March: Book One – A review of color, style and storytelling

The tone of March: Book One, the graphic novel of the first part of Congressman John Lewis’ life and role in the Civil Rights Movement,  was primarily depicted through the way the design of the pages, the location of the words, and the stylistic decisions made throughout. These stylistic traits really crafted the experience and feeling s of the story while reading. First, the whole book was in black and white, immediately highlighting the differences and separation between the whites and black in society at the time. The fact that there was frame around the whole story and that John Lewis was telling the whole story from first person but to an audience drew you in as though you were those little boys in the office talking with the congressman as well. This frame also ties the novel inseparably to the speaker, Congressman John Lewis, and his life story.

The imagery in the book was dramatic with dark shadows further darkening the black and white on the pages. For example, on page 93, when they are describing one of the sit ins, the whole page illustration while they are all sitting at the bar and there is just one word “klik” resounding throughout the day. The anticipation builds as you take in the whole scene. In this frame, you see a lot of black filling the page, which is interesting because it contrasts what the environment would likely literally look like. Instead, the diner is likely brightly lit, the darkness highlights the tension, the insecurity, and the fear that is present in the room. You also see fear and determination on the characters faces who are participating in the sit in. In the background, you see the white people who are angry, standing with crossed-arms and formed almost as a wall, a resounding force in the frame as well.

Contrasting that, when the congressman is talking in his office with the boys, there is a lot more white on the pages and a lot more humor throughout the language. In fact, this is the only place where humor pears in the novel throughout. It is presented through the naiveté of the small boys with the questions that highlight how far the society has come since the Civil Rights Movement. What is also apparent, is the aging that John Lewis has gone through. The book of course, only covers the first part of his life and his entrance and rise in the Civil Rights Movement, so the distance in time is even more apparent. While John Lewis is more than willing to share his story with the children and mother, he also appears very strained while telling the story, very exhausted. This shows how his work in the Civil Rights Movement has worn on him, it has become a part of who he is, it is apparent in his outward physique.

Why Congressman John Lewis chose to present his autobiography in a graphic novel is an interesting thought. I didn’t do research to find his official answer on this, because I wanted to first consider what benefits he could take advantage of. First thought that comes to mind is the idea that this format stands out amongst other biographies, however, I do not feel this is enough of a reason to publish in this format. Maybe, the main advantage is this style makes the feeling, the experience, and the tone all very experiential. Like discussed above, you feel drawn in to the scene, you see the emotions, the colors (or lack thereof) tell you what the scene felt like instead of depicting what it actually looked like. This is very difficult to accomplish through words on a page, especially in a typical auto-biography which can be very dry and lack that same descriptive ability.

One other note, I wanted to mention, I read the book on both the iPad and in a hard copy and I feel that that the intensity of the imagery came through substantially more dramatically in the hard cover version. Part of it was due to the tactile aspect of holding the pages, but the main effect was the intensity of the illustrations was more impactful. The back lit screen of the iPad removed the darkness from some of the scenes.  And the technology added a layer of detachment from the time period being described.

Overall, I thought the choice to write in a graphic novel was very effective and the stylistic choices made throughout only added to the experience of reading. The fact that this is only book one, and the story cuts off somewhat abruptly, builds anticipation for the next book. However, this also left you with a sense of lack of closure. On the other hand, this could have been intentional, as Civil Rights is still an issue in many parts of our society. The work is not done. The story is not over.

 

 

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The Digital Dilemma –Key Findings and Reflection

When I started my experiment on the effects of new technology on our minds and culture, I already knew the answer, in that I knew that technology has changed our thoughts, language and behavior. It is undeniable. This is, as I found, an age-old question and fear of whatever new technology is altering the current culture. Even Plato, discussed in-depth the effect of the new technology of his time, writing. Specifically, in Phaedrus, character Phaedrus is discussing the negative effects he predicts will plague the culture due to writing becoming accessible to the masses, “[Writing] will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing… And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”

But I was curious if I could prove this among the 5 participants that agreed to be a part of my experiment. I wanted to see what else I could find out besides an all encompassing “yes.”

