Maximalism

Image by Jeff Rogers ftd. in Uppercase Magazine

Sometimes, less isn’t more. More is more.

I can appreciate minimalism for what it is: clean, simple, user-friendly design. And designers will argue that a whole lot of complexity happens behind the scenes to arrive at simplicity. But what about when you want it all out there on the front lines? Process and all. I think clutter can be beautiful too. I mean, what’s so special about a bunch of white space? Less is just, kind of, depressing. Where at least more is never boring.

If your work space, living space, or mind look anything like this < it’s ok. An explosion of ideas and materials is a great starting place. It might just take some sorting out.

Sorry if I have enraged any minimalist designers. Some days, I just want to be a maximalist. Deal with it.

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The Student’s PTSD

I was visiting friends at college, helping them with a weekend of relief between end-of-term papers and final exams. Can’t say I miss doing that last December while everyone else bakes Christmas cookies and goes sledding…

It didn’t take much to rally the troops out on Friday. I found myself in a lengthy conversation with the bar’s owner: He has a daughter my age who also has a degree in communication from a good college. She too moved back home and is holding multiple jobs, but not using her degree how she’d like. Not for lack of trying.

Really good conversation with a smart man – it sounded like his daughter is driven and bright. Yet he is helping her along, and struggling with business himself. This is not news to me. This is a small but representative sample from the public sentiment I’m gathering lately. After going through 4 years of intense schooling, grads are in shock when the job market which they enter is a wasteland.

Not to make light of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, but college grads are starting to feel the impact of the market. We emerge from college fully prepared to be thrust into a booming economy, despite the news reports. We are well-trained academic veterans ready for the job pool, but find it dry. Some of us go back to school for something to do. Some prolong their studies to wait it out. Some of us give up and go home to live with the parents. Some of us get part-time jobs down the street, but feel there is a greater purpose for us somewhere. Some of us lose momentum and lose hope. We’re just not sure what to do with ourselves and all of the newly gained knowledge and potential.

We return from university and not all of us are employment heroes. People don’t understand- Our parents wonder why we can’t find jobs and assume, “you’re not trying hard enough.” They feel that we’re frustrated, but tell us we shouldn’t complain. People want to help, but can’t. People don’t comprehend our circumstances, they just want everyone to find employment and everything to be fixed.

I wish I could predict the future, and I wish I had some good advice for emerging grads and those seeking employment. But I really can’t. Sometimes counseling is the only treatment for this sort of disaster.

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Tech in Transition

You know when people say, “This is a transitional year”? Usually they’re referring to sports teams, careers, or historical events. But think about this last year and all that has happened in the world of technology.

The Twin Cities are being closely watched as an up-and-coming tech hot spot. For good reason- we have a pocket of high caliber startups and small shops that know how to integrate everything with tech. In addition to being super specialized in digital.

These have been transitional years. Building years. Learning years. And while not everyone can afford the newest in technology, developers are nonetheless working harder than ever to assure that when we (the masses) finally can afford new laptops, phones, and tablets,  they are giving us the best experience possible. Not everything in the world of technology makes the cut: Path might be the latest in social media at the second, but not guaranteed to stick. Regardless, developers need to assure it’s up to snuff with the big guys.  The risk of failure is high in such a competitive landscape… The stakes are higher because the margin of error to succeed is smaller. These are the years we should take advantage of. Before the newest gadgets edge mainstream. When the masses are too busy with noses to the grindstone to adopt quickly.

I hope that everyone on the development front is taking advantage of these tech-transition years. Even if we’re still figuring out where technology is going, it’s a great time to make mistakes and create. And the competition sure isn’t taking a break.

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The state of the state

Minnesota is taking heat, both nationally and internally. But while we wait out the gvt shutdown, how ’bout some lighter aspects, eh?

I was rummaging through a box of old books at my aunt’s house, and decided to borrow this one.

*Note the hotdish

How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor’s Guide by Howard Mohr. It’s a quick read, thanks to the facetiously backcountry writing style.

Mohr is a former writer for A Prairie Home Companion and calls himself “creator of Minnesota languages systems.” The book was written in 1987, however many of its topics have not changed much. Everything from basic conversations, eating out, vacationing, romance, gifting, body language, road rules, gambling, music, and class reunions is covered in the guide.

Here’s one — There is an angle rule, diagram included, for how close two Minnesotans may stand while conversing. “90 degrees is the average, 135 degrees is common, and 180 degrees is within reason. Heated arguments in public places would be in the 45-degree range. Voices are not raised.” The MMDBB is “Minnesota mean distance between bodies.” Also, there are at least 5 types of hand waves outlined. Waving is a big deal, apparently. It’s very high pressure and situation-dependent. Some waves require no return wave, others require head nods with variations on eye contact. Very complex.

