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 Saturday Read – Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman ‘A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life’

Are you curious about the people who work for you? Academy award winning producer Brian Grazer thinks you should be. He manages his organization with curiosity, by asking questions. His book, ‘A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life’ was released earlier this year and is a memoir of his success and it’s source, listening to the answers.

“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.”

The initial reviews of the book focused on the ‘curiosity conversations’ Grazer has utilized throughout his career to network with a variety of folks in his unique quest for lifelong learning. But in the acknowledgements at the end of the book he addresses the reader directly on his purpose in writing ‘A Curious Mind’.

“a book not about my curiosity, but about what curiosity has enabled me to do, about what curiosity can enable anyone to do…”

“I didn’t want to write a book about all the people I’d had conversations with – I wanted to write about the impulse to have those conversations. I wanted to use the conversations to tell a story: the story of my steady discovery of the power of curiosity in my own life.”

For Grazer, it’s not just a hobby, but a commitment to intentionally integrate questioning into both his work and life outside of work.

“For it to be effective, curiosity has to be harnessed to at least two other key traits. First, the ability to pay attention to the answers to your questions – you have to actually absorb whatever it is you’re being curious about…The second trait is the willingness to act.”

In the early chapters he describes the power of curiosity to motivate, spark creativity, and build confidence. He is the ‘bard of curiosity’ sharing his career story intertwined with his capacity for discovery. But it’s in chapter five where the storytelling turns to management advice. “…the human connection that is created by curiosity…Human connection requires sincerity. It requires compassion. It requires trust.”

“Can you really have sincerity, or compassion, or trust, without curiosity?

“I don’t think so. I think when you stop to consider it – when you look at your own experiences at work and at home – what’s so clear is that authentic human connection requires curiosity.”

Here is the ‘gem’ of the book.

“To be a good boss, you have to be curious about the people who work for you.”

How many of you have a BA in business, an MBA or certificate from a prestigious executive management program? Has anyone ever suggested management by curiosity? We have all been taught to listen. And we don’t. But no one ever explained in this way, how critical the right questions are to getting to the fundamentals when decisions are being made.

“I use curiosity every day to help manage people at work…as a tool to build trust and cooperation and engagement.”

“And curiosity is the key to connecting and staying connected.”

Reading ‘A Curious Mind’ reminded me of a quote buried in dialog in the 2012 novel by Mark Helprin, ‘In Sunlight and in Shadow’:

“It’s a defining difference, curiosity. I’ve never known a stupid person who was curious, or a curious person who was stupid.”

The Mysteries of Networking – Part Two

Are you curious about why some people succeed and others do not? If you had the opportunity, who would you like to interview about their success? What would you ask? Identifying folks you would like to meet and crafting questions for a conversation is the foundation for a lifetime of networking.

Start by making a list of who you want to meet. Since we are talking about careers, let’s focus on professional connections. Once you have your list, google these folks for background, then email or call to schedule an appointment.  Anticipate rejection, but don’t give up. Request a minimal length of time (15 – 20 minutes), offer a wide range of dates (next 3 weeks) and be charming and humble (even if arrogance if viewed as an asset in the industry).

Brian Grazer calls his approach to networking ‘curiosity conversations’. He found, early in his career:

“First, people – even famous and powerful people – are happy to talk, especially about themselves and their work; and second, it helps to have even a small pretext to talk to them.”

“I developed a brief introduction for the secretaries and assistants who answered the phone: “Hi, my name is Brian Grazer. I work for Warner Bros. Business Affairs. This is not associated with studio business, and I do not want a job., but I would like to meet Mr. So-and-so for five minutes to talk to him…” And I always offered a specific reason I wanted to talk to everyone.

My message was clear: I worked at a real place, I only wanted five minutes on the schedule, I did not want a job. And I was polite.”

Minimize rejection by having your script ready with your specific reason for the meeting request.

Once you have your meeting, develop a set of questions. Keep it short and to the point. What is it that you want to know about this individual that will help guide you in your career decision? Here are a few suggestions:

Why do you think you have been successful in this field?

What experiences served as building blocks to your success?

Did you experience failure? How did you recover and move forward?

How do you balance work and family? Have there been tradeoffs?

What do you look for when selecting a new employee?

What does it take to be a success in this field?

