‘Not in the job description’

How many times have you heard that those who succeed ascribe their advancement to going beyond the parameters of their job description? What does that mean?

In some cases it might be asking for additional responsibility or supplementary assignments. But if we step back from a particular job, maybe it’s about being prepared for the bigger picture of your career. It’s the curiosity/lifelong learning thing that connects the dots as you progress as a professional. It’s recognizing a painting in a new client’s office and beginning a conversation, not based on a sale, but a shared interest.

It’s about being multidimensional.

To help on this aspect of professional development, we add a new category this week to ‘workthoughts’ – ‘Not in the Job Description’.

To begin, we follow the advice of The New York Times’ chief classical music critic, Anthony Tommasini. ‘Curious About Classical Music? Here’s Where To Start.’

“Over my many years of reviewing, I’ve often been asked for advice from newcomers to classical music, people excited by what they’ve heard, and eager to hear — and to learn — more.

Naturally, I urge those exploring classical music to find out whatever they can. Yet I’ve found that many people assume that knowledge of the art form is a prerequisite to appreciation. Newcomers to other performing arts, like theater or dance, don’t seem to feel this level of intimidation. I’d encourage those who are curious to just go to a performance and see what they think. A symphony orchestra program — or an opera, or a piano recital — is not an exam. It’s an escape, an adventure, an enrichment.”

Just to emphasize his point. When adding a new dimension to your portfolio think of it as “an escape, an adventure, an enrichment”.

Mr. Tommasini goes on to answer questions in his article, including his definition of ‘classical music’.

“Labels can be problematic in any field; “classical music” especially so. One complication is that music history refers to the years from roughly 1750 to 1825 as the “classical” period, when Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven achieved their glory. But in a broader sense the term classical music has been adopted as a way to describe the continuing heritage of music mostly written to be performed in concert halls and opera houses by orchestras, singers, choruses, chamber ensembles and solo instrumentalists. Another characteristic is that composers in this tradition have been drawn to larger, structured forms. Still, the term is far from ideal, but no one has come up with a good alternative — yet.”

The article includes links to sample recordings to get you started, including clips of Maria Callas’ 1953 performance as Tosca at Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

LaScala.jpg

In addition to following the dots presented by Mr. Tommasini, add a visit to an opera house or concert hall the next time you are planning a trip out of town or out of the country. Identify reviewers and critics that seem to match your tastes and follow them on social media. You will be amazed and delighted as you trace the links connecting the variety of performance.

Where will you begin your new adventure – ‘not in the job description’?

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can’t go home again – keeping a journal to tell your story

“If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.”             Terry Pratchett*

How do you turn your life into a story? A timeline of your social media posts might provide a hint to your narrative’s trajectory, but the best way is to begin recording what’s happening in your life on a daily basis; on paper, in a journal.

One of the best jobs I ever had was leading a freshman seminar, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again, Now What?’. At the beginning of the fall semester I gave each first year student a blank Moleskine notebook.  The direction was simple – “record your observations of people and place… keep your memories the old fashioned way – on paper. This is your personal space for your personal thoughts.”

Keeping a journal is way to establish a routine in a new environment and at the same time reflect on the unique experience of joining a new community. It’s a practice where you take ownership of your story.

“When  you leave college, there are thousands of people out there with the same degree you have; when you get a job, there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living.

But you are the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on the bus, or in the car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.”
Anna Quindlen**

College is just one catalyst to begin the process of recording  and reflecting. The ‘Back to School’ aisles in your local Target are full of notebooks in every imaginable shape and size, just waiting to capture your creativity.

Why a notebook and not an online journal? It’s important to disconnect and avoid distraction when you’re talking to yourself about your day. And then there’s the apocalyptic view: when we are all off the grid, we’ll still have our journals.

When we scribble a few words, we are compiling a record that simply makes sense of the day. And on those days when things have not worked out as planned, it’s the perfect place to vent, in the privacy of the lined (or unlined) page.

What happened to all those first year students and their Moleskine journals? I think some may still be in a storage bin, blank. But for many, they contain the treasure of a story of transition and change, a template for continuous, lifelong learning.

