So you want to be a technical marketer. Here's how to do it.

Late last year IBM released a report listing their top marketing trends for 2019.

One of the trends identified in the report is this idea of the emergence of the technically savvy marketer, aka the martecheter.

IBM’s report has a warning for all marketers—the days of being a single skill or single channel marketer are over. The tried-and-true traditional marketing skills of “budget, tools and talent” isn’t enough. Mostly tellingly they write:

Today, the greatest marketing advantage is technical marketing talent — the martecheter.

A recent eMarketer report adds further weight to this idea. It describes data and analytics as the most in-demand technical skill for ad agencies over the next two years. Particularly in the area of data science, the demand for marketers with data skills far outweighs the current supply of available talent.

If the call is then for marketers to up their technical ability, whose responsibility is it to make the investment for this to happen? According to the IBM report companies are “investing to level up their talent”, but I wouldn’t be waiting around for this to happen. It’s up to marketers to take responsibility for their learning and development to improve their marketing technical skills.

Great. So how? What can marketers do to improve their technical skills without waiting for their company to take the lead? If you’re not a technical marketer, you can turn yourself into one, or more of one, with these simple hacks:

1. Get curious about what your tech colleagues are up to

If you work around designers, developers or data scientists, you’ve got ready-made access to a source of learning and wealth of information. Start asking more questions about what your tech colleagues do. More than that—get really curious about what they do. Why did they choose a particular design, what’s happening in the code, where did they source data from? In my experience these colleagues will more than happy to talk you about what they’re doing.

2. Emulate someone you know who’s more technically minded

You might know or work with someone with a non-tech background that’s more technically minded than you are. They’re probably really good at point #1. What kinds of questions do they ask in meetings? It’s probably worthwhile pulling them aside and asking how did they build up their knowledge. What can you learn from them?

3. MOOC it

Online courses found on sites like Coursera or edX are an excellent way to advance your learning. But they’re best suited to certain kinds of topics. A recent write up in the current Harvard Business Review magazine describes how online courses are excellent for building technical skills, like coding, but aren’t great at teaching more practical skills like leadership. For leadership skills, those are best developed and refined away from formal teaching environments, including the formal ones found online.

The best MOOC course I’ve taken recently was a series of lessons on advanced Excel skills. I wrote about it in more detail here.

4. Read everything you can on technical marketing

There are established blogs dedicated to marketing tech. Try here and here. Sign up for their newsletters. I especially like this one on email marketing.

Another tip I’ve found useful is to set up Google Alerts for technical marketing terms. I have one set up for “agile marketing”. My inbox gets pinged whenever anything is published relating to this niche topic. When I find a useful article I save it to Pocket and use the text-to-speech converter to listen to articles while I’m commuting.

5. Join Slack channels for marketers

There are robust online communities to tap into for sources of knowledge and idea. Online Geniuses (or OG) is the largest and most active network for digital and technical marketers. Their AMAs or “Ask Me Anything” are especially useful, where anyone can ask questions of a notable speaker. The AMAs from OG are beginning to attract an increasingly sophisticated array of speakers, including marketers and product owners from Atlassian, J&J and Visa.

Sarah JukesComment
Be energetic if you can’t be funny

I’ve always thought this is true—funny people are more likeable. They make people around them laugh and they’re just easier to be around. People want to be around them because funny people are carefree, interesting and well, they’re fun.

But what do you do if you’re not naturally funny?

It doesn’t mean you’re unfunny. Or sad, or shy, or any of those less positive things. What can the rest of us do if we’re not naturally the comedian making all the funny quips and jokes in the room?

An interview in the New York Times recently with Terry Gross, the well-known interviewer on NPR, offered some useful tips on this.

According to Terry if you have a tougher time being the funny one, try these things instead:

If you can’t be funny, being mentally organized, reasonably concise and energetic will go a long way in impressing people.

This is such simple and effective advice. The energetic piece resonates especially with me—I’ve used it effectively as a conversational tactic when the conversational stakes are especially high.

In the moment I’ll actively start to slightly over exaggerate my facial expressions. I use my hands more and I gently inject more intonation into my voice than I otherwise would.

It works a treat. It works even better when you couple energetic with another advice piece Terry has on how to be a better conversationalist—be insanely curious about the other person. Next time the conversational stakes are high for you, or you just want to engage more effectively, try the energetic, concise, mentally organized and insanely curious tips, and see what happens.

