The week@work – agents of change, NY values and imagining a windfall

The week@work was dominated by stories of the small group of workers in entertainment, sports and politics. It was also the week that everyone had the opportunity to imagine entry into the world of celebrity via the purchase of a single $2 lottery ticket.

On Sunday evening the Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed out their annual Golden Globes, with the surprise winner being Mexican actor, Gael Garcia Bernal for his role as conductor of the fictional ‘New York Symphony’ in Amazon’s Golden Globe winning ‘Mozart in the Jungle’. “I want to dedicate this to music, to all the people that find the music and common ground for communication, for justice for happiness.”

As Huell Howser might say, “This is amazing!”, that a series about classical musicians led by a talented Mexican actor, wins an award in a year of political polarization and classical music’s declining prominence in our culture.

On Thursday, the actor who played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, Alan Rickman died. “With the last film it was very cathartic because you were finally able to see who he was,” Mr. Rickman said “It was strange, in a way, to play stuff that was so emotional. A lot of the time you’re working in two dimensions, not three.”

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Agents of change in theater, music, and the workplace challenge our thinking. On Monday we learned of the death of another transformational icon, David Bowie.

“In his dazzling artistry, daring style, unabashed intelligence, intensity of emotion, cultivation of magic, mystery and imagination, Bowie was a figure who bridged high and low culture, reverberating on so many different levels.”

On Monday morning, NPR replayed his 2002 interview with ‘Fresh Air’ host Terry Gross.

“I’m not actually a very keen performer. I like putting shows together. I like putting events together. In fact, everything I do is about the conceptualizing and realization of a piece of work, whether it’s the recording or the performance side. And kind of when I put the thing together, I don’t mind doing it for a few weeks, but then, quite frankly, I get incredibly, incredibly bored because I don’t see myself so much as a – I mean, I don’t live for the stage. I don’t live for an audience.”

David Bowie event planner? When we think of careers, we make assumptions about success, only to realize that each of us holds a unique definition which sculpts our approach to a calling.

“People often forgot, but up until his death, on Sunday at age 69, Mr. Bowie was a New Yorker

And though Mr. Bowie was enormously wealthy, he wasn’t one of those rich guys who kept an apartment in the city, along with a portfolio of global real estate holdings, and flew in. Aside from a mountain retreat in Ulster County, N.Y., his Manhattan apartment was his only home.

You may not have considered all this because Mr. Bowie was an apparition in the city, rarely glimpsed. You heard it mentioned that he lived here. Somewhere downtown, someone thought. But seeing him out? Good luck.”

Which brings us to the political discourse on ‘New York values’ and its relevance to job search. Relocation is a major consideration for many seeking career advancement. Understanding the character of the community you join outside of your workplace is equally, if not more important to understanding the values of your workplace community.

How many folks have decided to take a job in New York or LA only to later realize a major disconnect? This is not a value judgement, just a realization that we all need to find a place where we can be successful. Unfortunately, the job perks sometimes outweigh the geographical/cultural component in the decision making mix and it’s only when we are fully committed to our workplace that we begin to realize our success is being eroded by deficiencies in our neighborhood.

On to the world of sports. On Monday evening, two college football teams competed in the College Football National Championship game in Arizona. The University of Alabama’s team won by a score of 45-40 over Clemson. A few days later at the NCAA’s annual meeting, “NCAA president Mark Emmert praised student-athlete activism during his annual speech Thursday at the NCAA convention.”

During his 20-minute address at the NCAA’s opening business session, Emmert urged schools to continue to emphasize academics, fairness and the health and well-being of student-athletes.”

And yet, actions speak louder than words. Inside Higher Education reported“While the time demands on college athletes ­became the central focus of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual meeting here this week, several proposals to deal with the issue were seemingly tabled the day before the NCAA’s five wealthiest conferences were scheduled to vote on them.”

Here’s the thing. With the exception of college coaches, everyone is in agreement that the ‘student’ in the ‘student-athlete’ equation takes priority. ‘Official’ time demands don’t begin to reflect the ‘unofficial’ time requirements of competing in Division I sports. And with only a select few moving on to compete in their sport as professionals, these students need the flexibility to explore career opportunities and participate in internships.

