How to Cultivate Lifelong Learning

Do we really value lifelong learning?

The value of lifelong learning has long been extolled. For those of us that are knowledge workers, it’s essential. But as much as we tout that as a value, our behavior rarely reflects it. It’s easy to become distracted and even complacent with our learning, more so than ever with the barrage of information from an explosion of new sources and media.

I’ve always held that staying curious and learning is a personal value. And yet I often find that even when I’m digging into a large volume of information, it can feel like mindlessly reaching into a bag of snacks. New ideas are fun and addictive. It is a thrill to encounter them, but merely encountering them does not result in knowledge or wisdom gained.

I read a large number of articles and am in the middle of several books. I listen to a variety of podcasts and watch keynote talks and interviews. All with the hope of gaining some valuable insight. But without a strategy for managing the inflow of all that information and putting it into use, a great deal of the potential is lost. For information to become knowledge, it needs personal context. “Knowledge is information in action.”

Lifelong learning in action

Feeling stagnant in my growth, I recently set about building a personal system to manage my learning. After a month or so of tinkering there are some strategies, and tools to enable them, that seem to be working well. In the process, I stumbled into the field of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) and learned that this is a journey many have been on long before me.

PKM is about capturing information and ideas that we encounter in our lives and cultivating knowledge out of all of it. There are a few broad movements within: seeking information, making sense of information so it becomes knowledge, and ultimately sharing that knowledge with others. Keep in mind that we’re running with the idea that information and knowledge are distinct things. Knowledge is information that we have personal context for. A personal knowledge management system cultivates knowledge when it facilitates the creation of personal context around information.

A functional knowledge management system enables a set of essential skills related to information. Seven of these skills are identified by Paul Dorsey and his colleagues at Millikin University:

  1. Retrieving information
  2. Evaluating information
  3. Organizing information
  4. Analyzing information
  5. Presenting information
  6. Collaborating around information
  7. Securing information

It’s worth reading their original paper to go deeper into what each of these skills entail. All seven activities contribute to the creation of knowledge. And each skill builds upon or contributes to the others.

It’s important to evaluate the information we retrieve for both quality and intent (what we intend to do with that information). And by organizing the information flowing into our minds (and perhaps a knowledge management system), we help make sense of it, connect it to other ideas, and even analyze it in relation to other information. You can see how the skills start to build.

Learning to share

These seven skills have been helpful as I evaluate the strategies I’ve put in place to manage my lifelong learning. And they’ve opened my eyes to one other observation: that lifelong learning can often be a selfish endeavor when we leave out presentation and collaboration skills from the mix. Maybe this is what stops so many of us from living out our lifelong learning value. We don’t experience the joy of cultivating new ideas in community with others. If value is created in relationships with others, the value of lifelong learning may very well be in sharing what we’ve learned.

The Value of Physical Place in Work, Memory, and Life

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This week marks our third week “back at work” after quarantine. For nearly four months our team, like most teams, had been among the millions worldwide who suddenly found themselves working from home. While MJM has always had a few remote team members (two on the West coast and one in the Twin Cities) the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to abruptly transition to an all-remote team. We tried to be positive and embrace the new normal, but it presented a fair amount of challenges. I would even say that there was some grieving for what was lost in the daily face-to-face interactions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that grief, in a time when we are all trying to navigate how to mourn the more grievous loss of life, and I think a big part of the disorientation many are feeling has to do with the loss of the physical spaces we shared. When we go to the places where we work, play, or get coffee, that physical change of place functions as a cue or marker. The erasure of those spaces—and the movement to those spaces—has left us in a trackless sea of mingled social interactions, mostly mediated through our screens.

Finding our place

Physical places help us situate ourselves, both mentally and emotionally. Driving back into your hometown after years away brings a wash of memories. Walking through the halls of your elementary school calls up faces of classmates and teachers. And it’s why “I can still remember where I was when I heard the news” is such a common experience.

This link between memory and places has long been established. In order to remember their speeches, Roman orators like Cicero would use the “method of loci” to create mental maps of a place—a home or a street of shops—called memory palaces and then mentally associate items to be remembered with each location. To recall the information stored in these memory palaces the speaker would then mentally move through the space, collecting their key points like a shopper in a well-organized grocery store.

