The week@work: smart people, perfectionists & the future of work

Have you ever worked for a person who’s an expert in one field and automatically believes that expertise extends to all other areas of competence? You know, the person who’s constantly reminding you where they went to college?

This past week@work, the first of the new year, stories ranged from the definition of genius, to a new study on millennials and perfectionism, and an analysis of the ‘real’ future of work.

James Fallows shared his experience with ‘How Actual Smart People Talk About Themselves’. The article was inspired by a series of tweets, but the message is one all of us can translate to our behavior@work.

“Here are three traits I would report from a long trail of meeting and interviewing people who by any reckoning are very intelligent.

They all know it. A lifetime of quietly comparing their ease in handling intellectual challenges—at the chess board, in the classroom, in the debating or writing arena—with the efforts of other people gave them the message.

Virtually none of them (need to) say it.

They know what they don’t know. This to me is the most consistent marker of real intelligence. The more acute someone’s ability to perceive and assess, the more likely that person is to recognize his or her limits. These include the unevenness of any one person’s talents; the specific areas of weakness—social awkwardness, musical tin ear, being stronger with numbers than with words, or vice versa; and the incomparable vastness of what any individual person can never know. To read books seriously is to be staggered by the knowledge of how many more books will remain beyond your ken. It’s like looking up at the star-filled sky.”

“The clearest mark of intelligence, even “genius,” is awareness of one’s limits and ignorance.”

One of those ‘smart people’, who traveled across the star-filled sky, Astronaut John Young, died this past week at the age of 87.

john-young-astronaut.jpg“Mr. Young joined NASA in the early years of manned spaceflight and was still flying, at age 53, in the era of space shuttles. He was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was also chief of NASA’s astronauts office for 13 years and a leading executive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

When he was honored by the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum upon retiring from NASA in December 2004, after 42 years with the agency, Mr. Young played down his accomplishments. “Anybody could have done it,’’ he told The Orlando Sentinel. “You’ve just got to hang in there.”

I imagine being an astronaut requires a certain level of detail – being precise vs. being perfect. Kimberly Truong reports on a concerning trend for our workplace future, ‘Yes, Millennials Really Do Struggle With Perfectionism More’.

“According to a new study released in the journal Psychological Bulletin, millennials are more likely than previous generations to put pressure on ourselves — and others — to be perfect, possibly to the detriment of our mental health.

In every phase of our lives, we’re actively being encouraged and rewarded for striving towards perfection, whether that means getting high enough S.A.T. scores or racking up a certain number of Instagram likes or followers. Millennials, it seems, have more metrics to measure success — and therefore failure — than their parents.

Of course, there’s no such thing as “perfect,” which means it’s nearly impossible to strive for perfection and feel anything but disappointment and self-doubt. The question is: Can millennials step out of this vicious cycle?”

The last article of this first week of 2018 is Danny Vinik‘s analysis of ‘The Real Future of Work’.

“Over the past two decades, the U.S. labor market has undergone a quiet transformation, as companies increasingly forgo full-time employees and fill positions with independent contractors, on-call workers or temps—what economists have called “alternative work arrangements” or the “contingent workforce.” Most Americans still work in traditional jobs, but these new arrangements are growing—and the pace appears to be picking up. From 2005 to 2015, according to the best available estimate, the number of people in alternative work arrangements grew by 9 million and now represents roughly 16 percent of all U.S. workers, while the number of traditional employees declined by 400,000. A perhaps more striking way to put it is that during those 10 years, all net job growth in the American economy has been in contingent jobs.

IMG_9942.jpgThe repercussions go far beyond the wages and hours of individuals. In America, more than any other developed country, jobs are the basis for a whole suite of social guarantees meant to ensure a stable life. Workplace protections like the minimum wage and overtime, as well as key benefits like health insurance and pensions, are built on the basic assumption of a full-time job with an employer. As that relationship crumbles, millions of hardworking Americans find themselves ejected from that implicit pact. For many employees, their new status as “independent contractor” gives them no guarantee of earning the minimum wage or health insurance.”

Maybe unemployment statistics from the Labor Department aren’t the right metric to view our economy. The December report, out last Friday, showed an increase of 148,000 jobs in the final month of 2017. “Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, argues that ten years after the Great Recession, the economy has still not returned to 2007 benchmarks or the healthier levels of economic indicators in 2000.”

 

 

Photo credit: The Telegraph

The Friday Poem ‘Voice’ by Jeffrey Brown

 

Walking west on 40th Street, between 7th & 8th, you pass the entrance to the CCNY Graduate School of Journalism. In the space of a city block, those aspiring to pursue a career reporting the news, cross paths with the the best in the field @work in The New York Times building.

