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Archive | 2010

Don’t Blame The Office – Let’s Recreate Our Workplace

To open his opinion piece on CNN called Why the office is the worst place to work, Jason Fried writes,

Companies spend billions on rent, offices, and office equipment so their employees will have a great place to work. However, when you ask people where they go when they really need to get something done, you’ll rarely hear them say it’s the office.

Further, he writes,

I don’t blame people for not wanting to be at the office. I blame the office. The modern office has become an interruption factory. You can’t get work done at work anymore.

Sorry Jason but you completely wimped out in this article. “The office” is an inanimate object and an easy target for scorn. Why not call out your peers in the executive suite for their apparent lack of interest and commitment in making the workplace better? Why not at least start to address the real reasons for why many offices don’t work right now? Maybe that’s not fair to ask considering that CNN probably asked for a typical fluff piece.

The “office” is just a container for all the human interactions and emotions that take place within it. If the office is seen as nothing more than a place for constant interruptions, for unproductive meetings, and for pointless interactions, is that really the fault of a place…or the fault of those individuals who inhabit it?

Here’s another thought: instead of just dumping on the workplace experience, let’s be more adventurous in how we try to fix it.

1. Let’s stop with the idiotic band-aids. Electing to skip a meeting, spend a day not talking to anyone, and collaborating solely through IM isn’t going to solve anything – short- or long-term. Actually, it just makes a mockery of the real issues that keep business from functioning full throttle.

2. Let’s realize what the workplace actually is. From the C-Level down, there must be a renewal in how we think about the value of employee interactions in business. What we’ve come to know as the “workplace” is an organic community, not a machine that can be engineered, where employees are just simple cogs. But that’s what most execs and managers have been trained to believe through decades of traditional organizational thought.

3. Let’s start dealing with the real problem. Improving the workplace isn’t merely a matter of action, it involves a change in thinking. But if we ignore the problems of poor communications, ineffectual relationships, and meaningless work, they’ll continue to persist. So what do we want to see more of in our workplaces? It’s time to stop putting on the band-aids, folks. Are you with me?

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Tales from Waikiki: Imprinting and the Power to Change

Earlier this month, my extended family and I spent a week vacationing in Hawaii. Out of that experience exploring the wonders of Oahu came some juicy ideas well worth sharing over the next few weeks. So, here we go…

We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village at Waikiki based on a spot-on recommendation that it was a great hotel for families. Besides the beachfront access and several pools for my daughters to swim in daily, (not to mention all the shopping for my mother and sister), the Hilton had a waddle of tropical penguins. The birds were conveniently located right outside our particular hotel tower so we stopped to visit them pretty much every time we passed. These Hilton penguins are called African Penguins so they’re adapted for tropical environments. Over the week we learned a lot about them as a species (endangered) and some of their quirks (they sound like braying donkeys which is why they’re sometimes called Jackass Penguins).

We also learned about something called imprinting. Turns out penguins – as well as many other birds – learn how to be birds shortly after birth by observing the characteristics of the other birds around them. It’s a rapid process…and it’s fairly permanent, meaning what is learned through this process cannot easily be undone. So if a young hatchling observes not a bird but a human, they’re going to be imprinted with human characteristics. In other words, you’re going to have a rather confused bird who is going to try and act like a human. One penguin at the Hilton named Icarus had this sort of human imprinting, which is immediately noticeable because she (yes, she…these penguins are also notoriously difficult to sex) is fairly tame by penguin standards. Icarus will also never mate because she’s not attracted to other penguins; case in point: she mercilessly attacked the last male who tried to get it on with her because he was too penguiny.

Where am I going with all this? Let me ask a question: how many times do we behave like we’ve been imprinted by our past? Except we’re not holding on to the actions of others we’ve observed, but our own actions. We say – either openly or quietly to ourselves – that we’re a failure or stupid or not talented enough for what looks like a great job opportunity. Every time we do this, we’ve essentially confirmed our own imprinting by not letting go of that past behavior. The good news is that we’re not easily imprinted birds, but humans capable of flexible thought. We can retrain ourselves to think differently about who we are and what we’re capable of achieving in our lives. We can reimprint ourselves whenever we choose.

Notice what’s holding you back. The key is self-awareness. Get mindful of thoughts that contain images involving past failures and weaknesses. Listen for words like can’t and never. If it feels like a barrier, then it probably is. Say you’re holding on to an image of failing at starting a business or bombing an assignment. Now imagine taking the picture out of your head and tossing it into the fire. You’re not forgetting the lessons learned…instead, you’re torching their power to hold you in your present position. You’re claiming your right to be free of all the past crap that’s simply not serving you right now.

