Live Like You Jam

By Craig Landes on January 23, 2020 in BLOG POSTS & ARTICLES, Storytelling

In one of the great lines from E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, the affable minister makes a comment about one of his young parishioners as she passionately plays a piece on the piano: “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.” Spoiler alert: Miss Honeychurch does, in a buttoned-down, Victorian England sort of way, go on to live as she plays, making for a wonderful end of the story.

It doesn’t hurt my premise here that in the Merchant-Ivory film, Miss Honeychurch is played by Helena Bonham Carter, who has definitely gone on to live as she plays.

I love, love, love live music. Not arena concerts, but smaller venues. A few years back, I heard a song on the greatest radio station in all the land, The University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN. It was pretty cool. I looked up the musician, Tash Sultana, online. A Youtube video shows this kid, a young Australian woman in her living room or wherever, playing this elaborate, layered song all by herself. She records the various instruments, gets them going on her computer-machine contraption, and out comes [Welcome to the] Jungle. Freak me out, man!

So when Tash Sultana came to Philadelphia, I dragged my daughter to see her. Amazing, amazing show. A whole concert with those layers of sound and just one young hippie Australian on stage.

The other night, my wife and I enjoyed a concert with singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines. This time it was one guy and one guitar, but he brought it. Fantastic show. Gaines played at a local winery where they have a big-ish stage and cabaret seating. Perfect.

I am in awe and gratitude for musicians like Tash Sultana and Jeffrey Gaines who make their living this way as traveling troubadours. But also, even more so, you musicians who fill the weekend slots at the coffeehouses, pubs, and honkey tonks of the world. You get out there and you do your thing, not to make a living, but because it makes you alive.

Think about it: in every little town, there are people willing to do this, just get out there and show the world what they’ve got. I love walking into the local bar on a Friday night and hearing somebody playing their hearts out.

I am honored to know a few of these brave souls. Rob and Anna Lisa, I’m looking at you! And then there’s a guy named Chuck Hearne (he’s the guy in the photo above). Another vocation ago, I sold Chuck and his wife a house. I learned that he was a local musician, filling in on bass or whatever instrument needed to be played. He’s awesome. He was recently able to retire from his day job, and do this thing he loves as often as he likes, which from his Facebook feed, is pretty often. My wife and I saw him again last week, and it was spectacular. Chuck is living like he jams.

Are you? Up until recently, I was like Lucy Honeychurch in the beginning of the book. Unsure of my place in the world; Worried about what others would think if I didn’t follow a certain path; Worried about screwing up and looking stupid. I needed to get over that. Like most things in life, it is a work in progress. For instance, I dance like I just don’t care. My wife says the same thing about me that the parson said about Miss Honeychurch, “Live that dance-your-heiney-off truth, buddy!” (or words to that effect.)

My guess is that most musicians, from bazillionaire rock stars to the kids playing for the first time at the local coffee house, face some of those same fears. But you overcome them, get on stage, and do your thing. Do you throw up before or after the show? Maybe, but you get out there.

So whether you are a musician, a writer, an engineer, or whatever you do to make a living, live like you jam. Right now, I am able to make a living doing what I love, but even if your passion is something you do as a hobby or literal or figurative side-gig, live like you jam. If you have let that thing fall by the wayside because of fear or whatever, find your way back to that. Find a way to do that thing that makes you feel the most free.

Live like you jam. Let your freak flag fly. Believe me, when you are living that way, it’s exciting for you, and for the rest of us too!





Some Advice from Grandma

By Craig Landes on December 27, 2019 in Uncategorized

Yesterday was Christmas, and one of the high points was spending time with my grandmother, who is 97. (97!!) Around the table, my dad asked everyone what they were looking forward to in the new year.

My grandma said something that struck me. She said, “Every new day is a blessing to me, so each day, I ask the Lord how I can be a blessing to someone else.” What a statement! What a model for how to live when, at age 97, your thought about the day is about how to be a blessing to others. She also asks God to help her not to fall, which just shows how sensible she is too.

Every morning I try to wake up and have a few moments of expressing gratitude. But I really like this thought from Grandma: to open myself up to be helpful (aka: a blessing) to someone else.

With that in mind, here are some lessons I’m learning as I re-read Think Like a Freak by Levitt an Dubner (of Freakonomics fame) that you may find helpful today.

1. Reframe the Problem – Levitt and Dubner interviewed a guy named Takeru Kobayashi, who in the early 2000s took the world of competitive eating by storm.  Specifically Nathan’s Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. That’s right, sometimes the world needs a hero, and sometimes that hero eats a supernatural number of hot dogs. When Kobayashi started in 2001, the record stood at just over 25 hot dogs. The first year he entered the contest, he ate 50 in just 12 minutes!

How the heck did he do that? He reframed the problem from what competitors before him had focused on: How do I eat more hot dogs? Kobayashi asked a different question: How do I make hot dogs easier to eat?