 

Man thinking, looking at an image of a palace as he remembers information

In order to remember their speeches, Roman orators like Cicero would use the “method of loci” to create mental maps of a place—a home or a street of shops—called memory palaces and then mentally associate items to be remembered with each location.

 

Our spatial memory even extends to printed material, and especially content in books. We often remember where on a page we read a certain piece of information (an advantage that is lost when reading in the endless slippery scroll of a digital device.) In a 2014 study done at Norway’s Stavanger University, researchers noticed that subjects were able to more accurately recall the plots of stories they had read in print, when compared with stories read on an electronic device:

“When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right,” said [lead researcher Anne Mangen.] “You have the tactile sense of progress, in addition to the visual… Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.”

This may be one reason that readers seem to prefer print books, and often report a deeper emotional connection to the content of a physical book.

Even on a neurological level, our experiences and memories are coded in a way that time and place are deeply intertwined with the content of the memory. Researchers monitoring brain activity during a study that involved having participants play a virtual reality game found that

[n]eural representations of the content of the experience had become linked with the spatial and temporal context. Such evidence provides strong evidence for the theory that memory formation and recall involve association of event with context, especially spatial and temporal context. This linkage creates a mutually reinforcing interaction of event and location. We tend to remember both or neither.

The unifying power of sharing space

Two coffee cups, overlaid on an old map of LondonIf physical spaces shape our memories of the past, they also generate innumerable intangible benefits in our daily lives. Sharing space with others unifies us, almost accidentally, through countless small quotidian interactions. One of the biggest losses we’ve all felt in this season of quarantine and social distancing has been the loss of those incidental interactions that we’d grown accustomed to in our favorite third places1. In his book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg first brought the idea of “third places” to the attention of the wider public:

“Most needed are those ‘third places’ which lend a public balance to the increased privatization of home life. Third places are nothing more than informal public gathering places. The phrase ‘third places’ derives from considering our homes to be the ‘first’ places in our lives, and our work places the ‘second.'”

Working from home meant that our “first place” (home) and our “second place” (work) collapsed into one seemingly borderless experience. And now, at a time when our need for some escape from our work and home spaces is most acute, many people are concerned that those third places that formerly offered escape are in danger from both social and economic pressures.

By sharing space before the pandemic, both at work and at home, we unconsciously created a vast bank of shared experiences with members of our community and with our coworkers. At a distance, over Zoom calls and Slack messages, we’re still drawing on that bank of shared experiences, but without opportunities to replenish those connections our mutual connections are being stretched, becoming thin and tenuous. But with cases still on the rise and most traditional third places closing their dine-in spaces, if we’re going to rebuild those connections it’s probably going to have to happen in outdoor public spaces.

Back at work

Old-fashioned typewriter overlayed on old map of London

The MJM space opened back up for business on July 6th. We have gone to great lengths to mitigate the risk of infection, both to ourselves and to clients and vendors. We wears masks when moving around our space, and nixed the communal coffee pot. We also rearranged all our work areas to provide at least 8 feet between each worker. (Brady Holm, our design lead, put together a great post outlining how our process of working together to develop a new office layout was a perfect microcosm for our experiences in remote collaboration.)

As I write this at my appropriately socially-distanced desk back in the MJM space, I believe it’s worth the trouble. Ideas flow quicker in person, and feedback in matters large and small is better. There are daily accidental conversations that connect us and move us forward in our creative work as well as in our friendships—conversations that we never would have scheduled a Zoom call to have, but that came about because we happen to be sharing the same physical space. It’s good to be back at work.

 

 

1“The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”

“Life without community has produced, for many, a life style consisting mainly of a home-to-work-and-back-again shuttle. Social well-being and psychological health depend upon community. It is no coincidence that the ‘helping professions’ became a major industry in the United States as suburban planning helped destroy local public life and the community support it once lent.” (Ray Oldenburg, quoted by Project for Public Spaces)

Live Chat: Survival Marketing

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During this live webinar our own Courtney Davidson was joined by KeyMedia Solutions CEO, Korena Keys. They offered some insight into how businesses can best respond to business challenges during this temporary crisis.

