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Tina Fey Improv Rules for Your Career

I just finished reading Tina Fey’s book Bossypants. While I picked it up as a good-humor, man she is so cool read I have to give her credit for tricking me into reading a self-help book for your career.

She's my new role model

From figuring out who to hire and how to act (or not) in an interview Fey offered a nice spin on how to make it in (show) business as a woman. One section in particular caught my attention and I am going to focus on it here…

Improv Rules And the Workplace

Rule #1–Agree

Always agree and SAY YES. In improv if you decide you are on a train, your partner doesn’t change it he or she goes with it. Respecting what your partner created helps innovation and ideas thrive.

Rule #2–Not Only Say Yes….Say Yes AND

You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. Contributing to the conversation and ideas helps solidify you as a team member and it helps you learn.

Rule #3–Make Statements

Basically, don’t ask questions all the time. You put pressure on your scene partner to come up with all the answers. Statements are about confidence. You want to be part of solution.

Rule #4–There Are No Mistakes…Only Opportunities

Improv is essentially going with the flow. If you stop to explain what is really happening you lose the momentum. Not every project is going to go as planned. Learning to adapt makes you better in the long run on the job and helps support a better working environment.

The Path to Creativity

Most of our lives consist of habits. We walk/drive to walk along the same route. In meetings, we sit in the same seat and at restaurants, we order the same dish.  Generally, if you do something right and well the first time it is a good idea to do it that way again.

Unfortunately, that reliance on memory can also hinder your creativity. Psychologist Tom Ward calls the use of memory in problem solving the Path of Least Resistance. In his research, he finds that when he asks people to be creative, they are still strongly influenced by what they know.

So how do we spark creativity? Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin recommends the following:

  • Place constraints on the problem. This may sound a little wonky. We often think it is best to have as few constraints as possible to be creative, but the focus may allow you to maneuver through solution quicker.
  • Inject some randomness. Create a solution that incorporates an element that is selected at random. The randos keep you from using solutions you already know about.
  • Add distance. There is a fancy psychology theory that says the further you are from something, the more abstractly you think about it. Markman suggests thinking that you have to create a solution to your problem that will be used in another country.
  • Do it for someone else. Try to imagine solving the issue for someone else.
  • Experience new cultures. Adapting to and learning about new cultures helps new memories and ideas form. This helps people become better at seeing that  any problem can be approached in multiple ways.

A Look in the Mirror

I recently had one of those come to [INSERT RELIGIOUS BELIEF PERSON HERE] moments about how I perceive my career. I have been working for what seems like forever, but what really is just a little more than 3.5 years.

During that time I have held jobs at two VERY different agencies. So far, I have learned a lot about the industry and working with clients (still lots more to learn). I have also learned that as much as I try to fight it, I am a freaking hard on myself.

I don’t know if I chose to benchmark myself against people who were the exception and not the norm, but I decided that I needed to reach certain points in the road on this ridiculous schedule.  Let me be clear, I am not sitting at my desk every day with the “pathways to growth” booklet open and placing a check mark next to a skill if I have completed it.

I am just saying that I set these expectations for myself and when I don’t reach them in the timely manner that I feel I should be—I spiral and I spiral hard. My perception of my skill set is completely morphed. I focus on the fact that I forgot to do something for one client. I notice that for whatever reason developing a budget is still a foreign concept that can take me hours and it still won’t be right. I look at the fact that there are times when I probably look and sound like I want to slap the person giving me feedback.  (I once got a review that said I considered myself a creative and that creatives don’t receive feedback well. I have NO IDEA what that meant.)

I DON’T focus on the fact that my bosses think I am a strong presenter, that I handle clients relatively well and can look a “social media” specialist across the table and go toe-to-toe on a strategy. (At least that’s what I heard in my most recent review.)

So why is it that my “self-awareness” stops at my faults and doesn’t include my strengths? Maybe it’s because after a brainstorm I once overheard a VP talking about how I shouldn’t have even spoken up because I was an intern (it was said with such disdain) and I didn’t know anything.  Perhaps it’s my own insecurities of not wanting to sound arrogant (because man do I hate arrogance).

At any rate, I need to learn to be my own advocate. I have to reevaluate whatever these goals I have for myself and somehow stop comparing myself to others around me. I can’t lose sight of some of the things I need to work on (I am looking at you budgets and attitudinal Laney), but I also need to pat myself on the back every now and then when I do something great.


The Pains of Having a Job?

Health.com reports on a new study showing that some jobs are so demoralizing that they are actually worse for mental health than NOT working at all.

Maybe it is the nature of being in the PR industry, but with so many friends bouncing from one job to the next these days this data doesn’t really surprise me. You may be out of work and the first opportunity that crosses your path seems like a godsend. You may even be in a place that you just need to get out of. In the end, you make a rash decision that leads you to be unhappy.

A lot of this plays into what I wrote about a few weeks back. Bad bosses will make anybody unhappy and stress can actually stem from bad managers.

Don’t get me wrong, your work has to be challenging (in a good way), but if anything this study shows that we really have to be careful about weighing our options before jumping in feet first.

The full Health.com article can be read here.

Relationships Keep ‘Em

The PR industry has two significant challenges—a high level of staff turnover and a strong demand for a multi-skilled staff.

Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found the number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs far exceeded those released by companies.  According to a December 2010 Right Management survey, 84% of respondents intend to actively seek a new position in 2011, and another 11% are networking or updating their resumes; with only a handful remaining at their current job.

So why do employees quit? Opportunities, salary, challenges and growth are all common reasons. Perhaps one of the main reasons though, is poor management. Because having a good manager can actually help minimize all those other reasons.

Studies have shown that talented employees will quit a job due to the relationship with their manager. Selecting the best people for key management roles, rewarding good management and constantly training managers, an organization can create a good work environment and ensure a low employee turnover.

There are things managers cannot change. They can’t grant career moves or more pay easily. But employees thinking about leaving can often be retained by other means. If they feel genuinely valued and appreciated by their manager they will feel a stronger sense of loyalty. By giving them more interesting work and learning opportunities, many employees who might leave will stay around, at least a while longer.

Maybe not this close, but you get the point

Deep communication is the real secret of employee retention. Career satisfaction is critically important to employees and they need someone who will listen supportively to their hopes and concerns. This needs to be the manager, not someone in HR, because the manager-employee relationship is critical to long term employee retention.

Hindsight is 20-20: Prepping for Corporate Life

During a recent #u30pro chat, I commented that I wished college taught us how to handle corporate politics.

The concept itself isn’t something new for me. When my alma mater did a survey two years ago, it was something I mentioned they should add.

While I got a few responses, the one that got me thinking the most came from a former (and favorite) professor…@rdwaters.

He said it was possible the reason more true workplace scenarios aren’t taught is because the students would whine and complain. It really got me thinking, as a junior (when I was in his class) would I have really wanted to learn more about working in the business world.

It wasn’t my only class. I was working part-time. I wanted to enjoy myself…I mean it was college.  As Dr. Waters pointed out to me, most students don’t snap to attention until their last year or even last semester.

I guess there are some things you have to learn through experience, like when to speak up, how to ask for a raise and how to deal with that one co-worker that just irks you.

Is my hindsight clouding my judgment? Or was there really something I could have learned in college?