There was a time when the most trusted man in America was a television journalist. Today, journalists across the globe find themselves at risk when reporting the truth. ‘Fake news’ sites proliferate where fiction replaces fact.

Lost in the cacophony of the latest news cycle is the value professional journalists provide in our society; collecting and communicating information that empowers the rest of us to make the best decisions.

This week, The Friday Poem is for those who follow their dream to newsrooms around the corner, and around the world. ‘Voice’ was written by NPR journalist and poet, Jeffrey Brown.

Voice

for Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer

There are those with a voice so rich,

so bell-strong, time chiseled, and alive

they can read the phone book and

you will hear the deeds and failings

in every name, the laughter and wailing

of ghosts who inhabit each address,

the infinite possibility

 

in every number. There are those

with a voice that rich, he says –

the lucky ones. But that is not us.

We open our mouths and out comes a

small, high sound, cracking midsentence,

straining to tell the story we know

to be true. There are things you can do:

 

Learn to breathe. Stand up straight and

let the air flow through you, belly to

chest and into the mask of your face.

Take a bit of chocolate, sip on your

coffee – excite the senses. Imagine

the people in their hoes hungry for

dinner and for news of the world.

 

Underline phrases, emphasize what

should be emphasized, diminish

the less important. Decide what is

important. Be sure you understand

the meaning of what you are to say.

Do not yell, do not whisper, look ahead,

not down, fill your lungs, open your mouth

 

and speak. The Zen master says “You

find your voice when you find yourself.”

But that, too, is not for us. (Who knows

What else you’ll find there? he laughs).

Better to listen to that voice

as though from afar, as though it

is not yours. Then speak again.

Jeffrey Brown from ‘The News:Poems’ 2015

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The Friday Poem ‘Labor Day’ by Joseph Millar

Part of the year I live in a ‘swing state’ where the economy has not yet recovered, and politicians fill the airwaves with promises of transformational ‘greatness’. The Friday Poem this week is from Pennsylvania native, former telephone repairman, commercial fisherman, and poet Joseph Millar. ‘Labor Day’ captures the quiet of a national holiday, first celebrated in New York on September 5, 1882.

“The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”

Labor Day

Even the bosses are sleeping late
in the dusty light of September.

The parking lot’s empty and no one cares.
No one unloads a ladder, steps on the gas

or starts up the big machines in the shop,
sanding and grinding, cutting and binding.

No one lays a flat bead of flux over a metal seam
or lowers the steel forks from a tailgate.

Shadows gather inside the sleeve
of the empty thermos beside the sink,

the bells go still by the channel buoy,
the wind lies down in the west,

the tuna boats rest on their tie-up lines
turning a little, this way and that.

Joseph Millar  from ‘Blue Rust’ Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012

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The one thing every Olympian should do before they leave Rio 2016

The one thing every Olympian should do before they leave Rio is update their social media identity across all platforms.

For a brief moment in time Olympic athletes capture the global stage and water cooler conversations. It’s not only those who make the podium, but those we discover in the diverse narratives of their journeys to Rio. The majority will return to their home countries as national heroes, contributing to society, away from the media spotlight. A few may return as coaches or commentators in four years. Most will miss the opportunity to capture the Olympic experience as a bridge to the next phase of their career.

In the past I have worked with returning  Olympians who hesitate to include their achievements in sport on their resume. The most competitive athletes are the most reticent to record their accomplishments.

They just don’t think it’s relevant. It is.

In the global workplace, it’s not just the resume; social media communicates talent instantaneously to potential employers. Your professional image is transmitted through your social media identity.

On Saturday, American Virginia Thrasher won the first gold medal awarded at the games in the women’s the 10-meter air rifle. Within a few hours she was taking her first TV interview on NBC, describing her hectic schedule of additional events and starting her sophomore year at West Virginia University.

In describing her life over the next couple of weeks, Thrasher gave voice to the stress that accompanies the life of every student athlete, combining sport with academics. Often lost, is time for reflection on how these experiences transform the athlete into a professional @work.

How do you build the bridge from sport to work on social media?

Take a look at your social media presence across all platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter…

Do all the pieces fit into a unifying narrative? If not, it’s time to edit. As an Olympian, expectations have been raised and your online image should reflect your aspirations vs. social missteps.

Have you created links to videos and press coverage of your accomplishments?

Do you post videos and press coverage on your Twitter account?

Have you checked with third party sites to ensure your profile information is up to date?

Do you have an account on LinkedIn? (If you’re making the transition from sport to your next career, this component of your professional online identity is critical as you build your ‘next career’ network.)

There are many athletes who hesitate to be defined by their sport, but the skills developed in pursuit of Olympic gold closely match those sought by potential employers: teamwork, goal orientation, communications, problem-solving, and resilience.

