The Saturday Read – ‘Sweetbitter’ by Stephanie Danler

Who will you become? That’s the question we should ask when we consider a new job, but often the promise of a new opportunity obscures the answer until we find ourselves caught in the rip tide of the unconsidered.

The Saturday Read this week is ‘Sweetbitter’, a novel by Stephanie Danler perfectly captures what it’s like to be 22, taking your first job in New York City.

“Let’s say I was born in late June of 2006 when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light, before the exhaust rose, before the heat gridlocked in, windows unrolled, radio turned up to some impossibly hopeful pop song, open, open, open.”

There it is. That moment when we shed one identity and begin to sculpt the new. This is the magic of the author’s prose; transforming the familiar.

Set to debut as a six-part STARZ series on May 6, I encourage you to snag a copy and read this book while imagination is still your own and small screen images can’t get in the way of literary transport.

“…nobody remembers what it feels like to be so recklessly absorbent.
When you can’t see in front of you life is nothing but surprises. Looking back, there were truly so few of them.”

I’m not sure why we rely on non-fiction to inform our knowledge of life@work. Best seller lists are full of management philosophy exuding from ivy covered walls and concrete corporate towers. But it’s the fiction writers who add a touch of imagination and humanity to the workplace, who are the true management gurus.

“I don’t know what it is exactly, being a server. It’s a job, certainly, but not exclusively. There’s a transparency to it, an occupation stripped of the usual ambitions. One doesn’t move up or down. One waits. You are a waiter.”

‘Sweetbitter’ is a book about work and the communities we build around us to manage the connection between self and the enormity of place, in this case, New York City. It’s about expectations colliding with reality in a spot where following your dream invites on-going comparison to an alternate career path.

“We called them the Nine-to-Fivers. They lived in accordance with nature, waking and sleeping with the cycle of the sun. Mealtimes, business hours, the world conformed to their schedule. They were dining, shopping, consuming, unwinding, expanding while we were working, diminishing, being absorbed into their scenery.”

On the last night of her paperback book tour last June, the author read from the novel and shared her own career narrative with a group of readers at independent bookstore, Pages in Manhattan Beach, California.

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She alluded to similarities with her main character, Tess, and her early career working as a waitress in Seal Beach and later in NY at the Union Square Cafe. “At age 22 you are in the stream of experience, nothing is premeditated; autonomy without consequences. After six months at the Union Square Cafe I was no longer a writer.”

She pursued a successful path in the restaurant industry until she was confronted with “a hinge moment – the crushing feeling in your chest” when you realize your current commitment @work is delaying your dream job.

She applied to graduate school, went back to serving tables, took notes and spent 12 hours on Tuesdays creating a manuscript – ‘Sweetbitter’.

“That is the story of how I stopped waiting tables.”

One more thing, Stephanie Danler is obsessive about poetry. And that’s the strongest argument to read the novel before viewing the series. The book is beautifully written, in one instance transforming the cacophony of random dinner conversation into a poem.

If you’ve ever been a server, this book may stir a memory or two. A restaurant is where many of us started out, absorbing and ignoring life lessons on the fly. It was our workplace and Ms. Danler was one of us.

 

 

 

 

The Friday Poem ‘The Benefits of Ignorance’ by Hal Sirowitz

Sometimes the Friday Poem is the perfect exclamation point for our times. This week’s selection is ‘The Benefits of Ignorance’ by poet Hal Sirowitz.

“If you’re not getting the benefits that most people get from acting stupid…”

The Benefits of Ignorance

If ignorance is bliss, Father said,
shouldn’t you be looking blissful?
You should check to see if you have
the right kind of ignorance. If you’re
not getting the benefits that most people
get from acting stupid, then you should
go back to being what you always were –
being too smart for your own good.

Hal Sirowitz  ‘Father Said: Poems’ 2004

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The week@work – @AMarch4OurLives, Evolve Entertainment Fund, ‘Wonder Boys’, Facebook & “always a little further”

It happened again this week@work: violence@work – another school shooting, this time in Florida. In Los Angeles a new entertainment industry diversity initiative was announced by Ava DuVernay and Mayor Eric Garcetti. And three ‘long reads’ on creative partnerships, Facebook’s identity, and a polar journey.

