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How Reframing a Problem Unlocks Innovation

I came across this great article recently that got me thinking about how many of us respond when problems arise. We often immediately jump to how this problem can be solved, but forget to really take a look at what the problem actually is. The simple process of asking why may help us analyze the problem from a variety of angles and potentially develop a better solution. Do you have any success stories of getting to the root of a problem? What was the outcome? Your success story may help a colleague get to the root of their problem.

Bring out your latent artistic skills at the Forum Conference

I've been a terrible artist my entire life. I cannot render the most basic images. Put a pencil in my hand and watch catastrophe unfold.

So I am especially excited that we are bringing Debra Frasier to the conference. You probably know Debra's book On the Day You Were Born, which has been a mainstay of baby gifts for more than 20 years.

Debra will be joining us for two sessions where she'll be teaching us the art of paper cutting--and how anyone, even me, can express themselves artistically with paper, scissors and glue. I might not ever make a beautiful papercut for my day job, but the creativity it unleashes will definitely influence all the other things I do at work.

Here are a couple other paper cut images from On the Day You Were Born:

"Welcome to the spinning world," the people sang, as they washed your new, tiny hands. "Welcome to the green Earth,"....

These are from A Birthday Cake is No Ordinary Cake:


And Debra's new book, Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe, was illustrated with cut up old jeans. It comes out in fall 2013.


Now, REGISTER for the conference, today.

Year of the Communicator Conference | The Benefits

You already know the advantages of attending the Year of the Communicator conference on June 25, 2013, but you may need some help convincing your supervisor.

Here are some tangible benefits of attending this year's UMCF conference:

1. It is affordable!
With airfare consistently on the rise, attending the conference means you won't only save on airfare, but hotel and food costs as well. Plus if you register before May 30, you receive the early bird discount.

2. Expand your professional network.
Because the conference is for communicators at the University, you expand your professional network across campuses. We rarely get a break to talk with our fellow colleagues and this is an excellent opportunity.

3. Keep up with the trends in the communications field and be inspired by inspiring people.
This year's conference has two keynote speakers that are industry leaders. Krista Neher is an expert on social media and will be addressing how higher education institutions can make social media work for us. Debra Frasier, author and illustrator, will help guide you on your path of creativity, something every communicator needs.

4. Attend together as a teambuilding activity.
Attending the conference as a team means you can talk about which sessions will provide you with the most skills and choose your tracks together. Creating a report for your supervisor about the sessions you attend also helps outline what you learned. Then you can discuss your day at the reception, surrounded by inspiring art at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery.

5. Gain topic-specific experience.
The strategies, tools, and skills that you learn can be taken back to your department and applied immediately. The conference offers you two keynote speakers and three breakout sessions geared to give you the tools that you need to be the best at what you do.

Don't delay and register today!

Simply Beautiful Design

Do you feel overwhelmed with the complexity and daily noise of life? Why not relax and look at some simply beautiful design at Geometry Daily!

Thanks Google

Say that everyone has been talking about that television show. Your friends. Your coworkers. That friendly neighbor lady. You want to know more about it. Correction: You need to know more. So, you go to your desktop computer. You go to your laptop. You go to your iPad. You go to your phone. Wherever you are you get to the Internet and get to that Google.

This looks interesting. Thanks Google.


NetflixRentals.JPGI have been sitting in on the conference committee this year, which has been great fun. We did a huge brain dump of all of our session and keynote presenter ideas, and one of the committee members turned me on to Kevin Quealy, a Minnesota native who does infographics for the NY Times. I'm obsessed with his work.

His animations and static graphics bring information to life. This graphic on Olympic long jumpers uses everyday comparisons that most of us can relate to, such as the length of the free-throw line on a basketball court.

At a glance, we can see how people spend their time--and click on 18 different variations of the data.

And this is cool: Who goes to State Dinners, from what industries, and how many times?

One thing you don't see here? Lengthy copy with various font sizes, masquerading as "infographic." (Google "view our infographic" for more like these.)

How do you share information without text?

Minimalist story telling

You may have heard of Blaise Pascal famously ending a correspondence to a friend with "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter." Many writers identify with this because they understand how much time and effort is needed to convey complex meaning in few words. I'm no designer, but I'd imagine they face similar challenges when conveying meaning with minimal visual elements. At least that's what I thought of when I saw this series of minimalist posters for fairy tales. Scroll slowly and see if you can guess the tale with just he image.

Design thinking: A new egg carton?

Welcoming spring with this innovative egg box design by a University of West Hungary student.


The redesigned carton is made of cardboard and a rubber band. It's flexible and environmentally friendly.

Think it will make it to the supermarket?

Stay creative

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Just a nice video to help you think of ways to stay creative...



I don't know about you, but the freezing temperatures have given me a case of the winter blues, making me less motivated than I typically would be on a sunny, warm day. How can we continue to be motivated and fight those winter blues?

For me... the answer is TED talks. Dan Pink's TED Talk about motivation got me thinking, hence getting me motivated. What keeps you motivated and how do you motivate your colleagues during these short winter days?

New Year's Creativity Resolutions

new years.jpgWhether you're a firm believer in making New Year's resolutions or not, the start of a new year is always a good time to reflect, and think about the future. And hey, don't think New Year's resolutions are just for your personal life! Resolutions and goals can have a positive impact on your work environment, as well. My biggest job-related goal for 2013? Find time in my daily routine for creativity to seep in.

