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Sarabeth Berk

Sarabeth Berk is a TEDx speaker and professional identity researcher. She is reshaping how we think about the workforce by shifting and expanding our definition of professional identity. What does that mean exactly?

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You are more than your job title

Sarabeth Berk is a TEDx speaker and professional identity researcher. She is reshaping how we think about the workforce by shifting and expanding our definition of professional identity. What does that mean exactly? It means that you should not be limited to either/or titles (e.g. specialists vs. generalist). And that there is a third option: hybrid.

But does that help or hurt your marketing efforts? Will potential clients and employers be intrigued or confused?

In this episode, Sarabeth and Chris Do define and debate the merits of hybrid professional identities. Spoiler alert: Chris is not immediately sold on the idea.

Sarabeth argues that what we do professionally is difficult to categorize into simply one box. Many of us find fulfillment and excel at the intersection of several disciplines. Just as our names are unique to us, our titles and what we do follow suit.

However, the trick is knowing how to communicate that intersection clearly.

If you struggle with the decision of specializing versus generalizing or find yourself living somewhere in the middle then you will enjoy this conversation.

Nov 9

You are more than your job title

Sarabeth Berk is a TEDx speaker and professional identity researcher. She is reshaping how we think about the workforce by shifting and expanding our definition of professional identity. What does that mean exactly?

Specialize, generalize, or both?

Sarabeth Berk is a TEDx speaker and professional identity researcher. She is reshaping how we think about the workforce by shifting and expanding our definition of professional identity. What does that mean exactly? It means that you should not be limited to either/or titles (e.g. specialists vs. generalist). And that there is a third option: hybrid.

But does that help or hurt your marketing efforts? Will potential clients and employers be intrigued or confused?

In this episode, Sarabeth and Chris Do define and debate the merits of hybrid professional identities. Spoiler alert: Chris is not immediately sold on the idea.

Sarabeth argues that what we do professionally is difficult to categorize into simply one box. Many of us find fulfillment and excel at the intersection of several disciplines. Just as our names are unique to us, our titles and what we do follow suit.

However, the trick is knowing how to communicate that intersection clearly.

If you struggle with the decision of specializing versus generalizing or find yourself living somewhere in the middle then you will enjoy this conversation.

About
Greg Gunn

Greg Gunn is an illustrator, animator and creative director in Los Angeles, CA. He loves helping passionate people communicate their big ideas in fun and exciting ways.

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Specialize, generalize, or both?

Episode Transcript

Sarabeth:

What I'm trying to do is help people discover, realize, and promote their authentic self. Essentially I want everyone, I think, to be able to explain, I'm not just a strategist or a coach or a director or a designer, those are just general terms we use. I want every individual to be able to name their unique professional identity. Like your name is Chris and my name is Sarabeth. We have names for who we are as humans, but what are those names for who we truly are in our work?

Chris:

Sarabeth, how you're doing?

Sarabeth:

Hey, Chris. I'm great. I can't believe it's Friday, but I'm so excited.

Chris:

Here we are, and I think there's some energy around this topic. You and I have talked about this before. We have sometimes differing opinions and my evolution in understanding what you're talking about has grown tremendously, I think, if I may say so myself. And so we probably should introduce the topic and then introduce ourselves and then welcome everybody in. Is that okay with you?

Sarabeth:

Sounds great. Love the plan.

Chris:

Okay. You wrote this book, More Than My Title, and you are a person who has been a champion for hybrid professional. And I have for a long time been speaking about the advantages that specialists have, so we're going to dive deep into that. And someone who I met back in the clubhouse days is Sarabeth Berk, and she talks about this whole concept of multi-hyphenate hybrid professionals. So without further ado, Sarabeth, can you introduce yourself?

Sarabeth:

Yeah, of course. So, I'm Sarabeth Berk and I call myself a professional identity researcher. And I help people in the workforce rename and reframe who they are so people can understand why they do what they do. And I've helped coin this term hybrid professional identity, because something really interesting is happening. No longer are we a workforce where people are either or. And that's this debate part, are you an expert or are you a generalist? There's actually a third type of identity in the workforce and we haven't known what to call it. It's been defying language and categorization. And people are like, "How do I explain my multi-hyphenateness or my multi-passionate self?"

And essentially that's what I've unearthed is this groundbreaking topic that when you combine and merge multiple aspects of your work self together, there's an intersection and that intersection creates a hybridity. And that hybridity is your unique value and a really special way of demonstrating who you are and what you do. So that's what I'm up to, is really starting a movement around helping people express who they are so we understand each other better and stop this whole debate of either or.

Chris:

I love that. So it's a non-binary thing in your mind. I have to ask you this question. When you're able to help people rephrase, rename, reframe who they are in the professional workplace, what kind of results have you seen?

Sarabeth:

It's powerful. There's so much that happens internally. I just wrote a blog post, I think it was yesterday, about what triggers a professional identity crisis? Because a lot of us are going through it and don't even know that's a thing. So, triggers of a identity crisis could be you're burned out, you don't fit in to your job, or you don't know where you belong in the workforce, because people don't understand you. Maybe you've been laid off, or you're going through a career transition. Maybe you have a low self-esteem, or you just really don't understand your purpose and your calling. All of those factors are really elements of questioning, who am I? How do I explain what I'm doing and what I aspire to do in my work? And what this is really helping people achieve, so back to the results question, first of all is self-confidence and self-awareness.

People become very solid and reach that higher self-knowing that they've been striving for of like, "Oh my God, the light bulb clicks, I get myself, I know who I am and now I'm ready to share it in the world because I have that knowledge and confidence." So, that internal shift is massive, I cannot emphasize that enough. But externally it's really important, people give us titles and put us in boxes all the time. Whether they're right or wrong, they just make assumptions about us. And if you don't know how to communicate who you are and communicate the value of who you are, other people are never going to quite see it the way you need them to see it.