Webinar Recording

Resources

Here are some of the resources referenced in today’s webinar:

Communications Audit PDF
This communications audit will help you think through your approach to marketing during this time.

COVID-19: Ad Credits for Google Ads Small and Medium-sized Businesses
From Google: “We want to help alleviate some of the cost for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to stay in touch with their customers during this challenging time.”

Facebook Small Business Grants Program
Facebook is offering $100M in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses.

Mend Join Make

Matt Jensen Marketing is offering 19, 1-hour virtual brainstorming sessions to help businesses and non-profits work through communication and marketing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more or sign up for a session today!

Notes from Design Camp 2019

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Every October, MJM sends some of it’s creative team to the fall wonderland of Branierd, MN to attend Design Camp, an informal design conference with nationally renowned speakers and special workshops. Read our three campers’ reflections from this year below!

Alison

What do I love about Design Camp? First there’s the swag bag, then it’s spending time outside the office with the design team, and then there’s beautifully thoughtful powerpoint presentations that designers put together (it can be done!). The best parts are the ideas that I chew on afterwards. This year’s featured keynotes focused less on immaculate portfolios of design work and more on their purpose and how design lives in the world: as public service at White House, alongside other artists and musicians, and as a tool for huge, international corporations to work more iteratively.

One theme that stood out was the idea of love. Love for yourself, your colleagues, your clients and your users. Ashleigh Axios gave an example of putting together rapid-fire graphics that support statements made during the State of the Union address given by the president. To a room of designers, she admitted it wasn’t beautiful, crafted work, but it was accurate, legible, and delivered on time. As designers and problem solvers, we make things for people. And we should make things to the best of our ability because people deserve that.

Kirstie

This is my third time attending Design Camp and while I always leave inspired to do new work, this year I noticed a different theme to a lot of the discussions. Instead of hearing about how I should be hustling every minute of every day, I heard about the importance of recharging creatively. Instead of leaving with a list of design topics to research and skills to hone, I left with a list of what could be better described as self-help books.

One example of this was a workshop I attended called “How to Speak Unicorn: Translating Design for the Digital Age” led by Michelle Schulp. Based on other web design workshops I’ve attended, I was expecting to be inundated with a list of new software and coding languages I was supposed  to learn. But instead, the presentation focused on something I’m not used to hearing about in web design: interpersonal communication.

Schulp acknowledged how designers who crossover to digital are often expected to be a “unicorn” skilled in every stage of the process. But, she said, rather than being an expert in every aspect of web development, it’s more important to be able to communicate with people who are. Rather than trying to force print designers to learn Python, we should be working on soft skills like active listening that allow us to bridge disciplines and leverage strengths. My overall takeaway from this year’s Design Camp was that to be a better designer, first you need to be a better person. Software will come and go, but things like empathy and compassion will always be a vital part of the designer’s toolbox.

Tim, Kirstie, and Alison in their Plaidurday finest at Design Camp 2019.

Tim

One aspect of Design Camp I enjoy every year is that the ideas and the concepts I hear there percolate in my mind for months afterward. One idea that sunk particularly deep this year was the importance of being intentionally and personally connected with the creative community around you.

Creative business consultant Emily Cohen admonished her audience to “support everyone you know.” Creative work can be discouraging, isolating, and lonely work at times, and many people don’t have the benefit of working closely with like-minded people. She emphasized that the work we do is always personal before it is professional, and we ignore that truth at our peril. And she also pointed out that wanting to be supportive isn’t enough—we also have to be intentional about supporting the people around us.

I‘m blessed at MJM to work in close proximity with four incredibly talented designers (not to mention the rest of our MJM team), and it can be easy to take that degree of connection for granted. We can Slack the other designers with questions, send over screenshots of a sticky design challenge, or even just doodle our problems out on the dry erase walls around our tables. And because it‘s so easy, I sometimes underestimate how much I‘m learning from them, and how valuable that is.

