The week@work – issues that will shape the world in 2016, positive forecast on salary growth, George R.R. Martin misses a deadline and why we should focus on our ‘already done’ list

The past week@work marked the transition from the old year to the new. We have seen the last of the ‘best and worst of the year’ in every imaginable category and it’s time to turn our attention to the future. Here’s the problem; global issues, work issues, customer issues and career issues don’t magically resolve themselves at the stroke of midnight on 12/31.

What the new year does provide is a demarcation point in time, to set aside previous solutions and reimagine innovative answers. We have permission to start anew.

Rose Pastore offers a list of ’10 Issues That Will Shape the World In 2016′. Recognizing the continuum of events from the old year to the new – “The end of 2015 leaves many of the year’s most significant issues still very much in flux, including the reform of U.S. gun control laws, the fates of thousands of Syrian refugees, and the legal status of massive startups like Uber and Airbnb.”

Some of these issues seem so beyond our everyday lives that it may be hard to grasp a connection to our work and workplace. But somewhere, a diplomat, an entrepreneur, an educator or a student may seize the moment, and solve one piece of the puzzle, in one of our multiple global challenges: “the refugee crisis, climate change, data security, gun violence, social justice and regulating the sharing economy.” 

Don Lee reported on the view that salaries will increase in 2016, driven by the decrease in unemployment and the implementation of new minimum wage laws in a number of states.

“American workers are poised in 2016 to finally get what they’ve been missing for years: higher salaries.

…worker wages will get an additional boost from higher minimum wages taking effect in a number of cities and states. California’s new minimum pay goes to $10 an hour in January. The increase will amount to an 11% pay raise for Marco Ruiz, a carwash worker in Anaheim who earns $9 an hour.

That’s an additional $40 a week, more than enough to cover Ruiz’s bus fare to his job from his home in Norwalk, which he rents with his brother-in-law. “It’s marvelous,” said the divorced 35-year-old, who started at the carwash eight years ago making $7.50 an hour, the state’s minimum wage then.

Like Ruiz, most people in the U.S. already feel more secure in their jobs. As layoffs have receded sharply, weekly filings for new jobless benefits have fallen this year to numbers not seen since the early 1970s. And Gallup polls show workers’ “complete satisfaction” with job security rose to a 15-year high in summer 2014. Their overall satisfaction with pay, however, hasn’t returned to prerecession levels. In fact, many workers still feel that the recovery from the Great Recession passed them by.”

Early Saturday morning, author George R.R. Martin posted his admission, “THE WINDS OF WINTER is not finished.”

The year ended and the author of the series, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, publicly announced he had missed a deadline and gave us a glimpse of his creative process.

“Believe me, it gave me no pleasure to type those words. You’re disappointed, and you’re not alone. My editors and publishers are disappointed, HBO is disappointed, my agents and foreign publishers and translators are disappointed… but no one could possibly be more disappointed than me. For months now I have wanted nothing so much as to be able to say, “I have completed and delivered THE WINDS OF WINTER” on or before the last day of 2015.

But the book’s not done.

Nor is it likely to be finished tomorrow, or next week. Yes, there’s a lot written. Hundreds of pages. Dozens of chapters. (Those ‘no pages done’ reports were insane, the usual garbage internet journalism that I have learned to despise). But there’s also a lot still left to write. I am months away still… and that’s if the writing goes well. (Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.) Chapters still to write, of course… but also rewriting. I always do a lot of rewriting, sometimes just polishing, sometimes pretty major restructures.”

Alison Flood of The Guardian reported on the response from readers and fans.

“This time, though, Martin’s readers were quick to encourage him, with the more than 1,000 comments on his blog ranging from “Love your work, George! Get it done when it’s done. I’ll be there” to “Don’t sweat it, George” and “Take as long as you need to, sir”.

“That couldn’t have been fun to write,” wrote one reader in response to Martin’s blog. “But fact is in 50 years readers will judge on the book’s quality and not if they met some arbitrary deadline and beat the TV adaptation. As much as I’d like to see it released soon, I ultimately approve of the priority on quality.”

For all of you who have started the new year with a missed deadline, consider the lesson here. It’s impossible to live without failure. Even the most successful fail. It’s the next step in the lifelong learning process that matters, and that might be the most important thought to hold in the new year.

Minda Zetlin offers some timely practical advice, that George R. R. Martin might consider ‘Five Reasons You Should Make an Already-Done List Right Now’.

“…if you want to feel motivated, set that to-do list aside, and make a list of what you’ve already accomplished instead.

That advice comes from best-selling author and executive coach Wendy Capland. A while back, I wrote a column from an interview with Capland and as a follow-up we decided she would coach me and that I would write about it. These coaching sessions come with homework, and one recent assignment was to make a list of all the things I had already done​ to advance toward my most ambitious goals. It was something I’d never done before, and it was a revelation.”

