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The Beatitudes of Digital

February 2, 2012

Navigating the collaborative culture is one of the most difficult challenges for digital creatives–designers, UX people, content strategists, coders, etc. We care about doing good work. We are passionate about it. This passion can clash with the passions of other creatives, resulting in a lot of conflict. This conflict can be heightened if we collaborate remotely. Isolation often amplifies rather than pacifies conflict. And we are not just judged by our teammates. We are judged by the results of our work. Results can be our harshest critics.

I have found in my long career that high functioning creative teams have an essential trait: Their members have a high emotional quotient (EQ). They are able to give and take constructive criticism in style. They are able to state their views without digging in. They are able to see others’ perspectives and sacrifice their own for the good of the team. They pick their battles. They don’t get mired in their own turf. They don’t hold grudges or carry prejudices. They give their team mates the benefit of the doubt.

I can think of no better source of  the attitudes that lead to higher EQ than the Beatitudes. This might seem strange to you, especially if you are not Christian. But I am not writing this to evangelize. I think the Beatitudes have universal appeal regardless of your religion, or lack thereof. They transcend faith and reason, appealing to the way we respond to the challenges in life in our guts. To me, the Beatitudes are an approach to the visceral reactions that affect behavior more than we might want to admit.

There’s perhaps no better proving ground for them than in digital. Digital is ripe for emotional meltdowns that can scuttle a team or a project. I hope you find it as helpful as I do. If you’re interested, please read on.

Blessed are the humble*

This is perhaps the most important attitude to have in digital. We are all learning. Digital is so new, we can’t pretend to be gurus or experts. We have to humbly accept failure and keep trying, without feeling wounded or deflated. We also can’t be too attached to our successes because digital is changing so fast, expertise is fleeting. Accepting failures and faults and being willing to work on them is a necessary first step to success in digital.

Blessed are they who mourn

This is perhaps the most conceptually challenging Beatitude. Nobody likes grief, so how could that lead to being blessed? I don’t think it’s about wallowing in sadness. It’s about letting go. What is the point of mourning? Mourning is just a productive way of dealing with grief. It sure is more productive than stuffing grief  deep down and trying to ignore it. That just leads to blowing conflict out of proportion later.

Grief is a necessary part of the digital process. We all have our “babies”–digital artifacts that we are especially attached to. Perhaps we worked really hard on them. Perhaps we put our heart and soul into them. But if they don’t work, we have to be prepared to kill them. The faster we iterate, the more of our babies we will need to kill and the more grief we will deal with. If we can learn to mourn our babies and let them go, we can eliminate the emotional roller coaster that plagues creatives, especially in digital.

Blessed are the meek

When I was editor of ComputerUser, I often let my passion for the product get the better of me. I recall storming into the art director’s cube and saying such things as “It’s my name on the masthead!” That kind of stuff never worked. Slowly over time, I have learned to put on a more mild appearance, even as the storms rage inside me. My next challenge is calming the storms themselves. I still have a long ways to go. But those I admire most have a way of calmly and dispassionately stating their position. Their quiet confidence speaks louder than any of my rants.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness

To me, righteousness in digital just means doing things the right way. Since we only learn how to do things the right way by doing them, failing, and doing them better, we need to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness to continue to learn and grow. It’s not easy. You really have to want to do things the right way to keep from getting demoralized.

Blessed are the merciful

When a team makes so many mistakes despite their best efforts, the tendency is to blame each other.  Even if we determine that the whole project went into the ditch because of one person, blaming and shaming doesn’t help anyone. The only productive attitude is to forgive, hope that the person learns from it, and fix the problem in the next iteration.

Blessed are the clean of heart

This is the hardest attitude to adopt. Again, I personally have a long way to go. Still, it’s a worthy ideal to strive for.  Adopting the attitude of kindness and compassion towards all your teammates–regardless of history, personalities, or flaws of character–allows you to work as a team. It is the condition for all other Beatitudes.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Sometimes we find ourselves on the sidelines as two teammates get mired in an impasse. Unless we are able to mediate and break the impasse, the whole team grinds to a halt. Peacemakers are the quintessential team players.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

Leadership consultant David O’Brien writes extensively about a caustic attitude common in all walks of business–the critic. These are people who resent success and do little but criticize people, projects and products. In online forums, we call them trolls. The curious thing is that trolls tend to gravitate towards the people who do things the right way, who have a history of success, or who have demonstrated strong leadership. The point is, if you are committed to doing things the right way, you will attract critics or trolls. After all my years, I consider their presence a sign that we are on the right track. Rather than letting critics derail you, consider them a cost of doing digital the right way.

The Beatitudes are not the only ways to salve the emotional wounds we suffer from in the digital creative process. Humor helps a lot. Personal connections–reinforced in social events outside of the pressure cooker of the virtual office–are critical. But the Beatitudes are ways individuals can learn to deal with the emotional toll digital projects require. They surely help me a lot.

*Bible scholars will cry foul already. The text reads “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” But I have been reflecting on this phrase for years and it seems to me what He means by poor in spirit  is humble. So allow me to make a creative translation.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Denise Beckmann permalink
    February 2, 2012 10:16 pm

    James, great post! No team succeeds because one player is the top performer. All players need to be a part of the work, the ideas, the collaboration. High performance teams leave their ego’s at the door. I have often winced at the word “expert”, because digital is full of different perspectives and talents. No ones knows it all. Innovations happen daily by creativity and technology. That is what makes working in digital so exciting. While not particularly religious, I clearly understand your translation. I appreciate the insights you bring to my digital career.

  2. February 3, 2012 3:11 pm

    “if you are committed to doing things the right way, you will attract critics or trolls. After all my years, I consider their presence a sign that we are on the right track.” Good stuff James.

  3. April 5, 2012 11:44 am

    I agree with the above comment, the internet is with a doubt growing into the most important medium of communication across the globe and its due to sites like this that ideas are spreading so quickly.

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