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How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works

by Phillip Warren

Fun fact about pandemic life: Zoom fatigue is real. And not just real, but “widely prevalent, intense, and completely new,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there's one place where video conferencing still shines, and that's the good ol' brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it's harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That's why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They're a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

  • Add or refine product features
  • Define a path in a sticky situation
  • Solve a complex problem

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

  • Approval or alignment
  • Receipt of a message or direction
  • Feedback on a mostly baked idea

These are not brainstorm moments—they're meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you've figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it's time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here's another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you've stated the problem or opportunity, it's time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: "If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role."

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

  • Use polls to test out early ideas
  • Use small group breakout sessions to create mini-competitions between your participants
  • Use a whiteboard to replicate a poster board people can plot virtual Post-It notes on
  • Use voting to prioritize or stack rank

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn't serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

  • Use the improv rule of “yes, and.” It means that ideas are never knocked down, only built upon. (Don’t worry, they can get voted down later, just not during the brainstorm)
     
  • Use the two- (or one- or five)-minute rule. Ask people to limit themselves to two minutes at a time, even if they need to stop mid-thought (they can finish on their next turn). This challenges people to be concise and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak.
     
  • Use a round-robin technique. Circle around the Zoom participants, calling on each person as you go. If someone isn’t ready, they can pass. But this is a great way to prevent introverts from getting overlooked.

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.


Source: quickanddirtytips.com

The Average Salary of an Architect

by Phillip Warren

The Average Salary of an Architect

The average salary of an architect is $76,100 per year.

Have you ever wondered how much an architect earns? Becoming an architect requires an investment of money and time, but pays off in the form of a rewarding career that comes with above-average earnings. And for those lucky few who become “starchitects,” it’s a path to fame. Let’s take a closer look at the average salary of an architect. 

The Average Salary of an Architect: The Basics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that the average salary of an architect was $76,100 per year, $36.59 per hour in 2015. There is wide range of architect salaries, however. The top 10% of architects earn an average salary of $125,520 per year, $60.34 per hour. The bottom 10% of architects earn an average salary of $46,080 per year, $22.15 per hour.

Architects’ salaries are fairly high, but what do the future job prospects look like for architects? The BLS releases a “job outlook” for the fields it studies. The job outlook predicts the percent by which the number of people in a given job will grow between 2014 and 2024. For architects, the BLS job outlook is 7%, which is around the average for all the jobs the BLS studies. The field isn’t shrinking, but it’s not growing at faster-than-average rates either.

Related Article: The Average Salary of a Doctor 

Where Architects Make the Most

The Average Salary of an Architect

The BLS examines state- and metro-level data on earnings, too. Where does it pay the most to be an architect? According to BLS data, the top-paying state for architects is California, where the annual mean wage for architects is $97,880. Other high-paying states for architects are Georgia ($93,940), Massachusetts ($90,430), New Jersey ($89,130) and Minnesota ($88,680).

What about metro areas? The top-paying metro area for architects is West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, FL, where the mean annual wage for architects is $117,870. Other high-paying metro areas for architects are Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA; Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA; Syracuse, NY and Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA.

Related Article: The Cost of Living in California

The Cost of Becoming an Architect

The first step to becoming an architect is to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in architecture. A poll by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) found that poll respondents (all architecture school graduates) had an average post-graduation student debt of $40,000. The students also reported spending thousands on extra costs such as modeling materials, textbooks and more.

After obtaining a degree (often a five-year degree), budding architects do an average of three years at an architecture internship. Finally, they must take the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). That means that even the fastest path to becoming an architect in the U.S. takes eight years, but most people take around 11 years. In the meantime, most of these aspiring architects are paying back student loans. The ARE also comes with stiff fees. Depending on which version of the exam you take, the exam fee itself is either $1,470 or $1,260. If you have to cancel your exam, the fees you pay are non-refundable.

