Feels Like a Grind? Stress Implications of Creative Work

What’s happening to those people who have been described by Richard Florida as the “creative class” and who have been — according to the urban theorist’s global best-selling book — on the rise: Growing in number, social scale and influence on how today’s and tomorrow workplace will look like. This was in 2003. Florida then traced the fundamental theme that for him ran through a host of seemingly unrelated changes in American society: the growing role of creativity in our economy. That sounded good, and almost like a good way out of what another academic, Stanford University Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, calls the “Toxic Workplace.” According to his research, we can observe a significant trend in today’s work environments with overwork and job stress leading to increases in smoking, alcohol abuse and high blood pressure, while layoffs contribute to depression, violence, and even lowered life expectancy. The “disease” of the time, which is a time of dramatically accelerating change, economic pressure and increasing psychological stress, is a phenomenon called burnout. The less freedom to set our own work pace that we have, the less self-direction we have in defining what we want to do, the less choices we have, and the less autonomy we have in our work environment, the more emotional exhaustion, occupational indifference and diminished competence we can observe. The so-called creative class, the people working in more stimulating and creative environments, in self-directed teams or on their own at their own chosen speed, therefore, should not be infected by the ubiquitous burnout virus. All wrong, as we now learn from Sociology professor Scott Schieman from the University of Toronto, who recently published his research findings in Social Sciences Research and looked at the demands and the stress implications of creative work. Schiemann and his team measured the extent to which people engaged in creative work activities using data from a national survey of more than 1,200 American workers. They asked participants questions like How often do you have the chance to learn new things? How often do you have the chance to solve problems? How often does your job allow you to develop your skills or abilities? And, How often does your job require you to be creative? They used responses to these questions to create an index that they label “creative work activities.” In their publication, the authors describe three core sets of findings:

People who score higher on the creative work index are more likely to experience excessive job pressures, feel overwhelmed by their workloads, and more frequently receive work-related contact (e-mails, texts, calls) outside of normal work hours;
In turn, people who experience these job-related pressures engage in more frequent “work-family multi-tasking” — that is, they try to juggle job- and home-related tasks at the same time while they are at home;
Taken together, these job demands and work-family multi-tasking result in more conflict between work and family roles — a central cause of problems for functioning in the family/household domain

In his book from 2003, Richard Florida concluded that “It is time for the creative class to grow up — boomers and Xers, liberals and conservatives, urbanites and suburbanites — and evolve from an amorphous group of self-directed while high-achieving individuals into a responsible, more cohesive group interested in the common good.” It took just seven years for this group to evolve into one that is suffering from burnout while balancing the demands of work and life.

Continue Reading

The #1 Digital Media Trend in PR

Recently, I served as a panelist at  PRSA’s Digital Impact conference. The topic was “Where the PR Industry is Headed,” and we were asked to gaze into our crystal balls to name the top digital trends impacting the future of PR. It was tempting to talk about current tech obsessions — from the iPad to the social media explosion to location-based apps, like  Foursquare and Gowalla, or early experiments in  augmented reality, like  Layar and what GE’s done with Ecomagination. But I ranked the surge in web video as the #1 trend that will cause a sea change in how we do our jobs. Whereas PR people used to be prized for their writing, it is visual storytelling in the interactive, multimedia environment that will make or break the careers of future flacks. 

Continue Reading

Clods and Sods

 Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be goalies. Especially if you’re English. “Hand of clod”, “All-time goal-keeping howler”, “Rob’s clanger”, a psychologist describing the similar traumatic impact of a road accident.  These were just a handful (sorry) of pronouncements from the UK media after Robert Green, England’s goalie, fumbled a shot and allowed the ball to dribble over the line in the 1-1 draw against the US in the World Cup match Saturday night. A groan? A moan? Whatever it was, it was heard all over the country, all at once.

Continue Reading

Bustin Jieber and Musing on Our Teen Influencer Study With myYearbook

Teen culture moves faster than you can say “Why would Chase Crawford pull out of the remake of Footloose?”. One day we read that they aren’t interested in Twitter, and the next month they’re making “Bustin Jieber” a trending topic to mess with the social media site’s new algorithm where sustained chatter on a given item doesn’t register as a trending topic anymore. One-third of the time, it makes my head spin, another third makes me feel old, and the last third just makes me more curious. So in a (humble) attempt to better understand the teen scene, Ketchum partnered with myYearbook to survey 10,000 13-19-year-olds on what type of content interests them most, what they think of being friends with their parents on Facebook and if they are in to Foursquare after all. Below are some highlights from Alissa Walker’s post about the study on Fast Company. For the full piece go here.  Don’t friend them (until they’re 18)56% of teens 13-14 years old were wary of their parents friending them on social networks, but by the time they were 18, only 27% cared. Friends are friendsTeens who are more social online are more social offline. No more envisioning the ultraconnected teen sitting home to iChat on a Saturday night. The more friends teens have online, the more likely they are to socialize and go to parties in real life. No check-ins, pleaseThe survey confirms something we’ve been hearing for some time: Teens don’t like location-based apps. Only 16% of influencers report using a mobile application like Foursquare or Gowalla.

