“I wouldn’t change a thing…” STC President’s thought-provoking quote

A couple of months back, STC’s new President, Alan Houser was on a closing panel of an event, and his answer to a frequent question has haunted me for weeks. The question? “What, if anything, would you have done differently in your tech comm careeer, knowing what you know today.” Read on to find out Houser’s answer. And I think I’ve finally found my answer.

Snow storms and brain storms

This April I represented Adobe at an outstanding STC regional event, STC Spectrum 2012, in Rochester, NY. Despite an unseasonable snowstorm that covered all directional signage at the RIT campus, a capacity crowd showed up for an event that had a wide array of tract and themes. There was a sizable flock of hardy Canadians who are always nonplussed by anything that Mother Nature throws our way.

By the way, I was very impressed with the grasp everyone (veterans and newbees) had on many of the challenges that face us today. The days of spelling out D-I-T-A are definitely a thing of the past.

What would you do if you could go back in time?

Typical of such events, Spectrum had a sizable contingent of students and people who are new to tech comm, ready to start out on the best foot possible. At the end of the program, several key thought leaders were assembled to take random questions from the audience.

“Knowing what you know today, what, if anything, would you do differently to get change your career in tech comm?”

Several panelists had excellent answers (e.g. learn more about video and visual arts, learn to write simpler English for global audiences.) And then it was Alan Houser’s turn.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. I would do everything exactly as I did it.”

For a moment, there was stunned silence. Was this guy (not yet inaugerated as our current STC president), that arrogant?  Would he really not change anything.

Here is the rest of what he said, to the best of my memory.

“You see, I did a lot of things wrong, made as many mistakes as anyone,” Alan continued, ” but I learned from all of them. And I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t made some of the mistakes. I wouldn’t have learned as much as I know today if I had done everything perfectly the first time.”

Alan elaborated, giving several examples. He also acknowledged that regardless of anyone’s age, we are all working with technologies and challenges that are so new that no one has all of the answers right now.

In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities …

What brought Alan’s April remarks back to my mind in June was this week’s seminar with Danielle Villegas (@techcommgeekmom) on “Transfer from Content Consumer to Content Creator: Dual Viewpoints.” Danielle is relatively new to the workforce as an “official” tech comm creator. In her presentaiton, Danielle shared how a wide variety of experiences (including motherhood, brief unemployment) had all contributed to content organizing skills that she could not have acquired any other way.

My mind reeled back a couple of decades when I was young enough to seek that “magic pill” that would ensure career success. I was certain that one of my “seasoned” co-workers could share the secret steps to avoiding all mistakes and pains in career growth. And this was at a time when content was relatively static and authoring tools changed at what now seems like a glacial pace.

There was no magic pill, no secret formula. Life itself provides each one of us with unique challenges, often in the form of what seems like an “unfair” setback. Ironically, it is usually during a “down turn” in our fortunes or our careers that many of us are tested and finally prove our worth.

Crummy times led to great things

I’ve had many brief periods during my career when things were less than ideal. I’ve worked for people with less (and more) ability. I’ve been given obsolete hardware and software to produce time sensitive projects on, etc. etc. But in each of these cases I was forced to craft a solution I never would have thought of otherwise.

What is different today is that we have near instant communications with 100s of 1000s of people via social networking to cut down on research or focus group testing time. We can learn faster, and more importantly, can help share what we learn to lift up the entire tech comm community.

So, like Alan Houser, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” And like Danielle Villegas, I can hardly wait to find out what happens next.