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Why tech companies should embrace Artist Residency Programs

(EDITORIAL) With technology founders wiping themselves with money while also truly caring about culture and inclusion, they’re missing a huge opportunity by ignoring artist in residency programs. Even Amtrak does it – come on, y’all.

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artist in residency programs

There’s a ton of cash in the tech industry. Like, more money than your primate brain can process, like “get-the-country-out-of-debt” money – Scrooge McDuck swimming in gold levels of cash. That’s how profitable technology has become.

And we’re not just talking laptops and smartphones, either. All of those monthly subscriptions you’re not thinking about, the Hulu, Netflix, Microsoft Office, that extra storage for your MacBook or iPhone, that’s all got a name: Software as a Service (SaaS) and with major players like Apple and Disney upping their stakes in the game – this model ain’t going anywhere.

Our thermostats are connected to our iPhones, and our cars are plugged into a matrix that’s fed into the Internet. Everywhere you look, the tech industry is changing everything. Everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop, or a television that’s Internet-enabled.

And for everything that’s connected to the Internet, someone’s making a buck.

According to CTA, the tech industry will make $398B this year, and The Big 5 – Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are worth a combined three trillion dollars. What do these companies do with all of the cash?

These companies typically pay well. To hire the best, workers want a payday. That’s fine, everyone who bangs at their job should get their slice of the action. After that, companies invest in culture and hiring that next tier of top talent. But, after the company offsites in a wooded cabin, the multi-million-dollar research projects, and the fully covered healthcare are accounted for, there’s still dough to play with.

Let’s get creative.

A lot of the more prominent tech companies have established that giving back is critical to their mission. Teams do charity work, they fly to other countries to help build schools; all kinds of amazing wonderful things are happening thanks to some of the world’s biggest players.

But what if those same companies established a new precedent – What if they established artist in residency programs?

One of the greatest professional experiences of my life was working for Atlassian and traveling between the Austin, San Francisco, and Sydney offices. While I was there to write for them, I’m still a writer, I always worked on my stuff. I’ve written in cafés in North Beach after browsing City Lights books where Ginsburg stomped his feet. I’ve been in bookstores in Sydney, never taking for granted for a second that I was beyond lucky to have this chance; that experience opened up a world that money had prevented me from exploring.

Can you imagine being allowed to fly to another office to work in a different environment, just for a change of scenery? It’s staggering what a comprehensive program could do for the arts community. The money and infrastructure is there, and so long as companies continue their dedication to paying it forward, this should be an added flavor to that mission.

This might sound like a shocker, but most of your friends who pursue art for a living ain’t exactly making windfalls of cash.

Most artistic types are freelancers or have multiple side hustles – they wait tables, or slug away in the bars, they cut corners on life’s everyday expenses in pursuit of their art. Your average painter, cartoonist, writer, filmmaker, they’re all chasing the project that gives them a chance to make their art their living. The problem is, for most creatives, it’s a dog chases its tail kinda life and that tail ain’t getting any longer or tastier.

How would it work?

Companies should work with the Alliance of Artist Communities (AAC) and set up a residency program. The AAC had been setting up residencies across the country for years, so while this is a feel-good philanthropic endeavor, the organization knows every tax break and loophole out there.

And realistically, the AAC has to, considering the culture of treating the arts in our communities is seen more of a begrudging, “we should probably do this” offense rather than an important investment. Most artistic programs receive pennies on the dollar, and most creatives live hand to mouth in pursuit of their dreams, and for many tech founders, the story is relatable, only they’re masters at problem-solving. Creativity doesn’t have to be pen to paper and the outcome being a funny doodle of a dog riding a skateboard, the creative mind is our innate core, we’re programmed to search for inventive ways to solve problems.

We just turn it off as society deems creativity an expendable commodity.

Creativity shouldn’t be relegated as frivolity, but essential.

In the world of artistic residences, paying bills is an issue. So, many programs have to drum up funds, find donors, seek out worthwhile endowments, search for tax breaks. Many are non-for-profits because they need grants for just about everything.

But in tech, cash is there aplenty.

Instead of throwing a Christmas party with a $100K budget for each office around the world, that money could be better spent on social enrichment. I’ve worked in the tech world for the past six years, and I’ve seen a lot of wasteful spending. While I love a good massage chair experience, that money could have been spent elsewhere versus giving staff of over three hundred already fabulously well paid people fifteen minutes of “me time.”

