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It may sound funny, but the best product people are the ones you rarely see. Being a great product person means that you understand your own business, the competitive landscape, and current market trends, but most importantly, it means you understand your users.
Everyone has opinions, and opinions can be good, but they can also be dangerous. The biggest trap for product people is to have an opinion on day one—whether “day one” means it’s a new product or that you’re new to the position or new to the company.
Opinions based on nothing but your gut are just assumptions. If you make statements like “This is how people are going to use our product” and “I know what people are looking for, so let’s build that,” and you only have your opinion to back them up, than what you’re really saying is, “This is how I assume people are going to use our product” and “I think I know what people are looking for, so let’s build that.” When you do this, you’re guessing, and guessing leads to failure.
What you should be doing is getting out of the office and talking to your users (either current or potential). Opinions and assumptions are good, but then you have to get out and talk to people. Ask users how they do their job, what frustrates them, and what would improve it. These conversations should be made before and (even more important) during development. As you build, bring prototypes to the users and expand the conversation by asking them to use the prototypes. Ask them what they like and don’t like about them. Does it solve a problem for them? Does it make their life easier? Read More →
- How Much Notice Should I Give My Employer That I’m Quitting My Job? [Lifehacker]
- Landed an interview? Leave the bird at home.
- For the journalist Jon Ronson, you may not have to be a psychopath to be a great CEO, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. [Forbes]
- Stories about the huge cost of college have been around since at least the 70s. But as the costs have risen, so have expectations of what it should be able to do for students. [NPR]
- Is this already a dying art form? Netflix envelope art from Doodlers Anonymous. See also: “The evolution of the NetFlix envelope.” [CNN]
Todd Henry runs The Accidental Creative, a speaking and consulting firm that helps teams do their best work consistently, not haphazardly. His book of the same name, about “how to be brilliant at a moment’s notice,” will be published this July by Portfolio. A slightly different version of this post ran on Todd’s Accidental Creative website.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to hop a plane to St. Louis to spend some time with a great group of creatives wrestling through organizational growth and how to establish new systems to deal with it. After a morning session with the large group, I had the chance to spend about 90 minutes (before hopping a return flight) with a handful of the team’s leaders. We discussed the essentials of creative leadership, and I was asked to distill down what I’ve experienced about great creative leaders as fodder for discussion.
Here are the five principles that I believe all leaders of creative teams must live by if they want thriving teams.
1. Be a laser, not a lighthouse.
Many leaders are so concerned about safety that they spend much of their time talking about what not to do versus what to do. They operate more like a lighthouse than a laser. A lighthouse can only tell you where not to go, but can’t provide any kind of precise direction or alternative. Creative teams need precise, focused direction. Like a laser. A laser is an offensive tool, not a defensive one. (Unless you’re Han Solo in the cantina. Apparently, Greedo shot first.)
Your team needs you to tell them what to do, not what not to do. Be a laser, not a lighthouse.
“Miss Education” is a public-school teacher in the New York area. Until she finds herself a shiny new career and can leave the blackboard jungle behind, she’ll be posting anonymously.
“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
Ever since I became a teacher, people have spouted this delightful little cliché in my direction, helpfully reminding me how this country views its teachers and its education system: as overpaid babysitters who had no real knowledge or marketable skills, and who only pursued a career in education because they couldn’t get a real job and because teaching seemed easy. (Those people have a point—it must be easy, since a mere half of all teachers quit after the first five years).
I always knew that the saying was a whole lot of hogwash, and I paid it no mind. I would leave the profession at the end of the school year and spend the summer vacation looking for other work. Surely I had marketable skills other than teaching…right? Then I began the job search and started to wonder if perhaps it was true, after all. Read More →
- Lots of members of Generation Y aren’t getting settled in their careers or at home until the end of their 20s. [Bnet]
- Measure your website’s return on investment with a Google spreadsheet calculator from Smashing Magazine.
- And then contribute to the world’s biggest collaborative sketch. [via @mmcwatters]
- What, no “curated”? The Independent has compiled a list of 100 words and phrases it will avoid “going forward” (that came in at #17).
- “We don’t have enough money” and nine other things that Bnet thinks that entrepreneurs should never say to themselves.
- Artist Lesley Barnes‘s video for a Richard X remix of Belle and Sebastian’s “I Didn’t See It Coming“:
Last week I sat down with a senior marketing professional who had just completed an executive MBA program. She was frustrated by all the flaky people in her network who were “preventing” her from scoring interviews at companies she desperately wanted to work at. This woman had all the right stuff, but she was getting stonewalled by contacts who over-promised and under-delivered when it came to hooking her up with employees they knew at these companies. She was starting to get jaded: networking was a joke, she thought. She never considered for a second that it might something she was doing that was holding her back.
