Should artists apologize less? Sorry or not sorry

Do artist’s apologize too much? Today’s question isn’t focused on creativity and art directly. The question of workplace apologies reminded me of an important point: artists apologize too much for their work.

It’s a process. Make something. Show it to clients and colleagues. Edit based on the feedback. Stand by your work where you need to. Love what you make at every step of the process. Many of these tips will give you confidence in presenting your work. As Tina Fey wrote:

“I feel like we put so much effort into writing and crafting everything, they need to speak for themselves. There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.”

How many artists, illustrators, and graphic designers have you met who have apologized their work? Are you sorry that you didn’t make the “right” design the first time with every bit of feedback?

Question: How do I know when I’m part of the problem?

How do I make amends with my boss when he threatens to suspend me over what he thinks is unprofessional behavior?

My boss knows I will be moving on to a new job in the summer. They have asked that I travel to sign the contract in person. My current boss got upset that I had to take a day off to do that and is threatening to suspend me … how do I make amends / apologize?

Anonymous (via quora)

There are many types of apologies. In a workplace, focus on your future actions. The concern here is following the business’s procedure for taking days off. Mention how this impacts the business and that you know the expectations:

  • “I know that ideally I’ll give more notice when I have a day off. I acknowledge the inconvenience this causes for the business. In the future, I’ll follow policy X, Y, and Z. I’d totally understand if you feel you need to take additional action. I really appreciate this opportunity and if there are any ways I can help ease the transition as I leave, I’m happy to discuss”

Do feelings matter?

Feelings are important! However, it’s helpful to keep those feelings in context. You are addressing only how this impacts the work. Only work that needs to be done within this time frame. Address availability only as necessary for your role. The expectations is to address to cause of his concern. It is reasonable to take a day off and for reasonable days off to require some coordination.

In business conversation, avoid using emotional language or focusing on feelings where possible. Relate those feelings directly to the business. For example: any mention that your manager is upset; or, that he thinks it’s unprofessional can be left out of the discussion.

Tone is important, speak with concern toward the business. This is counterintuitive. At the same time, arguing and acknowledging his point of view helps him see that you know you’re on the same side. He’ll be less likely to respond defensively.

Focus on the future

In the future, when you take a day off you do not need to inform a manager of your reason. Next time, telling your manager that you’re unable to work because you’re preparing for your new job is unnecessary. It is also fairly unusual. You’ll be set yourself up to not have to apologize by using this as a lesson. Your manager would rather not (or at least shouldn’t want to) be put in the position to be this involved in planning your personal time.

If you’re unable to figure out the policy or manager’s specific concern, then bring it up as a question:

  • “Hey after the discussion the other day, I wanted to talk about your concerns. What is our policy on personal leave?”

If your reason is not related to the current job, then it’s personal:

  • “Hey Mr./Ms Z, I will be taking a day off on Friday.”
  • “I’ll need to take a day off within the next week. Is there a day that works for you?”
  • “I’m unable to work tomorrow.”

If he or she asks why, repeat calmly as if personal days off are perfectly normal (which they are):

  • “I’lI need the day off for personal reasons. I’’ll be unable to make it.”
  • “I’m dealing with a private matter.”
  • (Speak more formally than you normally would. This sets a different expectation.)

It’s also quite unusual and kind of you that you’ve given such long term notice. Two to four weeks is fair more common. Giving notice that you’ll be starting a new job in the summer is a risky move. For this very reason. It puts both you and your manager in an uncomfortable position. Expect things to be a little awkward for the duration of your employment.

Magic words are magic

“I’m sorry.” isn’t your only option for a smooth apology, there are other magic words! The Emily Post Institute reminds us that essential words are easy to say and powerful in conveying your positive intentions. Not just for children, but for adults as well. For more words that express your awareness of kindness, consideration, and respect for others as equals we have: “Please”, “Thank you,” You’re welcome”, “Pardon me” and “Excuse Me”.

Prepare to use the words “Thank you” a lot in a place of apologies. HR pros, psychologists and business experts have noted that over apologizing in the workplace is a common concern. Especially among women and minorities.

