The Productive Professional
One of the themes in Career Tools is that consumer goods companies are not the only companies. Fresh out of college, I remember thinking I’d join a bank graduate scheme. I knew the names of banks – they lined the high street where I lived.
Instead I worked as a temp for a long time, for everyone from P&G to Courage’s, to an elevator company, a health insurance company, a landscape gardening company, a recruitment agency – I even did some time in a bank. The experiences I had in such a variety of places was invaluable.
I was reminded of this by an article about Xerox in Fast Company. Xerox make photocopiers right? If I was going to start my career now, I’d probably think photocopiers were a) mundane and b) a dying market. Not so. Xerox make a light table which “correctly sorts information within dense legal documents as part of litigation research”.
I have no idea how it works – but I want to see it! I’m excited by the technology and the usefulness and the market potential. If I wasn’t here, doing what I love, I’d be applying to Xerox. Which just goes to show – don’t judge companies by what you know about them – do your research. They might be more exciting than you think.
An article in Wired describes research by Arthur Aron into developing relationships. He designed an experiment to see if he “could create lab conditions that would make strangers quickly bond and form close friendships after just a few minutes”.
He designed 36 questions which2 strangers asked one another and listened to the answers. The results: that the strangers reported feelings of closeness. The reporter in the article used the same questions at a conference, and reports: “reciprocal self-disclosure, under conditions which frame personal vulnerability as a social norm, can have dangerous consequences. But as a way to friend a stranger, it leaves Facebook trailing”.
We don’t recommend you share personal confidences with your directs, at least until they feel comfortable in One on Ones. We do recommend you spend time every week asking questions and listening to the answers. We don’t need research to know that that will develop your relationship with your direct – we get at least an email a day telling us it worked for someone who was willing to try it.
One of the casts in the podcast hopper is about the necessity to be willing to step down a rung or two or more in periods of unemployment. Many people fear that having been a manager or a senior manager, that taking an assitant or an individual contributor role will harm their future career, and open themselves to financial problems.
It’s not true. Any hiring manager with sense, will look at the resume of someone who was a manager before this recession, see them laid off and would forgive a year or two or more working at a lower level. We can’t legislate against hiring managers without sense, clearly, but there are less of those than one might think.
In fact, we’d go further. An article in Bloomberg Businessweek said that the E-Verify requirement in some states is causing “worker shortages across industries from construction to food service”. Being a dishwasher is hard, hot, dirty work. But it’s honest and if it’s what you need to do to feed your family and there is a job there you can take… take it.
It’s only demeaning if you think it is. There’s plenty of people we’ve interviewed who have said – it was the only job I could find and my children need to eat. You know what, it was kind of fun to be finished at the end of the day. The people I met were interesting and gave me a different perspective on life and management. And, now I’m ready to get back to my career. There’s nothing a hiring manager can find unreasonable in that.
Fast Company has an info-graphic entitled 'How To Lead A Creative Life'. It has two interesting parts for me. First, if you look carefully, you'll realize that every possibility is covered - get out of bed/stay in bed, have lunch with someone/meditate, go to a conference, attend panels/go to a conference, fall asleep. Their point, I think, is that it almost doesn't matter what you do - just doing something (or nothing) allows creativity to bubble up.
The second is that almost every line ends, "bad idea, start over". That's definitely my experience with ideas. One of my rules has always been "it isn't always a good idea, even when it's a good idea". Meaning, it can be a good idea, bad timing or a good idea, wrong person to pitch to, or good idea, just not a priority at the moment.
Every now and again, you get a good idea that really is a good idea. But it has to be tested, discussed, molded, made to be better, before it's implemented. If you want to 'be more creative' you have to learn to live with both the 'bad idea, start over' and the changing of your idea by others.
This time next week, Manager Tools will be in Australia. I don't think we've had so many 'I'm excited to be coming to the conference' emails for any conference before - and Australia, we're really excited to be finally getting to meet you too.
It occurred to me though, that between americans, a brit and the australians, we might have some trouble communicating, even though we all supposedly speak english. On a conference call this week, I had to spell the word 'saucepans' before Mike, Mark and Maggie knew what I was talking about. Admittedly, it wasn't the most obvious word to be saying in a discussion about finances, but it did seem to be a communication sticking point.
Then I remember the fact I read somewhere, that 99.99% of all a human's DNA is the same as every other humans. If we were a whole 1% different, we'd be dolphins. I'm not sure I understand the science, but the point is, that humans are much much more similar than we are different. Americans, australians, brits; we all care about similar things and have similar experience - at least when you compare with non-humans. So, Australia, we'll get on fine. And if we get stuck, we can always spell the words out.
