Connecting my Different Worlds
“A Beautiful mind connecting her different worlds “ are some of the words that can be used to describe Marta Maretich. Marta seamlessly combines her creativity with problem- solving. In many ways her approach shapes order out of messiness. She likens this to coding and building websites. “Behind a perfect website, there’s a messy code. You have to be able to face complexity and know what to do about it.” Marta talks about her work with governing boards, “They’re made up of human beings and you can try to be as tick-box as you want. The issues that they have are human systemic problems. If you only tick the boxes, you can’t solve them. Sometimes you really get down there and accompany people and they sort through the challenges they face”.
“With new things, you always have to bring creativity, it doesn’t always look like creativity. But when things are being generated, then you’re on new ground wind” says Marta.
Marta’s Three Tips:
- Find people you can work with over time and grow with. It’s an amazing journey. Value the work you do and create together.
- Value your colleagues and nurture and support and generate with your colleagues. Not just networks.
- Make sure the content you create is consistently good.
Marta gives a good case study of how a working relationship can change. “We started out, we got our first website for my husband’s business, and we started out with a website designer. But then over time, I designed the most recent one with content, and he taught me, he became my mentor. He went from someone who we hired to someone who taught me how. And he was happy, perfectly happy with that”.
Marta is currently writing pieces on money and psychology and trying to put this into the economy and how people are feeling. “I’m not an expert in money. or psychology, but looking at it from the perspective of someone who’s just looking for synthesis. It’s proving very interesting in our uncertain times.”
Marta is the author of three novels: The Possibility of Lions (Gemma Media 2011), The Merchants of Light (Nine Elms Books 2015) and The Bear Suit (2017). Her short fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in publications including Boom! A Journal of California, The Mantle, The Harvard Review and the anthology Inspired Journeys: Travel Writers in Search of the Muse. She’s been awarded artist residencies at the Eastern Frontiers Educational Foundation at Norton Island and Yaddo. In 2021 she was visiting lecturer in Creative Writing at Regents University, London.
Marta serves on the editorial board of the literacy publisher, Open Door for Adult Literacy. Her first novel, The Possibility of Lions, was chosen as recommended reading by ProLiteracy, America’s largest literacy organization. With a teaching guide designed by Marta, it is used in adult literacy programs across the US and Canada. 2018-2021 she served on the board of the Upper Wimpole Street Literary Salon, a London-based group of female writers and creatives.
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host Tesse Akpeki and cohost me Paula Okonneh, where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional, and we hope you will walk with us in this adventure. Our theme for today’s show is a “beautiful mind connecting my different worlds”. Our guest today is Marta Maretich. Is that right?
00:00:38 Marta: That’s perfect. Just perfect.
00:00:40 Paula: Right. So I’ll tell you something about Marta. She is special. She is an novelist. She’s a journalist. She’s an editor. She’s a researcher. She’s also a freelance writer. And there’s a fun fact about her, she was born in Port harcourt Nigeria and raised in Bakersfield, California. But now she lives in London. How is that for international and for diversity and inclusion?
00:01:08 Marta: That’s me in a nutshell.
00:01:10 Paula: So Marta attended the university of California at Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with an honors degree in comparative literature. She holds a master’s degree in creative writing from the Warren Wilson program for writers. I would say a lot more about her, but that would take away from the show because we want her to tell us about herself. So welcome to “TesseTalks”.
00:01:37 Marta: Thank you. It’s lovely to be here. I’m so glad to be with you.
00:01:41 Tesse: Yeah, Marta welcome. And I’m so pleased that you said yes to me.
00:01:46 Marta: I can never say no, not possible.
00:01:49 Tesse: But I love you. And I’m so glad to share you with the world. I look at all the different things that you do, and Paula has said some other, I know that even more. What excites you about the work that you do?
00:02:02 Marta: I like the diversity of the work I do. I like being able to work sort of in different modes on very different projects that require sort of different intellectual skills. And so I obviously love creative writing. It’s probably my first love reading and writing. But sort of through the route of, I worked in publishing when I was younger, and I worked for the business publisher, Josie Bassett. And at that time, they were doing amazing publishing with very innovative leaders. And I got into writing about and editing certain newsletters about governance. So I used my kind of writing skills and my editorial skills and my thinking skills in a different sphere. I learned how to do it in a different sphere. And that’s also led me to fascinating work and meeting people like Tesse and now you Paula. And I’ve always been glad of that work. I’ve never wanted to just only be a creative writer. It keeps my feet on the ground. I like it. I like the challenge.