My participants were somewhat diversified, but also a lot alike in many ways. One key part of the experiment personally was to see if I would be accurate in my assumptions about participants’ responses since they are all people who I have known for some time.  See table 1.1 Significant Discoveries for more information on how each participant reacted to the presence of digital technology, specifically mobile phones, in their lives and my assumptions.

The key findings were that the Millennial generation had a stronger negative relationship with their phone than I assumed. It is so common to see Millennial on their phones that you would assume they really liked it and were getting some sort of pleasure out of using the device. However, throughout the experiment it was constantly reiterated that the phone has become like another responsibility to manage. Friends expect them to respond to a text or call in a matter of minutes or hours, and when they do not, it can be a point of real-life disagreement. At the same time, the one participant of an older generation found that the phone is a highly positive presence in her life and wishes that she knew how to operate it even more efficiently. However, it could be that she would feel the same way as the Millennials if she developed a comparable skill level.

After presenting my findings, I asked the audience for their perspective on the influence of digital technology, especially mobile devices, on our lives. It spiked great passionate conversation each time. One common thread of conversation was that the presence of digital technology does not need to be a negative presence. Instead, it is a matter of properly managing their presence in our lives. For example, in reference to the anxiety associated with being too accessible or needing to call someone back within a certain time span, the individual needs to set boundaries. One person may not be able to access their phone while at work or after 9pm. Another may prefer to answer messages when they are ready to answer the question. One solution would be to promise to always answer within one day. The stress comes from lack of understanding. In reference to the second most cited trouble with cell phones, distraction, individuals need to learn what standards for themselves will create an effective strategy to manage their time. It could be turning the phone on airplane mode while doing homework or eating dinner.

In my project I cited Lord Henry Wotton from The Picture of Dorian Gray when he states, “Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passion. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sin, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him” (pg 16).  My question was, is the influence of digital technology influencing us and thus making us echoes of our real selves? Have we given our souls up to technology? Among my audience, there was concern that people, and perhaps society as a whole, is basing a lot of self-worth, self-esteem and self-image on what is posted to social networks and the engagement those posts get. This too needs to be managed by the individual. The fear expressed is that our real selves are becoming echoes of our digital personalities. However, I would take this a step further to the possibility that we are losing sense of the real people around us and they appear to us as specters of their digital profiles, almost regardless of what they present in the analog. This needs further investigation as it is beyond the scope of my experiment.

Ultimately, this technology is not going to be the end of humanity. But it will be the end of humanity, as we know it. It will evolve our thoughts, our behavior, our language, and us. It will take a new type of management for us to learn to effectively use the technology in a way that is primarily beneficial to us and to our society. I am excited to see what the next piece of disruptive and disturbing technology is!

Table 1.1 Significant Discoveries

Participant

Age

Tech Savvy? (1-5)

Assumption on opinion of smartphones

Generally Positive Response to Technology?

Discoveries

Win

22

4

Not connected to phone, uses for practical and some games. Will believe tech is good but also a hassle. Yes, but it makes him too accessible. He doesn’t like feeling like he needs to constantly be available to reply to a text. Also sees it as a distraction. Feels negative pressure to respond to calls/texts in a timely manner.

Keli

22

4

Very connected to friends via texting. May not use voice calling often. Sees technology as a big positive. Yes, but proves to be almost as much a distraction and as much as it adds to productivity. Doesn’t like being able to be found too easily. Actually sees positives of phones as a potential negative when adversely affects productivity.

Tim

29

5

Very connected to phone through texting. Uses phone for research and apps predominately. Believes tech is very good and would miss if gone. Yes, but it is a big distractor in life. Too many text messages and ability to pick up the phone and quickly access information. Doesn’t use to call hardly at all. Sees phone primarily as a source of distraction over productivity.

Greg

27

5

Generally connected. Sees phone as a way to be responsible and connected. Uses for access to social networks and friends. Views it as a Yes, but finds it causes trouble in relationships when he does not respond quick enough. Believes that the phone is for recreation and emergencies. Feels negative pressure to respond to calls/texts in a timely manner.

Laura

50

4

Generally connected. Texts and calls almost equally. Uses some apps but more likely to use tablet or PC for internet searches. Yes, believes there is a lot more that she could be doing with the device than she currently can take advantage of. Likes connectivity. Uses for entertainment and social. Most positive about presence of phone despite being of older generation.