After we’d talked a bit, she told me that she didn’t know her so-called network very well: they couldn’t vouch for her experience or her work ethic, or say what she was best in the world at. She was spending the majority of time she had allocated to networking by trolling LinkedIn—trying to use contacts she didn’t know very well to get to people that they didn’t know very well. And most importantly, she had regularly and systematically broken the cardinal rule of networking: she’d been reaching out and asking for favors before she had earned the trust of the people in her network. Folks, networking isn’t a turnkey operation by a long shot. It’s hard, time-consuming, and something you need to practice daily for it to pan out for you. In fact, it’s pretty easy to suck at it. Read More →
A new study published last month in the journal Obesity found that a high-protein breakfast increased satiety and reduced food cravings. The study took three groups of teenagers. One group skipped breakfast, another had a regular breakfast with what was considered a normal amount of protein, and the third had a high-protein breakfast consisting of a protein-enriched Belgian waffle with syrup and yogurt (why they couldn’t have just used eggs is beyond me). The subjects who ate the high-protein breakfast had increased satiety and reduced food craving.
Don’t jump for the meat lover’s omelet yet. This was a small study, and more research needs to be done. But the findings do make sense. Breakfast is an important meal because it’s the first meal you eat after fasting through the night.
Keep in mind that protein comes in many forms that aren’t filled with saturated fat; opt for healthy choices. So instead of that bagel with butter, here are some high-protein breakfast suggestions: Read More →
Frances Codd Slusarz is an attorney based in Stamford, Connecticut. In this guest post for Father’s Day, she writes about some of the best advice her dad gave her, whether he knew he was giving it or not.
So you graduated from college and actually have a job. Or you landed an internship that will help you land a full-time gig later. You’ve got your clothes picked out, you’ve mapped out your commute, and you set your alarm clock extra early so you will not be late. Now, what do you do? With Father’s Day around the corner, I am going to share the wisdom of my paterfamilias.
My father was of a different time—the days when you were practically guaranteed lifelong employment as long as you kept head down and your nose clean. And you collected a guaranteed benefit pension when you retired.
My dad hated his job. He spent at least seven hours a day, five days a week, for twenty years, doing pencil-pushing, deadly boring work, to support the family he loved. But this post isn’t about redemption through suffering. My dad’s best lessons come from his life outside work.
1. Do What is Right for Your Client. My father served as a field medic for the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He was awarded the Silver Star—one night, the enemy overran his field hospital. Everyone who could evacuate did. But some of my father’s patients were too sick to be moved. My father volunteered to stay behind to care for them, risking his life. It was what his patients needed.
Who is your “client,” you ask? Whoever gets your work when you say you are done. Never forget: You are creating a product for your client. If you want to succeed, make your product something your client wants. No one is asking you to risk your life. Just make sure that you choose wisely when you have a choice between what is easiest for you and creating the best product for your client. It might mean missing a happy hour or three, but trust me on this one. It’s worth it. Read More →
Bullet Points: 29 Ways to Stay Creative; 10 Best Imaginary Companies; 11 Commencement Speeches by Celebs
- 10 Ways to Fix Broken Corporate Recruiting Systems [BW]
- Looking For Talent? Here Are Three Steps To Making The Right Hire. The cofounder of the cleaning-products company Method talks about how his company gets its people. [FastCo]
- Graduation Real Talk: 11 celeb commencement speeches [The Vault]
- Ten Best Fictional Companies [Red Stapler Chronicles]
Ask a writer to describe his or her favorite tool of the trade and you’ll probably get an earful. Some writers are loyal to a particular kind of pen or pencil. Some have a thing for typewriters. Personally, I fondly remember the old computer keyboards that had a satisfying snap to them, like the click of a switch. I like my keyboards loud. That clattering racket is the sound of progress!
Which brings us to the iPad. Over the last year a lot of people have switched from carrying laptop computers to iPads. And that’s great.
But despite all the things the iPad does well, it is a mediocre tool for writing. Mashing your fingers on that slippery, smudge-prone glass ranks among the least enjoyable ways to input text into a computer. You would probably have to ask a hundred writers to find one who enjoys typing on an iPad. Read More →
The Hired Guns’ newest blogger, Matt Smith, is an expert at developing new products, innovative thinking, and startups. He’ll be putting his knowledge to good use for us as he writes about product management and methods to help companies innovate effectively, especially in an Agile environment. Matt sees his mission as “helping people grow, fostering ideas, and solving complicated problems in an innovative way.” We wanted to find out more . . . .
Upper West Side, NYC
Director, New Products & Innovation at Shutterstock
Where do you plan to take your column this year?
I really want to focus on success by innovation. Specifically how being Agile, in both product development and in business operations, can lead to innovation and, ultimately, success.
What do you hope to accomplish with your Hired Gun posts?
