I heard this quote at a presentation at FITC and it has haunted me since. I don’t want to be lost, I want to become something, but I can’t see right now what that will be.
Complex worldHuman data is messy, messy in a single community, let alone a whole world made up of millions of networks - ethnic, geographical, political, religious, professional, aspirationalTechnology progressing at an insane rate so diverges and diversifies and then within that spectrum splinters, converges and specializesI left the UK as a digital strategist. Then I took a job as an account manager and than a digital planner which was really an information architect and then an account director and finally after a very scenic tour through the Toronto agency scene, I have found a bull's-eye digital strategist role in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In a world of moving targets, I try to maintain some mental flexibility on what can happen. After-all…. Anything is possible.
Discovery….I have been asked in a few interviews where I see myself in two years and always struggled to give an honest reply that would tick the box. So much has happened in the last two years…. In the last ten years change in my own life has accelerated and if this pattern continues, how can I plan beyond the medium-term? A better question would be - what do I hope to accomplish in the next two years, which would then also accommodate personal learning projects.I don’t have a destination in mind for a perfect life, I can only recognize the signs of something interesting. Not having a map is different from getting lost, but I’ve experienced both curiosity and confusion in my travels.
This is what “home” looks like in my head and I wonder if this is what other immigrants see when they reflect on their present and past. Memories mashed up into a landscape that is indistinguishable without interrogation. Even when I return to previous homes, I can navigate around, but lose the detail of practical living.
I left the UK because I needed to experience *something* different, albeit not so different that it would be culturally alienating. On the one hand the UK has more content than Canada, more history, more competition, more people, more choice….. But the move to Canada and then the move from Toronto to Halifax highlighted how small the UK really is….a tiny, over-populated island.
Still bruised from a recruiter’s feedback that I am not a “pedigree planner” – I googled “mongrel” and found this photo, which I thought was beautifully apt for immigrant survival in Canada. The short stints on my résumé that demand justification have also made me resilient, exposing me to a very useful range of agency cultures. Not sure if I’d recommend this experience to others (it has been hard), but I feel this has made me more flexible in what I take on and resourceful in how I cope with uncertainty and change.
I’ve been to many startup/tech/design talks where speakers promote the importance of failure, but this an alien concept in advertising, where we never openly acknowledge management gaps or missed opportunities. Some days I wish I was that “pedigree planner”. I wish I wasn’t the mongrel that left art school for engineering, wearable technology for marketing, the UK for Canada and Toronto for Halifax. But planning it all would have involved the ability to predict a future, certainty as a constant and that our adolescent lenses are the same as our thirty-something perspectives.Although some immigrants have arguably settled a little more easily/quickly in Toronto than I did (and discipline/seniority may also make a difference), I’d also stress that as a widely acknowledged “brudal” city, you have to fight your own way to stardom. Having heard it can take up to nine months or even a year (!) to get a job which is a better/best fit, I’ve included my own numbers below.Applied to 23 businessesInterviewed at 17 companies: 14 agencies, 3 client-side for 19 full-time roles12 second-stage interviews and 3 third-stage interviews:6 offersLongest interview was three hoursLongest interviewing sessionwas eight hoursLongest interviewing period was four months14 directly through external recruiters2 through internal recruiters2 recommendations2 referrals13 informational interviewsEmployed for 15/23 monthsSome immigrant friends run their own companies, some their own departments, some are in psychotherapy and some are on antidepressants. Canada welcomes immigrants, but that should never be confused with a free ride.
The importance of having an open mind has been widely documented, though arguably not that widely expressed.Over the last year, I’ve personally been involved in a few conversations about generalists versus specialists – both intellectually and justifying my middle ground as a digital strategist. Upon also almost/maybe/at some point becoming involved with an event about polymath literacy – found an interesting article that argued the knowledge bar in each subject is too high now for true polymaths…. That we are too advanced to become specialists in multiple fields.
Even as the gap between passion and wisdom closes with age and experience, it’s still frustrating to grapple with the disconnect between charismatic presentations /articles on what ideal candidates look like and the job descriptions that get pumped out…..“There’s no shortage of brains in the industry. It’s the vertebral column that tends to be missing.” (David Ogilvy)
“In the last decade, two important papers were presented to learned societies, one on anthropology and the other on biology. Both these researchers were working completely independently. But it happened by chance that I saw both papers. The biological one was looking into all the biological species that have become extinct. The anthropological one was looking into all the human tribes that had become extinct. Both researchers were trying to find a commonality of causes for extinction. Both of them found the same cause independently – extinction is a consequence of over-specialization. As you get more and more over-specialized, you inbreed specialization. It’s organic. As you do, you outbreed general adaptability.So here we have the warning that specialization is a way to extinction, and our whole society is thus organized.”Page 326, Design for the Real World | Human Ecology and Social Change, Victor Papanek************looking at real-world problems and trying to solve them in an ecologically-sound and efficient, forward-thinking way
“The abandonment of the radical economic foundations of the women’s and civil rights movements by the conflation of causes that came to be called political correctness successfully trained a generation of activists in the politics of image, not action. And if the space invaders marched into our schools and our communities unchallenged, it was at least partly because the political models in vogue at the time of the invasion left many of us ill-equipped to deal with issues that were more about ownership than representation. We were busy analyzing the pictures being projected on the wall to notice that the wall itself had been sold.” Naomi Klein “No Logo”It is a distinctly North American experience to find all human-space, especially urban-human-space plastered with advertising, both organized and guerilla.Marketing is a low-barrier discipline, with high-bar expectation, coupled with the accessible culture of the Internet – we have a bigger problem of everyone believing they can do a better job themselves, creating a sea of mediocre messaging and cynical reception.
