Discovering Your Own Voice

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education | Posted on 16-08-2010-05-2008

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I’ve been making a conscious effort to get back to blogging both here and over on the BlueFuego blog. After my blog post last Friday, I got an email from a friend/subscriber.

The email, in a nutshell, was this: “Less theory, more application.” They noted that my early posts on here (2007-2008) were more how-to’s and walkthroughs with the web! Or in other words, the content has gone from micro to macro, providing more top-level ideas and thoughts that take some consideration and application to make it relevant to what you do. It’s not just a “do this”, it’s a “think about this in regards to what you do.”

There’s plenty of reason for that. On one level, my work has shifted from being very hands-on with one school to now consulting 10-15 institutions at a time, where we seek to educate and empower them to do great work. Also, I believe the culture of sharing in higher ed marketing has gone awry. I’m very purposeful in what I post here now vs. then. I think this section from the book Rework sums it up well, especially for me as I continue to discover my blog voice. Read this:

Don’t Copy

Sometimes copying can be part of the learning process, like when you are an art student replicating a painting in a museum or a drummer playing along to John Bonham’s solo on Led Zepplin’s ‘Moby Dick.’ Where you’re a student, this sort of imitation can be a helpful tool on the path to discovering your own voice.

Unfortunately, copying in the business arena is usually more nefarious. Maybe it’s because of the copy-and-paste world we live in these days. You can steal someone’s word, images or code instantly. and that means it’s tempting to try to build a business by being a copycat.

That’s a formula for failure though. The problem with this sort of copying is it skips understanding — and understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why something is the way it is. When you just copy and paste, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of all the layers underneath.

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Plus, if you’re a copycat, you can never keep up. You’re always in a passive position. You never lead; you always follow. You give birth to something that’s already behind the times — just a knockoff, an inferior version of the original. That’s no way to live.

How do you know if you’re copying someone? If someone else is doing the bulk of the work, you’re copying. Be influenced, but don’t steal.

Understanding is how you grow. Copycats never lead. What you create is a knockoff. Isn’t that reason enough to want to do something on your own? To spend the extra time actually learning what it means than just copying it and moving on?

I am very purposeful about this, about not asking “I need examples of universities using ____ well” or “can you share examples in higher ed with me of schools that are doing _______”. There’s no real value in that, in my opinion. Plus, I am paid for what I know and truly understand, not what I can Google and regurgitate

Copying verbatim is just a shortcut to the end, skipping the steps in between to understand how and why something works on the web. (Don’t get me started on the other vendors and consultants who do this and then just repurpose your answers for their clients or presentations. :) )

Legwork. It’s a constant statement in my workplace. Legwork always, ALWAYS wins. But not everyone wants to put forth that level of effort. Do you?

And to close with my favorite quote from President Steven Sample at USC: “You cannot copy your way to excellence; rather, true excellence can only be achieved through original thinking and unconventional approaches.”

Setting the Precedent

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 13-08-2010-05-2008

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I got my car serviced today. A 60,000 mile tune-up. I never did tune-ups before I owned this vehicle.

As I sat there for 3 hours, working from the lobby and making calls, my mind drifted to why I sat there. Why I do this, with this car. We’ve never done any tune-ups on my wife’s car. Or my last vehicle. Or any other car I’ve ever owned.  But this one… it’s at the dealer every 7,500 miles.

It’s because of the precedent that has been set.

Before I bought this vehicle, I rummaged through the service records in the glove box.  Immaculate.  Literally. Take a look below. The person before me not only hit every service interval, but often did it 1-3,000 miles before it was even due. Proactive maintenance.

As I sat there, I thought about precedent. The one that had been set before me on this car.  The fact that I knew what I was taking over from the person who owned this vehicle before me (perfection). And finally… the fact that, for the first time in my history of owning a vehicle, I felt compelled enough by seeing a page with stamps and signatures on it that I continue to follow the maintenance/service intervals. Again, it all came down to the precedent.

Your Job

You’re not going to be at your job forever. Agreed?

But the precedents you set, they’ll stick around.  Your work ethic. Your management and leadership.  The way you run meetings. How you handle conflict.  How much time you waste on Twitter. The small things, the big things, and everything in between.

What kind of framework are you laying down? When the person who steps into your place next takes over, what are you leaving them? Hopefully, something that’s exciting to be a part of.

Care. Care enough to want to do better than the person who had your job before you, and care enough to leave something worthwhile for the person after you.

Instead of an expectation of mediocrity in your workplace, what would a precedent of excellence look like? Where dragging out deadlines and pushing things to “phase 2″ was simply not good enough? And “work hours” actually meant “productive work hours”?

Create a precedent in everything you do that makes people want to continue it and take it further, even if they never met you, and regardless of the cost.