Archive for category: Life and Work

Iterating a Business: Weeks 1 & 2

Over the last few weeks I’ve been busy trying to understand what “I’m going to be a consultant” means in real life. I’m approaching it like I would any visioning/strategy project, combining a bit o’ strategic thinking with design tools and processes. The goal is to let why I’m doing this work and who I’m doing it for shape what work I’ll do and how I’ll do it.

At it’s core that means:

  • Discovery – I don’t assume I know the answer, but rather ‘discover’ the best opportunities for success through strategic questions, research and analyses.
  • Trust the Process – this approach is inherently ambiguous, so I have to trust that these tools and processes will help me create a business that both my future clients and I will love and value.
  • User-Centeredness – a successful business won’t spring from what I want to do, but rather the needs and challenges faced by the people I want to work with. Discovering an authentic connection between the two is key to my long-term success.
  • Iteration – my first ideas won’t be my greatest, nor will any ideas that are developed in a vacuum. Feedback loops, research, reflection and being willing to rework ideas are powerful parts of this process.

These ideas are grounded in Human-Centered Design (a method for creative problem solving and innovation), which I introduce in workshops and kick-off meetings like this:

Download (PDF, 56KB)

Sharing: Weeks 1 & 2
To that end, I wanted to share my process with you all, to get feedback to better understand what is and isn’t resonating. At the end of the day, I want to help people and organizations, to empower them to be creative, strategic and be successful. I can’t do that without understanding their needs, fears, struggles, inspirations and motivations as I build my business.

Below are a few products of my initial brainstorming and analyses, they outline:

  • Defining the process, including questions I need to answer, a schedule for the next few months and the specific tools I’ll use
  • Four big ideas that outline where my passions and skills overlap
  • A whiteboard from a ‘problem finding’ exercise that explores the problems my future clients have that I’d like to solve

Download (PDF, Unknown)


All of these ideas are very high level and rough (not intended for marketing purposes). They are hypotheses ripe for testing. They are my first steps in discovering my business model, services, branding and clients.

Constructive feedback and questions are encouraged!

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.

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

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.

Exciting Times, Indeed

Where has December gone (and November for that matter)?! Lots of opportunities are a-brewin’ and I’m excited to see what pans out in the next couple of months.

I have a number of blog posts half-written and promise to finish them up for you soon. In the meantime, a bit of exciting news to tide you over…

I was notified this week that my name (and words) will be appearing in Harvard Business Review! A comment I made on Roger Martin’s blog will be in the Voices section of HBR’s Spring OnPoint issue. (!!)

IGDA Recap | Meeting, Hearing, Learning, Talking, Confirming

It took me a moment, but I’ve finally caught up after the IGDA’s Leadership shindig. The conference was amazing! It drew people from across the globe and I walked away with new perspectives and renewed enthusiasm. My personal highlights were:

  • Meeting lots of interesting, friendly people who made me feel very welcome. My lack of video game knowledge meant I talked to anyone and everyone, ignorant of any cool kid status.
  • Hearing from firm and team leaders that are experimenting with how they structure work, manage teams and train their leaders.
  • Learning about video game design and comparing their creative processes with other design industries.
  • Talking with people that place such a high value on developing their ability to manage people. Clearly this industry has found the value in developing leadership skills, in part because project teams are so large and complex.
  • Confirming that creative management ideas translate across creative industries by participating in conversations about team and firm management.

The most valuable part of the conference was certainly how much it expanded my network of creatives. I’m excited about the people I met and am looking forward to bringing their perspective  into this conversation about managing creative work .


Fear and the Art of Creation

I’ve talked before about the importance of failure in our creative processes. But knowing that failure can be good is one thing; practicing it is something else entirely. Taking big risks promises uncertainty, judgement (of ourselves and from others) and the possibility that we might just look stupid. Anyone involved with creativity or innovation deals with these fears, myself included.

Today I came across this illustration from a talk that Chris Guillebeau and Jonathan Fields did on fear in the midst of creation:

Fear and the Art of Creation: SXSW 2011

It points at all the voices in our heads that keep us from taking risks; they can be paralyzing. But life without creativity is boring. Sitting still, waiting for things to happen, being certain — boring.

So in response, today I gave myself permission to leap. I decided to apply to two conferences, speaking about managing creativity in your company. (p.s. public speaking scares me to no end.) In the process, one of my mentors invited me to speak with him about working in teams at another conference in October. Ack! (Let’s say that’s an excited ‘ack’.) And so I have taken some baby step towards expanding this conversation about managing creativity.

What is your fear keeping you from doing? What could you do to ‘act in the face of uncertainty’? Give yourself permission, take your first baby step…

Website Makeover

I am in the process of redesigning this site for my consulting business – Creative Inquiry.  I’m very excited about the chance to broaden this conversation and have a more direct impact on creative firms and people.

In the interim, please forgive the mess. Also, this blog is moving to I’ll update my RSS and Twitter feeds, but please be sure to update your bookmarks.


Please Fasten Your Seatbelts

I’m very pleased to announce that I am officially a consultant. Wow!

Going out on my own definitely promises to be more challenging, but also SO much more exciting. My work focuses on helping creatives and their companies build better work environments. I’ve got three projects going already: evaluating and redefining career development for a national marketing team, creating more collaborative space for a product development department, and a branding project. Each project is really different and I’m thoroughly enjoying the people I’m collaborating with and the work itself.

I am also working on branding myself and redeveloping this website. Please stay tuned for future updates, and in the meantime, please disregard the mess.

Call It An Education: Product and Service Innovation

This summer I am playing guest contributor to an e-MBA course at Portland State University. The course is called Product and Service Innovation for Shared Value and is taught by Dr. Jeanne Enders (a management professor specializing in social and organizational psychology) and Albrecht Enders (an innovation consultant with 23 years of product innovation experience).

We will be helping students reinvent their firms’ value propositions through product/service innovation. Specifically, the class advocates for innovation that is broad reaching –  considering customer, social, and long-term goals for sustainable profitability.

I’m honored to be a part of this class and look forward to offering my passion for and knowledge of the creative process and change management. I plan to learn as much from our students as they may from me, and I’m sure our discussion topics will make their way into this blog.

Our first week of reading has included Roger Martin’s “The Design of Business” and an article on ‘blue ocean strategy‘. Some interesting discussion has resulted around the idea of the art and business of the music industry. Creative industries face similar dichotomies – artists at heart that must create something for a client’s or consumers’ specifications.  What do you think? Is there a way to successfully do both; to address the business and artistic possibilities in creative projects?