Failing to Fail

definition failure

As I venture (or should I say “re-venture”?) into the world of the self-employed creative knockabout, my mind is very much centered on the business side of the business. Sure, I’d love to dwell solely on the creative side, but this other realm is a necessity if I want to be able to live long and prosper doing what I love.

I have been here before. I couldn’t wait to be here again — after almost a decade attempting to inspire the creativity in hundreds of young high school minds. On the journey back I discovered that my goal of running my own business again is not something I share with many other creatives to whom I’ve spoken. Most of them would rather deny that the “other side” exists and not deal with it at all, but there is something rewarding and empowering to me in balancing both the business and the creative. (God did not create me ambidextrous just for His own kicks!)

I think the biggest obstacle to venturing on one’s own (okay, the second biggest after being able to afford things like food and proper shelter), is the fear of failure. Do I have this fear? Abso-freakin’-lutely! Is it stopping me? No.

Why is that?

There are many things I’ve learned in my 42 years, and one of the biggest is that you never know unless you try. At the end of their lives, more people regret the things they didn’t do, than the things they did. If I didn’t try, I would always regret it. Plus, I’d be a hypocrite. Every year that I was teaching high school English and Reading, I read a passage from a book written by Michael Jordan, I Can’t Accept Not Trying (Harper San Francisco, 1994). He points out that when you think about the consequences of missing “a big shot,” you think negatively and that, in turn, becomes fear, fear of failing.

So, can there be a positive way of spinning it? Positively. “Sometimes failure actually gets you closer to where you want to be. If I’m trying to fix a car, every time I try something that doesn’t work, I’m getting closer to finding the answer,” writes Jordan.

“Designers Must Learn to Embrace Failure” written for Time by Tom Kelley and David Kelley calls the fear of failure “the single biggest obstacle people face to creative success.” Although creatives are more likely to experiment more often than non-creative types, they are prone to more failure, but as Jordan said, they learn constructively from their failures.

According to the two Kelleys, “The inescapable link between failure and innovation is a lesson you can only learn through doing.” If you never try, you never have the opportunity to create something great, regardless of how many tries are necessary. The Time article offers an example from John Cassidy’s book, Juggling for the Complete Klutz, that struck home. Cassidy begins with “The Drop.” Toss three balls in the air at once and let them drop. Repeat. There, you failed. Now when the balls hit the floor, again and again, it’s the norm. When learning to juggle, the balls are on the floor more than in the air, but the more you try, the more times they end up in the air. The more the success you can celebrate.

This analogy reminded me of my son’s early attempts at skateboarding. What did he spend 90 percent of his time doing when he was teaching himself to skateboard? Falling in the grass, very dramatically … on purpose. Yes, he was 3 or 4, and very demonstrative by nature, but he was learning how to fall the right way. By the time he was 7, he was on giant ramps and in huge bowls, or pools, skating in competitions against teenagers twice his size. When he changed sports to wakeboarding at 13, he spent his time trying and landing consistently all the small basic tricks before going big. All those people who came out to go big first are no longer even in the sport. My son had to fail/fall a lot to become world-ranked in the sport he loved. Did he know he was teaching himself to fall first to be successful later? Probably not.

Watching him and telling students for years they could do whatever they wanted in life, finally sank in with me. I’m not planning to fail, but I will learn from it and grow from it, and make it worth the fall.

As Jordan said, “If you are trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks…. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Project 3 – Cultural Representation: Content Analysis

Representation of the Press and Media Theory

As a journalist viewing this film, I was interested in the portrayal of the press. As usually presented, the members of the media were camped outside the senator’s home waiting to descend on him the minute he made an appearance. Of course, as I mentioned, his appearance came atop a ladder from his bedroom window in the back of the house and not a single member of the press questioned his actions. Throughout the film, the mainstream press was presented as one single-minded mass. The only independent thinker seemed to be the writer for the tabloid, who ironically became the leader for the other media.

At one point, the senator and his wife were listening to a television talk show on which he appeared and which featured several other political personalities. They were shown engaged in an argument in which not a single one of the speakers could be heard or understood. While viewing the program, the senator noted, “It’s the perfect forum. It’s the most intelligent show on television.”

