Starting up and moving on

Since writing my last post, in which I entreated readers to join me for a collaborative project, I’ve let this blog fall largely silent. Here is why: I realized one day shortly after writing that post that the collaborator I’d been looking for was right in front of me, my boyfriend Jackson.

When he and I put our heads together, we came up with a much larger project than I had originally imagined. I wanted to teach creative professionals how to collaborate more effectively; but what if we could help them find the best collaborators to begin with?

That’s a problem I’ve helped hundreds of people solve through endless emails, Facebook posts, and phone calls. Now there is a single platform to help us all keep track of our trusted contacts, ask them for collaborator recommendations, and keep up with the most exciting projects across many industries—we’re calling it Dovetail.

Starting a web company with your significant other struck us as unusual (and difficult) enough to warrant a blog of it’s own, so we created This Starts Now, where Jackson and I write about this whole start-up thing. Between that and actually starting up, I don’t have enough time to keep up with Hey Miki, so I’m taking a hiatus for the foreseeable future.

I hope you’ll join me at This Starts Now, and sign up for updates from Dovetail if it makes sense for you. I’m unbelievably excited about this new endeavor—knowing you’ll be following along and hopefully offering your insights is the icing on the cake.

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Will you be my collaborator?

WHAT IS the single most important skill you can develop to ensure success in today’s economy? According to this brilliant Fast Company article (and my own experience), the answer is…adaptability.

“The new reality is multiple gigs, some of them supershort, with constant pressure to learn new things and adapt to new work situations, and no guarantee that you’ll stay in a single industry.”

But what exactly does it mean to be adaptable? Is it really a skill you can learn and hone?

My gut says yes. But it also says: “Learning to be adaptable is not just one skill, it’s lots of complementary skills developed together.” One of the most important of those skills, which I believe encompasses many others, is the ability to collaborate successfully.

Collaboration & Adaptation: One coin, two sides

If you’ve followed this blog or my newsletters, you’ve undoubtedly heard me talk about the importance of collaborative skills, but let’s break it down further. I’ve identified six broad tools you need to excel at collaboration. Here is how each one can also help you adapt to a fluid new world.

1. Know your strengths (and weaknesses): As job titles disappear (or are routinely invented) and bios become more important than resumes, it’s imperative to know exactly what you offer, why your offering is the best, and why people would want you to pay you for what you’re offering.

2. Find & engage influencers: Now that you’re more likely to create your own job than interview for it, your potential clients, co-workers, and customers are everywhere. Identifying and creating an authentic connection with them is the foundation of today’s successful marketing and sales strategies.

3. Ask the right questions: As I like to say, in our present state of flux, no one is an expert—which means everyone is an expert. It’s not enough to take one workshop or hire the “it” consultant; you need to be asking everyone you meet the big questions that relate to your business and passion.

4. Define goals and meet deadlines: When your customer or client is a moving target and your own services are constantly evolving, you have to be able to quickly and clearly establish goals for all stakeholders, strategize action items, and then build trust by meeting agreed upon deadlines.

5. Communicate successfully: The writing on the wall says that soft skills (largely interpersonal ones) are king in today’s economy. In our super-connected world, you must deeply understand your own communication preferences, be aware what other people hear when you talk, and be comfortable with a variety of communication modes.

6. Learn from experience: The barriers to entry for almost every industry have crumbled in recent years—if there’s not a freemium web serviced doing what you need yet, there will be in a year. That means the new model includes lots of experimentation, and potentially lots of failures. Those who succeed will be able to take them in stride, learn everything possible from them, and then carry those lessons forward to the next experiment.

So, collaboration skills are also adaptability skills. But let’s not forget that collaboration skills are also incredibly valuable in and of themselves. I see dynamic professional collaboration as an important way for self-employed creatives (in particular but not exclusively) to create sustainable businesses where they don’t burn themselves out working alone, in front of a computer, doing five people’s jobs while also balancing a family life.

I’m looking for collaborators

I’ve wanted to help people become better collaborators for a while now. This is the year I get intentional about it (and make it into a self-sustaining business).

I’ll be dedicating my blogging to collaboration, refocusing my website around it, and working to develop a curriculum, eBook, and traveling workshop circuit within the year. I’m jumping into a handful of collaborations myself and creating case studies with successful collaborators around the world.

