My dream job

Storm cloud | source: instagram.com/dtgriffith/I was recently asked by my friend, former MFA classmate, and successful entrepreneur Joe Klemczewski, PhD, what my dream job is in terms of stepping into a company and how I would contribute to improve it. This is a question I’ve heard in various forms on job interviews, which has never been easy for me to answer. After reviewing what I had written in my response to Joe, I thought it would be worthwhile to share and elaborate on my final dream job answer here on the blog.

While it’s hard to pinpoint a specific dream job title and role, I want to ensure that I am contributing in a meaningful way, like helping employees by creating growth opportunities and a positive culture, giving back to a community through volunteerism and donation of goods and services, and improving the business’s bottom line, of course. That said, I would take a holistic approach to any type of business, big or small, by addressing the following broad areas:

  • Branding, which includes public perception that goes far beyond logo design and corporate identity, such as how employees interact with the public, how products or services are presented, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
  • Publicity, public relations, and corporate communications. These tie directly to branding, in how brand initiatives are communicated internally among employees, and externally for promotions and in crisis situations, to name a few.
  • This, too, falls branding umbrella: the elevation of products or services wherever there is an opportunity to improve public perception, improve quality, and increase profitability.
  • Work with marketing, sales, and creative teams along with other stakeholders on strategy to achieve the above points.

Within the points listed above tactics and projects would include, but are not limited to: all forms of advertising, web and social media, print and out-of-home media, streamlined internal networks like CRMs to support these initiatives, implementing collaborative tools for employees to improve productivity and efficiency, improvements to the product and service development and management, and corporate storytelling.

I realize this is a broad scope description of a dream job with several functional verticals, but it is how I perceive businesses I become involved in. Everything listed above can be boiled down to my two core skill sets – creativity and communication. These endeavors are applicable to large multi-national corporations and small independent book publishers – the objectives and thought-processes are the same regardless of the scale and the methods are adaptable.

Some may call this commercial development or holistic branding; I’m sure there are more that aren’t coming to mind right now. No matter the term, this is what I do … this is my profession.

 

 

 

 

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Am I a horror writer?

question mark coverI’ve had stories appear now in six horror anthologies. Some of those books, in full disclosure, I had a hand in designing the covers or page layouts, though completely separate from my story submissions and inclusions. A few more horror-genre publications containing my work are on the way to print in the next few months, but I still often wonder whether I am truly a horror writer.

Before anyone lambasts me for such a self-serving ponderous statement, I’m being completely honest about this question, and this is my personal blog. All organization and personal blogs are self-serving regardless of their intents and purposes, don’t blind yourself to this one truism.

Thing is, I never set out to be a horror writer. I am always drawn toward dark material for the books I read or TV shows I watch, which in turn influences or inspires what I write. I’ve tried my hand at happy stories and they never feel authentic to me. Difficult decisions, personal conflicts, and imperfect flaws that lead to dramatic and usually tragic conclusions are what drive me. They are sometimes allegories, other times criticisms on or responses to our current day culture and society. The messages may not be obvious to everyone, and I don’t expect them to be; they typically serve as starting points from which a story takes on its own life. As a story should for every writer.

These statements or criticisms on the world, our society, or our culture come from a perspective of gritty realism, they are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They just are. The world exists as we shape its existence, both good and bad. This perspective spawns the perpetual evolution of my creativity: a dark point-of-view mired in grit and horror; a creative process carried by a glimmer of hope that challenges an ominous darkness and crushing fear. Think Baroque music and painting. Think Gothic architecture and literature.

Looking back at these paragraphs I just wrote I realize just how subjective it is to define one’s work in any particular genre. This is art and not science after all, there are no mandated axioms on the natural world’s behaviors that dictate creativity, just concepts and ideas.

So my stories may not contain much gore, graphic sex or violence, or the standard supernatural creatures that account for many horror movie and story tropes, but they do contain accounts of mental anguish, trauma, shock, and the deterioration of one’s mental faculties. In that sense, these attributes are real life everyday horrors of the human experience, whether they are set in a dystopian backdrop or a current-day real-world environment that may or may not be affected by a supernatural influence depending on the protagonist’s perspective.

