Get as good as you give.

There was a lot of cage rattling this week. My team designs many, many, many print pieces during April and May as we round off the academic year with concerts, ceremonies, award presentations, and finally, commencement. As always happens with print, we wait for final copy despite a production time line with no flexibility. A brochure can drop a day late but 11,000 commencement programs must arrive on the appointed day. At a particular point on the calendar, there is no wiggle room.

I often find myself in the role of contacting offices when time is extremely tight and, despite regular cajoling, we still don’t have all we need for the final layout. I’ll say to the designer, “do you need me to rattle some cages?”

I’ve actually used this “rattle some cages” expression for years without focusing on an interpretation that defines it as annoying behavior. I’ve always thought of it as getting someone’s attention in order to get something accomplished. After all, copy for a print piece is only one of a number of demands juggled by campus offices this time of year. We’re all busy and distracted by a high volume of to dos. When I offer to rattle cages, I suppose I am doing what a child does in the presence of a caged animal – getting attention and perhaps annoying the sleeping beast.

This week, my cage was rattled. I’m part of the senior leadership team for communication and we were all in our cage together, doing what we do. We are a group of committed, creative, and hardworking people but how we react when a great idea is unexpectedly presented by an influential external source matters. Are we annoyed when an outside expert gets our attention? Do we embrace the idea because the result is worth any potential disruption? Do we discount the proposal because we were already planning to do it but just hadn’t gotten to it yet?

I actually loved the idea that rattled my cage this week. I know it will unsettle some existing plans and milestones but the payoff will be huge. A former boss described these unexpected ideas from outsiders as asteroids –  for him, they were transformational projects that we couldn’t pass on. He embraced them and because of my time working in his organization, I look for asteroids.

You need your cage; it’s your purview, your sphere of influence, the resources you control. You can do exceptional work in your cage; but occasionally, let it be rattled. Think of the rattling as a reminder that shifting your focus and letting others influence your priorities can be a means for taking your own contribution to the next level. Watch for these chances – let your cage be rattled.

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