“Roderick McDavis, president of Ohio University, said it would be a mistake for colleges to wait for NCAA policy changes to prompt that shift. “Policies don’t change behavior,” he said. “People change behavior. We can hope that the NCAA catches up with us all one day, but what I know I can control is I can go home tomorrow and make a difference on my campus.”

And then there were the omnipresent billboards advertising the Powerball Jackpot at $999 million. Except the amount had grown to over $1.5 billion, which gave us all an opportunity to contemplate what we would do with that amount of money.

On a CNN broadcast the night before the drawing, international anchor Richard Quest asked anchor Anderson Cooper what he would do with the winnings if he had the lucky set of numbers. (You may know that Mr. Cooper is a Vanderbilt by ancestry.) His response, “I would buy a watch.” And he would be back at work the next day.

Here are a few additional articles that you may have missed from the past week.

‘Why I Always Wanted to Be a Secretary’ by Bryn Greenwood – Does your work define you? What if your dream job is central to an organization, but society’s definition is demeaning?

‘At Work And Feeling All Alone’ by Phyllis Korkki – In the world of telecommuting, new research indicates those left behind in the office have ended up feeling lonely and disconnected.

‘60% of Women in Silicon Valley Have Been Sexually Harassed’ by Lydia Dishman – Results of a survey of 200 women demonstrates a serious level of dysfunction in the tech giants’ workplace.

‘Yahoo’s Brain Drain Shows a Loss of Faith Inside the Company’ by Vindu Goel – “More than a third of the company’s work force has left in the last year, say people familiar with the data. Worried about the brain drain, Ms. Mayer has been approving hefty retention packages — in some cases, millions of dollars — to persuade people to reject job offers from other companies. But those bonuses have had the side effect of creating resentment among other Yahoo employees who have stayed loyal and not sought jobs elsewhere.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Patience and Fortitude’ by Scott Sherman

In times of financial crisis, you start looking around the house for things you might sell off until you realize all you have left is the real estate under your roof. For the New York Public Library in the early years of the 21st century, the fine art had been sold at auction, the staff had been ‘right sized’ and all that was left to remain solvent were the private donors and the coveted real estate footprint of branch locations.

This week’s ‘Saturday Read’ is ‘Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, And The Fight To Save A Public Library’ by Scott Sherman.

“This is a book about a world-class library that lost its way in the digital age.”

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A public library is a community sanctuary that has historically offered immigrants a way to the middle class. In the Preface, author Sherman retells the story of former New York Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan who was working as a boot-black in 1940s Times Square, visiting the main library at 42nd Street.  “It was the first time I was taught that I was welcome in a place of education and learning. I would go into that great marble palace, and I would check my shoeshine box. A gentleman in a brown cotton jacket would take it as if I’d passed over an umbrella and bowler hat.”

This is a New York story, but one that illustrates the fate of the non-profit organization in an economic downturn. In the case of the NYPL, originally founded by bankers and corporate titans, the seismic shifts in the economy forced the influential board, of modern day financiers, to engage big name consultants in an attempt to apply “free-market solutions to complex institutional problems.”

The central narrative of the book was first reported by author Sherman in the December 2011 issue of ‘The Nation’. ‘Upheaval at the New York Public Library’ made public a four year old ‘Central Library Plan’, conceived and ratified by the NYPL’s trustees.

“The core trustees – led by the developer Marshall Rose – did what came naturally to them: they sold the NYPL’s land and took steps to shrink an institution they may have viewed as bureaucratic and inefficient…Personal enrichment was certainly not the trustees’ intention; they were sincere in their desire to assist the Library. It was hubris that drove them forward, and which ultimately led them astray: they believed that corporate logic could be effortlessly applied to a sprawling, decrepit library system.”

Consider this the first shot across the bow, as the Sherman chronicles the response from writers, researchers, NYPL employees, politicians and library patrons.

A 2012 Op-Ed piece written by Theodore Roosevelt biographer, Edmund Morris for The New York Times offers a sample of the opposition.

“I read newspaper reports about the determination of Anthony W. Marx, the president of the library, to spend $300 million to transform the main building, long devoted to reference, into what sounds like a palace of presentism. He wants to close the library system’s biggest circulating branch, the Mid-Manhattan (located just across the street) and the Science, Industry and Business Library (also in Midtown) and somehow wedge their contents into the already overstocked central research library.

For that he will need all the spatial ingenuity of his trendy architect-designate, Norman Foster. But something’s going to have to give, and you can be sure that what is new and hard and digital will prevail over what is old and papery and transportable elsewhere.”