The answer, then, is yes. I do write horror.

Banksy, my quiet hero

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised Source: independent.co.uk

I already knew Banksy’s arrest was a hoax by the time The Independent published the story, but I’m happy to see an artist receive on-going international attention, even if it was due to the publication of a completely false news report.

The Independent: Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist’s identity has been revealed

Banksy has struck a nerve in the global collective consciousness and I love it. I almost as equally enjoy laughing at the poorly misinformed National Report, which seems to dig for dirt on anyone who doesn’t coalesce with their political agenda while not vetting the source material. They reported on the arrest hoax as if it was a true event, detailing his alleged crimes of counterfeiting and vandalism. The undertones of the author’s excitement exuded from each account of how bad a guy Banksy is.

This isn’t nearly a one-time thing with National Report, for those of you not familiar with the agenda-driven publication, wrap your head around this headline from October 8, 2014: “Potential Ebola Outbreak Prompts Martial Law.” The president did not declare martial law. It never happened. There is no ebola outbreak in the US. In fact, it was announced yesterday that several dozen people were just removed from the ebola watch list in Dallas. Read this USA Today article for more about the good news.

It’s saddening to think our culture has produced the need for fake journalism that has only one purpose: propaganda. Rile up the base, persuade new readers to hop on the ideological bus ride into the abyss! When authentic information can’t sell an audience, the subject must not be worth selling. The intermingling of fake news with the real news is exhausting. We’ve reached a point in our culture that the audience wants only the correct news and and agreeable news, not necessarily the factual authentic news. It’s tough to determine what’s even real anymore in our jaded and skeptical society, nor do we have the time to sort out fact versus fabrication and hyperbole. You can thank 24-hour cable infotainment news networks where negative news and politically-biased news means higher ratings, increased advertising revenue, and higher stock yields.

I crave authenticity now more than ever and I always find myself turning to the creative world. There is an honesty that cannot be disputed in creative works; whether you agree with its message is your individual right. For me, Banksy’s work is the epitome of art in that it is authentic, it challenges popular opinion, questions the news media, provokes thought, evokes visceral responses, rises above expectations, and continuously catches the audience off guard.

Does a news source exist out there that meets some of my definitions of art? I have some ideas on who might, but I don’t know anymore. I don’t usually know who or what to trust. Absorbing information from one source is a risk; from several sources a comprehensive story develops filled with self-conflicting statements. I don’t have the time or resources to fact check every item of news I read, so I question everything and challenge popular opinion every day. Facts and authenticity are king and queen, and they are Banksy’s work.

The creative process: work ethic vs. inspiration

“I don’t want to write, it’s too hard,” says practically every American child sitting at the kitchen table with homework spread out past bedtime.

That was the first thought I had when considering the value of a hard work ethic versus inspiration in the life of the creative for this blog. I know, I just used creative as a noun, that’s what us creative people in the professional world are typically called. If we were creating art for art’s sake we would be known as artists. Regardless, creativity requires a lot of hard work no matter the medium, discipline, and audience; it all comes from the same place. Some days it flows, everything is happy and the end result is clearly in sight. Other days you’re punching holes into the walls, dropping your head in your hands and, on occasion, throwing your whole body through walls. A book I recently read by Blaine Hogan, Untitled: Thoughts on the Creative Process, captures this struggle:

This is the creative process. For the most part it’s just plain old, unsexy work. It is slogging in front of the computer, canvas, or blank piece of paper, hammering out words and images in hopes of better days. And then, all of a sudden, a flash of brilliance. A phrase comes to mind and your heart is full. (Hogan, Locations 878-880)

We all hope it’s a flash of brilliance that strikes, and I don’t mean that to sound pessimistic. The simple fact is that it’s a subjective thought that I’m spending my words on right now. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m procrastinating as I think this topic through and type it. I had a vision to tackle the polarizing topic that’s eating everyone’s brains and I’m falling flat on execution. I know, hyperbole and superfluous. Pushing myself back on topic now.