I’m so excited to get started on all this, but I’m missing one big thing. Collaborators!

I truly believe in the importance of collaboration, of dropping the “me against the world” attitude and asking for help when I need it, so it’s only natural—and necessary—that I find one or more people to join me on this adventure. Might it be you?

Some things I’m looking for in a collaborator: Someone with 5 hours a week they could dedicate to an exciting but unpaid opportunity; someone who likes the idea of running their own business, if they’re not already; someone who loves to help people, talk to people, be around people; someone with expertise in curriculum building and teaching, web design and eCommerce, and/or business financials.

If you’re interested, I’d love to hear from you at miki@mikijohnson.com. And if you would have expected me to email you directly and ask you to collaborate, please get in touch anyway. I could email 100 people I think might be interested, but I’ve learned that my network knows more than I do, so I’m letting it do its thing.

{UPDATE: It’s been called to my attention that I seem to be asking people to do work for free. Well, I am, but with the potential to build a business with me that will eventually pay both (all) of us. I am pretty sure this endeavor won’t make me money for the first year (other work pays my bills); I’m looking for someone who can afford to take that risk with me. The distinction between “collaborators” and “employees” is one of the big ideas my curriculum will tackle, for exactly this reason.}

A few important questions

To help us figure out if we’d make good collaborators, I’m including a short questionnaire below, with my answers. Please include your answers in your email. Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

1. What are the most important qualities you can contribute to a project?
I’m good at taking in large amounts of information from different sources, synthesizing it, contextualizing it, streamlining it, and sharing it in a clear way with a specific audience. I’m good at getting people excited about things and helping them move forward on stated goals. I love talking with people and connecting people and do it constantly.

2. What skills or areas are you hoping to develop and grow into this year?
I want to learn how to create curriculum, how to truly teach (not just talk at), how to take people’s understanding from point “a” to point “b” and give them the tools to change their lives based on that shift in thinking. I also want to truly feel that I “own a business,” instead of “freelancing” or “being self-employed.”

3. What are your three preferred forms of communication?
I love speaking face-to-face, which has recently included a lot of Skype calls. I get so much energy from other people, from their excitement, from seeing the gears turning in their head as we talk. While this is my favorite, it can also be exhausting, so I do it less frequently. I also like brief, direct communication that includes email, IM, and text, depending on how urgent the question/request is and how likely the person I’m communicating with is to be at their computer. Finally, I’m a big Facebook fan. I love being able to seamlessly share great things I find online, as well as pictures of food I cook, events I’m attending, and questions for my network.

4. How would you describe the role you most often take in group projects?
I used to be a leader, but today I’d say a facilitator. This can often mean taking the lead, setting a schedule, and getting people organized, but it’s more in the service of the group’s needs and goals than my own vision of how we should proceed. I’m more interested in harnessing collective intelligence than focusing on my own.

What did you do this year?

From left: Working on a blog post at LOOK3, my third birthday tattoo (of an archaeopteryx), practicing my wedding speech.

I finally picked up my journal a few days ago and immediately wrote this question: “Why haven’t I been writing?”

Over the more than 20 years I’ve kept a journal, this question has come up a lot. I know by now that I am constantly flowing through cycles where I will discipline myself to write every day, feel naturally compelled to write once a week, or will not write at all for months. Yet I’m still trying to figure out why this happens when it does.

If you had to choose one word to describe my work, it would probably be “writer.” I edited my high school newspaper, studied magazine journalism in college, and have written for magazines, blogs, and creative clients ever since. (And aren’t we all writers now? I must write around 100 emails, text messages, and Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr updates a day.)

But I more often describe myself as an editor. Because, for me, writing has always been about filtering the world around me through my own thought process, then retelling it in a way that facilitates understanding. I know the root of this lies in my personal journaling — where I am most often trying to work out what’s going on inside myself by putting it on a page, and therefore examining it from a slight distance.

So, getting back to my original question, I know that I write less when I am not in extreme emotional turmoil (which I thankfully haven’t been) and when I’m not starting a new project (which often triggers a more intellectual turmoil). I also learned while traveling last year that I’m not good at writing while experiencing lots of new things (like when I quit my job and travel for five months). I seem to be able to either experience or write/process, but not both.