On May 7, 2014 Robin Pogrebin reported that the NYPL has abandoned its renovation plan.

Last month, Tom Mashberg of The New York Times reported on the new plan to create a high-tech space under Bryant Park to house 2.5 million research works from the original stacks.

“This was not, of course, Plan A. That plan entailed a makeover of the flagship Fifth Avenue library that would have sent the research books to Princeton, N.J. But it set off a virtual Fahrenheit 451 of outrage among scholars and others for whom the library’s role as a research mecca seemed endangered. Critics, who hoped the old steel stacks could stay in use, remain apprehensive about the new stocking and retrieval system, which they say is impressive but has not been tested.”

To be continued…

And while you wait, catch up on the history and the cast of characters who bring ‘Patience and Fortitude’ to life.

 

 

 

 

 

The Saturday Read – ‘Humans of New York:Stories’ by Brandon Stanton

We learn from the wisdom of others. In Brandon Stanton’s new book we learn from the wisdom of strangers. The ‘Saturday Read’ this week is ‘Humans of New York: Stories’.

“The simplest way to describe the development of HONY over the past five years is this: it’s evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog…after cataloging thousands of people, I stumbled upon the idea of including quotes from my subjects alongside their photographs. The quotes grew longer and longer, until eventually I was spending fifteen to twenty minutes interviewing each person I photographed. These interviews, and the stories that resulted from them, became the new purpose of Humans of New York. The blog became dedicated to telling the stories of strangers on the street.”

The first career story is the author’s own. He graduated from college, took a job in Chicago as a bond trader, lost his job, moved to New York and started taking pictures of folks on the street. His work evolved into a blog with 15.6 million followers. His first book of photography, Humans of New York, landed at the top of The New York Times Bestseller List in the fall of 2013 and the new book will debut at the top of the November 1, 2015 list.

Why the response? Because the Mr. Stanton’s stories, told in words and images are about us. The scope of his project embraces NYC folks encountered on the street, reflecting on their past and future. We don’t know names. We don’t know ages. We can only guess in connecting the photo to the quote. At times the words seem at odds with the picture.

Here is one example from a young man, perhaps in his early teens.

“I’ve sort of had an arrogant demeanor my entire life, and I’m learning that I’m going to have to change that if I want to succeed. I realized that it doesn’t matter how clever you are if nobody wants to work with you.”

Another from a young woman seated on a suitcase, in the middle of a train station.

“I wish I’d partied a little less. People always say: ‘Be true to yourself.’. But that’s misleading because there are two selves. There’s your short-term self, and there’s your long-term self. And if you’re only true to your short-term self, your long-term self slowly decays.”

And a man at mid-life in what appears to be a cold corporate lobby, sitting on a stone bench, framed by a stone wall.

“When you’re twenty-five, you feel like you’re riding a wave. You feel like opportunities are just going to keep coming at you, and you think it’s never going to end. But then it ends.”

“When does it end?”

“When you turn forty, and they start looking for someone younger.”

The reader gets a sense they are looking in the mirror, but they’re not. The photo doesn’t match the selfie, but the sentiment fits.

Heather Long, writing for CNN Money, interviewed Stanton and attended his reading at a NY Barnes and Noble. What has he learned in the process of photographing and interviewing 10,000 people? “Americans should reconsider how much they work.”

“He often asks: What is your biggest struggle? And what do you regret most in life?
“Balancing my life is an answer I hear a lot,” he said. “Balancing work and family.”
People go on to tell him how they wish they had skipped that marketing conference and attended their daughter’s 8th grade dance instead.”

One of my favorite ‘inteviews’ appears early in the book (page 5). The narrative comes from a third grader (?).

“I want to build a bridge”

“How do you build a bridge?”

“If you want to build a bridge, it’s going to take a long time and it might be hard because your employees might not be as interested in building a bridge as you are. You have to think about what type of bridge you want to make…” 

He could be talking about life and career.

HONY: Stories invites us on a road trip through the streets of New York, opting for the detours that welcome conversation. This is a book to read slowly, observing the detail in the photos and the humanity in the words. It’s a compendium of other’s lifelong learning, generously shared.

“I want to be an artist.” “What kind of art do you want to make?” “I want to make different versions of myself.”