Tag Archives: Professional

Week 3: most satisfied

When have you been most satisfied?

Confidential human resource and issues management concerns dominated my days last week. Among many other tasks, we interviewed candidates for a strategic marketing manager position in my department.

One of the questions I put on the list was “When have you been most satisfied in your life?” I thought it would be one of those questions that would reach into the core motivations of the person being interviewed, and give an insight into their character. I was right; there were some interesting and inspiring answers. As we listened to the varied responses, I was reminded of something I read a year or so ago, and I thought of how I might answer that question if it were asked of me.

The gist of the article I remembered reading was: the past is behind you, the future is not yet here. They’re not really – real, are they? The only real moment is – right now. I can think of many moments when the world was so perfect and so wonderful, I wanted to capture it and hold it forever: watching my babies sleep, playing with my children and being amazed at how they processed everything as new, writing a kick-ass speech for my boss for a large audience of influential business people, crossing the finish line of my first marathon, the first time I kissed my life partner.

Then I remembered where I read the article – it was that very same, very wise, life partner Ken’s blog post called “The best present moment is right now” in which he admits he earnestly declares every class of students the best he’s ever taught, and his friend Danny earnestly declares every meal to be the best one he’s ever had. “Sitting at a dinner table with good friends, some wine, laughter, eating a meat pie, or a salad, or whatever it happens to be, is infinitely enjoyable. Without comparison to the past, we are able to enjoy the moment. Right then. The future hasn’t arrived, and the past is done. We only have the ‘eternal now’.”

Pretty zen, right? Of course I wasn’t expecting that answer from any of the candidates last week. However, if I am ever asked that question, I would like to be able to answer as follows: “This may seem odd, but the most satisfied I have ever been is right here, right now, having this conversation with you. I have had so many good and bad moments in my life; I realize they are here and gone so quickly, it’s useless to hold onto a moment in the past as better than the one I’m experiencing this very moment. I’ve been given a chance during this interview to have a conversation to see if my skills and experience are a fit for your organization, and if you folks are the kind of people I’d like to work with in the future. I’m grateful for the opportunity, because you thought highly enough of my work to spend some time getting to know me better. What could be more satisfying than that right now?”

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Vintage microphone

Week 15 in review: everyone’s favourite fear

On the way home to Vancouver from Nanaimo for the week, I ate my White Spot meal and listened to podcasts and thought about how I started my communications career in radio news – waaaaay back when I was a sixteen year old, still in high school. How that work seemed to come naturally to me. I’ve never been afraid of speaking in public. It has always been a mystery to me why people freeze up when they have to talk in front of a group.

I’ve read the news to tens of thousands of unseen listeners, I’ve given impromptu speeches to convention halls filled with thousands of people. I’ve given presentations to hundreds, or at least several dozen. I’ve been the corporate spokesperson giving media interviews on television and to newspapers, always confident in my messaging and my delivery.

Until today.

Vintage microphoneMy staff may or may not have known it, but today, when I had to speak in front of all of them assembled at the staff meeting, I very nearly choked. Suddenly, as I looked out to their faces, I realized I wasn’t saying everything I wanted to say – that I should have prepared more.

I told them they have lifted me up as I embarked on this journey: a new city away from my family, a new job, a new institution with its history and culture that I knew nothing about three months ago. I’ve had to run to catch up. It’s been intimidating and wonderful, and I truly couldn’t have done it without the talented, amazing people I work with.

As I talked, I worried. A doubting voice in my head chided me: “What if they don’t believe you? You’ve made some changes since you’ve been here and you know some people don’t like all of the changes you’ve made – what if they think you’re full of malarkey? What will they think of you now, hearing you trip over your words because you’ve suddenly become nervous?”

So – I tried to speak from my heart. I acknowledged there have been a few bumps, and thanked them for not letting me stumble too much. Then, I thought I’d better just shut up and buy them all a drink, which is what I did.

But if I had to do it again, I’d acknowledge the three graphic designers who turn out such stellar products day in and day out, often on the spur of the moment, often without the client even knowing exactly what they want. I’d acknowledge they have been having a hard time with the uncertainty of the departure of their well-liked manager, and a new one not hired yet, and myself not being able to give them the hands-on support they’re used to. One time last month, we had to completely re-do a major piece just before we went to print – and by god they pulled it off with alacrity and grace. Now that’s professionalism.

I’d acknowledge the communications team that writes speech after news release after speech, and handles media calls, and successfully pitch stories to local news outlets. In addition, they’ve stepped up enthusiastically when I asked them to “lead with benefit,” pay more attention to our (newly-minted) corporate key messages, change the format of speaking notes, and do a little more advance communications planning, all mixed in with instituting an issues management process that was completely new to them. Oh – and also work closely with the graphics team in re-jigging that major print piece. Add to that – they’ve taken on more of a role in social media integration and planning.

I’d acknowledge my one sole events person who makes sure everything is perfectly organized at each lecture, open house, trade show, and conference that comes along. She will stay to tear down, even if she has to do it herself. She works her ass off to make everything seem easy and seamless at the front end. She’s the go-to gal for an idea for how to dress a stage, decorate a cafeteria, or come up with a fun party activity.

