Thursday, July 22, 2010

Q&A with Rachel Hills

Recently, I had an idea for a series of profiles on this blog about people who inspire. I want to know what gets them out of bed in the morning, what makes them tick.

Here's the first – the divine Rachel Hills. We met at Sydney University in the early noughties studying Media Communications together.

I remember an outspoken, smart, smiling, friendly feminist type who was always wearing bright lippie. After a few years of sporadic email contact, we caught up at Media140 in Sydney last year.

These days, Rachel's a prolific writer: journo, blogger, editor and intellectually rigorous while being easy to understand. I've enjoyed reading her pieces in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Vogue, The Monthly, The Australian Literary Review, Cleo, Girlfriend and many others.

Rachel is also currently researching her PhD on Gen Y, sex, status and identity at the Journalism and Media Research Centre at the University of New South Wales and - like all good/impatient journalists - simultaneously developing it into a book proposal.

Her blog, Musings of An Inappropriate Woman, was named Australia's 'Best Feminist Blog' by The Australian, and earned her a nomination in Cosmopolitan's 2010 'Fun Fearless Female' awards. She describes it as a mix of philosophy, creativity and the politics of everyday life.

Now living in London, she's one to watch.

Describe yourself in three words.

Enthusiastic. Analytical. Kind.

What are you passionate about?

Ideas that challenge that way I interact with the world and with other people. Writing that articulates something we 'know' on a gut level, but have never found the words to express before. Thinking precisely – it takes time and work to achieve, but it's great when it happens.

Do you do the social media thing?

Yes. (@rachelhills on Twitter – Ed.)

How did you find yourself in the land of Twitter?

I first discovered it at SXSW in 2008, where all the Americans were using it, but wasn't really enchanted.

I finally converted myself a few months later when a friend interrupted a party I was at to tweet a joke someone had just told. Some people might have found it rude, but it was the tipping point that convinced me I had to get involved.

The way I've used it has changed a lot since then, and continues to evolve – some days it's conversation, other days it's a lifecast, others it's a collection of useful links.

Do you have any other social media involvement?

I've been creating blogs and (poorly coded) websites since 1997/1998. I fell in love with MySpace for a while, and am still something of a Facebook fan. And I got my last job through LinkedIn.

What are you currently playing with in the social media sandpit?

I can't say I'm experimenting with new tools at the moment – I feel like I have too many social media commitments as it is.

What I am playing with, on an ongoing basis, is how to better integrate the work I do as a feature writer, public speaker, academic and (hopefully soon-to-be) author with the work I do online. What's the best way to engage my online community with my magazine and book work, and what's the best way to drive readers of my mainstream media work back to my blog? What's the best, most relevant content I can write for my beloved blog readers? (Contrary to the advice of most blogging experts, they seem to prefer the analytical stuff. And the occasional writing advice post.) And what's the best way to integrate my blog and my book?

How did you get where you are today?

I did a degree in media and communications at Sydney University, where I was heavily involved in pretty much everything on campus - student publications, the media society, work experience, student politics, you name it.

As many a journalism graduate has discovered though, this often is not enough to get your foot in the door to the industry. So I decided to show employers that I was capable of doing the kind of work I wanted to do by, well, doing it. This meant both submitting articles and ideas to newspapers and magazines, and doing a lot of work in the online and independent media space – most notably with Vibewire, where I managed a lot of the politics output for two years.

As I said above, I've also been creating websites for myself since I was in high school. The strategy worked, and within a couple of years I had editors coming to me with stories, and was approached to work as an editor with and ninemsn.

I started my first 'public' blog, Musings of an Inappropriate Woman, in 2007, inspired by the way other journalists were using online media to connect with their communities.

What are you doing with your life at the moment that excites you?

My book project, The Sex Myth, which traces the history of Western culture's overinvestment in sex, how this obsession is playing out in contemporary culture, and how it impacts individual young people.

Any dream brands, companies, personalities you would love to work with?

The people and companies I'd like to work with change constantly, as I become aware of new people, projects and possibilities. The stalwarts are pretty standard old media stuff, though. I'd love to work with the big US purveyors of quality feature writing – The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker,, The Daily Beast.

I'd also love to give a TED Talk – although I think the first step on that front is to come up an idea worthy of one.

Blog-wise, I'd love to work with businesses that really 'get' and want to tap into the intelligent, critically engaged ethos that my readers are all about – I've had approaches from cosmetic surgeons before, which is obviously a bit of a mismatch.

When you look back on what you've achieved, what do you hope will be the highlights?

I'd like to write at least one really, really good book – hopefully more. I'd like them to turned into a TV series, or maybe even a film adaptation.