So, for instance, I worked with a woman, she was a UX designer, and we did my process of breaking down and unpacking her different elements of her professional identity. And when we looked at her hybridity she called herself a curator of purposeful experiences. Now, that is a huge difference from being a UX designer. When she was able to explain what it means to be a curator of purposeful experiences, her boss understood her better. Her coworkers were like, "Oh, that helps us see you." And then she was able to get a promotion in that job and she just launched her own side business where she's freelancing now and she's calling her business purposefully curated. So the title of her business is an extension of who she is, and you can see the synergy between the two, and then she can explain all that to her clients and suddenly there's a different energy around it. I could give a lot of other stories, but the benefits of realizing who you are, are so huge, it's just a powerful concept.

Chris:

So, I have a lot of questions now. Okay, so let me set the table.

Sarabeth:

Bring it on.

Chris:

Yeah.

Sarabeth:

Okay.

Chris:

And feel free to put me in my place if I misunderstand something.

Sarabeth:

I know we go head to head sometimes.

Chris:

Sometimes. Okay, so I am looking at the problem from a different point of view. And it's clear to me when you're talking about this, there's a lot of advantages to speaking this way. But the first problem I have here, or the challenge I have is. What's stopping every single person within the workplace just kind of make up their own title and just giving themselves fancy titles that we have to sit there and work really hard to unpack? Talk about that a little bit, Sarabeth?

Sarabeth:

Oh yeah, the fancy title syndrome is everywhere. A lot of that is driven by the idea of status and reputation. Like, if I am a C level chief something or other, I'm going to have more power and influence and make more money. So, I think those are just a lot of the external factors that people want a bigger title to have more power. And I think what I'm trying to do is help people discover, realize and promote their authentic self. Their truest expression of who they are. So if you're using kitschy things and popular language, at the end of the day people know that's superficial. They know you're either just faking it or you're just another chief something. And it doesn't really mean that's who you are, the deeper expression of you. So, essentially I want everyone, I think to be able to explain, I'm not just a strategist or a coach or a director, a designer, those are just general terms we use.

I want every individual to be able to name their unique professional identity. Like your name is Chris, and my name is Sarabeth. We have names for who we are as humans, but what are those names for who we truly are in our work? And right now a job title is just sort of a placeholder, because that's how the workforce is. And so when you really sit back and you go, "Well, how am I more than my job title, which is really the name of my whole platform. Who am I really?" Well, then you start to break it down into possibilities and words that you're accustomed to. And I do this brainstorming exercise with people. And then we start to question, "Well, why do you call yourself a strategist and why are you a facilitator? And what does it mean to be an artistic director?" And they go, "Oh, well I'm actually really navigating ideas or I'm actually wrangling problems."

And you go, "Wait a second. Is that a better description of who you truly are?" And suddenly people realize, "I'm an idea wrangler or I'm the navigator of delight." There's a better way to help you explain your trueness. My sense, Chris, is when people do this deep reflection, and it is really deep. When people are in my courses, they always tell me, "Oh my gosh, I didn't know it was going to be this hard and messy and confusing." But that's when we're really interrogating our true self. But when they arrive at these words that click and resonate and reflect their truth, there is a moment where they're like, "That is what I've been waiting to find." And then when they say it out loud, they say it with authority and authenticity and validation of, "I can explain 10 examples of why I'm an idea wrangler or how I've been navigating delight. And that's what I'm really good at."

So when people land on not just a fancy title, but their more authentic truthful self, those titles literally unlock a whole career trajectory for them. And I would love to empower anybody in the workforce that needs that to find that for themselves.

Chris:

So, I'm on board with a lot of the concepts. I'm still trying to scratch my head to figure out the practical applications of all this. I do want to point out a couple different things. I'm no spring chicken myself. I don't know about you, I don't want to say anything, but you have a PhD, you've studied many things, so it seems like you have the credibility to say, "I've done certain things and I can stack different skillsets together to create a unique professional identity, which will help people truly understand my true authentic self." I get that part. I myself, I believe I'm in the same boat as you. I've had, I guess two or three careers now and I'm in a different part of my life, where for me to feel purposeful and fulfilled, I need to be this thing that's hard to categorize for people.

And I understand. I totally get that. Now, the problem here is this, a little bit of what you describe it tickles my brain, it really does. Ideal wrangler, navigator of delight, these sound, curator of purposeful experiences, they sound wonderful, like catchy phrases that a smart marketing advertising person wrote for somebody. And then I'm thinking, there's a 22-year-old somewhere who's listening to this. Well, gosh darn it, I'm going to find my authentic self. And they're a little bit, how do I say this? Delusional in thinking too far forward and giving themselves some crazy what they believe to be an authentic title. I'm a story crafter of X, Y, and Z, or I don't know what they're going to say. They're going to say something wild. And I look at them, I'm like, "What evidence do you have that you actually know how to do one thing, let alone multiple things?" So help me understand this part.

Sarabeth:

Yeah, no, I'm so tracking with you. People call themselves BS names all the time and you're like, "That is just gimmicky marketing stuff." And to me that points back to they don't really know who they are and they're just using something they think sounds cool to attract, new leads and to differentiate themselves. So, there's a couple problems going on. One is really in the marketplace, the workforce in general is too generic. We know there are millions of people. And in order to get ahead and to cut through the competition you have to differentiate yourself. That's what branding is all about in general. And so my work ties to identity research, career development and personal branding. And this part of creating a title is the branding part.

But before people can get to a brand, because branding is the act of intentionally putting your identity into the world. That holds true if you're branding a company, you have to figure out the brand identity. And for yourself, you need to know your professional identity before you can personal brand it. So, for people that are young or further in their career, I do the same process, because I see the same lack of self-awareness and metacognition. When you ask someone to stop and say. "Can you get outside of yourself? Can you really see how you work and what you're doing and who you are, and not just be inside of yourself?" It's studying yourself like an object. People are really terrible at that. And so my process at first is just stopping and saying, "Okay, let's map all of your professional identities. Have you ever done a brainstorm?"

And where I'm going with all this, Chris is helping people to get to that trajectory of validation. So, by doing reflection of a brainstorm list of all of your professional identities, and then we narrow it down to the ones I call are the primary. The primary professional identities you possess are the core ingredients that make you, you. It's like a recipe.