Men and women both apologize 81% of the time when they believe they were wrong. This is according to a set of small studies published in Psychological Science. However, women tended to apologize more frequently. This is because they believed more of their actions were offensive.

No need to apologize about your perfectly reasonable decision to make a career move that is right for you:

  • “Thank you for understanding” (Even if he or she doesn’t.)
  • “I appreciate you working with me to help figure out my work schedule.”
  • “It’s been very helpful that you discuss and mentor me with your thoughts on professional behavior. I look forward to taking those lessons forward in my life and career.” (Even if you disagree with everything he said. It’s still honestly helpful to know different points of view exist)

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Are doodle makers bad at focusing?

“I have noticed, that some people start drawing things in a small notebook, every time they get even a few minutes. Why do they do this? Is it some technique to keep your mind from distractions, and always occupied?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

The research shows that yes, doodling does help keep your mind away from distractions:

UC-Blog-Square-Doodle

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Should creatives specialize or generalize? Yes

“Is it really good to be Generalist? Will it pay-off someday as it does for Specialists?

Recently came across this interesting article on Harvard Business Review: All Hail the Generalist. And was wondering what is the general verdict on this topic.”
Anonymous (via Quora)

I majored in fine art with concentrations in both fine art and piano. I remember my advisor and a trusted artist professor told me that I needed to pick a single route and focus. At this point I had really decided art was my route. Piano performance was too risky if I tied it to my financial future. I’d worry about hitting all of the right notes, both figuratively and literally. As a hobby it’s a huge stress reliever to just zone out creating music.

As my degree progressed I gravitated toward painting while working as a designer. I started both college and my job at the same time in the fall of the year 2000. My sister worked at this company in customer relations and she connected me with the position. I really enjoyed the job right away. Since I was a kid, I loved computers and technical detail. This career path merged art and computers, I’ve stuck with the career path ever since.

Engaging with your areas of interest

 “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”
Marie Forleo

How do we know when to specialize and when to generalize? Involve exploration as part of your decision-making process by taking small steps. Because of confirmation bias, we’ll tend to try to prove our own assumptions. If we believe generalization is best, we’ll tend to look evidence for generalization. The reverse is true for believers in specialization.

Many college students pursue their degrees and careers without engaging with their careers. In my personal anecdote, I worked as a graphic designer and performed as a pianist as I pursued my degree. Having a more realistic expectation for the lower salary of creative careers prepared me.

I know I’d have to take more small risks during my career and be more conscious of my spending and saving rates to finance this. To this day, I frequently test making bold designs and float my ideas that push past the limits of projects. The feedback from these smaller actions is invaluable in quickly discovering what ideas my clients are open to. In practice, I’m taking a risk by specializing in certain types of design that interest me most. At the same time, I am prepared to shift gears to more general and approachable visuals with mass appeal.

Taking small steps of engagement allows for specialists to generalize and vice versa.
“If your target audience isn't listening, it's not their fault, it's yours.” Seth Godin

Compartmentalize your skill-set to target your audience

Many apparent specialists are generalists who are skilled at compartmentalizing. Target your audience. At work as a design, very rarely does anyone need to know that I’m a skilled piano player who regularly memorizes sheet music. If coworkers ask about my above average memory, I’ll share that this is skill that has come with practice.

“If your target audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.”
Seth Godin

Often different descriptions of the same circumstance arises in different conclusions. This is a type of cognitive bias called the framing effect by psychologist. Without this bias, different descriptions wouldn’t affect the outcome.

The ideas presented differently should still equal. In technical logic speak, we might call the framing bias a “violation of extensionality”. After all, don’t “1+1” or “2” or “105-103” mean the exact same thing? I’m a designer, however, so I will believe presentation matters.

What if we had to choose between two candidates with an equal list of skills? It’s natural that a hiring manager will prefer the candidate who is able to focus and prioritize the most relevant skills. That candidate appears to be more of a specialist.

An experiment published in Psychological Science demonstrates targeting specific personality traits. The ads were deemed more effective if they understood an individuals needs. Some value openness of experience, so the ads emphasizing that strength had a bigger impact on those individuals. Extraverts were most appealed to with ads demonstrating social benefits. Understanding the benefits to the most likely listeners will make them more open to the skill set you have.