Being purposeful about “supporting everyone you know” sounds simple on the surface, but Cohen’s talk echoed many of the thoughts I’ve been having in my work with AIGA South Dakota over the past few years. As I’ve worked to support and amplify the good work that other creative professionals are doing around our area, I’ve found that I am more connected to that community. And although it wasn’t my goal, I also find that the more I spend time with the people in our community who are doing great work, the more my own work is improved and sharpened by their insights and advice.

Commonplace in Community

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A commonplace book is one central location for keeping important, interesting, or useful information. The practice of commonplace was used to keep track of ideas, concepts, facts and any piece of useful information that one might want to return to later. The commonplace book would be a fertile ground for new ideas and insights to form. Sometimes the books were kept as general collections, but were often kept on a specific topic or theme. The curators of these books found immense value in both the practice and the book itself.

These books were recorded by hand, in a journal. Over time, the practice has evolved with technology and now there is a proliferation of ways to keep a commonplace book as well as new kinds of content to keep in them. Digital apps like Evernote are a great way to keep a commonplace book, and are a clear evolution from the traditional pen and paper format.

These books were very personal artifacts for use by an individual. But something interesting has happened with the advent of the internet, blogs, and social media. Our commonplace books have become public, community commonplaces. Tumblr blogs, Instagram accounts, and Pinterest boards all can function as a sort of commonplace book. On Reddit, the community votes the most compelling content to the top.

These are all public, curated collections. And we have the ability to follow the collections of others. Your follower list is a curated collection of notable people. There’s an exponential or fractal quality to it. Or perhaps a kaleidoscope is a better metaphor. Ideas from a variety of sources are brought into friction and collision with one another, in a way that perhaps they wouldn’t if they were strictly private collections.

Commonplace goes digital

But are these collections really in the spirit of keeping a commonplace book? Keeping commonplace is a deliberate practice. It is done with care, and the entries into a book are meaningful – they are recorded for a purpose. If we are to see these public collections of content as commonplace books, they must not be divorced from intention and context. We need to understand why something was shared if we were not the ones to originally share it.

At MJM, we use Slack for internal communication, and have several channels that function as commonplace collections of sorts, curated by our whole team. #inspiration is full of articles, quotes, videos, and websites shared by members of our team who were inspired by them. Members of our team with an interest in motion graphics and animation have a channel named #timeline-chatter (after the timeline interface element common to editing and animation programs). We share tips and tricks that we have found as well as examples of animation that we want to learn from.

Inspiration endorsed with enthusiasm

The entries that inspire and engage others are those that include a brief personal note from the poster about why they found the item so interesting. These entries give context and are endorsed with the enthusiasm of someone who shares similar interests. It’s an invitation to dialogue, and helps establish a foothold for a common, shared vocabulary. The goal is not just to find the coolest thing and be the first to share it. Keeping commonplace is a constructive act. The goal is to build and expand upon each other’s curiosity and knowledge. This creation of context and invitation into dialogue is vital to a community collection that is truly in the spirit of commonplace.

This has implications for those of us who create, collect, and manage content for others as well. We should strive to be intentional and constructive with the content we create and share, and not just another distraction. And we must consider how we facilitate the creative act of curation as a unified group, not just a collection of individuals.

MJM Designers Participate in AIGA South Dakota Stamp Show

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Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to participate in a group show created by AIGA South Dakota—the South Dakota Stamp Show. For this show, AIGA asked 13 area designers to each create a set of five concept postage stamps around a topic related to our fair state. There was a lot of good work in this show, and you can still see it at the Sioux Falls Design Center for a limited time.

Here the designers at MJM talk about their process and work:

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Deadwood

Deadwood is deceiving town.If you were to visit the area today, it presents itself as an unassuming South Dakota town and (aside from some gambling and historic displays) you wouldn’t guess its rich history. With this topic, I saw an opportunity to highlight the people from a long-gone era that made Deadwood a household name. People like Poker Alice and Wyatt Earp. As I researched these historic individuals, I found myself thinking of them as more characters in a drama and less actual people that lived out their lives in our rural region. With names like Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, it’s difficult not to. Because of this, I chose to make the goal of this stamp series is to spotlight that juxtaposition of real person and western legend with a set of minimalist caricatures of some of the most famous people to reside in Deadwood.

