24 November 2012

On knowing when you're finished.

I wrote a post for the UC blog this week about something that I've been mulling over for a while. Fenske told us once in grad school that knowing when our work was done was as valuable a skill as the specialized crafts we were learning over those sixty weeks. This wisdom popped into my head a few months ago, when I was up late working on my first proposal and was plagued by self doubt. Instead of continuing to stay up all night, tweaking and re-reading and comparing it to past proposals written by the peers that I look up to so much, I made a decision that it was ready to send in its current form, and went to sleep. So here it is on the site, and cross-posted below.

I recently co-ran workshops at a couple of graduate schools in Stockholm. At the end of one of the sessions, a series of questions from the students evolved into one of the themes of the day: Knowing when your work is finished is one of the most valuable skills.

This was very helpful wisdom to hear as a student several years ago, and it’s important for everyone in the strategy world to take to heart. Because intellectual labor is intangible and expansive – and strategy is about making things without a defined “right answer” – we can get trapped in a cycle of perfectionism and hesitancy. Knowing and deciding when your work is ready is a powerful way to avoid being paralyzed by ideas staying in our heads for too long.

Opbeat’s much-shared F**k It, Ship It image encourages the same behavior – stop worrying about failure and learn to love the Launch button – but comes from a different place. Deciding and trusting when something is ready, rather than resigning yourself to the fact that there are dozens of additional things you could add to your work, is a powerful choice that requires skill, understanding of your own mastery of the subject matter, and an ability to pull yourself out of the storm of self-doubt that can prevent you from seeing the work from a higher, objective level. Deciding when your work is done isn’t easy, so here are four ways to help frame things.

1. Know your skill level, and tweak your judgment accordingly.
I wrote my first ever strategy document in 2004. I rewrote it 15 times before it was finished. There is a starting point in any craft in which you’re learning, and it’s sometimes necessary to do things many times to grok the craft and learn how you do your best work. The more mastery you have over the thing you’re making, the easier it is to pull yourself out of the weeds and realize when you’ve got it. But even if you don’t have the sufficient hours behind you, you can use your understanding of the context, time constraints (more on this next), and audience to make decisions within the parameters you are given.

2. Use your time wisely.
However much time you have to do something, it will take that much time. Because project scopes vary greatly and you don’t always get to choose how long you spend on certain things, you have to let your skills in the subject matter inform the intensity you put into the work, based on how much time you actually have. Let’s use the example of audience research. Over the past year, we have worked on projects with three-week research work streams (the most fun), and ones with three-day research work streams. With only three days to learn about a group of people on the Internet, you don’t have the luxury of getting lost down a bunch of rabbit holes. So, you force yourself to see behavioral patterns, motivations, and archetypes more quickly, and decide when you have an intuitive grasp of that group online – supplemented with all of your existing knowledge, of course. The result will be something that is appropriate for that project.

3. Resist the paint war.
A high school art teacher once described a dangerous tipping point in paint mixing. When you keep adding more and more of each color to get the perfect shade, eventually you end up with a muddy brown-gray mess – and you’ve wasted a whole lot of paint. When you stay up all night pushing pixels around until 4AM, or trying to cram every interesting link and quote you found in your research into a deck, you can get into a never-ending cycle that increasingly binds you to the work itself rather than your mastery of the material. When you have sufficient comfort with your process and your craft, eventually you recognize the point at which you’re good to go – you have made yourself a miniature expert in that one area and can riff on it freely. Conan O’Brien put this advice perfectly in his Guide To Creativity in Fast Company last year:

My formula has always been I’m big on preparing. Prepare like crazy. But then just as you’re heading out, half an hour beforehand, forget all of it. It’s there. It’s in your reptile brain. Go out but feel loose enough to grab opportunities as they come up.

4. Remind yourself that the Internet is never finished.
Like a city, the Internet is a dynamic and ever-evolving place that is forever being built upon and modified – there will always be things you can do to improve something. The Internet as a whole has gotten more keen on this reality, which is why we don’t use “Under Construction” banners on our sites anymore. Similarly, with strategy we don’t ever want our work to be the last thing, but rather a contributing factor along the way – a starting point rather than end point, to frame and begin conversations. Keeping this in mind will make it easier to put a stake in the ground about what the end of this project looks like, and in turn where to start the next iteration.

18 November 2012

Shingai Shoniwa

I was having a conversation today about what my top 5 male and female singers were. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I'm pretty sure Shingai Shoniwa (half of The Noisettes) would be on my girl list. Atticus is one of my favorite songs ever, but I hadn't seen this live version on SPIN until tonight.

Hopefully this is needless to say, but that nearly moved me to tears. Enjoy.

