Posted by: Kristen Ridley | September 9, 2010

Your mission, should you choose to accept it . . .

spyAs you know, that title is a line from Mission Impossible. I loved “Mission Impossible” – BUT, just so we’re clear, I’M talking about the TV series that ran in the late 60’s into the early 70’s not the movies with Tom Cruise [which, frankly I thought were a bit much – all explosions and no subtlety].

The subject of Mission Impossible came up as part of a conversation I had with some other communicator/friends of mine and it generated some excellent advice for communicators that got me thinking. Now that I have this blog, you can pretty much expect that anything that gets me thinking will probably get worked out and end up presented here to, hopefully, generate some lively conversation.

The conversation was a lament that I am certain any communicator reading this will recognize: “The people we work/with for just do not ‘get’ what we do!” Sound familar? Yeah, I thought so!

One of the communicators who was part of the conversation characterized these reactions we sometimes get to our stuff as “nasty”. My own perspective on this, which I’ve been developing for the past 15 years across a number of industries, companies and work environments, is a little different [although I would never presume to pass judgement on other places of employment – it very well may be that some people ARE just nasty].

My comment on that topic went like this:

“My experience hasn’t been that these people are nasty. I think they just have no concept whatsoever, that creating communications actually involves somewhat more than pushing the “create communication” button on our “special communications keyboards”. I get so frustrated when people send back vague, contradictory or confusing criticisms of comms I sweated and bled over, but when I can put aside the emotional reaction and think about it, I am pretty sure they have no idea that I don’t just pick up a pen or poise my fingers over the keyboard and sail this stuff right out with the snap of my fingers. They probably would be shocked to learn that it isn’t a simple matter for me to “just come up with some more choices” for them whenever, and as often as they want them, particularly when there is usually little direction provided about what they’re envisioning or looking for.

Because of course they also forget that in addition to creating the comms they need, as well as the ones I’m doing simultaneously for a variety of other people within the organization, I have to deal with 349 emails, 92 meetings, and miscellaneous other office-type demands, all of which often saps what little creativity and inspiration I am able to hang onto with both hands, a foot, and my teeth.”

One of the other communicators involved in the conversation offered another opinion – and this is where the Mission Impossible connection comes in, just in case you were wondering:

“Communicators are foreign animals, speaking a foreign language to [non-communicator colleagues]. They have no idea how to relate to us or take advantage of our skills and they especially have no clue what we do and what it takes to do it … and for the most part, they don’t care. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to figure out how to work within such an environment.”

I smiled at that, because I totally wanted to be Cinnamon Carter the token “girl” in that TV show who was played by Barbara Bain.

The reference did get me thinking however, about the way the characters handled their spy assignments, and the fact that there are some bits of useful advice for communicators in dealing with this proverbial thorn in our sides of lack of understanding/valuing the work we do.

-Flexibility – Spies don’t usually get a lot of say in what their assignments are going to be. The shadowy individuals who make those kinds of decisions need something done, and the spy is the one to do it, but they have to be flexible in taking the objective and figuring out the best way for that to happen. Communicators are in a similar position. The people who ask us to create communications don’t have the first clue about what needs to happen for a communication to be created, and as we’ve already established, the truth is they don’t care. So it’s my job to take that initiative and decide how to get the job done, because, whether my business partners understand my job or not, it IS my job to get the communications created. Building, and maintaining strong relationships with my business partners so I can understand how they work and what’s important to them helps me to anticipate what the best course of action is and allows me to get things done even when I don’t get the kind of direction or detail I’d ideally like.

-Creativity – in Mission Impossible, the spies did all kinds of crazy stuff to complete the mission, including impersonating other people. There were lots of the “pulling off the face” moments when it was revealed that someone wasn’t really who you thought they were, but actually a member of the Mission Impossible team masquerading as that person. As a communicator creativity is an absolutely indispensible tool – I can’t do my job without a steady supply of it. So I make sure that I create opportunities to be creative in my life. Children are the best avenue to make that happen, so if you have some you’re ahead of the game. But, if like me, you don’t have your own children, I recommend borrowing someone else’s [Tip: Most people are MORE than happy to lend you their children for a day – often they’ll even PAY you to take them away for a few hours!]. But if kids aren’t available to you, there are plenty of other ways to nuture creativity: go to an art gallery or a museum, take a walk in a park or by the water, read a book in a genre that you’ve never explored before, or just plug in your iPod and sing along with some of your favourite songs at full volume while dancing like nobody’s watching, because it’s almost impossible NOT to feel creative after giving yourself permission to be that silly [I’m speaking from experience here!]

Ultimately, I remind myself that everyone’s first focus is what THEY need to do, accomplish or deliver, and it isn’t REALLY a personal insult or disrespect for me personally, that my business partners don’t make my needs and wishes and convenience their priority.

But, if I focus on doing the best work I can in every situation – because quality work is important to ME – and I can decide that I will figure out how to get the job done effectively. I can also decide that doing so makes me successful in my work regardless of what anybody else thinks or says.

The benefit of that approach is that it puts me in control . . . and that’s something that WON’T self-destruct, not in 10 seconds, not in 10 years.

Now, if I could just get people to call me Cinnamon, I’d be completely content!

What are your communicator challenges, and how do you keep perspective and motivation in the face of them?



  1. Cinnamon!!! I love it – it is SO you!

    I must agree that there are just plain, nasty people in the world. However, as you and your colleague point out, a common issue we face is that their clients have no idea how much value a communicator brings to each and every project as well as the overall business plan/objectives. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to fix that issue.

    With that said, I was able to hear D. Mark Schumann, ABC, (past chair of IABC International) speak at a luncheon yesterday and he made a comment that stuck with me. Communicators didn’t get into communications because we like people. (There was a lot of laughter accompanying that comment.) We may feel we need to please everyone, but we can’t do that. It’s impossible (pun intended). His advice was to face your fears, embrace your passions and laugh. That is what is driving me today.

  2. Susan: feel free to begin calling me Cinnamon immediately 😉

    “Face your fears, embrace your passions and laugh.” That’s just EXCELLENT advice!!! Mark Schumann is terrific! Lucky you that you got to hear him speak.

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