For one year or whatever predetermined amount of time, a company would allow a creative in their city to “join the team.”

What’s that look like?

Allow someone to create in these offices that are more like adult Disney World with their free snacks, open collaboration, catered meals, and endless perks. Give an artist a space that was once a small meeting room and let them do their thing.

The culture aspect of a creative being dropped in the average technology environment would blow their minds – most tech companies strive for diversity and inclusivity, and this program would be a brushstroke in that palette of reasoning.

By giving the creative the chance to mix it up with people who think in code, in marketing campaigns or how to “disrupt the market,” the influence would be impactful: a developer might become a nature photographer, or maybe a mixed media artist helps the marketing team see a problem from a different point of view. If there are anything companies in tech suffer from, it’s a little too much inward focus.

Change everything with a pen stroke.

Some campuses are so big (Facebook, Apple to name just two), they could support two or three artists at a time.

Indeed, Atlassian, Oracle, Uber, Lyft, all have multiple offices around the world. Imagine an extroverted painter working in a common room, while people move to and from meetings, getting that flash of inspiration, even if minute.

That’s beautiful.

Maybe instead of continually talking about code depositories or the next sprint, people got hip to new books? Maybe an essayist learns how to use Trello to manage their weekly pitches or maybe even further, they learn about how agile principles work could make their processes more manageable?

And while this person is getting paid, maybe they’re earning more money than they’ve ever seen. What if someone who’s always worked minimum wage jobs were given an $80K gig to create? Sure, you’d need to coach them on saving up for when the program is over, but for that period, being restricted to the dollar menu wouldn’t be everyday life.

The results would be staggering. The average working artist has to grind while others are asleep, early in the morning or late at night, they find ways to communicate their feelings, but while still making sure rent is on time.

Companies could establish an annual open competition where artists of whatever designated mediums submit their work.

Maybe it’s film or painting, or gosh, even a writer. But for that year, the winner gets to attend the fun parties, the culture building events, but most importantly gets paid well for their residency.

If the competition is opened up beyond the borders of the company’s home base, that works, too. Most bigger companies have a few corporate apartments that are barely used. Giving someone a room wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Artists could donate their skills to workshops, creative programming, even create art specifically for the space. Most offices anywhere could use a little freshening up, or at least an ongoing blog series, something.

As for the perception of “selling out” the artistic culture has changed, where it was once punk rock to keep everything as DIY as possible, most of us creatives are fighting against a sea of other talented people all of the time, the chance for exposure on a bigger level, but also being financially free is worth wearing a few corporate branded t-shirts. And honestly, tech companies generally aren’t as gross as the old school monoliths of the past, most of the executive boards are made up of actual people who started from the bottom.

As my friend Jason Saul of BirdNote once told me, “don’t think of it as ‘selling out’ we’re in a hip hop-driven culture, you’re blowing up.”

There are residency programs on farms, a recycling center in SF, in the woods, the Florida keys, Amtrak got into the residency game for a while, just as Padre Island in Texas, the national parks all have them, even the CERN large hadron collider has an artist in residence program.

To double-down even further, even The Mall of America, the place where you can buy a corn dog or visit one of five Victoria’s Secret stores (who needs that many panties?) or ride a rollercoaster, has an artist in residence program.

The artist is given $2500 for a week, plus a hotel room and are allowed to roam the mall 24/7. LaGuardia airport in New York rehabbed an old Hudson News and converted it into a kiosk to people watch and create, so why not the tech companies who purposely set up shop in buildings in the heart of downtowns across the world or amongst trees in sprawling acreage?

This is possible.

Who’s going to be first?

Robert Dean is a writer at Adia and The American Genius. He is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

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Opinion Editorials

Starting a business when you’re broke (and how to make it work)

(EDITORIAL) If money isn’t always a prerequisite to entrepreneurship, how can you start something from nothing?

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Breaking into the business world can be an intimidating venture, especially if you don’t have the money or experience to back up your ambitions. Experience, however, can be earned – or at least approached through a “fake it until you make it” style approach. But what can you do if you dream of launching a business but you don’t have the cash? Is money a prerequisite to entrepreneurship?

