High Five Conference – Day Two Recap

First Keynote: Amber Naslund, Sr. Content Evangelist, LinkedIn. “Who do you Think you Are? Vanquishing Imposter Syndrome to Bring Your Whole Self to Work.”

I’ve got Imposter Syndrome. Not too bad, BUT, I have it.

Most of us do, to some extent. You know it when you say, “Oh, I just got lucky with that.” You deflect, you feel that you don’t measure up, that you aren’t worthy.

Steinbeck wrote his confession of it as “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and all of the people.” This is from the author of ‘Of Mice and Men?’ Sounds like a role switch …

Well, Steinbeck is good company to be in. Amber says we’re apex predators who are wired for fear. I guess our fight-or-flight response comes into play with our confidence among peers and colleagues. Our social need for safety keeps us from sticking our neck out. Better to be one of the pack.

Add to this the pressure of our social networks. We are hyperconnected. People on social media average five accounts. With all of the noise, commentary, and criticism, we’re afraid we don’t measure up.

Amber has an action plan to fight the feeling of unworthiness.

  1. Get yourself a posse – a committee of champions that act as a task force of validation. Find people around you that you can trust. Ask them, “What do you think my greatest strengths are – especially ones I might not see?”
  2. Inventory truth. Write down unimpeachable things that you have done. Not just work accomplishments – life accomplishments count too, like being a good parent or sibling. Carry this with you. Refer to it in a moment of doubt.
  3. Get Too Far Out? Well, something like that. Get off of social media. Take a break. Embargo the chatter. This is an opportunity to reclaim your sanity, quiet the voices in your head and stop letting the anchor of social media drag you down.
  4. Raise the bar. Unfriend, unfollow, block – get rid of toxic voices and protect your community.
  5. Signal your tribe. Turn it up to 11, as they said in ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’ Get everybody to roll with you. The real you.
  6. Shatter the stigma of mental illness and depression. Talk about it. The numbers of people affected by some type of mental illness are staggering. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million Americans each year.

I am not a power social networker, in fact, LinkedIn is really the only one I use professionally on a regular basis. This particular part of Amber’s presentation will be something that rolls off my tongue easily to recommend to friends, colleagues, and family.

In the meantime, I need to recall that I am worthy of my seat at the table and not judge the others there as well. We’ve all worked hard and we work better together, so let’s tap our confidence and make a difference.

Amber spent 15 minutes talking with me after the conference. She’s as genuine on a presentation stage as she is one on one in conversation. We discussed how marketing has its risks as a promoting culture. Sometimes our true feelings about what we do may be leaking into how we feel about what we promote. There’s a deeper exploration waiting there. I better bring my whole self to that conversation.

Second Keynote: Eddie Opara, Partner-in-Charge, Creative Director, Pentagram

This presentation was one I was looking forward to since I glimpsed at the agenda. I’m not a designer. I am good at photography and for my clients, I believe I do a very good job of working with graphic designers. ‘Designer Wrangling,’ I call it. I try to give my creative partners the parameters they need in order to stay on the rez, while at the same time, not handcuffing their creativity.

Eddie seems like he’d be comfortable in your living room. I’m sure his comfort in speaking to us barefoot weighed into this observation. Eddie introduced us to the concept of “graphicacy”, a term that means the ability to understand and communicate information in imagery, including logos, diagrams, graphs, charts, and photos, among others.

We’ve moved well beyond the written word as our primary mean of communication, and graphicacy has the world at large in its purview. Buildings, transportation, signage, interiors – we’re all seeing communication in visual formats that go well beyond text.

Eddie feels we need to advance the language of graphic design and he bemoans that large consultancies are hiring teams of graphic designers internally. The result is a sameness, sterility …  a default safe simple.

Graphic designers are not problem solvers, though they are pitched to be so.  I liked Eddie’s quote from Milton Glaser: “Design is the process of going from an existing condition to a preferred one.” This seems profound and simple, but the process of getting there has plenty of pitfalls.

Eddie walked us through some examples of work with broad extension into the company, making the brand living, rather simply than a logo expression. For Lululemon, for example, Pentagram created type treatments that integrate into the fabric of the company, literally, through illustrating the company’ manifesto and having apparel with brand type and elements woven into it.  For a company that tells you to breathe, Lululemon exhibits breathtaking design work. Equally remarkable is work Pentagram did for Cooper Hewitt, FIT and Halstead.

Eddie closed with a comment on AI and his advice to embrace it. As I reflect on the changes technology wrought into marketing over that last 25 years, I can’t help but think that he’s entirely correct; we need to see AI as a powerful enabling technology that we need to understand and embrace. I’ll make a note in my Palm Pilot.


Side note: Eddie and I talked for 20 minutes after his presentation about (among other things), how design should be allowed to and encouraged to take risks. But, after the chatter and cry to do so, it’s not really the case. They aren’t encouraged to. And when they do, they aren’t rewarded for it. Companies want safe.

Shouldn’t design be aspirational, I asked? Of course, Eddie agreed, but companies really don’t want to move their customers. They want to keep them happy and comfortable with the brand, and not have them feel unsure or uneasy with too much change. I find this a direct to contrast to the iconoclasm of activists, which we gravitate to so easily…

Where consultancies like PWC have design in-house, design is subordinate to the strategy. Eddie feels that design needs a better seat at the strategy table, next to the strategists. Perhaps, he commented, that a Graphic Designer needs to be called and needs to be a Visual Strategist.

  • Submitted by Tom Crosby
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