String a few years of journal entries together and you begin to see career patterns emerge: choices, consequences and course corrections.

Your journal is your story. There are no rules. You’re writing your story in real time. Don’t edit, but do read what you write.

Take care of the life of your mind while paying attention to the life of your heart.

*Terry Pratchett   ‘The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents’ 2001
**Anna Quindlen   ‘A Short Guide to a Happy Life’ 2000

 

‘Chicago and December’ a poem by W.S. Di Piero

The Friday Poem this week is ‘Chicago and December’ by Stanford University Professor of English, Emeritus W.S. Di Piero.

In an interview with ‘McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’, the poet described the early influences in his writing.

“Writers are schooled by whatever they read. I took what was available. (Discovering the Philadelphia Free Library was enormous.) All writing occupied the same bandwidth—Freddy the Pig books, Kidnapped, Poe’s and Conan Doyle’s stories, and in particular, when I was very small, the Sears catalogs I studied on Sunday visits to relatives’ houses. I came to love reading about the old west—no kid in South Philadelphia knew more about Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, Doc Holliday. In high school I read Whitman—he was, still is, so strange, exasperatingly friendly, formidable. By the time I turned twenty-one, it was “sweet sounds together” that mattered. Sound is still important. Subject matter was (still is) whatever piece of life’s procession pauses in front of me (or behind my back).”

On this first Friday in December, take a break from work and visit Chicago as we accompany poet W. S. Di Piero on a walk from the Art Institute, across the river to Michigan Avenue.

Chicago and December

Trying to find my roost
one lidded, late afternoon,
the consolation of color
worked up like neediness,
like craving chocolate,
I’m at Art Institute favorites:
Velasquez’s “Servant,”
her bashful attention fixed
to place things just right,
Beckmann’s “Self-Portrait,”
whose fishy fingers seem
never to do a day’s work,
the great stone lions outside
monumentally pissed
by jumbo wreaths and ribbons
municipal good cheer
yoked around their heads.
Mealy mist. Furred air.
I walk north across
the river, Christmas lights
crushed on skyscraper glass,
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing
through the artless fog.
Vague fatigued promise hangs
in the low darkened sky
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing
the bare wintering branches,
black-on-black shining,
and I’m in a moment
more like a fore-moment:
from the sidewalk, watching them
poised without purpose,
I feel lifted inside the common
hazards and orders of things
when from their stillness,
the formal, aimless, not-waiting birds
erupt again, clap, elated weather-
making wing-clouds changing,
smithereened back and forth,
now already gone to follow
the river’s running course.

W.S. Di Piero  Poetry Magazine, June 2006

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The Saturday Read – Gift a book this holiday season

One of the best presents one can give or receive is a book. #ShopSmall today and visit your local bookseller to find the perfect gift for everyone on your holiday list.

Let’s start with a client or your boss, two challenging categories for gift giving. You could go with a bottle of wine, chocolates, fruit basket or Starbucks card. But that’s what they’ll get from your competitors and colleagues. If you want to stand out and demonstrate, in a very tangible way, that you’ve been listening when they talk about their interests outside of work, a book just may be the way to make a connection. And I’m not talking about the latest business best seller.

Former Seattle librarian and current NPR commentator, Nancy Pearl has written a series of ‘Book Lust’ books recommending current and back list titles for “every mood, moment or reason and travelers, vagabonds and dreamers”. Her suggestions sample the catalog of titles published since 1960, so you will no doubt rediscover some gems to twinkle under the tree.

Create a list of folks @work. Then make a few notes about each and their interests. Visit an independent bookseller today, #SmallBusinessSaturday, and ask for suggestions. Often the best books of the year will never make The New York Times bestseller list, so you will need a little help from someone whose life is about books.

Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Costco don’t count. For the important task of matching books with colleagues and clients, you need the expertise of someone invested in presenting a diversity of titles.

“Independent bookstores never had to answer to the dictates of public markets. Many of their proprietors understood, intuitively and from conversations with customers, that a well-curated selection—an inventory of old and new books—was their primary and maybe only competitive advantage. In the words of Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “The indie bookselling amalgam of knowledge, innovation, passion, and business sophistication has created a unique shopping experience.”