Perhaps the best advice is to start the year with an accomplishments audit, focusing on the strengths derived from your success (and failure) and build on that foundation @work in the new year.

 

 

 

Does your resume reflect your values?

Yesterday was #GivingTuesday, a day to give back after the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Let’s start a new tradition, #ValuesWednesday and do a quick audit of our community involvement activities over the past year, and update our resumes to reflect our values.

It’s not just our individual contributions to our local area, but the activities aligned with the places we work. As a new employee at Salesforce you spend your first day outside the office working for a community non-profit organization. It’s a clear message that ‘giving back’ is part of the corporate DNA.

“Salesforce operates on what it calls a “1-1-1” philanthropy approach, in which it supports local nonprofits by giving 1 percent of its products, 1 percent of its equity and 1 percent of its employees’ time.

As an added incentive, employees get six paid days off a year to volunteer. If they complete that, they receive a $1,000 grant to donate to a nonprofit of their choice.”

Most folks forget to include a community involvement section on their resume and omit a key component of their work narrative.

Your resume should communicate what’s important to you. It’s a living document that reflects your commitment @work and in your community.

Conducting a ‘values audit’ is not only an exercise to build your resume, it’s a way to evaluate how you set your priorities over the past year. If you notice your perception is out of balance with reality, you may want to consider the work/family pressures that redirected your plans. If work and values are coming unglued, expand your audit to take in the bigger picture of career/life decisions.

Po Bronson wrote an article for Fast Company magazine 13 years ago. It’s a piece that continues to resonate over time as it applies to our life @work.

“Every industry has a culture. And every culture is driven by a value system.

One of the most common mistakes is not recognizing how these value systems will shape you. People think that they can insulate themselves, that they’re different. They’re not. The relevant question in looking at a job is not What will I do? but Who will I become? What belief system will you adopt, and what will take on heightened importance in your life? Because once you’re rooted in a particular system — whether it’s medicine, New York City, Microsoft, or a startup — it’s often agonizingly difficult to unravel yourself from its values, practices, and rewards. Your money is good anywhere, but respect and status are only a local currency. They get heavily discounted when taken elsewhere. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and opportunity can lock you in forever.”

On this #ValuesWednesday, ask yourself, Who’s driving the values bus? Are you morphing into a corporate clone or maintaining the integrity of your personal value system? We’re not talking mutually exclusive terms here, just taking an annual values audit.

The week@work – Mark Zuckerberg’s parental leave, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem have lunch, and 29 words to avoid in an interview

The stories selected from this week@work include Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to take two months of parental leave, a conversation between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem, and advice on words to avoid in an interview.

Mark Zuckerberg’s choice to ‘lead by example’ and step away from work to care for family may signal to Facebook employees and other CEOs that the world is finally changing for dual career parents.

Covering the story for Wired, journalist Julia Greenberg wrote:

“Zuckerberg is perhaps the most prominent chief executive of a major public tech company to take this much time off following the birth of his child. That’s important, because executives set the tone for a company (and, in some ways, the country) when it comes to balancing work and family.

Like some other major tech companies, Facebook already offers new parents a parental leave plan considered very generous by US standards. New parents at Facebook can take four paid months off. They receive benefits such as $4,000 for each child born or adopted. As we’ve written before, however, employees may feel reluctant to take advantage of such plans if their companies don’t have a culture that encourages taking time off. And company culture typically comes from the top.

 Let’s hope more companies will offer new parents more leave, and that dads will be able to follow his lead.”

One of the highlights of The New York Times Sunday Style section is the ‘Table for Three’ feature. This past week, Philip Galanes shared the conversation between Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem.

I recommend reading the complete interview, if for no other reason than to provide a historical context for the current conversation on gender discrimination in the workplace. Here is a short excerpt.

PG: One of the cleverest things you did as a litigator was demonstrate how rigid gender roles harm men as much as women.

RBG: There was an interesting case this court decided in the first year Justice O’Connor was on the bench, about a man who wanted to go to the best nursing school in his area, but it was women-only. You could read between the lines what she understood: There was no better way to raise pay for women in nursing than to get men to do it.

GS: Equal pay for women would be the biggest economic stimulus this country could ever have. Big-time profits are being made from gender roles as they exist. It would also be win-win because female-headed households are where children are most likely to be poor.

PG: Last subject: You are both bridge builders. Justice Ginsburg on the court; and Gloria, with a sea of men and women over the years. Any advice for getting along with people who disagree with us to the core — like Justice Scalia?

RBG: Last night, my daughter and I got a prize from a women’s intellectual property group, and Nino [Scalia] was in the video, saying his nice things about me. He’s a very funny man. We both love opera. And we care about writing. His style is spicy, but we care about how we say it.