And if you don't know the ingredients that are truly lighting you up, your greatest areas of expertise, they are the ones with the highest frequency, and there's a few more criteria in there. We have to isolate those. It's like finding the signal from the noise. And from those signals, some people are like, Okay, I'm really excellent at research and I'm really great at being a designer and I'm also a marketer. We help narrow it down to identities. Then I draw Venn diagrams and say, "What is the combination that might be happening when those things are happening simultaneously?" That's the intersection. Now let me back up for one second. There are three types of professional identity in the workforce and people fall into one of three categories and they can move around, but you're in one of three. The first one is singularity, the second one is multiplicity, and the third one is hybridity.

Why that matters is because singularity means you only have one professional identity. You are like, "I am only an engineer." A lot of people that are in medicine and engineering really just see themselves with one identity. That's great. The next group is multiplicity. You have many identities, but those identities never meet or intersect. They are separate. It's like you turn them on and turn the other one off, but you can have many of them. And then that third bucket is the hybridity where there's intersection and integration. So, once people do a brainstorm and isolate their primary professional identities, we talk about that multiplicity versus hybridity. And if somebody is in a hybrid space, they're like, "Yeah, these identities are converging and I don't know how to talk about it. And I've never even realized this before." That's where the juice starts to come through of this emergent hybrid professional identity that needs its own name, because the name is bigger than, it's the sum of all the parts. That then has to be mapped to stories and evidence of things you've done in your work. So you're not pulling this out of thin air.

I'll repeat that. These words do not come from cool, trendy places. These words that you find in your intersections about yourself are based on evidence of things you've done, but you're using a new word you hadn't thought to label before. So for my example, I'm a creative disruptor. That is my hybrid professional identity. And I didn't know I was a disruptor. I wasn't using that language about myself. And the creative part really comes from my art and design background. And there was this synergy of creative disruption I was doing in so many projects that were assigned to me. At the end of the day I teach people how to give an elevator pitch so that when you use your hybrid title, it doesn't just come out of left field. Because it does sound airy fairy, it's like a marketing thing I'm using.

But the pitch I teach people to use is starting with a hybrid title, talking about the intersection of identities they work at. And then explaining the why and how those identities fit together, which suddenly doesn't make you sound phony anymore. It feels very true. Like it's coming from a place of self-realization. Does that help talk about that challenge of the people that are fake, or not?

Chris:

It totally does, and I'm glad we're not fighting yet. So we're still on the same page?

Sarabeth:

Yes.

Chris:

But the call is still young-

Sarabeth:

The last time.

Chris:

Yes, we are. The call is still young, so who knows. I'm liable to put my-

Sarabeth:

You stoked me last time.

Chris:

I'm liable to put my foot in my mouth and see what happens. So here's a couple things. Since I make no assumptions that anybody knows who I am or who you are, it's kind of ... I'm just curious in terms of your professional timeline, in terms of what you started out at and how you arrived at this place. Because oftentimes people will look at you and say, "Yes, that's what I'm going to do." And they're 14. And we do need to understand that it takes some time to develop a core competency. I think you call them like, what is it, the primary pillar or something, right? In-

Sarabeth:

Your primary professionally.

Chris:

You use all the fancy words. We both know who went to the art school and who actually went to real school, like words-

Sarabeth:

Wait a second.

Chris:

Metacognition, trajectory of validation, singularity, multiplicity. These are big $6 words. Okay, so let's just check your professional timeline a little bit? Can you take us through a little bit? Yeah, go ahead.

Sarabeth:

I went to art school for undergrad and grad, and I was one of those people that was very creative but very academic. So I always had a duality, even from my early teens. I didn't know what to pursue. And people, parents and friends were like, "Oh, you need to follow some liberal art or something that's more serious. The creative arts aren't fruitful and won't be as big of a career for you." But once I got to college, I really felt that push and pull of, "If I let go of creativity, I am not fulfilled. I can't just be writing papers all day and using my brain. There's this whole expression that comes through the visual side of me that's critical." And I didn't know you were allowed to do both. No one said it can be a both and. So I eventually transferred and went to undergrad in visual and critical studies, which was this beautiful major of all the studio art classes I wanted, from screen printing and fashion design and shadow puppetry and book making to really deep theory and critical analysis.

But after I graduate, I had no idea what to do with that degree. People are like, "You can do whatever you want," which is kind of typical career advice. Like, "Choose your path and we can make it happen and start applying." But I knew I didn't have the credentials. So essentially I went into art education and got another degree and thought I would be a teacher. And that took me to nonprofits and classrooms and so forth. But I always felt boxed in as just an art teacher. So, I am the epitome of living the research I now give to others. I'm my own case study. And the pain points I experienced along my path of feeling boxed in, zigzagging around, feeling like I didn't know what to do and why I couldn't just settle on one choice and one path. I thought there was something wrong with me. And I thought everyone had it figured out, but me.

So by the time I went into my PhD program, the goal was to get another credential, because I thought that's what I was missing. I thought if I had a PhD after my name, people would take me seriously and I'd have leadership opportunities and so forth. But I had my biggest professional identity crisis, like a total meltdown when I was in grad school, because I didn't know who I was anymore. People were like, "Well, what are you going to do after you graduate?" And I was like, "I don't know. I don't want to be a professor. I'm not trying to lock myself into academia, but I'm not going to go back and be an art teacher anymore. That identity is over. What the heck do I do?" And I felt really lost and confused. So I turned my dissertation research into a professional identity study and I started observing and interviewing people about, how are you more than your job title? How did you figure out who you are?

And people couldn't answer this directly. Because it's such a subconscious sense of, first of all, no one ever asks you, "Hey Chris, what's your professional identity?" It's not an ordinary question. So I had to back into it or ask it from sort of different directions, like, "Tell me what you're doing if you didn't have the label teacher or the label strategist or entrepreneur?" And then I would observe them too, and I would see identities emerging through their work. And I'm like, "Hey, over here it looks like you're a bit of a discoverer of information and you're this really strange kind of problem solver the way that you're like using jewelry and doing things." And people are like, "Yeah, I never saw that about myself."

