I love the trend of community tables at coffee shops. Big dining room size tables are great for spreading out my sketchbook, laptop, coffee, phone, planner, and reading materials. They are also great places to connect, meet community folks, practice listening, get ideas, test the market and get inspiration.
Today I got feedback and advice from a former dean of a law school, a doctor, and retiree from a company for which I want to work. That’s a pretty good ROI for the price of a cup of coffee.
Have you ever had that dream? The one where you are taking a test that you haven’t prepared for? I often think of that when I read about success habits. “Wait?! What?! – I should have been eating avocado toast and chia smoothies all along!? Why didn’t anyone tell me!”
Then I remind myself 1. not to be a dope 2. not to compare myself to click back lists and 3. that I am already pretty darn successful. However, those thoughts prompted me to take a step back and ask the question.
If I knew then what I know now…
… what would I do differently? Working with a lot of soon-to-be graduates, recent graduates, and parents, I get asked that question a lot. Looking back, I would have taken a more holistic view across the four areas below. I would have pushed myself to strengthen my weaknesses (for me those lie in the areas of Tribe and Grace).
- Grit. Whether we finish what we start.
- Talent. How we cultivate our talents and gifts.
- Tribe. Who supports us, beginning with the family we’re born into and the tribe we cultivate throughout our life.
- Grace. This is perhaps the hardest to define and is often overlooked, but it includes timing, luck, confidence, and the invisible forces of society and nature.
The good news is we can also grow and affect all of these areas – yes even our luck. There is also a strong interdependency among them, when you grow one you often grow another.
No wo/hu/man is an island.
“Start with a beginner’s mind” is an oft repeated mantra for design thinkers. It’s meant to encourage expansive, non judgemental observation – and open up new connections and possibilities. That’s because design thinking — unlike engineering or business thinking — is not about applying known solutions. Design thinking techniques are good for messy, complex, hard-to-define problems that require exploration and creativity, aka wicked problems.
Solving such problems often require humility, a willingness to learn, to empathize, to be wrong, to share credit and collaborate with people wherever they may be in the hierarchy.
The best design thinkers and creatives do all of the above. They’re geniuses, but you’d hardly recognize them as such. Their approach is antithetical to what western society thinks of as confident badasses. Yet, that’s what they are.
Can you recognize a creative badass?
If you consider yourself to be creative, chances are you are already pretty good at these five mindsets. Taken all together they represent “growth orientation.” For most creatives, this is what is necessary for real happiness. In my opinion it’s worth checking in periodically with each mindset, especially if you start to feel stuck. Below are some thoughts around each.
- Be Curious. Cultivating a sense of wonder and an anthropologist’s habit of seeing the world with a fresh set of eyes will help you avoid boredom. It can also help you train your mind to be more optimistic which has been proven to open folks up to more opportunities. Cultivating curiosity can help to train your mind to avoid premature judgment and convergent thinking. *Julia Cameron suggest going on artist’s dates, in her seminal book the Artist Way, as a way to cultivate curiosity
- Bias to Act. Get it done! Successful start-ups have shown that “done” is often better than “perfect.” This mindset is especially important for introverts and folks who are super strong in strategy and learning. I like Todd Henry’s developer paradigm which includes Map, Mesh and Make. I often challenge myself to GET OUT OF MY MIND – which is a call to not all being daring and a bit crazy, but also to stop thinking and start doing.
With the shift happening between digital economy and classic economy. It used to be that quality was superior to quantity. That may be true at the end of the process, but in early stages quantity trumps quality. What does that mean for you? *Start to practice letting go of perfection and making lots of small bets. Test, improve, repeat quickly and often.
When you get traction, go big!
- Reframe. You can get almost any answer if you can form the right question. One of my favorite quotes from Voltaire is to judge a person by their questions not their answers. Some problems, i.e. gravity problems, don’t have the solutions want to solve.
