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This is a work-related piece that was published a while ago, and I’m reposting it in its entirety here for those interested in the subject.

Marketing is a profession that requires its practitioners to be fluid and nimble. The constant pursuit of new ideas and hot trends, and the ability to work with and adapt to various industries are essential traits. Oh sure, sometimes we marketers can get carried away by new gadgets and shiny tools. But we know that our value rests in the ability to spot behaviour patterns in any group (or demographic) and act quickly on any opportunities.

In my case, acquiring practical marketing skills meant working with businesses in a variety of industries, in the private and public sectors, here and abroad. In addition to focused professional development, this exposure to a broad spectrum of corporate cultures and business practices gave me insights into what makes entities successful.

Strong leaders do not apologize for a vision or an ideology

Reluctant leaders, or those who do not explicitly-state their raison d’être, cannot generate the passion needed to fuel their employees. Knowledge workers rely on inspiration as a source of energy to work on endeavors that may never see the light of day. This is why TED talks are so popular, and why cubeland is speckled with black and white printouts of Steve Jobs quotes. The absence of drive and charisma in a leader has real effects on productivity and morale.

Whether you’re in a position commanding five or 500 employees, it’s crucial that you communicate the ideas and feelings that make you work as hard as you do. If we can look up to someone who genuinely believes in the significance of the work they do, we are less likely to be cynical about our own output.

Poor communication buries great ideas

I have seen many interesting initiatives go belly-up because of poor communication. Objectives were unclear, goals were excessive in jargon, and calls for action were absent. Worse, I’ve seen fantastic campaigns flop almost immediately because of the seemingly impersonal and flat communication delivered from those meant to lead the charge.

It is not up for one individual or group to take the blame for poor communication, rather, we should collectively admit that over the last few years we have moved away from personable communication tactics. As a result, our sentiments are unclear, our intentions misunderstood, and our efforts wasted. It’s a bad habit, and we need to break it.

It will take some time to move away from the detached tones and passive voices, but once you learn to speak with people using any medium of your choice, you’ll start receiving exactly what you’ve asked for, and then some.

Write in the manner you want to be written to; state your intention clearly, reveal your vulnerabilities readily, and add your own personal style and tone that communicate what you stand for. Your words have the power to leave an impression that lasts long after you’ve left the building.

To have honest conversations, leave the office

Taking someone out of their comfortable space and introducing them to an external environment naturally causes them to change their behaviour. The absence of their familiar surroundings (like furniture, cubicle spaces, and such) temporarily removes the difference in rank, making the power balance less visible. In a coffee shop, for example, you are both paying customers who are equal in the eyes of everyone else around

This little time away from the office will lead — with time — to an exchange of direct feedback and valuable insights that could make a difference for your business.

Sometimes, the best way to let progress happen is to step aside

A friend once remarked that a leader’s role is not that of a cheerleader for change and innovation. They’re too busy and expensive for this. Instead, a leader’s duty is to consciously avoid becoming a barrier.

In large enough organizations, there is a surplus of fresh ideas and approaches that could make the business more efficient, decrease costs, or improve morale. Take a step back and observe the clusters that have the motivation and willingness to try new ideas and generate change and innovation naturally. Provide your insights on how to best align these endeavours with business goals or objectives, and share the risks and hesitations you may have openly before too much work has gone into any one initiative, then pull back.

This is also important: don’t try to get everyone else in the organization on all these new experiments and outbursts of creativity. Laggards will arrive eventually, and naysayers may be entirely out of reach. Which brings me to …

Some people just don’t care, and there ain’t nothing you can do about that

People accept employment offers for a large number of reasons. Some want to change the world, others want a steady paycheque and a good dental plan.

Any group is guaranteed to have employees who are invested in the 9 to 5 stretch only. Their ideas, hopes, aspirations and passions lay elsewhere, and that’s absolutely fine. These are the steady doers who can be relied upon to deliver constantly, without any drama. If you chase after them to join every new initiative in the organization, you may lose them entirely. Or, you could generate a wave of dislike and negativity that will hurt your efforts in the long run. This group keeps operations going while the ideologists are busy creating new work streams.