So eventually I borrowed this concept from race class and gender studies, it's called intersectionality. And I thought, "Can there be intersectionality within people who have multiple interests and multiple professional identities?" And that was my aha. Since we're in a room typically, I know Chris, your audience is a lot of design creative folk. I was looking at surrealist paintings around this time and I saw an image called the Collective Invention by Rene Magritte. And for people that don't know this painting, it's an image of this fish and a human creature laying on the beach in front of an ocean. And this image literally made me realize this is who I am. Because instead of being a mermaid, the bottom half is a human and the top half is a fish. And so it's not a fish plus a human. It's literally a whole new creature that doesn't have a name. And I was like, "That collective invention idea is me in my work. Holy cow. Is this the thing I've been trying to describe? And now here it is in front of me, because a painting helped me understand this idea."

So hybridity really became the term that helped unlock intersectionality within our work. And for 10 years now, I've been doing this research. The book came out in 2020. I did the TEDx in 2019, so this is all pre-pandemic. And ever since then, this concept of hybrid professional identity is resonating with people across industries. And so my own experience is really what helped me live and read the idea that identity is paramount in our work and our career development. But nobody's been supporting it or writing about it, or spreading this information to the degree we need. And a lot of people are feeling this same pain point I was feeling.

Chris:

I'm just curious what the gaps were in between you going to school. Did you go back to back to back, or did you take a break? What did you discover in between? I'm curious about that.

Sarabeth:

Yeah, the gaps in between going for degrees were getting real-world experience, being in the workforce, trying to find myself by doing things. There's a great book by Herminia Ibarra called Working Identity, and she's a proponent that the way we learn about ourselves is through experience. You need to do jobs and try things to figure out who you are in your work. My one criticism about her book is there needs to be a pause after you do things to reflect. You need to sort of internalize, now that I did the thing, what am I realizing? What am I liking or not liking? And having that introspective moment helps you revise or make new decisions. And so she kind of skips that step. But yeah, I was in the world trying to figure myself out because a degree only gets you so far, you know that.

Chris:

Yes, I do. So we understand that there's a couple different things. First of all, kudos to you for referencing one of my favorite artists of all time agreed, this Strange Fish human. And that being the kind of genesis of you kind of going into this idea of hybrid professional. Okay, again it's one of these things where I feel like my one criticism here is, if you don't have your background, if you don't have the experience in this story and evidence, and it's not coming from a true place, I find that when I'm coaching and helping creatives, creative professionals, not in the workforce per se, but to have their own company is that they're either afraid of making a decision or afraid of commitment or something. And so when somebody like you comes along and says, "You don't have to, you could be this hybrid thing," that seems like the answer to all their problems.

And yet when they do, when spread themselves, probably in your language, in this kind of multiplicity thing, they don't get any work and their business is flailing. So I'll just look at it from a very pragmatic point of view. And I love the way that you describe these things as the connection of your true authentic self. And if I heard people describe themselves this way, I'm super intrigued just to begin with the UX experience. A UX person versus a person who curates purposeful experiences sound very different. One seems a lot more attractive to me than the other. But when we get down to someone starting a business, running a business and not being able to, in my estimation, not commit, and they hear this, how would you respond to that?

Sarabeth:

Well, I think it's about examples. Chris, I want to open up your horizon a little bit. Two things on my mind. One is, people that are in college, I like to change and help them delete the word student from their vocabulary because student is an identity box we get locked into and they need to stop referencing themself that way. I want them to start thinking about their pre-professional identities. The identities they're starting to grow and develop inside themselves, even before they're in a career. But they have a hunch, they have something they're leaning into and usually it's tied to their major and minor and maybe some extracurriculars. There's like a pre-professional self. But there are programs out there right now, I'm going to reference MIT. They have the Integrated Design Management Program and Carnegie Mellon, UPenn and Northwestern also have similarly naming degrees.

So right away a degree called Integrated Design Management is three disciplines in one. These are people that are designers, have some kind of engineering and business interest. So, there are new programs out there for undergrad and graduate students that are trying to be intersectional. That are already doing this combination hybrid thing, but we're not recognizing it yet as a society. And so it's not that it's impossible when you're younger, we're just, I feel not aware of these obvious things in front of us. A lot of students too can do an interdisciplinary major. Or can choose their own major. It's like design your own major thing. The more we start to see programs and opportunities like that, we are defying these old disciplinary lines. Interdisciplinary means between. And hybrid professional identity specifically connects with people that are in that inter or trans space where you're between and beyond ordinary categories. So, those are the two examples I'd throw back at you because if you met a student who just finished an IDM degree, how would you coach them?

Chris:

That's an excellent question. So, before I answer your question, because I have some ... I mean, I like the way that you said, I'm going to help you expand your horizons. You're like, "Hey, you buffoon, open it up a little bit, will you?" I get that. All right, let's just go along here. Do you feel any truth in this statement, I think it's a Malcolm Cladwell thing that says it takes 10,000 hours of practice for you to get good at something or to master something. Do you believe in that, or no?

Sarabeth:

He said it takes 10,000 hours, but it's the quality of the time put in. I could do something wrong or half-assed for 10,000 hours and not be an expert or be good at it. So quality is a key differentiator. And I would argue someone who is 12 or 13 years old is a badass at YouTube right now and they are crushing it. And already an expert in something like that at that young age. So expertise I think can happen at many different stages of life. It may be time-based, it may be an innate talent, it really depends on the individual. And what I love about hybridity, it's this idea that you might have some expertise in one of your identities and a little less in another and a lot more in the third, let's say. So they're uneven. But if you believe these are your top identities in you, that is knowledge and a decision only you can make.

I also believe expertise depends who you're in the room with or alongside of. So if I'm next to you right now and I'm going to go head to head with you on design, you're going to crush me, like you are 10 times the expert than I am. But if I'm in a room with a bunch of business individuals, I'm going to be the expert in design because they don't have that background. So it's also context-based.