I’d like to help people understand innovation; how to find the open spaces within a business or industry, and fill them. Ultimately what we as product people are here to do is figure out how to help people, how to solve problems, and make people’s lives easier. At our core, we’re innovators. Or course, that’s much easier said than done.
Not everyone understands how to innovate, how to fill those gaps, and how to do it successfully. I’m writing these posts to help people learn and how to succeed.
Who should be checking you out?
Everyone from a new product person to a CEO who is looking to understand how to bring Agile to his or her business so that it can operate and innovate quickly and successfully.
There is a right way and a wrong way to be Agile, and it’s a slippery slope. When done the right way, Agile can help a company be incredibly successful, but when done wrong, it can really hurt a company. People who want to understand the right way to be innovative through Agile should be checking me out. Read More →
A reminder that the nonprofit photography organization NYC SALT will be having its first graduation party and gallery show this Thursday, June 16th. The group helps disadvantaged New York teens learn about photography and also helps prepare them for higher education. The party will include live music, a silent auction of prints by established photographers, and wine and appetizers. Works by SALT students will also be for sale.
To find out more about the organization, check out the video below . . . .
Most bosses suffer from the delusion that they are smart. Perhaps they feel that their years of industry experience and managing people somehow give them special “knowledge” that others don’t possess. As the hot new manager with the MBA, it’s your job to set him straight.
Here are five tips for doing it right:
1. Exude confidence. State your opinion firmly. If that doesn’t work, continue to repeat your point, but louder. Some management gurus claim that a more productive way to persuade someone is to provide compelling data to back up your opinion. But that requires effort, and research shows that 90% of the time, appearing to be right is more important than actually being right. (The other 10% of the time you will cause your 150-year-old company to implode. But that’s only 10% of the time.) Read More →
- The co-founder of luxury deals site Gilt Groupe discusses the skills, temperament, and other traits to look for in other members of your startup’s team. [Bnet]
- What’s the newest crop of MBAs earning? [Bnet]
- The BDO accounting firm is handing out a $5 Starbucks gift card for every headhunter voicemail or email that employees forward on to HR. Caffeine bribery works, evidently: BDO got at least 200 submissions in the first part of its anti-recruiter drive. [Going Concern]
- The Education for Employment Foundation works to help young people in the Middle East find jobs: “Being unemployed anywhere in the world is depressing, but it’s even harder in the Middle East,” says the NGO’s founder, the businessman Ron Bruder. [CNN]
Todd Henry runs The Accidental Creative, a speaking and consulting firm that helps teams do their best work consistently, not haphazardly. His book of the same name, about “how to be brilliant at a moment’s notice,” will be published this July by Portfolio.
In 2005, military strategist Thomas Barnett took the stage at the TED Conference to share insights on the state of the US Military. In his talk he said that there are two primary functions of the military: to take ground, then to maintain that ground once it’s been taken. Barnett argued that it is quite challenging for the same force to accomplish both tasks well because they each require unique skills and practices. You don’t want your advance “Leviathan” force to have to oscillate between taking new ground and administrating a system, yet that’s frequently what’s required.
As creatives, we are primarily wired to take ground. We are the Leviathan force. We love to invent things, to develop elegant solutions, to design and fabricate worlds. But those of us who work in an organizational setting or with clients know that this passion for taking ground often comes into conflict with the need of our manager or client to ensure that we’re protecting the ground that’s already been taken. In other words, they want us to be creative, but to be practical all at once. Read More →
Tomorrow, June 10, from noon to 1pm, The Hired Guns founder Allison Hemming will appear on a panel as part of the day-long Some Things Digital: Business 2.0 seminar. She and other small-business owners will talk about how technology and the Internet have changed the way they run their companies.
Some Things Digital is completely free, but you need to register in advance. Find out more here.
After getting through the Game of Thrones winter we just had, I didn’t really care that I was broke and with no prospects. As long as I had my bike and enough money for rent, cable, electricity, and dog food, I was good to go. I wanted out of my apartment. I wanted to burn my winter clothes on the beach, in a huge effigy to the evil god of winter.
Yet just as the days got longer and warm enough to hint that it actually may not snow again, I got a job offer. A full-time job offer from a very generous friend who owns a digital design agency. The fact is, I didn’t really have the money to pay the aforementioned bills, so this offer couldn’t have come at a better time, financially speaking. (But summer, my sweet summer!) I took the job. Alas, the dog has to eat. And I have to watch Game of Thrones. Read More →
- Close that laptop: here are the things you need to do off-line to get a job. [CareerAlley]
- What should you do if a potential employer wants you to sign up for a “free” credit report? [JT & Dale]
- The Evil HR Lady looks at ways to make sure your blog will be an asset, rather than a reason for dismissal.
