Seeing Between the Lines

sunrise, pier, seascape, ocean, waves, Folly Beach, orange

The four images in this post center around a visual metaphor of seeing — or reading — between the lines. They were all taken in March of this year during a photo excursion to Charleston SC, one of our favorite destinations in the Southeast. In each case, the strong, vertical lines helped define the open spaces and give them meaning. I worked each image to position the trees, or posts in the case of the pier, to give them purpose and integrate them in a balanced way with the scene they helped define.

seascape, Botany Bay, Charleston, South Carolina, landscape, palm trees, surf, long exposure, sky, infrared, B&W

I often think about how we choose our path in life, both in the long term and in decisions we make in almost every moment. As creative human beings we have so many choices available to us, and to the extent that we are able to transcend limited ways of thinking, feeling and acting, we are able to create what we truly desire.

Magnolia Plantation, cypress swamp, cypress, swamp, duckweed, green, pathway

Surely, there is a journey to traverse, and time for things to come to fruition. But if we are able to consciously see between the lines of what we want and don’t want, following our inner guidance, or as Joseph Campbell advised, “follow your bliss” — then we are much more likely to have confidence in our decisions, enjoy the journey and reach the destination we had in mind, or perhaps something even better!

cypress, cypress swamp, swamp, green, trees, Magnolia Plantation

Explore the Territory


This image of Eastatoe Falls gives a hint as to why it is so popular with photographers in Western NC. It’s an incredibly beautiful waterfall, especially when there has been lots of rain to increase the flow of water. It has a marvelous right angled wall to the left of the main flow that adds character and interest.

It happens to be on private land only ~200 yards up a wooded path from the owners’ back door. They freely allow photographers and other tourists to drive up their wooded drive a short distance off a US highway and park in their backyard to walk up to the falls. For more about the owners’ generosity, check out my wife, Bonnie Allen’s recent post from our second visit to the falls in February when we were joined by fellow photographers Steve and Jenny Johnston from nearby Charlotte NC.

What most photographers miss though, is the smaller falls downstream from the main falls. During my first visit back in October on a “photowalk” for members of the The Arcanum led by Les Saucier, who is one of my favorite mentors and himself a Master in The Arcanum; Chris Almerini and Mary Presson Roberts decided to explore the area downstream and came away with some images that all of us on the photowalk really liked.

So on my second visit in February, I started in the downstream area and worked my way up to the main falls to see what I could find. Here are my two favorites from the exploration. I still made it upstream to the main falls to capture the image at the top, so I got the best of both worlds! I decided my lesson from this experience was to explore the whole territory rather than just going for the main “trophy” that everyone else is heading for. Are you making sure you get outside the box of the mainstream and go for something more unique in your creative exploration?

waterfall, winter, NC, Eastatoe Falls


waterfall, Eastatoe Falls, NC, black & white


Develop Your Instincts

surf, surfer, athlete, ocean, sports, action, waves

Maui Surfer

Instincts are an inner guidance system – a sixth sense, or in popular terms your “spider sense”. Instincts anticipate what may be around the corner, be it opportunity or danger. The survival instinct guides the herd of gazelle to the most fertile source of food – or away from the danger of a predator. The survival instinct functions much the same way in humans, but there are other instincts that we can put to use as well. Surfing anyone? I captured this moment of pure instinct while in Maui back in 2011.

Instincts put all our senses on alert. They marshal all our faculties and skills to a one-pointed sense of purpose. In sales, instincts provide us with signals concerning the quality and value of a lead or prospect inquiry. They guide us through the sales relationship with hints about where and which direction to turn. Everything we can learn or sense about our prospective or existing client, their company, its culture – indeed the whole context that has been presented to us will provide us with signals to guide the response and actions. This is no different than in life itself, but in the field of commerce the context is to explore and move toward a successful exchange of goods, information, and/or services.

When we pay attention to our instincts they speak to us more clearly – they grow and become more available over time. If we ignore them, we may get a slap in the face or a disappointment to wake us up! The more we know and discover about a sales situation, the more active and accurate our instincts will be. Learn your target market segments and their business motivations. Know the key industry players so you will instinctively recognize where to direct your focus. Learn what motivates business stakeholders (hint: it’s not always just money). Ask questions that provide insights into what you would do in their shoes. Then your instincts will tell you how best to proceed — especially if you see yourself in the customer’s shoes and seek to treat them as you would be treated.

Your instincts are a valuable life tool. Listen to them, develop them, use them wisely. You may be amazed at the results!

Be Present, Pay Attention, Stay Nimble

Autumn, fog, clouds, valley, mountains, Fall color, Looking Glass Rock, Blue Ridge Parkway, BRP, North Carolina, NC, Asheville, orange

Two conversations with sales colleagues in the past inspired the theme of this blog. One was a conversation with Alan, who had just rejoined a former employer to take over an under-performing territory. Alan and I were noting that in our experience new sales opportunities often emerge unexpectedly and totally separately from our proactive outreach or cold calling campaigns. It’s as if by “stirring the pot” through our own efforts, something from out in left field shows up. We agreed that the key success factors when such opportunities show up are:

  1. Being fully present to the prospect and their story
  2. Paying close attention in order to get clarity on the key buying motivations
  3. Taking quick and creative action to align our solutions with their need.