On creativity

It’s high time we stopped looking at creativity in the most uncreative way. Click To Tweet

We need to dispose of the notion that divides people into those who are born creative and those who are not.

Creativity, like beauty, is subjective. It is not a profession, or a personality trait found among one group. It is also a duplicitous concept, seeking to flatter originality while cautioning against unorthodoxy.

No industry has the monopoly on creativity. I know this first-hand, having worked with a wide variety of people: be it artists, researchers, musicians, exporters, importers, art directors, diplomats, bureaucrats, scientists, cooks, accountants, tech founders, educators, sheep herders, writers, actors, economists, mixologists, professors, chocolatiers, farmers, code developers, policy wonks, lawyers, surgeons, or tailors. All were deeply creative, yet many were reluctant to describe their work as such, instead relegating that adjective to select professions – like mine (marketing). But a skilled butcher is just as fascinating to watch as an orchestra conductor, a traffic warden, a teacher in a classroom, or a nurse at work.

We are all born creative; we create when we translate our thoughts from internal monologues and feelings to ideas or expressions that can be detected by those around us. A string of running code can have a profound impact on the viewer, as could a kaleidoscope of pigmented oil strewn across a canvas, a hypothesis proposed, or a complex ledger that beautifully concludes with a single number. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

If you’re curious, my experiences tell me the least creative individuals are those who parrot stereotypes, and believe an industry, sector, geographic region, office layout, or attire is indicative of the flow of creativity that can be expected.

The point is: You are creative – regardless of what you do, where you live, how you dress, or what you say. You greatly enrich the human condition with anything you do, even if you don’t see that yet.  Don’t follow a painfully limiting way of defining creativity, it does damage to yourself as well as the future of many professions. Plus, it’s more than likely that an advertiser was responsible for that definition in the first place.

A while ago in a dark and windowless office, I printed off a few emails and collected post-it notes containing words of gratitude that clients had sent my way when I worked on their projects. I stuck the collection to the back of my door and called it a “win wall.”

Little by little, these post-its multiplied, the print-outs stacked on top of one another, and passersby began to ask questions about this colourful wall of paper. With time, my colleagues started adding their own win-filled notes until our win wall could no longer be contained to my door. It moved into the hallway and continued to take off from there from there.

More than a wall: it’s a state of mind

I’ve started several win walls since then, and have observed similar behaviours happening each time. Win walls became central gathering points for a team, sparking positive conversations and lifting overall morale. They acted as a barometer for an office’s emotional well being, helping both managers and employees see tangible indicators of how people were feeling week to week.

These win walls were the unofficial cheerleader of the office: they helped us emphasize the positive things in life and build a sense of momentum, an effect that was especially valuable when project deadlines seemed impossible, tempers flew high or motivation was low. Seeing the wins on the wall helped decrease the sense of powerlessness and frustration one might have felt on a particularly challenging day.

The post-it notes with words of gratitude and positivity served as a physical way to remind us to try to keep perspective and put effort into recognizing and sharing these daily positive moments. Overall, the presence of the win walls helped us remember that even on the toughest day the office is not necessarily as dire a place as it can sometimes seem.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.57.53 AMScreen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.57.28 AM

The ripple effect of wins and positive thoughts 

So, could something as simple as a win wall help people feel better about their workplace, experience less stress, think more positively, and perhaps even live longer?

It’s not a farfetched hypothesis. Positivity has a physiological effect on our minds and bodies. Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.52.37 AMThese “wins” capture a memorable moment for someone; something so memorable that they took the time to intentionally put it out into the world. The contributors did not stop at the simple act of thinking about a positive moment: they decided to take visible action by physically committing the memory to a piece of paper and posting it on the wall. Given that there are studies that show taking a positive action (as opposed to thinking alone) can improve one’s outlook and subsequently behaviour, it’s no wonder that I’ve found win walls to have such a positive impact in a workplace.

Here is the best part: it’s very easy and inexpensive to try out your very own win wall for next few months and examine the effects yourself. Would you like to see how a few post-its can build a happy work environment?

