Management is a topic that draws no shortage of opinions, studies or differing experiences.
I’ve heard a variety of terms and concepts used to describe managers. Managers as leaders, managers as cheerleaders, managers as experts and so on. Lately, I’ve been thinking about a manager as an editor, similar to the editor in chief of a publication.
Some time ago I signed up for an online course about user growth. Overall it was underwhelming (so I’m not going to link to it), but there were a few exercises that challenged me to articulate my thoughts about products I’ve used and the company I work for. In particular, one of the assignments required me to “name a product either you’re working on, or a product you currently use, and explain why you feel it has achieved product/market fit.”
I chose to write about Front App1, a product that, earlier on in The Iron Yard’s growth, allowed a very small admissions team to manage email across a huge number of campuses. Below a full re-post of my homework assignment.
One of the greatest mentors I’ve ever had in my professional life is named Heather Hough. When I was just out of college, she took a big chance on me as an over-confident, inexperienced grad and opened doors of opportunity I wouldn’t have had the chance walk through otherwise.
She taught me many lessons, but one in particular has made a significant impact on my career. It is a concept she referred to as “managing up.”
In organizations, the word “management” almost always refers some level of top-down authority or hierarchical leadership, even in ‘flat’ company structures. Managing up is the initiative of first looking beyond your own work to understand its context in the broader business, then second, understanding responsibility of the person you report to, finding ways to contribute to their success.
Good employees do good work. Great employees do excellent work and find new, creative ways to make the business better. Future leaders seek to understand how their work and the work of their leader adds to the bottom line of the business and proactively helps equip their manager to deliver results.
Ideas like these can easily become somewhat ambiguous, easily-Tweetable business wisdom, but why is this true?
Months ago I somehow came across the webpage in the image above while researching publishing tools. After reading the person’s feature request—to be able to publish to blogs from Microsoft Word—I remember thinking something along the lines of, “Hilarious. The world of digital publishing has advanced so far that the idea of delivering content through Microsoft Word feels like the stone age.”
This is the eleventh post in a series on productivity2. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.
One subtly difficult part of being productive is that even if you’re treating your body and mind well, have created a distraction-free environment and harnessed your focus, it can be hard to simply figure out what to do.
This is the tenth post in a series on productivity3. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.
In the last post in this series, I discussed the necessity of removing distractions. Here’s an excerpt4:
Whether it’s an email notification or a habit of checking Twitter in the middle of a hard task that taxes your mind, each time we entertain a distraction it guts our productivity in a way that’s hard to perceive experientially. Quite literally, hours of focused work can slip away from us and we don’t notice (except for not feeling productive or wishing we’d accomplished more).
Removing distractions, though, is only half of the equation. Removing distractions creates a context for productivity, but beyond that, the act doesn’t produce anything. In other words, when the distractions are gone, it’s time to get to work.
Multi-tasking is a myth
One of the focus-killers I observe most often is multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is the idea that we can do more than one thing at once. What makes this concept difficult relative to productivity is that our experience in life proves that in many situations, we *can* perform more than one activity at the same time. From actions as simple as walking and talking on the phone to more complex performances like preparing the ingredients of a complicated meal ‘simultaneously’.
I recently wrote an article on The Iron Yard’s blog about hiring a creative director. You can read the full story, complete with background, but here are a few highlights:
Nathan’s work on the brand was great, but when I interviewed him about this experience, several statements and perspectives caught my attention:
…so that The Iron Yard will have a visually stable identity system…
One sign of a mature designer is value of things that don’t often get the spotlight. A ‘visually stable identity system’ doesn’t sound that exciting, but is one of the most important components of a brand.
My friend John Saddington recently pointed me to research focused on “corporate character & authentic advocacy,” or in non-buzzword vernacular, “having integrity as a company.”5
Here’s a summary of the report:6
Entitled “Building Belief: A New Model for Activating Corporate Character and Authentic Advocacy,” the report describes a new framework for how chief communications officers (CCOs) can define and activate their companies’ unique corporate character and build “advocacy at scale.” It also proposes methods for engaging individuals – whether customers, investors, employees or community members – as advocates for a set of shared beliefs and actions.
As you can tell, the study reads a bit business-y and the principles in their model aren’t necessarily new (from what I can tell), they’re just being applied to our current business climate.
This is the ninth post in a series on productivity7. The articles are based on content from a workshop I led at The Makers Summit.
Much of this material is taken from a post I wrote in a different series.8
I believe that the number one killer of productivity for most people is distraction. That may sound like a self-evident statement, but the actual mechanics of distraction, as well as expectations of ‘normal’ behavior in our society, are subtle enough that many of us don’t actually feel distraction when it’s happening—and might not even label it as such.
Like it or not, we live in a world where the battle for our attention is more fierce than ever. Don’t worry, I’m not going to lament the loss of simpler life in times past or say that Twitter is ruining our brains—there are much smarter people who have explored the complexity of distraction and the decline of attention spans9.
I also don’t need scientific studies to feel constant tugging at my attention from a hundred different directions. Some of that is simply life: managing home, work, relationships and more can be complicated. Distractions don’t have to be digital—this is a human condition no matter what the circumstance or context.
The marketing team at The Iron Yard has been building out a myriad of projects, tools and campaigns over the past several weeks. From radio scripts to drip campaigns to deciding the layout for a new page on our website.
We discuss many things as a team, but I’ve noticed lately that we talk about copy constantly. Lelia, our Director of Communications, does a significant amount of actual copywriting, as do I, but the topic of discussion extends to the entire team, be it a creative director or developer. Sometimes our conversations are about really visible, high-impact decisions, like how we name new courses. Other times, we go back and forth about the title of a single part of a larger roadmap that no one but our team will ever see. Oftentimes those discussions—or disagreements—are fueled by intelligent, strongly-held opinions.