Alan had already generated two new consulting engagements through this approach, creating such a high degree of trust and moving so quickly that the client felt no need to speak with the competition.

The second conversation was with Desiree, whom I met locally after coming across a notification of her talk on “The Power of Deep and Soulful Listening” submitted for IgniteAsheville.

I reached out to Desiree on Twitter, and we met over tea. Desiree told me the story of an eleventh-hour inspiration on the eve of her 46th birthday. She decided at 11:30pm that evening to offer a one-hour coaching session for the incredibly low price of $46 to anyone who scheduled the session the day of her birthday. She logged into her blog site, wrote the offer and sent out the notification to her blog and Twitter followers by midnight. By the next morning on her birthday, 20 people had signed up for sessions, many of whom have continued since with fully paid sessions.

In both Alan’s and Desiree’s case, they were fully present to see opportunities (or creative ideas in Desiree’s case) that presented themselves, they paid attention to how the opportunity could be leveraged, and they took swift action to bring it to fruition.

The photo on this post was made late in the day in a steady rain, and with fading light when we were short on time; but the special moment of light and cloud formations were too good to pass up! Are you taking advantage of the three simple qualities, Be Present, Pay Attention and Stay Nimble in your personal or professional life? Perhaps an even simpler title for this idea would be “Seize the Moment”!

Life in the Sales Lane

NYC, New York City, Manhattan, skyscrapers, sky, black & white, street scenes, architecture, 6th Avenue, Avenue of the Americas

In photography, the frame of view makes a world of difference what the image conveys and the impact to the viewer. Similarly, in life, our frame of reference – or context – makes all the difference in what we perceive and how we interact with the world around us. I have found this to be especially true in my sales career, and I expect this relates to any career or avocation you may have.

So, what is the context within which you engage in your chosen profession or hobbies?

This may seem “self-centered” at first glance, but I have found the more I know about my deeper reality as a human being, the more I have opened up to love and appreciate the world around me, including my human family and all life on the planet.

For me, “life in the sales lane” has been greatly enriched by seeking and finding answers (at least provisional ones!) to the core questions of life and human existence. For starters, what kind of answers do you get when you ask yourself these questions: Who and What am I? What does it mean to be a human being? Is there a purpose to life and if so, how does it express itself in my life?

Perhaps you have found answers to these questions through your religious practice, or philosophical exploration. If so, do they really work for you? Have they become answers that you own, and naturally live? Have they become rigid, constricting, or led to divisiveness in life relations. Or do your questions and the answers that come to you help you live in love with life and open to new possibilities? Do they lead to greater success and balance in personal and professional life?

Whether or not you have formulated or been gifted with your own personal answers to similar questions, there is transformational power in asking them with an open, inquisitive mind and heart. Even glimpses into personal answers will expand the context within which you engage in life relationships, play and profession.

Sometimes the most impactful answers to our self-inquiries come in unexpected moments. Its not always in moments of meditation, silence, or “down time”. For me inspirations and insights often come in the midst of  my “life in the sales lane”. Are you listening to your inner voice? It may be speaking to you ever so quietly. Don’t miss the cues!

Creativity in Sales

AllenC-Canon PowerShot G11-CA-2012-10-06_2One of my favorite photography mentors, Les Saucier begins his outdoor shooting workshops with the admonition, “We aren’t going for the trophy shot today. This is all practice.” What a simple and powerful approach to freeing us to enjoy the process and unlock creative possibilities! Les often elaborates on the point by suggesting that we ask ourselves, “What if…?”, bringing another invitation to break from old ways of seeing and explore new possibilities.

Les’ suggestions apply equally to creative selling. As with photography, the best opportunities present themselves when we free ourselves from attachment to the outcome, and focus on having fun with the process. Enjoyment is contagious, attracts others, and expands the flow of opportunities. Asking ourselves, “What if…” is a powerful way to discover new solutions to challenging sales situations.

The photo with this post was an accidental discovery while on vacation in Charleston SC. I wandered away from the crowd and found this gas hose that had been tossed down in a fabulous “S” curve after refueling. An exposure with my infrared camera and a bit of creative post-processing to reverse channels allowed me to bring out the blues in the water and sky for a more expressive rendition.

Creative selling calls us to bring ourselves, our gifts and skills fully present in every moment of the sales cycle; sometimes in unique and different ways. Think about the kind of energy and tone of interaction you generate when you approach your sales with openness to the flow of energy, practicing your skills and discovering what life presents, vs. trying to drive the prospect to your next “big sale”. At the end of the day, regardless of what opportunities have surfaced, you are more likely to feel a sense of satisfaction and joy in what has been achieved.

At the very least, you will have practiced your relationship and selling skills; and learned new things from and about interacting with co-workers, prospects and customers. And if a new opportunity has surfaced, it has come with a sense of discovery and appreciation — perhaps even a sense of magic in the workings of creation.

To be sure, you will have expended energy in the direction of achieving sales success, but the process will be characterized by a sense of play and freedom rather than drudgery and fear of failure. How can one fail if we are simply practicing our art, developing our skills and opening ourselves to all possibilities of discovery? For me, engaging in life as a creative practice is one of the simplest and most powerful tools for sustained enjoyment and success in sales or any other human endeavor.