It took a little brainstorming before Joanna (Jo) Haas was able to settle on just a single item in her life that made her happy. As we settled in for the conversation, she mentioned that I might find her selection a bit strange. “I love my Sharpie pen,” says Jo. Honestly, I thought it was an imaginative choice, and from the chief creative officer of the Kentucky Science Center, how could I expect anything else? Her attachment to the permanent marker is long-lived and broadly encompassing.Yes, she’s an artist, but the Sharpie means more to her than just what she can draw.
Jo has worked in the “attractions world” for more than 30 years– in Pittsburgh, in Columbus, at The Henry Ford in Detroit, and for more than a decade at the Kentucky Science Center. She is never without her Sharpie, and is kind of famous for the habit. For any work anniversary or memento when leaving one job for another, her colleagues would always bestow her with the symbolic gift of another Sharpie. It’s basically her trademark.
Jo loves writing with a Sharpie. “It’s both a tool of expression and an expressive tool. They write in ways that no other pen or writing device can do. When I am in meetings, it’s very common for someone to say, ‘Here comes the paper and the Sharpie!’ And, it’s true,” Jo says. She believes it’s a way to help others understand a concept or strategic direction that may otherwise be difficult to grasp. “I will draw certain ideas as they are coming out of my head. I get real excitement out of seeing that ‘Aha’ moment on the faces of the other people in the room,” Jo says.
Jo’s skills in communication and community-building are fundamental to both her personal career success and to that of the organizations for which she has worked. As is true for many of us, having a pen in a meeting gives Jo’s hands something to do, but this goes far beyond note-taking or doodling in the margins. “I see the Sharpie as an extension of me. It’s part of my identity and helps me bring people together. We end up with a visual and shared language that helps us achieve our goals,” she says.
In an interesting parallel, Jo described the basics of an upcoming project at the Kentucky Science Center called Uniquely Human. It will explore the mind-body connection and how it affects our bodies, health, and community. No doubt it will provide a scientific explanation for why the Sharpie, as an extension of Jo’s identity, provides her with so much happiness. For now, Jo has come up with good reasons of her own. “I’m a person who finds joy in a lot of things. This was a fun way to think about work, home, community, and the positive energy I get from my job.”
By Megan S. Willman | Photos by Erika Doll
P.S. Stay superfit.