Sarah JukesComment
Being disciplined is more than productivity hacks

This recent article from First Round Capital’s blog described what sets startup founder Mathilde Collin apart, and it’s not what you might think. It’s not her ability to fund raise, set a strategic vision, or execute. Rather it’s her methodical approach to discipline.

Very few people are intentionally using intense discipline tactics to move the needle on their workplace goals. A controlled, methodical and consistent approach to work can set you apart from others who merely work hard. On discipline, Mathilde says…

“Discipline is focusing on just a handful of things, which is incredibly challenging because you’ve got so much to do and you’re pulled in so many directions — everything seems important. But discipline comes down to focusing on the right thing, which means you need to be crystal clear on what success looks like and how to measure it.” 

Mathilde’s obsession with workplace discipline plays out in a few key areas. Instead of pouring a ton of energy into setting a lofty vision for Front, Mathilde’s approach to building Front is more action-oriented and less navel-gazing. Another key feature of her approach is evident in the above quote—she tracks and measures everything.

Being disciplined isn’t about having more productivity hacks than the next person. It’s not about doing more and out-working everyone else. Discipline is a mindset, not a set of tools. Disciplined people are high on self-drive and motivation—it acts as a quiet propeller lurking under the surface. It drives everything they do. Disciplined people are all of these things:

  • Consistent

  • Reliable

  • Focused only on a few key areas

  • Relentless in pursuing only measurable goals important to them.

Sarah JukesComment
Marie Kondo's magic lies beyond sparks of joy

In the office the other day I overheard a couple of my co-workers asking each other, “Did it spark joy for you?”

They weren’t talking about the latest marketing campaign they’ve been working on. They were referring to the work of Marie Kondo and her cult-like status as the world’s most well-known tidying up expert.

Marie’s first best-seller book has been around for years. Her audience has exploded even further thanks to the release of her new tv series on Netflix earlier this month.

I read Marie’s first book years ago. Seeing her in action on the tv allowed me to appreciate her work on a whole other level. I’ve come to realize there’s more to Marie’s world than tidying up and finding which possessions are the most meaningful to you.

What I noticed when watching Marie on tv is how tactile she is with items. She really holds things—she looks at them from all angles, inspects them, turns them over in her hands. Watching her do a mundane task like fold laundry is a lesson on how to make a routine more mindful.

Marie’s not rushing to get through folding laundry as quickly as possible. Instead she takes time and care. She’s fully engaged and present—even in a boring task of laundry folding. It might take her longer to get through it but those extra minutes are worth it. There’s benefit in taking time to connect with the small things around you that help get you through life.

Sarah JukesComment
How I did it—A successful career change

Recently I was approached by a colleague and asked to sit on a panel discussing career change.

I changed careers a few years ago. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years. It’s important to me to frequently come back to it—I never want to lose sight of where my career began or the extent of the journey my career change took me on.

The size of the shift I made is the defining feature of my career change journey. Here’s what I mean—I went from working in a clinical role inside a large hospital as a speech-language pathologist to where I am today—working as a digital marketer in financial services inside a large multinational company. I mean, could those two worlds be any further apart?

Here’s some thoughts on my own career change that I took with me to the panel discussion.

1. It’s okay to have no real Plan A, but a solid Plan B

I went into a career change without having a definitive plan for where I wanted to take it. I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something more creative, something with data and something involving tech.

As crazy or as reckless as that might sound, having a minimal Plan A is exactly what allowed for the dramatic nature of my career change. By having no solid plan I wasn’t locking myself into a predetermined role or industry I wanted to chase. It was riskier but it opened up even more doors because I didn’t lock myself in early on.

My Plan A wasn’t solidified but my Plan B certainly was. I knew my clinical skills would be in demand if my career change plans didn’t work out. I always had my clinical skills and experience to fall back on. I still do. I knew those skills would stand the test of time and any kind of radical digital or technical disruption. Robots or algorithms will never have the empathy or clinical expertise to treat a patient at bedside.

2. Switching industries is harder

The career experts I spoke to recommended I look for a way to switch roles in the same industry. This is what most people end up doing when they career change. They have an interest in another area in the same industry and they’re able to successfully transition while bringing their industry and process knowledge with them.

I asked myself some tough questions—did I want a work in healthcare admin? Maybe HR? Did I eventually aspire to be a healthcare executive? This drove my thinking early on and right out of business school I went to work in consulting in healthcare. Same industry, different job function.