I am having some goods shipped from the UK to the US. Like most things, when you've never done it before, and it's important and expensive, it's a bit nervewracking. So far the information I'd had was that the goods would be landing in the US in New York.
Yesterday, I sent an email asking some questions, and the reply said that the goods would be landing in LA, but going to the New Jersey warehouse. I thought it was probable that the person who sent the email had typed LA instead of NYC by mistake, and I asked "has something changed, or was that a mistake?". The email response said: "The ship will dock in New York. Then the container will be transported to our warehouse in New Jersey to be unloaded. It is our closest warehouse."
No apology. No acknowledgement that a mistake had been made. No recognition that this process is stressful and that his error didn't make that any better.
It isn't a big deal that he typed LA instead of NYC. If he'd have replied, "I'm so sorry, you're right it's NYC, I mistyped", I'd have been happy. By not admitting he made a mistake and apologising, he's taken credit from our relationship bank account. It's a small thing, but it matters. In every situation where it might be reasonable, apologise. You'll find relationships get easier.
Seth Godin's blog post today is entitled 'No', and it goes on to list a bunch of things it's better to say no to. Two in particular caught my eye.
"'No, that's not good enough. Will you please do it again?'". How many of us actually say this, and ask for better? That's what the feedback model is all about - getting something better in the future, and yet we get so many emails saying 'I do one on ones and I love them, but I'm shamed that I haven't started feedback yet'. Things don't get better unless the person that's doing them knows that what they did wasn't good enough. We've got to be brave enough to say it.
The second was: "No, I'm not willing to lose my focus, and no, I'm not willing to compromise". While both of those can be taken to extremes, most of us could do better in some situations if we just concentrated for a few minutes longer, before email and IM and all the other distractions distracted us.
No isn't always bad. Sometimes, it's better than yes.
On the BBC website today, there is an article about Larry, the Downing Street cat. Larry's job is to keep the Prime Minister's residence free of mice and apparently he has not been as successful as we would like. The article is worthy of The Onion, complete with quotes from the PM's spokesman as to whether the cat should resign.
Apart from amusing me as an article in it's own right, it also made me think about our workplace. Despite the fact we take our mission very seriously, Manager Tools is a fun place to work. In fact, most of the places I've worked have had moments of amusement - even when I've been in the C-suite.
Somedays, we can too wrapped up in the stresses of the day, the customer demands, the financial position. Work is work. But there's room for a bit of silliness too. If they can be silly at the very serious BBC, you can be silly ... as long as you're getting the work done too.
As I was reading the news this morning on line, I saw an article called 'idea of the week'. If you're interested, the idea was a powered golf bag, a kind of combination of a segway and caddy: http://realbusiness.co.uk/news/idea-of-the-week-powered-golf-trolley. Apparently, it speeds up your 18 holes, which seems to me to be a little pointless if the people in front of you aren't going any faster. However, I'm no expert so perhaps I'm missing something.
The title made me think about where ideas come from. They don't come from hours in front of the computer or from doing email, usually. They don't come from doing the same thing you do every day, usually. They don't come from solitary thinking, usually.
They come from doing something different, somewhere different. They come from thinking about your work from a different perspective. They come from conversations, often not about 'what ideas shall we have?'. They come from reading, around the subject not on the subject. If you want two brain cells to smash together and come up with something new, you've got to be somewhere new. But I'd try and avoid being in the way of a man on a powered golf bag, if I were you.
In yesterday's London Times, there is an article about Paul Mealor who wrote music for the 9/11 ceremonies in New York and the british royal wedding in April (paid for content, here: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/music/classical/article3219098.ece). In it, he says that he received 17,000 thank you letters and he replied to them all. No, that's not a typo. Seventeen thousand.
It made me think about two things. One, anyone who feels they don't have time to write at least one thank you note a week has a new goal. If Paul Mealor can write 17,000, you can write one. If you can't find one person a week, you're not looking hard enough. Even your doctor's receptionist who is always cheery and helpful, will appreciate a thank you note saying so.
Two, the unofficial US Army Corps of Engineer's motto: "The difficult we do at once. The impossible takes a little longer", should belong to us all. If someone asked me to write 17,000 thank you notes in a month, or even over several months, I'd say it was impossible. Quite clearly, it's not. So what's on your 'can't do, impossible' list, and how could you get it done?