There is wisdom in picking your battles
It also makes me think about the ubiquitous monkey trap story and how emotions get us stuck. (If you don’t know the story, the hungry monkey reaches into a bottle with a narrow neck and tries to pull out a banana and gets stuck. Instead of letting go and trying something different – like breaking the bottle or trying to shake it out – it holds on until it passes out.) Reframing is possibly the most powerful mindset available to us. *Check in with your assumptions, focus and apply your creativity strategically at the beginning of the process when it can have the most impact.
- Process Orientation. Over time, and with experience, we all gain perspective. Understanding that innovation is a process, that there are both highs and lows, can help with decision making and balancing risks over time. It also reminds me that creativity is a skill. My experience playing competitive sports taught me that in order to improve complex skills one must both strengthen the necessary muscles and practice until that skill is second nature. * Learn to love the journey as well as the destination.
- Radical Collaboration. Among many things, I’m a yogi, artist, historian, strategist, former competitive Frisbee player, science fiction writer, behavioral econ geek, dog momma, coach, data analyst, teacher, and marketer. Those things may all seem disjointed – but I can tell you how training my dog has given me insight into collaboration, or how writing science fiction helps me teach yoga.
Ideas collide and the real magic happens.
We are all centers of radical collaboration, if you’ve ever used a technique for coaching your child on a co-worker, or used a teamwork skill to hack your day to day life – SURPRISE! you’re a radical collaborator. Now think what happens when you pull together folks with completely different skillsets. *Push yourself to meet new people, get good at engaging them, listen and create a space for them to open up!
New Meetups are being scheduled for September. Stay Tuned.
I admit I am a total weirdo. I get bored really easily and one of my “growth areas” – i.e. “what I suck at” – is savoring my victories. My credo has always been “don’t rest on your laurels.” I’m always looking for the next challenge, looking to grow, learn stretch myself.
A lot of folks are similar, looking to the future, striving, working, pushing for more. Us “weirdos” are in love with the process of work. Of you course, you may be read this and think “that doesn’t sound so bad.” However, in my opinion.
This attitude holds folks back and actually takes away value.
When we fail to own our success, we leave a ton of energetic currency on the table, which affects our confidence and eventually decision-making. By minimizing our successes, we are creating an imbalance in our perception of reality. Because on the flip side creative weirdos often dissect (in excruciating detail) failures, i.e. problems that need fixing – giving far more weight to the negative.
Understandably, a completed puzzle is far less interesting than a hot mess.
Still, we all must at some point communicate our value. A skewed view of one’s value leads to fewer opportunities. Fewer opportunities mean the world is deprived of your gift – and that is the real tragedy.
So celebrate your damn successes, already.
Take a moment after every project, celebrate what you learned, celebrate doing the work according to your values, celebrate when you hit your targets, celebrate showing up, celebrate every success…
… because not becoming the rock star you are meant to be is a tragedy.
While I basically agree we should “give honest and sincere feedback” – it’s important to realize that not all feedback is created equal. Below are my thoughts about why creatives should (and should not) give a crap about your feedback.
Creatives are intrinsically motivated
Artists manifest ideas because they must. They don’t necessarily do it for an audience or other people. The goal is to bring to life our vision from the ether/heaven/flow, whatever you want to call it. Often the reason for this creative endeavor is to solve a problem. For example, a coder may be questing for an elegant work flow, an engineer for a streamlined design, or a writer for the story that illustrates an idea.
As Steven Pressfield points out in the War of Art, creatives must be careful of being reliant on external validation. We’ve all felt how feedback – good or bad – affects our confidence. Positive feedback can be blissful and addictive, while negative feedback can reduce an artist to tears or writing blistering feedback to internet trolls. In a way, both positive and negative feedback can threaten the work.
Elizabeth Gilbert suggests creatives set very clear boundaries when soliciting feedback. Twyla Tharp, in her book The Creative Habit, writes how she has a select group she trusts to give her the unbiased feedback she needs. This is similar to how in his book On Writing, Stephen King has early readers that he uses to edit his novels “with the door open.”
Creatives are committed to manifesting art, a vision that extends beyond this realm. And yet most of us want our work to connect and be of use to others. If we are in business, we must care about what the market thinks. After all, that’s what pays our bills.
