On the road againAs I write this, I pause to quickly grab a pencil and jot down one more thing on my “Bring” list, so I don’t forget when I leave for a foreign country at 8am tomorrow morning. I have more anxiety than I typically do—normally I am happiest and most content moving through space (or preparing to), and love my collaborative-creative projects best of all.

So what, I asked myself, was I worried about this time? I had done quite a bit of social, cultural, and language preparation, spent time with friends and colleagues from this country to help prevent myself from various pitfalls, and although I knew I would have to be on my toes, I also knew I had done what I could, and that lots of listening, grace, good humor and respect, we would muddle through.

Yeeeaaahhh, still worried.

Why? Turns out I am worried about the collaboration process itself. I have met none of the other people (okay, I met my point person’s husband in 2000, but hadn’t seen/worked with him in maybe 8 years) and I really have no idea what the various stakeholders expectations are, nor how anyone else involved—especially those folks in the hosting nation—perceive collaborative work and relationships.

To quote “Collaboration, from the Wright Brothers to Robots” by Michael Schrage in the March 23 Harvard Business Review, Thinking it through

Successful collaborators don’t just work with each other; they work together through a shared space. Shared space — whether physical, virtual or digital — is where collaborators agree to jointly create, manipulate, iterate, capture and critique the representations of the reality they seek to discover or design. This holds true for collaboration around products, processes, services, songs, or the exploration of scientific principles. Shared space is the essential means, medium, and mechanism that makes collaboration possible. No shared space? No real collaboration. ….. What makes a scientific discipline or artistic community or academic institution or R&D group energized and excited about embracing shared spaces to make collaboration simpler, more accessible, more effective, and more satisfying? How does collaboration become as much a value and a behavioral norm as a core competence and pragmatic means to creative ends?

YES, yes, and yes!

So I reflected on how I could best prepare myself to forward these concepts, knowing virtually nothing and no-one in advance. Here is a fabulous idea that I returned to that I have not seen pop up in a while, along with a couple reflections. I will let you know when I return how it turned out!

Know Which Part of the Collaboration Circle You Fit Best

Working Together Many years ago (over a decade), I took an amazing workshop at a conference on collaboration, a found an invaluable model for a successful team, one in which everyone felt valued and enjoyed their role. (Side note: I have searched the internet extensively for this man’s name, but cannot locate it). In a nutshell, there is a circle of ‘ways of being’ (my words) on a project. Before I explain them, let me share with you what people often say. “Oh, I can do all of those!” That statement does more disservice to your project than anything else. Why? Because it implies (a) that you do them all equally well, and (b) that they all make you equally HAPPY. Neither is true. There will be one of those that you love the most, one role that gives you pleasure and that you know you do well in any aspect of your life. You might “leak” over to the other ones, but for now, discover which of them is the MOST you. Then build your team with people in the other positions who are the most themselves! It works incredibly well—things get done quickly and happily, and everyone feels needed.

Here are the roles:

If we imagine the circle as a compass, let’s start with Visionary in the North position. “What could be?” Visionaries,HP Pre Prod you are the people who have a gazillion amazing new ideas pouring out of you all the time, and sometimes that means you don’t finish what you start (unless you have an amazing support staff). You are the ones who said, “What if there was a thing that could hold a bunch of people, and it had wheels and had its own power-source?”

Enter those of us on the “East” part of the circle, the Becomers. “What are the ways that could work in real life, right now, and the steps to get there?” We are problem-solvers through and through, taking great joy in listening to a bunch of different but simultaneous dreams (even seemingly divergent ones), and figuring out how to connect them so they all come true with maximum inclusivity and efficiency. We are the ones who said, “Hmmmm, well there could be axles and a driveshaft, and instead of turning a crank for the gears by hand, it could be a contained explosion whose force moved pistons which move the crank…” You get the picture.

Welding  But to bring the dream that became a plan to reality, the group needs those in the “South” position, the Doers. The Doers are the awesome folk who remember all the things to make the plan happen smoothly. They know the person who has space to rent, and make sure the insurance is in place before the others even knew they needed insurance. They make sure the forms you didn’t even know you needed were filled out and properly filed yesterday. There are enough pencils for everyone, they remembered to have fans installed, checked the weather report, and got enough tools for all, including some left-handed ones, and oh yeah, everything is color-coded and sensibly named, so it is easier to find by category next time, and they show up with a contact list. I worship these people.