Whether you are a summer Olympian, or a star on your own professional stage, it’s time to seize the moment and refresh you social media identity.

 

Photo credit: US Women’s Rugby Seven – Geoff Burke for USA TODAY Sports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ping pong tables & bean bag chairs

In a volatile job market, do the sales of office furnishings signify a shift in the career aspirations of workers?

An article in this morning’s Wall Street Journal suggested that a decline in the sales of ping pong tables is a harbinger of a downturn in Silicon Valley. A New York Times article in April described advertising agencies casting aside a stodgy image with the installation of bean bag chairs and other furnishings emblematic of a start-up culture.

Recruiting and retention is about the work. Ping pong tables and bean bag chairs don’t create a culture, people do. When a competitor offers a better fit between an individual and an assignment, the bright shiny things become insignificant.

As Silicon Valley firms are selling off their inventory, New York Ad Agencies are stocking up, trying to emulate a culture that may be in decline and missing the point – the work is no longer attractive.

“People no longer have that innate desire and that instinctive desire to be in our business,” said Jay Haines, a founder of Grace Blue, a search firm that works with the advertising industry.”

That’s the story. Folks are moving on to the next new thing – meaningful work. Ping pong tables and bean bag chairs are relics of the establishment.

 

 

 

 

‘Choose’ a poem by Carl Sandburg

On Tuesday morning folks living in the beautiful, Belgian capital city of Brussels boarded a train that reliably conveyed them to work each day. Others made one of those unconscious daily decisions to grab a cup of coffee at the airport before boarding a flight.

Researchers estimate we make over 200 decisions a day. Now, one of those individual decisions will aggregate to the global; how do we respond to acts of terror?

America’s ‘working man’s poet’, Carl Sandburg, plainly sets out the alternatives in The Friday Poem, ‘Choose’, from his 1916 collection, Chicago Poems.

Choose

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
Choose:
For we meet by one or the other.

The Saturday Read ‘Worklife: Rethinking the office for an always-on economy’

The Saturday Read this week is a compilation of articles that appeared in the February 28, 2016 ‘work issue’ of The New York Times Magazine.

A group of journalists and writers contributed coverage on a variety of work/life topics, adding new perspectives from groundbreaking research, demonstrating that, regardless of profession, it’s all about the culture. And the culture is in need of change.

Organization culture determines who succeeds, fails, and communicates ‘hints’ through recruiting practices, and the daily process of getting things done; meetings, teamwork and office space.

“We do often work at home. But we also work at work, before going home to work more. The office has persisted, becoming even bigger, weirder, stranger: a symbol of its outsize presence in our lives.”

The ‘work issue’ is an interesting survey of some of the most pressing issues @work today. The sampling of the content below is meant to serve as an introduction, with a recommendation to take the time to read the edition in its entirety.

NYT staff writer, Susan Dominus challenges us to think about balance beyond policies by ‘Rethinking the Work-Life Equation’, reporting on the research of Phyllis Moen of the University of Minnesota and Erin Kelly of M.I.T.

“Workers in the experimental group were told they could work wherever, and whenever, they chose so long as projects were completed on time and goals were met; the new emphasis would be on results rather than on the number of hours spent in the office. Managers were trained to be supportive of their employees’ personal issues and were formally encouraged to open up about their own priorities outside work — an ill parent, or a child wanting her mom to watch her soccer games. Managers were given iPods that buzzed twice a day to remind them to think about the various ways they could support their employees as they managed their jobs and home lives.

The research found that employees in the experimental group met their goals as reliably as those in the control group, and they were, in short, much happier: They were sleeping better, were healthier and experienced less stress. Other studies examining the same workplace found that the effects even cascaded down to employees’ children, who reported less volatility around their own daily stresses; adolescents saw the quality of their sleep improve. A year out, and then three years out, employees in the experimental group reported less interest in leaving the organization than those in the control group.

…sometimes there is little more than tradition holding organizations back from making meaningful changes that bring tremendous peace of mind to their employees.”

Five years ago, Google decided to determine what makes a ‘perfect team’. Pulitzer prize winning New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg reports on the results in an excerpt from his new book, ‘Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business’.

“For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

However, establishing psychological safety is, by its very nature, somewhat messy and difficult to implement. You can tell people to take turns during a conversation and to listen to one another more. You can instruct employees to be sensitive to how their colleagues feel and to notice when someone seems upset. But the kinds of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place.