So we’ve heard the stereotypes “oh ya” and “you betcha,” but here are a few that I’m actually guilty of saying: “whatever” and “for sure.” 100% Minnesotan phrases. And my favorite find: “It could be worse.” In a mutual effort to not complain, we use this one when something serious happens, often accessorized with a shoulder shrug.

Since reading the book, I’m hyper-tuned into people’s accents and mannerisms. Like how local news anchors emphasize “o’s” or just how much small talk revolves around weather and construction, or how often people are passive (or passive-agressive).  It’s written as caricature, but there are bits within How to Talk Minnesotan that hold truth.

(How to Talk Minnesotan the musical)

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Rapid Cognition

The post-graduate lifestyle is not so bad. Working part-time, I now have time to enjoy summer, read for recreation, watch films, and even think.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Recently I read the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. The book is an exploration on rapid cognition. It’s a collection of case studies that break down mental processes which allow people to make decisions in a blink. Everyone does this naturally– we pick up non-verbal cues to base first impressions. We read people. The book opens with art historians deeming a sculpture “fake” upon one glance, and shifts into some heavier subjects such as military tactics, falling in love, gambling, and marital experts who can judge a relationship “doomed” within minutes. It explores some marketing studies too: Coke and Pepsi comparisons in a blind taste test, and the effects of packaging between margarine and butter. It also addresses racial profiling and walks the reader through the minds of police officers in a case of a 1999 unjustified shooting in Brooklyn. From the trivial to the issues of utmost importance, people use judgment to make decisions- and use it quickly. Gladwell calls these snap decisions “thin slicing.” We are given a little data and fill in the rest with preconceived notions and biases.

Some believe themselves to be exempt from bias. “I’m completely objective and rational.” Hmm… I think some people work harder to suppress their initial intuitions, but clearly all people were equipped with feelings and common sense in order to survive. Our comprehension is finite by nature, so it makes sense for intuition to be a somewhat reliable means to insight. “Thin slicing” can probably lead us to some sort of objective knowledge. Hopefully we have evolved past relying solely on feelings, but the message I took from the book is to combine rationale with intuition.

I also just saw the movie Crash. Talk about split-second decisions and prejudices. I think it’s good to address issues of stereotyping rather than ignore them. Crash, much like Blink, is all about putting yourself into someone else’s frame of reference and train of thought to better understand things.

I won’t spoil it; Blink leaves the reader with a call to action: to think critically and act wisely given whatever circumstances. You have gut-reactions and also a brain. So use them both. We have the power to prevent foolish decisions if we take those extra steps and seconds to fully cognize information, rather that act instinctively. It’s a really good read, and apparently a movie is in the works for this year starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It made me want to read Gladwell’s The Tipping Point too.

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“Bad” Habits

Call me an enabler, but I’m advocating for these “bad” habits. They’re just… misunderstood.

Multitasking- Being productive on multiple projects doesn’t necessarily mean a compromise of quality. Why does there need to be a downside to this one? Free time between big projects provides the chance to get little tasks done. Smart phones make it easy to, for example, download and review your presentation notes one last time while waiting in line at the bank. Does this render anyone unable to withdraw their cash? No.

A few bad apples ruin multitasking for the bunch. I’m talking to you, fountain lady.

Waiting until the next morning– It’s 3:00 a.m. and you really don’t know why this isn’t finished. Honestly, you don’t remember why you started, or where you were going with that senten… Oh yeah, that’s right. This is important stuff.

Why not give your brain the sleep it needs and take a fresh look at things in the morning. You might be surprised at the newfound clarity and direction your work takes. This goes for late night business emails as well. Save them for the morning… as long as they’re not induced by over-caffeination or sleep-deprivation.

Getting sidetracked- All work requires dedication and focus. However, hyper-extending your attention span can result in hating what it is you’re working on. Facebook breaks every five minutes probably won’t help get your job done, but going for a walk or browsing your favorite trade magazine might. Let your mind breath a little.

Use your procrastination as a litmus test. If you seriously can’t fathom having the willpower to finish a budget report, but find yourself frequently dabbling in blogs on sustainable business practices, maybe there’s some truth in uncovering what you enjoy for work. Getting sidetracked reveals your true interests.

Those are my three. Do you have any misunderstood “bad” habits?