Violence@work
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school are grieving for their colleagues and teachers who were murdered in another incident of workplace violence on Valentines Day. Since Wednesday, a remarkable group of student representatives have  given voice to the anger at adults who have failed to keep students safe in their schools. This time, high school students organized @AMarch4OurLives for policy & change vs. thoughts & prayers.

“Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard.
Stand with us on March 24. Refuse to allow one more needless death.”

It may not be a surprise that this group, from this high school, seized the moment and demanded change. Their school namesake, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was an author, editor, environmentalist and early advocate for women’s right to vote. gettyimages-112963085-e1518738141248.jpgJournalist Mary Schmich interviewed Ms. Douglas. “She was 95 by the time we met, hard of hearing, almost blind and as opinionated as ever.
I’d gone to visit her because finally, after decades of crusading to save the Everglades from being turned into subdivisions and shopping malls, she’d begun to see the fruits of her labors.
She had battled governments, developers, engineers, sugar cane industrialists and the apathy of normal people. She had pushed so hard and for so long that the state had finally committed to preserving one of the world’s great wetlands. We have her to thank for Everglades National Park.
Had she ever been discouraged, I asked?
“What does it matter if I’ve been discouraged or encouraged over the years?” she said, brusquely. “This thing’s got to be done. It’s not a question of how I feel from moment to moment.”

Inclusion@work in Hollywood
Speaking of thing’s got to be done. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, filmmaker Ava DuVernay, and producer Dan Lin announced the creation of the Evolve Entertainment Fund to promote inclusion @work in Hollywood.

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Journalist Dave McNary reported on the new initiative. “The Evolve fund is an alliance between the City of Los Angeles, industry leaders in entertainment and digital media, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. The EEF has already secured 150 paid summer internships for students participating in the Hire LA’s Youth program — partnering with leading entertainment and digital media organizations that include DreamWorks Animation, Ryan Murphy Television, Film Independent, WME, CAA, Kobe Bryant’s Granity Studios, and Anonymous Content.

That number is expected to grow to 250 by the end of 2018, with a goal of 500 placements by 2020.

“As we radically reimagine Hollywood, it is critically important that young people are included in our vision,” said DuVernay, founder of Array Entertainment and EEF co-chair. “Real change happens when we take tangible action — and that means giving young women and people of color opportunities in the industry early on, so they have the chance to shape its future.”

‘Wonder Boys’
The next three articles fall into the category of ‘long reads’. The first, from reporter Laura Jacobs recounts the creative partnership of Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins. In 2018 we celebrate the centennial of both the composer and choreographer.

IMG_0443.jpg“Both these men were about energy—positive, negative, generative—and while they racked up stunning achievements separately, they were elevated when joined. Put them together in collaboration—in masterpieces such as the joyous ballet Fancy Free, the breakaway musical On the Town, and the electrifying experiment West Side Story—and you had an ongoing theatrical Manhattan Project, work kinetically detonated, irreducibly true, and oh so American.

They met in October of 1943, the beginning of what Bernstein would call “the year of miracles.” Bernstein was living in New York City, marking time as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and Robbins was in the classical company Ballet Theatre. Both were hungry for the Big Break, but it was hard to see anything on the horizon. Bernstein’s would come a month later, when on November 14 he took the podium at Carnegie Hall—without rehearsal!—and conducted for the ailing Bruno Walter. This kiss of fate allowed him, in one afternoon, to loosen forever Europe’s grip on the conductor’s baton. His debut made the front page of The New York Times, and the skinny kid, soon dubbed the Sinatra of the concert hall, soared to stardom. Two months later his Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah, was premiered.

Robbins had to make his own luck. Though a dazzling mimic and scene-stealer in character roles, he was tired of dancing courtiers and exotics in the corps. He wanted to choreograph ballets that were immediately American. After inundating company management with over-ambitious ideas for ballets, Robbins finally offered up a timely, simple scenario—three wartime sailors on shore leave in Manhattan. Management bit. All he needed was a score, which took him to Bernstein’s studio in Carnegie Hall.”