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

Nikil Saval, who wrote about the evolution of the office in ‘Cubed: The Secret History of the Workplace’, writes about new experiments with office space, ‘Labor/atories’

“The sudden efflorescence of the tech industry in the late ’90s took us from the desert of cubicles to the milk-and-honey offices of today. Many of the dot-commers had graduated from (or, very often, dropped out of) cozy university campuses to toil in big corporations. Starting their own companies, they recreated the effortless drift between work and play that characterized their college lives. The cubicle walls came down, and in the wide, open warehouse and loft spaces they occupied, exceptionally long workdays would be punctuated by frenzied Mario Kart races or fierce Ping-Pong battles. Creating a playful office became one of the standard ways of attracting skilled employees in a competitive environment: The hope was that a talented engineer wouldn’t leave a tech behemoth for the dinky start-up next door that didn’t have a gym and a resistance pool. Thus has the ‘‘fun office’’ spread throughout the world.”

Each of the articles provides a ‘take away’ to apply @work. If you’re a leader, you’ll rethink your approach as you begin to understand what your competitors are doing to recruit and retain employees. As a manager, you’ll learn ways to improve the daily routine of meetings, but more important, reinforce behavior that will encourage employees to be productive. For the rest of us, a window has been opened to view alternative approaches to work and workplace. What will you do on Monday to turn policy into practice?

 

‘Internal Exile’ a poem by Richard Cecil

The answer to the question, why work? is unique in each response. Do you work to live, or live to work, or some combination? The Friday Poem this week comes from Richard Cecil, and addresses the workers who have been ‘stuck’ by “Judge Necessity” since “…the bailiff, Fate, led them away to Personnel to fill out payroll forms..”

Internal Exile

Although most people I know were condemned
years ago by Judge Necessity
to life in condos near a freeway exit
convenient to their twice-a-day commutes
through traffic jams to jobs that they dislike,
they didn’t bury their heads in their hands
and cry “Oh, no!” when sentence was pronounced:
Forty years accounting in Duluth!
or Tenure at Southwest Missouri State!
Instead, they mumbled, not bad. It could be worse,
when the bailiff, Fate, led them away
to Personnel to fill out payroll forms
and have their smiling ID photos snapped.
And that’s what they still mumble every morning
just before their snooze alarms go off
when Fluffy nuzzles them out of their dreams
of making out with movie stars on beaches.
They rise at five a.m. and feed their cats
and drive to work and work and drive back home
and feed their cats and eat and fall asleep
while watching Evening News’s fresh disasters—
blown-up bodies littering a desert
fought over for the last three thousand years,
and smashed-to-pieces million-dollar houses
built on islands swept by hurricanes.
It’s soothing to watch news about the places
where people literally will die to live
when you live someplace with no attractions—
mountains, coastline, history—like here,
where none aspire to live, though many do.
“A great place to work, with no distractions”
is how my interviewer first described it
nineteen years ago, when he hired me.
And, though he moved the day that he retired
to his dream house in the uplands with a vista,
he wasn’t lying—working’s better here
and easier than trying to have fun.
Is that the way it is where you’re stuck, too?

Richard Cecil   ‘Twenty First Century Blues’   2004

‘Into the Lincoln Tunnel’ a poem by Deborah Garrison

The Friday Poem this week is for all the commuters who leave New Jersey every day and enter Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel. The poet, Deborah Garrison gives voice to the thoughts we sometimes entertain as passengers on a bus, in uncertain times, inhaling the fumes, the indigenous scent of New York Hudson crossings. “…please smile upon these good people who want to enter the city and work. Because work is good…”

Into the Lincoln Tunnel

The bus rolled into the Lincoln Tunnel,
and I was whispering a prayer
that it not be today, not today, please
no shenanigans, no blasts, no terrors,
just please the rocking, slightly nauseating
gray ride, stop and start, chug-a
in the dim fellowship of smaller cars,
bumper lights flickering hello and warning.
Yes, please smile upon these good
people who want to enter the city and work.
Because work is good, actually, and life is good,
despite everything, and I don’t mean to sound
spoiled, but please don’t think I don’t know
how grateful I should be
for what I do have —

I wonder whom I’m praying to.
Maybe Honest Abe himself,
craggy and splendid in his tall chair,
better than God to a kid;
Lincoln whose birthday I shared,
in whom I took secret pride: born, thus I was,
to be truthful, and love freedom.

Now with a silent collective sigh
steaming out into the broken winter sun,
up the ramp to greet buildings, blue brick
and brown stone and steel, candy-corn pylons
and curving guardrails massively bolted and men
in hard hats leaning on resting machines
with paper cups of coffee —

a cup of coffee, a modest thing to ask
Abe for,
dark, bitter, fresh
as an ordinary morning.

Deborah Garrison   ‘The Second Child’   Random House, 2008

The Saturday Read – Gift a book this holiday season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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