- Whether you’re thinking about a job or a place to live, “pay close attention to your own culture and situation. Over the long run, it will have more impact positively or negatively on your career—and your health—than anything else.” [Dan Erwin]
- Tools That Can Help When There Is Too Much on Your Plate [NYT]
- Some real talk from career coach Eli Amdur about looking for work: “Recruiters don’t work for you; they work for the client. A coach does work for you, but can’t take responsibility. Networking groups are just the start, but they’re not where the jobs are. And so it goes. We can all guide, advise, and connect . . . but we cannot provide the impetus or the momentum.” That’s up to you. [NorthJersey.com]
- In the same spirit as Todd Tarpley’s How Not to Succeed in Business: 4 Quick Ways to Annoy Your Boss [Oprah]
- Penelope Trunk on what to say if you’re getting fired: “I’m sorry you feel that way. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
- A new section of New York’s High Line park opens tomorrow. New York magazine charts the restaurants, art, and other features you’ll find there.
When it comes to software development, Agile has become one of those words. In the last eight months, I have interviewed over a hundred product managers, directors, and others. All of them threw “Agile” out there as a part of the conversation: “Oh yeah, we’re an Agile shop, we gave up Waterfall years ago.”
Here’s the problem with that sentence, specifically the word Agile: everyone has his or her own definition of what it means. Agile has generally been a software development word, a repositioning of development away from Waterfall. But it’s also much more than that.
To understand Agile a bit more, let’s step back and understand what Waterfall software development is and where it came from. Waterfall is based on the idea of having requirements upfront, getting design and implementation after the requirements, and doing verification and maintenance at the end. This method was a carryover from manufacturing and construction, where everything had to be very well thought out and planned ahead of time, because even the slightest change would be hugely expensive.
In these situations, the notion of a Waterfall approach makes perfect sense. If you’re going to build a bridge, you better not start without knowing where the bridge is going to connect on the other end, and you better have a huge amount of specifications for everything. But for software development, where things move quickly, and the cost of adjustments are minimal, this type of development just doesn’t make sense.
That’s where Agile comes in. Instead of planning everything out in advance, Agile favors lots of small incremental decisions, and it can also adapt to changes throughout the process. There are lots of flavors of Agile out there: there’s scrum Agile, non-scrum Agile, kanban Agile, and hundreds of others. Then there’s the kind that unfortunately tends to be the one I hear described most often when people talk to me about Agile. It’s fake Agile. Read More →
Get Your Blog On: Deane Barker of Gadgetopia on Finding Your Audience and Why Narcissism Is Your Friend
Bill Brazell has worked closely with popular sites that include Dooce, Boing Boing, and Behance. For our series of podcasts, he interviews some of the stars of blogging and uncovering tips and tools that the rest of us can use to grow our online presence.
Gadgetopia, the group blog that Deane Barker founded, has impeccable geek credentials: it’s run by five programmers and two sysadmins. In our 20-minute talk, Deane covers tips for growing your audience, the right (and wrong) way to deal with controversy, and how your blog can help you grow your career and take it in unexpected directions.
- “Choose a topic you’ll never get tired of” and other advice from bloggers who have turned their passions into going concerns. [NYT]
- A reporter at a major daily newspaper is looking for companies that use video interviewing to assess job candidates, as well as candidates who have been interviewed this way. If you’ve used Skype or HireVue or similar services to get a job or to fill a job, email us. The reporter is interested in finding out why companies opt for this method of interviewing and any anecdotes about how these interviews tend to go. And for job candidates, how was it for you?
- In case you missed it last weekend: the Times goes really deep on Groupon’s methods, something Hired Guns blogger Daryl Lang also examined recently.
- Do you have what it takes to build that website on your own? Going by Vitamin Talent’s intricate flowchart, you may need a much, much bigger monitor before you can decide.
- Never accept a counteroffer. [Ere.net]
- At Slate, there’s no longer any money set aside for taking the interns out for drinks or lunch once in a while. Instead, it’s the interns doling out favors like cupcakes and other small gifts, and the site also takes “advantage of their access to expensive journals through their college library credentials.” Related: the new book Intern Nation.
- Email maintenance is a subject close to our hearts. Here’s a suggestion on how to use the BCC for good, not evil. The time you save may be your own.
We recently talked with Mark Hurst, the User Experience entrepreneur and writer behind the Gel Conference and Creative Good consulting firm, about his background and some of the simple steps that people can do to avoid getting overwhelmed by email, media, and information in general.
I think lots of people may have an inkling that they have a problem with information overload. But where should they start? Are there any simple steps that people can do?
Move your action items to a to-do list. Just try working from a to-do list, rather than the inbox, for a few days. There are other helpful things that people can do to reduce stress and overload, but that’s where I’d start.
Has changing technology, such as the rise of social media, made the problem worse, or has it always been this bad? Keeping up definitely seems like it takes more work these days. . . .
