Interview: Karen Wickre

Karen Wickre is Twitter’s Editorial Director & Word Wrangler. She has two liberal arts degrees, 30 years of experience in tech (her thoughts on getting into tech for non-techsters), and unlimited generosity. You can find her writing at Medium and her thoughts on curiosity, hope, and Neil Diamond here. This interview was conducted via email.

How do you describe yourself? Your work?
I call myself “editorial director”, which to me means someone who oversees our general communication style, cadence, and selection. I sometimes call on people to produce something we need to talk about, and occasionally deflect something we don’t want to talk about. All of that is editorial direction. And I’m doing it on behalf of the company called Twitter.

What editing lesson is equally applicable to life off the page?
When in doubt, leave it out. In real life this might mean: save your energy, or defer a decision a bit until you can think it through. Another editing maxim, from Strunk & White, that applies to life is: Omit needless words.

How do you step aside from convention and do what matters to you?
Sometimes you just have to take that plunge. We can’t be governed at work by what the other guy is doing (meaning, the other company or service). And a good test of whether or not you should follow conventional practices is – does the team feel excited about that route, or not.

If everyone is half-asleep or not engaging because you’re following convention, that’s an excellent sign that you might want to re-think. (Of course, sometimes there’s good reason to lay low – I’m not saying every approach has to be wildly new – but the key is the sense of positive agreement about it, as opposed to quiet resignation.)

What’s the best way to handle transition?
Carefully, thoughtfully — and stay with it. When there are changes at a company, it really helps to have the right people in the room to brainstorm all the things / people that may be affected, from current processes and forms to outside customers and partners.

And never forget employee morale! After all due consideration, the next thing is to detail the communications strategy for all parties, with a timeline, so that everyone gets suitable information that answers *most* questions, and that is as timely as possible. And then: your work isn’t done. Be prepared to listen for follow-on concerns and issues that pop up, and address them promptly too.

When you take a risk and it bombs, how do you get yourself to take the next risk?
You have to understand why it “bombed” – that’s the key. Was it timing? people involved? content? partners? None of those precludes ever taking a risk again; it’s imperative to know what didn’t work so you can anticipate and think more fully in the future. We can learn from mistakes!

What’s an overlooked source of hope?
Human nature. Humans are designed to forget pain (or at least to put it aside) and so the more you understand about the inherent hopefulness of humans, the more you can move ahead into the future. Everyone wants to get there.

In what ways do you nourish your curiosity?
I read widely. And walking helps too: make a game out of noticing something you’ve never seen before in a familiar area, or how something came to be in an unfamiliar one.

How do you move past criticism?
It helps to be grounded in reality, honestly – to have a sense of proportion about yourself and your place in the world – and equally important, the place of others and their POV. No one is as fixated on your past gaffes (real or imagined) as you might be. As the saying goes, get over yourself!

What’s your favorite Neil Diamond song?
I confess I’m not a big fan of Mr Diamond. If I had to pick, I’d vote for this cover of “Solitary Man” by Johnny Cash.

What’s the best kept secret about being an adult?
You can eat out of the refrigerator if you want. And leave the dishes overnight!

What haven’t I asked you that I should have?
“How do you keep going, year in and year out?”
I’m a Taurus – an earth sign – so I’m a big believer in just taking steps!

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