Towards the end of the movie, Albert is assessing the media members below from the window above. When he spies someone approaching, he notes, “Oh, that’s just print news” and dismisses whoever it is. At the end, when Albert concocts a way to sneak the Senator out past the media (by dressing him in drag), he justifies the plan by latching on to something else the senator says, “The people in this country don’t pay attention to the details, just the headlines.” I understand the commentary on the mass media made by the director based on common criticisms and wonder if the last statement is more a commentary on public awareness or the role of the media in society. I think it represents the agenda-setting theory of the media and the agenda-setting role the media plays, especially amid political scandals such as the one into which the senator is being drug.

Coding this movie gave me an opportunity to see it through a cultural study perspective, but also helped me to see that entertainment theory plays a part here. Through viewing a movie with culture in mind, I understand how media can shape opinions on cultural aspects of society, such as homosexuality and family structure, and therefore perpetuate or accost stereotypes – or both, as I think this movie accomplished. And while all these constructs are somewhat evident through this film, I believe framing theory is at work here as well. A scene at the end of the movie is a perfect example of someone trying to make sense of the social world within his own expectations of that world. When it is finally revealed that Albert is Mrs. Coleman, that Armand and Albert are a couple, that the “Colemans” are actually the Goldmans and Jewish, and Albert is who Val considers his real mother, Senator Keeley is dumbfounded. He just cannot process any of this information. It takes Val, Albert, and Mrs. Keeley repeating the details for the Senator to begin to understand, and the first thing that breaks through is “You mean, they’re Jewish.” Again, the scene is played for comedic effect, but so many aspects of the situation do not fit into the senator’s perceptions of the social world, that there is a disconnect that takes repeated disclosure for him to make sense of it.

Click here for the CODING sheet.

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“The Rise of the Creative Class”

Micro-entrepreneurship is a growing trend that has been identified by the media as “the freelance economy” or the “rise of the creative class”. In the wake of a recession, where many are reevaluating their priorities, more and more individuals are chucking their corporate careers and following their passions, and technology is making it possible.

best-home-businessI have a friend renting a room in her house through Airbnb, another selling her jewelry on Etsy, a classmate brewing his own craft beer, and I’m planning to leave education for the freelance life. Individuals are creating their own jobs and using technology to make it happen. Fast Company calls this new empowerment “a celebration of life and time, and shift in perspective of money.”

Fast Company identified five reasons to account for the rise of micro-entrepreneurship: flexibility, following your heart, making money, enrichment, and creativity. It will be the customers who ultimately decide whether this trend lives on. Will they buy from these smaller more customized businesses? I tend to think it is a trend that is at least here for a good while.

We’re coming off (we hope) a time of extreme economic uncertainty. I left for the more secure opportunity in public education. My husband lost a job and began his own business at a time when headlines screamed doom on the front pages. Our property value skyrocketed, then plummeted, and then steadily rose again to where we began. People are overburdened with debt and economic stress, tired off wasting hours away from family for jobs they no longer find fulfillment or value in. After being stripped of most things material, perhaps all people want now is to be happy, to follow their dreams before it’s too late.

Perhaps people have lost faith in a lot of our systems in this country are want to chance things on their own, rely on themselves. Corporate culture is not the dream it was for many in the 90s. Even buyers are shying away from giants, and for many of the reasons entrepreneurs are:  price, flexibility, ease of use, authenticity, unique experience, and it’s good for the world. A new economy is blooming based on the values of individual gumption, and the new values of trust, collaboration, accountability, security, and technology.

I like the new economy. I like the independence with cooperation, the empowerment with trust, and the courage with satisfaction.

 

Too True to Be Good

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Up to this point, I have used my platform to discuss the varying aspects of my graduate path into online communication and web design. I have stayed away from the venting negative topics that on occasion irk me. But this is one instance where I am making an exception.