00:03:02 Tesse: I really love the creativity that you bring to governance. And I’d just love an opportunity for you to say a bit more about that page. Because that’s what brought you and I together, wasn’t it ?
00:03:14 Marta: Very much so. I had this unusual background. I moved to the United Kingdom in 1995 and I met you in 1998. And it just happened that we had this complete meshing of backgrounds. Because in that time there was nobody but you really writing about governance in the non-profits sphere in the United Kingdom and trying to develop governance quality. And I had just basically come from the United States with exactly that background. So it’s really lucky that we met. And what you were trying to do, is you were trying to create materials and resources for voluntary sector boards across the spectrum of sizes. Where they could both work on their own governance practices, understand their governance practices, work on their own governance practice. And then we ended up working a lot on with trainers using the expertise that you had pulled together and that we were learning about as we worked with organization. We did some implementation and some facilitation of these two, quite a bit of that. And then we worked with trainers. So we worked with people who were training boards, trying to kind of raise the whole boat as it were, and improve the quality of board activity in the UK. And you were the first person who did that. And the materials that we created together over years were at that time, I think the only materials that people had, and people still use them. I still occasionally run into someone who’s using them in places like Africa. And they say, oh, you’re that? You’re her. You did these because they’re still using them. So that was really how we met. And I sort of have a question back at you. I mean, your orientation, your view of governance changed a lot over the years we’ve known each other. And sometimes I was just sort of running to keep up with what had changed with you. So, you know, although I bring the creativity, you brought the arc of learning, I think in a way that, you know, only someone is engaged as you were could do. Because I sort of have gone in and out. I’ve done different things and stuff like that. So I always just kind of run, need to keep up with where you are with it, you know, even now.
00:05:31 Tesse: I’m glad that you made that comment, cause Paula, and Paula is really curious to know more about, and should be asking you another point of interest for her. But for me, Marta journeying with you all these years, you’ve seen the different ways that things have morphed. And as more people have gone into the place of giving information and sharing data. I have actually gone into that space of synthesis and analysis and kind of data mining to make sense, to make meaning. And the more of the generative space about, to what does any of this mean to anything? Why does it matter space? And that’s a space where occupy now alongside wellbeing and resilience, because I think that you have to be a human being. That’s what the human doing in organizations. And we shouldn’t lose sight of the need to balance people with the process and products. It’s very easy to forget that.
00:06:30 Marta: I think that I would completely endorse that. I would also add to that, that when we started. Like I said, we started and there was nothing happening. And also the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom was quite different, because it was all government. Do you remember that? Practically all of the, and now that’s quite different. So they were in the middle of a big change where they were governing themselves, needing to govern themselves at a level they hadn’t really needed to do before, because they had to fundraise. They had a lot of safeguarding issues, you know, with a lot of change. But I think what we realized, when people started come more actors like the governance hub and the charities commission started producing more developmental materials for boards. What we got is a very tick-box approach, you know, they get trying to simplify it and simplify it. So you say, did we do it? Did we not? And that you realized, you know, being ahead as the wave was just putting, you know, you’re like surfing this wave, but you’re like ahead of the wave. Tesse on her board, just like, you know, like in the two, you know, in the moment moving. And it began to realize that, you know, there’s plenty of this sort of tick box stuff, but it still wasn’t addressing the human. Because boards and organizations, they’re human constructs. They’re made up of human beings and you can try to be as tick-box as you want. But the problems that they have, the issues that they have are human systemic problems. And if you’d only tick the boxes you can’t solve them. And Tesse again, you were the first person to really get down there and dirty and start telling people that.
00:08:02 Paula: As I listened to both of you, I know you are the guest. So I have even more questions for you because it’s fascinating. And as I said, I didn’t read all your bio because it’s so interesting. And I wanted you to talk and be your own bio. As I listened to both of you, my question for you is, so as you keep learning, I think things are changing, as you said. So what are the different arenas in which you work and how is it impacting you and your work?
00:08:35 Marta: The fact that I work in different sort of spheres and arenas?
00:08:39 Paula: Yes.