Obviously consulting isn’t where I landed longer term. I enjoyed the difficult problem solving and the data analysis but I knew pretty early on that consulting wasn’t going to be right fit for me. I expanded my reach, thought more broadly and looked to enter, what was back then, the emerging startup scene in New York City. I networked like crazy and eventually met a small firm who was looking to mould someone with a healthcare background to kick off a new marketing initiative. They took a chance on me and I’ve never looked back.

3. Are you prepared to start at the bottom?

When you switch careers, and especially when you switch industries, you have to be prepared to start again. That might mean you have to start again at the bottom. The larger your career shift, the more difficulty you’re likely to have in landing a role at the same or similar seniority level.

When I entered the world of digital marketing I had no technical experience in how to execute a marketing campaign, how to set up email journeys, and the only marketing plans I’d ever written were in business school.

It was important to me when entering the marketing industry that I learn how to actually execute marketing. I didn’t want to advance into marketing middle management and not know how to execute on the basics. That was a model I’d learned from healthcare—in healthcare you couldn’t join the ranks of middle management unless you had once worked on the wards yourself.

4. Luck plays a bigger part than you think

I attribute a large chunk of my successful career change to luck. Many of the inflection points in my journey came down to being at the right place at the right time.

We have a tendency to minimize the role luck plays in our careers. I maximized the opportunities for luck to play a part in my journey by being relentless in expanding my skills and my network.

Rather than waiting for a my first digital marketing job to teach me what I needed to know, I took in on myself to learn what I could from online courses, books, blogs and industry leaders. I got comfortable and skilled at networking and talking to a lot of different people. I did this every day for years. I was persistent in asking for referrals, asking questions, tracking who I met, noting tidbits from our conversations, and I always, always, always followed up.

Sarah Jukes Comment
The anti-library—What a long reading list can teach you

I was intrigued by the title of this recent Fast Company article—“Why you should surround yourself with more books than you’ll ever have time to read.”

I can relate. At any one time I will always have a much longer reading list than I’m able to get through, and yet I continually pile on more books than I can ever possibly read. I almost feel guilty when I add more books to it.

Rather than thinking of a long reading list as a bad thing, the author in this article describes the concept of an anti-library—a list of unread books that serves as a humble reminder of what you haven’t learned yet. This quote from the article summarizes the concept:

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations — the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half-know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself toward the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

My anti-library right now has about 17 electronic and at least 3 hard copy books in it. I’ll continue to plug away at reducing the size of it every day. But instead of despising and constantly fighting with it, I’ll keep it as a daily reminder of all the things I still have left to learn.

This is how I took my Excel skills to the next level

It’s been said that there’s no professional out there today who doesn’t make spreadsheets.

We’re all doing it, but most of us aren’t very good at it. We know the basics—that Excel exists and it’s a more logical way to visualize information compared to a simple word document.

The problem with Excel is that it’s becoming a highly sought after skill in the workplace but most of us don’t get any formal training on it. We learn by watching others or by fumbling around with simple formulas and figuring it out ourselves. As a result our Excel skills never consolidate—we don’t know our gaps or what level of proficiency we really have.

Over the years I’ve learned Excel piecemeal to solve whatever issue I was facing at time—how to store large amounts of research data or how to solve complex finance problems I came up against in business school.

I’ve wanted to consolidate my Excel skills for a long time. I’ve had various unsuccessful attempts at it over the years. Specifically I wanted to plug my knowledge gaps, learn more advanced skills, and learn more of its time saving shortcuts.

I found an online in Coursera called “Excel Skills for Business Specialization” that changed everything. It consists of four courses ranging from essentials to advanced. Each course consists of six weeks worth of videos and exercises to work through. Depending on the complexity and your level of proficiency, you can work through a single week of content in a few hours or less. The fee is listed as USD$49 but you can audit the courses for free.

Here’s what I got out of it:

  • The benefit of having someone methodically explain Excel’s advanced functionality, like advanced formulas and sophisticated lookup functions

  • Building on core skills I already had and showing me what an advanced skill looked like. For example, I knew how to build a dashboard but I didn’t really know how to properly automate one.

The courses present simplified business scenarios in order to teach you the skill. It’s now up to me to take these new skills and figure out how to apply them to real-world, more messy scenarios I come across at the office.

The learnings and confidence boost I’ve had from completing these courses has been phenomenal. I finally, finally (!) feel like I’ve genuinely improved my Excel skills. I find myself wanting to hunt down spreadsheets to fix and structuring advanced formulas in my head because, well, it’s kinda fun, no?

What's your word for 2019?

I was in my the first yoga class of the year earlier today. At the beginning of class the teacher asked everyone in the room to think up a word to describe 2019.