Bottom Line

The Average Salary of an Architect

The job of an architect comes with glamour and prestige, as well as a high salary and a solid job outlook. However, the path to becoming an architect is a long and expensive one and not everyone who wants to become an architect makes it through the multi-year process. Still, if you have the discipline, talent and funds architecture is a financially rewarding career path.

Update: Have financial questions beyond an architect’s average salary? SmartAsset can help. So many people reached out to us looking for tax and long-term financial planning help, we started our own matching service to help you find a financial advisor. The SmartAdvisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to up to three registered investment advisors who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/Geber86, Â©iStock.com/vgajic, Â©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

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Source: smartasset.com

A QDT Q&A With Ken Kwapis

by Phillip Warren

Quick and Dirty Tips: Your rap sheet of shows and movies you've directed includes notable episodes and films such as #BlackAF, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Office, Malcolm in the Middle, and He Said, She Said.  Can you share a few highlights and memorable moments? Would you say any of these movies or films was a gamechanger for your career?

Ken Kwapis: My very first feature film, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, is the story of Big Bird’s journey of self-discovery. Imagining he’d be happier living with his own kind, Bird decamps for a small town in the Midwest, where he moves in with a foster bird family. He soon realizes how much he misses Sesame Street, where a diverse group of all kinds—humans, monsters, grouches—live in harmony. It’s a message that’s as vital now as it was in 1985, when I directed the film. Why was this film a gamechanger for me? I connected to Big Bird’s emotional journey on a very personal level; in retrospect, I now see that it took an eight-foot bird to teach me that my job as a director was to become a student of human nature.

QDT:  How does your directing style change between movies and TVs and the type of show/movie you're working on (rom-com, comedy, etc)? Do you have to adapt to the genre?

KK: Whether directing comedy or drama, I try to find the humanity in any given scene. Put a different way, when I direct comedic material I look for ways to ground the scene in reality. And when I'm working on a dramatic piece, I look for humor to leaven the drama. There’s always humor hiding in the drama, waiting for a good director to discover.

Working in Hollywood, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you need to measure success on your own terms, not Hollywood’s.

QDT: What content (books, movies, essays, etc.) should college-aged and young adults be consuming if they want to work in film or media?

KK: There are so many ways to answer this question. Let me focus on filmmakers who are noteworthy for their understanding of the human condition. I urge you to get acquainted with directors who have a talent for putting truthful human behavior on the screen. There are many to choose from, but you could do a lot worse than luxuriating in the works of William Wyler, John Cassavetes, Yasujiro Ozu, Ernst Lubtisch, Mike Leigh, Max Ophuls, and Akira Kurosawa.

QDT: What has been the most important piece of advice you've ever received or the most important lesson you've learned?  

KK: Working in Hollywood, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that you need to measure success on your own terms, not Hollywood’s. You can’t control the outcome of your efforts. You can’t control how many people buy a ticket at the box office. You can’t control what the critics say. What you can control is the process of making a film or television show, and my personal yardstick for success is whether or not I improve the process from project to project.

QDT: Do you have any advice for aspiring directors, writers, actors, or anyone who wants to work in the film industry?

KK: The most important thing to remember is that passion wins the day every time. I can’t tell you how to get your foot in the door, but once you do, the key is to impress upon prospective employers that you are passionate about a given project—be it a prestigious feature film or a commercial for dental floss. Passion wins the day.


Source: quickanddirtytips.com

10 Things to Know About Working in New York

by Phillip Warren

10 Things to Know About Working in New York
Thinking about working in New York? There are some features of work life in the Big Apple that set it apart from the work culture in other cities. Is it true that if you can make it there you can make it anywhere? We’re not making any promises, but we can give you some tips about what working in New York is really like. 

Check out our 401(k) calculator. 

1. Salaries are high – but so is the cost of living.

For many fields, particularly those that require highly skilled workers, salaries in New York are higher than those in other cities. But before you get too excited about the fact that salaries in New York tend to be higher, keep in mind that the cost of living in New York is higher, too.