Looking at problems from a different angle allows you to make big breakthroughs. I have clients who are in the financial services field. How do you differentiate in a crowded space like this? While most financial planners focus on helping people store money away in retirement accounts, basically framing the problem as: How can I help you hide your money from yourself until you retire? My clients reframed the problem. People need their money working for them right now as well as in the future, so their uncommon approach is to ask: how can we help you use your Now Money to help with today while also planning for the future? This question is mind-blowing to their clients because it is such a different approach to financial planning.

2. Don’t Accept False Limits – Another thing that set Kobayashi apart from his competitors: he put that record number of 25 hot dogs eaten in 12 minutes out of his mind. That limit was based on solving a different problem that Kobayashi was solving, so to him, it became a meaningless number. So instead of getting to 23 hot dogs and feeling that sense of “I just have to get beyond that 25th dog”, he refused that limiting belief and literally doubled the previous record.

This is an area I need to work on. My business coach just encouraged me to journal about it. At first I dismissed this idea – I’ve tried traditional journaling and always quit after a few days or a week at most. Which is weird, because I’m a writer. But he said, “No, I’m talking about a sentence. Just write down the limiting belief, cross it out, then write down a belief that is unencumbered by those false limits. Just one sentence, or even a few words. Then say it out loud.”

Well honey, that advice is helpful for me! I can do one sentence a day, and even say it out loud. I have a notion I call the Cynic’s Guide to Positive Thinking, and one sentence of positivity that I can focus on fits right into that framework! So if constantly beckoning the Universe to manifest whatever in your life has you rolling your eyes, just write down a sentence that gets you beyond some limit you know to be false. Give it a try!

Well, I hope you found something in here that is helpful and/or a blessing! I’ll take grandma’s advice and try to keep paying the blessings forward each day.


Starting Point for Great Content: Nobody Has Time and Nobody Cares

By Craig Landes on April 17, 2019 in Content Strategy, Writing

If you’re reading this, you are probably putting off a long to-do list, or this is the 18th tab open in your browser, and/or you are quickly scrolling through at the end of a long meeting/day/commute.

So first off, THANK YOU! You are honoring me with your time and attention (and also helping me make my point, right off the bat!)

Last month I posted a quick video because I had a sudden revelation. I realized that my approach to content creation–which hopefully translates into good, memorable writing–involves starting with two negative assumptions.

  1. Nobody has time
  2. Nobody cares

My Dad would tell me, “That’s stinkin’ thinkin’!” But these assumptions play a vital role in how I approach any given topic for a client or for myself.

They force me to think about my audience first.

We’re all busy, and there are plenty of other things people could be doing besides reading whatever it is I have to say. And why should they care? Dang, we’d better get some answers on this!


Saying “I’m so busy” is the currency of our age. It makes us feel important. The truth is, we’re not so much super-busy as much as we have so many choices available to us to clutter up our time. So we do become busy–yes with projects and hustle and getting things done–yay us! (*eye roll* in case you didn’t catch the sarcasm.) But we’re also busy with those things that just fill up our time and our social media feeds. We’re often busy heading down wormholes of escapism/information. That’s not a judgment, it just is the reality we are living.

So whatever I’m sharing has to cut through that time clutter. I have to hone in on the target audience that needs this information at this moment, in the midst of all the other stuff that is taking up their time.


“Nobody cares!” sounds like the kind of negativity Anthony Robbins would want me to break through. Wayne Dyer, don’t be displeased, from whatever astral plane you inhabit now!

But starting with the assumption that nobody cares forces me to create something that cuts through that attention clutter to find those nuggets of truth that the right people will find and find interesting.


So those are my starting points in creating good content. There is SO MUCH competition for time and attention out there. Remembering that your audience is armpit deep in that reality should help you make the most of your words.

First, figure out who you need to reach with your message. Then, with that ideal audience persona in mind, overcome their time and attention objections with the clearest and most compelling message possible. They deserve it!

That’s what I do. I start with where you are coming from–busy with your day, your goals, your interests, and all the crap you have to do whether you want to or not.

It sounds simple, but when you are under deadline or just not feeling inspired, it can be tough to keep the audience in mind and create something that fascinates and delights.

But that’s the job! When you’re at that point, take a few beats (or get some sleep, honey!) When you get back to it, keep these two simple negative assumptions in mind and deliver a message that the right people will find the time for and truly care about.

Because for the right stuff, we all have the time, and we care deeply.


Writing a New Story on Main Street

By Craig Landes on April 10, 2019 in Storytelling

There is no large commuter artery that runs near the corner of 7th and Arch Streets in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Forget the regional rail line; passenger trains haven’t run through town in decades. To get here takes intention and agency. Unless you live in the little town, you’re not likely to drive past the bright red exterior and windows full of local art at Chimayo Gallery.

Which should make the store, and the Perkasie town center itself, another case study in retail apocalypse. So why is there a thriving art gallery and gift shop in a thriving retail district in this little out-of-the-way town? That’s a great question!