00:08:41 Marta: Well, when I, it depends on who I’m working with. Let’s say when I work with Tesse we know each other really well. And we have a history of working together, that’s very long and deep. We’ve done a lot of things together. When I worked for clients I know less well, my only aim is to try to figure out exactly what they’re asking for and give it to them. But usually if they hire me, for example, I ran a website and information hub on impact investing, which is a form of social finance. Which is a totally new issue for me. It was like completely new. And this was about 2016, 2017, so the whole sphere was new. So that was very exciting, because I could write about things just as they were emerging, just trying to identify sectors, trying to identify sectors, how they cross. And I really enjoy that kind of generative work when clients want me to do it. But sometimes they just want you to deliver a publication. You know, the change in my work is working like you Paula across media. Because I started out working in print. Everything I did, I published books, I published magazines, I published newsletters in print. And so my working trajectory has been mastering new kinds of media. I’ve built a couple of, you know, some websites and overseeing the building of a couple of websites. And also getting more proficient in publishing across all the media at the same time. So you’ll have a print product, you’ll have an online product, you’ll have social media products. Now you have an audio. I haven’t done a lot of audio. So I’m learning from you as we do this. No, really I’m thinking, what more can we do? So, and realizing that this is just the nature of the way we communicate now and the way we get our message across. So that’s been a big one for me. Trying to get more proficient meeting people who can teach me, just trying to be kind of fearless about it. And Paula, maybe you know what this means. I started in the pre-digital era. And I don’t know if you did to, but I’m not a digital native. So all of it has been trying to learn along the way. And sometimes, you know, in recent years I’ve had clients who would, they really wanted me to help them do, is have the confidence to move into some of these other spheres in a way that represented them in a kind of dignified way. So that you’re not like jumping on every bandwagon, and you’re not, you still have control over all your media. Because I tend to work with organization that are kind of serious voluntary organizations or business organizations that have a certain dignity or a certain profile that they want to maintain. They’re kind of scared by a lot of social media because it seems too casual. So they want to find a way to communicate using these methods. And that’s what I try to help them do. I’m not an expert in you know, social media or video or anything, but I’m good at having the conversation that helps them figure out how they could do it in a way that’s beneficial to them. And then somebody else makes it.
00:11:57 Tesse: I love the way that you actually do this. Cause what comes to my mind is a golden thread that runs through in different ways. And in that golden thread, you put other strands in it as you get curious and you pick up different things. And as you were talking and reminding us of your work with social finance and impact investing. I am really interested in knowing more about how you’re applying this with literary and a memoir perspective. Because again, like you brought creativity even to that, which can be considered quite a dry.
00:12:34 Marta: With new things, you always have to bring creativity, it doesn’t always look like creativity. But when things are being generated, when you’re on new ground wind. And also you used the word synthesis, and I think that’s really important because I think a lot of innovation is really about saying, “oh, this is actually really about this too”. And bringing those things together and seeing what happens. And I think that’s something I really do love it. And when I’m doing this, I feel like my brain is really alive and I’m doing something exciting. I ended up running this content for this impact investing hub. And I also worked for the European venture philanthropy organization, doing some original research. And it just made me start thinking about, and it was sort of in the air. I mean Tesse, you know what I’m saying? This was very much in the air in the voluntary sector field. Started thinking about the importance of money, not just finance, but money in people’s lives and in their psychology. So on the creative side right now, I’m writing quite a bit of memoir and like articles about money and psychology. And try to pull that into like a bigger context of social, like what money means to people now and the economy and how people are feeling. And that’s just completely, that’s like, I’m not an expert in any of these rebels. I’m not an expert in money. I’m not an expert in psychology. But looking at it from the perspective of someone who’s just looking for synthesis. It’s really exciting, you know, and I have people that I ask and books that I read to make sure I don’t make any huge blunders. But it’s proving very interesting in our times.
00:14:19 Tesse: I’m loving it. And I’m loving the fact that this, you know, you’re using that word synthesis, that is rarely used. And people confuse synthesis with analysis and you and I know it’s very, very different. Yeah. People don’t know, but I love again, the making sense of the generative aspects and the innovation, the creativity, which I think in a post pandemic world is even more important. If that ever a time we need to think outside the box and connect dots in uncertainty, it is now, isn’t it ?
00:14:50 Marta: Yeah, I think we have a lot of rebuilding to do, and a lot of things are going to be different. Not just the pandemic, but the whole world just seems to be the geopolitics of the world. And, you know, with the Ukraine and everything that’s happening, but all over the institutions that we have, everything seems like it’s kind of being challenged, the things that we’ve taken for granted for a long time. And I think that’s creating a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. But on the other side, It’s very interesting. It’s interesting times as they say bitterly,
00:15:28 Paula: it is indeed interesting times, you know, so many things that we took for granted or, you know, that would be there are just not there. Or you’re beginning to wonder, will they be there, you know?
00:15:41 Marta: Yeah. Or whether we really want them anymore?