Money helps but isn’t a requirement for those hoping to start their own business – you simply need to get creative. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to consider.

One of the best ways to build your confidence around the topic of entrepreneurship is to refocus your attention towards those who also started from nothing, but have since made it big.

Steve Jobs started out tinkering in his garage as a teenager and went on to found the tech giant Apple, while multimillionaire consultant Sam Ovens publically discusses his finances – he was broke just a few years ago but had made over $10 million dollars by the time he turned 26.

Such stories attest to the fact that anyone can ascend to great heights.

Even though many people think money is the most important part of any business endeavor, successful people will tell you that true self-understanding far outranks cash on the list of necessities. Take some time to reflect on your goals and on how you view yourself as you pursue them.

If you think you can’t achieve your goals, then you won’t be able to. The mind is a very powerful thing.

If introspection reveals that you’re low on self-esteem, work on improving your view of yourself and begin developing a more positive perspective. You may find it helpful to write down what you think and then revise this description, working all the time to internalize this improved view of yourself. Though it may seem like a pointless process at first, you’re actually participating in your own transformation.

Another key determinant of success that far surpasses money is passion.

People succeed when they pursue goals that matter to them on a deeper level.

Typically this is the case because passion leads you to accumulate expertise on your chosen topic, and this will draw people to you.

One incredible example of the transformation of passion into profit is 17-year-old Jonah, who makes thousands of dollars a month selling watches online. Jonah comes from a family of jewelers, so he had ready access to the necessary knowledge and cultivated an outstanding selection of timepieces on his site, but it was his ability to combine his material knowledge with real understanding of his customers that made his business successful.

At the end of the day, he wanted his customers to have the perfect watch, and he brought his own passion for the field to bear on creating that experience.

Finally, if you hope to start a business but don’t have any cash resources, the best thing you can do is learn your field and network with those in it – without bringing them on board as professional partners.

It helps to have contacts, but you can’t grow a fledgling business by paying others to do the hard work.

Hunker down and work from home, working at night if you have to keep your current job, and start from the position of humble aspirant. If you show you’re committed to the real work of starting a business, you’ll find that others support you.

If you hope to start a business, but don’t have the money, don’t despair – but also don’t put your dream on hold. The only way to build the foundation you need to live that dream is by doing the hard work in the here and now.

Lots of people started just where you are, but the true successes are the ones who had the courage to push past the barriers without worrying about the financial details. You already have what you need, and that’s the passion for innovation.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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abusive boss

Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

4 ways to earn more respect in any group (personal OR professional)

(EDITORIAL) In this world of high velocity and high volume, finding ways to get people to see things your way and rally with you is difficult, but not impossible.

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We’re all being smothered by false standards. Hoards of voices tell men to be “more assertive” and “take control,” while letting women know that their ticket to getting things done is to “smile more” and “be approachable.”

As entrepreneurs, we are really looking for the answer to one simple question: How can I make it happen?

We want to know how to make the dream work, and how to get people to rally behind us to lead our projects to success.

We are looking for actionable, specific advice that we can take NOW – not lofty, vague ideas that hide under the guise of “psychology hacks” (what does “be more alpha” really mean anyway!?).

The thing is, topics like charisma and influence are often made much more challenging than necessary. At the end of the day, social interactions are governed by one simple rule:

A group, is a group, is a group.

People like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss are able to teach the concepts of influence and leadership to a mass audience because all groups are controlled by a few key fundamental principles. Gaining an understanding of these principles allows you to gain respect and influence in any group you would like, and use that respect and influence to organize and guide people toward your goals.

Whether you are looking to inspire more prospects to convert to customers, want to create more cohesion amongst your team in the pursuit of your vision, or simply want to network more effectively, there are overarching themes that are sure to add a strong boost in the effectiveness of your actions as an entrepreneur.

And beyond all else, this is the most important one of all:

Look for what people want, and give it to them.

People join groups because it provides them the ability to have experiences they may not otherwise get to have. That said, everyone in the group is looking to the group to provide them with something. People may join a friend group in order to have fun and talk to people about the things they want to talk about, while people may join a specific career path for financial gain.

Now this all seems rather obvious, but where people tend to make mistakes is that they forget that everyone in the group has a specific motivation for being there. If you do not appeal to someone’s reason for being in the group, they will not see you as a valuable contributor to the group, and may treat you poorly as consequence.

