Creative Inquiry | Blog

An ongoing conversation about management and design

Becoming a New Manager

Moving from project manager to MANAGER is a challenge. It’s not just a title but a whole new way of working and perspective about your work that you can’t understand until you’ve been through the gauntlet. This article from the American Management Association has some great tips to help new managers get the most from their team (and themselves).

I’ve learned these lessons in spades over the last two years as Director of Working Examples. All of these tips ring true for me and (I’m sure) will continue to be struggles. No matter how thoughtful you are as a manager, you’re still going to have learning moments and times when you screw it up. But coming back to fundamentals like the role you play in the team, setting expectations or showing compassion in tough situations can help everyone get through them relatively unscathed. For example, when I find myself getting frustrated with someone I always ask myself, “is there an expectation that you have that you haven’t made clear?”. Sometimes I don’t recognize what my expectations are to begin with, much less having communicated it to someone else. If that’s the case, then I work on getting clear with myself and then communicating with the people involved to get us moving in the same direction.

Working Examples: A Different Kind of Online Community

After eight months of radio silence, I’ve reemerged (for a moment) and want to tell you a bit about the SUPER exciting project I’m heading up.

Our team is redesigning Working Examples, an online community for people who are reimagining education. We’ve created a virtual sandbox for them – a place to play with and build ideas about the future of education. Users can share their work-in-progress and their expertise, collaborating to create impact in really exciting ways.

Here’s a preview of the redesigned site that goes live March 8th – WEx_FinalDesignPreview.pdf.

I’d love to hear what y’all think about the design!

HBR: Confession of a Networking Pro

I love this blog about networking, written by a communications expert. She confirms what we’ve all experienced – networking can be horribly uncomfortable – and her advice aligns with many of the tools I’ve used in my own career.

She reiterates some advice that I received early in my career – be generous. Kent Lewis told me to always give something first: connect them with someone, send them an interesting article, anything that shows that you were listening and care. That advice has always made people I’ve met seem more approachable because I feel like I’m bringing something to the table too.

I’m also a big fan of making networking as authentic as possible. The more I focus on making friends (not schmoozing), the more relaxed and friendly I am. Which typically means I’m more comfortable, less interested in talking about (read: selling) myself, and able to connect with people I truly like. Being authentic has provided me with an amazing network of friends and colleagues that have been instrumental in my professional success.

Inspired Design | Graffiti in Afghanistan

I ran across a cool bit about a graffiti artist in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her culture looks down on contemporary art (and thus graffiti) as ‘western’. Yet she has adopted this foreign form of expression to create culturally nascent art. There is a profound and beautiful statement in what she does, the risks she takes (see: land mines).

I’ve long loved graffiti as an artistic expression — not tagging, but inspired urban art. While many often think of it as punk kids and vandals, it can also be a critical eye in very public view.  Banksy is certainly one of the most well-known, a British street artist with prolific socio-political views.

Banksy in Southampton, UK (now painted over)

I highly recommend checking out the film Bomb It, which features street artists from all over the world who use graffiti to beautify or make commentary in public spaces. The Cape Town segment is one of my favorites. I love South Africa, it is one of the most beautiful and complex places I’ve ever been. The artists in the film use graffiti, once seen as solely a political tool, to reclaim and create beauty inside of broken down spaces.

Managing Design Teams | Talking Fundamentals

In a couple of weeks, I’m playing guest lecturer in the ETC’s Fundamentals of Producing class, where future producers in the game design and entertainment industries learn about project management. We’ll be discussing the hardest part of project management — your lovely team.

Since I’ve only got 1.5 hours, I thought I’d focus on communication and how to use it to help your team.

So, design managers…

If you were me, what would you talk about?
What do you think are the hardest parts of managing a design team?
How would you impart that knowledge to new project managers?

(Note: I may steal your ideas for future lecture topics)

Etsy Hacker Grants | Supporting Women in Tech

Hey! All you techie ladies in my life, or people who know techie ladies, or even just ladies that really like to tinker with things and so might be interested in getting into engineering or programming — listen up!

Etsy is intent on supporting and getting more women into engineering, and so, is offering $5,000 grants to 10 female students for the summer session of the New York-based Hacker School. The three month program is free, so the grants are to cover the cost of traveling and living in New York. Their goal is to bring 20 women to New York for the program, whereas the current group only has one women out of its 20 students.