Luckily, there are plenty of financial experts around to help you figure out how to keep your finances in check. These are the top 10 New York financial advisor firms.

2. New Yorkers put in long hours.

New Yorkers tend to work longer hours than folks in other cities. In part, that’s because the workday itself is longer, but it’s also because New Yorkers tend to have long commutes. If you want to have plenty of free time to pursue side hustles or hobbies, working in New York might not be the best fit for you.

3. Commuting by public transit is the norm.

According to recent Census Bureau figures, 55.6% of New Yorkers take public transportation to work, 0.8% bike to work, 10.3% walk and 3.9% work at home. Hate crowds? Commuting by public transit could take some getting used to.

4. Office happy hour options are plentiful.

Working in New York means having a multitude of options for weekday lunches and office happy hours at your fingertips. Socializing with your coworkers after the end of a workday is easy with so many places to go and easy public transportation options to take you home at the end of the evening.

5. Being a working parent is expensive in New York.

10 Things to Know About Working in New York

New York has some of the highest childcare costs of any city in the nation. Being a working parent in New York is expensive – and it’s not easy, given the long hours New Yorkers put in. New York has a lower rate of working mothers than many other major U.S. cities, in part because the high price of childcare makes it hard for many New Yorkers to earn more than they would have to pay for childcare.

6. New York work culture takes some of its cues from Silicon Valley.

Some New York workplaces are taking their cues from the start-ups of Silicon Valley, implementing casual attire, flexible workdays and other features. In an effort to compete with companies in other cities, some New York companies are expanding the perks they offer their workers, so if you’re lucky enough to get a job in one of those companies, you’ll find that working in New York has its compensations.

7. Lots of New Yorkers have more than one job.

Whether they’re care workers who work double shifts or actors who tend bar on the side, many New Yorkers have more than one job. For some, having a second (or third) job is a matter of necessity, while for others it’s a way of advancing their career or expressing their artistic side. Plus, getting a second job (or a roommate) makes it easier to live the New York dream without going into debt.

8. There are professional support opportunities here.

Because it’s a huge, densely populated city, New York has professional support opportunities for those up and down the career ladder. You can get help finding a job or finishing your GED. You can also attend high-powered networking events and conferences. The important thing is to know what resources are out there and how to take advantage of them.

9. You can outsource a lot of tasks – if you have the money.

If it’s in your budget, you can outsource a lot of tasks that you don’t want to have to tackle during your non-working hours. That includes mailing packages, getting food, dropping off dry cleaning, completing home repairs and more. Of course, these services aren’t within reach of all New Yorkers, and many people like to do these basic “life admin” tasks themselves. But if you’re planning on diving into the workaholic lifestyle in New York and you think you’ll have some money to spare, there are lots of companies looking to make outsourcing chores easier for you.

10. It helps to know someone.

It helps to know someone when you’re looking for work in New York, if only to stand out from the pile of applications that so many New York jobs attract. That’s why it’s a good idea to build and maintain your network and put it to work for you when you’re looking for a new (or just better) job.

Bottom Line

10 Things to Know About Working in New York

Working in New York isn’t for everyone, but many find it to be an exciting challenge unlike what they would face elsewhere. For others, working in New York is more of a means to an end – living in New York. Wherever you stand, working in New York is made easier when you have a strong network and plenty of determination.

Tips for Maximizing Your Money
  • Come up with a budget – and stick to it. Instead of spending $5 a day on a latte, put that money in one of the best savings accounts where you can earn interest.
  • Work with a financial advisor. In addition to helping you craft a financial plan and identify your financial goals, a financial advisor can help you determine the right investments for your financial situation, time horizon and level of risk tolerance. A matching tool like SmartAsset’s SmartAdvisor can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/Tempura, ©iStock.com/NYCstocker, ©iStock.com/Pavlina2510  

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Source: smartasset.com