Vision is easy. Ideas are even easier. It’s execution that separates the amateurs from the pros. (Hogan, Location 111)

Okay, okay, I’m not an amateur. Pulling myself together now.

So creativity is hard work and I’m all over the place tonight in conveying this. If you know a creative person, maybe you are one, you are no doubt aware of stories about a great project that looked like it would fly by because the energy and excitement was all there. Only it didn’t. It dragged on, ten times longer than planned, sometimes one hundred times longer. The project was over budget, understaffed, late to press, drives crashed, feelings hurt, frustrations vented, enemies made, supplies snapped in half and thrown out the studio windows … yes this happens to all of us. This is what hard work looks like to a creative, driven by passion and fueled by caffeine. A volatile condition, yet effective, usually.

“But what about inspiration?” you ask.

Inspiration is fleeting. It appears, it disappears. Some of it sticks, some of it slithers down your back and drops to the floor never to be heard from again. That is its nature. Accept it and move forward. When it strikes, be ready to record it with the understanding that its execution is never going to occur quickly and without pain.

Pain is the essence of hard work, ask your grandparents if you don’t believe me. Back breaking hard work was once a thing, it still is for some, and in the creative world, it’s more psychological than physical. It’s a daytime nightmare you cannot wake from. It’s also a daydream you can lose yourself in. Inspiration will do that to you, though, take you to another world. Which is great, because we all need great ideas, but we need grounding too – a hard work ethic.

Artists by nature are never satisfied. I heard that once while in art school and took it as gospel, so I continue to tell everyone that without citing studies. Not quite. It does, however, describe myself and every other creative I know. That level of dissatisfaction translates to self-editing, scrapping work and starting over, and other laborious steps backwards amidst a slow motion tumble forward. Hours, if not days or weeks, are lost to this tragic phase called revision. All of that lost time equates to lost creative labor that may never see the light outside of a garbage can. The creative, or artist, drags boulders up icy mountainsides to achieve the goal, spraining ankles and breaking bones along the way. And when he or she reaches the peak, spirit-breaking mental exhaustion gives way to bigger and better things.

And then inspiration kicks you in the face and you are so wired you can’t sit still. You type or paint or sculpt or whatever frenetically, making mistakes along the way without caring. Editing/revising/modifying doesn’t matter, love your first draft, the only draft, it’s perfect in every way! You keep going and going and going till you burn out. You crash harder than a thousand foot free fall on the ocean surface. But you have it, your first draft, your only draft, your gift of the gods enlightening the world through your voice. Don’t dare alter it, it is perfect in every way, that first draft. Except it’s not.

Hard work returns quickly with ferocity. The revision or whatever you do is critical if you are serious about creating not just good, but great art. It’s a vicious cycle, eventually finding a conclusion due to external forces like client deadlines or collecting a paycheck before your bills are due.

It’s chaos, it’s struggle, it’s enlightenment through mental anguish. When it’s all done and you gaze at your work, it will have separated itself from you. Unrecognizable, it’s an extension of who you were during those moments of creation and what you do. But it’s not you, it is its own holistic being. Your creation. You immediately forget the pain and embrace it. And then you deal with client revisions and approvals and finally collect a check sixty days later.

Creative work is rewarding on a level separate from anything monetary, but it’s not for the thinned-skin. As you might have determined by now after reading this offbeat meditation, there is no winner. Inspiration and  work ethic compliment each other, they improve each other’s capabilities and well-being. To be successful, you need both.

Surviving the increased workload epidemic

While at work some time ago you lost your raison d’être. You feel beaten down, uninspired … splintered and scattered and torn. Your job is no longer the job you were hired for, it’s an amalgamation of three other jobs, none of which you have professional experience in.