My mind raced through the possibilities and I landed on two words—incredible and smiling.

Then next task was to put “I am” in front of whatever word you chose and repeat it back as a mantra. Because I picked two words, I had two mantras..

“I am incredible, I am incredible”

“I am smiling, I am smiling”

After class I was thinking about two things—why I chose two words, and why I chose those two words.

I chose incredible because I want this year to genuinely be that, but also because I want to believe more that I am incredible. Not in a grandiose or arrogant way, but directed more towards undoing my tendency towards doubting myself.

These tiny seeds of self-doubt manifests themselves in small ways. For example, I sometimes think too hard in a meeting about what I want to say, and end up saying not much at all. In other words, I over-censor myself and I don’t take enough risks. Half-baked ideas have value too. You just need the courage to get them out there.

I chose smiling because, well, I can get so enticed by what’s in my head that I forget to sometimes. Smiling creates an instant mood uplift. It forces you to step back, to step away, and to gather up the bigger picture for a moment. It’s a useful brain reset for better mood and clarity.

So here’s to more smiling and more incredible in 2019. It’s going to be a fantastic one.

Happy new year!

Sarah Jukeslife, yogaComment
This Is Marketing—What's in Seth's new book for marketers?

Seth Godin—the prolific blog writer, author, speaker and the world’s most well-known marketer—released a new book last month called This Is Marketing.

Seth is the marketer that non-marketers know about. Type “Seth” into Google and the first hit is his enormously popular blog.

What’s interesting to me about Seth is, if he’s mainstream and well known outside of the marketing community, how much of what he writes is relevant to marketers? And more specifically, what’s in his new book for everyday marketers like us? After reading his new book recently, here’s the best of Seth’s advice that’s relevant to marketers:

1.  Don’t chase the masses—first find your champions

A repeated theme throughout Seth’s book is the idea of building for a minimal viable market.

When you’re starting out you need to find your champions first. Too many marketers aim their work at the largest possible mainstream audience.

Instead of building for 500 million people you’re better off finding 500 or even 50 champions who are radically engaged, hanging off your every word and will promote your work to everyone they know. You can’t build for 500 million unless you first rally 500 champions in your corner.

2. Let’s navel gaze for a moment—why does marketing exist?

The digital disruption and shift in the industry has been massive over the last 20 years, and we all need to take a collective breath and remind ourselves why we do this.

This is marketing’s navel gazing moment. There’s no better or more seasoned marketer out there to lead this discussion.

Seth grounds us on why we’re marketers. On why marketing exists. In the race for popularity, likes, ranking and cultural influence, Seth reminds us none of that really matters when you understand this is the age of generous empathy in marketing, and Seth is all too keen to remind us…

Instead of selfish mass, effective marketing now relies on empathy and service.

Or this..

Marketing offers solutions, opportunities for humans to solve their problems and move forward.

With all the change and disruption that’s gone on in marketing over the last 20 years, this is a timely reminder of why we all do this.

3. The book list at the end is gold

The most valuable section of Seth’s new book for marketers is the annotated reading list at the end.

It’s a literal gift to marketers—Seth has pulled together the inspiration that underpins his thinking, wrapped in up in a nice bow and presented in to marketers in the last two pages of the book. Happy holidays!

Sarah JukesComment
What we can all learn from Deloitte's agile marketing pilot
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Last week over at The Drum, a marketer from Deloitte wrote about the firm’s recent pilot of agile marketing.

Agile marketing is hot right now. Companies large and small are in a frenzy trying to figure out how this new way to get marketing out the door might work for them.

Deloitte recently wrapped two pilots that used agile marketing methodologies. Their agile marketing experiences were positive—both to the impact agile had to Deloitte’s internal processes and in the overall campaign results. Here’s what stood out in the recent write up:

1. Adapt agile to make it your own

This author noted how intimidating agile and agile terminology can be at first. With terms like “ceremonies” and “retros” it can feel like agile comes with its own insider lingo, terminology and playbook.

What Deloitte ultimately noted was how adaptable agile methodologies can be. Deloitte took the fundamental principles of agile marketing and adapted them to suit their circumstances. The author summed this up perfectly:

“The key is to make it your own… adapt your approach to fit your unique situation. In other words, be agile about agile.”

2. Remote teams can do agile marketing

There’s a belief out there that agile marketing is best done when all parties are co-located, at least some of the time, or minimally to have everyone in the same time zone. It’s good to know Deloitte had a positive experience doing “virtual agile” with a remote team.