GS: I think Ruth is better at getting along with people with whom we profoundly disagree. I feel invisible in their presence because I’m being treated as invisible. But what we want in the future will only happen if we do it every day. So, kindness matters enormously. And empathy. Finding some point of connection.

Moving to the job search, Jacquelyn Smith writing for Business Insider provides us with a list of ’29 words you should never say in a job interview’. Drawing on tips from Michael Kerr, here’s a sample:

“‘Money,’ ‘salary,’ ‘pay,’ ‘compensation,’ etc.  Never discuss salary in the early stages of the interview process, Kerr says. “Focusing on the salary can raise a red flag with potential employers that you are only there for the money and not for any deeper reasons,” he says. “More and more, employers are looking for people who align with their mission and values.”Negotiations can and should be done after — or at the end of — the interview phase.

‘Weaknesses’ or ‘mistakes’   Never voluntarily talk about your weaknesses unless they ask you with the standard interview question, ‘What’s your biggest weakness?'” says Kerr. And don’t bring up mistakes you’ve made at work, unless you’re talking about them to show how you’ve made significant improvements.”

Two other articles of interest were published on the Fast Company site this week:

‘Where Google, Apple and Amazon employees want to work next’Lydia Dishman

‘The World’s Five Biggest Employers Aren’t Who You Think’Charlie Sorrel

One more thing…

This past summer I celebrated July 4th in Brussels. It’s one of my most favorite cities in the world. The people I met in shops and restaurants are in my thoughts this weekend. Be safe.

The week@work – work/life balance in Sweden & @Amazon, the truth about being an entrepreneur, & the value of an arts education

While the most powerful folks in the world were ranked in the annual Forbes list, the rest of the working class spent the week@work managing the challenges of work/life balance. Journalists covered a variety of topics influencing our lives @work ranging from the reality of being an entrepreneur to the value of arts education in translating tech to human practice. And there was good news from the U.S. Labor Department.

As U.S. organizations continue to experiment with innovative work/life balance policies to attract talent, Swedish companies have been implementing trials over the past 20 years.

Maddy Savage examined a six hour workday model being tested in Falun, Sweden.

“Jimmy Nilsson, who co-owns digital production company Background AB, launched the initiative in September as part of efforts to create a more productive workforce.

“It’s difficult to concentrate at work for eight hours, but with six hours you can be more focused and get things done more quickly,” he says.

His staff are at their desks between 8.30am and 11.30am, take a full hour off for lunch and then put in another three hours before heading back to their homes in the Swedish mountains.

They’re asked to stay away from social media in the office and leave any personal calls or emails until the end of the day. Salaries have not changed since the initiative started in September.

“We’re going to try it for nine months and see if it’s economical first of all, and secondly if it works for our customers and our staff,” Mr Nilsson says.”

In Sweden only 1% of employees work more than 50 hours a week. All are eligible for a minimum of 25 vacation days annually with 480 days of paid parental leave to split between a working couple. Contrast that to the new leave policy announced this week by Amazon.

Bloomberg Business reported “Amazon.com Inc. will give new fathers paid parental leave and extend paid maternity leave for mothers, as the online retailer seeks to enhance its benefits as a way to attract and retain talent.

Women who have a child can now take as much as 20 weeks of paid leave, up from eight weeks. New parents can take six weeks of paid parental leave. The Seattle-based company previously didn’t offer paternity leave. The new benefits apply to all births or adoptions on or after Oct. 1, according to a memo distributed to employees Monday.”

As the conversation on work/life balance continues in the U.S., with ‘band aid’ approaches to a significant cultural issue, our European counterparts are experiencing results in health and profitability. The next challenge: managing the stress of what to do with time away from work.

Entrepreneur and founder of IWearYourShirt.com, Jason Zook revealed ‘The Truth About Entrepreneurship’ for Inc.

“The problem with the majority of entrepreneurship is that it sucks and no one wants to just read about the struggles, the constant ups and downs, the risks that don’t pay off, the tiny lessons learned and the small victories that keep entrepreneurs going. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that’s what happens when you work for yourself or start your own company. They’re only thinking about becoming “the next Instagram” or what their incredibly lucrative exit strategy is going look like.”

He continues to share five ‘truths’, including “The truth about being an entrepreneur is that it’s downright hard and lots of people are going to doubt you along the way.”

It’s not just entrepreneurs. Anything that is worth pursuing is downright hard and people will doubt you along the way.

Wired Magazine published an interview with the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design, Rosanne Somerson. At a time when we are mesmerized by advances in technology, it’s the artists who translate innovation into human applications.

“One way our artists and designers help make sense of the tech world is by putting human beings first. They can design new things while really thinking about the user experience and the cultural impact that technology is instigating. A lot of initial research in tech is done by engineers and programmers who may not be as connected to how we perceive and experience things. Artists have a window into that that is highly developed.