Joel Jochim

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Roadside Attractions

South Dakota has mastered the art of the roadside attraction. Drive down any highway in the state and you’ll be bombarded with billboards advertising sites ranging from the delightfully kitschy to the straight-up bizarre. Are they desperate money grabs? Maybe. But you have to admire the ingenuity of people who have found a way to use whatever resources they have at their disposal to capture people’s attention. The kind of ingenuity that sees some old pieces of wood and turns them into a forest or sees an abandoned town and fills it with animatronic cowboys. Because, why not? In a state as vast and unpopulated as South Dakota, it  takes a little bit more effort to remind people that you exist. To honor these beacons of the prairie, I wanted to design stamps that were, above all, fun. South Dakota is usually expressed in shades of greens and browns and I wanted to bring in some vivid technicolor that screams, “I’m here! Look at me!”

Kirstie Wollman

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I-90

Interstate 90 runs through the center of the state and is the main artery of travel for most people moving through South Dakota. I-90 unifies the state, and touches on a lot of common elements of the experience of living here.

Bisontennial: 200 years ago there were an estimated 75 million bison roaming the countryside. By 1895, that number was cut to 800 due to reckless and wasteful hunting. Now, after 200 years, the North American bison is again thriving in commercial herds and roaming in both wild and protected places. The population is now estimated to be about 500,000.

Accumulation: In a state that averages between 30 to 70 inches of annual snowfall, snow (and snow removal) is a large feature of life. For every mile of interstate, South Dakota spends more than $2,800 on winter maintenance. So if you get a chance, buy a coffee for one of the 400 or so workers who are driving the state DOT’s snowplows this year.

No Services: With the straight lines created by the 1956 Interstate Highway Act, small towns that found themselves too far off the interstate gradually lost ground to those communities that were closer. Sometimes towns bypassed by the interstate saw business come to a standstill literally overnight.

Home Alone: My first car was a 1984 Subaru GL station wagon, light blue and relatively reliable. I loved that I could throw everything I needed in the back and drive wherever I needed to go. I put Christmas lights in the back windows and installed a switch by the gear shift—I’m lucky the whole thing didn’t catch on fire. My second car was a 1990 Subaru Legacy station wagon—no Christmas lights but just as great. I’ve never owned a kayak or a teardrop trailer, but maybe someday.

Share the Road: Of the 546 motorcycle accidents reported last year, 51% involved another motor vehicle.  And I drew a helmet on this guy because in 245 (or 55%) of last year’s accidents the riders weren’t wearing helmets.

Tim Murray

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South Dakota Rocks!

Rock climbing strikes me as a very physical test of strength and endurance, but also one of creativity—finding a route up what appears at first to be an unscalable rock face. So it’s only appropriate that one must also exercise creativity in naming a newly devised route—an honor given to the first climber to ascend (or “send” in climbing lingo) a new route. South Dakota’s Black Hills region features granite spires and limestone canyons that provide for spectacular rock climbing, and which give birth to even more spectacular names.

In rock climbing there are both good and bad names. Poor names are childish or in poor taste; the worst names are misogynistic or racist. A good name can put a new climb on the map, attracting more climbers and elevating it to the status of legendary. The best names describe the rock or route itself with fitting imagery or a clever reference. In that sense it can be like the task of naming a new business, or designing an appropriate logo for it. Cerberus, a climb in Custer State Park, is on a spire with three little peaks at the top—a reference to the three-headed hound that guards the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology. The name lends enough antagonism to feel like a challenge or foe to overcome, inviting intrepid climbers to try and best the beast.

