Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In 2016, find your "whoops": My wish for communicators

When my sister lay dying this year, I reminded her how she'd given me a tree for the front yard in my then-new home in Washington, 25 years ago. She knew the yard was small, a postage-stamp-sized city front yard. So she sent a dwarf red maple, the kind bred to grow to the size of a small bush. Something that would fit the limits of the yard.

Many of the communications pros with whom I meet and work in the course of a year feel their limits all too well. I'm not talking about budget and staffing, although those are plenty limited and limiting. I'm talking about your imagined and self-imposed limits, the things that reduce your goals to the size of a postage stamp or a city front yard. It seems easier, I know: Small goals are achievable, and don't get your hopes up. So you don't invest in your own further training, or create new projects with unseen results, or push yourself to dismantle the command-and-control approaches that aren't working so well anymore in a social media world. You take fewer risks, and you get fewer surprises...and fewer delights. You pick the dwarf tree, not the soaring oak, because it fits the limits.

When my sister sent the tree to me, I planted it dead-center in the small yard and watched it grow. And grow. And grow. Today, that tree is about 20 feet tall. It shades the yard, and screens the front porch, and turns scarlet--an unseemly, loud, bright scarlet--in autumn. It's clearly very happy where it stands, and it's clearly not a dwarf tree. This year, in the hospital, when I reminded my sister that the tree had outgrown its promised limits, she grinned. All she said was "Whoops," with a grin. It was a mistake, that tree, and a gift. And I wouldn't trade it in for a million bucks.

So in 2016, my wish for communicators is that you push past your limits and find your "whoops" moments, again and again. Question what you've been doing and test a new strategy. Find out what happens when you trade command-and-control for crowd-sourced and customer-driven. Invest in your own training and push yourself. Go do the things you keep helping others to do, like giving speeches and interviews. Get better at it. Seek out feedback, and use it. Encourage yourself, and someone else, while you're at it. Have the courage to make a mistake. Surprise yourself, and think of it as a gift. You just might wind up with something you wouldn't trade in for a million bucks.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Stanley Zinmy)

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