But where does the money come from? Voilá! Coming in at the “West” are the Storytellers. They can’t help it. Their enthusiasm, love of detail, and natural warm extra-version mean that never actually ‘network’, they just share because that’s how they are, and before anyone realizes what is happening, other people have joined the dream, opening up both their hearts and their checkbooks. These people are incredible, and as an introvert (and on the polar opposite of the circle), I completely don’t understand how these magical beings give people joy by parting them with their resources….but I do know that what they are doing is including folks—in some small way– in the Visionary’s dream itself.

This lovely model also helps us to

Speak to the Most Wonderful and Skilled Parts that Live Inside Our Collaborators

and, as my mother would say, to

Put Down the Basket of ‘Shoulds’!

Wishing you the best for your next project !

photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

The economy in the USA and Canada is beginning to pull out of the big ole tank, but jobs are still both hard to come by and easy to lose. Which makes it … the BEST time to stop telling your kid to get a degree in accounting, and instead help her/him become an artist!!! I now pause for you to get your knickers out of that painful twist while I clarify. Being a full time artist is very doable. It is also very different from saying “I want to be a Broadway/MovieStar”. It’s similar to the difference between, “I want to go into innovative technology” and “I want to be Steve Jobs.” Those highly visible, highly specific goals are certainly within a realm of possibility, but they come as the result of hard work, initiative, discipline, and commitment to the practice/career itself. Wanting to be an artist as a vocation is not only fabulously feasible, it is also rewarding, practical, and in today’s world, surprisingly stable.

Here’s the story, morning glory:

  1. Training– multiple entry points, multiple outcomes
  2. Entry Points: one can become a full time artist via college/university training OR via workshops, diligent dedication to/with an artistic institution, mentorship, and project-based training.Outcomes: Training in the arts is also training in observation, expression, commitment, and a sense of excellence. Training in the performing arts adds improvisational problem-solving, the ability to work constructively and efficiently with others, presentational skills, ability to create ‘mile-markers’ for a project, the ability to work with a hard deadline, delayed gratification, the holding of the team’s project above all other things including petty intra-office differences, critical thinking kills, and the ability to give input to others in a positive way. Turns out most businesses LOVE employees with these skills. Tom Vander Well says it like this: 10 Ways Being a Theatre Major Prepared Me forSuccess
  1. Job Security  “What?!?!” Yes, people, yes.arts-in-edYou might have a full time job at a museum, theatre, school, university, or college, and that full time job is as secure (or more so) as any other organization/education job. The John Hopkins Business School released a study  in 2012 showing that while other businesses were laying folks off, non-profits actually ADDED jobs… for the past ten years, including 2007-2009. What about education jobs? Well, according the Guardian and Forbes, “The biggest source of employment for graduates was the education sector – where more than a quarter (25.5%) now work.” Read more here .

What if you are a free-range artist, ronin, piecing together a patchwork of employment and creativity? Here’s the best news: I am never completely out of work. There are leaner times and fuller times, certainly, but even when some things fall through, my other over-lapping projects hold.

  • 3. Other Benefits

This is my life, and I would not trade it for anything, despite the hard, endless work, the constant outreach, and the lack of what I call “getting paid for not working”– you might know it as “sick days, paid holidays, and vacations”.

Why would I not trade? What do I get?

italy 2

Photo by Thomas Hoebbel Photography

All jobs have pluses and minuses; here’s my pluses.

Freedom. I love my freedom. I love that if I look carefully and work hard enough, I can find a way to travel for work. I love that if I am happy with a group and their project, I can help it become an annual or regular event, but if I am unhappy with the people or project I am working with, our partnership will have an ending, and that I can still make the project wonderful and the ending graceful. Most of all, I love love love the variety of people, places and types of work. I love that any given day I may be deliriously happy working with fourth graders as they find their own artist-academic selves, recording an audiobook, rehearsing for a stage show, and doing my accounting (in one work day).

Human Relevance. I spend my time seeking connections…with people, histories, text, struggles, joys, sorrows, injustices, learning, discoveries… the list goes on, in every single working minute. I am also a part of fostering groups connection-seeking, in every project that I do. WOW. I make a living (and do a LOT of volunteer work) serving humanity, everyday. Making art. Striving for grace. As Henry Miller said, “Art teaches nothing… but the meaning of life.” Please do not tell your child who wants to be an artist that they need to have a real job or have ambition—if serving people, fostering human connection, and creating grace are not good enough for you, well, you might want to wonder why.

Yes, your child will need to think about what to do next. Yes your child will have to have initiative and work hard, and yes, this life is NOT for everyone who imagines that it is.