“Where did everyone go,” you wonder, looking around the once densely populated office space at several desks now used for temporary storage of file boxes and empty binders. “Thats right – one position was eliminated and you now handle it, another was offered an early retirement package to quickly reduce the headcount, and the last person left for a new job where she was offered a higher level position. “No chance of growing here,” she told you on her way to the exit interview, “get out as soon as you can!”

This pattern appears throughout the mid-sized company, each department dwindling as the CEO talks about the need to cut costs and scale-down budgets at town hall meetings. “Why did this happen?” you want to ask when the CEO opens to room for questions, but you don’t out of fear of retaliation. No one asks any questions. The CEO concludes the meeting after a minute of uncomfortable silence. On the way out you whisper to your friend from demand planning, “why am I doing all this work alone? Doesn’t he see what he’s doing?”

Finding dollars to save here and there, it looks great when summed up on a spreadsheet. Why pay multiple salaries when one person can carry all of the weight? Eliminate a few seemingly unnecessary responsibilities, like most of the internal communication role and half of the web team responsible for social media and e-commerce. “Those web things practically run themselves,” proclaimed the EVP of Operations. He doesn’t appear to be carrying additional weight when he leaves early each afternoon the weather is nice to play nine holes.

It’s really happening.

Go back to the opening paragraph, those descriptive words following that fancy French phrase that means reason for existence. This is an existential crisis for any employee enduring a company experiencing downsizing and reorganization. It’s a frustrating situation to be in, feeling tied down, unable to escape because the job market is ultra-competitive with others in your same circumstance also looking for a way out. Meanwhile, the workload is so overbearing your nights and weekends are rarely your own time.

When you question your multiplying position, consider: has your salary multiplied to compensate for the extra workload and additional responsibilities? Maybe a 1.75% merit increase for good behavior, not enough to cancel out the spike in next year’s healthcare cost. Has your title changed and position elevated to reflect the new work earning you a place at the decision-making table giving credence to the vast business knowledge you had to acquire to handle these jobs? Are you respected any more than you were when first hired?

From the employee’s perspective, this is an impossible situation to perpetuate any longer than you must. I’ve been through this, as well as several other good people I’ve known, some bearing the weight while others escaping at first chance. It kills morale; the corporate culture becomes heavily pessimistic and resentful. When staff is under-performing and feeling negative, and turn-over is high, where do you think the company is headed?

The right way to handle this.

I’m now addressing those with the decision-making power: don’t set this downward spiral in motion. Fight it at every step in your senior leadership and steering committee meetings. The answer to declining sales is rarely found by eliminating internal resources, it is found by examining the marketplace and reassessing your products.

Are you truly producing what people want? Or are your products a shallow reflection of what the marketplace demands? What new innovations are you introducing? Cutting supply chain and manufacturing costs by removing features your customers have grown to appreciate and expect won’t solve anything either. If anything, it will turn your customers off breaking their loyalty. Instead of producing a pale imitation of Apple’s latest iPhone, create a new cutting edge device that will blow it away.

I know it’s not as a simple as that. Money needs to be invested on research and technological development for starters, it’s a huge process. I get it. But it’s worthwhile in the end when your new product outsells the competition in a landslide if you’re willing to make the investment.

The answer lies in proactive creativity and innovation.

The answer is not in eliminating your staff and resources, and overburdening those who remain. A proactive creative approach to solving the business problems at-hand will permeate the business culture. Offering the staff the ability to participate in improving the business appeals to their intrinsic needs to be a part of something bigger, to do good. An employee body working together is far stronger than a few at the top making the decisions and putting the burden on those below.

Some advice for everyone stuck in an overburdened situation:

  1. Find it in yourself to remain optimistic. You can’t affect positive change feeling angry and resentful, even if you are in the right.
  2. Look for every opportunity no matter how small to contribute toward a better solution. Make recommendations to leaders who will listen.
  3. Influence your peers with optimism, encourage them to work with you toward improving the environment.

This is a complex matter that requires action on several fronts to resolve. You can only do your best within the confines of your role. Therefore, start with yourself, improve what you can around you, and encourage it to spread. If you find yourself leaving for a new opportunity, don’t lose the positive focus.