When Vision and Reality Collide @Facebook
Next, Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein take the reader ‘Inside The Two Years That Shook Facebook – And The World’

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“The stories varied, but most people told the same basic tale: of a company, and a CEO, whose techno-optimism has been crushed as they’ve learned the myriad ways their platform can be used for ill. Of an election that shocked Facebook, even as its fallout put the company under siege. Of a series of external threats, defensive internal calculations, and false starts that delayed Facebook’s reckoning with its impact on global affairs and its users’ minds. And—in the tale’s final chapters—of the company’s earnest attempt to redeem itself.”

“Always a little further…”
On Sunday, January 24, 2016 British polar explorer, Henry Worsley died in hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile. He had been attempting to cross Antarctica on foot, unassisted and unsupported. He had traveled 913 miles since November 13, 2015 and was 30 miles short of his destination.

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On Friday, January 22, Henry Worsley called Antarctic Logistics and Explorations to request a rescue.

“When my hero, Ernest Shackleton, stood 97 miles from the South Pole on the morning of Jan. 9, 1909, he said he’d shot his bolt,” the British adventurer Henry Worsley said in the message. “Well, today, I have to inform you with some sadness that I, too, have shot my bolt.”

“My journey is at an end,” Mr. Worsley said. “I have run out of time, physical endurance and a simple sheer inability to slide one ski in front of the other to travel the distance required to reach my goal.”

Writing for The New Yorker, staff writer David Grann takes us on the journey behind the headlines into ‘The White Darkness’.

“Worsley was a retired British Army officer who had served in the Special Air Service, a renowned commando unit. He was also a sculptor, a fierce boxer, a photographer who meticulously documented his travels, a horticulturalist, a collector of rare books and maps and fossils, and an amateur historian who had become a leading authority on Shackleton. On the ice, though, he resembled a beast, hauling and sleeping, hauling and sleeping, as if he were keeping time to some primal rhythm.

Worsley’s journey captivated people around the world, including legions of schoolchildren who were following his progress. Each day, after trekking for several hours and burrowing into his tent, he relayed a short audio broadcast about his experiences. (He performed this bit of modern magic by calling, on his satellite phone, a friend in England, who recorded the dispatch and then posted it on Worsley’s Web site.) His voice, cool and unwavering, enthralled listeners.

By the middle of January, 2016, he had travelled more than eight hundred miles, and virtually every part of him was in agony…”

“Always a little further”—a line from James Elroy Flecker’s 1913 poem “The Golden Journey to Samarkand.” The motto was painted on the front of Worsley’s sled, and he murmured it to himself like a mantra: “Always a little further . . . a little further.”

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ by Walter Isaacson

The Saturday Read returns! The first selection of 2018 is the biography, ‘Leonardo da Vinci‘ by Walter Isaacson. This is a life story disguised as an art book translating the fifteenth century wisdom of a genius into the language of our present day innovation canon.

What is it about Leonardo that resonates with us over five hundred years later?

“The fifteenth century of Leonardo and Columbus and Gutenberg was a time of invention, exploration, and the spread of knowledge by new technologies. In short, it was a time like our own. That is why we have so much to learn from Leonardo. His ability to combine art, science, technology, the humanities and imagination remains an enduring recipe for creativity.”

The narrative of the polymath has captivated Isaacson in all his previous work. In ‘da Vinci’ he has found the origin story and he’s the perfect narrator to introduce a twenty-first century audience to the man “who never outgrew his wonder years.”

If you are a person who is intimidated by a 500+ page doorstop of a book, don’t be. Leonardo’s fifteenth century artwork, notebook transcripts, sketches and drawings engage with the text to guide the reader through the history, culture and political upheaval of Milan, Florence, Rome and France.

If you are one of the thousands who have traveled to the Louvre… IMG_5851.jpg

to catch a brief glimpse of the Mona Lisa…mona lisa

this is the backstory. Isaacson devotes a chapter near the end of the book to the portrait, describing Leonardo’s work process. “He began working on it in 1503, when he returned to Florence after serving Cesare Borgia. But he had not finished it when he moved back to Milan in 1506. In fact, he carried it with him, and continued to work on it, throughout his second period in Milan and then during his three years in Rome. He would even take it to France on the final leg of his life journey, adding tiny strokes and light layers through 1517. It would be in his studio there when he died.”

