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    The Jackpot Economy by Spencer Lum

    I’ve had days where getting out of bed was its own special challenge. Where nothing sounded better than hiding under the covers, paralyzed by a fear of failure that wouldn’t let go, and the only way I could cope was not to cope at all. I’d  let the time pass, until darkness came, another day gone. And so often, I’d furrow deep into my mind and wonder where it all went. Where the hope went. Where the certainty went. What happened to the me of yesterday? 


    It used to be you had security. Drinks at lunch, a bar in the office, and a 9-to-5 job with a career ahead. You paid your dues, you got in, and you rode the slipstream right into your sunny retirement with the gold watch and Mai Tais on the beach. But those are days long gone in a new economy that’s becoming well worn.

    Now we’ve got the age of reinvention. A carrot on a stick and a constant chase. You go at it. You go hard. If you don’t make it, you take a breath, and do it all over again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. And if you do make it? You ride it, then you take a breath, and you do it all over again. Whatever you do, you can’t coast. Not now. Not when it’s only you. Not when constant concern and an endless fight defines the day. Go big or go home has never been more true. As Andrew Ross says in Nice Work if You Can Get It, it’s a Jackpot Economy.

    Uncertainty is the new normal, and braving it is more than just brave. It’s essential and necessary, and as gutsy it gets – risking failure for every small success. Something works, so what? The slipstream is gone, so all you can do is double down and go on.

    But here’s something to think about. In the face of this constant reinvention, where you up the stakes every single step of the way – where even retreat offers barely a pause and hardly a rest – consider this:

    Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert found lottery winners returned back to previous levels of happiness after only 3 years. We simply adjust. Which we all know, because you get something new – the fast new computer, the shiny car, or the big contract – and it takes no time at all before the dissatisfaction returns, and we’re right back at it, looking to the next thing.

    But if it’s true that we adjust no matter what happens, because that’s how we are, then here’s the corollary: when you lose something, you’ll normalize too. Your body takes care of itself. It feels like you’re risking the world every time you take a step forward. And maybe it’s always been that way, but the tension has been ratcheted up more than a few notches as we live at the speed of data. But know if you slip and fall, you’ll bounce back just the same. Which Daniel Gilbert also confirmed. Like lottery winners, amputees returned to their normal level of happiness, as well.

    For all the glory of living your way, there’s also a gnawing fear when so much is on the line. Even the smallest of things can feel monumental. So much so that it can be easier to cradle yourself tight and let the time pass than to take the risk and make the wrong call. It may seem like there’s more skin in the game now than ever, but if a win is only going to last so long, a loss is just part of equation, and we always bounce back to where we were and who we are, then in reality going big never cost less. So let go of the worry. Let go of the drag on your wings that keep you from flight. Once you do that, you’ll find the hope. You’ll find yourself. And you’ll find tomorrow.


    Frames are highly undervalued things. Subservient to the art and often unnoticed in function, they’re rarely prized as possessions nor desired as ends, and yet, they are everything. So powerful is the frame, that very often, it and it alone is all a viewer need see to feel the value. A frame defines the experience, and that’s the secret to running a business.


    For example, you could break the bank on an original Eggleston and thumb tack it to the wall, or you could buy a print off the street for twenty and some change then find the best frame you could get for a fraction of a fraction of the Eggleston. Put both up for sale to the average person (and I can assure you the average person has no idea who Eggleston is), and what do you think is going to sell for more?

    If your cash flow is faltering, and you’re not hitting your marks, before you look at your pictures, look at your business, and know that business is the frame. Now keep in mind that there are frames of all stripes. They’re not just rectangles bounding images. Frames are spaces and words and colors and clothing. Anything that creates the experience that surrounds your product. It’s the place you choose to meet, the way you show your pictures, and even the tone of your voice. It is everything, and understanding this is the first step to making business work. Business is not about the product alone. The very job of a business is to create value.

    That means the question is not whether you’re taking the pictures you need to take, which is not to say they don’t matter. They do. As your product, they influence every single thing you do including building your frame. But at the end of the day, the real question is whether you are making people react.

    Are you making people want you?

    Business is a lot like flirtation, in that sense. It may not be the essence of who you are, but it sure can be enticing.