Re-envision what you want. Time to re-imprint our thinking and behavior with something different. You’re free to be as creative as you want now. Imagine vividly yourself as successful. What would it look like? And perhaps more importantly, what would it feel like? Imprinting isn’t a logical, rational process; it’s a visceral, emotional one. The stronger you can cement the images in your body, the better you’ll be able to hold on to these newly imprinted images.

Maintain awareness. Even though we can change how we think and feel, it’s still not a walk in the park. Change takes dedication and commitment. Remain vigilant when it comes to how old imprinted behavior reenters your thought process. Remember: you’re not a penguin…you can do this.

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We’re All In-between Swims

This one’s subtitled: An essay on learning (and trying not to drown).

Once upon a time, I decided I wanted to experience the excitement and anxiety of learning something new – the art of whitewater kayaking. Ever since my first rafting trip as a teenager, I knew I wanted to paddle my own boat. The kayakers looked like they were enjoying the river in ways that we on the large raft were unable. I told my buddy next to me that someday I wanted to do that. Someday. So, a few years ago, I decided to stop letting life get in the way of something I yearned to do. I signed up with a local kayaking school and set out to pursue a goal that I had put aside for too long.

However, the first course did not go quite the way I envisioned. I naïvely thought kayaking would be much easier than it actually was and that I would pick up the instruction much faster that I actually did. In reality, I felt awkward in the unstable boat and unnerved by my inability to master something that on dry land looked so easy.

Yet I walked away from that experience with three powerful lessons that offered insights into my own sense of learning and living.

Lesson #1: Just because you’ve been on a river before does not mean you already know what you’re doing. I’ve been rafting before in whitewater and even done some flatwater kayaking and I thought those experiences would give me an edge in quickly learning how to paddle a kayak. One mistake I made was that I didn’t approach this new experience from a place of “not knowing,” but instead tried to filter it through past experiences that may have gotten in the way of actually learning. Recognize each experience, regardless of how familiar it may be to you, as an opportunity to learn something new.

Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to do something new because you might look like you don’t know what you’re doing. Guess what? More than likely, you don’t know what you’re doing! This means you might notice some uncomfortable feelings like incompetence and helplessness. About half-way through the lesson, I committed a typical newbie mistake of panicking when I accidentally capsized my kayak. Trapped underwater in my kayak, I thrashed and flailed trying to get my boat upright. Two instructors came to try to rescue me before I remembered that I could rescue myself by ejecting from the boat. When I surfaced and caught my breath, I realized that my classmates had witnessed the whole episode with a mixture of fear and thankfulness that it wasn’t them. Yet regardless of how I must have looked, I learned very quickly how to remain calm while underwater and how to get myself out of a capsized kayak. Remember that embarrassment only lasts for a few minutes, while the lessons you gain through trying something new last much longer.

Lesson #3: We’re all in-between swims. After I managed to get back in my kayak, one of the instructors said, “Even the best paddlers get themselves into jams. Dude, we’re all in-between swims.” As I rejoined my fellow kayakers, the full force of that statement hit me. Individuals who choose to fully experience life inevitably encounter challenging situations that are bigger than themselves. Sometimes we can paddle through the situation and sometimes we have to eject. It’s about not letting our fears get in the way of fully learning and living. Be open to not getting it right all the time and understand that failing can often lead to the greatest learnings of all.

So, are you taking tentative action in order to always remain upright in your boat or are you pushing yourself and allowing for the possibility of tipping over? The first option is one of safety, the second is risky, but one of true growth. If you’re playing it safe now because you’re afraid of capsizing, ask what it’s costing you. Maybe it’s a life of significance, meaning, and fun. Start paddling in your life and see where it takes you.

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Let’s Love Experts Again

Experts have been getting such a bum rap lately. It seems no one likes them and no one (at least who is reputable) wants to be considered one anymore. There are even some who believe they’re on their way to extinction.

It’s easy to understand why. Because they’re always in your face telling you how smart they are and how their way is the only way to do something. And all this bullshit is usually backed up with actual expertise that has about as much depth as a kiddie pool…or blasted at you by an ego roughly the size of the Grand Canyon. Never mind that they act like Moses just back from a tête-à-tête with God complete with stone tablet in hand.

But I’m here to preach a different gospel. I argue the true experts – the ones who know and value their own worth – will humbly submit what works fantastically for them and show others how they got their results. They don’t cast about with “should’s” and “must’s” and “do as I say’s.” Instead, they offer suggestions knowing that every situation varies and what works well in one place and time might not work nearly as well in another.

Put simply, it’s the difference between dragging and leading. A pseudo-expert feels they need to drag everyone to their truth. A true expert believes in their value and will lead anyone seeking new learning to their own experience.

Don’t be afraid to be an expert. Let’s show these pseudo-expert dimwads what true expertise looks like so maybe folks will trust and respect experts again.

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