So which is it? Do we care or not?
As with so many things, the answer is both.
Principle Two Addendum
When working with creatives, I would add to Carnegie’s advice to “Give honest and sincere appreciation” three things:
1. Prove that your opinion matters. You can do this most easily by actually being a part of the target market. Alternatively, you can gain their trust over time.
2. It’s ok to be intentional about giving feedback. It’s not inauthentic to give appreciation deliberately or as a form of encouragement. In fact, in our society we tend to under appreciate work.
3. Actions speak louder than words. Appreciation is energetic currency and comes in many forms, a note, a word of praise, or a social media “like.” It can also manifest as attention, recommendations, purchases, and attendance. Consider all the many different ways you can spend that currency, through both your actions and words.
Appreciation drives success. If you want to make friends, start by helping them feel successful.
“Give honest and sincere appreciation.” Carnegie’s second principle is easier to accept than his first. It does, however, make you think of that line, “Sincerity is everything, once you can fake that you have it made.”
Actually, a lot of the criticism against Carnegie is that his advice seems kind of fake. Intentional sincerity, as opposed to spontaneous sincerity, feels inauthentic to a lot of folks. I get that. I used to feel that giving away too many compliments would drain them of their impact. That being too complimentary, would make me a sycophant or a pushover.
Side note: I’d like to add that offering sincere appreciation is an opportunity to communicate an understanding of the other person’s goals. There is a risk in giving appreciation that doesn’t align with someone’s goals. For example, complementing a senior executive on a remedial skill (I.e. Writing a memo, managing an event), or something beyond their control (I.e. Praising girls for being pretty), can come across as condescending and somewhat douchey. Such tonedeaf praise communicates a possible lack of care and understanding. This apparent contradictory advice, may freak out folks who lack empathy. It can feel like “they can’t win” and they revert to their stoic default settings. To those folks I remind them that this is a practice and to keep working at it.
One of the biggest challenges launching MATAGI, has been convincing people to “work for free.” I’ve had some missteps and disappointments when folks failed to show up. Those failures brought me back to the drawing board and made me question if getting folks to work in mini-collaborations was possible? (Spoiler: It is.)
Many folks think it’s crazy to expect people to collaborate without a guarantee of compensation. Those “what’s in it for me” folks, aka Takers, aka Defectors, aka Non-Cooperators, aka Evil Gits* were never going to be MATAGI-ers. MATAGI-ers are artists, creatives, cooperators, and collaborators.
However, there are countless stories of folks taking advantage of and/or undervaluing those same creatives. Complaints of online magazines only paying professionals with “exposure” and Clients From Hell stories of freelancers being undervalued. So before I attempt to write my thoughts on how to get folks to work for free, I wanted to share my (beta) decision tree for how I weigh the cost and benefits of volunteering my time.
I do think that it makes sense for folks starting out to give free samples and/or test drives in order to gain experience, recommendations, and insight.
That said I would also urge everyone to start charging for their services before they are ready. Folks tend to value work the amount they pay for it, and you need to gain experience with clients that value your work appropriately as soon as you can.
* My Game Theory professor was British can you tell 😉
How to Win Friends & Influence People was recommended to me by a well-intentioned sycophant. At least, I want to assume they were well-intentioned. At the time I found that person to be an enormous brown noser, but an effective, enormous brown-noser.
I didn’t like this person and I am pretty sure this person didn’t like me. And yet the book’s kind of famous. According to Wikipedia:
How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published. Written by Dale Carnegie (1888–1955) and first published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies world-wide, and went on to be named #19 on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books in 2011
It was, I figured, worth a shot so I picked it up.
I found it had a lot of “old-timery” advice in it, that doesn’t sit will with me initially. For example, Carnegie kicks it off asking the reader to acknowledge.
“My popularity, my happiness and sense of self-worth depend to no small extent upon my skill in dealing with people.” ~ HtWF&IP p.xxi
Dude, what the fuck.