Not Just for Profit

I loved hearing Steve Butcher from Brown Paper Tickets talk this past Saturday. The whole concept of “Not just for profit” is simple yet revolutionary. I was astounded to hear about his road trips across the country to theaters and small locations where he simply offers his assistance with a show or repairs and then eventually will talk to them about Brown Paper Tickets, but only if it feels right. I read recently about a dentist who offered free dental services to patients without insurance from 7 AM to 7 PM. He called it the Dental Hope 2014 event. He brought on sufficient staff and was able to serve over 40 patients in those 12 hours. The press kept asking, why are you doing this, no really, why? The answer was simple: To give back. 

I believe organizations of all sizes and industries could benefit from this type of mentality. Everyone has one day they can donate to a cause. There is always room in the budget to make a positive impact on people’s lives. At first, it feels daunting to shut down an office for a day and go out to make a difference, but in the end, you can afford it. We get so wrapped up in our day-to-day tasks, our deadlines and our scheduled meetings that we lose sight of what impact we can really have. Think of all the appointments Justin Coke, founder and CEO of 7to7 Dental, gave up that day to offer free appointments to patients without insurance, then think of the number of appointments he was actually able to fit in that had a huge impact on those people’s lives. I would say the benefit far outweighs the costs.
I hope I will be able to keep this in mind when I run a company some day. I also want to emphasize this type of mentality at my current workplace. This is about more than the giving tree at Christmas or the food bank at Thanksgiving, this is about looking for what you can do every day to make sure you are leaving the world better than you found it. It is about going the extra mile for the customer because they are relying on you to find the answer to their question. It is about helping out a co-worker with something outside of work. It is about taking a day for the company to serve the community and stop worrying about the meetings or emails coming in.
I really enjoyed Steve Butcher’s mentality and hope to keep this inspiration with me as I move throughout my life and career.

Givers and Takers

Give and Take has been a very interesting read. While I believe I am definitely on the far side of the Giver spectrum, I was uncomfortable with the villainous descriptions of the Takers. There are people who are self-serving, who will do anything to get to the top, who take all the credit and who believe that they are better than other people, but no one is arguing (except maybe those people) that is an effective way to do business. How many companies do we see fall into scandal while being led by a leader that fits this description? Also, I believe there is something to be said for the incredible and invincible self-confidence it takes to create a company and believe it will be industry changing. This type of genius and bullishness may not be appealing, but it is still incredible and impactful. This is reminiscent of the fine line between genius and insanity.

Overall, I found the analysis of the success of Givers in various situations interesting, but limited because it appears that every study proves his point, and when it doesn’t prove his point, he stretches the scope of perspective to the point where he is supported. I also felt there were too many case studies or scientific experiments mentioned. One or two per concept is sufficient rather than three. The book may have been more efficient to cut out 100 pages, however, perhaps this is a side-effect of being a Giver – you just want to credit everyone and give them their time to shine.

I did enjoy considering what type of person I am and the type of people I work with. I was able to better understand the behaviors of some of my co-workers with this added information. For example, it becomes evident how ineffective taking a Matcher approach can be in the workplace, maybe even less effective than the Taker in the long- and short-run.

I took the quiz on the Give and Take website to see if I am accurate in my assumption of how I fall within the spectrum (at least based on how I see myself!). It turns out that I am mostly on the giver side but I also have matcher and taker tendencies.

Give and Take

 

 

