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Archive for the ‘What is work?’ Category

The Work Itself

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What does it tell you?

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 19, 2014 at 9:33 am

FastCompany: The Beguiling Dangers of Insider Language

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Check out my article in today’s FastCompanyThe Many Dangers of Saying What You Think People Want To Hear

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Image Credit: FastCompany

 

What Freelance Knows that You Don’t

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For starters: Work is permanent while jobs come and go.

When I first considered life as a freelance copywriter, a friend said,

 

Welcome to the wonderful world of floating icebergs.

 

And it was so: projects fall off (the glacier of corporate planning) and float off to sea (so to speak, to the market) and you stand on them for a time, work on them, even as they melt under you. And then you step to the next iceberg. Or you tread water while another iceberg comes into view.

It’s a refreshing cycle—in a painful, polar-dip, take-this-horrid-medicine-it’s-good-for-you—kind of way.

Ice sheet, not iceberg. Don't step on it.

Ice sheet, not iceberg. Don’t step on it.

I like to tell my copywriting students that the freelancer goes into it knowing this is how the game works. Then I tell them this knowing is in sharp contrast to nine-to-fiver’s who instinctually trust their jobs will remain, and are too often deeply surprised to find themselves waiting for the bus one day at 11am holding a cardboard box containing their office posters and mug.

But students typically have no mortgage or kids to feed or insurance to buy. So I’m pretty sure the comment doesn’t register until five years later, when all those conditions are true.

Recognizing the impermanence of today’s job is a great benefit, because it means one must always—always—be thinking about what’s next. The freelancer understands this in her bones. The smart nine-to-fiver rehearses this bit of knowledge every time she crosses the corporate threshold and enters the air-locked doors.

One thing that happens while I tread water is I make contact with dozens of old colleagues. I am no longer surprised by how often people change jobs, get laid off, start their own business or agency. Not to sound like an old guy, but way back when, people expected to stay at a single company for an entire career. Today I could count on one hand the number friends who have done that.

Friends often ask about work. I typically say, I’m busy and I’m looking. Always looking. In fact, this way of working has two benefits I cherish:

  1. Vision is no esoteric word for me. It is a hard-edge guide to what’s next. And I can never not pursue it. If I neglect to think ahead, those icebergs will float by without me ever noticing.
  2. The work itself become the focus. I get to burrow down into communication and copy and the telling of stories. The craft itself is a never-ending wonderland that shape-shifts as it leaps between clients and industries. The work, and the process toward the work, become the marathoner’s stroke for swimming toward the next iceberg.

In fact, faith, hope, and love remain as essential ingredients to this way of working. There is no space for taking-for-granted.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Worthwhile work is hard: A visual meditation

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All day long.

It is difficult to unearth the material we need to move forward.

It is difficult to unearth the material we need to move forward.

 

Which is why we pray. And hope.

Which is why we pray. And hope.

 

 

“The work will teach you how to do it.”

–Estonian proverb

 

Images of Pipestone National Monument

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Image credits: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 5, 2014 at 9:54 am

Can You Engineer a Conversation? (How to Talk #2)

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Depends: Are you looking for control or insight?

In Moments of Impact: How to design conversations that accelerate change (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2014), Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon argue that some of our most productive conversations come from deciding ahead what we want from the interchange. Their book presents a system of on-ramps that will be particularly useful for anyone charged with gathering a group with the intent of going further than the old, fallow brainstorming sessions allowed.

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Conversation, as everyone knows, can be far from benign. For those looking to control a conversation, unless highly skilled, the better (and far less productive) option may be to continue with monologue.

Because a strategic conversation consists of live interactions between people with different perspectives and passions, you can never predict exactly where it will lead. (41)

That is the beauty of conversation: the whimsy factor can drop participants in places they never expected to arrive. That is also the danger—especially in corporate settings where a particular outcome has been strongly hinted at, if not guaranteed.

For those daring souls willing to let go, but who still retain a preferred outcome, Ertel and Solomon’s notion of a “strategic conversation” may just fit the bill. Start by sorting what you are trying to accomplish: build understanding, shape choices or make decisions. And then employ divergent and convergent thinking and other group exercises as necessary.

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What I appreciate about Ertel and Solomon’s work is they have built a framework around the basic serendipity of conversation and brought it as a tool into even very hierarchical structures.MomentsOfImpact-10272014

I am convinced we’ll find strategic conversations a formidable tool indeed, especially as we create brand new stuff out in the world.

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Image credit: http://www.momentsofimpactbook.com

Wait—English Majors Win in the End?

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Start Writing Your Own Future

  • Announce your goal to lose weight and chances are better the pounds will flee.
  • Sign up for NaNoWriMo and chances are better you will actually write that novel (no matter how badly it turns out).

What we tell each other has a way of happening. What we tell each other about our preferred futures has a way of guiding next steps.

  • Write a letter to your collaborative, inventor friend about a business idea and find yourself planning concrete marketing and distribution steps at Spyhouse Coffee.
  • Write a business plan for your startup and suddenly remember your friend who became a venture capitalist. And then remember the friend who bootstrapped her idea.

See the pattern? Each step forward started with communication. You may say,

“No. the idea came first.”

True—maybe.

Create in real time as you go.

Create in real time as you go.

But consider: the communicated idea created a spark. And—given the right collaborative conditions—the spark lit a fuse. And the fuse burned, gathering other ideas until the explosive, disruptive future no one had considered.

What if English majors learned entrepreneurship and began to see their talent for orderly, persuasive, deeply-rooted writing as a way to help themselves imagine new futures and chart forward-movement for others? What if they learned to solve real-world problems with story and emotion and analytics? Their solutions would drop-kick the spreadsheet & PowerPoint crowd. What if some English majors created Lake Wobegon while others created the next Google?

What if English majors learned business lessons alongside the standard fare of reading and writing? What if they were expected to serve up the occasional business plan or marketing strategy along with the usual essay, short story and poem?

If that happened, English majors would connect earlier in life that art and work and commerce and fiction and meaning-making all fit together in the same world. And they would begin to write their own future vocation.

By the way: 16 Wildly Successful People Who Majored in English

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Caveat #1: I was never an English major.

Caveat #2: I teach English majors. They are smart, innovative people.

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Charles Chamblis: Photographer’s Notes

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Story told by numbers

Charles Chamblis didn’t take too many days off from photography. With his camera he captured slices of life in the African-American community around Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota in the 1970s and 1980s.

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Go see his collection of Minneapolis-Saint Paul photos at the Minnesota History Center.

More on numbers here.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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