Continue Reading

The Culturalist

In this corner of the blog I’ll also be sharing Ketchum’s The Culturalist – our bimonthly trends newsletter that discusses the people, places and ideas that are on our cultural radar. It’s the only place where you’ll find banter about  cheeseburger vending machines and why boxed water might be hitting your local supermarkets all under one roof.

Continue Reading

Celebrating an Offbeat World Cup

Celebrating an Offbeat World Cup

Charles Leonard is a Media Director in the Johannesburg office of Magna Carta, a four-time PR Agency of the Year in South Africa. Magna Carta is Ketchum’s exclusive affiliate partner in South Africa, providing the full spectrum of strategic communication services to blue-chip clients in private and public sectors.  If one of my heroes, reggae superstar Bob Marley, were still alive today, I bet I would’ve bumped into him in Johannesburg this week for the start of the FIFA World Cup. That Marley was a soccer fanatic is quite a well-known fact, and there are great photographs to prove it. His favourite team was Brazil’s Santos FC, and his favourite player was the legendary Pelé. Legend has it that Marley demanded that when he was on tour he have easy access to a football pitch. But what I didn’t know was that he was apparently buried with several items including his guitar (a Gibson Les Paul), a Bible, a ring and a soccer ball.

Continue Reading

Beware the Yeasayers

Beware the Yeasayers

In a recent Possibilities post called “Nobody Remembers the Naysayers,” my colleague Karen Strauss calls pessimism the kryptonite of innovation, and for good reason. Anyone aiming to invent the future gets nowhere by focusing on what can’t be done. Dream killers are easy targets. At some point we’ve all experienced the sting of their rejection — the coach who told us we weren’t fast enough, the teacher who said we’d never get it right, the boss who seemed to relish in our shortcomings. Our disdain for naysayers is real, and overcoming their rebuffs is a lifelong challenge. But there’s another powerful creation suppressant that’s less obvious but equally damaging to innovation and performance: the yeasayer.  Before we talk about how the yeasayer cripples the creative process and hinders achievement, let’s take a moment to define the term. Guaranteed, you’ve met yeasayers (aka “yes men/women”) before as they’re a common presence in most organizations. Picture the colleague who absolutely loves every single one of your ideas. All your cockamamie product development plans, your far-flung marketing strategies — they’re all “game changers.” Every single doodle or document you draw up is the best work you’ve done . . . well . . . since the last time you shared something with the yeasayer. Unfortunately, these performance sappers come in many forms, so it’s impossible to spot a yeasayer through visual cues alone. Title is an equally ineffective litmus test. Yeasayers often climb to the highest levels, despite their deceptively negative impact. The yeasayer’s charm is undeniable. Who doesn’t like an ego stroke from time to time? There’s nothing like a passionate endorsement from a respected colleague to build your confidence. Win the enthusiastic praise of a whole team of yeasayers and you’re unstoppable. You’re on top of the world! At least that’s what you believe until you share your idea with an authentic, independent thinker. Then you find yourself at a crossroads. If you’re not totally entranced by the yeasayer’s pandering, you could wake up and realize your big idea’s a dud. Or, you could stumble deeper down the rabbit hole and dismiss the voice of reason as just another naysayer! Oh, irony. Who cares anyway? Isn’t innovation all about perception? One person’s revolutionary is another’s banal. What if we called yeasayers “idea cheerleaders” instead? Would that make them less malignant (if not slightly more effeminate)? Here’s their essential danger no matter what name you choose: When everything’s “outstanding,” nothing stands out. The innovative stuff gets mixed up with the fluff, and you never know which ideas to run with and which to let lie. While yeasayers might be more pleasant passengers to have along for the ride, their potential to derail progress is just as high, or higher, than our old foes the naysayers. Karen effectively bashed naysayers in her post; I’m hanging yeasayers out to dry. Who’s left? If you’re truly seeking to create something new and with value, surround yourself with a cast of passionate and opinionated characters who are as willing to get on board with a great idea as they are to identify its shortcomings. They’re not the easiest to work with, and conflict among them is inevitable. But if you’re effective, you’ll cultivate the chaos and together make something truly great.

Continue Reading

Making Our Own History

Making Our Own History

Trevor Jones is a Media Director in the Johannesburg office of Magna Carta, a four-time PR Agency of the Year in South Africa. Magna Carta is Ketchum’s exclusive affiliate partner in South Africa, providing the full spectrum of strategic communication services to blue chip clients in private and public sectors. It always seems a bit grand and melodramatic to wonder out loud about “living through history”, mainly because usually you’ve no sure way of knowing whether a particular moment will one day come to be judged as historic.