This brings me to another question: Am I not writing because I’m in the middle of a journey? If so, it’s one that I am unaware of (or was, until I started writing this post in my head).

After being on a very literal journey for months last year, it took a while for me to recognize the subtler journey I’ve been on this year. I started to see it when I made myself write down all the Things I’ve Done This Year:

1. Attended a 3-day silent meditation retreat
2. Helped start and facilitate a group of women creatives
3. Hosted an experimental collaboration event while visiting NYC
4. Broke up with my boyfriend
5. Moved out of our apartment
6. Lived out of a storage unit for five months
7. Moved into a new apartment
8. Built a wood canoe with my dad
9. Made a multimedia video of building a wood canoe
10. Live-blogged LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph
11. Spoke at Flash Forward Festival
12. Spoke at PartnerCon
13. Started a newsletter
14. Worked with 10+ new clients
15. Taught a class on social media for small business
16. Was a bridesmaid in two weddings
17. Taught cooking classes for my friends
18. Took a workshop on radio interviewing and became friends with The Kitchen Sisters
19. Did a video interview for the Musea Blog
20. Did a video interview for Heather Morton’s speaking tour
21. Was a remote guest speaker for John Kaplan’s social responsibility in journalism class
22. Modeled for a figure drawing class
23. Went to Mexico
24. Joined a Women’s Sacred Dance Circle
25. Went deer hunting with my dad
26. Got a tattoo

When I got to the end of this list, I thought: How could I have thought I wasn’t on a journey (or, equally silly and also something I imagined: that I hadn’t accomplished very much)? Sometimes I just have to write it down before I can see it.

Now that I’m finally settled in a new apartment, with all my things around me and an awesome roommate and a big kitchen for me to cook in, I’m feeling the calm space I need to write again. Possibly even the centeredness I need to commit to writing every day, whether I feel like it or not.

Whether or not writing functions for you as it does for me — to help clarify and process — I recommend taking some time before the end of this year to make a list of all the things you’ve done. Things you don’t do every year, things you did for the first time, things you’re proud of, things that left a mark. On January 1 our eyes will all shift forward, so now’s the time to look backwards, which is often the only way to really know where you are right now.

You already know the answer

As an introduction and because people keep asking about this video: My dad and I went to Northern Ontario a few months ago to build a wooden canoe from scratch….in 8 days. Needless to say, it was a lot of work. But I learned so much, and it was such a treat to have unmitigated father-daughter time, the long hours and sore back were worth it. Below is a multimedia video I made of the experience. It’s a rough, early attempt, so cut me some slack on the production quality, please 🙂

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=26353983&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=00adef&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

I haven’t felt much like writing lately…too much work, too much distraction, too little time to sit down and process, let alone write about it coherently. But I when I got off the phone with my dad the other day, I finally felt my fingers itch for the keyboard.

Since returning to the Bay Area in July, my work as a freelance branding/social media consultant/coach has taken off. I’m pleasantly surprised by how people keep finding me, getting in touch, asking if I can help them…and then me being able to. It feels good, but it also feels like I’m one of those jugglers riding a unicycle on a tightrope: just keep moving, keep the balls in the air, don’t look down.

Another opportunity has presented itself recently, one that is really exciting, seems to collect all my disparate talents in one project, and is a chance to work with a small team of people I could not respect or like more. Like most exciting projects like this, it presents a less than clear path to me getting paid, at least for the first few months. Yet to do it like I would want to do it, I’d need to do it full time, letting go of the freelance work that would pay my bills.

Sitting here pondering this dilemma, I did what I’ve done so many times before: I called my dad. I told him what was up, that it’s a great opportunity but the money might not be there. Like a good parent, he told me I was worth the money, and if they were worth working for, they’d find it for me.

Maybe, maybe not, I said. But this just seems like the perfect thing. It uses all my skills, it’s people I really want to work with, it gives me a chance to feel less scattered, and, and….Well, then, there’s your answer, he said. You call me up, you don’t know what to do about this job, and then you tell me all about why it’s so perfect. You answered your own question.

And he was right. And part of me knew that would happen if I called him. Then he said something even better.

