Just Start…

A few years ago, I had the privilege to hear Soledad O’Brien speak at the Bay Path College Women’s Leadership Conference. I’m paraphrasing, but she said when you look around you and see so much wrong with the world and you’re overwhelmed by where to start, just START.

Start by helping the person in front of you.

Even if only in a small way. If we all do that, those small actions will turn into something much bigger, stronger, and good for our planet.

 

The Power of a Handwritten Note

I was just speaking with a very savvy VP of Marketing (Gregg Mazzola) for one of the more innovative higher education institutions I’ve come across (SNHU). He shared a poignant observation which, now, I want to share with you.

Of all of their marketing efforts:

  • College Fair
  • On campus
  • Collateral
  • Events
  • Online
  • Etc.

The one thing that has the most impact is a handwritten note. He acknowledges that all of the different media are important in their own right. But it’s worth remembering that we are humans after all. We respond to the personal touch.

Low Hanging Fruit Can Be a Distractor

Let’s tackle the low hanging fruit first. We’ve all heard that expression. It sounds great — doing the easiest, fastest work to cross out the most items on our list. Feels gratifying, right?

But, it can be a distractor.

In a recent talk I attended on website usability, Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, cautioned the audience about being tempted to go after the deliciousness of the low hanging fruit, whilst ignoring that one big, glaring hard problem. Instead, he advises, “Do the least amount of work possible to make your biggest problem, no longer be your biggest problem.”

At first when you hear, “Do the least amount of work possible,” that might ring of being lazy. But read that again. It’s actually smart time and resource management. Once your biggest problem is no longer your biggest problem, you can repeat that approach. You can do the least amount of work (again) and make your new biggest problem no longer your biggest problem.

Low hanging fruit feels good to power through. But it can be a distractor from your priorities.

The News vs. Seth Godin

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I’m going to admit something that I’ve always felt sheepish about saying out loud, though I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way… I really (I mean really) dislike reading today’s headlines — “the news.”

Why?

Because the percentage of upset compared to the percentage of hope is abysmal. I force myself to read it. To be current. To know what’s going on. (I don’t do this all the time because I don’t like it).

Today, after about 15 minutes of it, I felt exhausted, and like the earth’s gravitational pull had somehow just increased. I felt small, tired and powerless. What do I do about these bigger than big things happening in this world that are so terrible?

I’m still grappling with how to deal with this. Processing news. Hearing the bad stuff. And still having energy to do something good.

Is ignoring the news” an answer? I don’t think so. Living in a self-made perception of the world where everything is lovely causes us, by being detached, to be a new and different problem.

Today, when I felt the way I described above, I decided I needed a dose of inspiration. I turned to Seth Godin’s blog and read the latest few posts. It worked. There was normal gravity on Earth again. Thanks Seth. I needed that.

Stress = Waste

I was at work the other day and a situation started to happen. A project started to become “bigger” in terms of scope of work. The deadline could move a little, but not a lot. The stress-o-meter was rising.

But here is the thing…

Stress = Waste.

  • It takes up mindshare. (Unproductive mindshare).
  • It saps focus
  • It’s not fun

It’s not that I don’t like digging into some hard work. It’s not that I don’t expect my team around me to do the same. BUT, it is about keeping things focused, energized, managed… and not stressed.

Stress happens when there are unrealistic expectations about what can be done with given resources within a certain timeframe. Another way of saying this is to consider the equation below.

RESOURCES (e.g. people / dollars) + SCOPE = DEADLINE

If we have an UNTRUE equation (e.g. the resources we have for the scope we have cannot hit the deadline we have), then that makes stress. We need to adjust the math to turn it into a true equation. Then we can get rid of the stress.

In terms of Resources:

  • Can we work more focused?
  • What skills/expertise do we need? Do we have it with the team assigned? If not, how can we get it?
  • Can we dig in and (smartly) pull a longer work week or few work weeks?
  • Can we shift workload off of some people and onto others?
  • What other resources can we pull in? (internal or external)

In terms of Scope:

  • Can we do things differently to deliver comparable value more easily and in less time?
  • What is less important (and can be prioritized lower or for a later phase)?
  • What is must have?