Agile marketing with a remote team needs the right virtual collaboration tools to support online work. Utilizing these online tools to their full capacity appeared to be a key success driver from the Deloitte pilot..

“Virtual communications drove even more flexibility and collaboration by encouraging real-time connections instead of waiting for the next meeting to share ideas.”

3. Sell agile on speed and ease, but also with results

Agile marketing teams in large companies need to work cross-functionally across different parts of the business. If you don’t have buy in from stakeholders in other parts of the organization, your agile marketing attempts won’t be very agile.

Marketers typically gain buy in and alignment by demonstrating to stakeholders how agile will make their jobs quicker and easier.

Deloitte took this a step further by demonstrating to stakeholders the value of agile lay not only in speed to market but also in results. It’s such a smart approach. Results will always speak for themselves.


For more info on agile marketing, I recommend checking out this HBR article and this site from McKinsey. McKinsey write extensively on agile marketing and how it can be introduced and scaled inside large and small organizations.

Sarah JukesComment
Big successful companies don't have it all figured out

It’s easy to assume the companies we know and hear about everyday are grounded in solid workflows, optimized processes and robust decision trees. They’re well-known and successful for many reasons—one of them being they’ve refined how they internally operate.

When you speak to people who work at these companies, it’s apparent the Google’s and the Amazon’s of this world struggle with fundamental operational issues just like everyone else. As great as they are, they don’t have it all figured out.

No company is perfect, but often the best companies struggle with the same internal issues as everyone else. They might lack a proper decision-making framework, their procurement system is broken, or they can’t decide how best to handle career and promotion decisions.

This is humbling to know. Big and successful doesn’t mean perfect internal processes. Keep this in mind next time you’re struggling to reconcile a difficult internal issue in your role—it’s likely even the most successful companies haven’t figured it out either.

How to not lose your mind when everyone’s a copy writer

I’ve been in this scenario many times as a marketer—you’re close to finalizing a marketing asset and the creative spotlight turns to the copy. Out of nowhere people far removed from the creative development begin to weigh in and want to change the wording.

Marketing copy is like design—everyone has an opinion. Copy is an easy target because it’s easier to change compared to swapping out images, overhauling design or adjusting targeting or strategy.

There’s a fundamental reason people comment on copy. Copy is important! It matters! It’s an easy way for people to offer up opinions and suggestions for improvement on your marketing asset. People care about your creative enough to study it and offer an opinion.

Quickly this scenario can descend into a stalemate. Too many cooks in the kitchen scenario. The higher the stakes and the higher the budget, the more opinions (and more senior opinions) you’re likely to get.

How do you mitigate all of the opinions and come up with marketing copy and a creative that everyone can live with?

I’ve seen marketers and copywriters handle this situation in various ways and with varying degrees of success. The best way to get your marketing asset out the door involves combinations of these tactics:

  • Acknowledge the opinions you get. I mean really acknowledge them. Don’t just offer lip service and a thanks very much. At the end of the day people want to be heard and acknowledged.

  • Consolidate opinions. Do people feel strongly about certain words or subsections? If you’re getting the same comments on the same words or sections, it’s time to make copy changes.

  • Encourage verbal debate. It’s easy for people to offer up their opinions on copy via email. In my experience opening up the copy debate and taking it away from email will get you clearer opinions, better opinions and more robust copy discussion. Only those commenters who really care about your copy will volunteer the time to talk it out face to face.

  • Know who the decision maker is. Or if there isn’t one, asign one. At the end of the day someone has to make the decision. That might be you. Know who this person or persons is and empower them to make it.

  • Be prepared to defend your copy. Any good copywriter will do this well. Have sound and logical arguments for why your copy is the way it is. Tie it back to your original strategy, brand voice and the customer. Be prepared to argue for why you feel strongly for its inclusion or exclusion.

The most successful mobile payment app ever

This post on Twitter got a lot of retweets and attention last weekend—more people use the Starbucks app than any other mobile payment option in the U.S. right now. This research was originally released by eMarketer back in May.

Diving into the numbers a little more—what this means is 23.4 million people in the U.S. will log into the Starbucks app at least once every 6 months to make a point-of-sale purchase. It’s an incredible stat for a country that lags behind in mobile payment app adoption.

The Starbucks app is the standout example of how to drive customer loyalty through an app. The Starbucks app drives sales and seamlessly blends mobile payments with rewards and content.