Chris:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Chris:

Welcome back to our conversation. Your question to me, what would I do with someone who graduated from the Integrated Design Management program from MIT? I've never met an Integrated Design Management person. Is this a four year program or is this something beyond?

Sarabeth:

So the MIT one I believe is a masters, and-

Chris:

Okay masters.

Sarabeth:

... I think it's a two year program. And they're a consortium model and they know they're at the leading edge. They say industry professionals don't always understand how to hire and what to do with our students.

Chris:

Yes.

Sarabeth:

So, I've been coaching and giving workshops to them specifically, and they work, like I said, it's a consortium. So Northwestern, UPenn, and Carnegie Mellon are all at this cutting edge. I think it's interesting that these Ivy League schools are trying this hybrid direction, because that is the future of work. The future of work is not more silos. The future of work is more interconnectivity and finding threads between AI over here and cybersecurity over there, and farming over here and making a new thing. And none of us could perceive, but that's what integration's about. So, sorry, I didn't mean to distract you.

Chris:

So, I find this is kind of interesting. So these are grad students who get out with a degree and they recognize they're hard to employ, right?

Sarabeth:

Well, they don't know how to pitch and promote their value. Because nobody teaches them that part of the equation. They're like, "Here's the knowledge, here's the skills, go find a job." And they're like, "How do I communicate it?" That's where I come in.

Chris:

Okay, so this is the interesting part, and help me understand this. Help me broaden my horizons, please. So when I graduate from art center, I'm a graphic designer, I'm a user experience designer, I'm a fill in the blank. The value is self-evident and people understand that. And so they get opportunities. So by being this hybrid professional person at the intersection of things you create a marketing problem, right?

Sarabeth:

Well, this is category creation, Chris. Which is when you're creating something that doesn't exist in the market yet, and I think it works for products and companies like Lululemon created Athleisure. We didn't know what that new product was till it was named. That's a hybrid thing. And that's happening in individuals, especially because career spans are so much longer. So sorry, back to the point. This is a marketing problem, yes, and this is where people have to learn how to create understanding when you don't fit a box. And that's the problem I'm helping people solve.

Chris:

Hmm, okay.

Sarabeth:

Because those phrases from a human perspective, working at the intersection of that phrase to cue it off is different than just listing, "I do marketing, design, social media, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." When you list things, you sound like a cluster of all kinds of stuff. When you work at the intersection you're pointing out, I'm at a space between, there's a connection. And then you do need to explain that connection usually in the about, and I'm seeing people put this on the header of websites. I have a bunch of documents where I've taken screenshots of people saying, a company like working at the intersection of biology, philosophy and communication. You're like, "Whoa, that's new." Neri Oxman, by the way, is a great example of a hybrid professional. She's at the intersection of science and design and architecture and engineering, I believe. She's got four really radical directions and she creates material ecology. That's the term for the hybrid thing she does, because it's so out there.

Chris:

I think what you're talking about is something that I'm totally for and I use different language to describe it. When you're trying to educate your client, your community, a broader market. You have to take something they know and something they don't know and you put them together. Sometimes in elegant combinations and oftentimes in inelegant ways, and you make it more confusing. I don't know which cell phone company did this, but they called the Friends and family program Framily. They just put two words together and this is done all the time in marketing and advertising. So, I feel Athleisure is one of those things too. We understand the world of athletic performance apparel and leisure. So it's like you can go to the gym and you kind of can hang out with your friends at night. So athleisure becomes an idea, right?

Sarabeth:

Mm-hmm.

Chris:

Okay.

Sarabeth:

Exactly.

Chris:

All right, so I have no issues with that. I guess it's always a challenge, and I'm trying to make it easier for people to create opportunities for themselves versus making it harder. And so when someone graduates, like you said, from the Integrated Design Management program, they have to then understand how to package that to. Because they're creating new categories and now you have to educate. That's a lot of work that people don't or can't do because of financial pressures, or because every time you create a category, you have, first the market, you have to spend a lot of money and time educating that market. Or do I understand this differently?

Sarabeth:

No, no, I am laughing because I totally agree. Nobody said this was easy. I'm not giving an easy solution. I'm being a truth teller, but I also believe people have options.

Chris:

Yes.

Sarabeth:

So the way you market yourself is an option. If you want to go to an IDM program because you love those three areas of business and design and engineering, and that feels right to you, it compels you. But you go into the workforce and you don't know how to market yourself and you choose a box, you're like, "I'm just going to be a designer." You can take a job that puts you back in a box, but you will inevitably feel unfulfilled at some point. You might be okay for a period of time. But again and again I meet hybrid professionals who eventually go, "I don't get to use these other sides of myself. It's like I'm cutting off big parts of my persona, my identity."

So it's a choice to take the easy route and not educate people and not clearly communicate why you are an integrated hybrid identity. But people that do this reflection and understand what their integration of their identities means, and they practice how to put that into this elevator pitch that I teach time. And again, when they sit down at a job interview and you get that question, "Tell me about yourself. What do you do?" Instead of going through your whole resume and job history, start with a promotion and a pitch about you. Start with, "Well, I actually see myself as, or I call myself a creative disrupter because through my whole job history I've been working at the intersection of art and research and design and education. And what that's enabled me to do is blankety blank. And here are the benefits." That already paints a very different picture about yourself.

Because first of all, you are articulating an identity that you see yourself as. You're then explaining, which is the education part to the audience at the table who's never heard this term before. And you're giving very clear rationale as to why you call yourself that, why you own that, and why it has value for whatever role you're going for, that they didn't even perceive the value until you made it known to them. I kid you not, I was working with a guy who did this. He called himself a tension methodologist, and it was like a project manager type role. And after he gave his little spiel, they went, "Holy cow, we've never heard of tension methodologist." But that's what we need. It clicked for them. Because they saw him in a new way and he stood out from the other applicants. So, when your confidence matches your storytelling and you have an identity label to frame yourself under, it all makes sense.

