9 Lessons from a Year in Development

December 07, 2012

Posted in General.

On Monday (December 10, 2012), I start a new job here at the University of Notre Dame, working in the Office of Information Technology. It’s a very different role for me and will provide challenges and opportunities in abundance.

I’ve spent some time reflecting on the position I’m leaving, which I started just over one year ago. I’m sharing this post with my colleagues and posting it publicly, so I’m at once critical and complimentary, mindful of the different audiences. Here we go.

Creativity isn’t imposed by a job description or office space; it’s brought by the individuals who do the work.

I left a highly creative environment and entered a beige cubicle; it took some work, but I found my creativity again. Our team thrived creatively despite its surroundings, and with that I uncovered creative people whose talents had been hidden by their everyday jobs. Musicians, writers, artists, crafters – they are everywhere.

We learn to think too small, creating constraints and rules in my mind that hinder our ability to do great things.

I had to break myself of that and have done well as a result. I find it much easier to think really big and then pare down to reality rather than work within imagined budgetary limitations. We ended up doing some cool things that shouldn’t have been possible but somehow worked out.

Steal great ideas and don’t be afraid to give them away.

There are millions of non-profits, companies, and various organizations doing really cool things. Find those things and steal the best ideas you can. Originality will surface when you aren’t looking. Don’t worry when other people steal your ideas (be flattered and then get back to work).

The team gets the credit.

I caught myself saying “I” a lot early on, particularly when I was trying to take responsibility for making a risky decision. I wanted to take the blame for the team. My boss pointed out that the team can handle the blame just as well, if not better. Say “we” and give the team credit for ideas good and bad.

Have a lot of fun.

If you don’t have fun, you won’t want to go in to work every day. Fun is like creativity – it’s something you create for yourself, not something that is written into a policy. One of the things I’m most proud of from this job is a set of cartoon drawings I did, creating superheroes for each of my colleagues. It tapped into my latent creative side and let me play with my iPad in a way I hadn’t before. But more than that, it was something fun that we had for just our team.

Politics can kill a great idea, and that just sucks.

Sometimes it’s bureaucracy and sometimes it’s personality, but either way it’s frustrating to see hard work and great ideas suffer as a result. I saw this a number of times and there was nothing I could do about it.

Accept the things you cannot change; be excellent at what you can.

A turning point for me this year came when I realized I couldn’t change certain things, so all I could do is be excellent in my sphere of influence. I made it my mission to be unassailably valuable to those I worked with. (Incidentally, this played a role in getting me the new job.) I didn’t realize how much my happiness and performance were suffering because I was worked up over things I couldn’t change.

Build and maintain your relationships.

Working around a bunch of fundraisers, it’s clear where the money really comes from. It doesn’t come from candy or popcorn sales. It comes from building trust, interest, and passion between a prospective donor and the institution. Individuals come to know the organization, fall in love with the mission, and develop a desire to make a difference. Even if you’re not a fundraiser, the same is said for working with people – your relationships make it possible to excel. Take care of people.

Say thanks.

A colleague once gave me a handwritten card thanking me for understanding the importance of saying thanks. (A thank you card for saying thank you? I wondered if I should send a thank you card back, but feared it would bring about the apocalypse.)

The card had a quote from G.K. Chesterton: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” It’s so easy to say thank you and few things are better than knowing you are appreciated.

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