A client once told me I was a terrible writer. In fact, he had hired me to write for him, and I’d been doing so successfully for three years. Yet, his focus was on a specific instance of writing he disagreed with rather than on the big picture of my overall performance. His feedback became a blanket statement about my worth, rather than an instructive critique on a piece that clearly didn’t resonate.
In HBR’s article “The Feedback Fallacy,” Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall discuss how unreliable humans are at rating others. We are fallible, full of preconceived notions, experiences that color biases, and, to top it off, each of us has a different definition of what “good” is.
Don’t Make it Personal
While the relationship with my client ended shortly after this abrupt critique, I reflected on what happened. The personal nature of the statement didn’t reflect what I believed were the values of the business I represented. This is a common trap with feedback. Often, feedback is delivered with bias from personal preference of the giver, rather than with consideration for the goals of the organization.
Be strategic about developing goals, and take the emotion out of the feedback. Focus instead on what works, and figure out a collaborative way to cultivate that strength moving forward.
Use Your Words
Criticism is uncomfortable, even in the best of times. Hearing I was a terrible writer caused me to shut down, silencing any rebuttal or conversation around how I could improve. Not only that, but I had a bruised ego and a lack of direction.
Instead, had the client communicated clearly and concisely about what I had written, and asked me to be more conscious of x, y, and z, the interaction would have ended differently. By linking feedback to a tangible outcome, I would have had relevant information to serve the needs of my client more effectively. He, too, would have seen reward by investing in my skills and the continued improvement of his business.
Timing is Everything
When to deliver feedback is as important as the content. In my scenario, the client decided to let me know how he felt about my work in front of another colleague, rather than in his office. It was clear my client hadn’t prepared in advance for this moment, and his off-the-cuff remark effectively ended our working relationship.
Sharing is Caring
Delivering feedback is a struggle for the best of us. Rather than giving information to help empower performance, leaders are often guilty of demotivating people with basic reprimands or critiques on single-episode events.
Feedback should be an ongoing tool to provide insight into how a person’s habits and behaviors can improve to make them more successful. Creating feedback requires careful thought and insightful instruction to be truly useful. Be clear, direct, and deliver it with empathy. When you get feedback right, it shows you care.
© Susan MacLaren, 2019
We women business owners are the lifeblood of the American economy. We transform the way people work, we solve problems, we boost job growth, and we are the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit.
Since 1976, the year I was born, the number of women-owned businesses has increased from roughly 400,000 to over 12.3 million in 2018. Between 2017 and 2018, roughly 1,821 new women-owned businesses were created per day.
In The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, author Amy Edmondson explores businesses that create environments where creativity and ingenuity can thrive. Edmondson dives deep into work culture where fear is driven out and replaced by interpersonal risk taking, open communication, and the permission to take ownership of the work we do.
Taking ownership was precisely the reason I started my small business. After years of working for others, I felt a strong desire to create a work situation where I could be fully present, engaged, and candid with clients who sought out my skills and expertise. It is important that my input is valued, and that I create authentic working relationships with people who recognize the importance of voicing ideas, questions, and concerns.
Women face many challenges in a typical work environment. We are often tasked with work chores such as coffee fetching, note taking, or cleaning. Our voices go unheard, our ideas get co-opted, and we are routinely passed over for promotions and leadership positions. It is not uncommon to feel uncomfortable or under-appreciated for the values we bring.
Starting a small business allows women to develop a leadership identity which can help foster a dedicated sense of purpose. It requires that you look outside of the status quo to find an opportunity that aligns with your personal values, and pursue it despite your fears and insecurities. It enables women to set their own schedules, to be paid fairly and equitably, and to be in control of choosing who they work with, and for how long.
Being fearless is at the core of small business ownership. It requires a certain amount of risk taking, learning on the fly, and direct communication to navigate the world on our own. Most importantly, we get to create a trusting environment that brings out the best in each person, creates meaningful exchanges, and allows us to take pride in the work we do. Who wouldn’t want that?
The 2018 State of Women Owned Businesses Report, American Express.
Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018.
Summer is lots of things to me - BBQ's with friends, camping, backpacking, kayaking, swimming. Notice a theme, here? The outdoors play an essential role in my calendar. The other factor, which can thwart the best laid plans, is fire.
