‘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.

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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’?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Saturday Read -‘How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum’ by Keri Smith

This is the first ‘Saturday Read’ that comes with a warning.

“! Warning to whomever has just picked up this book. If you find you are unable to use your imagination, you should put this book back immediately. It is not for you. In this book you will be repeatedly asked to…suspend your disbelief, complete tasks that make you feel a bit strange, look at the world in ways that make you think differently, conduct experiments on a regular basis, and see inanimate objects as alive.” 

If you need to improve your CQ (curiosity quotient), this week’s selection from author, illustrator and guerrilla artist, Keri Smith‘How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum’ is for you.

Author Smith invites the reader on a journey of discovery, loosely following a 13 point guide, which includes a “fieldwork section in the back of the book to record and discover findings.”

“You might want to think of this book as you metaphorical suitcase. A place to collect and document your findings. How do you see? It is also a museum. Your very own museum that will contain your unique vision of the world.”

After a couple of incredibly depressing weeks of global events, I was browsing the selection at Main Street Books in ‘downtown’ Davidson, North Carolina last weekend, when this book cover demanded I stop, open, and return to the wonder of our world; starting right where we sit. I was ready to pack my “metaphorical suitcase” and explore an alternate reality.

Here’s the other warning that should come with this book. ‘May be habit-forming.’

On page 13 ‘your mission’, if you choose to accept, is explained.

“The following pages include a variety of prompts and assignments that will help you on your travels. There is also a section on tools and techniques that will help you with documenting methods. You may use the worksheets included or create your own. Remember, all of your most important tools exist in your body! Use them. Collect as much data as you can – it may come in handing later on. Good luck on your journey.”

How to be an explorer? “Always be looking. Everything is interesting. Notice patterns, make connections. Use all of the senses in your investigations.” (and more)

Here’s an example, from the page I opened to first. “Exploration#7 World of Color”

“Collect paint chips from a paint or hardware store. Find colors you respond to in the world. Attempt to match them using the chips. ( You can also match the colors using a portable paint set.) Make notes of where you saw the colors. (Example: color #573 four leaf clover – My scarf, color #308 golden vista – Sunset 01/09/08)

Alternate: document colors from your favorite books, your dreams, your memories.”

There are 59 explorations that tease your inner Picasso or Shackleton, the last being “How to Wander Aimlessly”. This is a book for those of you on vacation, who missed the point of your break :“freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.”

How do you wander aimlessly? “Pay attention to the details. Lose all sense of time and place.” Reinhabit you inner four year old.

This book will plaster a smile on the crankiest visage.

In a month when the release of Pokemon Go has launched thousands of new adventures, ‘How to Be an Explorer of the World’ will reconnect you with a simpler time when all you needed for entertainment was a big box and an imagination to occupy yourself for hours.

 

The Saturday Read ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

I saw the hat first, ‘A.HAM’ emblazoned on its crown. In the midst of the crowds converging on the campus of the University of Southern California last weekend for the LA Times Festival of Books, a student and her parents were headed to an open house hosted by the School of Dramatic Arts. The black and gold logo was a reminder that the phenomena that is ‘Hamilton’ continues to spark the dreams of the aspiring actor, striving historian, and would-be composer.

First there was Ron Chernow‘s 2004 book, ‘Alexander Hamilton’. Last summer, ‘Hamilton’, the musical debuted on Broadway. In February, the original cast recording won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. This week the ‘Hamiltome’ arrived in bookstores and immediately sold out on Amazon. The Saturday Read is ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.

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In 2007 Jeremy McCarter, then drama critic for New York Magazine, reviewed a new play, ‘In The Heights’ and posed the question “Could musicals actually be adapting to a new century’s audience?”

“The most obvious of the show’s many virtues is that it doesn’t sound like the half-assed pseudo-pop that clutters up Broadway. Miranda’s score is rich and kaleidoscopic, as it needs to be.”

In the Introduction to ‘HTR’, Mr. McCarter reflects on his time at New York Magazine and his frustration with lack of interest in the possibilities of hip-hop.

“After many disappointments and false alarms, Heights had made me sit up in my aisle seat: Here’s the guy. Lin’s show about immigration in Upper Manhattan fused salsa, hip-hop, and traditional Broadway ballads to make something old and new, familiar and surprising. Best of all, he made the leap that virtually nobody else had made, using hip-hop to tell a story that had nothing to do with hip-hop – using it as form, not content.”

The writer, director and producer McCarter, who studied history at Harvard connected with the composer, lyricist, actor and Wesleyan alum, Miranda and began a collaboration that resulted in ‘Hamilton The Revolution’.

“It tells the story of two revolutions. There’s the American Revolution of the 18th century, which flares to life in Lin’s libretto, the complete text of which is published here, with his annotations. There’s also the revolution of the show itself: a musical that changes the way that Broadway sounds, and alters who gets to tell the story of our founding, that let’s us glimpse the new, more diverse America rushing our way.”

IMG_4314.jpgThe book is a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the development of a musical. It’s a narrative of the creative process and a roadmap for future generations who will replicate the production on high school and summer stages.

