Every three years or so, I take an abrupt left turn along the meandering donkey trail that is my superhighway to professional success. From business to law student, to network news producer, to backpack TV journalist, to independent filmmaker to digital media strategist to academic. A dean at Northwestern University once wondered aloud as to my ability to make the appropriate course correction at the right time, “It was either by design and you’re absolutely brilliant, or you made it up as you went along and you’re absolutely lucky.”
It’s not false modesty when I say it was the latter. As a pedestrian in New York City, I always like to walk on the edge of the sidewalk. It’s a little more precarious, so close to the aggressive drivers. But it gets me places faster, even as it keeps me away from the crowd. That’s pretty much how I live my life. I like to take precarious new directions to see where it gets me; I’m just unable to walk with the crowd.
Journey metaphors aside (alright, one more), I write this because I’m due for a left turn, as I complete my fourth year as an academic. I’ve poured a lot of energy into charting the direction of the Master of Communication in Digital Media. It’s been fruitful, exhilarating and exhausting. The program is in terrific shape, we’ve developed the highly successful Media Space TV show, the nascent Four Peaks professional network, and my Storyteller Uprising concept is not only the title of my manifesto-in-progress, it has served as a wonderfully provocative title for a number of talks that I’ve given over the last year — from Silicon Valley to Seattle Arts & Lectures.
The image above is of an invitation I received yesterday, announcing my keynote presentation to the Board of Trustees of the “world’s largest library cooperative”, OCLC. Seeing my creative work embodied by such a beautiful artifact gives me great satisfaction. But it, along with a talk I gave to the technology and marketing folks at the Seattle Opera yesterday, continues to remind me that the central ideas that I’ve developed for Storyteller Uprising are a culmination of introspection, experimentation and entrepreneurial application. In other words they emanate from what feels like a now-concluded period of “doing.” I’m not a scholar. I don’t want to be. I don’t find inspiration and new ideas in research, they come to me through inserting myself in the middle of developing situation (whether breaking news or disruptive technologies). And I feel the urgent need to “do” again to generate a new set of ideas.
Luckily, my excellent colleagues somehow figured me out quite quickly. That’s why they sent me on “leave” this quarter — to continue work on the book, restore work-life balance, and to fill up the creative tank. It also explains why, in the past week, the university — an institution renowned for its scholars — has worked with me to reconfigure my position in a decidedly non-scholarly way so that I have more freedom to “insert myself” into whatever developing situation I judge to be relevant to my work and to the MCDM. I’ll still be Director, but engaging more in endeavors such as Four Peaks, as well as partnerships with outside organizations that benefit the University of Washington. It’s a fabulous gift. I hope that as I seek out new, unfamiliar places, the work that I’m completing now will provide momentum to move forward.
Hanson – I am really happy for you and your new career change! The time we spent working with the you and the students in your digital media class was a great opportunity for our team and the development of our project.
Thank you again for your willingness to explore the edge and for taking the time to explore it with us. : )
We are living down in San Francisco for the summer, but will continue to follow your work and hopefully get to collaborate again sometime soon.
all the best!
This does sound like a fabulous gift, as it’s well deserved. You’ve worked your tail off these past few years and you’ve inspired a bunch of us along the way. Kudos to you for a job well done!
My heart skipped when I first started reading this post, as I thought it signaled the end of your time as MCDM Director. So I’m relieved to see you’re merely getting what fits you best — the chance to “do” and to play a more fitting role with the University of Washington.
This institution is lucky to have you. And so are we!
Zach and Derek, thanks for your kind words. Hopefully despite bucking my personal trend of “moving on,” I can remain on that proverbial edge.
You are a born pathfinder sir. Thank you for all you have done to bring meaning to storytelling in our new media landscape. Thank you for your significant contribution to my own journey of learning and living. I look forward to watching where your new direction leads.
Thank you Mark, those are very kind words.
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