And at the end of the day, as humans we are meaning makers. We want to learn new things and be caught off guard by unexpected cool stuff. But we need someone to put it back together to make it make sense for us. So I've seen this be very effective, Chris. I know it sounds like a lot of steps and tools and it's not simple per se. But when the work works, it's transformative. And then a hybrid professional can work in a job that embraces their hybridity. It's not shameful, it's not hidden anymore. And when you're in a role that wants you to be your full hybridity, that's what the dream is. Those are the jobs you want to take. So I think it's a win-win.

Chris:

I want to take my hat off to you. You have some great examples, I have to say. We came into a fight. I brought a knife, you brought a gun. I see where this is going. Okay.

Sarabeth:

Paint brush.

Chris:

All right.

Sarabeth:

Thanks, Chris.

Chris:

So, I am uncomfortable with some of the ways in which you've labeled people who might favor singular approaches as, "Oh, if you want to be put in a box or if you want to take the easy route, or if you want to have narrow thinking go." So you label that as a horrible thing. And so I'm going to stand up for these people. Because I believe in it, okay? Because here's the thing, being a designer with a singular focus, I know how hard it can be just to get good at one thing, let alone multiple things. Maybe you're a genius. Maybe all of the people who need your help are geniuses with natural born talent, but are also child prodigies, I don't know. I'd argue with you that a 12 year old is not a master at YouTube. We can talk about that later. Because if someone's been doing something longer than someone's been alive, you know, we'll get there.

So here's the thing, I just also want to quickly map up my own path and it falls right in line with what you're talking about. So I'm not against what you're saying, but I'm a proponent for people who want to specialize, because I think it's just really hard to get good at something. So my own path is this. I graduated with a degree in graphic design. And all I wanted to do was graphic design. And so that's the singularity part. Somewhere along my career I morphed into doing motion design and live action directing. It's still within the visual arts. It's getting a little bit more fuzzy and complicated. And then somewhere I'm teaching and I'm running a business. So now these three things don't fully overlap. They're probably, I'm in the multiplicity phase of what you're describing. Started out as a singularity, moved into multiplicity, and you're absolutely right.

I was content being a motion designer. I was also content running a business, working with clients and doing the management leadership stuff. And while at the same time one day a week going off to teach art design and sequential design to students. Those three personalities didn't fully come together. And at a certain point I was unfulfilled. And that's when I discovered if I could combine my love and passion and experience in teaching, my background and experience in design, and my knowledge of actually running a business for 20 plus years into singular identity that was overlapping, like the Venn diagram that you speak about, then I will truly find my bliss. And I did find that eight years ago when I started to teach using YouTube. When I started to become a content creator, I finally found something that was able to bring all my things together.

It took years for me to actually make real money doing this and to be taken seriously. Now, I say this with no joke. People laughed at me, they ridiculed me. People were angry at me for a number of years. They're not so angry anymore because they're all asking to participate in programs that I'm doing now.

Sarabeth:

That was so well explained, Chris, and thanks for mapping it back to singularity, multiplicity, hybridity. One caveat on that framework, singularity, multiplicity, hybridity, is that all three of those types of professional identity matter in the workforce, we need people in each one of the buckets. Because that's what creates a high functioning, high performing team and company and talent pool. If everyone was just an expert or everybody was in high hybridity, we'd be inbalanced, right? We need that variety. And the revelation I'm trying to help people realize is which one do you fit into, and then why? So you understand yourself and you stop trying to just say, "Well, I'm this and I'm that, but I'm a little bit of this." And that's the confusion I'm trying to fix. And then my other level of this that we haven't gone into yet is, when you've had multiple parts of your career, like you explained that you started in graphic design and then moved into motion graphics and now you're teaching people.

Those are all stage shifts of you. And you may feel they were one at a time and they were separate. And then at the end, what I'm perceiving just of what I know of you is that there is an intersection, there may be hybridity occurring in your identity. And what's actually happening is what I call hybrid expertise. So when you converge a Venn diagram, like you see the middle intersection of three circles. That's one. So the three circles become one at the middle. So in an essence, that's singularity again, but also it's a new form of expertise that's a combination of the other three. And I do believe that because of your background and years you've spent doing just the motion graphics and then just the graphic design, you've melted and blended into your own special Chris Do combination that we don't know what to call, but it makes you, you. It's your secret sauce. And in my language, that's hybrid expertise. And that's the thing I'm trying to help people discover and realize and name, because that's your juice.

Chris:

So, what do I call myself?

Sarabeth:

I don't know.

Chris:

Signed up from a workshop buddy.

Sarabeth:

I know. Join my next cohort.

Chris:

Yeah. So here's the interesting thing. I've been modestly successful, I suppose, doing what I do without even worrying about what to call myself. Is that a problem? Or am I not fully tapping into what the potential could be?

Sarabeth:

There's only a problem if you perceive a problem. All these things are based on individuals. Some people never ever, ever need to know how to create a personal brand or know how to market themselves. They just are who they are. A friend was telling me the other day, "Mike does what Mike does. We don't know what to call it, but it's Mike." And that's the beauty. It's such a hybrid thing. And that's why the word hybrid is the way we recognize. We don't know what to call it, so we'll say it's hybrid. And so if that's all you are is a hybrid professional who creates amazing content and has this community and it's teaching all of us to be better in the field of work we choose, that's your value add from your combination of things.

Chris:

So, for whatever reason, I've not really felt the pressure or the need or noticed the problem in terms of what the heck I call myself. And I think I have a strong personal brand. Almost anybody who ever asked me, "What do you do?" I tell them, "I'm a content creator and educator. And what I try to do is teach creative people how to be successful in business." How does that sound to you, Sarabeth?

Sarabeth:

It depends on how you're using it, Chris. I mean, if that's been effective for you, great. For a lot of other people I meet, they're not as clear, they're not as succinct and they don't have a vision or proof behind what they've done. And so part of that work is to excavate and help them see themselves for the first time. Because most people I work with use personal blanding. They literally sound like vanilla. There is no rich, interesting standout quality of how they describe what they do.

Chris:

I don't want to end this on controversy, but maybe that's the way it's going to end. All right.

Sarabeth:

Bring it on, Chris.

