The Art of Being Gracious

Image

Becoming more gracious is something I rarely hear about, but more and more in my life, it is proving to be a crux; not only in my personal life, but in my daily work environment. From building strong relationships amongst my team, to navigating the often dicey waters of collaborating with clients, the art of being graceful has become a trait worth strengthening.

Exercising grace is the first step towards understanding where someone is coming from. I heard a story in college that has resonated with me ever since. It’s about a professor riding the subway in NYC. At a certain stop, on boards a man with three rambunctious children. The kids were running around the car, yelling, bumping into passengers and fighting with each other. Clearly, the situation began getting uncomfortable as angered passengers shot daggered eyes and made offhand remarks, as they would dramatically tromp past the father to move to other parts of the train. One would expect the man to at least make an attempt at caging the zoo that is his children, yet he remains motionless and unaffected by the scene. The professor calmly leans into the man and says, “Perhaps you should try to wrangle your children a bit.” The man slowly looked up at him, continuing his blank stare and responded, “We just came from the hospital where their mother has passed from cancer. I have no clue how to move forward, nor how to break the news to my kids.”

PERSPECTIVE BRINGS CLARITY.

The poise of a gracious individual allows them the time to find that perspective.

hhdl2

The benefits of being gracious in order to find perspective abound in my everyday life, in multiple applications. The calmness of a graceful individual allows them to see below the surface, and therefore understand the larger picture. Working with my internal team and working with clients are two daily occurrences that benefit from exercising grace. Before I go further, I should preface this by saying, I am not claiming to have arrived at being a gracious individual, but understanding the need is the first step towards the goal.

BUILDING A STRONGER TEAM

I’ve always sought a richer experience and deeper meaning from my work life. My entire adult life I’ve been self-employed, save for a 6 month stint, during which I was reminded of the reasons I was self-employed to begin with: The freedom to forge into new territories of your work, rather than being pigeon-holed into menial tasks; The ability to make decisions and changes to the projects, rather than following a mandate from an out of touch boss; The excitement of working on something challenging that I can take ownership of and be proud of, rather than monotonous tasks with little emphasis on quality.

In the same vein of what I want for myself, understanding what one wants and needs in their work life is a huge part in creating an environment that fosters growth of individuals, and ultimately the entire team. Workers whose needs are being fulfilled are much more engaged in the work they’re doing, and the quality of the work has no option but to rise. My goal has been to create an atmosphere where my team feels empowered by those freedoms.

Rather than pushing your agenda on a given project, try taking the time to listen and find perspective. Understand the goals of everyone on your team within their respective roles. The account manager has different goals than the project manager, than the designer, than the developer. They are all trying to do the best work they can for their role, but this fact often gets lost in translation when they fail to look a little deeper and see that ultimately they all have the same goal. The application of grace leads to a stronger team, with much better work, and for us making the work better is part of our core.

COLLABORATING WITH CLIENTS

Working with clients is another example of how exuding a graceful demeanor can circumvent potentially tense situations. When I first began working in the digital space, I heard a lot of negative talk about having to “hand-hold” clients. I never understood this attitude, as education is key to building a good client/consultant relationship, as well as translating the value of what we do. I’ve seen the attempts of insecure creatives who adopt a high and mighty attitude in an effort to convince a client they know what they’re doing. These attempts at hiding their lack of knowledge quickly go awry. There’s great value in taking the time to understand your client’s questions and educating them, to help them understand what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.

You can create a great relationship with your clients through perspective, or you can treat them like intellectual halflings, and create a hostile relationship. The choice is yours. You’d be surprised how many choose the latter, time and time again.

CONCLUSION

There are a lot of ways in which one’s poise can benefit them, on a day-to-day basis, whether you’re dealing with friends, family and even your enemies. Remaining calm while dealing with those who have set themselves against you affords you a level head, and allows them the time and opportunity to make their mistakes. Take the time to think about the benefits of a forbearing, poised and tactful individual, you’ll find them readily apparent.

