This special report from the 2017 High Five Conference was prepared by Holly Larson. Follow her on Twitter @HollyKLarson and connect with her on LinkedIn.
Marissa Coren, Content Strategist at Facebook, delivered the second keynote address on Day 1 of the High Five Conference, a three-day conference and workshop on marketing and creativity, being held in Raleigh, North Carolina, from February 28-March 2, 2017. Coren’s topic was “Brace for Impact: Finding Creative Fulfillment Hidden Along Your Career Path.” She began her career as a speechwriter at the United Nations before leaving to do content strategy at Wal-Mart, Uber, and now Facebook.
How to Unleash the Power of Your Ideas
How can marketing and creatives avoid the dreaded idea trap, where genius concepts stay dormant or even worse – are realized by someone else? Coren offered a framework for keeping focus and staying sane in a world that favors the tyranny of the urgent over the long growth cycle powerful ideas take to be fully realized.
- Have core trust.
- Have creative trust.
- Have career trust.
The market teaches us that all ideas are derivative, but that’s not true. From athletes to artists to actuaries, everyone is capable of the creative growth they want, says Coren. What’s key is to trust yourself.
Have Core Trust –Trust Your Instincts, Push Your Limits, and Learn New Things
“You have to make room for your instincts to surface,” says Coren. Convert empty and wasted moments, like sifting through your emails like a Zombie, into well-spent pondering. “You’ll never be able to control every minute of your day, but you can ponder between meetings and appointments,” states Coren. Connect with Marissa Coren on Twitter @LemonDragon.
- Map your orphaned moments. Know what demands and challenges are coming your way and plan your time. You can use something as low-fidelity as a notebook: “That’s when a calendar and a to-do list have a love-child,” quipped Coren. “Map out your day the night before.” Coren’s notebook pages have an image of a clock so she can allocate projects across her work day.
- “Your ideas want to be real. Write them down. A lot of ideas don’t arrive fully formed,” says Coren. “Start small and take advantage of compound interest.” Writing down your ideas liberates your mind from the burden of remembering. “Your brain is like a Dixie cup with a hole in the bottom,” says Coren. Forcing yourself to remember everything burdens your brain and keeps it from forming new ones.Writing down your ideas prevents inertia. It makes them real and enables you to create a visual reward system. You can keep track of projects, celebrate wins, and spot gaps. It also liberates your brain. It’s easier to get back into the flow of things and keep developing good habits.
- Recharge wisely. We are all tempted by passive activities, like watching reality TV and eating Oreos. Invest in more active, restorative activities like taking a walk or meditating.
- Have a deck of your ideas to keep your mind fresh. If you are exhausted mentally, swap out your primary idea for a fun side project.
- Use a portfolio planning approach for growing your ideas. Instead of investing money, you are investing moments. Your investment strategy should be bullish. Manage your calendar to protect your portfolio of ideas and make sure they are diversified, stable, and flexible.Imagine that someone demands all the money you have on you as you walk down a street. “That’s similar to what happen when you don’t guard your calendar,” says Coren.” Your daily calendar can look like a layer cake, where everyone wants something, but you end up starving,” she adds. Work on your portfolio of projects.
Notice your creative patterns – such as when you are most productive or whether you like working in long or short spurts. Knowing how to harness those tendencies is key to making yourself very effective. Coren is most effective in the morning and hits a lull at around 2 PM when she switches to meetings or other work.
Control Your Calendar to Avoid Losing Focus
Maintaining a stable portfolio doesn’t mean keeping the same schedule but taking a hard look at your calendar and creating order. Know which parts of your day you can control and which ones are unpredictable.
Coren is a people pleaser by nature. So when clients ask her for a quick second, she has seen that request morph into a lost afternoon. “When you hear phrases like that, be wary,” she advises. Recently, she joined a new team and was given all the low-impact, low-value requests from a client who had been consistently de-prioritized. Eager to please her team and client, Coren took on the tasks, but realized that her writing, design, and creative strategy work was being neglected. Coren thought back to her law school days and created a set weekly “office hour” of 30 minutes. Client requests plummeted by 60%, because the client prioritized needs. “Be vastly available in limited spurts,” says Coren. “Be generous with your energies within firm boundaries.”