There are certainly more sources of distraction today, more easily accessed, than we’ve ever had in human history. However, I’d also point out that even 15 years ago, people were complaining about being overloaded by email. Personally I find that it’s just as easy today to solve overload as it was in the mid-90s. Empty your inbox and then focus on a to-do list to get your work done. Read More →
“The Good Guns” is a series of volunteer opportunities put together by The Hired Gun community.
NYC SALT is a nonprofit visual arts program teaching photography to socioeconomically disadvantaged inner-city teenagers. The group is looking for 11 Final Cut Pro gurus to help 11 teens tell a two-minute story of their work for the 1st Annual NYC SALT fund-raiser and retrospective gallery show on June 16th. Email Alicia ASAP if you’re interested in helping. We’d also love to find one producer/editor volunteer to create a video master for the other volunteers so that all 11 shorts have a similar look and feel.
Good Gun Profile
You’ll need to be quick on your feet. We have one hour of video footage on each teen. This footage needs to be edited and combined with images shot by the students for the retrospective into a two-minute short. These video shorts will be distributed virally to promote the NYC SALT fund-raiser and will also be edited into a larger video montage for the June 16th event. Read More →
Whoever coined the phrase “work/life balance” probably understood that the key to long-term productivity is a positive work environment, a range of outside interests, and job satisfaction. You don’t want people like that working for you.
Instead, here are five ways to keep your workers focused on work 24/7:
1. Don’t have a spouse or family, and forbid your employees from having them. Families have a tendency to be involved in school pageants and athletic events, they don’t like to move or change schools, and they suck out a lot of energy that could be better spent on Six Sigma productivity training. If members of your team have preexisting families, encourage them to jettison them immediately. At minimum, require them to replace their personal photos with framed motivational posters. Explain to them that “this is your family now.” Read More →
Credibility is capital, and it’s crucial to your success as a designer. You earn it, save it, and spend it in order to make your work come to life. Credibility is also a way for your true talents to get exposure to the outside world through the products you design that actually launch.
As a designer, you get hired on the basis of your beautiful portfolio and strong resume. But that’s as far as those historical recaps can take you. From day one on the new job you need to start building credibility through small wins. It’s those small wins that immediately begin to earn you credibility. But there are subtle differences on how to best get those small wins, depending on if you’re a freelancer or a full-time employee.
Freelancers are expected to start performing immediately, from their first minute on the job. You’re there to fill a temporary gap, and there are likely projects that need your attention immediately. Small wins for a freelancer include asking the right questions. What are you there to do? What are the immediate fires to be put out? Who are the stakeholders? Whom will you be working with? Showing expertise at diagnosing the problem right away is a terrific small win. Next, ask questions about the timelines. Engaging clients with a quick discussion about the schedule shows that you’re conscious of their situation and want to help them meet their goals. Finally, earn credibility by getting to work. Waste as little time as possible before you get started. If you can start delivering work on your first day, you’ve shown your client that you’re serious, you’re there to help and can get the job done (win, win and win!). All of this adds up to a big chunk of credibility that will help you secure another gig with that company. It will also help spread good word of mouth about you to other clients. Read More →
You are some extremely organized folks, and you’re not afraid to tell others about it. According to our most recent poll, a whopping 43% of you believe in a totally empty in-box. The rest of you were more or less split between either strictly managing your messages (“Filter. Delete. Unsubscribe. Repeat.”) or just letting them all pile up. The full results are below.
How do you handle your incoming messages?
They’re dealt with immediately. I’m a proud member of the Zero Inbox club.
I don’t move, archive, or delete anything. If I need to find something, then I use search.
Filter. Delete. Unsubscribe. Repeat.
I ignore my inbox as much as possible.
No cc’s for me. I use the semi-nuclear option and delete any emails that don’t have my name in the To field.
I have only a few emails in my inbox at any one time. On the other hand, my archive holds 369 folders, and I hate it.
Email is probably responsible for saving more time in the office than any other recent technology. Tasks that used to require letters and phone calls–which often went unanswered, and had to be followed by a series of messages left and ignored–can now be handled with a few taps on a keyboard.
But email can also waste hours and hours. Think about how many times you’ve been inundated with a dozen messages in a row from people hitting the Reply All to weigh in on some point of trivia that could have been solved with one conversation. What used to be a dialogue between two people becomes a conversation among four, five, or fifteen. It’s like part of our brain is always in a meeting.
I once worked in an office where Reply All was responsible for so much lost efficiency that managers actually announced a plan to disable the Reply All button on all our computers. The plan was abandoned when they discovered this was impossible—but you could understand where they were coming from. Email also strips vocal tone and body language away from our words. Without that nonverbal information, criticisms sting harder, requests seem abrupt, and genuine praise can fall flat.
After all this time, why are we still struggling with email? I think it’s because different jobs carry different expectations, and norms vary drastically from office to office. And the plain truth is, email is writing, and some people are better writers than others.