The once bold line between our work lives and personal lives have all but disappeared, in the way we work and the way we act. As with our personal lives, if we steam-roll those close to us, we’re likely to give ourselves a stony path and a lack of peace. On the other hand, if you take the time to put yourself aside, to understand the other person and to be gracious with what you would otherwise perceive as their failings, you’ll find a smoother path and be the wiser for it.

As the great warrior poet Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.”

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here: http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2012/03/19/the-art-of-being-gracious/)

Advertisements

Building Culture

Image

We’ve recently added to the ranks here at Nelson Cash and with a big win of a great new client and increasing load from existing clients, it’s becoming more and more inevitable that we’ll need to hire a couple more in the coming weeks.

Now, I could naively wax poetic about how easy it is to hire someone and have faith that it’ll work out, but it never does. The reality is that growth of a company, and the subsequent hiring of employees, is typically an awkward uphill climb. It’s too many bodies in the studio twiddling thumbs or stressed, overworked (and ultimately unhappy) employees.

I’ve found that the saying, “Culture breeds creativity*” seems to ring true for a boutique creative studio such as ours. We’re too small to jump into quick hires and there’s too much on the line to make rash decisions. So it’s quite the process for us. We vet new members primarily on character and talent comes in at a close second… after all, we’re creating a culture above all else. If I can’t create an atmosphere where my creatives feel comfortable and respected, how can they create to their full potential?

I was in San Francisco last week with a client whom I’ve come to respect in our time working together and meeting. In the shadow of the Giants stadium, sipping coffee, he asked me what I wanted Nelson Cash to become. “To be quite honest,” I told him, “we’re not sure yet. What I do know is that I want to create an atmosphere where my creatives can come to work and feel free to create the best work they possibly can and be pushed by each other to create even better work. I want to create products and work that everyone in the studio is proud to put their name on and feels good about what they’ve done when they look back on it.” If we can’t do that, then what the hell are we doing?

So how do we build this culture? How do we sift out those who merely want to exist in a studio and those that want to grab the oars and help row our ship to shimmery shores?… (sorry, I’m a product of The Once and Future King and The Chronicles of Narnia)

Cognitively choosing culture

Well, I doubt I have any incredible insight on this one, though in my experience, it happens one decision at a time. In our case, we determined to focus, first and foremost, on building the type of environment where we ourselves would want to work. This seems like a very obvious point, but the reality is that you need to make a conscious effort to do this, daily. It’s really easy to start taking more and more from your employees and giving more and more to yourself and over time, your company rots from the inside out.

For our space, we focused on building a hybrid between work and home. A place where you felt equally comfortable working or sleeping, because frankly, sometimes you get burned out. We’ve had work nights that run until 5am, you occasionally need a nap. We chose a loft with a pimp kitchen, a casual atmosphere, a neurotic greyhound and the world’s greatest-slash-weirdest collection of vinyl.

For our team, we’ve laid an even groundwork. We gave solid paychecks, copious amounts of vacation, bonuses based on profits, the resources for continuing education to become experts in their field and, last but not least, a fully stocked bar.

And for how we interact, everyone’s voice is heard. We decided (again back to my King Arthur past) to work from a proverbial round table. No head. No foot. Every voice is vital in determining the next steps of our studio… we’re a team. Are we focusing on innovating our own products, incubating startups or branding and marketing work? Team meeting. Do we want to work with this or that client? Team meeting. What’s for lunch? Team meeting.

The wrap-up

Ultimately, we found that, especially in the beginning, you have to be willing to look past the initial bottom line and focus on building the best team you can build who can put out the best product possible. The profits will follow. We’ve now been focusing all our efforts and dedicating profits back into the studio for four months… and now there are monster clients knocking at our door. We’ve raised our prices twice since starting and we still turn away more work than we take on. We’re on the cusp of innovating things that could change the way the world interacts with the internet as we know it. All of this, I attribute to building a great culture where people can take ownership of the studio, enjoy coming to work and are pushed to put out better work than the last time.

So how do you know if you’re building a great culture? Well, what I have learned from my experiences, the experiences of those I trust around me, my life and business mentors and movies… you know it in your heart, you can feel it… and for those of you who are less sentimental, it’s instinct.

-Roman Titus

*Quote: Roman Titus, July 5th, 2011

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here: http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2011/07/06/building-culture/)

Be Your Own Standard

Image

In everything you do and believe in this life, be your own standard.

