FROM THE TRENCHES: Illegal, Immoral or Just Plain Stupid?

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Knowing we could be eliminated from the running for a job we want, should we answer interview questions that are irrelevant or even illegal? Continue reading

A Life Beyond The Busy Trap


Anxiety

Anxiety: We worry. A gallery of contributors count the ways.

Exactly my sentiments. EMP

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If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s  make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications. I recently wrote a friend to ask if he wanted to do something this week, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.

Brecht Vandenbroucke

Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I  Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness.

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn’t allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d’être was obviated when “menu” buttons appeared on remotes, so it’s hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?

But just in the last few months, I’ve insidiously started, because of professional obligations, to become busy. For the first time I was able to tell people, with a straight face, that I was “too busy” to do this or that thing they wanted me to do. I could see why people enjoy this complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon. Except that I hate actually being busy. Every morning my in-box was full of e-mails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now had to solve. It got more and more intolerable until finally I fled town to the Undisclosed Location from which I’m writing this.

Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library. I go a week at a time without seeing anyone I know. I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars. I read. And I’m finally getting some real writing done for the first time in months. It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how best to say it, without getting the hell out of it again.

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Read previous contributions to this series.

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

Perhaps the world would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved as I do. But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle. My role is just to be a bad influence, the kid standing outside the classroom window making faces at you at your desk, urging you to just this once make some excuse and get out of there, come outside and play. My own resolute idleness has mostly been a luxury rather than a virtue, but I did make a conscious decision, a long time ago, to choose time over money, since I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd. Life is too short to be busy.

(Anxiety welcomes submissions at anxiety@nytimes.com.)


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Tim Kreider is the author of “We Learn Nothing,” a collection of essays and cartoons. His cartoon, “The Pain — When Will It End?” has been collected in three books by Fantagraphics.

7 Top Online Marketing Trends for 2011 [Data Included]

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RePosted Tuesday, February 21, 2012 By Heidi Cohen | January 10, 2011 | 23 comments sponsored by: Adobe Shovel and Twitter in hand during the post-Christmas Snowpocalypse, Newark Mayor Cory Booker showed that 2011 will be about being connected, showing … Continue reading

Aging In Adland


January 30th Advertising Age posted an article about ageism. Too late for the gray-hairs. I seem to recall everyone over 50 (maybe it was 40, but it seemed like 50 when I was 20) was fired for making too much money. Now it’s too much or not enough of something else.

I learned that lesson the hard way. Here’s my response posted to Ad Age just now:

Aging in Adland:

I worked in advertising at the big creative agencies on both coasts for more than 18 years. When I hit 40 and was living in L.A. at the time, an well known ad agency owner looked up from his desk and said “I wouldn’t hire you ever no how no way”. When I asked why he said, “I can get someone half your age to work twice as hard for half the money”. Now that was a slap in the head with a two by four, no doubt, not to mention illegal but he was only saying what they all thought and didn’t want to say. It took a recruiter to sit me down and explain ageism to me.

Ironically, it was only then that I realized the only way to keep working was to keep reinventing myself in the digital world. I got a lowly job in a think tank in the Venice CA tech hub. Once there felt about code the way once felt about film. I was a sponge for technology and because there was nothing but new ground to cover, pulled out the stops, learned and accomplished things I would have been prohibited from doing in the Agency world.

While I love my colleagues and value experience in the advertising world, digital technology was the trip I seized and am still on. I am an award winning blogger, a sponge for all things digital and a well respected electronic commerce marketing specialist. TOTALLY SELF-TAUGHT.
In this new industry there are no holds barred as long as you are willing to stick your neck out and hit the trail.

Elaine Palmer
Owner Maven Media New York
Blogging @ ExecutiveWomen2.0

FROM THE TRENCHES: Haggling For Dollars. What Would A Man Do?


I recently had a free lance writing gig and was hired by someone I already knew. Our relationship has always been strictly professional and yet, this is someone I’ve kept a friendly rapport with over some eight years. Though I wrote for his publications in the 1990’s, I never reported to him directly. So our friendship remained steady – albeit at a distance. He found himself pitching a huge piece of new business recently and asked me to work on it. I posed the usual questions about scope and time frame and of course salary.