Leading Through Change

I have been thinking a lot about leading through change, especially about how, even though I am not a leader by title, I can still be a leader by example. My work is currently going through some changes. They are all good and I am excited to see where they take us. But they are hard, because change is hard, on everyone. Even something as simple as rearranging the furniture and changing desks can trigger something in people that makes them forget why they come to work every day.
The other interesting piece is talking with customers as they adjust to changes in their relationship with the company. We recently made two major announcements, one that had a generally positive effect on people, even though they felt it was negative, and a second which either positively affected a member or had a significant negative affect on them. Ultimately, both changes were necessary for our company to maintain sustainability and be able to offer even greater benefit down the road. But change is hard, especially when it comes in the form of less dollars in a pocket. Part of my job is to assist my CEO with answering the barrage of questions he gets when announcements are made. I write in his voice, he approves, edits and the messages are sent to our members. Suddenly, I am acting the leader and am leading through change.
This is what I have learned from assisting my CEO in this way.
  • Start with empathy and understanding.
  • Provide them an avenue to express their concerns.
  • Let the team know you are listening to what they have to say.
  • Give reply to their concerns with heartfelt sincerity and as much transparency as is possible.
  • Make changes to your change when necessary and where possible.
  • Reassure them by providing extra resources to aid in their understanding of why the change is necessary.
  • And finally, you will not be able to please everyone. You will lose members of your customer base, you may lose members of your team.
  • Keep your sights on the vision and what is best for the company. Do not allow the negative to bring you down or second guess your capability.
Reading John Maeda’s book and then reading the articles and learning about the vote of no confidence and talking in class, brought a lot of this into perspective. It is hard to say if he was a success or not at his school, despite the number one ranking. Ultimately, we do the best we can through change and with each failure we must pick ourselves up, see what we’ve learned and try again. A good leader will get it right most of the time.

“The Scared is scared”

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to write about tonight because there is so much. I just finished reading “Redesigning Leadership” by John Maeda, it felt honest, unassuming, forgiving and kind to read. There are a lot of leadership books where ego gets in the way of the lesson; they feel like a “you’re doing it wrong” read. Just from this 80-ish page book, I have five items I want to work on personally in my professional life.

The first is less emoticons in emails. I’m not over the top but I tend to default to them, either to indicate a literal smile or to soften a disagreement. It is like I am yelling, “I am still on your side! I still support you! (But this is wrong and here is my idea.” That doesn’t make sense. People know who I am; I do not need to reassure them of anything.

The second is no arm crossing in meetings. I’m aware of this as it is and try to smile to counteract the arm crossing. It is just more comfortable, but I’ll figure something else out.

The next is related, be a “wannabe.” We all have meetings we don’t want to go to. But I love my job, so I wannabe there. Show it.

Similarly, be open-minded. I get protective of my projects, but different perspectives make them better.

And finally, remember “intention at the beginning matters.” If I intend to improve all these things because I want to be a better co-worker, employee, leader, etc. people will see that and I will get there.

I also want to say that Bianca Giaever’s video was a timely reminder to use my overactive imagination to imagine away the scared and focus on the positive. Who doesn’t need that?

the Scared is scared from Bianca Giaever on Vimeo.

This is not art for art’s sake anymore

Photo: The art of Frank Wright

Icarus: The art of Frank Wright

Andy Fife is the Director of Shunpike and an Independent Consultant for Art Strategy and Innovation according to his LinkedIn profile. From reading the title alone, you may not fully understand the philosophical depth of Fife’s work and the impact he has made through successful integration of this philosophy.

I was able to hear Fife talk on Saturday at the University of Washington and was thrilled to gain a deeper understanding of his perspective on art and strategy as well as learn more about what his title really means.

From my understanding, Fife believes that the integration of art is intrinsic and absolutely necessary for a project’s ultimate success. Without it we will miss something valuable. In his philosophy “art is the how not just the why.”

This means we use the culture we already have around us to inform our decisions on business, health care, or transportation. We need to do this because people are making art every day in their homes, in their work, in their communities. It is on a small scale, not an opera house or a theatre, but in parlors, offices and public parks.

With this in mind, Fife believes “we can create something together and you do not have to have all the answers in order to create something beautiful.” The art is part of the process and the process illuminates the culture and the decisions that must be made.

Fife’s talk paralleled the thoughts within Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception. Godin proposes the idea that everyone is an artist and that it is our responsibility to ourselves as well as our society to break free from the comfort zone we have been taught in order to create art. This art isn’t something that hangs on the wall, Godin clarifies, it is something that stretches us beyond where we currently stand in order to impact an audience we are trying to reach. Ignore the crowds, Godin says, the crowds are always wrong.

Fife’s work is along these lines. He is creating his art by weaving art into questions generally unassociated with art. It is not art for art’s sake, it is art for a reason. Godin’s art has purpose too. Godin specifies, if your art is not connecting with your audience, you have failed. If you have created art and it is never published, you have failed. For both, art is for change. And for both, art is within every person. There is no scarcity of art in our communities. We just need to harness it and make an impact!