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December 9, 2011
Finding Zen in Technology
Recently I realized how set in my ways I've become and it's a bit humbling. I guess I've always been this way, but something about getting older makes it more pronounced. So I'm working on changing this by focusing on what the Zen Buddhists call "Beginner's Mind." That's when you let go of everything you know about something and look at it with fresh eyes. It can be applied to so many things and so I thought about it in relation to the trouble that those over 40(ish) have with surviving in advertising.

Consider the Creative Director who has been looking for work for almost a year. She has kept her portfolio up to date, asked for feedback from trusted colleagues, made changes, and feels it's the best it can be. She's on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, sends resumes out to every job that she's qualified and overqualified for, and has had a couple of interviews, but nothing seems to get past the first meeting. What else can she do?

She feels that she's doing all that she can do, but what if she looked at everything again with a Beginner's Mind? The most common thing that I see with my clients is that they do what they have to do online, but they haven't really embraced the changes that technology has brought to our lives, including advertising. They have a Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn account, but they don't really use them as effectively as possible. Or they use their computer for email and to read some news, but they don't really play around with some of the applications or platforms that are out there. 

Last night my nine-year-old niece downloaded the Juicy Fruit Sweet Talk app on my iPhone. It has been around for a while, so you've probably seen it. There are different mouths that say something "sweet" and you put it over your face as if it's your own mouth moving. My niece has been playing with it whenever she can get her hands on my phone. She's not singing a jingle that she heard on the radio. She's playing and interacting with a brand. She doesn't care that it's Juicy Fruit. She just likes the goofy mouths.

These are the kinds of ideas that agencies look for to give their clients. They may say in their job postings that they want a Creative Director who can code, but when they find a senior creative who comes up with ideas and leads a team that uses technology like that, they hire them. But every senior-level creative I talk to now thinks they need to learn Flash, Flex, and Ajax. Sure, you need to know what these are and how they work so that you can work effectively with the programming experts, but to become a programming expert yourself is just not realistic. If you can learn how to think differently with a Beginner's Mind and embrace technology rather than resenting it, then you would be getting somewhere.

So, how do you do this? Well, it starts with some humility, which, as I started out saying, can be easy to come by if you take an honest look at yourself and how you do things. Yes, as a senior person you bring a great deal of knowledge and experience with you and you will be able to use it, but first you have to start with what you don't know. You don't know how to think like a 20-year old. You don't know what it's like to have grown up with Juicy Fruit apps. You don't know what it's like to have been connected 24/7 since you were a kid. But if you're curious and willing to learn, you could get a sense of it.

If you're already working at an agency, ask the kid next to you what his favorite campaigns are and why. Find out who the person in your agency is that finds the cool things online and get on his radar so he sends you stuff as he discovers it. One thing I know about people who love technology is that they love to share their discoveries.

If you're not working at an agency, then download every app you've heard of or not heard of and play with them. Use Twitter more. Look for those people who call themselves curators that are tweeting about new and interesting things, listen to more TED talks, and find online magazines or communities. There's so much available; you just have to look.

Next, look at how you're communicating. Are you able to ask for help? If not, can you embrace the Beginner's Mind and give it a go? Are you willing to accept that your 26-year old art director is going to text you at midnight even though to you that seems rude? Since that same art director breaks down when you give him feedback on work, can you figure out how to get better work out of him? If you let go of your preconceived notions about how feedback is given, you could solve the problem.

It can be liberating to think of these challenges that I've heard from clients in a new way. It opens up possibilities because you're not limited by what you already know. So, can we take this idea and apply it to all the areas where we struggle? It would be a nice experiment. If all it changes is how you feel, then how is that not a success? One of the worst things you can do in this industry is sound bitter and resentful, and if you're embracing new things with a Beginner's Mind, that's not going to happen. It's impossible because you're too excited about everything there is to learn. The people who are curious and excited by things rather than overwhelmed, scared, or resentful are the survivors.

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Anne Hubben believes the only thing worse than looking for a job you want is looking for a job you don't want. Anne is a career coach and recruiter for creative talent.  She has been recruiting creatives in the design and advertising industry for 15 years and coaching them internationally for 4 years.  She can be found at AnneHubben.com where she offers free resources and creative career tips. Say hello on TwitterLinkedInFacebook, or Google+

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