For me, this means spending 15-30 minutes a couple days a week to diverge from my daily grind and look for inspiration elsewhere. This could take the form of a walk outside on my lunch break to get the creative juices flowing, browsing blogs or publications that I find to be written well (I do a lot of writing and editing as part of my job), or even trolling Pinterest for some visual stimulation. Why? Because when your brain is focusing on something stimulating and not necessarily related to work, ideas can seep in that affect your work or process that you otherwise might not have stumbled upon. It's all about mixing up those brain pathways, folks.

This need to unplug from day-to-day tasks something I've been thinking about since I attended the panel "Real World Creativity" at the 2012 Communicators Forum Conference. The panelists (Beth Perro-Jarvis and Mary Van Note, two delightfully sassy women from Ginger Consulting) suggested (or rather, forcefully encouraged) we find a small window of time, whether it be daily or weekly, to get creative.

What are your work-related resolutions or goals for 2013? Do you find time in your work life to look elsewhere for inspiration?

Encouraging Workplace Innovation

It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind, which leaves little time to evaluate how inefficient we have become. I think it is time we all take a step back and think about how we can be more innovative in both our personal and professional lives.

This article "Three ideas for encouraging workplace innovation" might help you kick-start innovations in your work. There is no better time than now, right?

StrengthsFinder: Helpful or not?

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Earlier this week, a few fellow marketing department coworkers and I took the StrengthsFinder test and went to a Human Resources workshop designed to help us understand our results. I tend to reflect a lot about my relationships, whether it be with coworkers, superiors, community members, patrons, or my personal relationships. I found StrengthsFinder to be a good exercise in reflection. None of my top 5 themes surprised me, but I found some of the suggested action items on how to incorporate my strengths into the workplace helpful, although some of them felt a little too much like a zodiac for my comfort, such as "Find someone with strong Command or Activist strengths to pair with." However, what I found to be even more helpful was hearing my coworkers' results, and how they interpreted or explained them. This allowed me insight into our work relationships, and understanding why certain protocols, processes, or environment details are important to different people. 

Do you think personality tests such as this are useful in the work place? If you've taken StrengthsFinder specifically, what did you discover with your results? Have you shared them with your coworkers/superiors? If so, has that affected the way you work together?

UMCF Member of the Year Profile: Jen Peters

Editor's note: To start off a new academic year on the blog, we decided to profile the 2012 UMCF Member of the Year, Jen Peters. Take notes, folks.

jen.jpgUMCF: What is your job title and department here at the U? How long have you worked there?

Jen Peters: Graphic designer at the University Libraries since September 2008 (4 years, 1 month).

UMCF: What's an average workday like?

JP: The majority of my day is spent in my office designing. I generally have at least five projects going at once, and produce them from concept to completion. I often start a project with a few quick sketches and typeface explorations before moving into InDesign. I often sort through images from the Libraries' archives and special collections and collaborate with our exhibits designer, Darren Terpstra. I work closely with the Communications Director finalizing text edits and creating and sending HTML emails.
UMCF: Favorite part of your workday?

JP: I love starting a new project, particularly brainstorming visual concepts and searching for the perfect typeface! I am fortunate to work with so much incredible art here at the Libraries such as these lovely seed catalogs.

UMCF: How does what you do support the mission of the University?

JP: We work to promote our vast resources which ultimately help expand the reach of research: our expert librarians, the millions of volumes held in our collections, tools to enhance productivity, and programs and services.

UMCF: Why did you join the Forum? What role does the Forum plan in your everyday work life?

JP: It was a big transition coming from an agency setting into my current position, working with only two other people. I joined to network and gain a better understanding of the communications work happening at the University.

I have learned so much by volunteering on the conference committee. I have been asked to help plan events at the Libraries as a result. Plus, it gave me a good excuse to approach potential speakers - designers and artists I admire.
UMCF: Where do you find creative inspiration?

JP: Design and photography blogs, any type of magazine, Pinterest, plus the incredible local art and design culture here in the Twin Cities.

UMCF: What are your hobbies outside of work?

JP: Riding bike, gardening, photography, skiing - anything outdoors!

UMCF: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

JP: We (my husband and I) have a 15 year old music loving cat. When my husband plays guitar, she demands to be in the same room, sitting by his feet.

Go for the Maroon and Gold: Training Tip

Ever been put on the spot to produce a great idea...? And, realized that your creative juices were not flowing? Drumming up creativity can be a tricky thing, especially if when you get stuck on these hang ups (

That's why it's important to put aside some time during your week to exercise your creative muscles.... starting with this: 29 ways to stay creative (

Also, don't forget the UMCF annual conference is coming up July 26!  And, we're pleased to announce that Beth Perro-Jarvis and Mary Van Note, Partners of Ginger Consulting, will be leading a session on creativity.

P.S. Check out this cool story about Ginger Consulting on Star Tribune (

Link Roundup: Photography

Mastering photography is an elusive art. But, practice makes perfect and building photographic skills is an enjoyable hobby.

Here's an edition of link roundup on getting good at taking pictures.