Engineers are very gifted at what they do, but they don’t have this piece. I think in the future there will be these collaborations of the best IT and software engineers, along with people who can translate that into a meaningful human experience that is central to the concept as a whole, instead of an add-on. Those days are behind us. It’s really much more seminal than that.” 

The U.S. Labor Department released the latest jobs report on Friday. Journalist Don Lee analyzed the significance of the numbers for the Los Angeles Times.

“Hiring and wages surged last month as the unemployment rate dropped to 5%, a symbolic threshold with potential significance both for the economy and the 2016 election.

The latest jobless figure is the lowest since April 2008 and exactly half the rate from its peak in 2009 during the Great Recession. Moreover, the labor force expanded last month, unlike some previous months when the unemployment rate dropped because large numbers of people had stopped looking for work.

The combination of solid job growth, lower unemployment and higher wages comes at a crucial time politically as the country moves toward an election year. If historical patterns hold, economic conditions in the next nine months will be among the strongest factors in determining which party wins next November’s election.”

In other news this week@work, Forbes Magazine published its annual list of the ‘Most Powerful People’, Fast Company shared ‘What the Gender Pay Gap Looks Like by Industry’ and The New York Times reported on the latest study from the Pew Research Center in ‘Stressed, Tired, Rushed: Portrait of the Modern Family’.

The week@work – writer’s rooms and publishing lack diversity, alternatives to academia, what scares us most and the number one mistake job seekers make

As the world turned this week@work, journalists continued to highlight the lack of diversity in the workplace: in the writers rooms of TV, the publishing industry and tech. The National Endowment for the Humanities announced a grant initiative to align graduate education with employment prospects.  A survey from Chapman University identified our top fear as corruption of government officials (unemployment and public speaking being way down on the list). And a CEO offered advice on the one mistake job seekers make.

Things are not looking good on the diversity front. Aisha Harris reporting on Slate.com, investigated the lack of progress on diversity behind the camera, in the rooms where plot and dialogue are created for your favorite TV shows.

“A Writers’ Guild of America report released earlier this year noted that staff employment for people of color actually decreased between the 2011–12 season and 2013–14 season, from a peak of 15.6 percent to 13.7 percent. The number of executive producers of color also decreased in those seasons, from 7.8 percent to 5.5 percent. While the 2014–15 season may have seen those numbers increase thanks to the addition of a few shows with diverse casts, such sharp declines demonstrate how tenuous progress in Hollywood can be.

…the television industry, like most creative industries (including journalism), pays lip service to “diversity” while very little actually changes. Even as the hottest show on TV boasts a majority-nonwhite writing staff, the work of vigorously recruiting non-white writing talent is still confined to a narrow pipeline: Diversity departments and fellowships help to fill one or two designated diversity slots on each staff. And that’s just the start of the problem: As writer after writer revealed, even when writers of color make it into that pipeline, the industry hasn’t gotten much better at making them feel as though their voices matter.”

Jim Milliot, the editorial director for Publishers Weekly, reported on their annual publishing industry salary survey. While the results indicated younger employees may be replacing the old guard, the workforce is still predominantly white.

“If publishers are indeed recruiting a new generation of employees, they do not appear to be hiring minorities. The share of survey respondents who identified themselves as white/Caucasian was 89% in 2014, the same as in the previous year. Asians remained the second-largest ethnic group within publishing, accounting for 5% of respondents in 2014, up from 3% the previous year. With the survey finding no real change in the racial composition of the workforce, it is no surprise that only 21% of respondents felt that strides had been made in diversifying the industry’s workforce in 2014. A much higher percentage, however, said they believe the industry has made progress in publishing titles by nonwhite authors and titles aimed at more diverse readers.”

One other article of interest on the diversity topic was written by Vauhini Vara for Fast Company and details Pinterest’s efforts to “fix its diversity problem”. She chronicles the various efforts to identify recruitment channels over the past two years and the lack of progress in diversifying the workplace. “There is lots of hope but little certainty about what works.”

The common thread in all of these ‘lack of diversity’ conversations is the ‘wishful thinking’ for a quick fix. The majority of the careers covered in these articles are filled by ‘contract’ employees. The hiring is tied to a project. When the next project begins, folks hire their trusted colleagues from previous gigs and there are few openings for a newbie. Diversity requires a long term investment in education, internships and mentoring – creating a new career pipeline.

One solution I personally observed in my corporate life was when a senior exec tied business unit management compensation to diversity targets. If you are rewarded for diversity – hiring and retention – there is a better chance for success. It’s not brain surgery; it’s a matter of priorities.

Academia is another workplace that has continued to struggle with diversity issues, driven in part by an outdated tenure process and lack of career transition in senior faculty ranks. As students continue to enroll in PhD programs, their predecessors compete for the few faculty openings and get by cobbling together a mosaic of ‘contract’ adjunct positions. Until now, it was taboo for a grad student to speak out loud about pursuing a career outside the ivory tower.

Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Education on the National Endowment for the Humanities recognition of diminishing tenure-track options and a proposal to explore alternatives.

“Critics have long complained about doctoral education in the humanities, saying that it takes too long and no longer reflects the realities of graduates’ employment prospects. In other words, graduate humanities programs are still largely training students to become professors at major research universities, when the vast majority won’t, given the weak tenure-track job market.

“We know that the traditional career track in the humanities, in term of numbers of available positions, is diminished — that scenario has changed quite dramatically over time,” William D. Adams, NEH chairman, said in an interview. “So we’re reacting to that in trying to assist institutions in providing a wider aperture for their students to think about careers beyond [academe].”

Based on the workplace issues we experience and read about, it may come as a surprise that workplace concerns are not at the top of this year’s Chapman University survey ‘America’s Top Fears 2015’.

Cari Romm summarized the survey methodology and results in an article for The Atlantic.

“For the survey, a random sample of around 1,500 adults ranked their fears of 88 different items on a scale of one (not afraid) to four (very afraid). The fears were divided into 10 different categories: crime, personal anxieties (like clowns or public speaking), judgment of others, environment, daily life (like romantic rejection or talking to strangers), technology, natural disasters, personal future, man-made disasters, and government—and when the study authors averaged out the fear scores across all the different categories, technology came in second place, right behind natural disasters.

Top10Fears-740x572

In the last article of the week, Business Insider writer Jacquelyn Smith, interviewed Liz Wessel, CEO and Co-founder of WayUp and discovered the biggest mistake job seekers make.

“People are generally far too modest,” she says. “If there’s ever a time to brag, it’s during your job search and interviews. You need to state your accomplishments and show how your work led to awesome outcomes for your companies. Remember, you need to convince your interviewer that, out of all the applicants the company is considering, you’re their best bet.”

If you don’t take credit for your work and accomplishments, no one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt for being modest, Wessel adds. “And if you don’t show proof of your accomplishments, you won’t stand out.”

The reason this “mistake” is so common, she says, is that a lot of people are good at being “team players,” and therefore try to share the credit. “In a lot of cases, this is a great instinct, and while it’s obviously important to work well in a team setting, it’s also important to convince an employer to hire you, not your entire team.

The message in the week@work themes: those who are confident in their talent and able to articulate their value to an organization have the potential to contend for work in writing, publishing, tech and academia. But the playing field is not level and winning the coveted spots will ‘take a village’: committed employers, dedicated mentors, paid internships, educational outreach and community visibility.

The week@work – unlimited vacation, secrets of the most productive and baseball #LGM

This week@work continues the discussion of perks to attract talent, shares secrets of the most productive people and celebrates the talents of those who go to work in baseball.

On Monday evening the NBC Nightly News broadcast a story reported by Tom Costello on the new ‘discretionary time off’ policy being introduced to the 8,700 employees at LinkedIn. With no vacation limits, employees arrange time off with their managers. (What could go wrong?) For the company, with no designated vacation days, there is no need to compensate for unused vacation. With the average American worker taking only half of their allocated time away, it’s a low risk, and financially beneficial proposition for employers.

Joe Lazauskas echoed a similar theme in his Fast Company article, ‘Why More Tech Companies are Rethinking Their Perks’. He writes about a number of experiments with equity, time off and a new way to work.

“Over the past few years, some startups have begun to rethink some of the perks with which they’ve customarily attracted top talent. In their place, a new class of web 3.0 startups are beginning to embrace truly first-rate benefits, which might be giving them a leg up in a viciously competitive tech arena.

Equity that’s truly equitable… in 2013, Kik changed its policy so employees could hold onto their stock options even after they leave. In doing so, it started a small trend: Pinterest followed suit the next year to much fanfare, giving employees seven years to exercise their options. “If other companies follow suit,” wrote Business Insider, “this could change the entire landscape for startups, making it easier for them to attract and retain employees.”

One of the most compelling arguments for a new way of working came from Facebook and Asana cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, in the form of a recent Medium post. Ever since the days of Henry Ford, he noted, profit-maximizing research has backed up the notion that you get more out of employees when they’re better rested and happy.

“The research is clear: beyond 40–50 hours per week, the marginal returns from additional work decrease rapidly and quickly become negative,” Moskovitz wrote.”

Which brings us to ‘Secrets from 11 of the Most Productive People from Oprah to Aziz Ansari’. Comedian Ansari busts the productivity myth:

“While we were writing [Master of None], we would work until 6 or 7 p.m., and then we’d be done. There are other writers’ rooms where people spend nights in the office. I can’t imagine you’re doing your best work then. You’ve got to be a person and do other stuff, or you’re not going to be inspired to write.”