In an interview with CBS This Morning, Mr. McCarter stressed the importance of cataloging the moments from the first rap performance at the White House through the six years to opening night.

We wanted to “tell the story which is not about this historical fact or that historical fact, it’s about the emotional reality that these people were living through…This is not just what happened, but this is how it felt at the time. This is the experience that we all went through…So that ten years from now when kids are doing it they can pick up this book and say ‘Oh, that’s how they did it’, now I understand.”

Where do we find inspiration? It’s the curiosity thing. Mr.Miranda is the master of the inquisitive. And he seems to drawn on every life experience and relationship to connect the dots to his project. Here’s one example from the annotations to ‘You’ll Be Back’.

“I was having a drink with Hugh Laurie, with whom I’d worked on his series ‘House’, and I told him I wanted to write a breakup letter from King George to the colonies. Without blinking, he improv’d at me, “Awwww, you’ll be back,” wagging his finger. I laughed and filed it away. Thanks, Hugh Laurie.”

IMG_4308.jpgWe learn from the wisdom of others. ‘Hamilton The Revolution’ introduces us to a serious set of theater luminaries and traces each of their stories as the words and music evolve.

@work we casually use the buzz words creativity and innovation interchangeably. We imagine we are all curious, exemplars of transformational thinking. But most of us can’t reimagine our way out of our comfort zone. Creativity is hard work.

‘HTR’ is the story of a musical. Its value, for those who work outside the theater, is to show us where curiosity can lead and what creativity looks like.

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“The last song in the show captures the bitter historical truth that every one of Hamilton’s enemies outlived him, and they did all they could to efface his memory. By ending with Hamilton’s afterlife, not his death, the show asks us to think about what we leave behind when we’re gone: It invites us to think about legacies.”

When Ben Brantley reviewed the musical for the New York Times, he wrote “Hamilton” is, among other things, about who owns history, who gets to be in charge of the narrative.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter own ‘HTR’, their story, and leave no doubt about who is in charge of the narrative.

“Who tells your story?”

 

 

 

 

 

“Know something about something…”

What is this thing; lifelong learning? David Brooks called it the ‘question-driven life’, and the late diplomat Richard Holbrooke delivered one of the best defining quotes: “Know something about something. Don’t just present your wonderful self to the world. Constantly amass knowledge and offer it around.” 

Lifelong learning = Curiosity

Recently, in a response to a consultant survey, Michael Dell, the chief executive of Dell, Inc. identified curiosity as the one attribute a leader will need to succeed in the future.

Journalist and questionologist, Warren Berger reports ‘Why Curious People Are Headed To the C-Suite’ for the Harvard Business Review.

“Dell was responding to a 2015 PwC survey of more than a thousand CEOs, a number of whom cited “curiosity” and “open-mindedness” as leadership traits that are becoming increasingly critical in challenging times. Another of the respondents, McCormick & Company CEO Alan D. Wilson, noted that business leaders who “are always expanding their perspective and what they know—and have that natural curiosity—are the people that are going to be successful.

“These days, a leader’s primary occupation must be to discover the future,” Panera Bread CEO Ron Shaich told me. It’s “a continual search,” Shaich says, requiring that today’s leader keep exploring new ideas—including ideas from other industries or even from outside the business world.”

OK, you’re not the head of a multi-national corporation, but you have questions, and not just about the technical aspects of work. It’s the human stuff that’s a bit more difficult to unbundle.

There have been continuing education and extension programs catering to adult learning for a hundred years. Most are connected to an academic institution and offer ‘lite’ versions of curricula taught to college students.

In the summer of 2008, ‘philosopher of life’ Alain deBotton founded ‘The School of Life’ in London a few blocks walk from the Russell Square Underground Station. Since then it has evolved into the new model for lifelong learning, employing non-traditional faculty to deliver programing focused on “developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand, and where necessary change, the world.”

In the Marchmont Street location, and recently opened global sites, professionals come together to learn, share and evolve in a safe space of respectful interaction. This past weekend, SOL offered a ‘pop-up’ sampling of programs in Los Angeles. I attended three of the five sessions led by philosopher and trust consultant, Brennan Jacoby.

On a beautiful California Saturday morning, a diverse group of students arrived at the Design Matters Gallery to begin a day of three, 90 minute sessions. The content informed, inspired and provoked lively discussion.

The School of Life model works because talented faculty deliver contemporary topics, using an instructional technique that allows for the right balance of introspection, sharing and networking. Sessions seemed to end too soon, with attendees lingering to continue conversations.

For the Los Angeles weekend the topics included: How to Find A Job You Love, How to Be Creative, How to Think Like an Entrepreneur, How to be Confident and How to Have Better Conversations.

The School of Life is a catalyst for the question-driven life. If you’ve decided your ‘wonderful self’ is not quite perfect yet, and you’re “ready to amass knowledge and offer it around”, set you lifelong learning GPS on London, or visit the website to begin your quest.

 

 

 

‘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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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 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.”