Transferable skills complicate the answer

My habit of diligent practice comes from being a classical pianist. In many contexts, sharing that unimportant background information that would cloud my message. The important part is that I’m able to transfer the skill of quickly learning and memorizing music to learning the ins and outs of Adobe Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

“Design is one of the few disciplines that is a science as well as an art. Effective, meaningful design requires intellectual, rational rigor along with the ability to elicit emotions and beliefs. Thus, designers must balance both the logic and lyricism of humanity every time they design something, a task that requires a singularly mysterious skill.”
Debbie Millman, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

A common complaint in my field is that graphic design job listings often ask for generalists. The most successful candidates realize that the hiring managers treat job posts as a wish list. For many years, I specialized working in the print and magazine industry. While working as a magazine designer, presenting myself as a print designer specializing in programming and technology expertise.

As the demand for publication design specialists changes, the ability to work on a variety of projects is a huge advantage. A generalist will be more adaptable when markets change.

Advantages of diversity

Changing market conditions change the demand for specialists during generalists. In a case study, the University of Richmond examined 134 counties and cities in Virginia looking at the impact specialization and diversity. They found that faster growth of any one industry hampers regional growth across all industries examined.

As an aside, a study by MIT economists found that more gender diverse workplaces performed better by having a greater number of skills involved.

From a market standpoint, having a balance between specialists and generalists may be the best move. On the individual level, adaptability for a variety of circumstances is possible and ideal for most people.

Readers, do you prefer to specialize or generalize?

UC-Blog-Pin-Specialist

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How does hardship impact your creativity?

Today’s Q&A Monday question asks about the link between hardship and creativity:

What is the quality of the science behind the idea that “hardship increases creativity”?

While artists and engineers can both grow by playing intellectual games with artificial constraints, is real hardship actually correlated with increased creativity and productive output?

Context: All those office perks? They’re ruining creativity.
Anonymous (via Quora)

The linked piece by Eric Weiner for The LA Times is written as an opinion piece. It’s written in that context. That said, some people who experience hardship are certainly able to channel that creatively:

However, these experiments show that creativity can be boosted by hardship. They did not find hardship necessary for creativity. Workplaces also have other factors that pure creativity: happiness, retention, and profit. Many creative workers who are simply don’t want hardship. They won’t tolerate it. The economics of business development are more complicated than simple creativity.

Many “fun” perks are popular in industries where employees have many job options. They’re also often designed to keep employees within the office longer. Even if  these employees are not purely working at all times. Making longer office hours more acceptable may generate increased overall productivity.

Amenities may be a consolation prize for the other hardships involved in very difficult work.

Readers, have you had a difficult experiences that helped with your creative projects?

UC-Blog-Pinterest-Hardship

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

In today’s Q&A Monday, methods for organizing your ideas that make it so much more convenient to act:

How do you store your ideas to be organised and easily accessible to use as raw material in different projects?
Anonymous (via Quora)

I find ways to make storing ideas fun and rewarding. I have little “rules” that help it feel like a game. The basic outline of my system includes sketching, lists and a calendar. I keep as little in my brain as possible. Delegate remembering any thoughts and ideas to the system.

Getting Things Done

I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done by David Allen and base some organization ideas on that. One of the main ideas of Getting Things Done is to write down anything you think of. Then put it in a place where you can remember it. The other principal is separating an actionable task from reference material. Actionable items are broken down into small tasks and included on project task lists.

Then the only habit I have to really have is to check the lists or calendar. It’s a lot more freeform then it may sound, basically just write things down. I have designed this “Choose Your Own Adventure” style Getting Things Done cheat sheet that I’ve hung up at my desk at work:

Getting Things Done Process Poster
Getting Things Done Process Poster. Downloadable as a pdf.

The system shown here helps with my graphic design work as I decide how to accomplish all of my daily priorities. At the same time, when thoughts drift to personal tasks and ideas that could be distracting I can quickly make a note on my shopping list.