Chris:

All right, here we go. So I'm no expert in user experience design, but I think it can be summed up something like this. Don't make me think. Bad user experience makes me think. And so I think when we come up with new fancy titles and hybrid this and hyphenate that and explanations at the intersection of we're asking people to think and the algorithm doesn't like it, we can agree to that. And so when I'm looking at a professional person who's trying to grow their business and to get clients, they tell me things, they'll say, "Oh, I'm having a hard time getting work. I'm so good at so many different things." And that's when I pause. I'm like, "Really? I mean, I just find it hard to believe that anyone is good at one thing. And you're telling me now you're good at so many things and you can't find work. What is wrong? Is it the world can't recognize your genius? What is the problem?"

So I go back to a theory of mine, which is I think as human beings we're very complicated and we're like this spectrum of light. And if you show someone your full self, it's like the sun, it's super bright. But when the sun and light is filtered through a prism, we can see that it gets defracted into lots of colors. And I think this is where I kind of think some editing and being able to package yourself in a way that is easy for people who want to hire you to understand, can say, "Yes, you are the person I need. Let's have a conversation." And then you can get into all the extra stuff. So I kind of look at it like it is probably, at least in my experience, easier, more effective to market yourself.

If you can maybe play the Trojan horse game where here's something you understand, here's a problem that you need an urgent solution for, and I solve that, but it's backed by all these other things. And so I'm curious from your perspective, Sarabeth, I mean, do you agree, do you disagree? I mean, I'm just trying to help regular folk get work, not a job, but to be able to launch their business. And I find that in almost every instance when someone is designing an urgent solution, they don't sit there and try and type in complicated search strings to find somebody. They just find, "You know what? I need a mechanic. I'm going to find a mechanic. I need a surgeon, an eye surgeon, I need a back specialist, a spinal surgeon, whatever it is. I need a person who knows how to build websites that are highly, like high conversions." This other stuff seems to make it more complicated. Go ahead.

Sarabeth:

Chris, I feel like you just hit me with an SEO question. Because if I'm going to search for something, yeah, I'm going to play the algorithm game. And that's where SEO strategy and knowing how to market yourself. For me that's a different conversation of like, what are the one or two words people are going to type in and I'm going to hit as a top result for? That's a certain strategy in marketing, and you know that. But when I'm looking at 12 websites of plumbers and I'm like, "Which one am I going to choose?" Or 10 different designers, and I'm like, "I don't know the difference between these." This is where the nuance starts to stand out. I'm going to look at their landing page and be like, "How do they talk about themselves? Yes, they're all going to solve my problem of I need a new website, but why am I going to go with person A versus person B or person C?"

For me I want to know what is that that value, that hidden part and that differentiator. And if people can't articulate that, that can make or break a consumer decision. I don't think it's always about identity and experience. It's a lot about the copywriting and so forth. But if someone spent five years in a graphic design agency and then 10 years as an art director, but then became a botanist and then was a yoga teacher, I don't know if those things are connected, but there might be something special at the intersection of those that person values. And suddenly they have a unique way of doing design for yoga teachers that I'm like, "That's my perfect person. Because they understand this plus this plus this in a way the other designers didn't." So they can still market themselves as just a web designer, but there's different elements that need to be apparent. So that person is touching the market and certain problems and certain audiences that resonate with them. That's what I would see as a defining factor. What do you think?

Chris:

Okay, I like that. Okay, I think we're getting to some place here. I love it. All right. So I think you and I, we understand this. I mean, the number one problem or question that most of the people that are in my community have is, "Chris, how do I get clients?" And before you can get a client, they have to be able to find you. And so we have to understand that there's search, there's SEO, there's social media, there's content marketing and all these kinds of things. And my general feeling about this is, complexity gets in the way of communication. There's so much noise out there. And if you make me think too hard, I move on.

And I remember way back, long before I ever met you, before I ever recorded a piece of content, when students or graduates would send me portfolios because we're looking to hire, when I couldn't figure it out and they made me think too hard, I just moved on. And I know that's ruthless for me to say.

And we used to talk about this. You have about 10 seconds for me to understand what you do. And if you're unclear about it, I just don't have the time, because I'm literally looking through 50 to 200 portfolios in a given block of time and I'm doing this on a continuous basis. So, after a while I kind of have to know what to do. And so when people present themselves as, "I'm a renaissance artist and I do sculpture and I do 3D modeling, I do" ... I'm already gone. I'm just gone. Because right now I have a very specific problem. I want to hire the best in class and I just don't believe you when I look at your work. And we do this all the time, we're like, maybe we'll give this portfolio just two more minutes. If we just watch this Reel a little bit longer, maybe it'll get good.

99% of the time it never gets better. So it's confusing. It's all over the place and it's like, I don't know what I'm going to get. And so I think about it from the lens of a client. If I hire your agency, your plumbing, like you're a plumber, if I can't find you, we have a problem. So if you call yourself a pipe delighter, I don't know what, I don't even know how to make it up. You know what I'm saying? I can't even find you to begin with. So you're not even in contention for the thing. I agree with you 1,000%. Once I find you how you talk about your craft, what benefits you create, what the features are, and the way you make me feel wrapped around your personal brand, your tone of voice matter 1,000%. But for me to even to find that, you got to be findable. So back over to you, Sarabeth.

Sarabeth:

Yeah, those are two parts of the problem. And once you get past the finding, that is the differentiator. I do want to call it the example of Neri Oxman, it's N-E-R-I. Her last name is O-X-M-A-N and her website is oxman.com. Now, she's updated her website since maybe six, eight months ago. She had slightly different copy on it, but essentially she created material ecology, that is her unique hybrid term for what it is she does. And she has a really fancy video on her website header. And if you scroll down, it eventually says "Oxman is a new kind of company fusing design, technology and biology." So she's using this intersectional language. And again, before it used to say material ecology, and now the top says human times nature. But there are ways to show integration of diverse concepts or diverse identities and background that you have that helps your client get you faster.

And I think Neri, maybe it's not the perfect way she's done it, but there is a sense of who she is and what she does that is leaps and bounds beyond other people that are also doing design and technology and biology to work together. So, I think it's about having more examples and learning from people that are doing this well and being clear about intersectionality of their work and why that's a value add beyond their competitors.

