Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher, tells the story of a man who walked the same path every night, his eyes focused on the celestial heavens. One evening, he fell into a well. I’m no philosopher, but a few weeks ago I did manage to walk full-speed into a tree while reading a book.
There is a downside to wearing creative blinders: I sometimes become obsessed with the nuts and bolts of a project, missing bigger picture details that people in other disciplines might recognize. It’s important to get the job done quickly, but not at the expense of skipping critical final touches. That’s where the importance of teamwork enters. Here are four things I’ve learned from teamwork during my time at Marxent.
As a creative, I’m thinking about deliverables, specifications, techniques and content. A product manager, on the other hand, has a wider vision. That person has to think about the project roadmap, brand strategy, marketing, and the overall experience of the final product.
The first time I worked with a product manager I found it irritating. After every round of creative, there would be follow-up requests that seemed irrelevant. I would say to myself, “I’ve met specifications, what’s their problem?”
But it turns out that “what’s their problem” was the right question to be asking. By their very nature, product managers are going to catch things I miss, or want things I would never think to include in the first place. I quickly saw the benefit in considering my work from the perspective of the product manager. Once I was able to embrace their perspective, revision rounds decreased, I was able to get more done in less time and work was more satisfying.
Great communication is vital in any organization. So the answer is to have more meetings, right? Not so fast …
The fact is: I hate meetings. I find them to be distractions that slow production and stunt creativity. Why spend an hour talking about what I’m working on when I could have spent that time actually doing it? A company can have great internal communication without constant stream of meetings. What is important is keeping work-related interactions with co-workers clear, concise and consistent. Remember to listen to what is being said (don’t just wait to talk), and stay present during conversations. Some of the best ideas are conceived on the fly by people open to discovering them and talking through things. If you don’t listen, you crimp your chances of doing great work and discovering new things.
I used to be terribly disorganized. My family didn’t saddle me with the nickname “The Absent-Minded Professor” for nothing. As a professional, I spent years insisting that the final product was all that mattered, and the underlying work was incidental. Over time I began to see that there might be some value to investing time in organization. This would usually happen after I needed to recreate a job and couldn’t remember how I had previously pulled it off.
My natural state is to have process work scattered across 20 sheets of paper or a dozen files all named “Final.psd.” That’s not exactly ideal, and I realized I was going to have to search out better ways to keep track of my tasks. I looked to co-workers I thought “had it together” and appropriated techniques I saw that seemed effective. Working with people who demand I be organized — and who communicate that need to me clearly — motivates me to be more on top of things, which makes me better at my job. Not being organized, I’ve learned, not only makes me crazy, but it makes other contributors on a given team crazy.
Truth is, no one is born organized. Similarly, no two people keep track of their lives in quite the same way. The skills involved in being organized are learned, and they allow for plenty of personalization in your approach. Take cues from coworkers, ask for ideas on how to organize yourself, but most importantly consider it a part of your job. Doing work isn’t just “doing.” Sometimes it’s stopping to take a breath, recalibrate, reprioritize, and deliver tidy packages.
Change is good and managing change is a bedrock skill. Almost no one spends their whole career in one place, so get used to the idea that your personal apple cart will be upset from time to time. Working for an early stage company means that things will necessarily change in your role and your career path, which is a good thing.
I reached a point a few years back where I knew I needed a career change. I planned to leave IT, go to art school and join the world of the creatives. At the same time, I realized that making the switch was going to require dedication bordering on obsession. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — but I succeeded.
Shortly thereafter, I was offered an amazing opportunity with a rapidly growing start-up (Marxent) that would require me to shift professional gears yet again. And in my time here at Marxent, I’ve tried on many different creative hats. As teams have been designed and redesigned, I’ve gone from doing web design and graphics to mobile app user experience design, to sales creative and now am largely focused on video production. In years past this would have thrown me for a loop, but I was able to take it in stride because my recent experience had prepared me for this new opportunity. Sometimes change feels personal and sometimes it doesn’t sit well at first glance. However, choose to embrace change and it will take you where you want to go.
Joe Johnson is the Marketing Creative Director at Marxent.
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