The Main Street experience of shopping, dining, and strolling is so iconic that brands the likes of Disney literally recreate the experience from scratch. Smart growth and new urbanism practitioners develop infill or even whole towns, including a Main Street district. These new towns or neighborhoods rise from vacant land into existence. Walkability is becoming a bigger factor as people relocate and choose housing. 

And yet many downtown centers continue to struggle to find relevance in the internet age. Brands like American Express do some things to encourage us to Shop Small. But without a good business plan and without a broader vision in a community, Main Street is easy to ignore. A shop owner who relies on a transactional approach will not survive long in this environment. And towns that offer nothing to make it easier for Main Street stores to thrive will get what they pay for.

Which brings us back to Chimayo Gallery. Launched five years ago by Alix Stoll and her wife, Priscilla Gray-Stoll, the two were steeped in the New York arts scene before “retiring” to Perkasie where they are now busier than ever. Highlighting local artists was the game plan, but the owners of Chimayo quickly realized that the brand would not survive on simply being a purveyor of local art.

Today, displaying the work of local artists and artisans (plus locally owned, nationally-known adorable textile powerhouse Eric and Christopher) is just the tip of the iceberg. They have become a vital part of the fabric of the community. Chimayo Gallery now fills a role that online retail cannot compete with: community gathering place. 

On any given week, you might attend a writing workshop, rock painting, spend an evening enjoying the sounds of a local musician, or attend a fund-raiser for an organization that helps people escape human trafficking. All of this in the sleepy little out-of-the-way town of Perkasie.

To avoid the retail apocalypse, you have to do a lot more than sell stuff. Chimayo has managed to do so much more and make it look effortless. They have changed the story from retail apocalypse to becoming a community hub – providing everything an online retailer or big box store cannot: a sense of place. Where Main Street stores are thriving, there is this sense of place. 

As purposeful and well-executed as Chimayo’s business plan has been, it did not occur in a vacuum. The town has been even more purposeful about taking the long-view on economic development. In Perkasie, a multi-pronged approach was needed to address the long-term effects of a fire that destroyed a major section of the downtown area back in 1988. The fire, coupled with how weirdly off the main thoroughfares the town is situated, made revitalization a challenge. 

But with a perhaps presumptuous tagline of “Welcome to America’s Home Town,” along with anchor events like a car show and what the United States Congress has decreed the nation’s oldest holiday tree lighting celebration, Perkasie has developed a definite small-town vibe.

Perkasie has drawn unique stores and restaurants, bringing people in to experience a slice of Americana. There are annual events and a thriving Saturday farmer’s market. Beyond that, the town has looked to lure larger businesses, and increase the tax base and population with the judicious permitting of new construction.

Larisa Ortiz is a New York City Planning Commissioner who recently wrote about the kinds of support needed to help small businesses thrive on Main Street. These include lowering regulatory hurdles and barriers to entry for “mom and pop” stores and focus infrastructure on accessibility and walkability. Perkasie has worked at exactly these issues, and Chimayo Gallery has become a shining example of what can happen when a brand’s story and a region’s story intersect.

While the retail apocalypse is very real – with recent data pointing to online beating brick and mortar by a factor of 3:1, big thinkers like Larisa Ortiz and practitioners like Alix and Priscilla are finding a path forward by first providing access and then creating a clear sense of place that is indispensable.

Welcome to the new Words Beyond Content!

By Craig Landes on April 5, 2019 in Brand

I am thrilled to announce the formation of Words Beyond Content.

Businesses of all sizes are looking for words to fill the void and capture attention. These days, words, images, video – all the stuff that fills up the internet – is categorized as “CONTENT.”

With the internet’s insatiable appetite for content, most companies find a massive signal-to-noise problem. How do you make your story the one people read?

That’s where Words Beyond Content comes in. You want to explain what you do and tell your story in a clear, compelling way.

For years I didn’t really think what I did was anything special. I wrote stuff and people read it, understood it, liked it – whatever. It’s a requirement of the educational system. Everybody writes, right?

As a kid, I read. A lot! There were two libraries in metro Phoenix where my mom would take me, and every two weeks or so, I would come home with a massive stack of books, read them and then go back for more. In third grade, I won a prize for a (very brief) bit of fiction called “Super Pickle!” I also remember a time when we were supposed to as a class come up with a story about two dogs – I kind of took over the process.

Still, I continued on in grade school, into high school, not thinking much about my reading habit and the writing I had done as a wee lad. In college, professors would occasionally comment – things like “very readable!” It wasn’t until I became a TA in grad school that I realized “very readable” meant “you wouldn’t believe the crap I have to slog through to get to something readable!”

Looking back on it, I finally get it. Good writing is a gift. I’ve served as a writer, editor, managing editor and communications director. I’ve written for small-town newspapers and national publications.

Sometimes my role has been marketing, sometimes journalist, sometimes sales. I was even a pastor a lifetime ago. Whatever the role, written communication was always the strength.

Words Beyond Content is the culmination of 20+ years working with small businesses, enterprise level companies, non-profits and everything in between.

Need a gifted communicator to get your message out? CONTACT ME today.