The Communication Factor

As a graduate student, I am often asked what I studied as an undergraduate, and my answer seems to genuinely confuse most people. After performing this experiment dozens of times in the last 8 months, I’ve gathered that it’s rare for an MBA student to answer that question with “I went to art school and my undergraduate degree is a B.F.A. in Photography.” I suppose if you traveled 7 years back in time and described my current situation to my negative-cleaning, fixer-mixing, pixel-removing Junior year self, she’d probably wonder at just what point her future self had lost her mind. I laugh thinking about that because I had no idea just how narrow my own perceptions were at that point in my life, or how much I would grow once I pushed beyond them.

To get past the blank stares and the furrowed eyebrows, I try to explain how I’ve navigated the two worlds of art and business, and the landmarks the two have in common. This week, I’ve been thinking in particular about communication, and how critical it has been to my success since I’ve started working – both in fine arts and in marketing.

In art school, my work was judged based on how well it communicated my purpose and my ideas to a given audience – usually my peers and professors. Failure to do so generally resulted in a dejected trip to the dumpster, with whatever pile of paper, glue, cardboard, wood, metal, rocks or who-knows-what-else I’d labored over all night in tow.

In marketing, my work is judged based on how well it communicates my company’s brand, services and value to a given audience – usually our clients, prospective clients or even our own employees. Failure to do so generally results in a dejected trip back from the printer with copy full of red lines, comments, strikeouts and unfavorable remarks. I don’t take that failure any less personally than I did in my art school critiques; the difference is I get paid now to learn from the feedback I receive and apply it toward correcting my mistakes. If I choose to listen to the feedback, the end result now is the same it was back then – a more successful end product, and a slightly wiser me.

I’ve been told many times that feedback is a gift. There have been many times I’ve wished some feedback would come with a gift receipt. That said, there is truth in the cliché. I’ve accepted that I can learn as much from constructive criticism as I can from the occasional…let’s just say less-than-constructive feedback I receive. The trick is knowing how to listen.

I’ll elaborate more on listening in my next post.

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