Even if you aren’t a champion writer, you can still keep from flailing when you use email. Here are ten guidelines that can help your emails turn out better—or help you know when not to send an email at all. Your approach may vary, but I’ve found that these work for me.
1. Only send an email if it’s faster than a phone call or a person-to-person conversation. Read More →
Bullet Points: Horrible PowerPoint Slides; How to Get Ahead in 1959; Craigslist’s Founder Starts Temping for the Feds
- If you haven’t voted already, check out our poll on dealing with email. A surprisingly unpopular method: filing every message.
- The projector company InFocus recently ran a contest looking for the worst PowerPoint slides it could find. To the right is a detail of the winner, “IT Modernization Roadmap.” Easy to follow, right? [via Boing Boing]
- Craig Newmark was recently sworn in as a temporary worker for the Social Security Administration. He’ll be advising the SSA’s chief information officer about customer service and online authentication. A good example of a portfolio career….
- Welcome to “in-sourcing”: lawyers are being hired by big firms to do high-value work in small American cities. The trick is that they’re doing it for far less than the partner-track gets you in the big city. Expect to see this attempted in other industries as well, if it hasn’t been tried already. [NYT]
- “Begin at the very beginning to see how USEFUL you can be…” In 1959, Billy Marchal’s grandfather wrote him a letter with advice on how to excel at his first job. It still holds up. [Times-Picayune]
Editorial consultant Deborah Gaines has a client list that includes major publishers and international law firms. (Full disclosure: The Hired Gun’s blog editor, John Rambow, has worked for her in the past.) Recently, she started The Corporate Writer, a blog that covers the (often subpar) ways that language is used at work–whether it’s in the messages that help get you hired in the first place, weird office-speak, or the constantly changing world of email etiquette. We talked with Deborah about what sort of language problems are worth trying to avoid at work–and also what you might have to let slide.
Congrats on the new site–what made you decide to start it?
I was whining to someone about business-language felonies and she said, “You’re obsessed. You should do a blog.”
Do you think that written communication has gotten worse? Or does bad communication just seem to stick around longer now?
I don’t know if it’s gotten worse–a recent post, In praise of humane writing, quotes a hilarious memo on the subject from 1977. But there is definitely more bad writing floating around since we all adopted computers and smartphones. We pay less attention to what we say because it’s so much easier to just blurt. Read More →
After a long day of sifting through super-important requests as well as the latest passel of Groupon offers, it occurred to us that we’re probably not the only ones who sometimes feel overwhelmed by email. Although its death has been predicted over and over, email remains a sore spot for even the most technologically proficient. We were curious to find out how you deal with your email inbox.
This Wednesday, May 25, David Holloway will be teaching a Hired Guns Academy class on How to Develop a Portfolio Career. Below he explains how this method can remove the ups and downs that come with a typical freelance career.
“Freelancing” is one of those amorphous terms that mean different things to different people. So here’s what I mean when I use the word: Freelancing is where you’re primarily working alone, using one main skill to generate a service offering that you are deploying outside of full-time employment. For example, photographers, graphic designers, social media consultants, and independent marketing professionals are often freelancers.
The freelance career approach can definitely work, and if you’re in a good place with it, more power to you. But in the coaching work I do, I constantly hear about three main challenges with this type of career:
- Because freelancers often focus on one main skill area, they are vulnerable to changes in the marketplace–a steep revenue drop or the appearance of a new competitor, for example. When you’re only “eating what you kill” and you only eat one kind of food, some scary scenarios are possible. Consider the vulnerability of freelance writers, already struggling to make sufficient income, who are now being forced to compete with online writers who contribute work for a share of ad revenue–or who even write for free. This challenge seems to be growing by the day, and there’s no end in sight.
- Are young, female employees a risky investment for financial companies, because they tend to leave? The Vault steps into a bit of a minefield….
- Think you might lose your job? Lifehacker has come advice on battening down the hatches so that you’ll be in best possible position if it does happen.
- “Millions of people are watching their favorite shows while babbling about them on Facebook.” Joel Falconer of The Next Web finds all this leisure-time multitasking more than a little pathetic.
- Why is it so annoying to be wrong? The journalist Kathryn Schulz has some answers–and also looks into the upside of erring. [CNN]
- Speaking of erring: Milton Glaser, Wally Olins, and three other “design demigods” were interviewed by Swedish students about what they learned from failing. Inspirational. [CoDesign]
Brooke Alpert is a nutritionist and the founder of B Nutritious, a private nutrition counseling practice based in New York City. She blogs for us about how to stay healthy, fit, and centered during even the craziest of work weeks.