One of the easiest things in life is to become complacent with who you are, based on the logic that you’re better/faster/harder working/etc. than those around you. That is the quickest route to mediocrity.

Be your own standard.

Set the bar for yourself high. Identify & understand what you believe is: a good way to live, the proper amount of effort, the best way to do something, what greatness looks like, etc. and let that belief guide your morale, behavior, ethics and ambitions. Do not let the person to your right or left have the power over you to make you average.

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here: http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2012/08/27/be-your-own-standard/)

Listen. Analyze. Respond.

Image

Being part of a small, passionate team of individuals trying to do the best work possible has its obvious benefits, but it also creates a lot of empassioned arguments… you know, arms waving and red faces. I’m not averse to arguing, I actually think it’s healthy, when handled in the correct manner.

So the question begs to be asked, what is the “correct manner?” Let’s examine how this all plays out by looking at the lifespan of an argument.

THE DELIVERY

It all begins with a person who has an idea, or sometimes it’s simply a thought. The very thing we are coming together as a group to do is the catalyst to all of this. Ideally, we are here to create, to innovate and to think beyond what we have, or anyone else has, done in the past. This idea is voiced, often at a fairly half-baked stage, in the trust that it could be built aloud with the group, used as a springboard or a thought-provoker and occasionally it’s to play devil’s advocate.

At this point, the point where it is now out in the open, the original intention no longer dominates the thought’s trajectory. As much as one would like to contextualize or elaborate on the thought, it is too late. It is now in the hands of the opposite party, or group, to build with or unravel.

Two roads have just diverged in a conference room…

THE SOLUTION

I won’t waste too much time on describing the usual deconstructive responses, we’ve all seen it far too often: dismissal, reactionary comebacks, railroading, circular logic, belittling… the list goes on.

What should be happening is a basic principle that has fallen by the wayside in our society. The old adage of two ears and one mouth, in all of it’s cliche’d corniness, is spot on.

LISTEN

This may be the hardest part for most people. We all have ideas. We all have a voice with valid thoughts that pine to be heard, but we also all have an ongoing need to continue learning. What better way to learn than by learning from others’ experiences and thought processes?

The need to interject rather than listen is rooted in any number of things: self-centeredness, a lack of confidence or grasp of one’s self, belittlement, lack of respect, to name a few. This need, chips away at the very foundation of innovation… that initial “what if…?” In this regard, listening is as important to the speaker as it is to the listener.

ANALYZE

We often hear the phrase, “don’t take it personal.” This concept, albeit incredibly hard to truly follow, is the secret sauce of this stage. Bill Murray said it best in Lost in Translation, “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” Having that firm grasp on who you are, helps you take things less personal. Don’t listen to the words said, listen to the concept that was attempted to be conveyed.

Understanding your audience is important. Where are they from? What is their role? What horse do they have in the race? What are their goals? What are their past experiences? The list goes on. All of this comes into play when trying to decipher meaning. Ask yourself these questions to uncover a world of information that you previously did not have.

RESPOND

The final piece of the puzzle. At this point, I’m partial to questions rather than statements. Restating what you understand is being said and getting confirmation on that before continuing on to responding with your thoughts, is a good path as well.

The real key here is to make sure you convey that you took the “Listen” step seriously and participated in it actively. If this isn’t apparent, then it’s likely that you will not be afforded the same courtesy. When this degradation in conversation and respect happens, it all unravels (enter: waving hands and red faces.) When it does happen though, you’ve just created a dialogue and dialogues are the core of innovation in groups.

“The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” – Bill Murray

THE WRAP-UP

You control the outcome of your ideations, conversations and interactions with most people. Are there some anomalies? Sure. Are they much fewer and farther between than a lot of folks would like to think? Absolutely. Was I influenced to use the term “anomaly” because of Uri’s post last week? Prolly.

A setting where people cannot share their thoughts is one of the most dangerous place to be, not only for a creative studio like ours, but in everyday life. We all have a need to be heard. Equally, but less evident, is that we all have a need to listen.