I read the biography over four weeks, one chapter at a time, alternating with other reading. It gave me time to reflect on the multiple aspects of his genius and connect Leonardo’s behavior with what I have read over the years in hundreds of Harvard Business Review articles on the topic of innovation.

My non-fiction book club had selected ‘da Vinci’ as the January choice. The discussion centered on the aspects of math, science and art; each member commenting from their frame of reference. Finally, I added my view through the lens of @workthoughts. This is a book that advocates for the generalist vs. the specialist. In many aspects it’s a career guide. Imagine an extended conversation with a mentor tracing their work/life trajectory.

Isaacson concludes with ‘Learning from Leonardo’, beginning with some familiar basics of twenty-first century theories of creativity. A sampling: “Be curious, relentlessly curious”. “Seek knowledge for its own sake.” “Observe.”Get distracted.” “Avoid silos.” “Take notes, on paper.” “Be open to mystery.” There’s more. Shadowing each of these ‘lessons’ is the story of Leonardo and his exploration of man and nature; his evolution, still tinkering with the Mona Lisa at the time of his death.

‘Leonardo da Vinci’ is your ‘professional development book’ of the year. It will break you out of your ‘career specialization rut’, opening your eyes to the ‘dots’ you didn’t even know you could connect.

If you make one bookstore purchase, continue your life-long learning with this one. “Let your reach exceed your grasp.”

Leonardo’s most important lesson for our times – “Respect facts.” Never stop asking questions.

“Above all, Leonardo’s relentless curiosity and experimentation should remind us of the importance of instilling, in both ourselves and our children, not just received knowledge but a willingness to question it – to be imaginative and, like talented misfits and rebels in any era, to think different.”

 

 

The Friday Poem ‘The Three Goals’ by David Budbill

We need poets to convert obfuscation into clarity: to communicate, not “confuse, bewilder or stupefy”. The Friday Poem this week, ‘The Three Goals’ by David Budbill does just that.

Author, poet, playwright and musician David Budbill “took a workman’s attitude toward art and despised pretension. Asked about the sources of his inspiration, he said: “It comes from out of nowhere, from my imagination, from the voices I hear, from somewhere. In short, I don’t know where it comes from, and I don’t care.”

The Three Goals

The first goal is to see the thing itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all the other
ten thousand things.
In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,
to see the universal and the particular,
simultaneously.
Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

David Budbill   ‘Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse’   2012

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Photo credit: Peter Miller

Are we missing a mentoring moment?

Before we turn into our best imitation of dysfunctional men@work, can we catch a breath and consider that we are on the same side?

Earlier this week a young journalist posted an account of an alleged sexual assault involving a visible Hollywood actor on a women’s news and lifestyle site.

Immediately the lines were drawn. Apparently those lines categorize ‘second wave feminists’ vs. the emerging ‘fourth wave feminists’. (My hair is hurting just writing this.)

Bottom line, both men and women are concerned that the momentum of #MeToo and #TimesUp will collapse with a published fictional account of workplace harassment.

It may happen, someone will fabricate, and when they do, we’ll deal with it. But we’re not there.

Again. We’re on the same side. Each of us has a role to play in this; as a leader or a participant in achieving the goals of workplace equity and safety.

This morning I viewed video and print accounts of an escalation in a divisive argument between a cable news anchor and the author of the original sexual assault story.

My question: Are we missing a mentoring moment here?

If an experienced professional in any field recognizes the potential of the office ‘newbie’, it’s their responsibility to guide, support and challenge that individual to ensure they have the resources to contribute. And when they go ‘off script’, engage in a constructive conversation.

I believe the 22 year-old online writer has received more unsolicited feedback this week than ever before in her career. Many influential ‘second wave feminists’ have been both supportive and critical. Although painful, what an amazing moment in a career when your work gets this level of attention.

How does this scenario end?

Time for the mentors to step up and for the ‘newbie’ to listen. If it were me, I would make the call and invite the new kid on the block to lunch. And if I was the newcomer, I would put on my listening ears, soak up all the wisdom of the ‘second wave feminists’ and become the best voice I could be for ‘fourth wave feminism’.

