How do we stay connected with new people?

In the Artist and Designer Networking Guide, I discussed many tips on how to connect with other artists. Meeting new people is the first step Now what do you now that you know them? That’s the question for todays Monday Q&A:

How do you continue after having met new people?
Hi folks, I love your ideas on meeting new people. But how can we become friends or continue from there? (I don’t mean finding a partner or lover.)

Anonymous (via Quora)

How do you form deeper connections with others? Be genuinely interested and curious about the people in your life! Have the courage to be the one who follows up. Being human as we a;; are, we fear the vulnerability of reaching out. Interest creates opportunities to follow-up. Reaching out feels less scary if we know it’s something the person likes.

Having interest in others is not as one-sided as it sounds. Empathy and thoughtfulness are traits that you bring to the table. Listening is a key idea in conversation, relationships, and friendship. Contact me saying “Hey remember the other day you mentioned you love art! Want to do dinner at Place and then check out the new Art Show at Gallery?” Wow I’m impressed! You know what I like. And you gave me an easy plan to say yes to without me having to do the work of asking a billion questions. And you treated me like a grown up who can make suggestions if I need to.

“We teach best what we most need to learn.”
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

We’ve all been there. The new school. The new job. A new town. Old friends move away or caught up in other parts of their lives. I’ve experienced all of those. It’s not easy. New things never are. Here are some tips I’ve squeezed out from my experiences:

Tip 1: The cool thing about respect

Perhaps there was radio silence for a week or so. Rather than just sending a blank “Hi”, bring something to the conversation. “Hey you said you were going to have a big meeting last week. How’d it go!”

In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey borrows the concept of the “Rule of Agreement” from improvisational comedy. With this rule, we agree with other people’s right to their beliefs by thinking “Yes”. Even if you disagree with someone, we’ll earn respect by being respectful. If we respond negatively to most things, we’re not very fun to be around. Who would be your friend, the guy who says “No, that’s a stupid idea!!” or the one who says “Oh yeah? Why do you think so?”

Agree to disagree. A cool thing about respect is that it’s okay to disagree! Close friends don’t agree on everything. We don’t want to walk on eggshells feeling like we can’t be ourselves. Especially not around our friends who are supposed to be a positive force. Awesome friends are people who will say “I totally hate tennis, and I get why it’s awesome and fun for you!”

“Social fallacies are particularly insidious because they tend to be exaggerated versions of notions that are themselves entirely reasonable and unobjectionable.”
Michael Suileabhain-Wilson

In his article on the “Geek Social Fallacies“, Michael Suileabhain-Wilson touches upon disagreement. The first two fallacies discuss how many of us feel we must be agreeable or even people-pleasers. It’s okay to not like everything about everyone. You don’t have to like anyone or anything. Accept not being interested in every friend’s every interest. Having respect for someone’s interests is a different concept than agreeing.

If a friend hates tennis, they will be supportive when they can. They still won’t want to hear about tennis all of the time. Friends won’t always be a positive force either. Neither will you. The idea is that you’re adding to each others lives when you feel you can.

Tip 2: Choose to contribute

Tina also discusses the improv concept of “Yes, AND”. Be an interesting person with your own passions, dreams, and goals. Learn to be comfortable adding to conversations. Add in both expected and unexpected ways.

The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.

Experiment. Experiment by bringing up subjects with waiters, customer service workers, and coworkers. You’ll get to see a variety of reactions. Some individuals will be delighted to jump on a subject. Others will be uninterested. Many will be less excited to talk one day and in a better mood the next.

When you test the waters, you’ll get to witness how the response rarely just about you at all. Most of us wish we could embody sunshine and rainbows and bring joy in every action. Sometimes though, I just don’t feel like going to a movie tonight or talking about my weekend. It’s not personal.

Get outside of the box and keep trying new ways of connecting.One experiment found initial evidence that people who sing together as an icebreaker are more likely to become friends over time.

Believe it’s not personal. Some days I may have the energy to explain “I really love seeing you and I’m tired, so not up for hanging out. Let’s plan for next week on Friday night.” Other days I’m exhausted, it’s just easier to trust that other people will understand if I say “Not tonight.”

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Be honest and considerate. If you’re still very unsure, be honest about not being clear. Just ask! Practice asking follow-up questions with kindness. “Hey New Person, I’m getting the feeling that you might not want to see this movie and if so that’s okay! Am I reading things right?”

I feel closest to people who understand that I give my time and energy to them freely. It’s tempting to be demanding when feeling anxious. Resist that urge.

In the book “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”, Chip and Dan Heath float the idea of taking small steps to test your assumptions. Asking questions, listen to the answers, and if they fit with the actions. Practice leaning toward the benefit of the doubt. I’ve learned to underreact to hinting. Hints or perceived hints lead to miscommunication. React without jumping to conclusions.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
Elbert Hubbard

Is your new friend honest? And are you? A paper in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships discussed a strong relationship between authenticity and connection. In a study of young girls, those who strive to be honest and open with friends and family were happier and had greater self-esteem. It makes sense that their connections were more meaningful and intimate. Conflict is inevitable. Honesty in conjunction with consideration and respect is the best bet for dealing with it.

Tip 3: I’m often wrong and a great person

There will be some new people you meet who you hoped would be a great friend. Then it turns out that you’re less compatible than you thought. That’s okay!

“There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”
Tina Fey

Some people you may never see again. That is okay! If plans or connection or friendship doesn’t happen, it’s because it wasn’t right for both of you. It’s not because anyone did something wrong. You both show up, you be yourselves, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Even if you both had the ability to act perfect, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll connect in the exact ways you’d hope to.

