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.

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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)

 

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]

Panel discussions that don’t suck. Any ideas?

I’m leaving San Francisco soon for a month and a half of travel, which will happily include a stop in Boston, where I’m joining the Future of Photobooks panel discussion during Magenta’s Flash Forward Festival, and in Charlottesville, VA, where I may be organizing a panel for LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph.

As I wrote in my “manifesto” last year: I love photo events, but they kind of suck. And since I’m on my way to these panel discussions, I’m especially interested in how to make sure they don’t suck, either. (FYI, Matchstick has been tabled for the near future, but I’m still dedicated to those principles.)

Can we all agree to stop being this guy?

Ok, so I’m being a little hyperbolic, but I’ve sat through A LOT of panel discussions. When they’re good, they inundate the audience with so much information you leave feeling excited but overwhelmed; when they’re bad, they drag on while inept public speakers give overly vague or insultingly obvious “advice.”

In an attempt to improve on this scenario for the Future of Photobooks discussion, I’ve been brainstorming with FlakPhoto‘s Andy Adams and moderator Stephen Mayes. One of my ideas: Instead of each panelist talking about their own projects and providing disconnected overviews of a topic, we will each present a specific case study that we think exemplifies an important theme in the larger topic. For instance, I’ll talk about Simon Robert’s We English, a great example of how photographers can create a dedicated pool of supporters (and buyers) for a book through early online engagement.

I also love how Andy has been linking a larger online discussion to a real-world talk. For his recent Photo 2.0 discussion at the New York Photo Festival, he created a Facebook event where he asked people to send him discussion topics, which he folded into the talk. Now he’s asking his FlakPhoto Network to chime in about how best to integrate social streams with our Future of Photobooks discussion.

Do you have other ideas about how to improve the panel discussion template? Have you experienced panel discussions that worked really well, and what did they do right? Also, I’m particularly eager to get feedback on the questions below:

1. Discussion with the audience, helpful or annoying?
I’ve had varying degrees of success creating real dialogue between the audience and panelists, but I know that it’s key. Yet I often dread Q&A sessions when I’m in the audience, since “questions” are too often posed by people who just like to hear themselves talk.

2. Background Tweet streams, distracting or useful?
We are considering streaming tweets about our discussion in real-time, so the audience can comment instantaneously and content can easily be shared with those not in attendance. I often find these side conversations distracting, but I have faith we can find a way to make them work.

3. Setting intentions, too touchy feely?
I think it would be helpful to ask the audience, before we start, to take a silent minute and decide what they most want to get out of the talk. Why are they there? What questions do they want answered? That way they can zero in on the information most important to them and have a focused question to ask during Q&A. But, then, I live in San Francisco, where this kind of touchy feely stuff is totally normal 😉

I’ve Been Thinking: Emotionally involved journalism

“I’ve Been Thinking” is a new column on Hey Miki, spurred in part by my new bi-weekly newsletter. I’ve always got a few “big ideas” buzzing around my brain, maybe not so fully formed as my usual blog posts, but nagging a way that tells me there’s something important there. I’m hoping if I share them with you, I’ll be able to get to the bottom of them quicker 🙂

An image from Justin Maxon's project on Chester, PA, where he is getting directly involved in improving the lives of people he photographs.

Although I love all kinds of photography, photojournalism is what keeps me up at night (probably because I studied journalism myself). Dedicated photographers like James Nachtwey and EugeneRichards  have proven that photographs can change the tide of history. But I strongly feel that we need to refine and sharpen the way they do that for the current media landscape, which is fragmenting and/or going bankrupt at an alarming rate.

The photojournalism community (including myself) seems stuck on an old story: photographer makes image of something terrible, magazine or newspaper publishes it, people realize how bad things are and send help. Maybe part of you thinks, “How naive,” but I bet there’s another part that remembers that Nachtwey’s Somalia images led to international aid that saved 1.5 million people.

I’ve had many conversations with photographers who simply don’t believe in that model anymore. Although they still strive for fair and balanced coverage, they no longer connect to the concept of “objectivity,” and instead are actively working to change the situations their images highlight. Continue reading

How to fall in love a little with everyone you meet

 

Communicating through a screen can be hard, but a good story works in any medium. Image from video by Peter Earl McCollough.

I’ve been thinking about storytelling a lot lately. Partly because I recently read If You Want To Write by Barbara Ueland, which kindly nudged me into believing the title of its first chapter: “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” And partly because I’ve been reading a lot of inspiring writing, lately (the best parts of which I’ve shared below).