Brady Holm

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Wall Drug

Wall Drug is a wonderfully weird place. It’s the ultimate American road trip stop attracting 2 million people* per year—but why is it so popular? I think some people just need to see what all the fuss is about. Hand-painted billboards advertising Free Ice Water put Wall Drug on the map decades ago and led to a national and international network of billboards that point back  to this obscure corner of South Dakota. The climbable jackalope, the 80-foot dinosaur, homemade donuts, and iconic signage are the most popular tourist photos at Wall Drug. I drew them with a brush tool that gives it some roughness reminiscent of a fading billboard. The pastel color palette borrows from that early-morning light and shadowy landscape you get on a long road trip. I, the  bleary-eyed kid in the back seat of this road trip, wakes up and thinks, “Where in the world are we?” We pull up to a parking space. The sign says “Welcome to Wall Drug” and it smells like donuts.

*To put it this number into perspective, there are less than 1 million people living in both North and South Dakota combined.

Alison Raaen

My PRK Journey

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At Matt Jensen Marketing, we use a wide range of creative tools during our design process, but there’s no tool more important to a designer than his or her vision.

Joel Jochim, graphic designer and beard wizard, relies on his vision throughout the design process to create great visual work for our clients. After a decade of wearing contacts and experiencing discomfort in recent years, Joel went to Vance Thompson Vision to see if they could help. He wanted to see if they had a laser vision correction option to help him reduce or eliminate his need for contacts (while preserving and protecting his vision). Through a series of diagnostics, Joel learned he was a candidate for Photorefractive Keratecomy, or PRK. We sat down to ask him about his experience:

 

Q: What went into the decision to get this process started?

Joel Jochim (JJ): I had been wearing contacts for more than ten years, and most of those years had been fine and without issue. Eventually, my eyes started feeling uncomfortable on a daily basis, which is when I realized I needed a change. I had my eyes checked out to see if anything was wrong and it turned out my contacts were irritating my eyes to the point that they were leaving scars on my cornea, and even could have effectively left me blind. After the doctors at Vance Thompson Vision discovered that, they decided the scarring was significant enough to have the PRK procedure versus a more common approach like LASIK.

Q: What was your experience like with the doctors at Vance Thompson Vision?

JJ: The staff at Vance Thompson Vision was extremely personable and helpful. They were the only ones to alert me to what was actually happening with my eyes and gave me a clear path forward to improve my vision. Beyond that, they educated me about the treatment that was right for my unique situation.

Q: What was your recovery like? How is your vision now?

JJ: PRK is more uncomfortable in the recovery phase when compared to LASIK. While the procedure is quick and painless, I still took it easy the first week, especially in bright light. That being said, after that first week my eyes cleared up and felt better than they had in years. Six months later, my eyes feel completely normal and I have better than 20/20 vision. I genuinely couldn’t be happier with my choice to have PRK.

Q: What is one aspect of your life that has been improved, besides your vision, after this procedure?

JJ: The doctors at Vance Thompson Vision and the PRK procedure have made it so I don’t have “bad eye days” anymore, which occurred often in my life before the surgery. Making plans no longer depends on whether my eyes will be irritated or not. Now, I see better than I ever did with glasses or contacts and don’t have to worry.

For questions about PRK, call and schedule a free consultation with Vance Thompson Vision.

Falling Up

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In February 2018, I parked my car for my first interview at MJM, and as soon as I walked towards the door I fell up the ice-covered-steps within the first thirty seconds upon my arrival. Amazing, isn’t it? As I confirmed the secrecy of my fall, I brushed the snow off my pants and walked into the office as if nothing had happened.

That afternoon, though started with personal embarrassment, quickly turned into warm hellos as I walked into the office with wet knees from the snow and went into an interview turned full blown conversation of the office’s beginnings, discussion of strengths, and an affirmation that MJM is where I wanted to be.

As I reflect on just under a year from that wet-kneed interview, I’m very confident that infamous up-the-stairs-tumble was an accurate representation of how my time would be here—an experience of falling upwards.

My first couple of weeks as an intern, trust me, there was a motif of falling and embarrassment. In such a fast-paced world like marketing, things are ever-changing with the trends and the moment an account manager tells you one thing, it already changed by the time you’re gathering your own information. My creativity bloomed for practices to pretend I knew what I was doing in those first two weeks.

