Friday, September 21, 2007

Creative Time & Space

Little scraps of paper with messages scribbled on them...notebooks with paper that crinkle when you flip pages because the ink is applied with such mugs...framed photos of family and friends...maps, twinkle lights, coloring book rip outs...Every desk and office space is unique. How each of us work is unique. Some can exist in pure chaos, others like myself need everything in its proper place. Our own idiosyncrasies are what makes the work space - and ultimately what makes the place ours and a place to work productively and perhaps even relax.

Despite having a category and neat file folder for every paper under the sun, it's not to say I can't make a mess. The more room you give me, the more I take up. Once I had a 1000 piece mailer to get out the door. Label each envelope, stuff with letter, give to boss to sort and affix with post-its, give back to me so they may take up 10 square feet of floor while I fold and stuff rosters, posters, and invitations in the appropriate envelopes. How I kept them straight I'll never know. How I managed to not get stepped on, kicked or screamed at, I'll also never know.

That's how I operate with huge projects. I take up an entire space. At the end of the day it all gets put away, piled and a neat To Do list awaits me the following day. My boss stopped and stared at me on a few occasions, maybe once asking if I knew what I was doing and I assured him I did. He (thankfully) stressed and fumed quietly to himself for the duration of the mail stuffing to be relieved in the end that despite the seemingly chaotic state of it, everything was in tact.

Probably also making him raise an eyebrow were the decorations that garnished my working space. Prior to this job, I worked either in tiny cubicles or at a desk assembled in squares or rows, elementary school style. There was no room to decorate, hang pictures or otherwise express one's creativity. In this place, I had a little alcove - a nontraditional space, but that was OK - with a window and two walls! A dream come true. The boss was a creative fellow, OK with the idea of adding personal style to the space (he had some interesting things adoring his space and we later put glow in the dark stars all over his office to celebrate Halloween) so I added some curtains to the drafty window, my Hello Kitty calendar, my framed charcoal drawing, a few Wassily Kandinsky prints and the cork board with all my important office papers. I mentioned the more room, the more I take. Well, later there came a side table for my printer, a lamp, twinkle lights on the window, a remnant glow in the dark star, etc.

Now I will say this in my defense - everyone needs at least one job where they can freely exercise their creativity, even if it's slightly eccentric. We didn't have clients parading through our space so perhaps if we did, I would have stopped at the framed prints on the walls. Years of hiding bouncy balls and trade show toys in drawers, of having push pins fall out of cube walls and frames fall off the side of my "school" desk came to a screeching halt here.

But the burning question here is: With my ability to take up the entire office on a project, paint the town (or alcove) red with my energy and creativity, did I work smarter? Did all this craziness make me an efficient and productive employee? Do such splashes of personality make anyone a better worker?

In my seven years of working, I'll say - it takes a combination of the tangible and intangible, intrinsic and extrinsic to motivate and excite an employee. It's a lot of Psychology combined with Organizational Behavior/Management (and probably why so many employers mess it up). The fact is - I'm already a responsible, accountable go getter of a person. I know what I needed to be doing daily. All my additions to my space only made it more personal and fun to physically drive 40 miles a job I already liked. And for the jobs I didn't like so much, infusing my space with a little personality sparked creativity and brought a smile to my face and pushed me onward. Any marketing coordinator will also agree when it comes to assembling mailers, collateral, packing for trade shows - you really do need space to lay out components and visualize your inventory. It's not all about decor or how one organizes her head, but it helps being able to exist in a comfortable place for you. Moreover, I found it refreshing to be around people that embraced creativity. I felt the energy even when I interviewed - and hauling the long drive home thought, I could work here.

The day in December 2003 when it snowed and I was 3 hours late getting there, I stayed until 7 that night, all alone with my my mailer (and twinkle lights), quietly finishing one element of the project. I didn't need to stay, but I wanted to: He didn't give me hell for the inclement weather, for living 40 miles away and surviving a treacherous drive, I wanted to put the time in, I knew with everyone gone for the night, I'd have the place to myself and I could concentrate and I wanted him to come in the next day and see I made a significant dent with the mailer!

Come to think of it, that guy still has my light up, bouncy, noise making bouncy ball. He didn't confiscate it. No, he loved it so much when I showed it to him, he asked to keep it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

On The Spot: The Allusive Elevator Pitch

How many times have you heard someone tell you that you need to perfect your elevator pitch? I'll never forget my first job out of school - I was working at an IT consultancy in October 2000 and they dropped me off at the Valley Forge Convention Center to work a trade show two months into working there. One the one hand, I was happy for the experience (to learn about the industry), to see the fruits of my labor (I set up that 10x10 booth and wrapped those candy bars with homemade labels) and to collect tons of fun trade show toys (like little bouncy light up balls). On the other hand, what did I know about IT consulting? About portals? About our clients? Nothing. I stood in the booth, panicked, and asked my HR recruiter for the elevator pitch. It's my worst nightmare to go anywhere unprepared and conferences and shows can be the most intimidating - booth visitors putting the cute little cheerleader on the spot - just because they can. I'll be your cheerleader. But I'll be smart as a whip.

Perfecting your pitch is tough. Sometimes it takes years. I believe this is a combination of knowing our products and services, how they work, how they benefit our clients, self confidence, and an ever changing landscape of our businesses. It isn't just about saying what we do as a business or independent professional. It's about engaging our listener - showing instead of telling, keeping things simple, but still telling a story. Because after all, elevators are small cramped awkward spaces - like so many initial encounters.

Up until this point, no one could even offer me a starting point on how to craft the allusive pitch. Tons of articles in INC, Harvard Business Review and other publications tout its importance, but never have I come across a writer who says This Is How You Do It. These are respected journals - why can't I find what I need? What's useful to me as a small business owner? Stop talking about what it is and why it's important and show me how! My prayer was answered. I came across this Elevator Pitch How To article posted on the American Management Association's Leaders Edge and for once someone drills the elevator pitch down to its basics and shares some useful tips and real examples of how to develop and fine tune it. Mark Wiscup, I thank you for making something that's so daunting and unattainable a realistic, challenging but reachable goal.

I'll be working on mine this week and I'll post it here with little annotations so we can see how closely I followed his tutorial.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

All That Jazz

OK, so I've been obsessed with jazz of of late. I go through phases where I'm really into classical, into bluegrass, into cheesy 80s for my workouts (it's true), but over the last few weeks I've been enjoying the local jazz radio station near me in Philadelphia, WRTI 90.1, and unearthing some fabulous internet radio stations and You Tube video performances.

First, slink over to East Village Radio and check out their program lineup. Right now I'm listing to the podcasts of The Speakeasy. It airs Friday nights at 12 midnight through 2 a.m. I don't think I've been up that late since...I was 25. That was some time ago. So rocking the podcast on iTunes I am. It's terrific modern chill jazz.

I'm also sharing a video of New York City's Waverly Seven performing Charade. So cool they are, I'm wondering why I am sitting here in front of a PC when I should find some hole in the wall jazz lounge to enjoy the performance. Alas, I will have to wait until November when they grace the baby Grand at Wilmington's Grand Opera House. A show not to be missed. Enjoy.