Some may think a book is a risky gifting proposition. The risk lies only in not  paying attention and failing to seek out help from experts. Take some time today to shop on Main Street and pick up a few books for the holidays.

“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside them, and it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.” Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

 

#TheGreatListen 2015

What if you could capture a generation of American lives and experiences in one holiday weekend? That’s the vision of StoryCorps founder, Dave Isay, and he plans to fulfill his mission this Thanksgiving weekend through a combination of an app and an educators toolkit to enable DIY interviews to gather the wisdom of others. It’s the #GreatThanksgivingListen and you are invited to attend.

StoryCorps recently celebrated twelve years of conducting and recording oral history interviews, beginning with a booth in New York’s Grand Central Station and later taking the booth on the road to all 50 states creating the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered. The next step is to grow the archive of 100,000 to tens of thousands.

Dave Isay and his organization are the recipients of the 2015 TED Prize, and it was in his presentation to the annual conference in April that he outlined his proposal for a “national homework assignment”.

Here’s the plan. Download the app, select ‘helpful hints’ for a short tutorial. Select ‘browse’ to view previous StoryCorps recordings. Go to ‘my interviews’ to outline and record your interview. You can choose  from a list of sample questions by categories. Next step –  record!

“Who are they? What did they learn in life? How would they like to be remembered?”

And here’s the magical part. You can keep your recording for yourself or opt to upload it to the StoryCorps archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Imagine the story of your family intertwined with other American voices building upon a historical record of their time.

In his April TED talk, Isay described the power of “…everyday people talking about lives lived with kindness, courage, decency and dignity…it sometimes feels like you are walking on holy ground…”

If you believe that you learn from the wisdom of others, this holiday offers an opportunity to join “…a global movement to record and preserve meaningful conversations with one another that results in an ever growing digital archive of the collective wisdom of humanity.”

 

 

What if we approached job search as an adventure?

Take a minute to search the online dictionaries for a definition of the word ‘adventure’. All will include a version of “an ​unusual, ​exciting, and ​possibly ​dangerous ​activity, ​trip, or ​experience, or the ​excitement ​produced by such ​activities”. What if we approached our job search as an adventure?

There are bookcases full of career exploration guides and a plethora of simulation exercises marketed as navigational tools for the job seeker. The industry of career consulting has depreciated the complexity of vocational discovery and led folks to believe that career mysteries can be decoded with minimal effort.

It’s a cookie cutter approach assuming that we know what jobs are out there and know the skill set required for each. What we also know is that the world @work is volatile and many job titles have been retired along with their occupants and many more have evolved with the emergence of new employers.

If you frame your job search as an adventure, your expectations adjust to prepare for the unexpected. Your time frames align with reality. The anticipation of meeting new folks, cataloging what you still need to learn and testing your ambitions @work will catapult you out of bed each morning.

Where do you start? Select an individual who is known for their sense of adventure. Focus on the excitement vs. the danger. Why are they successful?

“To me, adventure has always been the connections and bonds you create with people when you’re there. And you can have that anywhere.” Bear Grylls

Start making the connections – scheduling conversations.The adventure is in the discovery of what you don’t know about work. It’s asking questions, listening and connecting the dots. As you accumulate knowledge, various scenarios begin to emerge in the experience of others.

It’s a lifetime commitment once you open the door to adventure.

Remember what Bilbo used to say: ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”” — J.R.R. Tolkien

The ‘gig economy’ and ‘the new romantics’

The ground is shifting the foundations of our world@work. New economic models are emerging of mosaic careers where freelancing is the predominant driver of income. In order to flourish workers will have to reimagine their life@work and add skills previously delivered through full time employers. This is the conversation that should be taking place in corporate boardrooms, university classrooms, state legislatures and presidential debates.

Don’t believe me? How did you get to work? Uber? Where did you stay on vacation? Airbnb?

The initial repercussions of the new world@work are being felt in the halls of justice as folks try to fit old definitions of work and workers into new, entrepreneurial business models.

Sarah Kessler writing for Fast Company summarized the dilemma.