-- 14 Ways to Improve Your Photography in a Few Days
-- 90+ Online Photography Tools and Resources
-- How to Stay Up Late and Make an HDR Image
-- How To: Master Smartphone Photography 
-- iPhone Photography + Social Networking = Instagram
The Washington Post Wants Your Instagram Photos to Illustrate Health of U.S. Economy
Communicators have an uncanny ability to get to know people across varied disciplines and familiarize themselves with many professional niches. At the U, for example, communicators are tucked away in their colleges becoming experts on vastly different topics--from veterinary medicine to cultural studies, or whatever discipline it may be.

Although spread far and wide, it's apparent there is a thread running through our group that knits us together. Communicators relish in swapping stories, sharing information, and making connections. And we do just that at the U--especially those who participate in the Communicators Forum.

It's easy to forget that this inherent attribute is a skill that many people do not possess. As connectors, we have access to people that others may not. Using that opportunity to relay important messages is an interesting concept--think of the impact that could be made by stepping outside our traditional roles.

To me, it makes sense that making a difference in my profession and making a difference in the lives of others requires both excellent communications skills and the ability to project my knowledge to others confidently. So, complimenting my people skills with leadership skills seems like a no-brainer.  

Here's an edition of link roundup on leadership, career success, verbal communication style, and more.

  1. Steve Jobs and the Seven Rules of Success
  2. The Hazards of Confidence
  3. Optimism Scores the Extra Point
  4. The Conversationalist: Talking Without Technology
  5. Networking is a PR Mandate
  6. 10 Must-Read Public Relations And Marketing Books

Community Fund Drive

Every year the UMTC Community Fund Drive rolls around I have to say I enjoy it. My office (University Relations) usually does a pretty good job of contributing, and the U on a whole raises more than $1 million each year for community charities. It's a testament to the true character and deep commitment of U faculty and staff, I think, to give so much of their time and money. But we're a little behind this year (participation is at about 13%). It's a tough economy, but during tough economic times, donations go down and needs go up--and this fund drive fulfills a lot of needs (the U is the biggest donor for most of the charities). As communicators, we can help spread the word. So let people know.

Online you can find a list of many of the charitable organizations. If you can't find a charity you like, you can give to your favorite charity, even if it's not on the list, as long as it is a 501c3.

I'd also like to give a shout out to the people who make this happen every year. All the volunteers--dozens of them--make this happen. UMCF member Lisa Bentzen, communications staff in OHR, deserves a shout out as the communications committee member. If I'm forgetting anyone, thank you, too.  

I sure could use some inspiration...

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My creative brain is sleepy, and lately I just can't seem to wake it up. Can you help me out here? Where do you go for inspiration? Are there any sites or blogs out there that I should know about? My sleepy brain thanks you in advance!
I'm catching up on some of my Chronicle of Higher Ed reading today, and I came across a gem of a blog post that gives faculty advice about how to handle disruptive colleagues during meetings.

Social media: conversation, not directives

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The judges for last year's Maroon & Gold Awards were underwhelmed with how University communicators were using social media. Their comments could be summed up by saying that they feel we who are using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube need to start thinking of those formats as ways to communicate back and forth, not as one-way conversations with our audiences.

As I look at how my colleagues have been using these media during the past year, I would say we've made great strides in that direction. I'm not on the Awards Committee this year so haven't seen the entries, but my guess is the judges gave higher marks this year for all the great social media work that's been done.

Here's an article that I think makes some good, basic points about social media and how to best use it:

Turning inspiration into action

If you're like me, attending a conference--be it for the Communicators Forum or other groups--results in a host of new ideas and inspiration. I leave recharged and ready to use my new-found knowledge on the job.

And then I get back to the office.... there are a flurry of emails to catch up on, printer's proofs to review, and--of course--back-to-back meetings. I often struggle to make time to put these new ideas to the test.

When thinking about the fantastic lineup prepared for the Communicators Forum conference on May 12, I decided that I need a new post-conference strategy...

I booked an hour of desk time after the conference to review my notes and think about how I can incorporate what I learned into my upcoming work projects. If my boss reads this, she can hold me to it. :)

Hopefully this will help turn my inspiration into action.

If you've put conference-inspired ideas into action on the job, we'd love to hear about it. Post in the comment field and share your ideas.

And, for those of you who haven't yet--be sure to register for the May 12 Communicators Forum conference BEFORE April 12 for the early bird rate.

Mission impossible


"Graphic design will save the world, right after rock and roll does." -- David Carson

Social Media Blunders: We Know Better

I read with some relish this piece posted today from SmartBrief on Social Media:
The Suxorz pick the worst social media moves of 2010.

I can't help it, I love to see the bad. I learn so much from it.

You're Gonna Love This

Like probably maybe most of you, I receive several forwards a day from friends and fellow designers, who freely declare, "you're gonna love this." And while I'd heard of tilt-shift photography, I'd never seen the technique applied to art. Here, a select few Van Gogh paintings, many of which I know well and admire greatly, are dramatically transformed with the tilt-shift treatment.

It was as if I was experiencing them if for the first time. And since then, I've not stopped thinking about this dreamy perspective or how I wish I could travel at a slant into all the paintings at the MIA.

Try your hand at the tilt-shift technique in Photoshop

Eisenhower's Farewell Address

Happy new year, Forum members! Since it's University Winter Closure, and technically we aren't here, I thought it would be fun to share a little holiday trifle.