Since leaving the freelance writing and design world eight years ago, I have invested my time in teaching high school English. I know people are tired of hearing about the shortcomings of public education and the trials of teacher accountability, so I’m not going there. Think what you will of those things. One observation I have made, and have heard so many other teachers make independently, is that if something makes sense or seems logical within the school system, then you probably have it wrong. Doing the opposite of that which seems logical is an ongoing theme.

This week I read an article in the Tampa Bay Times with a headline that caught my attention, “Browning announces new plan to cut 175 Pasco school jobs.” Although I teach in Hillsborough County, Pasco is right next door. After skimming through the article, all I could do was put my head in my hands. The jobs they are talking about cutting aren’t teacher jobs, just media specialists and IT jobs at school. So I should be relieved for my fellow teachers, right?

Here the catch: the state has made all high-stakes testing computerized – FCAT, end-of-course, FAIR, and on and on. The transition to Common Core State Standards with it’s accompanying PARCC testing will only increase the number of computer-based tests. As a teacher, I cannot take my class to the media center for research or computerized project work because the media center is mostly closed for testing. All computer classes have to be shifted into non-computer rooms for the testing on a regular basis. There are not enough computers to accommodate all of the current testing demands.

One of the most reliable facts of life in a high school, is that on the first day of a new computer test, the system will break down. There is more than enough to do for one full-time IT person and one media specialist just in dealing with each teacher computer issue daily on outdated computers, much less maintaining the computers for high-stakes testing. Now Pasco County wants to meet the increased demand for high-stakes testing by removing these necessary resources to maintaining computer viability. How does this make sense? What are they thinking? And will anyone in the state see this as a conflict with what they are trying to do?

prisonersAs I am heading into an online career, I can’t help but wonder at the discrepancy between how we are educating our students and what will be expected of them beyond high school – in jobs and higher education. It has been almost 20 years since the National Education Commission released its 1994 report on Time and Learning called Prisoners of Time. The report highlighted the deficiencies of our education system to meet the needs of our students. Read it. It’s worth the time. It discusses why our students are lacking in the United States, and what we should be doing about it, but aren’t. It rails against the archaic system of education that has been based on the same clock and same calendar for 150 years, while the world has changed exponentially since then. It talks about how we are not preparing our students for globablization — and it was written in 1994!

And yet we still take a step backward when we should be charging headlong into the challenges of preparing our students for real life. I am almost ashamed of being a teacher, and that is not right.

A Fresh Approach to UCD

As my classmates and I quickly approach our final Fall semester, I’m beginning to panic. That’s natural, right? I’m a 42-year-old grad student, mother of two grown boys and wife of 23 years. I am most definitely not panicking about going out into the real world. I am not fearful of leaving the security of my college campus, because I’m an online graduate student in online communications. The panic is much smaller, shorter-term and probably unfounded.

For our final semester, we will be putting everything we learned to use in a capstone project with a non-profit organization. I’m excited about the opportunity, but a little freaked out about trying to remember all the steps of working with clients, all the programs we’ve learned, and all the coding. I’m going to need a big refresher. When I panic, what do I do? research. What is it with me and research? It’s the sickest hobby I’ve ever heard of.

I came across this fabulous article on user experience in Smashing Magazine, called “Beyond Wireframing: The Real-Life UX Design Process“. That caught my attention because we learned about this process, but in theory. Hearing about it applied in action piqued my curiosity.

seo-user-experience-design

Marcin Treder and his design group decided to talk to designers about their processes and found common elements regardless of the clients and businesses they were designer for. The process ends up looking something like this:

  1. Collect information about the problem. This means meeting with the client, identifying product’s requirements, benchmarking, and trend analysis.
  2. Getting ready to design. Ideation is the name of the game here, in addition to design refinement. Lo-fi prototypes are a great starting point (see Adaptive Path’s multipage templates), but are good for testing.
  3. Design. Sketches, wireframes, and prototypes are handed off to the developer, hi-fi design left for the visual designers.
  4. Approval. Create presentation to tell stakeholders the design story – stages of the process, deliverables, interactions.

In almost all cases studied, Treder and his colleagues found three recurring issues across the board.