But neither is being a Business Major.

PS There are also College and University programs for Business Arts Majors!!

Doing it ALL      So, there you are, gearing up for another busy month, made busier by pending holidays. As usual, “work on website” and “go to networking event” and “get business cards” move to the bottom of the “to-do” list. They can, right? Face it–your schedule is full! PLUS your Great Aunt Hossenpfeffersushikins is coming for a week and has a restricted diet of things that are harder to find.

But then business trauma hits– a school loses its funding, a theatre has to cut back its budget, a community organization is cutting the department which contracted you, you were passed over for a gig you thought was in the bag.

How do you turn these moments into success?

First off, allot yourself no more than 10 minutes to spend on despair and the feeling of failure. I would say, “Skip this step”, but as artists and community leaders, we have a powerful sense of responsibility for everything we do, and our sense of success is very tied to outcome. So go ahead, do what you need to do (whine, kvetch, curse, throw things) then cross it off the list (even if you have to add it to cross it off), and move on.

Secondly, remember that there is not enough time in any given day to both make lots of product Reminder!(teaching, writing, performing) and do lots of smart business promotion. So set aside days that are only for promotion. Or schedule a few half days. The key is to schedule it, and stick to it. I find that for phone meetings or necessary but heinous cold-calls, I need to schedule an exact time of day, and schedule exactly two calls. I have learned that I am more effective, more easy-going, and MUCH happier when I only do two of these at a time, and when I know each call has a specific time slot—that way I don’t worry about forgetting to do any of them.

Next step: get two pieces of paper, label one “Dream Projects” and the other “Marketing Ideas and Opportunities”. The first half-dozen or so things on each list (bounce back and forth as the spirit moves to help your ideas flow) will be the easy obvious ones. For me, the Dream Projects page included finishing my play “About Face”, getting “About Face” performed, being in more films, and doing more book narration. Pretty vague. I pushed myself to write ideas to write two pages worth. This is a great writing strategy, because instead of stressing over what to write, you stress about covering the space, and your creative brain is set free (lots of studies support this kind of production strategy). Three years ago, this strategy birthed MysteryGrams and our At-Home Mystery Games. Distracted by holiday prep? Invent some project that is holiday related! Why not? It’s on your mind anyway, might as well put it to good use.

Marketing!

Yeah, you have to do it. And I hate to say it, but this time of year is not only the most socially active in cyberspace, but also the most full of opportunities to meet people. Throw a party and let folks know they are also the beta test for the latest chapter of your novel, or that each person is asked to bring an idea for your classroom study about weather science. Make it fun, include lots of food and Invitation made in Moldiv beverages, and you might get a gold concept nugget! Many businesses are holding a Year End Office or Organization Bash, which is all about chatting about work. It turns out that for most industries, more than 70% of landed job projects come from referrals. That makes person-to-person networking (or strong personalized cyber connecting) the most important part of your outreach campaign.

I want to close with a link to a seemingly non-relevant blog post. It’s about teaching children the skills they need to be happy and successful, but it really applies to all of us in our work. Here’s the original post: http://zenhabits.net/kid-skills/

Most important take-away? You have no time, and you need to do outreach or product development while simultaneously doing holiday activities. Finding creative ways that are FUN to combine those things (and mark off times to do the worst tasks while saving time for the most fun) will help decrease your stress, increase your time-efficiency, and help the new year begin with new ideas for your job.

Summer SlingI spent part of this past weekend attending New York Summer Sling, “a 4 day stage combat workshop sanctioned by the Society of  American Fight Directors (SAFD). Classes are taught by SAFD certified fight directors and teachers from universities and theaters around the country. Class options include introductory instruction in all of our eight weapon disciplines for the stage, unique and specialized experimentation with period fighting styles, and master classes in advanced physical acting techniques” (from the Summer Sling website description).

Despite an incredible lack of sleep and profound anxiety ahead of time, I had one of the most wonderful conference experiences of my life. I am still, 48 hours later, in the throes of profound contentment and joy, brought on in part by getting out of my head for a while (which is good for everyone), in part by being in a constant state of motion (which is great for me personally), but for the most part, by being in the presence of so much … grace of heart and soul.