When he asked what I would charge, I did some quick math and requested an hourly rate at my standard writing fee. When he replied that he didn’t have anywhere near that kind of money, I simply asked him to tell me what he did have. He quickly halved my number and I made the deal.

What actually transpired was I did twice the assessed work for half the fee. Very predictable as it’s never failed to go down like that in the past. The one difference was, this time I asked for the remainder of the fee I first named to be deferred to the award of the job – which is fairly likely. At that point, I was offered a job. A much better result than a one time fee. Or was it? A choice that was handed to me and, in some instances, I would not have necessarily accepted.

Why? The pros and cons of a future arrangement are: the job might not materialize, the job might materialize but not to my liking, I might be already be committed to another situation when and if the job does materialize. If I get the deferred fee: it’s cash in my hands, I feel satisfied that I was paid for the work performed and I get what I initially asked for. This proves to my possible future employer -should I work for him later on – that I drive a hard bargain and will likely do that in future negotiations with him and with his vendors.

Being tough-minded where money is concerned is a good thing to employers and especially employers who are men.

At the vanguard of emerging technology, Elaine Morris Palmer, has been a “free agent” of the new economy since the early 1990’s. Award-winning broadcast producer-cum-new-media industry-analyst, marketing strategist, journalist and communications specialist. Her digital media consultancy, Maven Media, is headquartered in New York City.

FROM THE TRENCHES: On Professionalism


FROM THE TRENCHES  is a new column. Please join the conversation._______________________________________________________________________

Once a colleague of mine in advertising said, “Whenever you hear the word ‘unprofessional’, you can basically insert the word ‘schmuck’ instead. I wonder about that. I don’t wonder that unprofessionalism is rampant out there.  And for the would-be  leaders among us, here are a few observations and suggestions from the trenches.

If you are asking someone to work for you and they represent an integral part of the work product, why not treat them with respect. There are certain protocols I’ve learned as a consultant who hires third party vendors and as a third party vendor myself. Here are some of them:

  • Educate yourself about their background and skills so that you don’t unintentionally condescend to overstate the obvious.
  • Give the consultant and his or her team your specifications as clearly and completely as possible. That means your internal communications should be clear and complete too. If there is a less than obvious objective for the assignment, make sure all the internal agreement about priorities is set before the specifications are handed out. Ideally, a printed spec sheet is given to all the bidders simultaneously, or at least each one gets the same date and time stamped information.
  • Make requests or changes in a timely way.  It’s not really to anyone’s advantage to wait until the day before a pitch or meeting to request substantive changes. Get your  ducks in a row. Make sure all the relevant decision makers offer their input to your company’s one outside link by a date certain and in plenty of time for your vendor to create the most successful and well-received presentation.
  • Make sure your vendor knows your team. This is important because we all want to know who we’re speaking to. We might make adjustments to a presentation with a better understanding of the audiences’ specifics. If your consultant is meeting important people on your staff or team, be sure they know each person’s background, proper title and current role in the project. Is your vendor dealing (especially on short notice assignments) with the decision maker so there’s a minimum of wasted work and time?
  • Give the consultant the correct address information and a contact phone in case of emergency. If possible, directions and even paid or, at least, pre-paid transportation to get the person there comfortably and in plenty of time to be pulled together and organized.
  • Greet and announce them in a timely way. Don’t make a visitor sit endlessly in a waiting room. Offer them a restroom key, a glass or water and be sure that all the parties are assembled. Start on time even if the entire team isn’t on time.
  • Be sure the meeting attendees are up to speed about the consultant’s credentials. After all, the consultant will have prepared for the meeting.
  • Have a meeting agenda prepared so everyone’s time is spent optimally.
  • See the person out. If you’re located in a remote location, make sure they have transportation back to their offices.
  • Be responsive. Make a point of letting your vendor/consultant know outcomes, decisions, even if they aren’t favorable. Either initiate a call or email or, at the very least, respond to theirs. No one likes to feel they gave a meeting their all and no one cared enough to even say, “Thanks for coming by. We’ll call you when we need you.”After all, professionalism is professionalism. And lastly,
  • Pay on time. Some vendors ask for money up front (either 1/3 or 1/2 depending on the lead time and length of the assignment). Now you can invoice and pay through PayPal or Google CheckOut. No fuss no muss. Don’t forget, these sites take a percentage for themselves on each transaction.

