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59. I don’t care about your titles, but about what you have done

As a small-company entrepreneur, I hire people from time to time. And as a person who does projects, I work with volunteers and freelancers a lot. This means figuring out who to work with, and that means finding out what people are good at. It also means finding out what they want to do, which is sometimes (but not always!) the same.

It’s not that often that people send us CVs, but it does happen, and even for those that don’t, we tend to get a feel for them through conversation. It’s quite interesting to see how different people are, and how different their way of thinking is.

Title vs Experience

One thing that often confounds people is that I honestly don’t care that much about their education or former titles. Don’t get me wrong. I care a lot about what they might have learned as part of their education, so it’s not that I’m anti-education. Far from it. I’m just not super impressed by an MA in Literature, because it doesn’t tell me a lot.

If you’re an expert on writing powerful, high level text and on picking apart bad communication because you’ve done so, that is super relevant. If you learned that while studying literature at the university, cool. But you might also have learned it by writing passionately about World of Warcraft on the internet.

And it’s not just education. If you know how to lead a team of creative crazies because you have a past as a project leader in an advertising agency, that’s fucking awesome. You could also have learned how to do that by organising larps and building story worlds for them.

Your past titles may be impressive, and it may be that they tell me exactly what I need to know. Odds are good that they don’t, and then you need to explain them to me, in a way so that I understand.

The fact that my name is on more than 20 books might give you the impression that I can write, but it doesn’t say anything about whether I can manage deadlines. My five years of being the Editor-in-Chief of a national hobby magazine count for a lot more there. But the Editor-in-Chief title doesn’t convey that I was also in charge of layouting, producing, financing and distributing the magazine.

And while some will say “Oh, another editor, we don’t need that”, their ears may perk up when it’s mentioned that I know about all parts of magazine production, if only on a small scale.

Formal vs Informal

Getting a stamp of approval or a title from somewhere is great. It shows that somebody stands behind what you do, and lends institutional respect to your work. It’s not necessarily accurate, though.

I’ve just been at Disney, and there had the pleasure of speaking to a large group of Imagineers. It was an honour and a great learning experience. One thing I learned was that I needed to shed some of my awe of the Imagineers.

The reason was quite simple. To me, ever since I learned of the term, the Disney Imagineers have been these crazily talented, skilled and visionary experience designers with expertise in multiple fields. And some of them are exactly that.

But some of them are also young people straight out of college, who are cool and bright, but not exactly super experienced. I’ve been creating interactive experiences for more than 20 years, the last 15 professionally. I’ve done some pretty crazy shit, but still felt a bit “underdressed” when walking on stage in front of a room of Imagineers.

Luckily, I think I was the only one who felt that way, and looking at it from the outside, it’s properly stupid. I may have neither college degree nor fancy title, but when it comes to larps, I’m not afraid to stake my claim that I’m among the most influential, globally. And that’s what was important. The listeners in the audience didn’t care if I had a Ph.D in Experience Design. They cared about the projects I had done, and wanted to hear about them.

And while an impressive title from a prestigious company or institution tells you something, it doesn’t always tell a lot. Especially if the title is new and “untested”.

Collaboration vs Individual

Here’s where it gets really tricky. I once met a Danish actor, who was in the Lord of the Rings. No, it wasn’t Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn). Apparently there was one more Dane. I can’t remember his name, but we talked a bit at the event we met at (some fantasy con or other), and he told me that he was in the scene where Arwen is leaving for the West and changes her mind. He was the elf behind her horse. Literally the elf at the ass of the main actor’s horse.

Now, just having been in LOTR was quite impressive, and I’m sure he’d had an adventure doing so. But if I was looking for someone with acting experience, I’d probably get better mileage from someone who was the lead in a small amateur theatre production than someone who had a second-long non-speaking role in a blockbuster film.

But I’m pretty sure that when trying to impress people (and employers), having been in the Lord of the Rings works a lot better than the other thing. When I tell people that I’ve helped raise more than 200.000€ for charity, they usually go “Wow…”

When I tell that I was part of a TV show that was nominated for an Emmy, people are usually impressed. When they ask for details and find out that it was a reality TV show, and that I was one of the participants and not one of the creators, they’re less impressed with my creativity.

Sure, I was part of the project (I was the team of a reality football team, after all!), but I can’t claim any credit for that nomination. That belongs entirely to those on the other side of the camera.

And I’m not talking about misrepresenting. That’s of course also a thing, but not what I mean here. Here, it’s just a matter of recognizing that not everyone on a team has the same impact, even though everyone plays a part.

What you are vs What you do

I’m a larp guru. It says so on my business cards. I’m also the chairman of a 1000-member non-profit organisation, the ambassador for a boarding school and a teacher at a project academy. But what does all that mean?

When I tell people that is who I am, does it help them? What does a larp guru DO? And am I a full-time teacher at a renowned learning institution or someone who gives a four-hour lecture once a year for a small, local project with a nice name? (Hint: it’s the latter)

If I want to impress people – or just give them a realistic idea of my skillset, experience and ambition – I talk about what have done. Because while the title “writer” can mean anything, “have written 20 books on larp” is pretty specific.

And that’s why I’m seldom interested in titles. I’m very interested in what you have done, though!

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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