We’re on the same side. This has to end well.

The week@work: smart people, perfectionists & the future of work

Have you ever worked for a person who’s an expert in one field and automatically believes that expertise extends to all other areas of competence? You know, the person who’s constantly reminding you where they went to college?

This past week@work, the first of the new year, stories ranged from the definition of genius, to a new study on millennials and perfectionism, and an analysis of the ‘real’ future of work.

James Fallows shared his experience with ‘How Actual Smart People Talk About Themselves’. The article was inspired by a series of tweets, but the message is one all of us can translate to our behavior@work.

“Here are three traits I would report from a long trail of meeting and interviewing people who by any reckoning are very intelligent.

They all know it. A lifetime of quietly comparing their ease in handling intellectual challenges—at the chess board, in the classroom, in the debating or writing arena—with the efforts of other people gave them the message.

Virtually none of them (need to) say it.

They know what they don’t know. This to me is the most consistent marker of real intelligence. The more acute someone’s ability to perceive and assess, the more likely that person is to recognize his or her limits. These include the unevenness of any one person’s talents; the specific areas of weakness—social awkwardness, musical tin ear, being stronger with numbers than with words, or vice versa; and the incomparable vastness of what any individual person can never know. To read books seriously is to be staggered by the knowledge of how many more books will remain beyond your ken. It’s like looking up at the star-filled sky.”

“The clearest mark of intelligence, even “genius,” is awareness of one’s limits and ignorance.”

One of those ‘smart people’, who traveled across the star-filled sky, Astronaut John Young, died this past week at the age of 87.

john-young-astronaut.jpg“Mr. Young joined NASA in the early years of manned spaceflight and was still flying, at age 53, in the era of space shuttles. He was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was also chief of NASA’s astronauts office for 13 years and a leading executive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

When he was honored by the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum upon retiring from NASA in December 2004, after 42 years with the agency, Mr. Young played down his accomplishments. “Anybody could have done it,’’ he told The Orlando Sentinel. “You’ve just got to hang in there.”

I imagine being an astronaut requires a certain level of detail – being precise vs. being perfect. Kimberly Truong reports on a concerning trend for our workplace future, ‘Yes, Millennials Really Do Struggle With Perfectionism More’.

“According to a new study released in the journal Psychological Bulletin, millennials are more likely than previous generations to put pressure on ourselves — and others — to be perfect, possibly to the detriment of our mental health.

In every phase of our lives, we’re actively being encouraged and rewarded for striving towards perfection, whether that means getting high enough S.A.T. scores or racking up a certain number of Instagram likes or followers. Millennials, it seems, have more metrics to measure success — and therefore failure — than their parents.

Of course, there’s no such thing as “perfect,” which means it’s nearly impossible to strive for perfection and feel anything but disappointment and self-doubt. The question is: Can millennials step out of this vicious cycle?”

The last article of this first week of 2018 is Danny Vinik‘s analysis of ‘The Real Future of Work’.

“Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees and fill positions with independent contractors, on-call workers or temps—what economists have called “alternative work arrangements” or the “contingent workforce.” Most Americans still work in traditional jobs, but these new arrangements are growing—and the pace appears to be picking up. From 2005 to 2015, according to the best available estimate, the number of people in alternative work arrangements grew by 9 million and now represents roughly 16 percent of all U.S. workers, while the number of traditional employees declined by 400,000. A perhaps more striking way to put it is that during those 10 years, all net job growth in the American economy has been in contingent jobs.

IMG_9942.jpgThe repercussions go far beyond the wages and hours of individuals. In America, more than any other developed country, jobs are the basis for a whole suite of social guarantees meant to ensure a stable life. Workplace protections like the minimum wage and overtime, as well as key benefits like health insurance and pensions, are built on the basic assumption of a full-time job with an employer. As that relationship crumbles, millions of hardworking Americans find themselves ejected from that implicit pact. For many employees, their new status as “independent contractor” gives them no guarantee of earning the minimum wage or health insurance.”