 

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here:http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2012/07/06/listen-analyze-respond/)

The Power of Voltrons

Image

I was thinking about the working structure of Nelson Cash a week or so ago and how we’ve focused the studio around the idea of a team. Not physical, grouped-off teams, but the studio as one cohesive team. Instead of my concept vs. your concept, it becomes our concepts and we work together to make both ideas great.

The next day, I read an interesting article in which UC Davis psychology professor Dean Keith Simonton made the claim that scientific genius is extinct, stating:
“Natural sciences have become so big, and the knowledge base so complex and specialized, that much of the cutting-edge work these days tends to emerge from large, well-funded collaborative teams involving many contributors.”
The two thoughts merged and I began thinking about how in the same way, the digital era brings with it a connectivity and information network so vast that the solo hero no longer exists in our industry either. It’s just too big. Then I started thinking of one of the most sweet, badassest cartoons I’ve ever watched in my 31 years… Voltron.

The Voltron-esque team defeats disjointed, dispersed co-workers because they have the ability to know more on the whole, share information efficiently and act as one unified being with one vision.

The concept of individual parts joining together to make up the whole is not a new concept. Look around and you’ll see examples of it in everyday life all over the place.

  • A cow on its own is harmless, it meets friends, and they become a thunderous stampede.
  • Microscopic molecules of water join forces to make an ocean.
  • A network of individual synapses in the brain work together to make up the whole of the brain’s ability.
  • The Internet connects individual pages of disparate information to make one powerful tool.

Teams are the mode of progress. In the long run, a team of good individuals that work well together will accomplish more and get further than a team of great individuals that can’t work together. Ask most any professional sports team and they’ll tell you the same. You can’t win a World Series or Superbowl with amazing individual talent, you need a team united under a common mission to earn it.

At the end of the day, united teams beat divided individuals. Perhaps the best good we can do for ourselves is to focus on how to be better teammates.

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here: http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2013/02/19/the-power-of-voltrons/)

Say Yes

Image

I was talking to one of our designers about how we are trying to break into a specific industry with our work. It turned into a conversation on how creatives can break into our specific industry. We had a good conversation around it that seems worth sharing, especially for creatives fresh into their careers.

I’ve been in the creative industry my whole professional life. I’m more than familiar with the common ploys to weasel free work out of creatives. We’ve all heard this one — “This is a great project. Sure, there’s no budget, but there will be down the road.” Or the ever popular, “This will be a great portfolio piece!” I would venture a guess that we’ve all taken the bait at least once.

This is the part where a seasoned creative tells all the newbies to be weary of these traps, chiding, “Why would they pay you the second time if you’ve proved you’re worth nothing the first time?” But I diverge a bit on this thinking.

One of the biggest lessons I learned early on is to say ‘yes.’ Yes to everything I am interested in and can afford to say yes to. Explore more.

THE LIE

There’s a social mindset I’ve been running into based on the idea that you teach people how to treat you. I agree with this sentiment, albeit to a degree. This mindset is too commonly translated in the creative world as, someone (or everyone) owes you respect, and only once you receive it will you create for them. This misguided formula makes divas and entitled creatives. It happens everyday, and it’s ugly.

There is a good article by Kim Bieler about internal vs. external validation. It pins utilizing internal validation to create your own opportunities against waiting on someone else to hand them to you.

THE FEAR

The fear comes rolling in. “If I work for free, then everyone will think my work isn’t worth anything.” Really? When has this fear ever proved true in life? If I gave you my thoughts for free on how to approach a specific challenge, would you assume my time is worth nothing? Would the next person I go to consult ask for the “free special” because they heard I gave it to you? (And if they did, would it be that hard to say, ‘no’?)

This is what would really happen. You would take the advice, evaluate it, maybe use it. If it proved helpful you’d realize the value in my work. You’d call me back the next time you needed help, plus you’d probably tell your friends about me when they needed help.

THE ADVICE

Seek out the type of work you want to do and be scrappy as shit. Identify that upstart business you want to work for and reach out to them to offer your services. Start small, then use that work to leverage your talents into the next project with the next client. You’re getting your brand out there. People start to talk. Stay hungry, to quote someone famous, and do the best work you can do. You’ll build a nice body of real world work and validate that you’re worth a damn. Prove you’re worth respecting and you’ll be respected.