This is just like how we used to do your geometry homework, do you remember? I didn’t. You would bring me some problem you couldn’t figure out, and I had no idea how to do it either, but I would just go back to the chapter before and start reading it. You’d start explaining it all to me, and by the time we got to that question that was stumping you, you’d say, “Nevermind, I figured it out.”

Wow. You know what you are, dad? What? A facilitator, I said. He laughed.

I’d never thought about where my own attraction to, and gift for, facilitating had come from, but this was clearly the root of it. I’ve learned that you cannot answer people’s questions for them, so the best kind of teacher helps you find the answer for yourself. So do good friends and family. Facilitators help us feel safe enough to try things we don’t know how to do; they help us gain confidence in our ability to make our own decisions.

Who are the facilitators in your life? Have you called them lately?

Hi, Social Media, nice to meet you

This is NOT a photo from my RenCenter class, but it is from a presentation I gave at the Apple Store last year. Can you tell how red my face was because of that silly mic-headset I had to wear? Thank goodness the RenCenter didn't have one of those 😉 Photo by Matt Baume.

I taught my first class on social media for small businesses July 18 at the very cool Renaissance Center in San Francisco. (You can sign up for the second class here. )

There were so many great questions, and such a wide range of online experience, that I found myself running out of time before we’d addressed all the information I’d prepared.

For that reason, I promised to put up a post here on my blog, so people could ask specific questions that I will respond to (in the comments, please). Plus, anyone who wasn’t in the class can benefit from the discussion as well 🙂

Here are the slide presentations for my first class, as well as the second, more advanced class on August 2. If you press “play” on the first one, you’ll be able to listen to an edited version of the class, synched to the slides. If you just want to read them, you can use the “forward” and “backward” arrows. I’m still happy to take questions in the comments of this post.

And here are links and important quotes from several posts that relate to what we talked about in the classes.

Stop Selling, Start Connecting

“You would never walk into a room and, without introducing yourself, assume that everyone wants to hear about your latest greatest thing would you? Most of us will spend time actually listening to people, finding out who they are, and gaining their trust before we try to sell them our AmWay products. Just because it’s technology, that doesn’t give you carte blanche to abuse people with your sales pitches.”

The resume is dead, the bio is king

“If you’re a designer, entrepreneur, or creative – you probably haven’t been asked for your resume in a long time. Instead, people Google you – and quickly assess your talents based on your website, portfolio, and social media profiles. Do they resonate with what you’re sharing? Do they identify with your story? Are you even giving them a story to wrap their head around?”

What is a brand?

“So what is a brand? A brand is a promise. It is whatever people think, feel, trust, and believe you, your business, or your product will give them if they buy from you. It exists inside people’s minds, out of your reach — yet it’s a big part of why they buy from you.

Logos, colours, fonts and words are simply how you try to convey your brand’s promise to people. Thus a “brand” is a promise and “branding” is all the tangible things you use to express that.”

“Why” not “What”

Every single organization on the planet knows what they do. You know the products you sell and the services you offer. Some organizations know how they do what they do. What we think makes us better or stand out from our competition. But not many organizations know why they do what they do. And by ‘why’ I don’t mean to make a profit. I mean what’s your purpose, your cause, your belief. Why does your organization exist; why did you get out of bed this morning; and why should anyone care?”

Press Releases for Bloggers

“I went to drinks with the Brilliant Online Publicist one night, and asked her how she did such a good job while everyone else was failing. Was she clairvoyant? No: she just actually READ MY BLOG and knew the kind of things I liked to write about. How did she have time to give so much attention to the needs of a then relatively small website? She told me her secret: she only publicizes to eight blogs. She picked the eight blogs that covered her client’s subject, TV, that she liked the most on a personal level, read them religiously, and only sent them only the content she thought each blog would be into.”

Trust Agents (Trust Economies e-Book)

“The edges between work and social life are blurring. People are shifting their social network into their work networks and vice versa—business associates and childhood friends, side by side. We prefer to buy from people that are like us. You like Batman movies? Me too! That may not always be enough to move a sale, but it shows your human dimensions.”

New Media Professionals

A Tumblr I keep as a way to remember useful social media articles that I generally agree with. This is a simple list of links that I update every couple of days. If you want to dig deeper into my “suggested reading,” check it out.