Maybe unemployment statistics from the Labor Department aren’t the right metric to view our economy. The December report, out last Friday, showed an increase of 148,000 jobs in the final month of 2017. “Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, argues that ten years after the Great Recession, the economy has still not returned to 2007 benchmarks or the healthier levels of economic indicators in 2000.”

 

 

Photo credit: The Telegraph

The Year@Work: 2017

The workplace took center stage in the global news of 2017. This was the year of the journalist, women@work, side-hustles and maintaining focus. It was also the year that we, as a society questioned expertise.

Two quotes summed up 2017 for me:

“I want one day without a CNN alert that scares the hell out of me”
Cecily Strong  (2/12 SNL skit )

“How do we measure ‘fulfillment’ in work, and where do we find it when the traditional channels have given way to a round-the-clock hustle?”
Meghan Daum (9/15 NYT Book Review)

It was a year of constant distraction, disruption and fake news. The workplace became a refuge, and activism an essential ‘after hours’ pursuit. Low unemployment rates held, while wages stagnated. The income inequality gap widened.

An overheard conversation on the street this week: “I haven’t had a day off since September 1, with the three jobs I’ve been juggling.” This is the new American workplace.

The year@work was the year of the journalist. Although many were bullied and threatened, the coverage of workplace issues was stellar. For this year in review, I recommend some of the best writing of the year, suggest a book from the new genre ‘UpLit’ and share a few random thoughts.

IMG_8149.jpgWomen@work
On a cool Saturday morning in January we headed downtown to join a protest march. The plan had been to park the car and take the light rail. There were no parking spaces. There are always parking spaces. Something was different.

What was different was this wasn’t a march, it was a ‘standing in place’ because there were too many people and nowhere to go. In downtown LA the crowd was a mosaic of SoCal demographics. It wasn’t a ‘woman’s march’, it was a ‘families march’ in support of women. I think that may be the one thing the press missed this year.

IMG_8191.jpgAt the time many were skeptical.  The Los Angeles Times reported: “New protest era may be emerging, but sustaining unity could prove difficult.”

Yes, it has been difficult, but subsequent elections on local, state and federal levels demonstrated an ongoing commitment to civic engagement. The gig economy has a new ‘side-hustle’ and it’s called involvement.

I believe the seeds for #MeToo were planted on January 21, 2017.

Workplace Harassment

On February 19, former Uber employee, Susan Fowler posted a blog about her experience as a software engineer. “It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go…”

On December 11, Ms. Fowler was named the Financial Times’ Person of the Year.
“Women have been speaking up for many, many years, but were very rarely believed, and there were almost never any real consequences for offenders,” Ms Fowler told the Financial Times. “This year, that completely changed.”

Two other stories of note broadened the narrative of women@work in Silicon Valley:
‘The Ellen Pao Effect Is What Happens After Lean In’Jessi Hempel for Wired, September 20, 2017
‘Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?’Liza Mundy for The Atlantic, April 2017

fearless girl.jpgOn October 5 the first major story on workplace harassment in Hollywood was reported in The New York Times.  Since then, some of the best journalists have both reported and reflected on the relationship between men, power and women@work.

Here’s a sampling of the best:
‘Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades’Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for The New York Times, October 5, 2017
‘From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories’Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker, October 10, 2017
‘Your Reckoning and Mine’Rebecca Traister for The Cut, November 12, 2017
‘The Cost of Devaluing Women’Sallie Krawcheck for The New York Times, December 2, 2017

rose reading room.jpgThe questioning of expertise

At work, you know the value of the expertise you bring to your organization. You may be a generalist, a specialist or a combination. You bear the scars and carry the laurels of hard won achievement, and you are compensated for your talent. Colleagues ‘pick your brain’ to complement their own skill set. Customers rely on your advice.

That’s why ‘How America Lost Faith in Expertise’ by Tom Nichols is required reading.

“I fear we are moving beyond a natural skepticism regarding expert claims to the death of the ideal of expertise itself: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, teachers and students, knowers and wonderers — in other words, between those with achievement in an area and those with none.

A modern society cannot function without a social division of labor. No one is an expert on everything. We prosper because we specialize, developing formal and informal mechanisms and practices that allow us to trust one another in those specializations and gain the collective benefit of our individual expertise…The relationship between expert and citizens rests on a foundation of mutual respect and trust.”