I’d acknowledge the UR assistants who take on the myriad little tasks: getting out the digest twice a week, doing data entry, answering switchboard calls, offering help in the Welcome Centre, always with a smile, even as they’re being interrupted by someone needing a stapler, directions, change for parking (“Parking is in the building right behind us sir…”) or just a chat.

I’d acknowledge my web team – the Bearded Ones, as they are becoming known – who in addition to keeping the “lights on,” juggle multiple and competing demands from internal clients to convert a complex network of pages over to a new Content Management System.

I needed to acknowledge that I have asked a lot of my team since I arrived at VIU such a short time ago, and they’ve done everything they could to make it happen. I hope they’re reading this, because they really did deserve that drink. Cheers! And all the best for 2016.

Photo credit: Vintage Shure Microphone B&W General Lee by Lex McKee; used under Creative Commons 2.0 license

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It is in Collaboration that the nature of art is revealed

12 tips on collaboration from the powerhouse creative duo from Giant Ant

We attended our first (and hopefully not last) Creative Mornings Vancouver on July 3 at SFU Woodward’s downtown. Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series for creative people, and the GoldCorp Centre for the Arts a perfect venue for such an event.

On this morning, the theme was Collaboration, and the speakers were Jay Grandin and Leah Nelson, the duo behind Giant Ant, which, among other things, has produced animation for the opera StickBoy (I’m kicking myself for missing that performance).

Jay and Leah have been collaborating in work and life since they met in 2004; they knew after their first date they were “done looking,” and have been together ever since. Their twins were born two months previous to this talk. Seeing as how it was 8:30 am, these new parents looked surprisingly alert. (in case you were wondering why I described them as “powerhouse”…).

After doing some work on/for MySpace (I wasn’t clear on the nature of that gig), couch-surfing through Europe via internet connections, they returned to Canada and did some freelance work. More travel ensued to, among other places, Tanzania to do a documentary on street kids, at which point they thought: Why not become business partners?

It is in Collaboration that the nature of art is revealedIn their words, they “found people who were better at stuff than we were,” to collaborate with, and brought them onboard to form Giant Ant Media.

Jay and Leah presented their story in an informal, accessible style, making a cheesy alliteration out of the letters of “OLLABORATION” that somehow made perfect sense:

Outhouse – somebody has to dig the hole: that’s the risk taking. The person at the helm digs, and the rest of the team is there to pull you out of the hole after it’s too deep to get out yourself.

Love – put love in your work or create context where that’s possible. Your values inform your business decisions, and you must love the work. If projects are shitty no one wants to do it, and you won’t put out your best product.

Let go – to a point. If you trust the collective intelligence of your team, then let go and leave them to do their best work.

Asshole – don’t be one! Disagree and argue and fight for ideas. Challenge people. However, do this without being a dickhead/jerk. Make sure feedback is in a “shit” sandwich, where the criticism is couched between two pieces of gratitude and positivity.*

Bad ideas – we all have them. Embrace them. The road to brilliance is paved with bad ideas that must be aired out. Create an environment where bad ideas are welcomed because there could be a germ of a good idea in there.

Orange flag –  let team know when you’re stuck. Just say it – I’m having a hard time. Know ahead of time if you’re having trouble meeting a commitment. Put up that flag while it’s still orange, don’t wait for a red flag that would stop a project from moving forward.

Room –  as in don’t be the smartest person in it. If you are, then you can go to your desk and figure it it yourself (lonely!). But you never are the smartest person in the room, really. [Ed. Note:  – this sounds a lot like Working Out Loud!]

Authorship – give people credit. It ups the ante for the team when their names are on the project, and besides, it’s really nice to get recognition for your work.

Throw it out – fear not, there are better ideas coming. Sometimes you just need a clean slate.

I Hate My Client – when scope goes sideways or they miss their deadlines for revisions, etc., you are likely to blame it on the client. However, 90% of client relationship failures are process failures. We (the creatives contracted to do the work) are the experts in our own process. We need to follow it, especially when we write it into our contracts with our clients. The client is hiring you because you’re the expert. Set it up the process so everyone succeeds.

Ownership – make sure everyone knows what part they own and when it’s to be done. If you leave it till the last minute, it only takes a minute (!)

Nobody Gets Left Behind: we succeed and fail together always. Check in with the team every day. Take headphones off and look around the room. Care about one another. Help each other out.

The audience had a small-group discussion after the talk, then some questions. This was the question I was most interested in: How do Jay and Leah choose their clients?

The answer: ultimately it is their call, but if one or more of their team members has an issue with a project or client, generally they don’t take it. They do have an initial client/project checklist to guide decision-making, which includes items like:

  • Would we show this to our mother?
  • Would we use this product ourselves?
  • Is it a creative opportunity?
  • Is it a financial opportunity?
  • Are we proud to have our name attached to this?

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Image is Chris DuToit’s Creative Mornings remix, licensed under Creative Commons. 

*Note: Jay didn’t say the words “shit sandwich,” I’ve heard it called that before. He used the term “Feedback sandwich.” Much kinder and kid-friendly. He is a dad now, after all.

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