Here’s some more interesting facts about the Starbucks app:

  • People love this app—it has a whopping 2 million ratings on iTunes, with an average rating of 4.8 out of 5

  • Starbucks was an early entrant into the mobile payments, especially as a retailer, allowing them to refine and expand its technology

  • People want caffeine every day and the Starbucks app has become an essential integration into the everyday lives of millions of people. The success of the app proves people will invest in new payments technology if you’re able to provide a seamless experience and exceptional value on a regular, and hopefully daily, basis.

Sarah JukesComment
What I've been reading

I’ve been a big fan of the posts Jason Fried has put up on Medium over the years.

He’s the CEO at the project management software company Basecamp. Jason has consolidated much of what he’s written over the years on the culture and work practices at Basecamp and packaged it into his latest co-authored book.

Jason never been afraid to tell it like it is. He rejects common workplace practices—hustle, be busy, change the world, work insane hours, be quick to hit reply, set goals, have too much to do.

Most of us experience our daylight hours being packed with back to back meetings. Our mornings and evenings are the only time left for actually getting work done, reading, writing, planning and reflecting.

What’s the alternative? Jason says it’s less, not more:

The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production.

The book offers up suggestions on how dial down the bullshit and do more work. Nothing here is ground-breaking or new, but Jason is especially convincing on why this stuff is important.

Here’s a summary of his best suggestions:

  • We should be slower to respond to emails and pings—set expectations that most everything can wait, and it should.

  • Get comfortable with churning out work that’s good enough knowing your being your best by allowing yourself to excel when you need to.

  • Be ruthless in protecting your time and attention during those precious daylight hours.

  • Get out and live your life. You’ll be better off for it. We need to avoid the habitual trap of defaulting to always working long and late.

Sarah JukesComment
What I've been watching: Bodyguard

There’s a t.v. show every couple of years that’s so good, everyone talks about it and it’s impossible to not watch it.

I’m not a t.v. person. But I’ll watch whatever that show is. The last time I can remember this happening was with the Netflix series Stranger Things.

The new Stranger Things is a psychological drama called Bodyguard.

It’s a British psychological drama centered around the British Home Secretary (a role akin to the U.S. Vice President, but with more authority) and her assigned security detail, aka, her bodyguard.

I learned about Bodyguard via the Economist app, of all places. It got a quick write up on their daily digest app. Bodyguard is getting some serious acclaim—it boasts a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and even the British Prime Minister was asked whether she was going to watch the recent series final.

Screenshot from The Economist app

Screenshot from The Economist app

I recommend you watch it—that should go without saying. I also offer up these two (non-spoiler) reflections on Bodyguard.

First, it’s short for a t.v. series—only six episodes. I’ve since learned shorter series lengths are common for British t.v. The takeaway is that the investment is low in terms of the length of time you need to invest to watch it, and the show is forced to tell a complete story relatively quickly.

Second, the Brits are really good at making t.v. shows. They are widely recognized at being masterful at producing non-scripted t.v. shows like The Great British Baking Show and Who Do You Think You Are? I grew up watching classic satirical comedy shows in Australia like Kath & Kim and Summer Heights High who in turn took their lead from British comedy shows like Blackadder and Faulty Towers. Don’t even get me started on how much I enjoyed the simple, silly repetitiveness of the U.K. sketch comedy show Little Britain.

If you want a deeper dive into why the British make such good t.v., this Quora thread pulls together the best of the arguments.

Sarah JukesComment
Be a brain, then a human

When establishing relationships with new people at the office, a mentor of mine had this advice for me recently...

First prove you’re a brain, then show you’re a human.

In other words—first add value, then show you’re relatable.

My mentor knows me well. Well enough to know this advice would flip the script and force me to approach a common scenario in a different way.

My default is to want to do the opposite—I instinctively want to meet someone first, show my human side and then get to the I-can-add-value-here-too part.

The add value first advice is well suited to establishing working relationship with executives or anyone who is much more senior than you. You’re forced to think carefully about what value you can add and act on it, so you have an easy way to quickly get in front of them.

And when you do get in front of them, your task is twofold—package up your good work in a way that strips out unnecessary detail and respects the other person’s time and, most importantly, show you’re a relatable and likeable human.

What taking class with professional ballerinas taught me

When you take ballet classes in New York City, sooner rather than later you’ll find yourself recognizing a famous dancer alongside you at the barre.

If you can get over the intimidation factor, there’s much to learn from being around the very best at your craft.

When class ends most students warm down for a bit, gather up their things and go home. But—and here’s the thing I’ve noticed—the best students in the class continue to practice long after class is over.