Member profile: Rebecca Noran

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Name: Rebecca Noran
Job title: Assistant Director and Communications Manager
University of Minnesota Extension Center for Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (EFANS)

Which means: I have ideas and I make them happen. Somehow, this involves attending many meetings and chairing many committees. But more importantly it involves the work of many talented people. My role is part administrator for our center, reporting to the associate dean and managing different center initiatives and operations, and part communications manager, with oversight for our web presence, internal communications, telling our story, and other communications efforts... and supervising a great team.

I have been at the University since: Jan. 2, 2001

Areas of expertise: design, proofreading, Minnesota Extension's response to emerald ash borer, First Avenue & 7th St. Entry nightclub, Twin Cities public bathrooms, Shellac concerts, famous people from my hometown of Montclair, NJ, lines from the movies Heathers, The Muppet Movie, and The Big Lebowski

Why are you a Forum member?
Because we need an outlet like this. I have served on the promotion and awards committees, designed materials for the conference, and attended many events over the years -- it is great to have this positive space for University communicators to learn from and connect with each other. I look forward to the conference every year, to see all you smart, talented communicators!

Family members: husband: Jon Dehning (also works at the U, from Decorah, Iowa), parents: Jim and Susan (NJ), siblings: Jason (NJ), Rachel and husband Zak and their sons Ben and Henry (Virginia) -- the rest of them, they are all over the country!

Hobbies:  Boggle, doodling, walking, traveling/exploring, talking to strangers, finding colors that go with maroon and gold

Current favorites: Recent discovery of DVR, making up step aerobics moves at the uptown YWCA, my share at Spring Hill Community Farm, fancy olive oil, is the MFA still the new MBA?

I am passionate about: A good sandwich

People are always surprised to learn that I: was born on Halloween

Why my job matters to my unit and to the University:

Extension is a critical part of the University's land-grant mission -- our job is to make a difference by connecting community needs and University resources to address critical issues in Minnesota. We are a trustworthy source of information for citizens, delivering research-based education that is practical and useful... and hopefully enjoyable!

In my center's content areas, our job is to help people make informed decisions involving topics that impact Minnesota's environment and economy -- such as water quality, food safety, renewable energy, climate and weather, feeding a growing population, invasive species, yard and garden, housing technology, nature-engaged families, woodlands management, pesticide safety, and many more important societal issues.

My administrative role is to further this important work by developing and managing administrative efforts that support effective and efficient programming -- such as bridging collaboration between our Extension educators and tenured/tenure-track faculty in CFANS, aiding our interdisciplinary programming efforts, streamlining our processes, so that our educators and researchers can focus on their programming.

Extension is an externally focused unit, and communications plays a key role in our success. As the communications manager for EFANS, I bring professional communications expertise and experience, providing consultations on communications strategy and practices to our employees. My job is to raise the bar on our communications, and to help our employees find the best method to reach their audience and achieve their goals, pushing them to think differently when appropriate -- to innovate not just in extreme ways but everyday ways. I help my colleagues in Extension to do this by overseeing aspects of projects like a large-scale redesign of our web presence (bringing our 50+ websites into one website), creating professional quality templates for staff to use with a consistent University identity, partnering with programs on educational materials and decision-making tools across media and delivery methods.

Our employees are located throughout the state, so our internal communications work is key, and includes a quarterly webinar where we feature different successes of our program teams from which others can learn. Telling the story of Extension's impact is important for our continued funding at the federal, state and local levels; as communicators we package our stories in a memorable way, following leads to generate the content and images that will resonate with our stakeholders and convey the impact of our work.

As a well-rounded communicator I know things like what makes type more or less legible, how to spec jobs for printers, how to find the right online tool for just about anything, what are the trends in usability, what makes good B-roll, where you should put your commas if you follow Chicago or AP style.

But the greatest value I bring to my unit and the U is not written into my job description. It is a role most communicators and design thinkers do well: Catalyst. To ask questions and try new approaches. To embrace change. To think about the people who will use what I create and to learn from them. To foster community. To set the bar high for professional quality communications. To make things happen, and to take an iterative approach to getting things done -- so that they really get done. To have a sense of humor and bring energy to the conversation. To explore the ideas that may seem weird but may be just the answer. To not be afraid to try. This is what helps push our work forward as a university.


Note: I generally hate anything about prescriptive humor, especially in the workplace...but what the hell.

Somebody once said to me, long ago, that the shortest distance between person A and person B is humor. It was the sort of math I could relate to, and I've never forgotten the sentiment. When it comes to communication, I use humor when I can.

Mutants.jpgLast weekend I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC. If there are two people in our time who've truly mastered humor in communication, it's Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Their humor makes them tolerable to people of both (all/most) political persuasions, although I'm sure a majority of viewers lean liberal. The point is, humor is a bridge, and sometimes it's the quickest way to get you where you want to go.

I did a little research to see if I could find anything credible on humor in communication, and found someone with a Dr. suffix. That's good enough for me.

The good Dr. had a few basic rules for humor in the workplace, and I've pulled out one section in particular that may be applicable for many of us:

Basic Rules for Using Humor in Talks and Meetings
1) Be sure the humor is relevant to the point you need to make.
We've all seen people in meetings tell jokes or anecdotes that have no bearing on the issue at hand. We're left trying to figure out the point of the joke, which assures we'll miss any important information provided during that time. Irrelevant humor is distracting, and may even be annoying.
2) Remember the sandwich approach.
Make your point, then illustrate it with humor, and then remake the point again. The final reminder of the point is not always necessary, but helps assure that your audience doesn't go away remembering only the joke.
He also had a few facts from scientific studies (though I didn't go so far as to verify methodology):
  • Research examining the dynamics of humor in task-oriented meetings suggests that it can play the pivotal role in moving the group toward a consensual solution to a problem.
  • While the early joking emphasized the differences between people at the meeting (and was sometimes disparaging), this mid-meeting humor drew people together and led to smoother interactions as differences were discussed.
I wonder if the new congress will find a way to work together? Not too many people are laughing these days. The country faces serious issues. People are out of work. The U has a tough road, too--we all do. Someone make me laugh, please.

