In which I tap back into my creativity.

A couple of years ago I noticed something while watching Mumford and Sons perform on the Grammys. Specifically it was the energy of their performance and the pure enjoyment they seemed to derive from it. Now it’s something I always watch for in live performances. It’s not always there, but when it is, it creates in me a desire to experience that joy of creativity and performance.

There was a time in my career which required me to rely heavily on creativity. Early on I moved from an Operations role to a Sales role. While I knew the products, I had no Sales training or experience. I wouldn’t get any for while either. I was just kind of thrown out there.  So I made it up as I went. When I hit the road, it was just me and my customer. And it was exciting. Each call required subtle variations in my performance.  In many ways I was on stage and using my creativity to succeed. And within that creativity I felt energized.

And I did feel like I had an audience. That audience provided feedback that was immediate and, often, direct. I was performing and their gestures, body language and other responses told me exactly how I was doing. I could use that feedback to gain better results on both that sales call, and the next. Over time I became very good at reading my audience and then very good at Sales.

But, over time, you know what you need to do and the creative demands on you to do it are less. I also got promoted and placed further away from the customer. Management requires its own kind of creativity but it certainly didn’t have the challenges or rewards of customer interaction. Eventually I found myself looking around asking: “where did the fun go?”

Now cycle forward a few years. I started to get back in touch with my inner geek, more as a matter of stress relief than anything else. First it was more comics, and then I discovered Heroclix. From Heroclix I got back into other games, including Dungeons and Dragons. One thing D and D encourages is role-play and I happened to have a DM who was really working to pull that from the players. The first step was creating my character and then his background. As I worked with this, I got really excited as the creative juices were flowing. Then I decided to run my own game, which required even more creative output. Finally, I started this blog. Suddenly I had regained the creative outputs I had lost. With that renewed creativity I felt that joy that had been gone for so long. It wasn’t work related, but work at least provided the financial foundation to feed my game habit.

So where do I go from here? At 45 the second phase of my life is beginning to unfold. I’m now faced with decisions about how I want to spend my next 5, 10, 15, and 20 years. The big question I ask myself is “where do I go from here?” What will drive what I do next? Do I pursue money, safety and security? Or do I step out of my comfort zone and try to find a way to earn a living in a way that lets me further tap creativity? Right now I have some ideas I’m working with. This blog is part of that. I plan to enjoy the ride and hope you do as well.

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In Which More Geek Speak for Business is Contemplated

My recent entry on using Geek Speak in meetings was pretty Star Wars centric. So I thought I’d take another crack at some strong geek catchphrases you can work into your next staff meeting.

Worfed

The most underappreciated crew member on Star Trek The Next Generation is Lieutenant Worf. As Head of Security you would think his voice would be an important on the bridge. But Worf is nearly always disregarded if not outright told to shut up in many, many episodes! So how does that apply to your staff meeting? Well, there’s always that guy who brings up an idea or makes a comment that is always disregarded by your boss. We have that guy, you know you do too. Like Worf, he’s often right, but that doesn’t really matter. Every time he brings something up he immediately gets “Worfed,” shut down without consideration. Think about it and you will see what a great post meeting discussion it will create.

Getting Worfed

The Big Bad

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each season had “The Big Bad” that Buffy had to defeat. While she rarely had a confrontation until the end of the season, The Big Bad’s presence was always felt. Now how might you use this in a meeting? Well, despite all your team’s best intentions, there’s always some part of the firm that will blow up all your best laid plans. Usually that’s Legal who will tell you that despite all the good reasons to do it, it’s inadvisable, risky or flat-out illegal (you should probably pay attention to that last one). But, there’s an even more insidious way to use it. Let’s say someone has a great big idea that, for you, is nothing but a source of extra work. As the idea gets discussed, throw this out there just as the excitement for the idea reaches its peak: “Well, sure, it’s a great idea, but The Big Bad will shut it down as soon as he sees it.” Momentum is immediately killed. Go back to your desk.

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

Firefly is a never-ending source of good quotes to use it work. This one doesn’t even need much explanation. Let’s assume you have developed the next big idea. You’ve discussed it with your colleagues, they’ve bought in, and now you’re presenting to the boss (and perhaps The Big Bad). The presentation is going along well when suddenly one of your colleagues unexpectedly, but predictably, dooms your presentation by raising one issue they didn’t bother to mention to you. You can mutter under your breath: “Curse your sudden, but inevitable, betrayal.” They may hear it, they may not, but you’ll feel better. Now go back to your desk and play with your dinosaurs.

Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

Why, oh why didn’t I take the blue pill?

In The Matrix, the Blue Pill was the one that took you back to your safe existence. The Red Pill took you even further down the rabbit hole. There’s always that opportunity you have at work to take the big risk, push that new idea or take that promotion. Many times Red Pill will work out just fine. But then again, you could get Worfed right in the middle of your presentation. As you head back to your seat feeling rejected and full of remorse for stepping into the line of fire, you can mutter to yourself: “why or why didn’t I take the Blue Pill?”