Ready to make your own win wall? Here’s how

1. Find some big paper and put it up

Find tracing or drafting paper, or use jumbo sketch pad sheets to create the base for Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.57.09 AMyour wall. I usually buy 18 x 24” sketch pads (newspaper grade that usually come in 50 or 100 sheets) at the local art store that cost about $4.

Tack it onto a cubicle wall or tape it to the wall (read on for tips on selecting the perfect wall).

2. Optional but recommended: Write a short description and decorate

Your colleagues may need some help understanding the purpose behind the wall and some encouragement for them to participate. Here is the text I write (usually at the very top of the paper or right in the center) to explain the wall:

Hello!

This is our win wall. A win wall is a place where we celebrate and share our wins of the day with each other: big or little, personal or professional.

Why? Because we spend many hours together in this space, and it is very likely that we’ve individually had several moments throughout the day when things went really well. Why not share these highlights – or win moments – with us?

How to participate:

1. Grab a post-it note and a marker.

2. Write your win (as clearly or vaguely as you’d like, about anything).

3. Stick it onto this paper.

Here are some examples of “wins”: “I finished my document on time,” “My proposal got approved” or “I got a free cookie today!”… it can even be, “I get to go home now and not be here.”

 

Add colours, arrows, drawings, or anything else that you think will draw attention to the wall.

3. Place supplies within reachScreen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.58.33 AM

Make it as easy as possible for anyone to contribute by having markers and post-it notes available as close to the win wall as possible. Most of the notes I’ve seen posted were spur-of-the-moment additions contributed on-the-go as people walked by and saw the wall, since they didn’t need to walk back to their desks for something to write on or forget their win before having a chance to add it to the wall.

4. Promote the wall

Spread the word about your win wall to encourage participation for those around you. Talk about the win wall at your next team meeting, explaining its use and benefits to your colleagues. There may be a few odd looks around the table, but with time the effects of the win wall will become clear to those who may have doubted it. Even if you don’t feel comfortable promoting it with your whole team, try telling one or two close colleagues about it.

Tips for a winning win wall

Having started a few walls in various office environments, I’ve found the following points to be key factors in how successful and active a win wall can be.

  • Location is key: Place your win wall in a high-traffic area where lots of Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 12.54.23 AMcolleagues will pass by at least once per day. Entrances to main areas and those around the kitchen or near the printer tend to get more traffic from what I’ve observed.
  • Make it difficult to miss: Use colours, photos, or any other visual element that will help attract attention to the win wall. You want people to notice it, stop for a moment to take in what others have contributed, and ideally add their own wins, helping the wall grow beyond a one-person initiative.
  • Anonymity is perfect: Don’t discourage anonymous notes. Each person has a certain level of comfort when it comes to sharing emotions in the workplace. The point of the wall is to elevate morale, and if some feel the need to be anonymous to be honest, so be it.
  • Physical win walls win: I have tried to replicate win walls online with my virtual colleagues without much luck. I suspect that it has to do with the physical sense of community that builds around physical walls. If you’ve had more success on this front, I would love to hear about it!
  • Life wins and work wins: Successful win walls tend to be a mix of professional and personal wins. I suggest pointing this out to those adding wins to the wall so people don’t necessarily fixate on work-related wins. This is particularly important for longer-term projects that may not have daily milestones.

The glass is half full, with post-its

Ranting and putting out negativity into the world after a hard day at the office is easy. However, by investing a few dollars and minutes into setting up a win wall, you can make sharing positive moments and building a healthier work environment even easier than defaulting to rants when looking for collegial support.

For some, the sunrise can be the first win of the day; for others, it may be the sunset marking the end of a long troublesome one. Both of these things, as well as a million others both big and small each day, are wins worth celebrating. Why not post them and let the rest of us in on your wins so we can all benefit from a little positive thinking?

If you start a win wall, I’d love to hear about your experience!


Have a few minutes? Watch the videos below on the effect that expressing gratitude has on us and those around us.

The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude

The Science of Happiness – Look on the Bright Side

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