Humor in communication
Humor in the Workplace

I'll think about it tomorrow

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As interim editor of a publication this fall, I've been raking in content from contributors I don't know and haven't worked with before. I am amazed, amazed I tell you, with how many of them have not submitted their articles to me until I have sent numerous emails, threatening voice mails, and sicced other authority figures on them. In two cases, the scofflaws needed to write 200 words--that's it--just 200 words each--and they didn't do it until I threatened to send the magazine to press without their words of wisdom. And before you ask, no, not one miscreant was a faculty member.

I may be a bit more on edge about this than normal, in part because I am working in unfamiliar surroundings with contributors I don't know, but also because I just read a fascinating article on procrastination by James Surowiecki at the New Yorker. Please read it now--don't put it off!

Creative Slump

Sitting at the allergists last week, I picked up an old copy of Newsweek, from July 19, 2010. I read an article called "The Creativity Crisis" by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. This is perfect for a blog posting, I thought, since last month when I was asked to write something, I froze like a deer in the headlights and missed my planned deadline. It seems that occasionally feeling creatively challenged is nothing unique, as this article outlined.

Back in 1958 a psychologist named E. Paul Torrance started testing Minneapolis kids for creativity. The study followed these children over the years and found that those who had more creative responses on his tests later became inventors, authors, doctors, diplomats and needless to say - hardly ever missed a blog deadline. Creative kids tend to be three times more likely to creative adults. But after fifty years of test score results it seems that although IQs have risen, creativity has declined.

Although exactly why this is happening is not yet clear, there are a few ideas explored in the article. Television and video game time may have contributed as well as standardized education, which emphasizes rote memorization.

It seems the solution may be more about the way we teach instead of what we teach. Art programs are not necessarily the answer. We need to approach problems with both side of our brains engaged. The left side of the brain starts out by sorting through familiar solutions and the right side kicks in looking further, sorting through less relevant memories and knowledge that might add meaning. If an idea comes forward from the right side of the brain, the left side takes over again to check it for validity and make it work - or dismiss it. This process happens all the time for all of us. Creative people are just better at it.

How can we jump start this process? The most helpful suggestions included some obvious and not so obvious actions. What follows is the three I liked.

Exercise is helpful because it improves cognition. I break down what they said to just doing what is comfortable for you but that gets your heart pumping. If you are a couch potato - go for a walk, not a run. Getting over tired doesn't help. But if you are a runner - go for it!

Taking a break seems like a stall tactic when I am stuck on a problem but setting things aside for a while can really help. The article suggests you work on something else for a while and come back later.

The suggestion I found really interesting was exploring another culture. Apparently "cross-cultural experiences force people to adapt and be more flexible."  Before we all go try to convince our bosses we need a road trip to  Asia, read the rest. Experiments would indicate that if you can't travel, you can still improve creativity by just studying another culture. In lab experiments people were more creative after viewing a short slide show about China.

I wonder if eating ethnic food will help. I'm willing to find out.

What jump-starts your creativity?

Member profile: Heather Smith

Job title: Executive Office Administrative Assistmollyheather.jpg

Which means: I am the admin for LCRU (cardiovascular research clinic) and do admin duties for all the coordinators and manager, schedule, do design duties, maintain the website that I created and so much more. I have many "hats".

What do you like most about your job
? When I get to do design work.

I have been at the University since
: February of this year (2010)

Areas of expertise
: Design and photography. However, I don't own an SLR, but I feel that I can still take a great picture.

Why my job matters to my unit and to the University: I'm the main face to the clinic that does research to help cure hearts and I help out the group with all their needs.

Communicators are important to the University's mission because:
We can speak for the U in a visual way.

Why did you join the Forum and how are you involved? To gain more design experience, network to get into a design related job of some kind and meet more people. I joined three of the committees through the forum.

Family members: I have 12 legs to attend to (2 cats and a dog). The cats weigh more than my dog.

Hobbies: My top hobbies are dancing latin/swing/ballroom, traveling, photography, hiking/walking outside in nature. Dancing is the main hobby as of late. I'm thinking about training for a competition for next year. I love going on day excursions in the fall time with my dog. You'll almost always see me with my camera because I love taking photos of nature and architecture. Traveling is my other passion. I want to see the world!

Current favorites:
Favorite restaurants? Boca Chica and Hell's Kitchen to name a couple.
Food? I've become a fan of the jucy lucy. Cheese, malts/shakes, fruit, state fair deep-fried cheese curds, and popcorn are a few top favorites.
Favorite places for entertainment? I love the Dakota Jazz Club. Otherwise, I love going to the orchestra or seeing a musical. I'll be seeing a ballet (Swan Lake through the Northrop system) and an opera early next year. I can't wait!