ANA presents: How to Build a Killer Marketing Plan – one day seminar


How To Build A Killer Marketing Plan

ANA Event

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Don’t Fret. Just Ask For What You Need.


Preoccupations
Don’t Fret. Just Ask for What You Need.

By PEGGY KLAUS
Reprinted from The New York Times.

"Unfortunately,in the corporate world, ther is a narrower band of acceptable commuiction for women than for men. "

Lion or Pussycat?

Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011
“YOU can’t be afraid to ask,” my Uncle Art used to say when recounting tales of his successful 40-odd-year career selling mattresses up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

My uncle was talking about making the sale, but corporate types need to ask for what they need, too. This is especially true for women, who, in spite of an increase in diversity training, mentoring and sponsorship programs, still lag far behind men in reaching senior management and C-suite positions. In fact, in 2010, only 14.4 percent of the executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies were held by women.

Whether from fear of being perceived as too aggressive or too selfish, women tend not to be comfortable asking for what they want. And when they do ask, it can be in ineffective ways.

Often, women’s speech is peppered with tentative and indirect phrases that scream a lack of confidence, such as, “I’m not really sure, but you could try it this way,” or, “Now, I’m not an expert, but …” or, “I think this is a good idea — do you?”

Many women have also adopted an upward vocal inflection at the end of sentences, a regrettable characteristic popularized by the Valley Girl. It turns a strong declarative statement into a question, conveying weakness, uncertainty and a request for approval.

In addition, and perhaps most important, professional women sometimes forget to build their case around the things that matter most to their employer — principally, the impact on the bottom line. That was true for one high-producing client of mine, who needed a more flexible schedule that would allow her to work from home one day a week.

While she knew she could make the change work seamlessly for her clients and her direct reports, she was still very reluctant to ask. She worried that her boss would demote her to part time and cut her salary.

After addressing her fears of the possible consequences, we went to work on perfecting her “ask.” We prepared a brief, clear account of why she needed to make this change and described how she could do her job without harming clients, colleagues or the bottom line.

The dreaded conversation with the boss lasted exactly 10 minutes. It was cut short the moment he told her: “I have no doubt we can make this work. In fact, if you should need to work another day at home, just let me know, and we’ll see how we can manage it.”

It just goes to show you: you’ve got to ask.

Another client, a managing director of an international investment bank, says women need to be bold and straightforward when stating what they need to achieve their goals.

“My 25-year career path has included several job changes,” she said. “And with each new job, there was always a male colleague who was responsible for introducing me around the firm. In every case, my cordial host would introduce me almost exclusively to women. I know they thought they were helping me, but, in fact, it was the introductions to the men I couldn’t manage on my own.”

She was quick to add that the “women only” introductions had nothing to do with trying to undermine her success. The men had simply assumed that she’d be more comfortable with other women.

But how will a business see a return on investment if women cultivate relationships only with other women? The answer is: It won’t.

From her previous experiences, my client had learned to ask for the help she needed. A few years back, when male colleagues welcomed her into the company with an offhanded yet well-meaning “Let me know if I can do anything for you,” my client knew exactly how to respond:

Introduce me to the top 10 people in the firm. Include me when you and the guys go out for dinner. Arrange a breakfast with the firm’s top traders, and let me introduce myself and my team. Count me in when the firm signs up for any corporate sponsorships. Invite me to your quarterly top-client events.

In addition to these requests, my client had the courage — some might call it the chutzpah — to schedule an appointment with the chief executive and tell him what kind of support she was seeking. When colleagues asked why she had gone to see the C.E.O., she told them: “The firm’s paying me a lot of money to do a great job. What C.E.O. wouldn’t want to help me do that?”

THE act of putting your stake in the ground — stating exactly what you want — is scary for most women. We worry that if we’re too direct, we’ll alienate the very audience we’re trying to win over.

Unfortunately, in the corporate world there is a narrower band of acceptable communication for women than for men. Even so, we can find ways to ask for what we need. Unfair as it may seem, women do have to be more attuned to the listener and more careful in determining the best way to say what needs to be said. But look on the bright side: for a gender with a propensity for zeroing in on the feelings of others, we’ve got a head start.

Peggy Klaus consults with executives and organizations on leadership and communication. E-mail: preoccupations@nytimes.com.