Resources (not exhaustive, just a few I mentioned)

 

Men Being Emotional

I hope Ariel doesn't mind me turning her into a bit of a metaphor ... going through my pictures from LOOK3, I was struck by this image of her, surrounded by men who tower over her, yet at the center nonetheless, in the spotlight.

I spent last week at LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia. I contend that LOOK3 is the best photo festival in the U.S. (if not world); however, I’m not exactly impartial. I helped organize last year’s LOOKbetween, a symposium for young photographers held in LOOK3’s off year, and liveblogged, Facebooked, and Tweeted for the festival this year.

I could go on about why I think LOOK3 is so great (limited attendance, small town setting, inclusion of younger photographers, passionate heart, amazing organizers), but I particularly want to talk about something I noticed in the talks and slideshows at this year’s event…as someone (I wish I could remember who) said to me after talks by Christopher Anderson and Ashley Gilbertson, “Today could have been titled, ‘Men Being Emotional.'”

Chris kicked off Friday’s Masters Talks with his usual thoughtful eloquence, focusing on his latest work, Son, an extremely personal project centered on his family (wife, young son, and ailing father). Ashley followed with an impassioned talk about his years of conflict work and especially his most recent project, Bedrooms of the Fallen, which quietly but undeniably demonstrates the price we pay for war. Their presentations were mentioned as a festival high point by almost everyone I met.

This got me thinking about photography that is more emotionally present, something I wrote about a few weeks ago here. There seems to be a trend, with photojournalism in particular, of going beyond an objective capturing of “who, what, where” to a subjective account, seen through the photographer’s own emotional lens.

Now, there is nothing to say that this is necessarily a movement from “male” to “female,” but I do think that to be emotionally engaged with your images you have to be vulnerable (a big idea in my life right now). And I think it’s fair to say that vulnerability is associated more with women than men, that it is something we are more inclined toward, or, probably, more encouraged by society to feel and express.

Which brings me to the second high point of LOOK3: the closing-night conversation between Sally Mann and Nan Goldin. Sally opened with this: “It occurs to me that Kathy Ryan put us here on stage together for a reason. We are perceived to be so strong and unflinching. Yet, I know that I’m fragile as ash. And I have the perception you feel the same.” And things only got more raw and more real from there. (Read the full conversation here.)

They admitted they envied each other’s lives, they commiserated about their work being dubbed pornographic, they talked about their pussies (and I don’t mean their cats). A few times I wondered nervously what the men in the audience were thinking. But then I thought, who cares? I’m sick of women acting like it isn’t hard to work in a male-dominated field, of not wanting to admit we’re vulnerable because it further calls attention to our “femaleness.” There was something so empowering and exciting about seeing these talented, wise, proud women talking just like they would if they were alone. “This is really how women talk to one another,” I thought.

What triggered my final “aha” moment was a slideshow presented on Saturday night: Steve Giovinco’s On the Edge of Somewhere. The artist’s description reads, “I photograph psychologically intimate and emotional relations between couples,” and the voice over clarified that the couple in the photographs was Steve and his wife. I liked the work, but I kept thinking, “This is just like Elinor Carucci.” Elinor’s My Children was shown a few slideshows ahead, so I doubt I’m the only one who saw the resemblance.

I don’t want to get myself in trouble by saying there is a “female” way of making photos, but if we had to draw some pattern from contemporary women photographers (at least in the fine-art world), it would be of making personal, vulnerable images, often of themselves or their loved ones. And here was a man doing exactly that! Women entering any male-dominated field have long been influenced by the men already there: insisting they are “just like men” or else working in conscious contradiction to “maleness.” I wondered if that flow of influence is starting to reverse?

Even more exciting is the idea that, like most walls in our modern society, the one between “male” and “female” art and artistic subjects/approaches is coming down. We are all given room to be vulnerable if we want, to make “family” photos that are still respected by the industry, or to do the opposite, if that’s your thing. More freedom and less pigeonholing can only be a good thing for art, right?

Stephen Mayes – Liveblog from Flash Forward

 

Stephen Mayes, Managing Director of VII Photo and one of my favorite photo thinkers, is presenting a lecture titled, “Restructuring the Photographic Process,” during the Flash Forward Festival today, June 3, at noon EST.

If you’d like to see what he has to say but can’t join us in Boston, please check in here, where I’ll liveblog his talk and any subsequent discussion.

[liveblog]