What inspires, enthuses or drives you? Traveling and dancing. When I travel or dance I feel so alive. With dancing it's such a great social exercise and it's beautiful, especially watching a room full of people doing the waltz. When I travel I have to pinch myself to believe that I'm somewhere else so beautiful, so filled with history, so unique with just a quick, or not so quick, plane ride.

People are always surprised to learn that I: have a twin brother, and that I dance latin/ballroom/swing.

Eternal doodle of the focused mind

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They say it's lazy, inattentive, and immature. And despite our best efforts to explain the contrary, some people find the evidence in the seemingly innocent vine motifs on our notebooks. The truth is--we are paying attention. Really. Doodling: it's just what we do.

As a creative in a non-creative industry, I struggle to find a balance between my mode of listening and learning and others' perception of it. Quite simply, drawing helps me think. But in mixed company, I avoid the guilty doodle. Instead I assume the role of the consummate student--arms folded and eyes peeled. But don't be fooled, I'm most likely trying to remember the name of that guy, you know, the one who was in that movie...

Member profile: Peggy Rinard

Job title: Communications Director, College of Biological Sciences

Which means: I'm responsible for communications planning, messages from the dean, media relations, print and electronic communications, and communications support for development and student services. And I couldn't do it without Stephanie Xenos, my multi-talented and very patient assistant director.

I have been at the University since: 1991

Areas of expertise: planning, science writing and editing

Why my job matters to my unit and to the University: to help the public understand the value of biological research for addressing global problems like climate change, loss of biodiversity, replacing petroleum with clean, renewable energy, and finding cures for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Can you tell us about a recent project or activity in which you (and colleagues) have creatively solved a communication challenge on a tight budget?: We converted our print magazine, BIO, to a web-based newsletter and created an annual publication for donors to supplement it. The conversion was based on research showing that our readers are most interested in research news, so that's the focus on the e-newsletter. The print pub provides more in depth features about students and alumni for our donor audience.

Professional communicators are important to the University's mission because: We explain the value of the University as a research institution to legislators, voters, and other constituents and persuade them to invest in the U.

Family members: husband, Gary, daughters Emily (22) and Elisabeth (20). Emily just graduated from Drake University with a graphic design degree (and is looking for freelance work.) Elisabeth is a junior at UW Eau Claire, where she is majoring in environmental geography. She plans to get a master's degree in urban planning. One dog (Elsa) and three cats (Julius, Simka and Milo)

Hobbies: Reading and collecting designer pottery from the '40s-'60s.

Current favorites: I recently rediscovered Joan Didion and am reading everything she wrote. Other recent favorites include Tortilla Curtain and The Women by TC Boyle. I'm also reading an anthology of LA literature. All-time favorite authors are Wallace Stegner and Raymond Chandler. I guess you can tell I'm from California.

I am passionate about: movies and music from the 1940s and early '50s, cats, and chocolate. A good evening for me would be watching "Adam's Rib" with a cat or two or three while eating organic dark chocolate with cherries.

People are always surprised to learn that: I was a singing waitress in college and aspired to be an actress.

weasel.jpgRon Gardenhire, manager of the Minnesota Twins, is not a professor of baseball, but last night after the Twins game he had a teaching moment, at least for one reporter. "He learned him good," you might say.

Gardenhire is an angry man, and has been ejected from a higher-percentage of games (per games coached) than any other baseball manager. When a player asked him something to the effect of how do you see the Twins "moving forward" into the playoffs, Gardenhire replied (paraphrasing, as I can't find the actual press conference footage, "Moving forward? What the hell does that mean, moving forward? Do you want to move forward into the next room and ask me the same question? Because if you do, I'll give you the same answer." He is an angry man.

But "moving forward" is a weasel word, there's no doubt. It says and asks nothing specific, and as far as providing an actual vision for anything, it is a word in dire need of an optometrist.

We're guilty of weasel words at the U, too. I have a friend who used to play a game called "Bu** Sh** Bingo," which is probably explanation enough.

So how do we avoid language like this? How do we talk and communicate like normal people? It might help to first look at causes, and then maybe we can find the corrective lenses.

Self-consciousness is surely a cause, perhaps especially in academia. Trying to sound flashy and smart in a sea of PhD's is a natural inclination, but if it's not a natural you, people will see through it, and whatever you're trying to convey will be lost. Word obesity is often the phrase used to describe the outcomes, like when I tell people that I work in "Universitas Relatus." If you say what you mean, you're much more likely to mean what you say, and those who hear you are more likely to see what you say and believe.

Check out some examples from this great blog, and feel free to add your own or comment at will.

  • If you want ice in your drink, do you think about it as "adding value"?
  • Do you "request the status of the deliverable" when you're wondering if lunch is ready?
  • We don't help set something up, we "coordinate to facilitate it".

Here's some more on talking normal from our British friends.

Lastly, can anyone suggest a faculty member who might be willing to give a tutorial on the subject, perhaps even sharing insights about communications at the U?

Social media and alumni

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Last week I saw a great social media presentation by Amy Phenix with Macalester College. Her team is finding creative ways to target their alumni through Facebook ads and posts. Her presentation showed how they are reaping the benefits through increased alumni interactions, awareness-building, and fundraising.

Are you reaching out to alumni online? Post tactics that you have found effective.


U. of Kentucky Encourages Students to Check In via Facebook

Here's an idea about using Facebook's new Places location service on a college campus:

The University of Kentucky has planted giant, wooden pointer thingies -- like the tab that marks the map in the Facebook Places logo -- on its campus to encourage students to check in at school.

