The Productive Professional
I was curious to find out how John Oliver got the job of hosting the Daily Show while Jon Stewart is away for the summer. (If you don't watch it, don't worry, that's not really what this is about). While looking around, I found an interview of John Oliver in the New York Times talking about the preparation that John was doing to take over the show. He's not only presenting, I found out, but he's in charge of all the content too.
There were two parts I found particularly interesting. First, Oliver is asked: "How did Jon Stewart approach you about this?", and he replies: "..he called me up and said, “We’ve got the money — I’m going to shoot it this summer. Would you do it?” To which I guess the only answer is yes." The follow up question is: "There was no hesitation?" and the answer: "I’ll do anything for him, whether it’s hosting this show or disposing of a body." That's loyalty to a boss. The interview absolutely gives the impression that Stewart is in charge of the show, and that he is the boss. Yet, Oliver would do anything for him. However Stewart acts as a boss, he's doing it right.
Then there are some questions about the process. It turns out, that they don't just turn up in the afternoon, mess around for a while and hope that the jokes are funny. There are two parts where he describes the process: "Jon built it to operate in a certain process, so that process really has to stay. It’s like a Nascar driver giving keys to his car to a member of his pit crew. I fundamentally understand how the engine works — I just never have driven it that fast before." and "What he’s always told us is you want to make sure that the spine of the argument is in shape. You can write jokes at any point of the day. Jokes are not that hard to write, or they shouldn’t be when it is literally your job. It’s harder to shift the point of view of a headline later in the day. That’s the kind of thing you need to keep an eye on early. You’d think you’d come in early in the day and go, “What jokes should we tell?” And that’s not always the case."
And the lesson from all this? Everything that is good has a process. Someone has thought through every detail of how to make it good, and better and better, until it just works, and looks effortless. Even comedy news.
I love finding out something new. The internet is the best thing that ever happened in my life. I can't wait more than 2 seconds to look it up when someone asks a question. Do you know how they make steel shapes (for boat propellors and golf clubs)? First, they make a wax mold. Then they dip that in glue and sand, until it's big and fat. They bake that so the sand hardens and the wax melts. Then, they pour in the steel. Once it's set, they break off the sand template, and voila! No wonder those things are so expensive. It takes ages!
I read in last September's Success about a new Macy's distribution facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia. It's so large, that the architects had to take account of the size of the curvature of the earth. I can't imagine that. I looked up how long the building would have to be (because.. well, I had to KNOW), and it's 2.9 miles long. That doesn't sound far, but on the other hand, a nearly 3 mile long BUILDING. That's massive! They're going to keep 900,000 pairs of shoes in there. (I think that's the definition of heaven).
What does any of this have to do with my daily life? Not a lot. It keeps me curious, because I know if I look it up I can find the answer to everything. Some days, two brain cells collide and come up with something completely new. I'm convinced that wouldn't happen if I didn't let my mind wander and explore and wonder.
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I read in June's Success magazine about the founder of Ikea. First, I was surprised to find out he was born in 1926. With all the startups run by under 25 year olds now, I think we've become conditioned to thinking it's success by 25 or else.
He started selling low-cost furniture in 1947 and discontinued all his other lines in 1951. He opened a showroom only because of competition from another catalogue retailer.
I love Ikea showrooms. I love how they encourage you to follow the route they dictate so you see everything. I love the pencils and measuring tapes in case you forgot your own. I love the bit before you checkout where you can't help but buy 100 tealights. I don't care that I'm being manipulated by marketing. I enjoy watching them do it well.
I'd always assumed it was a new thing. But no, there is nothing new under the sun. [A quote from the Bible, which shows that sometimes what is old still has value to us.].
I was reading an article in Inc about Duolingo, which is a language training website. It caught my eye, because earlier in the week I'd seen some people discussing it on a forum and saying it was very good.
Anyway, the co-founder, Luis von Ahn, was asked "Do you take a hands-on approach with the hiring now?". He answered: "I do. Every person who comes through here, I talk to them for an hour. It is amazing how much comes out in an hour".
