On June 9, 2011 I did something I didn’t expect to do a few years earlier: I officially graduated from the University of Washington with a Master of Communication in Digital Media (MCDM) degree. The reason I didn’t expect to do it is because of how I thought of myself and what I thought I was capable of, up to that point in time.
Off the top, though, I have a huge number of people to thank for “holding me up” when I was ready to fall and for joining me on the journey. The two primary people I want to thank are my spouse and partner, Carol, and Hanson Hosein, director of the MCDM program (pictured here handing me my diploma). My journey would have been impossible without them.
Before applying to the MCDM, I had taken a few management courses and read a bit of what I’ll call “classic” MBA-type literature. I did not getting fired up about it. Some of the material was illuminating but it didn’t excite me. It seemed very dry to me and didn’t seem to concern people as much as numbers. Since my passion is helping others, an MBA didn’t seem like the right path, but I couldn’t see another road where I could gain the kinds of understanding and skills I felt I needed while also building upon my passions–both technical and personal.
Taking a survey of the career landscape around me I saw, if you will, thick herds of MBAs everywhere. I had no desire to become one of untold thousands and de-individualize myself (as a balancing statement, I know a number of friends and colleagues who hold MBAs and I hold them in the highest regard….I tjust wasn’t the path for me). Some of the reading I’d done in these areas supplied me with the vocabulary and basic concepts, but the focus was not my focus and the passion, not my passion.
Third, the MBA-type reading that I had done didn’t seem to be taking into account the incredible disruption taking place via social networks and digital media–co-opting it and attempting to fit it into older modes of understanding, yes, but recognizing the opportunities for disruption and new ways of working with and for people–not so much.
A good friend of mine at work was working on his MCDM degree and we spent many lunch hours talking over what he was learning. His passion and excitement about the future of this line of study was obvious and highly contagious…he frequently referred to it all as “brain candy”! He invited me to sit in on one of his classes one evening and I took him up on it. It just happened that Hanson was the instructor for that class on user-generated content, and so we were introduced. During the break he and I chatted and decided to set up a meeting to talk about the direction this program was going and what it might mean for me.
That meeting was my tipping point. I went home and effused about it to Carol. After going over costs, both in time and other resources, we decided I should go for it. The resulting segment of my journey took three years.
This program of study has changed the way that I think about people, about business, about communication, about who I am and what I’m capable of and the interconnectedness of us all. I have difficulty calling out specific people, classes and colleagues. It seems to me like trying to remember the portions of the journey when the road was the most steep, the light most bright or the view the most majestic. If pressed into a stream-of-consciousness list of take-aways, I can provide this:
- The central role of storytelling
- Hansen Hosein and his ability to captivate
- Immense amounts of reading
- How to really do research
- Immense amounts of writing
- Critical discussions on the implications of new, open business models and disruption
- Tweeting like fury all the time
- Delightful and engaging classmates
- Kathy Gill
- Learning to love metrics and stop hyper-ventilating about them
- Discovering the joys of creating videos and visual storytelling
- Always something new
- Anita Crofts and leaders
- Finding daily uses for all of this at work
- Did I mention the writing?
The usual question I get asked now is, “So what’s next?” What’s next is now. What’s next is this work you’re reading. What’s next is the video I’m working on. What’s next is this very next step on my journey, and I’m loving it.