I'd like be a 'public intellectual' (yeah, I cringe just writing the words, but you know what I mean) who makes actually engaging with the public a core part of their work.

Basically, I'd like to be the Simone de Beauvoir of the internet.

Favourite quote?

"I am not interested in money, I just want to be wonderful" by Marilyn Monroe.

Easier to believe when you actually have money, but a good guiding philosophy, I think.

Here's how to find Rachel:
Musings of an Inappropriate Woman 
On Twitter
Via LinkedIn

Who inspires you? Leave a comment and let us know.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ten Rules for Business and Life (or Happy Birthday Dad)

At the end of this month, it's my darling Dad's 84th birthday.

Born in 1926 in Detroit, Michigan, this quiet American, known as Mal Grigg, has sailed oceans, managed large-scale refrigeration companies in three countries, brought up half a dozen kids, enjoyed the company of the same number of grandkids, and is as sharp and active as ever.

Maybe his everlasting youth is in part due to his 'childbride' (my Mum), who keeps him on his toes by arranging adventures away, gets him off to the local gym, makes a mean Manhattan and creates unforgettable home-cooked meals.

These days, it's less common for our family to sit together at the dinner table, receiving  Dad's nightly lectures on politics, finance, philosophy and everything in between. Still, I get articles and letters from Dad, furthering my life's instruction via the postman.

I received a great dissertation from Dad last September, the no nonsense 'Ten Rules for Business and Life.'

With permission, I have copied down his classic 'Mal-isms': this smart man knows, both literally and figuratively, how to hit the nail on the head.

As Dad says, 'It seems to me that elders have a responsibility to pass to their offspring a distillation of what they have learned over the years. I certainly qualify as an elder but whether the foregoing can be called learning is questionable. Time will tell.'

Happy happy birthday Dad... you still got it, you classy guy!

1. Back 'em or sack 'em

Everyone seeks recognition for the hard work and effort put into their job. The number one role of the manager is to assist those in the organisation to achieve the best possible result within their personal capability. In this way, the manager surrounds himself with willing and capable people.

For those who do not respond or are negative in their attitude, they are best served by allowing them to depart gracefully to find their opportunities elsewhere. If kept in the organisation they tend to spread discontent and are seen by others as 'not pulling their weight'.

2. Give luck a chance to work

Life is full of 'lucky breaks' – you hear of them often – 'right place at the right time' – chance meeting with a particular person, etc. So stay positive and keep your eyes and mind open to take advantage of obvious opportunities.

3. Do not proceed in fear

When approaching a new endeavour go forward with a positive attitude and expectation of success. If it fails accept it and get on with life in a new direction. If climbing mountains or sailing offshore is a fearful experience then don't do it. Await another day.
4. If you can't measure, you can't manage

Nearly every human endeavour can be measured: value of sales; profit; items produced; quality; degree of satisfaction; health and safety, etc. If your job is to manage others then it should be part of the process to measure the outcome of their effort. It must be stressed that this is to help them and is your way of giving them assistance. It is not a club for battering them!

5. Get the facts

How often do we 'guess' this will work, push odd buttons on the computer to make it work, think we know the law without consulting a lawyer, fail to read the instructions or argue with a customer before we check the specification or contract. So get the facts before you act. And see the doctor once a year for a blood test and check up to maintain good mental and physical health by having the facts.

6. Have something to believe in

We all need help to get through life successfully. Many find it in religion – others in nature – some in good friends and family – some in the stars. It is a big beautiful universe and there are many choices or combinations of the above. So exercise your mind occasionally to find out what gives you comfort, guidance and confidence. It is a one way trip through life – try to go 'first class' in quality if not in quantity.

7. Parents are grindstones on which children can sharpen their wits

There is a vast industry telling parents how to raise their children. I don't propose entering that debate. The obvious is to give them love, discipline, support and protect them from harm. In addition, I suggest the above is perhaps a benefit that will serve them well in future years (wit – practical intelligence).

8. Set your objectives and define your strategies

Both of the above change from time to time. But to achieve goals it is necessary to think and plan carefully and to set in writing short and long term objectives and the means to achieve them.

I, for one, have not been very good at this but I'm certain that it can be a significant benefit. Keep it short, sweet and to the point! If you can't do it in one or two pages then try again.

9. Have some fun

My engineering education did not teach or encourage me to dance, tell jokes, find humour in failure, be a good lover or take chances. But experience has taught me that the old proverb is true that says 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. Relaxation is good for you, your loved ones and those around you.

10. Two dont's

Don't bet the bank.

And don't forget to say 'thank you'.

Dad in his business prime, second from right, evokes shades of the Mad Men series. Photo taken by his 'BFF', the recently departed and much-loved Lou Geisling.