If someone in a your friend group wants to have fun, and they do not see you as someone who can provide them with fun experiences, they will be neutral towards you at best. If they find it fun to see your reaction to their disrespect, but don’t see any other way to have fun with you, they might even be openly hostile toward you.

Likewise, if a coworker sees you as someone who is going to make their job more difficult, and you are not in a position of power over them, they are going to see you an unnecessary source of pain, and may mistreat you as a result.

As an example, let’s say that in a project you are running, there is a web designer in your group, Anna, who takes every opportunity she can to undercut your authority and make you appear incompetent in front of the others. There isn’t any outside tension (such as a conflicting friendship or sexual desire), and seeing as this is your project and she doesn’t have any stake, there is no angle for her to practically assume control of the project, so you just can’t understand why she has decided to make you the target of her tirades. You just chalk it up to being a big ego.

“Are you sure THAT’s the message you want to go to market with? I mean, I’ll put whatever you want on the webpage, I guess.”

“Why do you think it’s so important that we have the supply chain ironed out when we haven’t done any market testing yet? Are you trying to make this fail?”

Of course, every time she openly questions your decisions, the others on the team start to buy into her campaign against you. Lately, others on your team even follow suit, and question your decisions even when she isn’t in the meeting. While leading this project has now become an incredible pain, as everyday you face a volley of questions and dubious team members, this is your BABY, and you know it has serious potential to be something big once you get it to market, so what are you to do?

At this point, I’m sure any reader with an “alpha” mentality is thinking to themselves: “Well, why would you even put up that? Just drop her and hire someone else.”

While I can see that logic, it’s a short-sighted response, and it doesn’t cover all the bases.

What about a situation where you don’t have any other options, because her skillset is in the exact niche you need and it would be hard to find an adequate replacement? What about the blowback from the rest of your team if they see that you fired someone for speaking out? If they have truly vital insights that may save you from going the wrong direction, they may feel that they now need to keep their mouth shut while you plow your way to failure. How do you know that the others would stop questioning you after you fired her? If they are already questioning you on their own now, they already have strong enough doubts in you that her presence is no longer necessary to stoke the fire.

If this designer and her need to question you at every turn is the thing that is holding you back from getting taken more seriously by the group, then there is a much easier way to go about it.

Don’t ask: Why does Anna think she knows everything better than I do?

You need to remove the focus from yourself.

Ask this instead: What does Anna have to gain by attacking me?

When you look at it this way, you can see that Anna’s motivation to question you does not stem from the actual doubt of your decision making ability, but rather from the attention she gets from the others in the group when she does. In fact, when you look a little closer, you may realize that if Anna isn’t questioning your actions, the others on your team don’t give her opinions on anything much consideration.

As a web designer, Anna is often at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to business ventures. But she is an entrepreneur too. She wants to do big things. She wants her voice to heard, and her thoughts to have weight. Questioning you is just the easiest way to be heard.

So how do you make her stop? You give her the voice and consideration that she wants. When there is a meeting about the status of the project, and the team is deciding on next steps and priorities, ask her for her opinion and make sure people listen to it. Ask her to share her thoughts on the different parts of the business in a 1-on-1 setting, and give her thoughts ample consideration before deciding whether they hold merit. Comment on her good work in front of the group and make sure she knows how much you value her input to team, and how vital she is to the project’s success.

Show her that you hear her.

Yes, if you believe that web designers DO belong at the bottom of the food chain, this is going to be hard to do. It’s going to be especially hard when she has directly attacked your authority (and ego) in front of the team time and time again. And yes, when you first start to do it, Anna will likely think you are being condescending and simply try to attack your ideas and authority even harder.

However, once she sees that you are able to give her what she wants, she won’t feel the need to question you anymore. In fact, since you are one of the only people in the group who are giving her the attention and respect she wants, she may even start to DEFEND you when other people try to jump on your case.

If you aren’t getting the respect you feel you deserve in a group, figure out what people want, and find a way to give it to them. When you do, they will see that you make a much better ally than you do an adversary, and will look to you to help them achieve their group goals, elevating you to a level of more respect and leadership in the process.

When it comes down to it, it’s street-level knowledge: you have to help others to help yourself.

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