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.”

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.