"We're encouraging students to check in, so when they do, it'll show up in their news feed and maybe their friends still in high school will see it over and over again," said Kelley Bozeman, Big Blue's marketing director, adding that the university's marketing efforts are focused on undergraduate recruitment.

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Getting the juices flowing

We've all experienced creative block--those dreaded moments when a deadline looms, but inspiration is nowhere to be found. 

Dennis Cass has some ideas for us. In an interview in this blog earlier this week, Cass promised to impart "a variety of metacognitive strategies for overcoming creative block" during his keynote speech at the May 13 UMCF Conference. I, for one, can't wait.

In the meantime, here's a roundup of advice from 25 designers, creatives, and thinkers--their best tips on how to get the juices flowing. 

What are some of your tips for overcoming creative block?

See you at the conference!

It's spring!

And our thoughts are turning to the Forum conference next Thursday--what a great break from all the hectic madness of spring semester.
And for another little break, here are some links to sites that have NOTHING to do with work:
This is for anyone who loves fashion and how Michelle Obama has elevated it to height not seen in the White House since another Mrs. O who was then Mrs. K. (follow that?) A great site that I check in with about once a week or so.
A great video blog by Jay Smooth, host of the longest running hiphop radio program in New York, WBAI's Underground Railroad. Even if you don't like hiphop, this guy has a LOT to say and an incredibly self-effacing but sure-tongued way of saying it. Especially funny when you can watch his cat wandering around on the unmade bed behind him.
Because you never know when a Yiddish phrase might provide the perfect bon mot.
If you've ever struggled with weight loss, but especially if you haven't, read this blog. Great writing.

The Conversation Prism--and bringing social media into our lives

I've had the pleasure of co-hosting two social media brown baggers for Forum members, and the events have been just like I thought they'd be. We have some stellar early adopters here at the U, and they are enormously generous in sharing what they know and how they did it. And we have a lot of people who are wondering where in the world to start. When I look at The Conversation Prism, I can understand why.

The Conversation Prism was designed by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas in 2008 to "provide a visual representation of the true expansiveness of the Social Web and the conversations that define it." They've since updated their graphic, and one look at their beautiful, rainbow flower of possibilities can strike fear into the heart of the part-time communicator who has, like, five minutes a week to focus on social media for her program.

A repeating question at the brown bags has been, if you think you need social media, "what do you want to get out of it?" And the Conversation Prism does a nice job of ordering our communications methods and priorities, placing Brand at the center.

Social media can be intimidating, and as the Prism so clearly shows us, the possibilities are endless and astounding--blog? Facebook? Flickr? Why? And as long as new sites and services are created and old ones fall out of favor (Friendster, anyone?) this will continue to be a fluid subject. Luckily, with a little guidance from the Conversation Prism and a lot of advice from your fellow communicators, we have the means to wrestle social media to the ground and make it do our bidding.

The next social media brown bag will be on Friday, May 21 in 202 Johnston Hall.

Monday link roundup: 3.29.10

404 pageThese are some articles that caught my eye lately. What links do you recommend to fellow Forum members?

Clients say the darnedest things: How to deal with bad feedback :: "Negative refers to how the client perceives your work. Bad refers to how the client expresses their perception (negative or positive) of your work."

QA on Higher Education Web sites. How to do it and what to look for. :: "Tools and people will come and go, quality on the other hand is the one thing in a web office that is a constant."

The i, b, em, & strong elements :: "While many HTML4 elements have been brought into HTML5 essentially unchanged, several historically presentational ones have been given semantic meanings."

The 100 most funny and unusual 404 error pages :: I have a strong preference for the ones that don't blame the user or use the word oops.

Which leads me to... Avoid this common error :: "I'll be the first to admit planning for and writing error messages is not the sexiest of web writing tasks. But it can be one of the most important."

Member profile: Todd Reubold

Meet Communicators Forum member Todd Reubold

031510.jpgJob title: Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Institute on the Environment

Which means: I'm part air traffic controller, staff psychologist and team cheerleader.

I have been at the University since: 2004 (early 90's if you count my earlier stints as a student)

Areas of expertise: Not much of an expert in one area, but I did study energy and environmental policy in grad school and have a passion for communications.

I love being a Forum member because: The events are top-notch, the people are great and the snacks are delicious. What more could you want?!

Family members: Wife, Veronika; dogs, Jasper and Zooey

Hobbies: Tennis, travel, time with our dogs, biking, snow skiing, playing drums with my band

Favorite National Park: Yellowstone. Last time we saw grizzlies and black bears while driving through the park and hiking in the backcountry.

I am passionate about: Animals, the environment, and ridding the world of bad PowerPoint presentations.

People are always surprised to learn that I: Am a total U2 fanatic! Been to fifteen shows and counting. Met my wife because of U2. Even made the cover of Norway's largest daily newspaper along with Bono following a concert in Oslo.

What's your word today?

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What do potlatch, baksheesh, goulash, laager and cabal have in common?

There are many ways to learn a word a day, and my current favorite is A.Word.A.Day. Each week has a theme, and every day I get an email with my new word. Last week's theme? Words that came to English from other languages (see potlatch, baksheesh, etc.).