I’ll be back

Looking back through it, this is a pretty cynical post today. Corporate life can’t be all rejection, betrayal and bitterness can it? Of course not. So next time you’re pitching in that meeting and you get shot down or one of your colleagues stabs you in the back during a meeting, hold your head high. Then as turn your back to them and walk proudly out of the meeting mutter in your best Ahhhnuld impersonation: “I’ll be back.”

That’s all for this week. Can you think of more? Drop them in the comments below.

-Thanks to @cobiegoesboom for some of todays quote ideas

In Which Geek Speak is Used in Meetings

One of the more interesting aspects of being a geek in the corporate world is that sometimes people don’t “get” your humor. Geeks are some of the funniest people I know.  I appreciate the dry wit and the ability to work movie quotes into nearly any situation. My facility with both forms is what gets me into trouble from time to time.

What brought this to mind was a meeting I was in last week in which we were discussing a colleague’s new role working with social media. The big joke in the room was that he would be the Chief Tweeter. I happened to know that he had a personal Twitter account. I (and probably you) have seen many flubs on corporate Twitter accounts where someone thinks they’re posting from their personal account and instead do it from the corporate account. So, using a combination of my Twitter knowledge, insightful wit and geek fluency I said “Good luck, but make sure you don’t cross the streams.” Dead silence. I’m thinking: “really, really? Nobody got that?” Cue snickers (directed at me) and looks of incredulity. Now I have to explain the joke and the Ghostbusters reference which only made a bad situation worse.

In truth I usually catch myself before speaking geek in the conference room. But, there are so many great lines that are so appropriate for so many work situations. It’s just a shame to limit these opportunities. So I thought it might be helpful to quote a few great geek movie lines and outline their proper use in the executive suite. And by the way, I’m not going to reference the movie these are from.

I sense a disturbance in the Force.”

If this is to be a primer, we should start with an easy one. Now, how to use this at work? Let’s say you have a big project underway. You’re close to it, or at least closer to it than your colleagues and the people above you. You’ve just some to the realization that something ain’t right and this project is about to go south. But, instead of telling everyone it’s about to hit the fan, you can come at it sideways. As you give the project update stay positive, but toward the end roll out: “Project status is Green but, I sense a disturbance in the Force, so I’m moving it to Yellow until we better understand it.”

Meat Shield

Sure, we geeks have lots of uses for this phrase in-game, but the concept is prevalent in the corporate world. Let’s continue on with the scenario above. Once you’ve identified the problem, what’s next? Decide who’s accountable for the problem. There’s always someone key to the project that’s out of the office or at least not in the meeting. In your meeting prep, agree with your colleagues on which person or department will be the “meat shield” when you roll out the bad news. Let them take all the hits while you and your colleagues come up with a solution.

There is do or do not, there is no try.”

Let’s face it. Every organization has any number of whiny Luke Skywalker wannabes on staff. “I can’t meet that deadline” is really no different from “I can’t lift that X-Wing out of the muck.” You’re the wise, experienced manager who has seen much come and go. In these situations just roll out “There is do or do not, there is no try.” If nothing else it gives them something to think about. Want to really leave them wondering? Say it in your best Yoda voice.

There is no spoon.”

Now, as a manager, you will occasionally demand more from your team than they think is possible. They’ll come into your office with a thousand different reasons why the project can’t be done or the deadline can’t be met. Most of those reasons will be eminently logical. So, your responsibility is to change their perspective, teach them to look at the problem in a new way. My suggestion? Look them straight in the eye and say: “there is no spoon.” They’ll figure it out…eventually.

Many Bothans have died to bring us this information.”

In an era of corporate downsizing and doing more than less, there are a lot of impossible tasks and deadlines to deal with. Your team may have worked late nights and weekends to complete a research project or to figure out why the system bombed and the company lost a ton of revenue. But now it’s your turn to shine when you present this to the leadership team. You’re a good guy and you want to ensure people to know how hard your team worked. So as you fire up that Powerpoint, turn toward your boss and colleagues and begin with “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” The beauty of this one is you can use a shortened version when announcing layoffs: “Many Bothans died.”

This can’t be all of them. Leave your suggestions in the comments below

In which I contemplate a new acquisition

I used to travel quite a bit for my job, at least 2 weeks a month for 3 or 4 days a week. Business travel is a mixed bag for me. It is nice to see new places but I usually don’t have (or don’t make) the time to actually enjoy them. What I don’t like though, is being away. Being away from my family, being away from my bed and being away from my hobbies.The good news is, as I’ve risen through the ranks (leveled up?) I’ve gained the ability to control and limit my travel. Which leads to the topic of this blog post.