I am certain you've all heard the news surrounding the fires in Washington, Oregon, and California. Every year it seems we have a few weeks where we are ensconced in smoke from flames that are miles and miles away, or occasionally, right down the road.
This led me to think about how art and artists play with fire. I was first reminded of Cai Guo-Qiang. (For those of you in the know, he was the artist responsible for the "Tumbling Tauruses" hanging in the lobby at the Seattle Art Museum.) Guo-Qiang works specifically with gunpowder, or huoyao - which means "fire medicine."
Most recognized for his site-specific projects, his work features the use of "explosion events." Using large fireworks displays and extensive trails of gunpowder, his works have spanned landscapes, propelled off building tops, and ignited footsteps in rhythmic time across cities.
Cai Guo Qiang, “Remembrance,” chapter two of Elegy, an explosion event for the opening of “Cai Guo-Qiang: The Ninth Wave,” Courtesy of photographer Lin Yi.
One of Cai's most notorious explosion events was "Sky Ladder." The project, two decades in the making, had many false starts and stops. From bad weather, to security concerns, to forest fire risks, Cai was stymied with the process of seeking official permission. Eventually, he went ahead without it.
“This is where I want to make a ladder to connect the Earth to the universe."
Cai Guo Qiang, Sky Ladder (2015). Courtesy of Cai Studio/Netflix.
Sky Ladder was realized in secret at Huiyu Island Harbour, Quanzhou, Fujian, on June 15, 2015 at 4:49 am, and was a dedication to his 100 year old grandmother, who died a month later. It was a fitting tribute, not only to his dear grandmother, but to the idea of gunpowder as being a "fire medicine," and one of China's most significant contributions to the world. “They were actually looking for an elixir to make themselves immortal,” said Guo-Qiang.
The fireworks industry has clearly reaped the rewards of Cai's artistic innovation and use, and works alongside him to develop his creations and bring his increasingly complex visions to life. But these explosion events are only one side of Cai Guo-Qiang. He also harnesses the elements of the medium for his gunpowder paintings.
Tree with Yellow Blossoms, Cai Guo-Qiang, 2009
Cai's gunpowder paintings are a spontaneous act of careful preparation. The thought-provoking designs are generally natural forms that generate a feeling of wildness and wind in the composition. Once drawn, he sprinkles gunpowder over the canvas, covers it, and ignites it. "There's always a prevalent sense of anxiety and uncontrollability in the work — and that's a lot like life," he explains.
It's kind of hard to imagine, right? Watch this for a fantastic glimpse into his process.
The use of fire to destroy is prevalent in art and art history. For example, in 1970, John Baldessari burned all of the paintings he created between 1953 and 1966. From the ashes of those paintings, he created a new piece entitled, "The Cremation Project." The piece consisted of the ashes of his work, which he baked into cookies and placed in an urn. The bronze plaque that accompanies the piece has the birth and death of each painting, as well as the recipe for making the cookies.
With Cai and John, fire is used as a tool of renewal and expression. A way to both create, and recreate using the unpredictability of a medium known for destruction. In a sense, the cremation and explosion becomes a metaphor for the human life cycle in a piece of art.
Joan Miró took a slightly different view. In the 1970's, angered and frustrated by the politics of Spain, Miró began a series of works he called "burnt and lacerated canvasses."
‘I love to work with fire. Fire has unforeseeable reactions. It destroys less than it transforms, it acts on what it burns with an inventive force which possesses magic. I wanted to paint with fire and by fire.’
‘The artist does not live in bliss. He is sensitive to the world, to the pulsation of his time, to the events which compel him to act. This is bound to happen. This is not an intellectual attitude but a profound feeling, something like a cry of joy which delivers you from anguish.’
I don't think I could say it any better than that. Have a safe summer - and remember - always put your campfire out before you go.
© Joan Miró, Burnt Canvas I, 1973.
Exciting news! I've been accepted into the University of Washington Graduate School of Communications! Yippee! What does that mean? That means I need to sell some stuff to help me pay my way.
So I'm having a Grad School Sale! That's right, from now until August 15th, I'm selling everything at 25% off! It's a bargain!!
Hop on over to my Etsy shop and check it out! Or, click on your favorite piece in Handmade Art, and I'll ship it to you.