IMG_8367.jpgThe gig/side-hustle career

The world of work has changed. We’re not going to time-travel back to a magical place where work fit neatly into single employer; 9-5, five-day a week increments. Whatever you choose to label the current paradigm, it’s a patchwork of assignments, for a variety of employers: some resulting in valuable skill development and others providing the means to an end. And it’s exhausting.

Jia Tolentino examined the consequences of our new work/life for the New Yorker.
‘The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death’ March 22, 2017. “It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news.

“There’s a painful distance between the chipper narratives surrounding labor and success in America and the lived experience of workers.”

IMG_9786.jpgUp lit: A new genre emerges in publishing

In the September article for the NYT Book Review, Meghan Daum reviewed three memoirs.“I’ve always believed some of the best material comes from the workplace…it’s the job site, the place where our skills are honed and our labors converted to currency, that truly defines not just our proficiencies but our element.”

I would agree.

Danuta Kean reported for the Guardian: ‘Up lit: The new book trend with kindness at its core’ “A bruising year dominated by political and economic uncertainty, terrorism and tragedy has, publishers say, kickstarted a new trend they have have branded “up lit”…bookbuyers are seeking out novels and nonfiction that is optimistic rather than feelgood.”

One of her favorites was also mine. ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman, a perfect example of how fiction can outdistance non-fiction when it comes to our relationship to work and our colleagues.

IMG_9162.jpgIt begins: “When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, hairdressers – I tell them I work in an office. In almost nine years, no one’s ever asked what kind of office, or what sort of job I do there. I can’t decide whether that’s because I fit perfectly with their idea of what an office worker looks like, or whether people hear the phrase work ‘in an office’ and automatically fill in the blanks themselves – lady doing photocopying, man tapping at a keyboard. I’m not complaining, I’m delighted that I don’t have to get into the fascinating intricacies of accounts receivable with them.”

One other recommendation, looking at work from a different life cycle perspective:
‘Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk’ by Kathleen Rooney.

“Now I don’t work anymore, and the world is uncomfortable.”

The world is uncomfortable, for many reasons. As 2017 merges into 2018 the question remains for all @work: How will we find fulfillment @work in the new year, amidst a shape-shifting environment where the familiar has been replaced by a round-the-clock hustle?

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The week@work: three questions, a tree, a word, a phrase (and a rabbit)

It’s almost over. A year of continual brain-numbing ‘breaking news’ and distraction. This week@work the focus is on communication and understanding. A teacher posed three important questions to her students, two journalists tracked the odyssey of a balsam fir tree, Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries selected the word of the year and we found the origin of  the phrase ‘glass ceiling’. (And there’s a rabbit.)

The New York Times investigative journalist and author Jodi Kantor‘s work breaking the Harvey Weinstein story demonstrated the value of solid reporting in a time of fake news. But it was her tweet last week that caught my attention.

These are “excellent questions” to ask when evaluating a news story. They can also be added or modified to our repertoire@work. Questions@work are essential, as Academy Award winning producer Brian Grazer noted in his 2015 book, ‘A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life’.

“If you’re the boss, and you manage by asking questions, you’re laying the foundation for the culture of your company or group. 

You’re letting people know that the boss is willing to listen. This isn’t about being “warm” or “friendly”. It’s about understanding how complicated the modern business world is, how indispensable diversity of perspective is, and how hard creative work is.”

And now, a holiday story: the modern tale of a tree, a farmer, a trucker, a lot owner and a customer.

The American Christmas Tree Association reported “More that 94 million American households, or 79 percent of all households, will display a Christmas tree in their home this holiday season…This represents a slight increase overall in the number of households displaying a Christmas tree this year compared to last year. Of those trees, 80 percent will be artificial trees and 20 percent will be real.”

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In ‘1,000 miles. Five Days. Four Familes. One Tree.’, journalists Tiffany Hsu and Roger Kisby followed the supply chain of a single ‘real’ balsam fir from a Nova Scotia farm to a living room in Queens.