Though there was some adjustment to working, there also was a welcoming feeling as I started to settle into the office—just like my initial interview. It was the giggles on the couch with the account managers, the constructive feedback I got when I got off track, and the launch of my skills I didn’t know I had to develop my writing skills far beyond what I ever learned in school. Even if I were to fall, I would still catch myself on a higher platform from where I was before, each of my mistakes giving me more insight into how this industry works.

There’s a couch in the MJM space, which I like to call “my office,” that I work on most days that allows me to take a step back and allow me to really observe.  From “my office,” I can hear the bathroom door that absolutely slams behind me every so often and the pitter patter of dogs running in the apartment above us. On the contrary, there’s also this aura of creativity that emerges when I see a group gathered around a computer working on a project, the determination coming from the design team when they’re deep in a project, and the ambiance of all of the creative and tactical minds functioning in perfect (and sometimes imperfect) harmony.

I came into this office with snow-covered jeans but will leave with an absolute remodel of my knowledge about all things marketing. I touched client work ranging eye care practices, aesthetics companies, virtual training platforms, amongst many more. Did I mention on one of my first weeks our CEO made me draw and label an eye in front of some of this country’s leading ophthalmologists? It’s truly a whirlwind around here.

Though I’ve stayed on part-time as I “fell-up” back into my school year, this internship has given me a chance to reflect and analyze what I want to be doing in the future. If it’s anything like my time here at MJM, I’ll be just fine.

Leaving Fruits of Young Trees: Connecting with the Land and Community

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On a recent Sunday afternoon, my husband and I toured Coastal Roots Farm, a local farm that is unique to our area along the southern California coastline. According to their vision statement they “envision a world in which every community comes together to grow and share healthy food, care for the land, help their neighbors, and strengthen the connections they have with each other.”

Coastal Roots Farm is inspired by ancient Jewish traditions that connect people to community, food, the land, and social justice. They donate 70% of all that is grown to feed those in need in the community and sell the remaining 30% at their local farmstand.

During the tour we learned about the concept of “orlah” which means “leaving fruits of young trees.” Orlah requires waiting to harvest fruit for a tree’s first three years, and donating the harvest in the fourth year. In ancient Judaism, the fourth year’s fruits were considered holy and designated for those who were landless and social or religious servants. Orlah teaches us to care for the trees and allow them to establish deep roots before concentrating on production. It encourages farmers to value trees as more than a means to an end of consumption. The farm recently produced its fourth year of grapes from the vineyard and donated it to a local winery to share in community events. Next year is their fifth year growing and they will cultivate and sell the fruit for the first time.

Especially at this time of year, it is a good reminder of giving back to the earth to nourish the soil, being grateful for the bountiful harvest and sharing with those less fortunate.

Thoughts on Design Camp 2018

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Our content team voyaged north to Design Camp for inspiration from leading creatives, technique sharing and time together. Here were some takeaways from the team:

The theme of this year’s Design Camp was “Inside Out” and the goal was for everyone to put it all on the table—personally, professionally and creatively. As a classic reserved Midwesterner, my first reaction when I heard this was, “No, thank you.” But as I listened to the speakers and presenters share their stories, the more I started to think that maybe I do have a story of my own to tell. I have always shied away from doing personal work, believing that my purpose as a designer could only be derived by creating things for other people. But the presentations left me questioning the assumption that creating something for myself is inherently incompatible with creating things for other people.

This idea culminated in the final keynote from illustrator Andy J. Pizza who talked about how looking at gig posters had helped him dig himself out of a depression. Something that was meant to be functional and ephemeral had become someone’s lifeline. As designers, we have very little control over what happens to our work once it has been released into the world. Most often, we worry about people misunderstanding or even ruining our work, but isn’t magical to think that our work could be thing to turn someone’s life around?

So, still being a Midwesterner, I of course did not voice any of the ideas that were running around in my head during the actual weekend, but it has got me thinking about how I can use design to tell my own story. Because, maybe, there is someone out there who needs to hear it.

