Archive for the ‘work’ Category
Finally got around to reading Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, a straightforward, mostly serious consideration of his formative years. What struck me most, aside from the occasional hilarious deadpan observation, was how he described being aware of developing in his craft even when he wasn’t successful or even very good yet. But now that the book is done, I wonder whether Martin is accurately reporting what he felt about his process at the time — or if he’s making sense of his development in retrospect. When you’re in the middle of getting good at something, but not yet good at it, do you know how everything fits? Or can you only look back at that?
I’ve enjoyed my latest two-year stint running The Vineyard Group. Nearly all of my clients, large or small, established or startup, treated me to challenging and rewarding work — and each client’s needs have been sufficiently different so each day has delivered surprises. Earlier this year on this blog, I shared some lessons I learned from my client work (Make it new again, On providing editorial services to noneditorial professionals, Business casual: an editorial manifesto, and Editing as strategy — and why it’s not the same thing as editorial strategy) and I hope to share more here soon, although now I’ll be doing it from a different perch.
One of those clients has been the consultancy Collective Next. I became aware of the company from working alongside its founder and CEO, Matt Saiia, as a fellow curator for TEDxBoston. (This year’s event is next Tuesday. It’s long since sold out, but you can either watch the livestream or listen to it live on WBUR.) I found in Matt someone fun to argue and develop ideas with, and a good guy to stand next to at Gorillaz and Hey Ice Machine shows. Then I found out, one by one, that the company was stuffed with people who consistently (a) made me think harder and (b) cracked me up. Collective Next specializes in helping companies collaborate better, and even the briefest visit to Collective Next HQ would show you how they live what they teach. I’ll be doing a lot of different things for Collective Next: client work, developing new products and bringing them to market, and the usual publishing and editorial work.
One of the biggest things I miss from my last job is getting to work every day in a big, open room stuffed with creative, brilliant, challenging, hilarious, likeminded people. I think I have that again. Joining Collective Next has been like joining a gang — in a good way. The hazing has been limited (so far) to good-natured spreadsheet-hacking. I’m ready for a big long-term challenge and Collective Next seems like the ideal place for me to share what I know, learn from people with different skills and passions, grow, help other people grow, get into creative trouble, and fight our way out of it together. Onward!
I’m tightening the ideas and removing the crap from a presentation workshop I’m running on Monday. It would be bad, after all, to give a bad presentation about giving good presentations. While doing so, I realized I wasn’t emphasizing audience enough: understanding who you’re presenting to and what they need, focusing on their needs and not yours. Whenever I want to show clients the value of obsessing over what the audience wants and needs, I call in a great quote that you can find in Nancy Duarte‘s outstanding and welcoming HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. In her book, Duarte quotes Ken Haemer, presentation research manager at AT&T:
“Designing a presentation without an audience in mind is like writing a love letter and addressing it ‘to whom it may concern.’”
Think about that the next time you’re in front of other people. Or the next time you’re writing or doing anything for other people.
This is the fourth in a series of posts covering some lessons I’ve learned as an editor. You can read the first entry here, the second entry here, the third entry here, and a list of all the posts in the series here.
Question Jimmy gets asked regularly after he explains to people what he does for a living: So that means you do editorial strategy?
Answer: No. I don’t work on editorial strategy so much as I work on editorial as strategy.
Follow-up question: What?
And then a conversation begins. The difference in wording is subtle, but I think the difference in approach is a big deal. Here’s an attempt at a longer (but still brief) answer to the “what do you do for a living” question.
When you’re developing and executing an editorial strategy, your job is to solve problems. Maybe it’s a media or publishing company and the projects you’re working on are core to the business. Maybe it’s not and your focus is on some internal or external communication effort that supports the core business. Either way, your day-to-day work is centered around short-term questions: Are the topics I’m covering relevant? Am I presenting them in a way that my audience can understand and act on? Do the author/presenter and audience have conflicting needs? Is what I’m publishing or presenting helping my audience get great at something they need to be great at? On good days, you come up with good answers to those questions. But they’re short-term answers that change as conditions change.
When you think of editorial as strategy, you’re considering a company’s business through an editorial lens. That means using tools commonly associated with the editorial process to build a more coherent and precise strategy and make better decisions to support it. It means, for example, being brutal to every idea, while being kind to the people expressing those ideas. It means creating a series of rules that an organization will live by no matter what, while marking off the areas in which it’s good to get weird. Style guides don’t say to use a serial comma unless it’s difficult to use one; they say to use a serial comma. Similarly, while there are areas in which businesses can and should improvise, explore, and experiment, there are also areas in which there must be agreement to move forward. It’s much easier to advise people to stick to the plan if there’s a well-vetted plan. I suppose it’s similar what Clay Christensen said in a different context in How to Measure Your Life: it’s easier to stick to well-thought-out rules 100% of the time than it is 98% of the time. And it’s especially easy to do so if you’re clear on where you have to drive straight and where it might be fun to swerve and see what happens. By viewing a business’s strategy through an editorial lens, with all the editorial tools for structure and iteration at your disposal, you can see things that both traditional strategy consultants and meme-of-the-moment consultants miss.
Editorial strategy is, of course, part of editorial as strategy, and I don’t want to suggest that getting a corporation’s editorial strategy together is anything but a good thing. But if all you’re offering is what you’re packaging as “editorial strategy,” chances are that your work is tactical and will have only a limited impact on the organization you’re trying to influence. You can best help a client think big by thinking big yourself.
Every year around this time, the subscription to the online Wall Street Journal comes around and I send money that winds up in one of the infinite number of bank accounts controlled by one of the worst men in media. Each year the decision gets harder — the A-heds get shorter and less surprising, the wall between the news and opinion operations gets knocked down a bit more, and the paper continues to let its focus on financial journalism go fuzzy — but in the end I renew my subscription. Even in its reduced state, the paper offers some strong journalism, particularly in those occasional areas where the Murdochs don’t have glaring interests or conflicts of interest. But each year I have less trouble imagining a world in which I don’t need the WSJ to get my job done. Maybe next year?
I don’t write as frequently as I like/should for HBR — hey, editing takes time — but here are some recent posts I’ve published there:
Consulting for the Evil Empire (blog)
Enticing the Next Generation of African Leaders (blog)
Why Do We Need Leaders? (blog)
Sharing Links and Hors d’Oeuvres (about TED; published in the January-February issue; forgot to note it here)