The big story this week@work was about the folks who play baseball. With post-season play underway, we are down to four teams competing to play in the world series. It’s an exciting time to be a NY Mets fan. And there is no better writer to convey the story of baseball than The New Yorker’s Roger Angell.

“Well, yes! Well, whew. The Mets’ breathless, division-grabbing, 3–2 win over the Dodgers last night never felt certain, and provided little fun for old at-homies like me until the last two or three outs. But check that: there was that sudden snicker in the top of the fourth inning, a little embarrassment for the moneyed, resident Dodgers, when Mets second baseman Dan Murphy, aboard again after another hit, moved along to second on a walk to Lucas Duda and, finding no Dodgers anywhere near that corner, took third as well. Oop. Then he scored on a sac fly by Travis d’Arnaud, tying the game at 2–2. The gratis extra base felt like a social error, spilled claret on the tablecloth, but in retrospect turned out to to be the pivot, the turning point of this strange, strained game.”

If you have aspirations to be a sportswriter, read everything Mr. Angell has written. And, read William Powell’s amazing profile of a sportswriter in St. Louis Magazine, ‘The Big Comeback of Benjamin Hochman.

It’s a career/life story of an eight year old St. Louis Cardinals fan who followed his dream to be a sportswriter and after stints in New Orleans and Denver, returns to his hometown to write for the Post-Dispatch.

“Benjamin pens his first column for the Post-Dispatch on September 3. We meet the next morning. The first thing I want to know is, why? He was living in Denver, one of America’s fastest-growing cities. There were four major sports teams and mountains and Peyton Manning. He gave it up to come to St. Louis, with three major sports teams, possibly soon to be two. We have a shrinking population and a landfill fire that’s burning toward a pile of radioactive waste and #Ferguson.

His response, about the Cardinals’ being perennial contenders and the stadium drama’s being interesting and so on, doesn’t answer the question. But when I walk into his living room, I instantly understand. We unpack box after box of his Cardinals memorabilia, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are posters of Post-Dispatch front pages from the Cardinals’ run in 2011, with Yadier Molina going crazy in every photo. He has balls signed by Jim Edmonds and Yogi Berra, a whole heap of replica rings. We find a copy of the Celebration! album he listened to as a kid and copy after copy of old issues of the newspaper, which Benjamin collects.

That leads me to my next question: Given his childhood, can he be an objective journalist, or will he be a fan in the press box? He even knows the Kroenkes, having managed the Mizzou basketball team when Josh was a member. This time, Benjamin has an answer ready. “I can’t be a fanboy. I have to be the guy who keeps the team accountable,” he says. “I will use my knowledge and my passion for St. Louis to enhance my writing.”

And for those of you who just don’t get baseball –

“This past summer, he created the Nine Innings project, writing nine love letters to baseball. For one, he found kids playing in the streets, just like in the good old days. For another, he tried to track down a specific stadium seat that had been hit by a famous minor league home run. For the final installment, he wrote about the bond that baseball creates in families. He wrote about his dad listening to the World Series in science class, and about a soldier serving overseas who stayed in touch with his parents by following the Rockies. It’s sure to win awards.”

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 week@work – Why everyone should take a geography class, Angela Merkel’s humanity, and the legacy of Oliver Sachs

The week@work was one of stories that urge us to open our minds and hearts to what we may not at first understand.

If you don’t understand geography you won’t comprehend the on-going global political struggles. If you live in Europe, you are overwhelmed imagining the impact of the vast number of immigrants arriving daily. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken on the role of champion for the dignity of common humanity and is guiding the discussion of the consequences if Europe fails on the question of refugees. Closer to home, Dr. Oliver Sachs has left us a legacy of writings and research that helps us understand ourselves, our brains, and appreciate the interconnectedness of life.

Joshua Keating writing for Slate, asks ‘Where In The World?’ While enrollment in university geography classes is increasing, many departments have been eliminated and courses are no longer available. Digital literacy without geographical literacy is not a good thing.

“Geographical literacy remains vital—particularly for those of us who live in (for the time being at least) the world’s preeminent military and economic superpower. Geography is necessary for understanding why the overthrow of a government in Libya contributed to an unprecedented surge of migrants into Europe, why Ukraine has been split between East and West amid its conflict with Russia, and why China’s neighbors are alarmed at the new islands under construction in the South China Sea. And as we learned during last year’s Ebola panic, an understanding of African geography could have helped explain why an outbreak in West Africa should not lead to the quarantining of people from Kenya or Tanzania. In the years to come, as the effects of climate change on everything from sea level rise to deforestation to drought quite literally reshape the world we live in, an understanding of geography will be necessary for mitigating and adapting to the consequences.”

If you have been wondering when the U.S. media would begin leading the news with the story of the immigrant crisis in Europe, this was the week and the focus was on the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary. As the route of immigrants shift toward the Balkans anti-immigrant sentiment is growing. Germany expects to receive 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers this year.