So what if they aren’t your new best friend. Sometimes you make it on each other’s Christmas card lists and rarely much else. Maybe you just comment on each other’s Facebook posts. This may be someone who you just see when you hang out with mutual friends. Perhaps you’ll just check in every few months or in a year just to have a nice online chat.

Have various activity partners. Some are friends who just like to get together for a certain activity like for a painting class. You might just have a dinner a few times a year or every year and catch up. You both love the renaissance festival and that might be the one time you hand out.

As the last of Michael’s Geek Social Fallacies suggests, friends don’t need to do everything together. Like with any investment, diversify. We can’t be all things to all people. We can’t expect any one friend to be all things to us.

“There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate.”
Linda Grayson

There’s no such thing as a perfect friendship. There are no prizes for perfect friends. Unless you want to have trophies made and hand them out, which would be hilarious. I have all of these kinds of friends and they’re all awesome.

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

Is an open space office the best for designers? No.

“On the topic of new office spaces, is it better for creative designers, animators, motion designers etc, to sit together in open space or rather in their own separated spaces?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

Different individuals have a different tolerance for different environments. Individual desires change how work spaces impact creative output. There are studies that show the trends. An open office has the disadvantage of being a one size fits all solution. The premise is that managers place employees into a space of a certain design. Once they figure out building design, won’t workers collaborate and create naturally?

Collaboration issues may perhaps be solved with new required steps and goal-setting. Everyone in the company has to have a clear expectation for the cause and effect for certain actions. How is thought rewarded and encouraged? How can we make decisions about new ideas? How do we make working together least scary?

I have worked in a variety of shared spaces. I’ve worked in a community newspaper newsroom, a mixed used open office, smaller 2-3 person shared spaces, and in a completely a private office. The newsroom was surprisingly easy to work in. Everyone was very focused and professional, with our tasks being very interconnected this made speaking aloud fairly easy.

The mixed use space was most difficult for me. I could overhear most conversations. These had little to do with my own work, so I had very little reason to collaborate. It’s like being invited to a 5 day, 8 hour meeting each week. Almost all of which has little do with my projects.

Privacy in open office plans

There are artists and designers who don’t mind or even enjoy working in view of others. Think of the plein air, street and caricature artists who frequently create with others watching in awe. There are also others who work in private studios, only to reveal their work only when ready.

Does the work of artists require more or less privacy than other types of workers? Having separated office spaces is dubbed “Architectural privacy” by psychologists. It is connected to “psychological privacy”, the feeling of control over ourselves and social interactions. This is according to study released in 1980, before the current boom of more open spaces.

A lack of privacy is connected to decreased productivity. Employees are aware that they can be overheard. The may feel judged for their interactions. This decreases the amount of risk many will take during conversations. In a more traditional office, , my personal experience was that there amount of serendipity in hallways and running into familiar faces was casual and enjoyable.

Do we build relationships as one group or in our individual responses? When I had either a single person office or two- to three-person shared office, collaborating with members in other areas wasn’t an issue. It was easy enough to email, call, walk, or arrange meetings when they were necessary.

Employees who move from a traditional private office space to an open office space tend to be less satisfied. That’s what a detailed 2002 case study of a Canadian oil company found. They measured feelings, relationships, and performance. These employees were significantly less satisfied in all tested areas.

We all have different needs. Extroverts will be less impacted than introverts, who are more easily distracted by noise. In this experiment reading comprehension to be most significantly difficult with background distractions for introvert. Creative productivity is impacted by positive social and group contexts. Introverts are generally more sensitive to external stimulation.

Health risk with an open plan

“Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. They’re associated with high staff turnover. They make people sick, hostile, unmotivated, and insecure.”
Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Noise is a factor. With five experiments, scientists demonstrated that a moderate ambient noise such as that a crowded coffee shop enhances creative productivity and performance. A higher level noise reduce participants ability to complete creative tasks. Even at moderate noise levels, productivity decreased on tasks that required more detail-oriented work.

What about physical health? If mental health wasn’t enough of a factor, sickness was also found to be more common in open office spaces. The study compared seven office configurations and found open office and shared desks to be the most risky.

Case Study: Pixar

Pixar made huge efforts to balance these factors when building it’s office spaces. Pixar President Ed Catmull described the details in the opening section of his book Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Encouraging employees to take ownership of their private spaces was one of Steve Jobs’ goals. As the company is filled with passionate artists and programmers, each decorated their workspace with their own style.

“In overseeing both Disney and Pixar Animation, each studio has a unique culture.”
John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios

The layout encourages community by having multiple lunch areas and paths which all meet in the center. Various spaces accommodate the idea of projects and require work best with different team sizes. By filling the space with large white boards and different furniture layouts, the entire space becomes more interactive. Large Pixar character models help break up the space and make it feel less formal.

A table provides an interesting example of the thought of each detail relating Pixar’s culture worked with their space. Again, from the book Creativity, Inc. A more traditional and good looking table within one conference room emphasized an artificial hierarchy. With leaders sitting at the head of the table, employees were noticeably intimidated. The solution was a round table, modeled in concept after King Arthur. This way all who attended meetings were equals.

A more blended situation combining the best of traditional and open spaces seems to be the solution. Consider embracing the company culture and individual needs. Find ways for artists to experience privacy and avoid noise. At the same time, they found ways to encourage teamwork when needed. A review system allowed for regular discussion and health constructive criticism. Pixar built systems that have opportunities for collaborating rather than relying on the pure serendipity of a seating chart.

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

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.