Earlier in the interview he said: "I made a concerted effort to hire people who are going to play nice". Believe me, you don't learn if someone will play nice in an hour. You have to spend hours and hours. The honeymoon period wears off everything we do, including interviewing. If you still like the person after the honeymoon, then get married. But not an hour.
There's an article in April's Entrepreneur magazine about answering questions in media interviews. It says "Media trainers will say, "Answer the question you wish they had asked." Politicians do this. It's an interesting move because it makes you seem self-possessed and stupid at the same time."
I've seen the same advice given for interviewees interviewing for jobs, and it's just as stupid. Everyone knows what the politicians are doing, and everyone knows what you're doing too. They make me want to do this: no,no,no,no,no,no ANSWER THE QUESTION.
But instead, I just give up and move on. So now the candidate hasn't answered my question, I haven't listened to what they were trying to tell me (because I've decided that it's not relevant), and I'm not inclined to believe in the interviewees honesty. Who wins? No one.
January's Fortune had an interview with Herb Kelleher, Chairman Emeritus of Southwest Airlines. In it he says that many companies have come to Southwest to find out how they hired and motivated their employees. Basically, he says, they were looking for a formula.
Then he says: "The concept is simple, but the execution takes a lot of work and a lot of attention. If you're going to pay personal attention to each of your people, for instance, and every grief and joy that they suffer in their lives, you really have to have a tremendous network for gathering information'.
That line 'every grief and joy that they suffer in their lives' reminded me what One on Ones are really all about. They might be rote, and boring and mundane for weeks and weeks and weeks, but they allow you to build the relationship which allows you to share in the grief and joy of your direct's lives. That's professional love. That's management.
May's Inc contains an article about 'Audacious Culture' and lists several companies who have non-standard corporate cultures and rules. There's one which requires a health risk assessment each year and which has introduced a 'twinkie tax' in their cafe. There's one which gives employees a four week sabbatical after 10 years.
The one that really caught my eye though, was Menlo Innovations. The headline says 'Taking Teamwork To The Extreme'. In the text it says 'Developers - and nearly everyone else - work in pairs and switch partners weekly. Employees talk through problems while passing the mouse back and forth...'.
The thought of sharing my thoughts, computer and mouse with someone while I'm working was like nails on a chalkboard for me. Which is why I work from home, on my own, and don't share my thoughts until I've had time to at least half bake them. Fortunately, our company allows that.
It shows though, that you need to chose your place of work carefully. If you can't deal with that kind of teamwork, don't go to work there. One person rarely changes the culture from the bottom up. You'll be miserable and that'll show in your results. Find somewhere you'll fit, even if the job title, pay or location aren't what you would have liked.
Vizify, a new app is described in Inc. It says it's 'designed to help job seekers create online resumes that give potential employers a sense of their off-resume lives'. Every time I see something about interests and non-work lives on resumes or as part of the job search process, I get mad all over again.
Yes, it's all about people. Yes, we want to get to know people and have relationships, and that's not all about work activity. But during the interview process, it's all about the 9-5. An interviewer CAN'T ask about your family or your age or your politics and nor do you want them too - that's why we have discrimination laws.
You don't want them to ask about your interests or your other non-work activities, because the time you spend time talking about sailing you're NOT talking about what matters - what you can do for them.
There are times and places for everything. The interview process is NOT the time for your non-work life.
I saw an article in Inc. entitled 'Backpacks Grow Up. New options with sophisticated style'. Despite their assertion and a rather groovy graphic, backpacks are not grown up.
I can understand that a heavy laptop and all the the things you need to bring to work are better held in a backpack than over one shoulder. If you commute to work by public transport or bicycle, then, yes a backpack is more convenient.
It's never going to look executive-like though. A couple of solutions: we don't recommend you take briefcases or purses to internal meetings, so that won't be a problem. Have a briefcase/purse at work and transfer your belongings before you meet clients. You can do the same with appropriate work shoes too.