The hardest and most intensive part of any ballet class is right at the end. You’ve spent the last 90+ minutes building up the flexibility and movement in your body. You’re working in the center and without the barre. It’s when you do the most complicated choreography.

Right when you’re at your best, it’s time to go home. You’re exhausted. The best dancers push through the fatigue—they know they’re primed to dance at this point and they continue practicing long after class has ended.

After class is also the best time to get the teacher’s attention. Most teachers will hang around after class to answer questions and speak to their students. If you’re working on building or refining a move, it’s an ideal opportunity to get one-on-one instruction from your teacher.

The question then is—what’s your version of the 20 minutes after ballet class? You need to ask yourself—when do most people quit? What can you do so you don’t quit and go home too? What will give you more dedicated and structured practice, and hopefully, with personalized feedback from someone who has mastered your craft long before you?

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It’s World Ballet Day tomorrow!

The best professional companies from around the world will be streaming live from inside their studios, giving you a look inside company ballet classes and behind-the-scenes rehearsals.

How to give better feedback
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Years ago I worked in large hospitals treating stroke and cancer patients.

One of my major tasks was to educate and train the next cohort of clinicians coming up through the ranks. Student clinicians would come to the hospital and get exposed to working with actual patients.

I loved it. I benefited from the guidance of supportive clinical educators when I was a student, and I aspired to be the same.

I enjoyed giving back to the professional community and sharing my knowledge and skills. I never forgot what it was like when I fronted up to work at a hospital for the first time—daunted, scared and curious. I wanted my students to have the best possible experience and enjoy clinical work as much as I did.

One of my major tasks as a clinical educator was to provide feedback to students on their performance. It wasn't easy to find the right balance between positive and negative feedback.

I had to be mindful of their inexperience while offering up constructive suggestions they could work with without crushing their confidence or spirit. Brilliant students would be nervous and fumble when assessing a patient for the first time. Translating book knowledge into clinical expertise takes time.

The lessons I learned giving student clinicians feedback all those years ago still rings true today. I've refined my approach over the years down to these important points.

1. Keep it short. Be specific

I've been on the receiving end of feedback that's gone on and on. The message will be lost if you keep on talking. Don’t ramble on. Stop talking and give the person a chance to digest the feedback and offer comments or clarifying questions.

Be specific. Give clear examples. Tie your feedback to actual behavior. Don't get personal. Leave emotion and judgment out of it. Never blame performance on personality. Don't use giving feedback as an excuse to rant, take out your own frustrations or assign blame.

2. Do it quickly

Feedback is most effective when it's timely. On a busy hospital ward it was easy to delay giving students feedback until the end of the day. I avoided this in favor of giving feedback as soon as possible, no matter how busy I thought I was. 

Don't save up all your feedback. Especially if it's negative, don't deliver it all at once during a daily or weekly check-in.

3. Don't do the 'sandwich' thing

Sandwiching negative feedback in between two pieces of positive feedback might make you feel better about delivering negative feedback, but it is almost never helpful for the recipient. Don't do it.

Be direct. Give lots of positive feedback. I aimed for a ratio of 80:20—giving much more positive than negative. Even the brightest and most capable need to hear positive feedback on a regular basis.

4. Give clear solutions

This one is huge for me. I've had bosses over the years who have given me feedback only to leave me hanging trying to figure out how to correct it.

Negative feedback especially has to come with solutions and a roadmap for improvement. It's not enough to criticize without helping the recipient figure out what to do next. Equally it's important to be open to having your own assumptions about a person challenged as part of the feeback process.

Always approach feedback with the assumption that the person you're working with is capable, smart and wants to improve. Encourage their participation by asking things like, "How do you want to improve?" Or "what might success look like for you in this area?" 

5. Applaud those who actively seek feedback

People who go out of their way to seek feedback from the non-obvious and smaller moments are the true gems of the corporate world. They're among the easiest to give feedback to because they approach you and accept your insights with openness and humility.

In my experience these persons are the most engaged, motivated and emotionally intelligent. They seek feedback from a variety of sources and situations. They're never happy with the status quo, they maintain a growth mindset and they actively build and tap into their challenge network.

The conversation is just starting—morality in A.I.

I went to an amazing presentation earlier this week. 

Harry Glaser of Periscope Data gave a speech on the moral responsibility data professionals have to safeguard the proper use of AI. According to Harry, "AI unchallenged runs a strong risk of delivering immoral outcomes."

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He's right. What happened at Cambridge Analytica shows how powerful the use and misuse of AI technology can be.

Thought leaders like Harry are starting to talk about the role data and other professionals play in being moral custodians of AI technology.