– Kirstie

Design Team in Brainerd, MN

Plaidurday 2018

Design Camp 2018 was a great opportunity to glean new techniques and meet skilled designers, but the most important takeaway I had from the experience was that even the most veteran designers out there undergo the same brief moments of doubt and near-burnout that all creatives do. Not only do they have these moments, but their experiences have taught them how to systematically push through these obstacles and return to creating their best work. We able to hear these and learn from these stories thanks to the vulnerability the keynote speakers were willing to show us, so I think we can all agree that we’re endlessly thankful.

– Joel

Design Camp was a fantastic weekend of fellowship and learning for our design team. We studied and discussed the creative process, inspiration, and collaboration and came home with some great tools to improve our work. One teaching theme emerged for me from a number of the speakers, and reflects a comment from a famous athlete:

”It seems like the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

A number of speakers reflected on how they fought through low periods of creativity or dead periods of work. For those that found their way through these periods, a common theme was ”just keep working.“ Work projects, personal projects, passion projects—find a way to keep working and producing. It was often this work borne in low periods that created the exposure or inspiration for future successful work. This kind of ”luck,” obviously, is created through dedication and intentional focus, and all creatives need to find a way to fight through their low periods and breakthrough. At MJM, having a great team of creatives around to work with and create with definitely helps support each individual creative as they work hard and create more luck!

– Logan

I have one core or foundational belief about creativity. It’s that new ideas are simply new combinations of familiar things. This concept of combinatorial creativity is only reinforced by conferences like Design Camp. It’s incredibly invigorating to spend a weekend retreat with like-minded designers and thinkers, getting inspired by the journey others have taken and the things they’ve learned along the way.

One of the workshops outlined a technique for ”Bulletproof Ideation” by combining ideas in a methodical fashion. We learned about the Bedno Diagram – a tool invented by designer and educator Ed Bedno—which provides a framework for seeing and exploring the intersection of multiple ideas. The process was very familiar, but I had never seen it implemented so thoroughly and methodically. And I was inspired by the suggestion to use the technique to reverse engineer ideas that have inspired me, to understand how their creator may have arrived at that solution. It was a good reminder that good ideas don’t come out of thin air, delivered by a muse in a ”eureka” moment. They are intentionally crafted and combined, and are accessible to all who are willing to work rigorously for them.

That last point connects back to the final keynote speaker, Andy J. Pizza. He shared the highs and lows of his creative journey, and wisdom he gained along the way, with the ultimate conclusion that there are no shortcuts for a fulfilling creative career. You have to do the work. And sometimes you have to struggle for it. That struggle might look like an exhaustive Bedno diagram, or piles of discarded concepts on the way to one workable solution. Learning to enjoy the process and to see it as intrinsically valuable is the key to going far.

– Brady

No matter what you want to learn, most skills and ideas are available to anyone who is interested through YouTube tutorials and Skillshare classes. You don’t need to drive halfway to Canada to find inspirational speakers or to learn interesting new techniques, but our design team does exactly that every year.

AIGA Minnesota’s Design Camp is a yearly retreat just outside Brainerd, MN. Each fall the MJM design team makes the trek up to northern Minnesota, and while the workshops and the speakers’ portfolios are interesting, to my mind they are not the most valuable part of the experience. The reward that compels me to make the trip is perspective.

This year that perspective had less to do with design methodology, new paper options, or printing techniques—it was something deeper. I felt like I heard two different answers to the question, “What is your work for?” Some of the speakers I heard and the designers I met talked about the scope of their portfolio and the size of their audience; they spoke about their personal brand and their career path. Good work equals more glory. Other people focused on the lives they had touched, the students they had taught, and the relationships they had formed with clients and colleagues over the course of their career. Good work means better relationships with people.

“What is your work for?”

Looking at my own past work, some of it has held up well, but much of it has not. Projects I worked on even 6 months ago can sometimes cause me to cringe. But the relationships I’ve developed with coworkers, students and clients are evergreen. Last year’s projects are getting stale; last year’s relationships are still a source of joy. Do the work, and enjoy the process, but don’t look to your work to make you happy. The work (whatever it is) is valuable, but it’s really only a backdrop to the things that matter most.

– Tim