  1. Spreading an understanding of the design process. (UX designers vs. visual designers)
  2. Communication within the team.
  3. Demonstrating the process to get buy-in.

Solving these three issues could be the recipe to increase UX design effectiveness.

 

A Crash Course in Git

gitAs promised, I did a little info-seeking session to find out some information on Git. I’ve been hearing about it more and more as I’ve attempted to acquire coding skills, and this is what I’ve found out for others who are as clueless as I was.

What is Git?

Git is a distributed version control system allowing users to track the history of a collection of files by taking “snapshots” of the files at particular points in time. It doesn’t just store saved version, but rather takes snapshots of all the files at that point. That collection and their history is are stored in a repository.

The benefits to tracking the history is to allow for reversion to previous states, review changes made over time, see who modified it last, problem tracking, recovery, or simultaneous switching between two versions for testing purposes. Users can even clone entire repositories.

Clients check out a fully mirrored repository, so that if the server goes down, copies can be copied back up to the server to restore it.

Because most operations in Git only require local files and resources to operate, and you have the entire history of the project on your local disk, most operations are almost instantaneous and there is very little you can’t do offline. Users simply commit offline until they get to a network connection to upload.

According to Scott Chacon, it is important to understand that files reside in three main states – committed, modified, and staged.

Committed means that the data is safely stored in your local database. Modified means that you have changed the file but have not committed it to your database yet. Staged means that you have marked a modified file in its current version to go into your next commit snapshot.

This means there are three main sections of a Git project: the Git directory, the working directory, and the staging area. Therefore, the basic workflow is something like this:

  1. Modify files in a working directory
  2. Stage the files, adding snapshots of them to your staging area
  3. Do a commit, which takes the files as they are in the staging area and stores that snapshot permanently in your Git directory

That’s the gist of it. Now is the point when I would install Git and get started (I avoided the obvious pun there). Git is an excellent resource I will definitely take advantage of when I begin working on web project from now on. I’m almost tempted to use it now for my grad school work, since I have nagging paranoia about storing all my files on my laptop and external hard drive.

For more information, or clarify the basics, take a look at this article from Six Revisions called “Top 10 Git Tutorials for Beginners” or Lars Vogel’s Git Tutorial at Vogella.com.

Always the teacher, I also recommend this episode of O’Reilly Webcasts, “Git in One Hour” for my visual and hands-on learners.

RWD vs. Mobile-only Design

Here’s the question of the day: Is it better to to use responsive web design or design for the desktop and a mobile-only design?

Responsive Web Design is all the rage right now with so many devices popping up with greater frequency. It makes sense (and it’s pretty cool) to see responsiveness at work. Just check out Media Queries to see what I mean. But then again, user experience is sometimes better with an app or a mobile-only design.

So which one is better? Which one has greater staying power?

Both have practically the same load times regardless of device of screen resolution. Desktops, however, are still significantly faster overall. Broadband is still more than a quarter times faster than smartphone mobile internet. But devices are increasing in prevalence. That would seem to point away from responsive design and more toward capitalizing on the benefits of each type of device through desktop and mobile-only designs. In my opinion, designing separately for these would not take that much more time than designing responsively over all. And the complexity of RWD may end up more costly in the end from a designer’s standpoint.

As a small business owner, I know that time is money in so many ways. Load times will ultimately make a difference on the bottom line. Mobile-only designs are more easily and quickly accessible, more easily navigated, and mobile user-friendly on those devices, but fast broadband connections will favor my businesses when users can sit down at a full-size monitor and take some time looking at the products. Here’s another great inforgraphic, this time from KISSmetrics:

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WowPress – There’s Still so Much to Learn

As I’ve started becoming more familiar with WordPress I am realizing a couple of things. Thing No.1:  I have done so many things wrong in the past. Thing No. 2: There is still an overwhelming number of things to learn. Seriously.

While I was tempted to try some Cowboy Coding (yes, I’ll admit it), I quickly figured out the flaw in this. Had I done it, version control would’ve been out the window before I even really started with it. Now that I am actually trying to deploy websites, I’m realizing that there is a lot more involved than just changing coding, uploading to the server through FTP. Luckily, I’m learning that I’m not the only one.

