Creative job titles add fun, accuracy

They act as an ice breaker and provide glimpses on attitude

Published: Sunday, Aug. 27 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Senior adventure leader Casey Thompson helps a child prepare for his first climb up the portable climbing wall at the Alamosa Community Center. Adventure leaders were once called "recreation staff."

Michael J. Gallegos, Associated Press

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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — DuWayne Ordonez believes fun can change the world.

If you doubt his belief, look at Ordonez's job title: "outdoor recreation CEO of fun" with the city.

"I just made it up," said Ordonez, who also has the more formal, but far less used, title of outdoor recreation section head. "If you're happy, trying to get along, looking for a way to solve the problem rather than blame somebody, I think it will be a better world."

Like other professionals adopting out-of-the-ordinary job titles, Ordonez says the odd moniker helps communicate that his work is more of a personal mission than a collection of money-earning tasks.

The creative combination of words, he and others of titular distinction say, is a playful light: They elucidate responsibilities in such a way to reveal the soul behind the role, and, at worst, generate friendly responses of ice-breaking curiosity.

The distinct approach to a title has spread to Ordonez's team of workers; as of three years ago, they're "adventure leaders," not "recreation staff."

Looking beyond the chief executive of fun's office, it's apparent he and his crew aren't the only ones with an interesting calling card.

Back in 2002, Albuquerque resident Amy Turner considered putting "Owner" on her business card, but it seemed pretentious for a one-woman show.

With inspiration taken from a deck of cards designed to get the creative juices flowing, she came up with "creative warrior," a title flexible enough to fit her other work roles.

"I'm a graphic designer, I have a billboard company and I write," she said. "It's hard to summarize all that up in a little title that gets tucked under your name. I figured, put two words together that are memorable and instill a feeling of inspiration in the person I would be working with."

It's also a window onto her attitude toward her career and life.

"There's some struggle, there's some kind of climbing the ladder, so to speak, that exists both in my professional and personal life," she said. "I'm not very content being stagnant. I always try to reach a little bit higher. It's always something of a fight."

At the Albuquerque economic development group known as Next Generation Economy, one's title is a crown of description woven by the hands of co-workers.

"They lay your mantle on you based on what you do," said Mike Skaggs, Next Generation's "chief realization officer" or — for the occasional client whose raised eyebrows of doubt graze skepticism's ceiling — president and CEO.

Some of Skaggs' co-workers have titles such as "research evangelist" and "chief harassment officer."

"Most of our customers get it pretty quickly, and they're glad to see we're not pretentious," he said. "We try to do everything we can to remove barriers between us and our customers."

He says titles such as his are one facet of the movement of the U.S. economy away from manufacturing and toward businesses driven by world-changing ideas.

It's a "creative economy" that values innovation, he says, and labor's labels are no exception to the change.

"When this creative economy started growing and blossoming, people are trying to create their own job title that expresses who they are," he said. "Work is coming a lot closer to being an expression of who you are. That's what we all desire: Let's make our work experience look like my personal feelings and personal attitudes, because if you're in a job where that's not taking place, you're not very effective."

When the occasion of a skeptical client does arise, the solution is simple: Flip over Skaggs' business card, and there lays his more traditional title of president and CEO.

But it's a rare requirement.

"Public relations and marketing communications manager" just wasn't going to work for Marc Orchant.

So the Albuquerque resident came up with this title to describe his job from June 2001 to June 2006 at VanDyke Software: storyteller.

"It will probably be my all-time favorite title," said Orchant, who's now preparing to launch his own software company. "It has so many different dimensions to it."

It fit his experience as a writer, his passion for telling tales, the job's duties and the industry, he said.

"In the software business, people are taking great liberties with conventional titles and feel a lot of freedom to really describe what they do in picaresque terms rather than adhering to some notion of an organization chart," he said. "I have always been a storyteller, it's just while I was at VanDyke, I formalized it by having it printed on my business cards."

At one meeting with intellectual property lawyers, he figured the attorneys would look askance at someone going by the title of storyteller. He handed out the more staid business card, but they wanted to see the other one.

"The lawyers said, 'I heard you had a cool title,"' he said. "When the IP attorneys tell you that, you know you've hit a sweet spot with describing what you do."

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