Continue Reading

BP's Boss Learns the Hard Way That Language Matters

BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, was back in London at the weekend to face the British media as shocking images of the impact of the oil spill on wildlife continue to dominate the front pages of newspapers. With beaches blighted, fishermen losing their livelihoods and BP rapidly losing its reputation and value, the strategy of putting the CEO centre stage is clearly the right one. That said, Tony Hayward is fast learning about the risks of striking an inappropriate tone in public. Whilst he has rightly sought to directly engage with media with a series of broadcast and print interviews, he prompted new disbelief last week by telling Gulf coast residents on television: “I would like my life back”. This was clearly an unfortunate follow-up and somewhat negated his apology for the disaster which ran as follows:”The first thing to say is I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their (residents) lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” If ever there was an example of why it’s so important for executives to practice their key messages before they speak, then this must surely be it. Hayward is widely seen as a smart guy — but his words were quickly broadcast on America’s Today show before going viral on the Internet and filtering into the British press. And in this case, it’s not just his tone but his demeanour that’s causing comment. On British television news a few days ago, Hayward was shown on a Louisiana beach surveying machinery to help stem the oil flow. The BBC correspondent described him as “at times looking lost”. His personal response as a CEO was something picked up in Friday’s edition of the New York Times. Under huge pressure to stop the leak and keep his job, Hayward now needs to ensure he’s as careful in the attention he is paying to communications as he is to BP’s efforts to clean up the damage done by the oil spill itself. Let’s hope his trip back to London at the weekend enabled him to see his family – and gives him renewed energy to get on with the job.

Continue Reading

Coach Wooden

Coach Wooden

One of the early thrills of my career, more than 25 years ago, still ranks as one of the all-time highlights.

That was the day I got to work with the legendary Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden — without question, the greatest basketball coach ever. (There’s also a good argument to be made that Coach Wooden was the most successful coach of any sport in American history.)

As the most casual fan can tell you, Coach Wooden, who died Friday at 99, won an unprecedented 10 championships in 12 years for UCLA. Since his retirement in 1975, only two universities have even won consecutive titles, making it a virtual certainty this feat will never be duplicated.

As a graduate of crosstown archrival USC, I had never set foot in Pauley Pavilion — Coach Wooden’s stomping ground — until that day in April 1984 when the public relations agency I worked for assigned me to oversee a photo shoot featuring Coach Wooden himself.

The occasion was the McDonald’s High School All-American Basketball Game, a fundraiser for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities of Southern California. Although Coach Wooden had steadfastly stayed away from the game after his retirement, Wooden was by then a great grandfather and the local charity appealed to him. His beloved wife of 53 years, Nell, was battling cancer, and he did not like to leave her side, but he agreed to serve as the game’s spokesman.

As Media Day approached, our client, the Southern California Owner Operators Association and my agency, Bob Thomas & Associates, knew that having Wooden on board would ensure tremendous media attendance. But we all felt we still needed another news hook to elevate attention on a high school basketball game in Los Angeles, a city that was  — and still is — crazy about its two biggest sporting draws, the Dodgers and the Lakers.

We came up with what I believe to be the first slam dunk contest in the High School All-Star Game’s history. And it was a hit. 

The day’s only hitch — we neglected to mention the slam dunk contest to Coach Wooden. He hated showboating of any kind and did not hide his disdain of the slam dunk, calling it an unnecessary distraction from team play. 

The media in attendance of course pounced on this, and if Coach Wooden was annoyed that day, he didn’t show a hint of it. 

This past weekend, the many reverential stories about Coach Wooden I read all have two things in common — his peerless success on the basketball court and his stature as a gentleman off of it. Can I call it courtliness? 

That’s what it was to me, his gentlemanly manner — his courtliness — that I remember best from that morning at Pauley Pavilion. He smiled constantly, he gracefully and thoughtfully answered every media question, and patiently posed for every picture. 

When I nervously asked the great man to please pose with the High School All-American team and a photo prop — a basketball clipboard with the McDonald’s logo emblazoned across the top of it — Coach Wooden not only politely complied, he drew up an actual play.

It is today preserved in plastic wrap and safely locked away in my storage locker as one of my most prized possessions.

I saw that NFL superstar Peyton Manning counts among his prized possessions a copy of Coach Wooden’s infamous “Pyramid of Success.” The Pyramid is a chart Coach Wooden created that simply outlines his personal code for life. According to a piece in SI.com, “Industriousness and Enthusiasm were its cornerstones; Faith, Patience, Loyalty and Self-control were some of its building blocks. At the top of the pyramid was Competitive Greatness.”

Over the years, there have been countless quotes attributed to Coach Wooden, but in today’s era of hyperconnectedness, fleeting fame and the enduring value of authenticity, this is one of my favorites:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are. Your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

Continue Reading