Kieran Masterton conducted a survey on improving the deployment of WordPress Websites and published his results in Smashing Magazine on April 15. His goal in conducting the survey was to identify the professional development topic needed within the WordPress community. Here is his breakdown of respondents:

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Most are freelancers and small businesses, categories I will find myself in soon. Of all the respondents, 46% manages fewer than 10 websites, 8% manage 30-40, and one person manages 700 (I’m not even sure how that is possible). With these numbers, Masterton brought up the necessity of version control. I had never particularly considered this, as I’ve only been looking at it from a one-woman, get-me-through-grad-school perspective. But this is important, and it was missing from our recent curriculum. Here are the results of Masterton’s survey on version control:

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That is concerning, and obviously Masterton concluded that version control needs to be a topic for development.

His article linked to this WordCamp talk by Mark Jaquith, and it also made a lot of sense to me, although I am just beginning to get the nuts and bolts of this stuff.

So, as is usually the case, this has spawned yet another entire list of topics to research, which is good for the blog, but homework for me. Next on the agenda is learning about Git. Git is a version control that tracks changes, updates, and so forth. I know one of my instructors is a big proponent of Git, so off I go to read up. I’ll post what I “git” out of it next. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

As Long As We’re Talking About Business…

It’s not deliberately that I’ve decided to shift my topics from the nitty-gritty of coding to running a business. I think it have be a free-flowing natural progression as I’ve proceeded from beginning my semester o’coding to finishing up and realizing that I do in fact want to take this venture of mine beyond classroom to real world career. (See previous posts regarding weird enjoyment of freelancing.)

Today I came across two articles on the website A List Apart (alistapart.com), both written by the same gentleman, and focusing on the business aspects of design. Jason Blumer, chief innovation officer of Blumer & Associates, offers tips for developing a business and pricing services by that company.

In “Growing Your Design Businessin this month’s issue, Blumer offers tips he has learned as a business consultant for creatives.

Business owners learn their trade the same way: by taking general business wisdom, applying it to their specific niche, and working diligently until they get it right.

According to Blumer, there are four most common issues faced by growing design firms.

1. Working with the wrong clients. Finding the right clients is the key to respect and fulfillment, because they understand a designer’s value and allows the designer to remain in control of the design process, they bring enjoyment, and they are profitable. Working for bad clients, saps the relationship and taxes the entire process.

2. Hiring just to hire with the misconception that bigger is better. The process should be guided by the desire to retain those good clients – hire to serve great clients, but don’t take on any clients just to pay employees.

3. Growing too quickly. All aspects of the business need to be able to accommodate growth – from a  reliable project management system to effective account managers.

4. Low margins. To me, this made a lot of sense and touched on one of the aspects of freelancing that the nay-sayers I’ve met hate. Talking money makes a creative uncomfortable, and it shouldn’t. It is business, after all.

In the next article I read, though it was published last year, advised newer business owners on pricing policies – and they make a lot of sense.

Pricing is a great branding control.

The most valuable piece of advice I took from this is to price by the service, not by the hour. In the past, hourly pricing has been the most common practice, but I always felt judged by how I accounted for that time. Also, it was difficult to establish the profit margin because I was not pricing according to the resources needed, but how long I took or didn’t take. Pricing by the service allows for specificity and consistency, which I am all about.

Blumer recommends slowing down the sales process. He says that clients in a hurry are going to be problem clients, and I agree. It would appear that clients in a hurry trivialize the design and creative process and undervalue the time spent understanding the client you will be representing. In fact, he recommends developing a client in-take process that includes determining the purpose of the project, investigating the expected result, discussing value, and creating engagement. By laying it all out up front, both sides are clear on expectations throughout the process.

He ends with another great tip: Provide three pricing options – always. The top option should include those things that the client didn’t asked for, probably because they didn’t think to. Three option offers a choice and further establishes expectations.

As I begin to process this eminent transition, these are the resources in which I will invest my time to help me clarify the environment I will reinsert myself into, hopefully as painlessly (insert chuckle here) as possible.