    It’s often been said that it’s all about educating your client. And this isn’t to say that education doesn’t matter. But, rather, that it’s only half the battle. Not so much a matter of whether you educate, but how you choose to do so. Not so much a matter of making people think you’re good, but feel it without a conscious thought. Quality should be exciting and intuitive.

    How important is framing? Along with the vast amounts of studies out there showing how effectively price can be manipulated by the smallest of factors (here’s my take on the deadliest pricing assumption), here’s another great example:

    Jennifer Aaker and Cassie Mogilner set up a lemonade stand using two 6-year olds to sell the lemonade. Customers could purchase the lemonade for any price they wanted from $1-3. They tested three different signs saying the following:

    1. Spend a little time and enjoy C&D’s lemonade”
    2. “Spend a little money and enjoy C&D’s lemonade”
    3. “Enjoy C&D’s lemonade”

    As it turns out, making people think about time is far more appealing than thinking about money – which isn’t all too surprising. What might be more surprising is how much it mattered. The sign stressing time beat the others by bringing in both twice as many people and twice as much per lemonade.

    In a second study, students in college were asked how much money they spent on their iPad and how much time they spend on their iPad. Students who were asked about time had far more favorable opinions about their iPads. When it comes to value, talk of time trumps talk of money. But more importantly, the point is the opportunities to adjust your framing are vast. The small things count.

    If that’s not revealing enough, in an A/B test for a web page on, simply changing “Start your free 30 day trial” to “Start my free 30 day trial” increased click-through rates 90%. Yes. 90% for one word.

    Which is all to say, we are tremendously influenced by very minor things that operate at subconscious levels. Levels beyond education and beyond the photography itself. That’s the differentiation you’re looking for. As creators, it is often too easy to find ourselves investing our time in the creation of the images, on the posts to show them off, and on the distribution of those pictures in general. But as business owners, it needs to be our job not just to create the work and have it seen, but to have it seen in the right light through the right experience.

    Business must elevate the value of your art. And if you don’t take that job as seriously as the art itself, you leave your livelihood to chance. Are you creating value in the art you produce? Are you teasing the most out of all the elements that signal to people who you are and finding ways to hit triggers that others aren’t? If not, then it’s time to start building a better frame.

    If you’ve been rebuilding your business, I’d love to hear about what sort of framing devices have worked for you. Add a comment, and share what you’ve found! And don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter. Just scroll up and fill out the box to the right.


    Goodbye Robin Williams by Spencer Lum

    It happens again and again. People hit the top, and when they fall, they fall so hard. It shocks us and rocks us. This world deifies the stars. We think they’ve got it made, and every time, it takes us by surprise. No matter how many times the story is told, we figure if we can climb the mountain, the problems will fade.


    Robin Williams hit the summit, but you figure he was hurting pretty bad in the end. The pain is part of being human. Harder for some, better for others, but fame and fortune don’t make it go away.

    You can’t spend all your time on the chase. There’s so much to love. There’s so much around. But it’s not fuel for the future. It’s not about the one last job or the big payoff. It’s seeing the now. I mean, isn’t that our job? Not to build the portfolio or get the big feature, but to immerse ourselves fully in the present?

    It’s so easy to forget. You snap right back to the idea you can buy your way through. That’s why it’s always a shock when people who get to the top give up the fight. “They had it all!” But we know better. Success might be around the bend, but joy is either in the now or in the never. It sure isn’t in the money or the fame or the name.

    Truth be told, Robin Williams never fully registered with me. I loved Dead Poets Society – I’m gushy at heart, and it gets me every time. I liked Good Morning Vietnam and Good Will Hunting, but the comedy – I could never quite lock onto it. But what’s it matter? He vibrated his way through life at double the speed doing it his way. I respected that, and I love that he did. There was a warmth to his soul and a comfort in his presence. He brought so much laughter to the world. There was just something about him that felt so personal.

    He lived the lesson he left as Mr. Keating. Our power lies in ourselves. You can’t escape being human, but you can be you. That’s all we can ask. And it’s all we need to give.

    O Captain! my Captain! Our fearful trip is done.

    I’ll miss ya, Robin.