00:15:44 Paula: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And you know, you spoke earlier on about not being a digital native. And I think the pandemic may more or less kind of merged a lot of digital natives with.
00:15:59 Marta: Exhilarated them.
00:16:00 Paula: Yes. You know, we all had to learn. I saw so many people who were like, am not tech savvy, become tech savvy in one way or the other. Cause they had to, you know. So that brings me to a question that has been at the tip of my tongue. Because I’m curious as we talk about all these things that we know, and we don’t know. I’m curious about the iceberg analogy and what underpins the whole notion or the illusion of seamless simplicity.
00:16:31 Marta: Okay. Well Tesse and I were talking about this the other day, we were talking about the iceberg, and I kind of went away and I thought about it. I think what I was thinking is that for me, I think another good analogy is actually the internet. Because what you have in the internet, if you, and Paula, you clearly are very good at all this. If you build a website or you use a website, you get this smooth shiny surface that functions. You click a button, you go through, it’s like immediate, it all looks very simple. And when you construct these things, you do your best to make it seem simple and seamless. But if you write code at all or do anything beyond that glassy surface. If you know anything about the historical, and I’m sure you do, the historical development of the internet and of code and stuff like that. Underneath the surface is this unbelievably complicated tangled historical system that we just keep building on top of it. And so the reality is hugely complex and it’s powered by huge technology, like huge server farms. Have you guys ever seen a server farm an actual physical one.
00:17:45 Paula: I have.
00:17:46 Marta: Where did you see it?
00:17:47 Paula: Some where in Charlotte, the place is eluding me right now. But.
00:17:55 Marta: Was it enormous?
00:17:56 Paula: Yes.
00:17:57 Marta: It was enormous. I saw one, my husband and I were driving in Oregon at night, and suddenly we see these billow and these lights and these billowing smoke, and we’re like, oh my God. It’s close encounters of the third kind, like there’s a UFO landing. And it was a server farm, and we literally didn’t know what it was. But my point just being that, we ignore the complexity of the thing in front of us and we don’t think much about the complexity of it. But the people who need to build or fix these things have to engage with that complexity. And it’s human complexity, it’s tech, but it’s tech made by people.
00:18:37 Paula: Absolutely.
00:18:40 Marta: Do you find, and so it has all the fallibilities and the nonsensical aspects of everything, you know, every book, every movie that was made by a person. A lot of people, in fact, with different preferences and fallibilities, so it has all of those marks. Do you find the same Paula when you work with tech? Because clearly you’re very adept at it.
00:19:01 Paula: That’s one of the things that Tesse keeps saying, Paula you’ve helped me understand that tech is fallible, tech fails because it’s human beings.
00:19:09 Marta: It’s a human thing.
00:19:10 Paula: Yes. Trying to put together code and code fails, you know.
00:19:15 Marta: Or it’s just messy.
00:19:16 Paula: It’s messy. I mean, you’re human being, you can skip a line and everything just crashes, you know. There’s so many things that can go wrong. I mean, even a simple thing as using zoom, things go wrong with just trying to set up a podcast recording, because tech.
00:19:32 Marta: And they go really wrong. It’s not just you, it doesn’t always work. Yeah.
00:19:37 Paula: And so that’s why you have support. You have to send things and they troubleshoot, because things are going to fail. And yes, I thank you for eliminating that fact that it’s messy. Behind a perfect website, there’s a messy code.
00:19:52 Marta: Oh yeah. You don’t even want to go there. You don’t want to see it. Yeah. And I think the analogy for Tesse and for boards and things like that. I mean, what I’m thinking about is that, you know, over the last few years, Tesse, you’ve been digging deeper into the human dynamics of boards and organizations in this fascinating way. And I think there’s a direct analogy there. You know, you want it to seem smooth and functional on the surface, right? But the minute you get done, and that’s not bad, people think, “oh no, oh, it’s the dark underbelly”. But no, it’s just the way it is, you know. It’s not a mistake, it’s not necessarily a problem, but it is the way it is. So when you get boards with problems and organizations, with problems, which I know Tesse, you deal with deeply all the time. You have to be able, like a really technical person has to be able to face that complexity and know what to do about it. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
00:20:52 Tesse: Totally fair. I think what Paula used to do, and I’m better now that you say this could fail. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You can’t be saying that it’s certain, it’s certain. Because I think there was something about wanting to get that certainty. And Paula said it would fail, actually made me feel more anxious.
00:21:12 Marta: What was the example that you’re using?