This week, I learned that I’m going to be working on some additional projects. It’s a good thing,but it will mean more travel, especially at the beginning. So as I’m sitting there with my boss, discussing this, one thought randomly enters my mind: “I’m going to need to buy a good gaming laptop.” And as this pretty important conversation goes on, my mind keeps circling back to this gaming laptop: “What kind should I get? How expensive will it be? Will my wife mind? How stupid is this? Get out of my head stupid gaming laptop!” Fortunately, I was able to push this thought back and really focus on the conversation, which turned out pretty well.

So why do I “need” a gaming laptop anyway? You see, I’ve played City of Heroes with roughly the same group of people every Wednesday night since the summer of 2007. Back when we started I was traveling more, but I had a laptop that could handle the game. Those days are long past. And I really like playing with this group. It’s probably the longest sustained geek/nerd gathering in my life. while I’ve never met any of these people in real life I consider them good friends. It’s not something I want to give up on. It’s my version of Bowling League night or the group I golf with every Saturday. And y’know, I get to pretend to be a superhero. How cool is that?

This whole situation is a great example of how bifurcated my life is. Banker by day, geek by night. When people find out what I do (banker guy) they think that’s who I am. They fit me into a neat little mold of who I should be. But I’m not that guy. Don’t get me wrong, I am very good at what I do but given infinite resources, I wouldn’t do it. What I love is games, comics and science fiction. That’s who I am and I think that explains why my thoughts wandered where they did. It’s a great opportunity for me but I’m always going to view it in terms of who I am and how it impacts my passions. I’m OK with that.

So, I’m going to wait and see how this thing plays out at work. And I guess I’m going to start pricing gaming laptops. They can’t be that expensive, can they?

And being a geek, my eyes were opened.

I don’t intend for this blog to touch on politics but it is an interest I have beyond gaming. But as I read this article over at the NY Times I began thinking about how gaming has affected my worldview. The article itself deals with the inability of Congress to compromise despite most American’s alleged desire for them to actually do so. What’s interesting in the article, is the authors thesis that American’s really don’t want compromise because they have so little of it in their own life. The reason, it goes on, is because America has become so self-segregating. We tend to hang out with people who share, support and reinforce our own views. Anyway, read through it, it’s fascinating.

So what does this have to do with being a geek you might ask. Well, one thing geeks share is being geeks. It’s not a political or religious position. We share a common interest in sci-fi, comics, gaming or whatever. And when we get together we talk about those things. As we get closer we also talk about our families, our jobs and our lives. I find that when our conversations get to that level we come from very different political, religious and financial backgrounds.

As I’ve noted, I think I’m outside the typical geek demographic. I’m a corporate banker and regular church goer. By rights, I should be out at the club or on the golf course or some such nonsense. But I’m not. Where I have free time I’m gaming, surfing message boards to be a better gamer or planning my next D&D session.

My geek related activities expose me to a very different group of people than I would experience if I restricted my circle of friends to my work colleagues. I know I’m the better for it. I am constantly amazed as I go through my work day with what my colleagues believe is “regular” or “average.” They base their beliefs on what they encounter in their day-to-day lives and it’s not the life of the average person. I think my “geek side” has opened my life up to people who are not “like” me at all. And through that experience I am able to bring different perspectives to work discussions which ultimately (assuming people actually listen) will make us better and more attuned to what the world is really like.

The more I think about it the more I realize how fortunate I am being a geek. It’s made me something of a square peg in a round hole professionally, and as a result my perspective on the world is far more balanced.

Back into the “real world”

Another Gencon has come and gone. As I get ready to go back to work this morning, I expect the requisite jokes about my ever rumored costume, geeks, and nerds. When you work with a bunch of bankers whose hobbies run along the more traditional lines of golf, baseball and tennis you know they just don’t understand.

There was a time when I was more worried about that. As a matter of fact, until a few years I was a closet geek. I didn’t really tell people at work or at the gym what my hobbies are. I was a bit embarrassed that my interests didn’t fit with who I was during the day. I was a bit like Batman, corporate guy during the day, but something else entirely by night. As I hit the local comic shop near my office, I did more than one check over the shoulder before entering. When asked, “What are you doing tonight?” I would likely respond, “Getting together with friends,” never, “meeting with some guys I met through a message board to play Heroclix.” When I was taking the days off for Gencon, I’d be “taking a long weekend before the craziness of fall.” I’d even snicker along with the rest about the geeks rolling into town.

But a few years ago I decided I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore. Now, admittedly it’s been a bit easier as comic book movies have become the norm and video games have it the mainstream. But there is still a world of difference between hitting the movies to see Spider Man and hitting the comic book store, between playing Madden and sitting down to roll some dice for D&D. I’m still not your traditional banker. The last thing I want to do is play a round of 18, I’d still prefer to roll some 20s. But as I tell my colleagues, some people golf to relax, this is what I do.

Now, they still look at me like I’m crazy. But at least I’m honest with them and honest with myself. Now, if I could just get a game of D&D going over lunch…