So come on ladies, the odds are good and it’s three months in NYC! Let’s fight the Dave-to-Girl Ratio*!!

* For those of you not from Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science program: the Dave-to-Girl Ratio was developed to reflect the number of men named Dave versus the number of women in the program. At CMU, this ratio was once frightenly weighted toward the Dave side (and still is in many tech spots).

The Latest…General Excitement About My New Job!

Hello folks – I apologize for my absence over the last couple of months — I was in South Africa for a few weeks and then recently started a new job, both of which have been amazingly exciting time vortexes.

The biggest news of the two: I have officially abandoned consulting for a proper job, a very exciting proper job. In fact, probably the most exciting opportunity I’ve had to date (no offense to former employers, but none of you offered a life-sized Spiderman outside of my office).

As of February 20th, I am the first Director for Working Examples, a online community/social media project funded by the MacArthur and Gates foundations. We are creating an online space for people who research, design and create digital media that impacts education (think video games that teach). It will be a place where people can unpack their ideas, push them around, find collaborators and ultimately help this emerging field move forward.

Over the next couple of years, my team and I will be blending strategy, user engagement, design and technology to create a thriving community. Luckily my team is awesome!

In addition to this being a fantastic job, we are housed in Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (the video game design program). The ETC is a truly magical place, demonstrated when you step off the elevator onto the bridge of a spaceship, complete with talking robot. The program is the brainchild of Don Marinelli and Randy Pausch, whose Last Lecture first introduced me to Carnegie Mellon, and is a place full of possibilities, artists, programmers, gaming paraphernalia, comic book art and oddball people who always seem to be thinking about interesting things.

It’s the dream job that I never knew I was dreaming about.

I plan to continue to update this blog with my thoughts on managing design, building online communities, user experience and whatever else comes to pass. I’m at SXSW Interactive this weekend and look forward to collecting a lot inspiration and knowledge while here. More to come, I’m sure…

My best to you all…Anna

HBR on Managing a Perfectionist

Every morning I wake up to a tidbit from Harvard Business Review in the form of their “Management Tip of the Day”. Typically, they’re interesting to think about, but nothing mind shattering. I thought today’s was particularly useful and thought I’d pass it along:

A perfectionist on your team is both a blessing and a curse. He may have high standards, but will likely fixate on every detail of a project. Here are three ways to harness the positive qualities while mitigating the bad:

  • Give the right job. Don’t put a perfectionist in a role that is overly complex or requires managing people. Find positions that have a relatively narrow scope.
  • Increase self-awareness. Help your direct report recognize when his standards have negative outcomes. Explain the impact on those around him.
  • Don’t shy away from feedback. Perfectionists may have a hard time hearing criticism of their work. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Ask for the perfectionist’s advice on how to best give him feedback

As a recovering perfectionist, I think the last two are paramount. Perfectionism can be paralyzing because failure is always looming. I’m really thankful for those whose thoughtful, honest feedback helped me escape its grasp.

DIY Continuing Ed | MIT Online

Thinking about going back to school for a fancy graduate degree? Ask yourself why…

If you’re looking for a massive career shift or need the credentials for the next stage of your career, then grad school may be a reasonable investment (think two years off from your career and tens of thousands of dollars).

If you’re looking for new skills, perspective, are a bit unhappy with your job or just want to learn, a DIY approach is a great alternative.

Enter: MIT Open Courseware

One of the world’s top universities is offering free access to its curriculum, or at least a pared-down version of it. Few classes have video or study groups, so you miss out on the lectures and interaction. But you do get a great guide for learning — a syllabus, books to read, some lecture notes and the ability to apply those ideas through assignments.  Warning: self-motivation required.

I’m starting this month with Building and Leading Effective Teams.

IGDA Food For Thought

My favorite talk from the  IGDA Leadership Forum I attended back in October was Jesse Schell’s keynote, ”Information Flow: The Secret to Studio Structure” (you can watch it here)

He covers ant colonies and acupuncture, email etiquette and lovable fools – (humorously) tying everything to the impact of information and communcation in our offices. It’s an hour long, but it’s a slow holiday week, right? Watch it and charge the time to professional development.