“People will always seek out quality work.” – Keith Neltner

Say yes and you will gain valuable experience while learning new tricks & techniques. Say yes and you’ll work with some amazing people who will help spread the word around for you. If you’re good at what you do, every opportunity is an opportunity to build a brand worthy of the respect you’re looking for.

 

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here: http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2013/01/31/say-yes-2/)

Learning to Speak Other Peoples’ Languages

Image

When I was young, there was a book circulating in my group of friends that focused on the idea of “love languages.” The concept being that different people feel loved in different ways. They also show love in different ways. The goal of the book was to convey the fact that if you would take the time to understand the ‘love languages’ of those around you, you could then show them love in their way, rather than your default format, thereby making them feel the love that you’re actually trying to show them.

If a boy feels love when someone spends time with him but a girl spends a bunch of money on him instead, he feels unsatisfied. If she were to take the time to learn that he needs love in the form of time, she could adequately convey her love for him in a way that would hit home.

Make sense?

The same holds true for dealing with people in platonic and business relationships. Learning to speak other peoples’ language is a skill that seems to have gone under the radar. We’ve gotten a bit too eager to seek out the skill of asserting ourselves. We’ve bought into the idea that to be true to who we are, we must be uncompromisingly ‘us’ all the time and if you can’t handle it, then that’s your problem.

It’s false.

CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE

Arguments and fights in our studio are rooted in this issue 95% of the time. One person is direct and says exactly what they mean. Another is more emotional and nuanced in how they communicate. Neither party takes the time to understand the other’s interaction style. Both parties get massively frustrated.

It’s an observable transformation, like a disease. When you spot it early and watch it turn from two well-intentioned individuals solving a problem to two red-faced, tight-lipped badgers ready to tear each other apart… you’ll see the value in learning other peoples’ languages.

Take the time to observe your colleagues, especially those you seem to butt heads with. How do they interact? How do they say yes or no? Are they direct? How do they interact with those they get along with? Asking questions like these and observing the answers will lead you towards how this person needs information and how they supply it.

CONSIDER YOUR GOALS

Before jumping into a contentious argument, think about what you’re trying to accomplish in the conversation. Often you’ll find that both (or all) parties want the same thing, but their delivery is off. Don’t let your ultimate objective get stalled by differences in style.

Styles are huge, they make us unique. The way I interact with a person may be different than you. Your strategy for dealing with an issue may be vastly different than mine. Styles are unique and everyone has a perspective, but they are a means to an end. The end being your goal.

Don’t get caught up in minor things. Sometimes methods and style are worth arguing about, for the sake of the collective goal. Identify those goals and determine if & how the issue at hand effects the goal. If everyone in the car wants to go to Pizza Hut but you spend your time in the garage arguing about the best route to drive there, you’ll all starve… and you’re all idiots.

CONSIDER YOURSELF

I know it may be hard to believe, but it’s also possible that you’re the problem. Just like with anything else in life, if your approach isn’t working, you may need to change it. It’s not quite the answer most folks are offering up these days, but I believe we should be continually working to better ourselves.

Think about your own delivery of ideas and concepts. Think about the times they landed and the times they failed — what happened? What went right and why? What went wrong and how could you do it better? Where were you shortsighted or close-minded? How do you get better?

In my experience, the concept usually isn’t the issue, it’s the person presenting and the established biases around that person; the leftover, unresolved issues you have with him or her. Multiple times I’ve seen the same concept given by two people back to back — one is destroyed and one lands with ease. The audience’s issue was driven more by who the presenter was than by what they were saying.

PLAN B

Finally, there will be times when this just doesn’t work. You observe, you think about your goals, you try to change your approach, but to no avail. When that happens, and it will, from a calm and honest place, deal with these issues face to face. Handle these issues swiftly, don’t let them fester. Like any other problem, resolve to find a solution and learn from the experience.

(This post was originally published on Nelson Cash‘s blog here: http://nelsoncash.com/blog/2012/12/12/learning-to-speak-other-peoples-languages/)