Greetings from Across Campus

Surprise: I’m almost one month in at my new position as the communications specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Chemistry.

Since the beginning of the year, my mentor has been encouraging me to think about what I want the next steps in my career to look like. And although I’ve absolutely loved the challenge and learning opportunities associated with working within a research group located on campus, I’ve really missed being plugged directly into the campus community and working for the direct benefit of students.

In my new post, I’m focusing on department-level communications and advancement. The great news is that there’s never been a better time to work in advancement at a public university. The community here at Wisconsin knows that this is a priority, and the campus community is really working to coordinate strategic advancement efforts across the university, while still allowing a lot of freedom at the department/unit level.

I’m stoked to be in such an amazing department, working with amazing people. More to come as I continue to settle in!

Read and Learn: Quiet

Quiet book coverEver since I saw a TED talk by Susan Cain earlier this year, I’ve been on the local library’s waiting list for her new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It was worth the wait. The whole book is worth a read — for your own sake, or for the sake of the many introverts in your life. But here’s a few notes that apply in a work setting:

  1. “Introverts typically prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.” The Groupthink environment that came into fashion in the ’90s (think teams, open work spaces, small group learning in schools) provides non-stop stimulation. Introverts often work best when given room for “Deliberate Practice,” Anders Ericsson’s phrase for identifying “tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, [striving] to upgrade your performance,[ monitoring] your progress, and [revising] accordingly.” Ericsson says this process works best when an individual can focus on the exact piece of the process that is most challenging to him or her, not what’s challenging to a team or group as a whole.
  2. Introverted leaders can be very effective leaders when working with proactive employees. “Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions,” says Cain. “Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive.”

Becoming an Optimizer

There’s always room to improve. Sometimes it’s a matter of finding your stride as an individual or as a team, and sometimes it’s a matter of allowing the idea/process/system to evolve. Cases in point:

  • Posterous began as an online photo sharing service. By leaving room for their core idea to change over time, the company, which was acquired by Twitter in March, eventually evolved into a micro-blogging and life streaming platform with a committed user base.
  • The first time I heard the Arcade Fire live, in June 2004, I wasn’t wowed. But by the time I heard them again in November 2004, their team (and therefore their music) had coalesced in a new way. It was amazing. (Or, maybe they had an off night in June!)

Neither Posterous nor the Arcade Fire struck gold on their first try. So why do I continue to think that I’ll strike gold on my first try? And why do you continue to think that you will? Isn’t it more important to be open to the changes that come along and actually put in the hard work necessary to grow a B+ idea/system/product into an A one?

Whether you’re interested in optimizing your personal life, your professional life, a product, idea or system, it’s most important to get out there and get started. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Do something.
  2. Evaluate what you’ve done.
  3. If you liked it and/or it was a good idea, then build on it and keep going.
  4. If you didn’t like it and/or it was a bad idea, then try something else.
  5. Repeat.

Thinking Like a Designer (or Communicator)

Designers need to communicate well and problem solve for systems and strategy. Communicators need to think visually.

Ever since I made the jump from graphic design to communications, I’ve noticed that the best designers have a lot to say about communicating successfully. On the other side of the coin, successful communicators think visually — much like designers.

The successful designer thinks about how a project fits within the framework of the larger organizational brand and supports the way the institution or company speaks — its written voice. It’s easy to start each project in a vacuum and go with the most creative solution possible. But it’s much more effective to look for a creative solution that conforms to the constraints of the existing brand.

The successful communicator considers how to share important information through a variety of interlaced channels, and targets each audience appropriately. That could mean short, direct approaches (bullet points!) online and detailed, targeted approaches offline. The easy approach here would be to re-purpose content across platforms and hope for the best. But targeted, platform-sensitive solutions are better. In designer speak, “the medium is the message.”

To learn from a designer who thinks like a communicator, visit ideasonideas.
To learn from a communicator who thinks like a designer, visit Less Clutter. Less Noise.

Not Just Opportunists, Millennials Beginning to Shape Career Paths

retiring-the-generation-gapEvery few days I see something praising, lamenting or pondering the Millennial generation (also called Generation Y), which includes those born from about 1980 to 2000. And every few months I end up in a conversation in which a Boomer matter-of-factly states that young professionals demonstrate less loyalty to their employers than they or other members of the Boomer generation have shown.

That’s why I was intrigued to find a section on employee loyalty as I recently read Jennifer Deal’s Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground. In this section, she offers a different take on Millennial loyalty to employers, which is that Millennials are just as loyal (or disloyal, depending on your view) to their employers today as Generation Xers or Boomers were to their employers at comparable stages in their careers. Moreover, she hints that what might look like disloyalty to those more established in their careers actually has very little to do with loyalty. Instead, Millennials are just at a stage in their careers during which it’s necessary to progressively hone in on what they want their careers to look like:

“… Job engagement — how much someone actually likes her work — plays a critical role in her staying in her job. Earlier in a person’s career (typically, when she is younger), she has less experience and is less sure of what she likes and what her options are, so she is more likely to think about moving to a different job that is more aligned with what she thinks she will want. As time goes on, she gets a better idea of what she enjoys, and the jobs she searches out are closer to what she enjoys, so she stays in them longer. So perhaps the movement in the earlier years of an individual’s career is more about learning and less about opportunism than people might think.”

As I think about my own career path, I see that the spirit of this quote holds true. I entered the working world as a graphic designer. During that time, I realized I missed writing and editing, so I began remapping my career path. I wound up “optimizing” my career path a bit by taking a new job that allowed me to spend half of my time on graphic design and half of it writing, editing and managing web projects. (The additional freedom and responsibility was a nice perk, too!) I liked that mix of projects and responsibilities so much that I looked for even more opportunities to produce content and multimedia for the web when we ended up moving to a new city. Now I miss graphic design sometimes, but this new career path is much more in line with what I enjoy.

So am I just another “disloyal” Millennial? I think not.