Creatives have to learn to ignore external validation. My sense of self-worth depends on my ability to show up as my authentic self, live by my values, and make cool stuff. Screw other people, um except you, of course, dear reader.
Seriously though, it was a not a good beginning. In fact, I almost threw the book away after reading the first chapter’s principle.
“Don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain.”
Mother—, was this why that brown-noser recommended the book in the first place? Was that passive aggressive shit trying to shut me up?
WHAT ABOUT WHEN PEOPLE ARE WRONG?! I wanted to shout.
Ok so a bit more context, my job had shifted to a process improvement role. Which meant in an already matrixed organization, I had even less direct authority. I had also recently been given feedback along the lines of, “Yeah you are right, but Person X, was butt hurt, and now certain people think you are difficult.”
Sidenote: To save you from googling me, this is where I point out that I am female, and there was some gender bias bullshit happening, but that’s not the point. The point, which Carnegie was trying to tell me, most people suck at realizing much less admitting when they’re wrong.
As much as I hate to admit, he had a point. (Ha see what I did there). However, I wasn’t totally wrong either and in fact 200 pages later Carnegie gives tips for “criticizing when you must”, in part four “be a leader”. It was both a relief and frustrating getting to that part, and demonstrates why HtWF&IP needs to updated.
Real collaborators are both leaders and followers.
Carnegie doesn’t seem to think of everyone as a leader. Respectfully I disagree, everyone can and should be a leader. Carnegie is writing from a time when business models were constrained by limits, what others have referred to as “scarcity” or a “factory” mind set. Some of what he says is still very relevant and useful, but as we move to digital economies, successful companies need to change. The model needs to shift from focussing on competition to co-opetition and collaboration.
If I asked Carnegie, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be liked?” I’m betting he would say it’s more important to be liked. He’d likely turn it around on me and ask, “Do want to be right or do you want to be effective?” My answer in an enthusiastic, both.
Awhile ago* I came across these three SUREFIRE ways for overcoming your fears and doubts.
Starting a new business venture is a risk and I’ve had far more gut clinching moments than expected. A lot of entrepreneurs gloss over how taking on new risks “feel” and I think that is a mistake.
It’s not just me
As I work to build a community of creatives, I have met so many people with enormous creativity and enthusiasm. Entrepreneurs with great ideas, but when I push them to take those ideas to the next level, they get scared. I get. We call this pushback, resistance and we all feel it. I remind folks that:
Success is only obvious in retrospect.
That’s why we make things, test, prototype, and manifest the vision for those that don’t “get it” (and yes that includes ourselves, on occasion). It’s part of the reason I created MATAGI. It’s a community and resource to help creatives find friends, facts, and faith.
Once I was selected as a new manager to help build a new internal site. I was three months into my job and part of the first wave of folks trained up on SharePoint. It was so new our IT professionals weren’t even up to speed on it. The microsite had 20+ difference permutations (with an ever expanding scope) and it was clear we needed a centralized database. Instead of puzzling out how to centralize the process, the project director was hell-bent on just getting it done. I knew that if we built it the “wrong way” it would be a logistical nightmare updating the content and reconciling the reports on the back-end for whoever was charged with maintaining the site, in addition to taking at least twenty times as long to set up, and likely longer given the scope creep. Fortunately, I had enough faith (and admin rights) to figure out how to architect the site, but even once I figure it out I had to “prove it” -demonstrating the efficiency of the solution to the director who still refused to accept the solution. It was only after I convinced the other site builders, and the IT project manager to confirm that the solution was a best practice that would be replicated throughout the firm – that the director agreed to the solution.
Even with facts (figuring out the technical solution), faith and friends (IT professional and teammates) backing me up, convincing leadership to accept the solution was still difficult. I pushed on because long term I knew it wouldn’t be the director who suffered from a poorly architected site. Sidenote: the eventual site admin came to me months later and confided that I had saved the project.
Anyway, I hope that story gives you a bit of courage.
* I was doing a survey of a bunch of coaches on-line services and honest I can not remember which on said this, if you know, please tell me, I would to give it the proper attribution.