Artificial intelligence needs human intelligence behind it—moral guardrails to guide it. Early adopters of AI have the responsibility to set the tone for its professional and moral use.

A recent op-ed in the New York Times takes this idea further—digital marketers are excited about the economic and commercial potential of AI but we have all but ignored its potential to be used with ill intent.

Despite these myriad risks, industry professionals seem to have turned a blind eye to the oncoming specter of A.I., likely because they are optimistic about its commercial potential. ~New York Times, 26 March 2018

From where I sit, I see many marketers grappling with the 'how' of AI. They're getting their heads around what technology is, what it can do and how it might impact the scope, scale and delivery of their marketing treatments.

Some marketers are more experienced with AI and have already integrated it into their routine use. The more seasoned AI marketers are the ones who need to be leading the conversation about its moral use.

There are no easy answers here, except to say the conversation about the moral use of AI technology is only just starting. We need to put aside our excitement about what AI can do in a commercial sense and start debating what moral use of AI technology in marketing looks like, how we should uphold it, and what should happen to those who don't.

How to get better at impromptu speaking

My definition of professional torture goes something like this...

I'm in a meeting surrounded by people I don't know who are more powerful and important than me.

I'm thrilled to have earned my seat at this VIP table. It's my opportunity to shine. I feel the pressure. I want to make a stellar impression.

All of a sudden my boss throws it over to me to talk about a topic I'm unfamiliar with. I've had no warning or time to prepare.

I can feel the spotlight on me. Next I feel face start to burn bright red. Unprepared and nervous, I fumble through a response. My voice cracks a little while I'm talking. I can feel people's eyes burning into me. 

When I finally finish talking I get slightly confused looks back in return. I'm not really sure what I just said, but I can tell already my words didn't have the desired impact. My boss rescues me from certain professional death by saying, "I think what Sarah is trying to say is..." 

Being asked to speak off-the-cuff is an essential tool every ambitious business professional needs to develop and master. It comes naturally to some people but most of us need to work on it. 

After suffering through variations of this scenario over the years, I finally decided enough was enough. I had to tackle this with measurable goals and with productive strategies. I made it a goal to never let this scenario happen again.

Here's how I tacked and improved my ability to speak to white space.

1. See it as an opportunity

I shifted my thinking about impromptu speaking from one of terror and dread to thinking about it as a genuine opportunity.

I thought of it as just another skill I needed to learn and master. I told myself I can learn to do it better. That small shift in mindset made a tremendous difference to my approach and confidence.

2. Pause. Don't talk right away

When the time comes to talk, don't. Pause before you say anything.

Taking an extra couple of seconds gives you valuable time to gather your thoughts and to think up a quick structure for your response.

Most people in this scenario just start talking. When you pause, you appear more considered, polished and in control of the situation. Even if you don't feel it.

3. Add structure

Don't say the first thing that pops into your head.

Use whatever time you have to pull your thoughts together into a basic structure. Depending on the situation, that might be a few seconds or a few minutes.

A good basic structure looks like this: Position, Reason, Example, Position or PREP.

State your position, give a reason for your position, give an example and conclude by restating your position again. If you have more time, repeat the same again with a different example.

4. Say less

With a basic structure in place, you still need to keep it short. Saying more almost never adds value.

I like this quote from Franklin F. Roosevelt in this scenario—"Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated."

Most people tend to ramble on when faced with white space. Don't fall into this trap. You're unlikely to add value by turning it into an unstructured monologue. If you stick to a structure, like the one outlined above, you should be able to contain your response and be brief. 

5. Practice! A lot!

Practice and getting regular feedback is the best way to improve your impromptu speaking skills.

Every time I'm in this scenario at the office, I look for someone in my challenge network to provide with feedback on my performance.

Rather than waiting for opportunities to come up in the work setting, I created regular practice opportunities for myself by joining a local Toastmasters.

Most people think Toastmasters is for practicing giving speeches, and it is. It's also an opportunity to practice impromptu speaking in a safe and supported environment.

Every meeting has a section called Table Topics. Members are asked to stand up in front of the group and answer a question off-the-cuff and with no time to prepare an answer.

The nature of questions don't matter, and neither do your answers. A question I had recently was, "If you could be a fruit, which one would you be and why?"

I'm never going to answer that question in a work scenario (okay, maybe in an obscure job interview). But I'm getting valuable opportunities to practice and refine my impromptu speaking skills when I talk about myself as having come from a warm climate with the thick skin and soft center of a banana.