“What’s at stake with these lawsuits and protests? The very definition of “employee” in a tech-enabled, service-driven 21st century American economy. Gig economy companies do not own cars, hotels, or even their workers’ cleaning supplies. What they own is a marketplace with two sides. On one side are people who need a job done—a ride to the airport, a clean house, a lunchtime delivery. On the other are people who are willing to do that job. If Uber and other companies are going to be as big as some claim, a new deal has to be brokered, one that squares the legal rules governing work with new products and services. What benefits can you expect from a quasi-employer? What does it mean to be both independent and tethered to an app-based company? The social contract between gig economy workers and employers is broken. Who will fix it, and how, will determine the fate of thousands of workers and hundreds of millions of dollars.”

James Surowiecki writing in The New Yorker described just how difficult it is to define the difference between an employee and an independent contractor.

“We hear a lot these days about the gig economy, but the issue of whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor has been the subject of intense legal battles for decades. The distinction can be surprisingly hard to make. The I.R.S. has a list of twenty factors that it takes into account, but other federal agencies have different criteria, as do most states. The fundamental issue is usually whether an employer has “control” over the work being done, but defining control isn’t always easy.”

This is where it begins in the U.S., in the court system. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs will continue to connect clients with products and hire workers who will supplement their income performing a variety of part-time professional services. Eventually the laws will catch up with the workplace reality. But in the interim, universities have to decipher the emerging skill set and prepare the next generation of workers for success.

Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University in Boston conducted an informal survey of the university community, tweeting the question, “What skills will graduates need for success in the gig economy?”

“…we can see five skills that will be invaluable for thriving in the gig economy:

Generativity: How to create something unique, be it a product, a service, or an idea. E.g., coming up with the idea for a widget.

Entrepreneurship: How to spot an opportunity and act on it effectively. Discovering a market for widgets.

Originality: How to view an existing subject through an unexpected lens. Realizing that the widget can be made more sustainably from recycled water bottles.

Interdisciplinary thought: How to bridge concepts from different fields to form new ideas. Combining engineering and design so that the widget is not only functional, but beautiful.

Dealing with ambiguity: How to confidently address a problem with no clear solution, often by using a blend of experience, intuition, and grasp of human nature. Faced with plunging stock prices, reinventing the company as a widget-sharing app.”

The ‘new gig workers’ will also need a basic understanding of business law and finance. Arun Sundararajan writing in The Guardian assesses the micro and macro implications of the new model.

“There’s certainly something empowering about being your own boss. With the right mindset, you can achieve a better work-life balance. But there’s also something empowering about a steady pay cheque, fixed work hours and company-provided benefits. It’s harder to plan your life longer term when you don’t know how much money you’re going to be making next year.”

In many countries, key slices of the social safety net are tied to full-time employment with a company or the government. Although the broader socioeconomic effects of the gig economy are as yet unclear, it is clear we must rethink the provision of our safety net, decoupling it from salaried jobs and making it more readily available to independent workers.”

Fundamentally, the new ‘gig worker’ will focus on human interaction vs. transactional activities. We are back to the core curriculum of a liberal arts education. The lawyers, politicians and business folk will figure out the structure and protections. The humanists will find job security in the ‘gig economy’.

David Brooks writing in The New York Times imagines the new world@work.

“What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans?”

“Secure workers will combine technical knowledge with social awareness — the sort of thing you get from your genes, from growing up in a certain sort of family and by widening your repertoire of emotions through reflection, literature and a capacity for intimacy.”

“I could imagine a time when young thinkers discard the strictures of the academic professionalism and try to revive the model of the intellectual as secular sage. I could see other young people tiring of résumé-building do-goodism and trying to live more radically for the poor. The romantic tries as much as possible to ground his or her life in purer love that transforms — making him or her more inspired, creative and dedicated, and therefore better able to live as a modern instantiation of some ideal.”

Gig learning is lifelong learning. We will need leaders in both education and business who will welcome the feedback of their constituencies and be nimble in their response to a world@work that is driven by human interaction in the relational and supported by technology in the transactional.