I keep a Google Tasks app on my phone to keep lists of various thoughts, quotes, links to articles I’ve found. It’s a pretty simple system with some basic categories like painting ideas and quotes. Within each category, a lot of what is captured is in random order.

Step 1: Brainstorm using a trigger list

A trigger list is a short list of keywords that helps with brainstorming even more thoughts. It reminds me to write down ideas I may not have written yet: Boss, Painting, Bills, Important Dates, Weekly Events, Projects, Unfinished tasks. The words themselves jog memories. I jot down any and all thoughts that come to mind when reading my list. Then organize them into the above systems

Sketch when you can

How do you organize your ideas? 5 StepsSketching and doodling is one fun way I really get ideas to paper. I scribble sketches. I really like cheap spiral notebooks. I have sketchbooks where I move up to a different level of finished artwork and design. The cheapness of the notebooks helps me feel less precious and anxious about whatever I’m putting down.

A study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that doodlers remember more than nondoodlers when told to tediously delivered information (via Time.com). Participants had to listen to a fake voicemail filled with rambling information. We’ve all had to do this at some point. Even after they were removed from their papers, doodlers were able to retain more details. The researchers conclude that doodling helps focus and prevents daydreaming.

Step 2: Sort Reference Material and Inspiration

For any thought or idea that isn’t related directly to an action, task, or project I keep on lists by various category.  Joan Rivers was known to use index cards to store every joke, as she explained in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”. She would type each on index cards and file them by the subject of the joke. If it’s an idea related to landscape paintings, I have a list for that. I keep lists of quotes, articles, and all kinds of thoughts.

Blogging and social media can help!

Steal-Like-An-Artist-Cover
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

As Austin Kleon wrote in his book Steal Like An Artist, “Do good work and put it where people can see it”. I’ll often write a short blog post combining ideas from various articles, studies, and inspiration. That way they’re available for me when I need it. Often times others will have new points which help with my creative process.

Pinterest is a nice tool for storing inspiration. Anything inspirinh me on the web gets pinned. I also use it to search for visuals. For anything that has an image associated with it gets pinned.

Step 3: Keeping lists of actions

Project Lists

When I have decided on a project, I sift through the lists and put the items in an priority order. For example, if I’ve decided to paint any tasks involved in making the painting  onto my task list. You’d be surprised how much putting things in a single place can create inspiration and motivation. It really makes difficult and complex tasks suddenly feel easy

Actions include sketching out thumbnails, working out any drawings, and finally any ideas that might work through the painting. It’s almost magical how separating references from actual tasks helps me to focus. Suddenly it becomes convenient and easy since I have a clear next step to take.

A lot of procrastination happens when I don’t have a clear direction. I dread having to think through a project after each step. Figuring out the whole scope within 15 seconds of typing makes it all go by really quickly

Someday Maybe Lists

It’s also worth while to set aside ideas that aren’t happening any time soon. It’s a relief to let them go here. When you have free time, having a bunch of ideas that might suddenly become possible or appealing is also a life saver.

Context lists

Another type of organizational tool I use is having lists based on location or context. This could be “When I’m on my computer”, which I’ll abbreviate @computer. This would have lists reminding me to read a website, pay a bill, or order art supplies from Amazon. Other examples of contexts: Home, Car, Work, Bathroom, TV, Microsoft Word, During Monday’s Meeting.

Step 4: Schedule what you can on your calendars

Some ideas belong in the realm of scheduling. If you can schedule it, then schedule it. Setting simple reminders of days that would be great to sketch help me get on track. Google Calendar let’s me set phone notifications, so I don’t even need to actively check for most things

Perhaps I have an idea to do plein aire painting. Not very useful in the winter. I could leave a note on my calendar reminding myself not to waste the summer and look back into this. Having a loose plan of your day, week, or year is a really amazing way to spark creativity

Step 5: Forget the rest

In a recent episode of her podcast Happier, habits researcher Gretchen Rubin suggests to instead not organize and get rid of clutter. Some ideas may never happen or won’t be useful. Learn when to let them go as your going through this whole process. If any ideas are timely or have a shelf life, make that clear in your system.

Readers, how do you organize your thoughts and ideas?

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

 

 

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.