Chris:

So, one of the things that I run into is that when people use very super specific language, it requires someone to have great awareness around the problem and the solution to be able to find you. And so I quickly glance at Neri's website. It is, it's pretty deep stuff there. So I assume if you need someone and you understand, is it, what did you say, material ecology. No.

Sarabeth:

Yeah.

Chris:

If you even knew that term to begin with, it's like you're kind of already, you're in the know. So a lot of times, especially when I'm dealing with people who are servicing small to medium sized businesses under a million dollars. The operators of these businesses don't spend their waking moments thinking about you, what you do, how you do it, and the terminology in which you use. So they've got a very broad understanding, "I have a problem and I need to solve this problem."

And so the harder you make it to understand, and I think you and I are on the same boat, don't make it complicated, make it simple, make it authentic. Reflect your true experiences and you need to have evidence so you don't just grab whatever the trending word or phrase is. Everybody's Web 3.0 Meta, something now. It's like, yeah, "I'm going to throw up in a second." So don't jump on those things. It needs to be backed by your own true experiences that you can back up and not have to back pedal. Okay, we get all that stuff. I don't know where I'm going with this, Sarabeth. I'm just enjoying the conversation.

Sarabeth:

Yeah, totally.

Chris:

Okay.

Sarabeth:

It's a puzzle.

Chris:

Yes.

Sarabeth:

I think when you meet someone who just says, "I'm good at a lot of things, what do you need me to do?" Where do I even start with this person?

Chris:

Yes, I already have a reaction. There's the door. Yeah, you're supposed to figure it out, I'm not. So people do this to me all the time, "Chris, I do so many things. How can I help you?" I'm like, "I don't know. Aren't you supposed to figure that out for me? Because I don't have the bandwidth to figure it out for you."

Sarabeth:

Pretty much it. And that to me is the Jack of all trades. I wear a lot of hats. I'm a polymath. I'm multi talented. There are so many words for that group of people and that bucket's gotten too big. If everyone's saying, "I can do a lot of things, I have a lot of skills, hire me, hire me." It shows me that nobody's really reflected on who are you. You don't know how to market and talk about yourself. So start with that first. And get clear on these primary professional identities because that, like you said before, is the Trojan horse. It's like getting in the door. I say if you're a hybrid professional, you have to have a minimum of two primary professionally done these. Because two circles makes one intersection in a Venn diagram. And the maximum is four. Because more than four circles, which is four primary professionally identity, becomes too complex. A four circle Venn diagram has nine intersections, nine possible combinations. So you can see how complexity is exponential, the more identities you add together.

And identity research says you can only maintain or perform about two to four identities at a given time. So, if you're adding more than that into the situation, it's not actually possible. So clarity, specificity and knowing yourself for me are the beginning, because most people don't know that much.

Chris:

So Sarabeth, before I end on the other thing, I want to say, how do people find out more about your program and what it is that you do?

Sarabeth:

Great question. My website is morethanmytitle.com and I offer private coaching, cohort-based courses, which I do about three times a year. I'm running the last one for this year next month. And I also have a variety of resources and a book on my website. There's a lot of freebies if you click on the freebie section, because I believe in giving out content and all kinds of handouts. So, those are the stepping stones to get to me, morethanmytitle.com.

Chris:

Okay. So morethanmytitle.com. Now, here's the thought I have with you. Maybe we're saying the same thing, because I believe I'm a hybrid, but I don't believe this is the solution for many people. I don't want to prescribe what has worked for me for what they have to go through, especially because they're early on in their career. But I have this thought, if we could design such a thing to exist, I would like to try something like this where we have two people that are exactly the same in what they want to do. One person work with you and get coached and describing it in a hybrid at the intersection of, and where me, I'm like, "You know what, it's just one thing friend. Just what is your one thing? I need to know what it is." And then to put them out into the world with their messaging and their website to reflect this, optimize for SEO and search. And then check in with them in a year and see how they're doing to see what works, what doesn't work.

Because I'm a big proponent for specialization when you're trying to build your business, because I have very few examples. I know you have many of the opposite examples where people are successful being many things to many people. And I'm not sure that's what you're even saying, but that's the thing I'm combating all the time. I coach a lot of people, they keep coming to me saying, "I just want to serve entrepreneurs and I want to do a photography architecture and fine art painting." I'm like, "Ugh, good luck. I don't know how to solve that problem." What do you think about this challenge, Sarabeth?

Sarabeth:

Sounds like a longitudinal research project to give it some real language Chris.

Chris:

So, you guys can see where were they and how far have they gone, and that is a long term social experiment, perhaps.

Sarabeth:

It would be really fascinating. Let's cook that up on the backside. I'd love to do that.

Chris:

Okay, so we'll need some brave volunteers at some point, should we ever do this. But I'm just curious. It's a thought experiment question.

Sarabeth:

Yeah.

Chris:

Yeah, but I've so enjoyed this conversation. I always feel a little bit smarter and sometimes a little bit stupider talking to you. It's like so many different words. I filled out two pages of notes already. I appreciate you, Sarabeth, and you wrote this book, It's called More Than My title, morethanmytitle.com is the website. That's it for me, Sarabeth, and any parting words from you?

Sarabeth:

I mean, fabulous as always, I love finding the friction and then also the connection with you, Chris. And I deeply appreciate all the support and energy you've given to me. So thank you for hosting me today.

Chris:

Thank you so much. I enjoy critical dialogue and I'm not always looking for a fight, but I love people who have fun about what they think about and we don't necessarily have the same starting point, but we learn from each other and we grow and we can shape our opinions a little bit different and emerge a little bit smarter than the way that we came in.

Greg Gunn:

Thanks For joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barrow for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sanborn for our intro music.

If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me. Head over to thefutur.com/heychris, and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products, and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening, and we'll see you next time.

Chris:

Find your next favorite podcast at advertisecast.com/explore. There you'll find a list of some of the best and up and coming podcasts around searchable by category. That's advertisecast.com/explore to find your new podcast obsession.

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