I'll be adding inventory as the month rolls along, so it something doesn't catch your fancy now, it might later! Keep checking back!
I love color. I enjoy the reaction of color that happens in different light situations, the playfulness of color in fashion, and the way a variety of visual artists use color to accent, disguise, and illustrate.
Color has a way of colliding in certain ways that can attract or even detract the eye. It can be used in subtle gestures to move the eye through a frame, or to boldly declare small intentions of space.
Take Hope Gangloff, who's work I admire, for example. Her ability to create visual narratives using simple, everyday still life moments using her friends, her family, and her living space create a richness in her artistic style. Her bold use of color creates dramatic texture, playful patterns, and an unusual sense of movement and scale within her work.
“The most uncommon color combinations do the strangest things."
- Hope Gangloff
I recently read an article about Hope in The New York Times - "In the Studio with an Artist who paints in a Color Trance". As a photographer who doesn't enjoy being in front of the camera (who's with me?), I can associate with Hope's desire to not have her face photographed, that simply being a painter is what matters (not her face, or her gender). I also enjoy her fiercely political nature, and that her love of art is what drives her ambition - not lucrative commissions.
What really keeps me coming back to Gangloff's work is her David Hockney-esque ability to articulate nature and humanity in aggressive yet pleasing color interactions. That graphic quality just sings to my eye, and it is something that is not as easily achieved as you might think. There is science in that magic.
An excellent reference for color interactions is Josef Albers Interaction of Color. In his book, Albers encourages readers to engage with colors that might otherwise be offensive to them, in the hopes of "overcoming their prejudices." Albers encourages experimentation through questioning, practice, and engagement, rather than just information. As one critic wrote in regards to his book, "In an age in which increased human sensibility has become such a need in all areas of human involvement, color sensitivity and awareness can constitute a major weapon against forces of insensitivity and brutalization."
I can't think of a better or more relevant explanation than that, particularly in today's news climate, on how important it is to see and understand color. Can you?
If you are interested in seeing more of Hope Gangloff - she has a show opening at the Halsey McKay Gallery in East Hampton, NY on June 30th which runs through July 31st, 2018. Or, take a peek at her website - hope-gangloff.com.
I am part of a wonderful group of photographers called the Push.Pull Photography Collective. We gather monthly to show work, critique work, and network. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to show work to other folks, while thinking critically about my own work, and helping others with theirs.
This week - Thursday, May 9th at 6 pm - will be our inaugural exhibition! We will be showing at Gallery Frames, LLC on 3rd Avenue in Seattle, and all of you are invited! We will each have a piece or two that represents our work, and we owe a huge thank you to Raphael Soldi of Found Space who curated our exhibition and did a marvelous job of laying it out on the walls for us. Sexy.
Join the PUSH.PULL Photography Collective for our inaugural exhibition at Gallery Frames, LLC, curated by Raphael Soldi of Found Space. Opening night will be Thursday, May 3rd from 6 - 8 pm with refreshments and mingling. The show will be on view at Gallery Frames during open hours through the end of May.
I have this wonderful old 1970's Big Swinger plastic land camera that I love to travel with. While it isn't the most functional of cameras, it does come with an awesome carrying case! All of the polaroid photos included on my Etsy site have come from this little camera.
I am sad to say that Fuji has stopped producing the film I was using to create the images. (Long live Fujifilm 300b.) However, Fuji does make the now popular Instax and Instax Mini, which I of course own and use regularly.
What does that mean for you? That means that purchasing one of these little beauties really is a one-of-a-kind. Once these images are gone from my shop, they will be no more.
Tada! The first batch is up HERE on my website and HERE on my Etsy page! A total labor of love, ya'll. I've been making cards for years and sending them to friends, family, and colleagues, but I've never put them out there into the great wide world. Thanks for taking a look, and by all means, share them with everyone! Also - if you have suggestions for improvements, I am all ears and eyeballs.
Welcome to my new website! I've recently made some changes, updated my logo, and started an Etsy page in order to showcase some of the sweet photo cards and items I've been making. Here is the first step in a successful business venture. Branding!
I'll be putting a few things here to look out for, so keep an eye out. And by all means, if you have questions, or you would like to buy something from me direct, reach out and say hello!
Musings, a bit of sarcasm, and things I find interesting.