As if you needed a new reason to drink coffee: a recent Swedish study, published in Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association, found that women who drank at least one cup of coffee a day had a 24% reduction in stroke risk over a decade. (It should be noted that drinking more coffee didn’t lower the risk of stroke any further, and that the study is silent on how coffee intake may affect men’s risk of stroke.) Such a limited study isn’t a reason to start drinking coffee if you don’t already, but it can put you at ease if you consider coffee a coworker and a friend.
I’m fine with my clients who like their coffee, and I have no shame that I pray at my Nespresso machine every morning. Coffee has antioxidants and other compounds that can lower inflammation as well as improve insulin sensitivity. But–and this is a Venti’s worth of but–when done wrong, coffee might as well be dessert. When I ask my clients how they like their coffee, I’m often surprised at what they put in it. Between the cream, the whole milk, sugar (or artificial sugars), syrups, and whipped cream, we can certainly not expect much in the way of heart-healthy or waist benefits here. Read More →
Todd Henry runs The Accidental Creative, a speaking and consulting firm that helps teams do their best work consistently, not haphazardly. His book of the same name, about “how to be brilliant at a moment’s notice,” will be published this July by Portfolio.
My two sons are obsessed with superheroes. They asked for something very specific for their birthdays–two action figures. One is a superhero and one is “bad guy,” as they called him. Curious, my wife asked our oldest son why he wanted those two particular action figures instead of two superheroes, to which he quickly responded, “Mommy…every superhero needs a bad guy to fight.”
Word of profundity often come out of nowhere in our house. As I sat to write later that day, my son’s words echoed through my mind. Every hero needs a bad guy… I thought about purpose, uniqueness, brilliance, and the importance of doing meaningful work.
It’s easy to identify what you’re “for.” For example, I know that my mission is to bring freedom to creatives; to unleash them so that they can do brilliant work. I like to consider myself an arms dealer for the creative revolution.
But I had difficulty identifying my “bad guy.” I know what I’m fighting for, but what am I fighting against? I tried to think about the times when I’ve been emotionally moved in my work. It’s usually when I encounter a creative who is in a season of incredible productivity, someone who’s doing work beyond their expectations and is thoroughly thriving both personally and professionally.
On the flip side, I’m also moved when I first encounter someone who is living in a kind of self-imposed prison. Though the bars are obvious to those around them, they continue to live in mediocrity. I grieve their loss of freedom. In the end, I think apathy is my bad guy. My arch-nemesis. My Lex Luthor.
As a creative, it’s important to know what you’re fighting for, but it’s also important to know what you’re fighting against. This is the yang to your yin. We need two points of reference in order to navigate properly. Otherwise, we can never be certain what direction we’re truly headed in.
What are you fighting for? What’s the “why” behind the work you do? But equally as important, what are you fighting against? This is a critical question for any creative, brand, or leader to answer.
Creative work is a series of small, everyday battles. It’s an assault on the beachhead of apathy. Know your enemy, kick some butt, and take some ground.
“Miss Education” is a public-school teacher in the New York area. Until she finds herself a shiny new career and can leave the blackboard jungle behind, she’ll be posting anonymously.
The New York Times recently published a great op-ed by Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari on “The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries.” They argued that teachers need to be paid higher salaries to make a decent living, and that the government should consider paying for their training. They cited a McKinsey study showing that 68% of 900 top American college students would consider teaching if salaries began at $65,000 a year.
I read this article with mixed emotions. On one hand, teachers are receiving a heck of a beating in the media every time I open a newspaper or turn on a television, and whenever I see a prominent face clamor for higher teacher salaries (as opposed to cutting our benefits), it makes me want to go back to college, get an accounting degree, and do that person’s taxes for free for the rest of his or her life. (If only I weren’t allergic to math.) Read More →
Congratulations on getting your MBA! You are now extremely special. No one else on the planet has one, after all. The people at your new company who don’t have one, including your boss, will enjoy hearing all about it. But they’ll need frequent reminders, especially the part about how it makes you better than them. Here are some tips to maximize your effectiveness:
1. Add “MBA” to your email signature, as if you’re a PhD. This only takes thirty seconds to do, but you’ll be amazed at the impact it has. Every single time you send an email, the recipient will be reminded of your impressive academic credentials. Don’t be surprised if complete strangers start greeting you in the hallways. “Hey, look, it’s the guy with the MBA!” Read More →
- Like so many others, The Economist is talking tech bubble.
- “Position yourself as an expert” (and other good advice) is in Inc.’s 8 Tips for Using Social Blogging to Grow Your Business.
- Zipcar’s IPO last week had a good start, although the company has yet to be profitable.
- Education-bubble watch: NPR reports that for-profit colleges are targeting people who can’t pay; the SF Chron writes about colleges that market to high schoolers, even though many of the students have little chance of actually being accepted. Doing so “[swells] school coffers with application fees” and “[makes] colleges seem more selective by soliciting and then rejecting applicants.”
- The companies that organize high-school reunions are seeing a drop in attendance. Yep, it’s Facebook’s fault.