00:21:16 Tesse: It was everything from, you’ve talked about it. Sometimes I’d want to go into a meeting with Paula and I couldn’t get in, and I just like, but I was trying to get in, I couldn’t. So simple things like this and she said, but it fails, and I say “but it should’nt fail” but we’ve been told that it works. But what it has done for me now, is it’s made me humbler in saying we make mistakes because technology is powered by human beings and coded and stuff like that. It’s given me much more of an understanding of the vulnerability of this and that the need for certainty is actually not realistic when you’re dealing with something that can be sometimes uncertain. I’m so blessed to have to be speaking to you, Marta. And, you know, I’m kind of going to ask you the last question in this, which is what kind of key messages from any of this do you want people to take away? People listening in, what sort of highlights, tips, anything at all that they can take as a goodie bag?
00:22:18 Marta: Highlights, tips, find people you can work with over time and grow with. Because it’s an amazing journey. I mean, I know that’s the kind of cliched word. But I really value the work that we’ve always done together Tesse. And you know, being able to do it like over this amount of time, it feels the opposite of stale. We keep adding and exploring things and I really love that. So value your colleagues and nurture and support and generate with your colleagues. Not just networks. I don’t like the word network, cause it always sounds like, oh, you know, like it’s like, I’m going to do something for me. But the sense that your working life and your intellectual life is so much richer because you work with people and you have a history of working with them. That’s what Springs to my mind.
00:23:15 Paula: Sounds like that’s a growth mindset. You know, always willing to learn, always willing to try new things.
00:23:21 Marta: I think so, yeah.
00:23:22 Paula: You know, the world encourages us to have that growth mindset because there’s always something new. I say to Tesse all the time, technology is dynamic, because it works to deal because this is the in thing today, next week in may not be.
00:23:36 Marta: Yeah. And you have to accept that it’s not a problem. You just have to accept it. And it moves so fast now Paula. I mean, that’s the thing you really always, you have to keep up. It can be a bit exhausting, I have to say.
00:23:46 Paula: I agree.
00:23:47 Marta: Yeah. But your alternative is not really engaging with it. And that doesn’t really, I don’t think that’s very good.
00:23:53 Paula: No, it’s not. And as you said, you can’t be stagnant. And so you’ve got to keep up with what’s new as much as you can, or get support.
00:24:03 Marta: Yeah, I think for me, what helps there also, is the idea that, you know, I may not be the most provisioned technical person and all these things, but what I try and do is make sure the content is always good. And that’s something that’s more unusual. Like to make sure that the content is always what I would like it to be. You know, that kind of divisions, so I think that’s really important. Even if I’m not the most genius techy person.
00:24:27 Paula: We can’t all be, you know. That’s what I said and get support. The things that you don’t like, or you don’t feel comfortable doing, get somebody else who loves it to do it for you, you know, outsource.
00:24:38 Marta: Yeah, just hire someone. We started out, we got our first website for my husband’s business, and we started out with a website designer. But then over time, I designed the most recent one with content, and he taught me, he became my mentor. So he went from someone who we hired to someone who taught me how. And he was happy, perfectly happy with that, you know? So that was another good colleague that I have in sort of in the background, and really super valuable.
00:25:10 Paula: Super valuable. As all things have to come to an end. All good things in particular, unfortunately have to come to an end. I want you to share with our audience, where can you be found online?
00:25:22 Marta: I have a LinkedIn profile. I have a website, doesn’t have a huge amount on it. But my LinkedIn profile has some things. And those are probably the best places to find me online.
00:25:33 Paula: That’s awesome. LinkedIn is a great tool.
00:25:37 Marta: Yeah, absolutely. I neglect my LinkedIn profile, I confess. It’s like my thing that I have the most not wanting to do.
00:25:46 Paula: All right. So we’re going to wrap up here and I want to say thank you. You’ve been an amazing guest.
00:25:53 Marta: Thank you. It’s been fun. Thank you very much for inviting me.
00:25:58 Paula: Absolutely. To our amazing audience, thank you so much for tuning in and listening to Marta. Please make sure you head over to “Apple podcasts”, “Google podcasts”, “Spotify”, or anywhere else that you listen to podcasts, and please follow us as well as click subscribe. And if you like what you just heard and you would like to be a guest on “TesseTalks”, we encourage you to head over to a website that is “www.tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks” and apply. Tesse will always get back to you. Thank you again Marta.
00:26:39 Marta: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
00:26:41 Tesse: Marta you just keep giving us those wonderful stuff being listened to. So thank you so much for coming on.
00:26:49 Marta: Thank you.