Try to meet with folks at their workplace. It is one thing to hear people talk about their work, it is another to experience the work environment and observe them in it. Remember, you are trying to absorb as much information as you can in a short time to help you in your career decision. Think Dian Fossey among the gorillas of Rwanda. Observe the culture, the behaviors and the office decor.

How many people should you meet? It’s not about quantity. It may be that your first contact answers your questions and you are on a track to follow your dream. Or, your first information interview only leads to more questions. Before you leave, ask for an additional contact; someone who may be able to answer these additional questions.

Networking is about building relationships. The quality of the effort depends on your ability to listen and act on the information you receive. It’s a practice, not a 911 call when your job is threatened.

Adapt your style for lifelong learning and networking to incorporate elements of Brian Grazer’s ‘curiosity conversations’:

“For thirty-five years, I’ve been tracking down people about whom I was curious and asking if I could sit down with them for an hour. I’ve had as few as a dozen curiosity conversations in a year, but sometimes I’ve done them as often as once a week. My goal was always at least one every two weeks.”

 

 

 

 

The week@work April 13 – 19 Apollo 13, Brian Grazer & Adderall in the workplace

The week@work celebrated authors and their books at the LA Times Festival of Books in Los Angeles, commemorated the courage of the astronauts on Apollo 13 and explored the growing abuse of attention deficit disorder drugs in the workplace.

It’s interesting how the dots connect. Yesterday I was sitting in a large auditorium at the University of Southern California listening to an interview with Brian Grazer, producer and now writer, describe a self-improvement process he has utilized since graduating from college. Each week he identifies at least one person, a stranger, he would like to meet and have a ‘curiosity conversation’. It’s a practice he continues to energize and expand his capabilities. Speaking earlier this year at SXSW he emphasized “Curiosity is the source of all my success.”

In 1995 he produced the film Apollo 13, recounting the story of the astronaut’s survival. The key word is survival. His process in selecting this project connected back to a woman, Veronica Denegra, who had been tortured for 18 months in Chile for her opposition to the government. It wasn’t his interest in space, but his memory of Ms. Denegra’s story of survival that connected him to Apollo 13.

“You can never know how the dots will connect; how opportunities will come alive when you never knew they existed.”

The talented professionals at NASA who brainstormed their way through to a successful conclusion of the Apollo 13 mission were honored this week at the San Diego Air and Space Museum on the 45th anniversary of the mission. The story of the ‘real life’ events led by mission commander Jim Lovell and flight director Gene Kranz remains a model case study of problem solving, teamwork and creativity in an extremely high risk work environment.

In the December, 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review three authors described their findings on how CEO’s innovate. In ‘The Innovator’s DNA’ Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen identified “five “discovery skills” that distinguish the most creative executives: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. We found that innovative entrepreneurs (who are also CEOs) spend 50% more time on these discovery activities than do CEOs with no track record for innovation. Together, these skills make up what we call the innovator’s DNA. And the good news is, if you’re not born with it, you can cultivate it.”

Here we have Brian Grazer, producer, who appears to be the poster boy for the innovator’s DNA, telling the story of another illustration of innovation, in the story of the Apollo13 crew and the folks on the ground at NASA who brought them home, 45 years ago this week.

“The conversations are the artistic fertilizer of what comes up on the screen. It enriches everything that lives in your mind in terms of exploring possibilities.”

The third story this week appears on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, ‘Abuse of Attention Deficit Pills Graduates Into the Workplace’. A generation that employed attention disorder drugs to stay up late to study for a final or complete a paper has now continued the practice, ordering ‘pills on demand’ to complete work assignments.

“Doctors and medical ethicists expressed concern for misusers’ health, as stimulants can cause anxiety, addiction and hallucinations when taken in high doses. But they also worried about added pressure in the workplace — where the use by some pressures more to join the trend.”

Young professionals believe they need these drugs to get hired. And once hired, believe they need chemical support to sustain their productivity, to be competitive.

We are only at the beginning of this story, but leaders should be paying attention and consider the effects of an organizational culture that facilitates this behavior. A dose of management emotional intelligence and creativity might go a long way to building an alternative workplace, a place where productivity is fueled by ‘curiosity conversations’, not drugs.

Mr. Grazer believes “Curiosity is the solution to every problem that you’ve got.” And he may be right.