2. Have creative trust – trust your deep-seated thoughts and visions.
Starting your day by checking email is like mainlining sugar. It also sets off the day to be reactive. Imagine starting the day a different way: with a list of your top three priorities that you made the night before. “Start the day with productive pondering. You’re productive and focused. It’s like skipping a pop tart for the slow burn of oatmeal,” says Coren.
Imagine your ideas are friends. If you stand them up chronically, they become less inspired. Create and connect before you consume. Create all of your ideas, connect with others, and save social media for the end of the day.
Almost all big ideas begin as small, unassuming thoughts. Big ideas must be broken down into essentials before they can be realized. The Golden Gate Bridge started as a glimmer, a seed, in the architect’s mind. How many wondrous things are you keeping inside? Talk about them rather than hoarding them on a mental trophy shelf.
When Not to Be a Hero
Resist the allure of the ta-da moment or the big reveal, in professional settings. “It is ego driven,” says Coren. “It is the moment you have been hoarding your ideas and deliver a ready-made solution to the team. If your team has been struggling with a big meaty issue, and you do the reveal, it may fall flat. Your manager may poke holes in it.”
Instead of thinking about how much credit you will get, think about how you can help. Take people into your process and allow the team to take ownership of the idea. Listen to their valuable insights and feedback as you co-create create the best product.
Practice saying no to sharpen your vision and allow yourself to refine and trust your judgment. It also gives you back your time. It is a gift to yourself.
Learn to discern between the ephemeral and evergreen. The mark of a great billiards player is making the shot but also knowing where the cue ball will rest. Know how a collaboration will set you up for an upcoming project. Sometimes you can suggest another person to take your place if it’s not a good fit for where you want to head with your career.
When your manager asks you to take on a high value project, ask yourself: Is it headed in the team’s direction? Does it enable you to develop new skills? Focus on the projects, tasks, and relationships that will grow your skill sets in sustainable ways. As a content strategist, Coren seeks out creative partners in engineering and product design.
Have career trust – trust your judgement, trust that you can bring your ideas to life
Managers are an overlooked resource to help you facilitate your career growth. When the manager is not the right fit, your responsibility for creative growth rests with you. Learn how to spot idea midwives who can help you on your journey to lasting creative fulfillment.
“At companies, the organization chart is not your career description or descriptive of your growth,” says Coren. “People think it is something to keep them in their place. Super impose your creative goals over the organization chart. Look for the real decision makers, not just your preordained stakeholders. You are not optimizing for your manager or the marketplace, but for meaning.”
“Sandcastles at low tide look stable but crumble at the next sea change,” says Coren. “Look for impact by asking these questions. Will I develop transferable skills? Will I create social capital and shore up my position in the industry? Will I develop fulfilling relationships? Will I be interacting with the end-user?”
“A good test is: Does this project scare you in scope or skill set?” Coren advised. If so, you should stay with it because that is where the growth is.”
Let Others Sell for You
“When you are armed with a promising idea but a tough room, start by seeding it with people who can sell it for you. The hard work of imbuing your idea in others is done face to face, day to day, in your relationships with others,” states Coren.
Sometimes difficult challenges can produce multiple opportunities if handled well, Coren said. She shared an example of a large project she and her team were given to overhaul an existing product that needed to make a big consumer impact. However, the team was given a minimal budget at a time when they were short-staffed, overworked, and undervalued. Although the caliber of the team’s work was high, their visibility was extremely low.
Coren used “the alchemy of adversity to turn a problem space into a possibility space,” negotiating additional budget to hire a freelancer for the project. With this shift, “The project became a megaphone for our services and allowed us to build our brand. What was once a looming problem became an opportunity to be tapped.”
Tomorrow, when you are shuffling through an ocean of gold coins, bend down and pick one up. Remember that creative fulfillment is just a moment away, Coren concluded.
Follow the conversation on Twitter at #High5Conf.