Think First Then Type, a column by the copywriter par excellence Daryl Lang, comes with tips and techniques to help you use language more effectively at work. After all, even the best and brightest ideas won’t catch on if you can’t get them understood.
Good writing is scientifically proven to enhance your sex appeal, persuade colleagues to do your work for you, and help you communicate with some of the more intelligent species of reptiles.
OK, I confess: I copied the style of that last sentence from Groupon. And why not? The fastest-growing company ever must be doing something right. Certainly, Groupon knows a thing or two about copywriting. Read this opening to a recent Groupon offer:
It’s no accident that soccer is the most popular sport in the world–it requires little equipment, is fast paced, has clear rules, and can be played while holding a baby. Witness some graceful and free-footed fireworks with today’s Groupon: for $15, you get two premium sideline tickets to any one of the Carolina RailHawks’ regular-season home games (a $30 value).
That’s classic Groupon: Begin with a quick, snort-inducing joke, then tell somebody they can save a few bucks on something fun. Groupon took a simple idea–a daily, local, social-driven coupon–and turned it into a massive business on the strength of good writing. A marketer might tell you this is a well-executed example of the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) method.
But this is not some cookie-cutter marketing formula. Groupon editor-in-chief Aaron With recently told Mediabistro that Groupon writers generate enough copy to fill a 190-page novel–every day. That’s a lot of writers employing the cheerfully weird Groupon tone that persnickety advertisers and fickle customers expect. Read More →
- Still need convincing that what you put on the internet matters? Business Insider has a slideshow of 17 folks fired for using Facebook.
- Is the funny guy you’re following on the Twitter really a… bot? [Atlantic]
- A Marist poll found that 36% of the residents of New York state who are under 30 plan to leave within five years. They’re motivated by taxes, a shortage of jobs, and the cost of living. [Daily News]
- Things Organized Neatly is exactly what it says it is.
- The author Douglas Rushkoff has argued that in the near future, being able to program at least a little is essential to understanding our world. Want to get your feet wet? Mashable has four free places to learn to code online.
- Happy Friday the 13th. Maybe today’s the day to learn about some interns from hell. We like this dialogue:
Me: Please be patient with me and all the changes I’m requesting. I promise that for the next issue, the process will be smoother.
Intern: It’s all good. You’re doing a GREAT job!
OK, so stop updating your LinkedIn profile for a sec. The results are in for this week’s poll, which was inspired by a Deloitte survey that found that nearly 2/3 of all employees at big companies were ready to start looking for greener (or at least different) pastures.
It seems as if you’re not quite as itchy to leave as the folks Deloitte talked to. True, the largest number of you, 38%, are looking to move, but you’re just passively looking. “Only” 31% of you are taking more aggressive steps to find a new job. And of course let’s not forget the 9% of you who are self-employed–it’s hard to sneak out for an interview when you are the boss, right?
When I worked in an office, the commute absolutely killed me. (Let me clarify that my last full-time job was a whopping nine blocks from my apartment.) There was just something so robotic and depressing about riding the elevator with the same sad drones every day. Getting watery coffee from the same cranky deli guy. Seeing the same tired souls dragging their asses to those lonely gray cubicles. Heavy sigh.
Now that I’m a “homey,” I come and go as I please, and I love it. While the rest of you are counting the minutes to your next Starbucks run and fantasizing about what to order from Chipotle for lunch, I get to see who is roaming the city in the light of day. I am always discovering new and interesting people, and let me tell you this–the freaks come out at noon. Read More →
- Above: The jokesters at Improv Everywhere crashed last week’s GEL conference.
- Is it 1999 again? Online bookkeeper Freshbooks stays in its primarily young employees’ good graces through “a relaxed work environment” with “few office rules.” [Financial Post]
- Everyone wants to be liked. Here are 10 strategies for getting Facebook “likes,”at least. [Mashable]
- Gigwalk is a free iPhone app that lets you apply to earn small amounts of cash (usually under $10) by doing the bidding of small businesses, e.g. checking out the competition.
- Former Event of the Week, the design competition Cut&Paste, announces its 2011 winners.
- Are your frequent flier miles increasing as fast as your gut? There may be a connection. Duh. [Time]
- The recruiter Carol Schultz shows you what makes a job ad ineffective so that you can avoid the mistakes of others. [via Mediabistro]
On Wednesday, May 25, David Holloway will be teaching a Hired Guns Academy class on How to Develop a Portfolio Career. Below he explains what you gain by using this approach in today’s highly disrupted and unpredictable workplace.
Just about all of us have felt threatened, insecure or challenged in our career in recent years. The sort of niggling feeling that you can’t just set and forget your job; the feeling that it might all go wrong if you don’t handle things with care.
Global financial crisis? Tsunami? Things that will pass in time?
Sorry, no. Read More →