In an editorial on Tuesday, ‘The Guardian view on Europe’s refugee crisis: a little leadership, at last’, the staff praised the courage of the German Chancellor.

“There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people,” she said, standing in front of placards accusing her of being the people’s traitor. “There is no tolerance of those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due.”

Confronted by forces that would overwhelm British leaders, the woman the Greek left (and many on the British left who should know better) mistakenly accuse of being the leading advocate of conservative neoliberalism has stood up to be counted. Being the country to which so many want to migrate should be a source of pride, she says. She wants to keep Germany and Europe open, to welcome legitimate asylum seekers in common humanity, while doing her very best to stop abuse and keep the movement to manageable proportions. Which demands a European-wide response. So far, her electorate and her press back her.”

Dr. Oliver Sachs died this week. There have been countless obituaries and remembrances, but my favorite is from The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani, the Pulitzer Prize winning book critic.

“It’s no coincidence that so many of the qualities that made Oliver Sacks such a brilliant writer are the same qualities that made him an ideal doctor: keen powers of observation and a devotion to detail, deep reservoirs of sympathy, and an intuitive understanding of the fathomless mysteries of the human brain and the intricate connections between the body and the mind.

Dr. Sacks, who died on Sunday at 82, was a polymath and an ardent humanist, and whether he was writing about his patients, or his love of chemistry or the power of music, he leapfrogged among disciplines, shedding light on the strange and wonderful interconnectedness of life — the connections between science and art, physiology and psychology, the beauty and economy of the natural world and the magic of the human imagination.”

Other articles of interest this week@work offered advice on choice of college major, how to eliminate interruptions in the office and quitting your job before you have another.

‘Major Choice Shouldn’t Define a Career’ Jordan Holman – Sage advice from a senior writing in the student newspaper of the University of Southern California. “In this job economy it matters more about how you can apply the skills you acquired from the classes taken and lessons learned than just the titles on your resumé. It’s about taking that difficult class that you’re frightened of, but which could also serve as the perfect anecdote during an interview.”

‘5 Strategies to Eliminate Constant Interruptions’ Lisa Evans – “Did you know that the average manager gets interrupted approximately once every eight minutes? That’s about seven interruptions each hour. What’s worse, after every interruption, it takes an average of 25 minutes to fully regain cognitive focus. No wonder at the end of an eight-hour day, you still feel like you haven’t accomplished anything.”

Should You Quit Your Job Before You Have Another One? –  Stephanie Vozza – Multiple news outlets covered the release of ‘Leap: Leaving a Job With No Plan B to Find the Career and Life You Really Want’ by former Public Radio Marketplace reporter Tess Vigeland“When I left, one of the biggest questions I got was, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ and there are plenty of times I miss it,” she admits. “I miss being in a newsroom. I miss the microphone and the audience. Those are the times when I beat myself about the head, but they’re becoming rarer and rarer. You have to go through the process. I feel it was absolutely the right thing to do. I used to spend a chunk of day miserable. If it’s Sunday and you never look forward to Monday, you need to make a change. Life is too short to live for Friday afternoon.”

And one more time, The New York Times reported on the continuing trend of wage and salary lag as corporate profits continue to surge.

Why we do science and the triumph of NASA’s ‘New Horizons’ team

Last week we celebrated the team play of the US Women’s National Team, this week we honor NASA’s ‘New Horizons’ team for piloting a spacecraft the size of a small piano through space for 3,463 days and three billion miles.

Remember Pluto? You know, the ninth planet in order from the sun. Is there anyone who did not do a science project on the planets? Very few of us can trace our choice of career back to the grade school science fair, but some folks used those dioramas as a foundation to build a career in space exploration.

Think about what you were doing at work nine years ago. Now imagine you were part of a team that started a journey toward that ninth planet in 2006. And then your planet was demoted to dwarf status. Can you imagine sustaining a team for almost a decade?

Daniel Terdiman examined the success factors in a post for Fast Company.

“Not everyone on the original team stayed on board throughout the 14 years between proposal and today, but many have. Besides Hersman and principal investigator Stern, others who are still deeply involved include Alice Bowman, the New Horizons mission operations manager, Glen Fountain, the New Horizons project manager, Mark Holdridge, the Pluto encounter mission manager, and many other team leads and sub-leads who worked on everything from propulsion to communications.

That’s impressive stability. Of course, all these people have other tasks beyond the New Horizons project, but everyone knew it was about to be show time. “People ramped down so they weren’t working much on the project,” Hersman said, “but when the time comes to fly past Pluto, a lot of other stuff gets put on hold, or they find time.”

Terdiman found that a ‘longevity document’ provided the blueprint for the mission including requirements and contact information for every team member. “One other essential element of preparing for the nine-year mission was compiling a spreadsheet of contingencies for when things went wrong. This was useful when ground control temporarily lost communications with the New Horizons probe on July 4 of this year.” And finally, “When it’s all over, look back.”

