Toot! Toot! Tooting Your Own Horn

Luis Arrieta - Tango aDeus
Every performer, by definition, seeks the spotlight. What about the rest of us? Image by Vivadança Festival Internacional Ano 5 via Flickr

If you work for yourself — and even when you work for someone else — you have to do it.

Do you dread it as much as I do?

The world of social media has made it much easier to spread the word, globally, about how fabulous!!!!! you are but sometimes, truly, I wish everyone would just button it!

I visit LinkedIn almost every day and I enjoy seeing what my contacts are up to. I loatheloatheloathe one woman who “updates” there every 13 seconds with work tips to make sure we do not waste even a single hour forgetting who she is. I know, I know, I can’t email her and say “Enough! Stop! You are boring and overbearing and horrible.”

But I’d sure like to.

With my new book out April 14, I have to toot long, loud, clearly, daily and — pardon the appalling biz-speak — across multiple platforms.Why? Because, in the U.S. where I live, 1,500 books are published every single bloody day!

Frankly, I’d rather organize the linen closet, but I did that last week. Or polish my shoes. Or go to a movie. Or make soup.

Yammering on about how amazing I am makes me feel a little ill. But if I don’t stake my claim, every single one of my loud-mouthed competitors will.

And guess who will sell more books? And get a bigger advance on the next book as a result? Not the shy, quiet girl in the corner.

I grew up in Canada, a nation — like the Aussies, Japanese and Swedes, to name a few with similar cultural values — that hates self-promoters and punishes them with the worst possible paddle. They ignore you!

I’ve lived near New York City for 22 years. You want pushy? Babe, we got pushy!

It’s been sadly instructive to watch the relative “Who gives a s–t? my book has been getting in Canada and the fantastic enthusiasm it’s been getting here. Which, and this is basic, is now fodder for more horn-tooting!

In Australia, it’s called tall poppy syndrome, where the highest flower, swaying happily in the summer sun, gets its gorgeous little head lopped off for — being the most visible. In Japan, they hammer down the tallest nail.

Don’t boast! Don’t gloat! Don’t tell people you’ve done some terrific work and people are liking it!

Yeah, be invisible.

There’s a strategy.

How do you reconcile the career-boosting need to tell others about your skills and work accomplishments and being (blessedly and attractively) modest about them?

Brand Me — Not, Not With A Hot Iron. How Do You Become A 'Brand'?

Detail of 7 WTC installation
Image via Wikipedia

Independent writers these days, we are told, must create, nurture and sell our “brand.”

If only I had one.

Great piece on that issue  — I can’t link to it, sorry! — in this month’s GQ, by Shalom Auslander: funny, moving, bitter, thoughtful. He finds the whole idea of becoming a brand, as do I, freaking nuts — sorry, risible; (if my brand is smart-girl, I had best select thoughtful, erudite diction.)

I understand, and get, style, voice, consistency. Monet and Manet look as different from one another, equally gorgeous and immediately identifiable to my eye, as Jenny Holzer and Damien Hirst. The Eagles aren’t Arcade Fire. Rachael Ray isn’t Julia Child.

But branding one’s writing? That’s a tough one, as every plagiarist apologizing these days, and it’s almost daily, points out. You can be rilly pretentious and write in so florid and bizarre a way that it’s your brand — but who wants to read it?

The idea of a personal brand is also deeply abhorrent to anyone who believes in complexity and in modesty. Any intelligent writer knows that stringing words together is damned difficult to do well, in the best way, which is in a way so deeply unbranded, so unobtrusive your readers slide seamlessly into it without ooohing and aaahing at its “watchwatchme-ness” as they read.

Great writing never tells you it’s great. It just takes your damn breath away.

An intelligent writer, in my view, does not pretend to compare themselves, nor wishes to, to a can of sugary beverage or a gleaming new SUV. Reduced, say, to three tidy adjectives. (Or is this a good thing? Is complexity over-rated?)

A brand is known by its easily-defined characteristics, wherein lies the problem.

I’ve always been, and hope to be for a few more decades, a mix of silly, deeply serious, compassionate, brutally practical, geeky, adventurous, curious, technophobic — but attached to my new Itouch. I read by candle-light, am passionate about using objects that pre-date the 19th. century but thrill to the smell of jet fuel, my heart beating faster at the exquisite design of an Embraer jet wing.

Born in June, I’m a Gemini, the twins’ sign, so I’m allowed, astrologically speaking, to be two people. That’s on a slow day…

A brand is consistent. I am consistently — not.

Who’s that simple? Who wants to be?

Water Guns And Crayons — Welcome To 'Creative' Meetings

Leaders attend a breakfast meeting during the ...
At least they're facing one another...Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Is this your kind of meeting?

Water guns and crayons, reports today’s Wall Street Journal, help participants loosen up, think freely and brainstorm without fear of criticism and negativity.

Dixon Schwabl Advertising Inc., in Rochester, N.Y., tries to lower the inhibitions of its 82 employees by arming them with water guns, which workers are instructed to bring to all meetings. Anyone who passes a negative comment at the meeting is bound to get wet.

“It helps them be more comfortable because no one will be criticized or scrutinized,” says Lauren Dixon, the marketing and advertising firm’s chief executive.

Anonymity can also help lower inhibitions. During meetings at cloud-computing firm Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., Jen Grant gives workers seven minutes to jot down as many thoughts as possible on Post-It notes, without having to write their names. When time is up, the suggestions are put on a wall for the employees to read and rearrange.

“I tell them to not think about whether the idea is dumb or too costly, which allows them to think as big as they can,” she says.

I like the idea of finding ways to make people, when possible, less self-conscious and more comfortable in meetings. Many people hate speaking out publicly for fear of looking or sounding stupid, or being ridiculed, while blowhards and brown-nosers can easily dominate. And knee-jerk negativity is a real creativity-crusher.

Many of the cool ideas we use and value today were risibly out-there, but someone found the guts to express them.

Have you found a way to make your meetings work better?