This post was first featured in the Management on the Mat blog on 7 May 2015. It seems appropriate to revisit it now, as I am spending this weekend listening to live auditions from TEDx Colorado Springs finalists. Refining one's message is not an easy task!
I am flying home from taking some training in a suburb of New Orleans this week. After spending yesterday in the company of creative, hard-working people, all of whom are designing web-based courses, I feel energized and ready to dive back into the fray.
When I got on the plane to go, I felt as if I had been swimming under water for a long time— not panicking, but definitely in need of some oxygen in the form of fresh perspective.
That is what I got from the moment I arrived. At the airport I met and shared a limo with three energetic, delightful women, chatting happily all the way to the hotel. That set the stage for a great experience that was the perfect medicine for a temporary case of professional malaise, from the well-designed and executed training offered by Janine Blackwell, right down to the late night pep-talk that my boyfriend gave me via telephone. The last few days really recharged my batteries in a big, much needed way. They also made some things I have struggled with for the last few years seem a lot clearer.
There were several “aha moments,” to use Oprah Winfrey’s term. I will share my biggest discovery here, in hopes that it might recharge your batteries too.
I hate to admit it, but my biggest business challenge since I finished my doctorate has been how to get my work off of Boring Avenue and on the road from stuffy to sexy.
A lot of scholars and technical experts fight this battle.
We show up at a cocktail party, where someone asks the dreaded question, “So, what do you do?”
Oh no!!! Do I talk about my passion for writing? Complexity theory? The new book? Do I mention my past in aerospace? The military ties? Consulting? Where I bought my new shoes? Quantum physics-inspired concepts??? My kids? What does he really want to know? The full answer to that question could take hours for most of us.
We try to gauge the person’s interests and needs as we fall back on the rehearsed elevator speech we have crafted for just such an occasion. Then if we are smart, we ask questions and find out about the other person’s passion, maybe even uncovering a business need or two if it is that kind of a setting.
If we are NOT smart— Danger zone!!!— We seize on any glimmer of interest to tell our poor companion so much about us that he ends up feeling like the credential fairy just threw up all over his best jacket! Yuck…
He glances around the room as we rattle on, trying to catch the eye of someone, ANYONE, to escape the vortex of boredom that threatens to suck him in. Finally, just as our companion is about to cross the event horizon, beyond which he will be irretrievably lost in polite acquiescence as you prattle on for hours, he spots someone he knows and excuses himself.
He tosses his empty cup to a passing waiter and runs.
…SAFE on first! The crowd cheers and the next unsuspecting batter enters the box, merlot in hand.
...You wind up for the next pitch!
Sound familiar (from either perspective)? (Yeah- me too.)
If you spend much time in the company of scholars, you know our love of precise language that ends up appearing to the rest of the world as mere jargon. We create intricate lace from fine, carefully selected golden threads made of words and ideas, carefully choosing concepts from the literature, which we tie into intricate knots of our own.
We romance the concepts we love the way a man in love will romance a woman.
I daresay that if concepts appreciated flowers, we would buy them!
Of course, many scholars have purchased bottles of fine wine in anticipation of Saturday night, and then lovingly settled down next to a large stone fireplace in a romantic mountain getaway, staring fondly into… the screen of a laptop!
Notebooks with pretty covers, my father’s Mont Blanc pen… these are to my writing as diamonds were to Marilyn Monroe!
It may seem twisted, but that is how many creative people see their work. It is the intellectual equivalent of a spouse for some and we love it that much, sacrificing for it and experiencing deep pain on the days when it falls short of our expectations. After struggling for understanding over many years, wrestling in the dark with deep thoughts— some of which seem brilliant at 3:00 am but are thankfully discarded in the light of day— we want the world to love our big, beautiful ideas as much as we do.
If only people understood X, organizations would be more efficient and adaptable! Work could be so much more fulfilling for so many people! …
If only I could get them to understand…
We go forth into the world of business; full of hope only to have the people who can benefit most avoid the subject, or worse, tell us our babies are ugly!
So how does one make this labor of love into something that the world can use? How do we help people see the benefits of trying on a new perspective? It’s not unlike this twist. It looks pretty cool on the surface, when someone else is doing it, but many people will never try it. Yet there are all kinds of benefits hidden beneath the surface, like the way that twisting and releasing forces fresh blood into our internal organs, improving our long-term health.
So how do I convince you to try it— the twisting of body and mind that brings in fresh oxygen and breathes new life into your organization?
My friends in sales and consulting say it is all about the language. Over the past few years, my friend Ken Baskin has consistently reminded me to lose the jargon in order to gain readers. (Yeah, Ken. I did hear you.) I have struggled mightily to step away from my deliberate, deep love of precise and nuanced language that pleases me personally so I can move toward making the human connections that are necessary to put ideas into practice.
Yesterday we worked on marketing copy, among other things, and I got great feedback and clarity simply by bouncing ideas off of smart, open-minded people from other disciplines. I rephrased several ideas using friendly metaphors and learned to better communicate in ways that trade a little of the elegance of that fine, intricate lace in favor of comfort and style that people will actually buy.
After all, what good is a gorgeous dress if it just hangs there, lonely and unused, in the back of the closet?
In many ways it was like taking off a corset and putting on yoga clothes, very high quality, beautiful ones, but garments with clear purpose and flexibility built in. The corset may be pretty, but there is a lot to be said for the ability to breathe!
So how about you?
Stuffy? Sexy? Somewhere in between?
Can you foster the human connections that get your ideas into play in the world of practice?