pictures of food on social media?


As I was adding a filter to my most recent food snap, my friend asked me—with some annoyance—why I post pictures of food on Instagram.

I thought about the question for a second, but quickly responded that I was proud of my culinary accomplishment, as I had just finished preparing the food I was posting. The answer sufficed for the time being, but I kept thinking about why so many of the posts on Instagram and Facebook are about  food.

After an internet search/Wikipedia tangent here are some possible insights into our obsession with food imagery:

Hunt-it and Tweet-it


At the cusp of behavioural modernity, early man’s first step forward came in the form of artistic expression i.e. cave paintings. Can you guess what they drew? yep, food. The majority of cave paintings depicted hunting scenes and animals the hominids preferred to eat. Much like our Instagram feeds, the drawings were largely aspirational as the drawings portrayed animals that were difficult to hunt.

Vanitas: Dutch Master’s #YOLO


By the 17th century still-life paintings of food and people replaced the religious paintings of the Middle Ages. Vanitas (latin for vanity) were paintings of carefully arranged feasts which served a conflicting purpose, on the one hand they were meant to be enjoyed for their beauty, but at the same time warn man of the brevity of life.  These paintings served another purpose as well; the wealthy Dutch calvinist families that financed the Dutch Masters wanted to show their wealth in a way their modest values would allow: subtle resource display. Since food, especially hard to come by food like shellfish or game was difficult to procure, food was a status symbol.  So when you see an animal leg or a fruit bowl in a 17th century painting, think of Kim Kardashian’s vanity spread in Vogue.

Food Porn


In an essay for the San Franciso Chronicle, famed foodie Anthony Bourdain argued that food replaces sex in more conservative times, reaching an all time high in the decade of financial excess and a looming AIDS crisis: the 80’s. Bourdain compares erotic literature to excerpts from cookbook’s and books about food, both contain passages about the sinful consumption of flesh.  Meanwhile, scientists are finding more proof that there is a connection between our heart (or libido) and gut. In a recent discovery the chemical phenylethylamine, which regulates appetite, was linked to our feelings of lust and infatuation. It’s not a far stretch to assume that our voyeuristic relationship with food might indeed be pornographic.



CHI 2014: This is how kids will learn in the near future


Technology has been slow to find its way into the classroom. Despite the availability of all sorts of innovative software and devices, technology is still rarely used in education to its full potential. Funding can be a problem, but the key barrier  has been a lack of understanding of how to best make use of technology in such a way that it measurably improves learning enough to justify its cost. Fast forward to present day and you will find that each of Toronto’s Universities has a program dedicated to technology and learning that aim to develop tools founded on pedagogical principles.

Last week Toronto hosted CHI, the premier international conference on Human-Computer Interaction at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

While at the Taste of CHI I got to see some of the new and exciting concepts in technology in the classroom.

Smart Classrooms:


The EvoRoom

Fully immersive learning environments where students interact with the course material using technology in the classroom. This smart classroom is called the EvoRoom and was designed by the Encore Lab at the University of Toronto. The goal was to create a learning environment in which children use collective inquiry to learn about the Borneo forest and its animals.


This term has been thrown around quite a lot lately as marketers create incentives based marketing programs. In the classroom gameification and technology combine points-based games and learning to keep students engaged in the learning activity. This technology is great for learning that requires tedious and repetitive tasks to build on the student’s skills. Practice makes perfect, and trying to get the perfect score keeps the learner engaged.

This is TAP – The Augmented Piano.  As the student plays the piano they simultaneously engage in the classic arcade game Space Invaders:

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To learn more about TAP, click here.

Interactive Data Visualization:

Have you ever spun around a globe and pointed a finger on wherever it lands to discover a new place in the world? With globes being replaced by google maps, this game isn’t available to us, at least not in the same way.

This multi-touch sphere developed by the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University takes users around the world with the touch of a finger. Using Google Streetview hyper-lapse animations for different parts of the world, the user can take a road trip from via the sphere.

Click on the image to view a video of the sphere in action:

Globe sphere



If someone asked you about your weekend, would you answer: #amazeballs, and #awesome, and #fun, and #nofilter, and #thisweekend? Most people wouldn’t answer that way because it would sound awkward, and not very conversational. It would turn the person you’re speaking to off, and the conversation would end fairly quickly. If that’s the case, why do so many people rely on hashtags as their primary method to draw people into their message?

This strategy likely comes from the SEO obsessive thinking of “if ye shall tag it, google will find it”(and by virtue of this, so will the people you are looking to talk to). This thinking isn’t all bad, as keywords and meta tags help people find the content they are interested in. As Google becomes more sophisticated with it’s indexing, and develops ways to ignore and punish blackhat seo (false meta tagging for the sake of SEO), hashtags become less and less relevant as bait.

Social media is a tool for communication, and while it has revolutionized how we communicate, the basic principles of communication shouldn’t be overlooked for the cheap thrill of jumping on a trending topic. If your primary goal is to engage a human being with your content, then why speak the language of web crawlers? Create content that speaks to your audience, and at the very most use one to three hashtags to help people find your awesome image/blogpost/video.

Meme vs Infectious Disease

When a video gets shared over and over throughout a social network, it gets called a “viral” video. The idea is that the way the content gets shared is similar to the way an infectious disease travels between one person to another.  While we may never determine why a silly word, or grumpy feline, is worthy of a mass outbreak on Facebook and Reddit, one thing that’s evident is that there is a natural lifecycle to memes. From the time a co-worker shares a link with you, to the time your mom sends you a chain email with the same meme, millions of people have been “infected” with that joke.

We may never understand the “why” of memes, but we can at least gain some insights from the “how”. What does meme spread actually look like overtime? Is it really similar to an infectious disease?

Google trends has an uncanny ability to predict flu outbreaks based on the data it collects from internet users searching for terms related to the flu. Using this tool, I compared infectious diseases to memes, to compare the lifecycles of disease outbreak, versus the shareability of the meme. Oddly enough patterns emerged:

“Measles” vs “Doge”



“H1N1” vs “Ermahgerd”

If there is any conclusion to be drawn here, it’s that memes are literally viral in their spread, but the million dollar question every digital marketer has been asked: “what makes content contagious?” remains a mystery.