And since we're on the subject of words, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the U's own Anatoly Liberman, professor of German philology and author of Word Origins...And How We Know Them. He is also known as the Oxford Etymologist where he answers your questions about word origins. He's in the midst of a series entitled "Unpleasant People."

Link roundup, 3.5.10

030510.jpgI've been putting a lot of miles on my to_read tag on delicious, but have managed to read some good articles lately. What have you been reading, listening to, or watching? Let us know in the comments.

Ten rules for writing fiction (part two) :: I know several of you Forum members are also fiction writers. Here's a refreshingly insightful collection of writing tips from established authors.

Iconic TV :: "Created out of a love for posters, modernism and television, there wasn't a client out there to commission such a job so Austrian designer Albert Exergian wrote his own brief and created this self initiated series of posters throwing all of the above inspirations into the creative melting pot."

6 Ways to Optimize Your SEO for Misspellings - And Why It Pays to be a Bad Speller :: "it turns out that a significant percentage of web users are sloppy with their language - particularly when using search engines like Google. There are around 10 million misspelled search queries every single day."

How Much Should I Charge? [PDF] :: Suggested rates for freelance writers based on a survey.

A Little Less Conversation :: "Have you ever invited employees to a meeting just so they wouldn't feel left out? If so, you may be an overcommunicator."

The Brand Quiz :: Two colors, a visual hint, and a cryptic clue.

What Type Are You? :: A video quiz created by the always-innovative Pentagram. Happy Friday, fellow typography nerds.

Finally, who was at Ignite Minneapolis last night?

Member profile: Becky Beyers

Meet Communicators Forum member Becky Beyers:

Job title: CFANS communications director

Which means: I do a little of everything - college publications, media relations, strategic planning, etc., plus finding experts to answer the random questions that come in like "what kind of bug is this?"

I have been at the University since:  2006

Areas of expertise: Not an expert on much of anything - it's that old mile-wide, inch-deep thing that comes with working in journalism.

Family members: Husband, Scott; cat, Felix

Hobbies: Reading, music, food, wine, gardening, bicycling, trivia

I am passionate about: Good writing. But bad writing, the truly horrible kind that makes you squirm and wonder "how could this happen?" is often more entertaining.

People are always surprised to learn that I:  Have never actually driven a tractor, combine, thresher, plow, etc. -- nor wanted to -- despite the fact that I grew up on a farm and now work in CFANS.

Ed. note: Becky was an award winner at last year's Maroon and Gold awards. Have you submitted your work yet? Deadline is tomorrow...

Monday Link Roundup, 11.30.09

Every Monday we'll post a roundup of interesting communications news and articles from the past week. What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.

So I was not very "connected" to all-things-communications over the break, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite local blogs. What are you favorites?

I'm a close follower of local music, partly for work and partly for play. Here are my favorite indie blogs, all spotlight both local and national acts.
More Cowbell
Culture Bully

Deets After Dark - The "About" section does a great job of summing up the hodgepodge of entries, ranging from google search statistics on mashed potatoes to what really is a "tweet."

Mediation - Commentary on media, in addition to funny .jpegs and videos.

Stuff About Minneapolis - All the things that make me love this city are found right here. Enjoy the most recent story on the wild turkey running amok in Brooklyn Park. 

Member profile: Jake LaSota

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Thanks, Jake!

If you know a member you'd like us to profile, let us know.

Monday link roundup 10-19-09

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Every Monday we post a roundup of interesting communications news and articles from the past week. Here are a few I was intrigued by.

  • This is an interesting article about e-mail usage:  
  • A friend posted a link to slides from an MIMA presentation on Web content:
  • Check out this article on social networking and gender. Interesting stats: 
  • Need a break -- check out music news, etc... at:

    What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.

    Member profile: Cheryl Reitan

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    Brave Cheryl agreed to be featured in our first video member profile. Make sure you praise her in the comments...

    Know a member who should be profiled? Let us know.

    Monday link roundup, 9.28.09

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    Every Monday we'll post a roundup of interesting communications news and articles from the past week. What have you been reading? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.


    Communication Skills


    University of Minnesota

    Web Lists

    Member profile: Pamela Vold

    092309.jpgEd. note: Pamela is our newest board member, having recently joined as Program Committee co-chair. We are thrilled to have her!

    Job title: External relations coordinator for the Department of Computer Science and Engineering

    Which means: I'm the one-stop shop for marketing the department.

    I have been at the University since: 2008, just finished my first year, and it's been a great change from corporate marketing in San Francisco the previous 8 years.

    I love being a Forum member because: For people like me, who are the only communications person in their department, it's a great way to meet and learn about what other communicators are doing and resources on and around campus for doing communications work.

    Hobbies: Cultivating the silly side of my almost-4-year-old son, Henry. Making, talking about, writing about, listening to and seeing live rock 'n' roll with my husband, Will. Finding new and excellent bakeries. Tell me about your favorites!

    Favorite time of day: Weekend breakfasts. Not only do I get to drink coffee with my favorite people at leisure, I also get to eat a meal that is, essentially, dessert.

    Cat or dog person? Cat, though I'm very envious of people who get to walk their dogs.

    Random fact: I have never accepted a job that required me to commute to work by car, even though I enjoy driving, probably because most of my patience is used up by my son.

    I am passionate about: Music, city living, walkable communities, supporting small and local businesses, getting to know your neighbors, sweaters, and dessert (can you tell I have a sweet tooth?)

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