This graph shows what you win and lose when you move countries. On the one hand you leave your family and friends in one country, spend your life savings emigrating and downsize considerably. And on the other hand, you arrive in a new place, trade money for new knowledge (indirectly), gain considerably new connections (personal and professional) and meet a lots of inspiring people. Still has one hand passes these things to the other, it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride, longer-term freedom is at the expense of short-term freedom, you miss those “old-comfortable-slipper” friendships and the gaps between periods of employment feel like delicate bridges across a dark chasm.Six apartment movesStayed with a friend [Kitchener]Stayed with a family [Greektown]Stayed in a sublet [Young & Eglinton]Basement apartment for a month when landlord got the dates wrongRented a two-bed apartment [Greektown]Houseshare [The Junction]
Although I’ve been joining meetups across three cities, the bulk of such “networking” took place in Toronto. Over the last thee to four years, I have joined 41 meetups and yes…. an eclectic subject range is indicative of both a curious personality and lost soul.
The groups / spaces / environments where I have actively participated.
“When meeting people from a foreign culture, offer a few gifts that reflect your interests as a gesture of friendship. Better yet, give things you’ve created yourself. Also, explore their interests and their culture. Ultimately, the best way to forge a lasting friendship is to create something together. Whether it’s a meal, an art project or a spontaneous dance party, when you create something with others, you build a connection that lasts a lifetime.” – International Diplomacy Guidebook via Jennifer TurliukMaking conductive felt with Erin Lewis at Interaccess
The Web is a resource to be protected; one to be co-created, not merely co-consumed. To create things with and on the Web means being able to both read and write it. In other words, to be Web literate, “we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them” (Rushkoff, 2010).Digital literacy today is as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. We want to move them from consuming it to making it as a means of self-expression. We want to create a generation of people who know how the Web works and can remix it. We also want to empower educators, those who want to teach other people about the Web.Mozilla’s work is underpinned by a philosophy that we learn best through doing and making. While our work is underpinned by the works of academics in related fields, we’re interested in practical action. We’re focused upon encouraging people to become experienced in writing parts of the Web and participating in online communities.The importance of a sense of play.
A lot of workshops leverage copy and paste instructions that don’t allow people creative movement on their own projectsCritical thinking needs to accompany code. If somebody had no capacity for language, you wouldn’t simply tell them to go out and learn French or English or Japanese. The way we use language has everything to do with how we think, create, communicate – context. Help people build a framework for their learningIt’s OK not to work from scratch.Interdisciplinary involves movement and interrogation. Emigrating has taught me as much about home as it has about CanadaWe cannot and should not assume our future belongs to the Alpha Geek. The sole purpose of technology should always be how to make us more effective, efficient or healthier human beings –giving us more time to do something more meaningful than the human activity absorbed by technology. Whether we go into Space or 3D print human hearts, we should always be thinking how a platform or device extends us as a human being.
Cultivate weak tiesWeak ties are more valuableThe more time we spend with each other, the more similar we become and therefore decrease in unique valueAs people become increasingly jaded around advertising, we are going to have work harder at understanding human networks and to search for souls in a world of distraction.
Integrate mindfulness into digital communication and content
PechaKucha slides - "Taking the long way round"
Taking the longway round…Reflections on emigrating to Canada and the first two yearsin Toronto.
“If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariablybecome it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you livewhat some might call the dynamic life but what I will call the artistic life, if each day youare unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and thatis your reward.”Oscar Wilde via Hoss Gifford
Creating as relationship buildingCreating as relationshipbuilding
Move from a culture ofconsuming to a culture ofcreating
Alpha Geek & Alpha ArtistLearning to code argumentCool things on TwitterGet over being first, focus on being betterNew rules –old skool& new school ofcreating artYou can’t get interdisciplinary within adiscipline
Problems still tosolve?1. Culture of innovation looklike: entrepreneur versusentrepreneurial2. Sharing ideas with IPparanoia3. Making sure everyonecontributes4. Digital will have a legacy5. Play for grownups6. Can we acquire hard skillsthrough social time?7. Balance between time aloneand time together8. Community collaboration
Learnings (tips for survival)Do what you love and be amazing at itPrioritize networking & learning over applyingfor jobsSurround yourself with the most positivefriends, isolate yourself from criticism &distractionBe courteous to recruiters, but rememberyou’re a saleBe open to everything, expect nothing (cultureneutral)ActivelyDefine your own projects and track progress