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To the Thought Leader

Whoa – sounds like a big deal. People expect great things from you. People expect consistently great things from you. And people expect unequivocal success from you.

But what if you want to deviate from what you do best? To take a chance on a hobby or random venture when the success is unpredictable? Probably a lot of pressure to please everyone and get it right. I could make a list of the successful college drop-outs and self-starters who own Fortune 500 Companies that grew from basements or garages, but you can do that on your own. These “thought leaders” likely let a lot of people down before they knew success- by doing things unconventionally.

Honestly, I have respect for anyone who has a game plan and decides to go for it. If you pull a 180 in your career, I can usually get behind that as long as you provide sound reasoning for your choices. Some people fail miserably and are clearly not meant for things, like celebrity politicians for example. But hey, I bet Jesse Ventura still learned a lot about campaigning.

Go forth, thought leader. I support you- No pressure.

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Five things waiting tables taught me that college did not

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I have spent four continuous years as both a student and a server, and equal amounts of time studying and waiting tables. So I feel I have a pretty good benchmark to compare the two not-so-different experiences. However, these are the top five things working in restaurants taught me that school did not.

1) People skills. School will teach you “networking.” Go to a networking event with the right people who can get you a job. Working in restaurants, I naturally became on first-name basis with regular patrons. Having casual conversations with interesting people is inevitable. And there are very interesting people in the restaurant business. Relax and let connections happen. “Networking” feels mechanical and forced. I learned to always keep a spare business card in my apron just in case. Also, people can tell if you are genuinely excited about a product, or if you are just going through the motions until happy hour ends. You have about 30 seconds to sell them something, and your recommendation counts.

2) Real deadlines. Even in a journalism program, no deadlines compare with restaurant deadlines. This has made me unnaturally conditioned/immune to stress. A coworker went home sick and I have inherited five tables, plus my own six tables? can do. Someone just quit, so we need a shift covered… in fifteen minutes. on my way. We’re on a 2 hour wait list and these very important guests need to sit here now. Make it happen. ok. Real deadlines are now deadlines. They seem impossible, but they get done.

3) The customer is always right. Yes they are. With my advertising experiences, this is also the case. If a client is happy with a logo design or ad, then mission accomplished. However, if you have a more appropriate direction in mind, you can try to coach the client into a different typeface or writing style. Not so with foodies. They are the experts and if they want 40 oz of mayonnaise with their salmon, then yes of course they may have it.

4) Team Play. I’ve done a few group papers in college where the workload is disproportionately divided. I’ve also had some fantastically productive groups. Teams are essential to business success. It’s a fallacy that all servers are self-serving. That they only look out for themselves- but honestly, a restaurant can only be successful with teamwork. I care equally about the quality of service for my neighbor’s guests as my own. I expect the same from him or her. We rely on one another to help with refilling drinks and doing the little things without being asked. One person will become impossibly busy and need your help; it comes back around. There’s no time for solo missions or rockstars. Team play saves the day every time.

5) True criticism. There are those days. When you take the fall for everything that goes wrong. It may or may not be anyone’s fault, but problems happen and fingers point your way. Angry customers do not write nice little comments on an evaluation form like in school. Expect something a bit more blunt. If you’re lucky, your mentors will coach you to prevent problems, but directly and without niceties. After all, this is a business. I am so grateful to have had good coaches throughout my work and academic career. I urge other students to seek out professors who make good coaches, who push you to eradicate imperfections and give you direct criticism. There are no “easy A’s” outside of college, so take the tough lessons when it’s still ok to make mistakes in the classroom.

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Learning or unlearning voice?

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Today in class, we were reviewing notes from a #pr20 tweetchat last week. One of several big topics was how to balance achieving business objectives, with adding relevant content to online communities. Which leads and which follows? The discussion was evenly split between establishing objectives first and diving into conversations first.

Objectives are important. Without them, you’re wasting time and resources. Content is important. Without that, who cares what your brand is saying?

A lot of companies, I think, are experiencing engagement phobia. Even though they’ve researched where and when to be online to a science, they can’t seem to talk the non-marketer talk. They sort of know what to say, but default to the salesman voice out of insecurity. So what do they do to combat it?… Set a detailed schedule for tweets and facebook updates that will ensure they meet objectives. The trouble is, people can sense when voice is not authentic. People do not appreciate or respect intrusion. Objectives: Not met.

Because the social space is unpredictable and people are…people, brands need to unlearn marketing voice and revert to human-speak. Online communities will help out with directing objectives if you’re part of the conversations in relevant ways. Organic voice leads to organic objectives.

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