“In Lunenburg County, a chunk of Nova Scotia pockmarked by lakes and patches of balsam firs, Silver’s Farm hugs a hill with 45 acres of farmland splayed out in front and 150 acres of Christmas trees behind, all growing naturally and tightly “like the hairs on a dog’s back,” said Wayne Silver.

His operation is small, felling just 3,000 trees a season. Some Nova Scotia farms cut down tens of thousands of trees annually and even ship some overseas.

Mr. Silver took over the farm in 1991 from his father, who took it over from his father, who began cutting Christmas trees in the 1930s. Trees “are in my blood,” he said.

Help is scarce. In a tight labor market with low unemployment, many other tree farmers are hiring migrants from Mexico and Jamaica. Mr. Silver will likely follow suit next year.

“I just work too many long hours,” he said.”

This ‘must read’ multi-media gem captures the changing world of work in North America for farmers, truckers, small business owners and customers.

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It’s that time of year when those @work in the cataloging of words announce their ‘word of the year’. The Oxford Dictionaries chose “the noun, youthquake, defined as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’.”

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“Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism. The word was a top lookup throughout the year, with several spikes that corresponded to various news reports and events. The general rise in lookups tells us that many people are interested in this word; specific spikes give us insight into some of the reasons why.”

And while we’re on the topic, did you ever wonder where the phrase ‘glass ceiling’ originated? This past week, the BBC interviewed management consultant Marilyn Loden who coined the phrase almost 40 years ago.

“I first used the phrase “glass ceiling” in 1978 during a panel discussion about women’s aspirations. As I listened, I noted how the (female) panellists focused on the deficiencies in women’s socialisation, the self-deprecating ways in which women behaved, and the poor self-image that many women allegedly carried.

It was a struggle to sit quietly and listen to the criticisms.

True, women did seem unable to climb the career ladder beyond the lowest rung of middle management, but I argued that the “invisible glass ceiling” – the barriers to advancement that were cultural not personal – was doing the bulk of the damage to women’s career aspirations and opportunities.

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On 24 May 2018, the “glass ceiling” will be 40 years old.

What has changed for working women in that time? The sheer number of female managers has increased dramatically across most industries and yet the metaphor continues to symbolise an enduring barrier to gender equality – one that has been normalised in many organisations where there is now a sense of complacency about the lack of women at the top.”

One last story this week@work: ‘Harvey Is A Great Holiday Movie’ by Jennifer Finney Boylan
“…if the holiday season means anything at all, it’s about believing in things that we cannot actually see. That virtues as shopworn as faith, hope and love can abide, even if others think you’re a crazy person for believing in them. That those we have lost — parents, friends, even our own younger selves — can live on, in us. That there really are spirits that can make us more than ourselves, that can turn our perilous, fallen lives into something sacred.”

 

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The mysteries of networking #6

Does networking really take place in a galaxy far, far away? I think that’s the way some of us approach it – a great excuse for not engaging in the process. And then, there’s the whole ‘mentoring thing’ – Do I need one? How do I find one? Then what do I do?

It’s pretty simple. It’s hard work. Actually, once you start the work doesn’t end. You just need to recalculate the equation. It’s not a chore, it’s an amazing, fun exploration. And you can start today, with the folks in a college classroom, colleagues at work, members of your book club or athletic training group.

“There’s a Chinese saying: “Explore what’s best in the others and follow.” Among my friends, I always learn the best from them.”  Lee Shau Kee

Think about that. “Explore the best in others and follow.” Who are the ‘best’ in your world or the one you want to join? What are the qualities/values that align to win your vote as best@what they do? If you could have a few minutes with them, what would you ask?

The ‘networking’ thing is the exploration. Think about how you might go about planning for a hike, or travel. Why are you going? What do you hope to find? What research have you conducted to prepare? And, you’re planning to have fun, right?

Apply the same process to networking. “Explore the best in others…”

“…and follow.” Once you have started a conversation, it’s time to examine the next layer of career success. What has been the path to success? What were the failures, trade-offs, and recovery? How many detours came along the way? What do they look for in folks they hire?

Ask questions unique to your career aspirations. Your goal is to spark a longer conversation, one that may lead to a continuing professional relationship – a mentor.

“Among my friends, I always learn the best from them.”