If the shear wonder of the team’s achievement was not enough, Adrienne Lafrance, writing for the Atlantic, identified another major milestone for the ‘New Horizons’ team:

“For all the firsts coming out of the New Horizons mission—color footage of Pluto, photos of all five of its moons, and flowing datastreams about Pluto’s composition and atmosphere—there’s one milestone worth noting on Earth: This may be the mission with the most women in NASA history.”

“The New Horizons team includes about 200 people today, but there have been thousands of scientists and engineers who have contributed to the mission since it began more than a decade ago. Women make up about one-quarter of the flyby team, those responsible for the high-stakes mission taking place this month, according to NASA.”

And now, for you skeptics who either believe all of this is happening on a sound stage in Burbank or just don’t get why we do science and stretch the limits of our knowledge, I turn to Neil deGrasse Tyson.

In an interview with Lester Holt for NBC Nightly News on Tuesday, the American astrophysicist and director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium answered the question of why we do science.

“One of the greatest aspects of what it is to do science is to reach a new vista and then discover that you can now ask questions undreamt of before you got there.”

Tonight, go outside and look up. What do you see? What questions do you have? Imagine being part of a team working to find the answers to those ‘undreamt of’ questions from our new vantage point.

The week@work – the economy improves, the downside of ‘cultural fit’ & the new Fortune 500

The ‘big’ stories in this week@work included the release of the May 2015 US employment report and the 61st version of the Fortune 500. The small stories with potential ‘big’ impact told of the growing concern of the majority of Americans about income inequality and research showing discrimination at work is increasing as hiring managers rely more on ‘cultural fit’ to select employees.

On Friday the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics released the May 2015 employment report.

“Worries about the American economy’s momentum were blunted on Friday by the government’s announcement that employers added a hefty 280,000 jobs in May, well above the monthly average logged over the last year.

The official unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 5.5 percent as more Americans jumped back into the labor pool and began the job hunt. Hourly wages, which have grown fitfully, rose 0.3 percent last month, possibly helping to lure back some discouraged workers who had been staying on the sidelines.” (The New York Times)

Fortune magazine announced it’s annual listing of the largest U.S. companies by revenue.

“This year’s Fortune 500 marks the 61st running of the list. In total, the Fortune 500 companies account for $12.5 trillion in revenues, $945 billion in profits, $17 trillion in market value and employ 26.8 million people worldwide.”

The top ten companies are Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, GM, Phillips 66, GE, Ford Motor Company and CVS Health. Compare that to the  top ten in Forbes Magazines’ list of ‘World’s Most Innovative Companies’ or Fast Company’s ‘Most Innovative Companies 2015’, and there is only one company that appears on two lists, Apple (Fortune and Fast Company). Forbes’ #1 company, Salesforce, the biggest tech company in San Francisco, appeared on the Fortune list for the first time in its’ 16 year history at #483.

Fortune’s number one, Walmart, is the company George Packer described in his book, ‘The Unwinding’, as the model that continues to influence our economy on a much broader scale:

“Over the years, America had become more like Walmart. It had gotten cheap. Prices were lower, and wages were lower. There were fewer union factory jobs, and more part-time jobs as store greeters…The hollowing out of the heartland was good for the company’s bottom line.”

A CBS/New York Times poll released on Wednesday found that the majority of Americans are concerned about the widening income gap that separates the Walmart shoppers from those on Rodeo Drive.

“The poll found that a strong majority say that wealth should be more evenly divided and that it is a problem that should be addressed urgently. Nearly six in 10 Americans said government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, but they split sharply along partisan lines. Only one-third of Republicans supported a more active government role, versus eight in 10 of Democrats.

Far from a strictly partisan issue, inequality looms large in the minds of almost half of Republicans and two-thirds of independents, suggesting that it will outlive the presidential primary contests and become a central theme in next year’s general election campaign.”

The last story of the week concerned the downside of ‘cultural fit’. Lauren A. Rivera, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, shared her research on candidate selection in ‘Guess Who Doesn’t Fit In At Work’.

“When done carefully, selecting new workers this way can make organizations more productive and profitable. But cultural fit has morphed into a far more nebulous and potentially dangerous concept. It has shifted from systematic analysis of who will thrive in a given workplace to snap judgments by managers about who they’d rather hang out with. In the process, fit has become a catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not.”

At the end of the week@work we know the economy is improving and folks are becoming increasingly aware of income disparity.

But is anyone concerned that the largest revenue generating companies have no relationship to the most innovative companies in the world? If you are starting out your career or considering a move, do you choose a revenue generating behemoth or a venture capitalized innovative organization?

And for all of us @work – we want to ‘fit in’ to the organization culture, but with our talents, not personal similarities.