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Notes from GiantConf 2014′s “Embracing the Suck” presentation by Chris Harrison

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In his presentation on day one of GiantConf 2014, Chris Harrison talked to us about “Embracing the Suck”. Here are my notes from his talk.

Chris Harrison – Embracing the Suck – 10:45a Thursday, June 12

@cdharrison
cdharrison.com

Embracing the Suck: Military phrase meaning to make the best of whatever situation you’re in..

Background:
– Weight loss – 529 to 377
– weight gain due to being depressed, hating what he did, etc.
– Making sites since 1996.
– Former fulltime freelancer
– now: frontend dev for Morris Communications (magazine division)

2013 state of the workplace
30% engaged and inspired
18% actively Disengaged – sabotage their coworkers (cost 450-550 million a year)
52% permanent case of the mondays – do just enough not to get fired

Sometimes you just gotta suck it up.
– Consider the alternative – it could be worse.

– dan willis, “great takes work”
– choose your battles and spend your energy wisely

Negativity is a cancer! (this could be a talk topic!)

Sometimes complaining takes more effort than just getting things done.

Don’t fear new. New = opportunity. (he was told he’d be doing all joomla and drupal work. This was not happy news)
– learn on the companie’s dime
– doubtful he could have learned this stuff as a freelancer (no time/money in it)

Everything you do is a learning process for everything.

– thomas edison’s quote about opportunity and how it looks like work.
– fabio at mailchimp, lead html email designer. was hired to do ui/ux, but they approached him to do HTML emails.
– we know as an industry that html emails suck.
– when he heard this, he embraced the challenge.
– 5 years later he’s an innovator in a field where it was thought there was no room for innovation left.

Opportunity opens doors…

Help your team…
– concept of jumping on hand grenades (someday you’ll need help from the person you help today)

Small wins are still wins. (make it something awesome despite the scope)

Make learning a priority
– learning about sass etc and givng talks about it.
– things suck less when you share what you know with your coworkers
– codeschool etc. as good options for continued learning.

“Sneak” new technology/techniques into projects, but strive to get buy-in from your coworkers (if not management)
– Demonstrate the benefits of incorporating these new techs into an existing workflow

Find creative outlets
– draw more.
– starting doing illustrator avatars for friends
– take pictures! (vader, ninja turtles)
– lilvaderadventures tubmler

Scratch your own itch – side projects rock
– itembrowser.com – his first responsive project
– learned media queries, etc.

Start using your powers for good
– jingle jam (10k) benefiting safeHOMES charity
– design + development + marketing
– someone could really use your talents!

Happiness depends on ourselves – aristotle
Even sucky work can make you happy. Give it a chance.

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Optimism In Designers, Developers and Managers – Part 1

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By looking at what raises our spirits or crushes our souls, I think we can increase our awareness and take back a little control of our work destiny. Join me as we delve into what makes designers, developers and managers optimistic, and what fills us with dread.

I recently heard a line that stuck in my head: “Designers are inherently optimistic.” This was casually mentioned by Simon King, a designer presenting on why we should step up and design apps for ourselves, to “scratch our own itch.” He added an observation that all designers do these two things: seeing and making.

“Is that true?” I wondered to myself. Simon feels this is true because designers can often envision a better way (be that a better future, a better product, or a better interaction) – and more often than not, designers can visualize the steps necessary to reach that better place.

My own background is certainly grounded in design, but I’ve made some fairly broad jumps to other disciplines in past years which have given me a somewhat different perspective on many things. Immediately after coming to the conclusion that there was some truth in Simon’s assertion about designers’ optimism, my developer voice jumped into the discussion.

“Hey. Developers are optimistic too! We also envision a better product and often feel that achieving the goal is within our reach – we can code a solution!!! Also, we SEE and MAKE too! Of course, we often see differently than designers do.” Silently, I agreed (yes, with myself if you’re following along) there was some merit to the claim. Developers ache to be given a substantial challenge – one with clear expectations, well-documented requirements and a reasonable timeline. We want to build things that will be used en masse, that will gain a following and be appreciated. Not to be outdone, my manager voice chimed in next.

“Well, managers are CERTAINLY optimistic. Whether one is managing a team, a project or a product – there’s certainly a lot of optimistic thinking going on when one takes on a new management role.” True, I thought. And if management is defined as “adding value through optimizing the contributions of others,” or by “facilitating a high level of productivity at a minimum cost,” etc., then it could be argued that the whole SEEING and MAKING paradigm holds true with managers as well. Managers should see the whole, the composite made of many smaller pieces. We MAKE by facilitating a more efficient trip from A to Z, or one that’s more fun and rewarding, or cheaper, or that benefits more users. While jumping into a new management situation can be terrifying, it’s also exhilarating. Think about the amazing things your team can accomplish, the growth you can foster in your team members and in your organization, the real impact you can have on someone’s career and life.

So if designers, developers and managers all are capable of seeing the world with a positive outlook, and of jumping into projects with an innate sense of hope, determination and joy… if we’re all immersed every day in SEEING and in MAKING… what’s the deal? When does the milk turn sour? At some point, we all lose that fire – that very sense of optimism that makes it a treat to head to work each day because you know you’ll build something worthwhile, tweak a process, refactor that block of code or simply have a stimulating conversation about work with a coworker. (imagine that!)

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at some of the factors in the modern workplace that might influence how optimism of our designers, developers and managers can ebb and flow as we navigate this evolving world together.

You might be surprised by how little it takes to change someone’s outlook – perhaps a friend’s, or perhaps your own.

Editor’s note: Also published on GIANT UX

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