As I wrote in one of my first posts on this blog, “this year I’m determined to make friends with my lurking creative powers.” While I was traveling last summer, that largely meant publicly calling myself a “photographer.” Lately I’m remembering how much I love writing and realizing that I might make a damn good audio producer if I put my mind to it (to which end, I recently bought myself some professional recording gear).

A majority of the books I read are novels, yet I know that “documentary” storytelling will always be my true passion. Ira Glass sums up why in his introduction to The New Kings of Nonfiction, a fantastic collection of inspiring non-fiction pieces he recommends to potential This American Life contributors.

“While this is the golden age of [great nonfiction] reporting and writing, it’s also a golden age for crap journalism. And for some of the most amazing technological advances for stuffing it down your throat. A lot of daily reporting and news ‘commentary’ just reinforces everything we already think about the world. It lacks the sense of discovery, the curiosity, the uncorny, human-size drama that’s part of all these stories. A lot of daily reporting makes the world seem smaller and stupider.

“In that environment, these stories are a kind of beacon. By making stories full of empathy and amusement and the sheer pleasure of discovering the world, these writers reassert the fact that we live in a world where joy and empathy and pleasure are all around us, there for the noticing. They make the world seem like an exciting place to live. I come out of them feeling like a better person — more awake and more aware and more appreciative of everything around me. That’s a hard thing for any kind of writing to accomplish. In times when the media can seem so clueless and beside the point, that’s a great comfort in itself.”

Maybe I forgot for a while how much I love telling stories because modern mass media make our world seem less interesting to me. I’m glad I’ve been reminded by Ira and others that’s not real journalism, at least not the kind I signed up for.

Maybe I’m also scared. Telling people’s stories, especially in a way that holds the attention of the iPhone generation, is one of the hardest things I can imagine myself doing. Malcolm Gladwell explains why in his introduction to What The Dog Saw, a collection of some of his best New Yorker articles.

“The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell. I say trick but what I really mean is challenge, because it’s a very hard thing to do. Our instinct as humans, after all, is to assume that most things are not interesting. We flip through the channels on the television and reject ten before we settle on one. We go to a bookstore and look at twenty novels before we pick the one we want. We filter and rank and judge. We have to. There’s just too much out there. But if you want to be a writer, you have to fight that instinct every day. Shampoo doesn’t seem interesting? Well, dammit, it must be, and if it isn’t, I have to believe that it will ultimately lead me to something that is.”

I learned very early that the only kind of knowledge worth anything is the kind you get from asking other people questions. This passage from Ira Glass gave me chills because it so exactly describes my own experience.

“I have this experience when I interview someone, if it’s going well and we’re really talking in a  serious way, and they’re telling me these very personal things, I fall in love a little. Man, woman, child, any age, any background, I fall in love a little. They’re sharing so much of themselves. If you have half a heart, how can you not?”

If I ever taught a class on how to interview people (which I’d love to do), I might title it, “How to fall in love a little with everyone you meet.” Maybe I’d write this quote from Ueland’s If You Want To Write on the chalkboard the first day.

“[T]he only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the god, in the poet, in them. For by doing this, you keep the god and the poet alive and make it flourish.”

She is actually talking about how she convinces her students (all non-writers) that they can be good writers. In a way, this blog is a chance to listen to myself, to honor the poet, the storyteller inside me. Now that I’m thinking so much about storytelling, I realize that telling people’s stories is still daunting to me, but teaching people how to tell their own stories is anything but.

For the past several months I’ve been working with Heather Elder, a commercial photographer’s rep in San Francisco, to build her a dynamic blog and online presence. Instead of coming up with “social media marketing strategies,” I helped her define her voice, the personality of her company and her photographers, and what kind of knowledge she could share with the photo community that people would really appreciate. It’s been a great experience for both of us, especially since she’s been having great success.

People ask me a lot what I actually do these days. Being a freelancer, my work includes magazine writing, social media strategy, and curriculum development. But recently, I think I’ve finally found a phrase that sufficiently describes what I do, how I can help people.

I am a personal publishing strategist. In our internet age, everyone is a publisher. From your Tweet Stream to your self-published photo book, you are distributing a huge amount of content every day. It’s important to be honest, consistent coherent, and transparent in what you publish — so the right people find you and, potentially, hire you. That’s where I can help: by teaching you to listen to yourself with love and to share your story with skill.