In terms of Deadline:

We have to set it to be as soon as we can make it BUT as far out as is realistic. And there needs to be some padding in there for unknowns. And along the way we need to keep the client informed and keep their expectations managed.

Good perspective. And proud to say, that my team managed that equation in multiple ways. Stress will rear it’s ugly head. But we have tools to manage it.

Pure Design from a 6-Year-Old

Graphic design is about getting someone to do something and feel something that the designer intends. There are lots tools and tricks for creating great designs that deliver on their intentions. When I craft a design for a client there’s thought, there’s research, there’s pointed questions, and revealing answers. There’s connection, discovery and great “a-ha” moments.

But there’s also inspiration: This way of moving and feeling and flowing and “NOT-thinking.”

That’s powerful stuff.

And then there are the moments when I’m awed by the ideas and pure design that comes out of my kids. They sit. They get an idea. The create. It’s usually quite a fast process. It’s never what I’d do. It’s often so “raw” but that’s what makes it powerful.

The other day my 6-year-old sat down, he stapled some pages together and he whipped up this book. I’d say the ideas just popped of the top of his head, but actually I think they came right from his heart.

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What I Learned About Life … While Working at Microsoft

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Recently, I did a talk at the Bay Path College Women’s Leadership Conference on their Career Development Track. When I announced this to my email list, it led to a conversation with a former college professor about how the topic would be of interest to the community at my alma mater, Mount Holyoke … particularly to the senior class.

He offered to connect me to the “right people” at the school to set something up and asked for some background info he could pass on:

  1. About me,
  2. About the talk, and
  3. About how my experience in college led me to where I am today.

ON THAT THIRD POINT…

I want to share my reflections, since they feel the most interesting for me to reflect on almost 20 years later.

In college, I was a Comp Sci major, Spanish minor. Late in my time at MHC, I discovered a Five College grad level course called Advanced 3D Computer Animation. I could take as an undergrad, though I had to compete with about 50 others who wanted in to get one of 12 spots available). I learned to use 3D software to create “scenes” and animation. Turns out I had a knack for it.

It was here that I learned that I loved USING cool software more than I loved WRITING code for software. I still loved understanding the programming side, but I wanted to get to creative production.

With a job offer at Microsoft right after College, (as a software test engineer), I put those dreams of integrating design, art, and computer stuff on hold for a while. At Microsoft, I learned:

  • A lot about software development on a large scale
  • That it can be inspiring and intimidating to work in environment where EVERYONE is an over achiever and really smart.
  • That I didn’t love 10 months of grey skies over a 12-month period (Seattle).
  • That I didn’t love the narrowly defined role I have at a big corporation… I like more hats to wear, more creativity… This feeds into what I now call “Xtine’s Law of Perpetual Energy.”
  • I learned that in life sometimes I will find myself doing things that I don’t love to do. Sometimes it makes sense to stick it out (and LEARN!). Sometimes it makes sense to bail (AND NO SHAME IN THAT!).
  • No matter where you are, you can embrace life experience in all its many forms.
  • That the Pacific Northwest has some of the most breathtaking outdoor spaces that I’ve ever experienced.

I decided to stay at MS through the end of the project cycle I was on (about a year and a half). And I also decided that while I was doing this, I was going to make damned sure I was LEARNING as much as possible, and DOING things that I might only be able to do while I was there.

For me, this meant:

  • Really owning my job and kicking ass at it;
  • Meeting new people even when as an introvert, I might prefer to stay home;
  • Though I had no theatre experience and only very minimal training in voice/music, it meant I auditioned for a musical (and I surprised myself by getting one of the leads — comfort zone push there for sure).
  • Hiking Mt. St. Helens, the South Sister and others.
  • Experiencing Seattle, the Olympic Mountains, Skiing in the Cascade Mountains and sleeping on the hard desert ground of Eastern Washington after staying up most of the night to watch the meteor showers. (In a desert the air is crisp and clear, the sky is BIG, and the star gazing is profound.)

After 1.5 years at MS, I moved back to the happy valley and helped co-found Gravity Switch. Our business has changed and evolved by leaps and bounds in our almost 20 years of biz. But the core stays the same: To make a living doing what I love, working with and for people that I respect and care about, and getting a chance to do what I do best, every single day.