The people were kind and generous of spirit, all experience levels were welcomed and all attendees were welcomed and encouraged, regardless of background or challenges. There were classes for skilled experts and classes for the neophyte, classes for related skills (blood use and application for the stage, English Dancing), and classes open to everyone (such asAction and the Camera Parts 1 and 2 (Corey Pierno)>Students will experience action design as filmmakers, and will be taken through the process of breaking down a script, putting together a fight scene, camera and shot considerations, and solving unexpected problems” or “Shaolin Kicks (Michael G. Chin)>Students will be taught basic Northern Shaolin Kicks and technique including crescent, instep, round house, cutting, sweeps and spins. Students will also be taken through stretching exercises. This class is open to all experience levels, martial arts training is not required”).

These workshops are held in cities across the USA throughout the year, and you can take just one day if you want to. Obviously, if you have any interest in performing with weapons or staging fights, you would love it.

But so would most of the rest of you.

Are you writing a play or a battle-strewn novel? GO and take the open and/or novice classes, and ask to watch an advanced class in rapier or broadsword or whatever for one of your classtimes. Are you a theatre teacher? GO and take any one of “here’s a new way of staging a battle” or “how do you create realistic contemporary violence” classes. Are you a regular person who needs a total immersion get-away that can be very physical, very fun, and very supportive? GO and get rejuvenated! Bring your kindest self, and soak in the learning.

You can also find them on Facebook here.

Shearwater Productions at a glanceI have had a rash of opportunities lately, both ones for which I applied and those for which others applied to me. This may seem obvious, but as artists, educators, community leaders –typically always looking for opportunities (jobs, partnerships, projects, and more)–we too often forget that what begets success, even in the face of what looks like failure, is less WHO we are than HOW we are.

Duh, right?

Yet, I know that at least two of my current projects came to me, not because I was the “best” (most stellar, most talented, etc), nor even because I am “very good”–I am, but so are hundreds of others. I was selected because of how I work. By the same token, I have selected others based on their interactions and their working reputations, and it is surprising to me how little attention folks give to that sort of thing.

So here’s three tips for Landing the Next One!

1) Lose Graciously, and Mean It

Hi Holly

Thanks for letting me know. If I can ever be of any assistance, please feel free to contact me.

Many Thanks and Continued Success”.

I received the above note after passing along the information that this person was not selected by my client. Guess What?! Sacked?what? I am personally going to seek out opportunities for this person, and hope that we get a chance to work together. Being able to find sincere gratitude for being considered will separate you from all those people who are annoyed that their superiority wasn’t recognized. Who wants to work with people like tat? Most of us would rather work with people who are okay with not being right all the time. Cultivating that ability in yourself will have positive ripples in everything you do—it is one of the key ingredients of being a real team player.

2) Be a Great Worker 

     Be hard working. Again, a no-brainer, right? You’d be surprised how many people think they have a reputation as a hard worker, when actually their reputation is for being a bit of a partier or for having a long turn-around time or for saying they will do “x” and then not doing it. Part of being a hard worker is setting benchmarks, and making sure they are realistic. This is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page every step of the way, and meeting deadlines will help establish your reliability. I have been hired by folks who do not like me as a human, because they know I will do a really good job.

Thinking it through Be a good communicator. This means a few things.

  • * One, please do NOT use long form narrative as your email style. Outlines, bullet points, and clear formatting makes the information easy to pull out, so different folks can easily see different bits. Email also allows you to use colors and highlights—using purple or blue with bold makes a name pop out without it looking like shouting. If you are responding to an “You didn’t get the job” email with your thanks, go ahead and use subtle but innovative and clear formatting (like bold with blue for something). It will intrigue and hint at your awesome skills.

 

  • Two, please make sure your cell phone/office phone message box is both set-up and not too full for more messages, and then please return calls. Nothing is more maddening than trying to hire someone and not being able to reach them. A quick way to go from hire to fire!
  • Three, if something is unclear, ask, in a nicely formatted question with a short recap. I recently was on a team and a volunteer (whom I did not even know) did a “checking in” email that was so well thought through, so short and so clear that I decided to actively recruit her for future projects of my own.

 3) Be Outcome Oriented

 What does a successful outcome look like, in precise terms? How will we know? I am working on one project where creating a rubric“success” means that all the participants become active stakeholders in the creation of a play, take positive risks, and have fun. Another requires a highly detailed, visually stunning mask. People tend to be more clear about desired outcomes when discussing a concrete object, less so when the final product is an experience had by the consumer (a bridal party, an audiobook, a workshop), and even less so when the success of an endeavor is in the process itself. Become good at asking those questions, even in the application stage. Your clarifying questions will mark you as a team-mate worth having, and you will be remembered.