14 November 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

I finally watched Moonrise Kingdom on my flight back from Stockholm two weeks ago. I knew only two things about it at that point – that it was Wes Anderson, and what the poster looked like. Neither appealed to me; I am easily turned off by the entire culture & fandom around his movies – so much so that I can forget that I have sincerely enjoyed every one of his that I've seen.


I loved it so incredibly much. It looked exactly like what daydreams are made of when you're young. If I were to run away from home and go on an adventure at that age, that is just the type of impractical-but-theonlythingsthatmakesense stuff I would have brought with me.

Tang, map, compass, pipe.


weather balloon

These are way fewer screenshots than I (or anybody) usually include in a movie post… I don't want to give too much of the feel of this movie away. A lot of the scenes are particularly enhanced by the things the characters say and the music, too, so just showing you one piece of that experience feels like when Wile E. Coyote runs past a cliff and is hanging high up in the air for a brief second before crashing to the ground. Do watch and see :)

Also, one of my very favorite songs is in it: Le Temps de L'Amour by Francois Hardy.


09 November 2012

Project 366: October

Ok guys, here it is! Again, looking at this one as a whole isn't very inspiring, but each individual picture has a mega story behind it.

Project 366: October

Here's my pick for the month --

294/366: pink dot jar

294/366: pink dot jar

20 October 2012

Went to Kiosk in search of a baby shower card with Gilles. Fell in love with this little pink polka-dotted ball. The top comes off to reveal a secret hiding place.

Not sure why I didn't write more - I go into Kiosk very rarely (for whatever reason), and whenever I do, I am entranced. It's such a curious arrangement of objects, and the collection changes quite frequently. There was a little makeshift phone booth in there this time, with instructions on how to call people to get them to vote for Obama. Each X amount of calls you made got you some little token or prize from the store. It felt like a Deitch Projects exhibit. Then this little dot jar: It looked like a lovely little ornament for a bookshelf, but the little description next to it made it even better. And the entire top half comes off to reveal that it's actually a little storage box. Still thinking about it - might take the (yikes) plunge and get the thing.

Other highlights from October: Ate clams, oysters and mussels straight from the water for the first time. Had some more work published in NY_____. Cheered Marc on in a reality show competition in which he was a master pumpkin carver (PS his team won the entire thing!). Had my final electronics class, which featured an oscilloscope. Went to Los Angeles for 24 hours and was faced with a brilliant double decker electric organ. Went to a bunch of physical therapy. Replaced the pads on my favorite headphones. Had delightful tea with Nicole in the name of research. Saw some pretty spectacular sunsets. Went to Delaware for the first time. Took a road trip to Virginia to see a close friend get married. Stumbled through a pitch-dark building after Hurricane Sandy passed. Stood in a near-empty Newark airport for one of the only flights that took off that day.

See? Eventful but strangely uneventful-looking, at least to me. Two months to go, eek!


I owe you guys a Project 366: October, but first wanted to share a little trip I took. I went to Stockholm for four days to speak on an APG Sweden panel, and run two all-day workshops with Jonas. It was an insane whirlwind of a trip, and, bookended by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, made my first time in Scandinavia's dreaminess even more pronounced.

I was on one of the handful of people flying out of Newark, the day it re-opened after the hurricane. It was a total ghost town.

305/366: Ghost airport

I took an overnight, direct flight and landed in Stockholm at 6AM. It was still dark out, and I got to see the sun rise through an express train ride into the city. I was greeted by a very familiar view, and a cheeky welcome card on my bed.

Foreign land, familiar view. Comforting.

My hotel's welcome letter features a man with a black eye. Amazing.

The rest of the trip was a bit of a blur, but included delightful things like walking over bridges, hearing a bit of Stockholm history, speaking on a panel, eating delicious food, teaching two very insightful and intensely curious classes of students (one at Hyper Island, and one at Berghs School of Communication), meeting up on very short notice with Jordan (former colleague and recent Stockholm resident), and getting caught up in many costumed crowds in spillover Halloween parties (one of them being a Clockwork Orange themed event in my hotel, full of guests in all white, suspenders and eye makeup).

306/366: Picasso vs. Duchamp

Gorgeous theatre in Stockholm

Little Post-Its man.

omg plants in water droplets

308/366: Sturekatten.

My favorite part of Stockholm was the neighborhood around the Telefonplan train station. I was exhausted on this morning, and listening to music with clicks and glitchiness. The landscape, lines, buildings, sky and general feel were the most unfamiliar to me - more industrial than the main part of Stockholm, but with a clean and angular touch that felt like Proem or Efterklang tracks.

307/366: Telefonplan

Jonas told me that a large group of building we walked around were all part of the original Ericsson campus, but that it was slowly converting into a design district of sorts - design studios, galleries, and even Hyper Island all live there.

A huge thanks to Mike for linking Jonas and I up for this, and to Jonas for being a fantastic host and colleague for this project - I hope it can happen again.

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