The other Stanford Commencement Speech – Dana Gioia

Even if you had not attended the commencement of the Class of 2012 at Stanford, you probably have a faint memory of the speech Steve Jobs delivered, as it played in unending loops on social media.

Why did his words resonate? Because he shared what he believed to be the fundamentals of his success though a multi-disciplinary, non-traditional approach to education.

“… you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Steve Jobs in 2012 was a celebrity. The speaker in 2007 was not, and that caused a stir on ‘The Farm’. A self described working class kid – half Italian, half Mexican from Hawthorne, California, Dana Gioia was serving as the head of the National Endowment for the Arts when he was invited to speak.

In a culture where ‘connecting the dots’, creativity, innovation and curiosity are the current corporate buzz words, we seem to devalue the artists who live these words every day.

Gioia acknowledged the disagreement over his choice and used it to challenge the graduate’s definition of celebrity in his address.

“I know that there was a bit of controversy when my name was announced as the graduation speaker. A few students were especially concerned that I lacked celebrity status. It seemed I wasn’t famous enough. I couldn’t agree more. As I have often told my wife and children, “I’m simply not famous enough.”

And that—in a more general and less personal sense—is the subject I want to address today, the fact that we live in a culture that barely acknowledges and rarely celebrates the arts or artists.”

He then illustrated his point sharing his story:

“I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Music Hall, I saw—along with comedians, popular singers, and movie stars—classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art.

The same was even true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, and James Baldwin on general interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American—because the culture considered them important.

Today no working-class or immigrant kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.”

Dana Gioia’s work today is poet and university lecturer. But he started his career in the same place, at Stanford. He earned both B.A. and M.B.A. degrees from his alma mater and pursued a business career, eventually serving as a Vice President of General Foods. In between he earned an MA in Comparative Literature from Harvard and in 1992 left the corporate world to be a full time writer.

On that day, at Stanford he was speaking to himself, challenging those who would go off to investment banks and Fortune 500 companies to consider their responsibility to American culture and the arts.

“To compete successfully, this country needs continued creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.

Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world—equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being—simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory, and physical senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images.

Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, “It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget.” Art awakens, enlarges, refines, and restores our humanity. You don’t outgrow art. The same work can mean something different at each stage of your life. A good book changes as you change.”

Steve Jobs and Dana Gioia gave the same speech five years apart. It’s about curiosity, creativity and innovation. How can we connect the dots if our world view has only one?

The Power of Taking a Break & the Unexpected Inspiration of Reading

On Sunday tickets will go on sale for the musical ‘Hamilton’ as it moves from the Public Theater in New York to begin it’s Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers in mid July. It’s off Broadway performances which began last month, have received positive reviews from theater critics for its’ unique staging and musical interpretation of the life of Alexander Hamilton.

So why the theater update on a blog about work?  The New Yorker staff writer, Rebecca Mead answers in her profile of writer, composer and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was on vacation in Mexico 2009 “…and while bobbing in the pool on an inflatable lounger he started to read a book that he bought on impulse: Ron Chernow’s eight-hundred-page biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda was seized by the story of Hamilton’s early life. Born out of wedlock, raised in poverty in St. Croix, abandoned by his father, and orphaned by his mother as a child, Hamilton transplanted himself as an adolescent to a New York City filled with revolutionary fervor…”

If Mr. Miranda had not been on vacation, taking time away from work, we may have been deprived of his creativity and ability to connect the dots as he developed his perspective for the play: “Miranda saw Hamilton’s relentlessness, brilliance, linguistic dexterity, and self-destructive stubbornness through his own idiosyncratic lens. It was, he thought, a hip-hop story, and immigrant’s story.”

Ms. Mead’s article tells the story of the evolution of Mr. Miranda’s career, the development of ‘Hamilton’, and the connections he has made along the way with mentors and creative partnerships.

Sometimes we think creativity belongs to the artist and we struggle to find opportunities to relate to our own workplace. But creativity is about imagination and storytelling our way to solving a problem.  Taking time away allows for a different view. If we are open to the unexpected we can connect the dots and reframe the narrative. And, maybe be online Sunday to buy tickets and see how it’s done.