expectations of involvement

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I've had several conversations lately about what I would call the required level of professional involvement in a job. Let me explain what I mean by professional involvement. If I got a job with Sports Illustrated as graphic support of some type, I'd start reading up on sports. All of them. Every conceivable aspect. I'd read the sports page, go to sports bars, and even go to a Spikes game. And I'd do it on my own time. Staying sharp—staying employable—is part of what being a professional requires. If I wasn't willing to keep my tools sharp, I'd find a 9 to 5 somewhere and get a hobby.

Creative painting.Perhaps I should mention, I hate watching and reading about sports.

Instead of working for Sports Illustrated, I work for a technology group, but still need to keep my tools sharp. That involves things I think are exciting because they're in my field, but it also involves things that aren't so exciting that are in the job's field. That would be things like twitter, for instance. I do it so I understand it. I try to understand the mentality of people who claim to be "addicted" to it. Immersion is important.

The real reason for this post, though, isn't to tell other writers and designers that they need to immerse themselves; though if they hear that, it wouldn't be a bad thing. The reason is to hash out a question of degree. How much does any support person need to fit in to a work environment where only limited aspects of their skills are used? What if fitting the mold hampers the very qualities in an employee for which they were hired?

Creative writing.Again, let me explain using a job with Sports Illustrated. This time, I'm hired as a creative writer to do human interest pieces. I seem to have a special insight into how some wives feel about football season and I attract readers. As I push my knowledge, as I interact with players and fans, developing as a sports writer, I grow in the eyes of my employer. I go to training camps, games, even tour equipment factories. Slowly, though, my readership changes. The wives are gone and editors are seeing me as an up-and-coming sports columnist.

But I suck as a sports writer. As I become more and more like my employer, the joy in what I do is gone, the career path is totally foriegn, and my portfolio is filled with stuff that I don't have the heart to continue doing.

That's what I mean by degree. Now back to the technology group.

Creative programming.I've seen excellent graphics people move on. I've watched talented media people make lateral moves. I've sat sadly by as gifted writers find more satisfying jobs. In an ACM paper titled Computers for artists who work alone Barbara Meier quotes David McCaulay, the author of How Things Work after his experience working with 40 people to produce a CD version of his book. He had no desire to work that way again, and said that "what I really like is to draw in my studio at home." He says exactly how I feel. And from experience with others who I would call kindred spirits, exactly how they feel too. Yet our group is pushing community.

Over the years external pressures have led me to try to gather kindred spirits into regular community meet-ups. After some initial words of shared hope and vision, it always falls apart. It's not how any of us works, how we think, how we get ideas, get jazzed, or reflect. And it's never been the way we generate quality work. Into this category of kindred spirits I'd also place certain types of creative programers who do their best work as solo acts. We see the collective, are happy to let it exist, but have never wanted a part in it. Is it worth another attempt or can we accept that not everyone thrives in a community environment even though they contribute?

When it starts to feel like a mandated collective environment, things can get very ugly for those involved. What's the expectancy? Can it be the same across a diverse organization?

5 Comments

E. Pyatt said:

It is ironic that in our rush to meet "diverse student needs" that the need for private reflection for many people is lost in the shuffle.

I do like to listen to other people's perspectives, but I need that quiet time to process and create as well.

I don't think it's as an uncommon problem as it would seem either. It seems like the complaint of those who can't process all their communication is a symptom that their signal to noise ratio has also hit a wall.

dave said:

I'm thinking that the problem is fairly common, too; just unrecognized because of the obvious difficulty in raising a unified voice.

I'd love to be surrounded by artists in all media who are able to give themselves voice by taking advantage of what ever they have available. As long as we all keep to ourselves..

Brett Bixler said:

Dave,

This is an issue for any employee & the employer. I've heard the term "organizational alignment" bandied about to describe the tension between personal goals, professional goals, and organizational goals.

Perfect alignment means your personal, professional, and organizational goals all work together - no tension. What you do in one area compliments the other two. Sounds like a great place to be, and it is. But it can't last. People change and grow, their desires shift, and the organization can't afford to remain static.

So imagine three parallel horizontal lines - the one in the middle is the perfect alignment state, the top one is you, the bottom one is the organization. Now imagine the top and bottom lines are wavy. When the wave crosses over the middle line, alignment is happening. Sometimes just the top line crosses over, sometimes just the bottom line crosses over, and sometimes both cross over at the same time (perfect alignment). That last situation is rare, only lasts for a short time, and once it's over were out of alignment again for some time to come.

So what do we do? Constantly reflect on our personal journeys so we know where we are and where we want to go. Know where the organization is headed and decide if we at least want to try it out, or move on. Know when you are in alignment or not. Bottom line is there are just some personal or organizational changes that move us so far out of alignment that it is time to move on, or make a radical adjustment that might or might not work for you, the organization, or both.

dave said:

Agreed, Brett. Much of this is personal and involves personal decisions that I need to come to grips with.

It's an issue, and a post, because I think that there are shared values in the top line, and misalignment impacts a larger Penn State community.

Brett Bixler said:

You bet - one person or bad idea can derail the entire organization. That's why leadership has to constantly be looking for these potential issues and snuff them ASAP.

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New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.

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