rediscovering our spark for imagination, learning, & thinking about things differently

Finding My Voice, Here’s A Shot Of Whiskey

Shot of WhiskeyOver the last few months, I’ve been giving some serious thought to just what the hell I’m doing here. If you start poking around the archives on this site, you’ll discover that I’ve been writing Bailey WorkPlay for just over 12 years. In internet years, that feels like a lifetime and a half. I started writing back in September 2004 as a way to build an audience for a budding career coaching business. Since then, so much has changed. Our family has uprooted and moved twice as I’ve tried on different careers in different industries (and supported my wife as she has done the same).

But perhaps the greatest change has been with me. You’re thinking, “No shit?!? Twelve years is long enough to change anyone.” Yet, I have to admit the one constant that didn’t change throughout this time was the uncertainty and self-doubt about my Voice. The one writing to you right now. The one that has given presentations in front of hundreds of people. The one that has tried to sell my entrepreneurial business ideas to executives. The one that was quiet for months at a time while I struggled to climb out of the dark hell known as depression.

Perhaps you can relate.

Now I don’t know if it’s because I’m on the other side of 40 or whether I’ve just gotten more ornery (probably a bit of both), but I’m coming to a place of clarity about my Voice. It’s a place I like to call: “This is Chris…in all his beautiful, fucked up, mischievous, loving glory.” Yes, I enjoy being snarky and cantankerous and crude. Yes, I am constantly awed by the astonishing wonders of this universe. Yes, I’m a flawed and creative and strong human who believes that Love is the force that holds us all together. As Walt Whitman astutely wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

In the past, I would have been scared witless to write this. It didn’t feel “professional” or “proper” to admit that I am a fucked up human being full of love, fear, strength, and doubt. But when I put this out there to you, I feel a freedom that is indescribable. Because here’s the thing…if I don’t have confidence in my own Voice, how can I expect you to have confidence in it? I know I have a Voice that can inspire those who need an uplifting moment as well as a Voice that can call bullshit on the stupidities of modern work and life.

And if my Voice with all its salty language and quirky personality and heretical beliefs make you feel uneasy…that’s cool. I’m not meant to be everyone’s cup of tea. Please don’t get me wrong. I’ll still struggle at times to fully speak with my Voice. I will always hear my protective ego whisper, “But Chris, what if no one likes you or your Voice?” So I may need help from you to keep me honest. And in return, I’ll do whatever I can to help you clear through the muck to fully claim your own Voice.

So here we go. If you’re still with me, thank you. Our work is too important to do half-assed. And our workplaces need some serious retooling. Let’s see what kind of shit we can stir up.


The War On Play

Playground and treesWhy is there a war being fought against play?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself for a while.

I hear it when I talk to friends about the near-constant stresses of their work. The fear of taking time off only to see the mountain of work upon their return. The endless cycle of meetings where conversation tends to focus on the tactical, on the execution, on the pressure to get shit done NOW. If I would ask, “But did you get to actually play today?” they would look at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. And for good reason…we’ve pretty much separated the ideas of work and play in our current economy.

But there’s a reason why I decided to call this site Bailey WorkPlay back in 2006. Because I truly believe we can and must reconnect work and play if our organizations are going to succeed.

Yes, it’s an uphill battle and the latest employee engagement statistics don’t offer much reason for optimism. Not to be a Dougie Downer, but we’re not exactly helping our kids see the connection, either. I witness this every day when my children bring piles of homework from school. Just this past weekend, my 14 year old daughter probably had four or five hours of personal time. The other remaining hours were devoted to projects, studying, and various other work. For her, play has become a luxury she can’t afford.

It’s almost as if our educational system is saying, “Get used to it kids. We’re preparing you for the real world where work is first. Life is just that thing that fills in the odd spaces.”

Why do we believe this is okay? Why have we decided that we need far less time to play, create, and wonder? Why do we regard learning as this intensely serious undertaking instead of the playful possibility it can be? Is this a reason we see so many more instances of depression and anxiety among adults and teens today?

Maybe it’s because as much as we like to believe we value creativity, we really don’t know how to handle it…in our businesses and in our schools.

What will it take for us to make play a vital tool in creating vibrant learning organizations?

Aeon Magazine: The Play Deficit

Slate: Inside the Box


Photo credit: eurodrifter


Dreams Of Being An Architect

Remember the character George Costanza from Seinfeld? You may not know it but me and him, we have much in common. We both (still) have a little thing for Marisa Tomei. We both have a better than average shot at making idiots of ourselves in public. And we both wish we were architects.

When I was a kid, I loved building things. I remember my grandmother had a couple of small streams around her house. You’d often find me building dams on those streams with pebbles and mud. When the dams fell apart, I’d just rebuild and try to make them stronger. I had a closet full of Erector Sets, Legos, and other construction toys. I fondly recall that I particularly loved my KENSTRUCT Girder and Panel Construction Set made by Kenner Toys.

Perhaps you’re asking why the hell didn’t I become an architect. The short answer is: I honestly don’t know. While I didn’t really excel at math, I was a pretty good geometry student. And when I did drafting as part of wood shop in junior high, I truly enjoyed it. Maybe I didn’t get the right nudges as a kid. Or maybe I did and ignored them.

But that’s not really what this post is about. I don’t want to pine for a past that’s long gone. And I don’t want to miss out on the future that’s to come because I’m wallowing in regrets. Instead, I want to honor the creative spirit that still resides in me. Because I still love to build things.

I taught myself HTML back in 1998 (and later CSS) so I could build a website for my organization. I taught myself the basics of relational database design so I could build a better way to manage customer information. I took a significant risk with a job so I could build a customer service team.

Why should being an entrepreneur be any different? I now find myself building all kinds of new things. I’m building a business called inspectiv and creating something I truly believe companies need: help improving their customer experience. I’m also working on an exciting side project as a product manager so I can help build something a group of customers desperately want and need. I’m writing a book on how to rediscover purpose in our work. And I’m helping my wife build her business – Austin Carrie Works – by delivering marketing and branding insight to her clients.

As an entrepreneur, I get the chance to be an architect every day. My raw materials may be different. And my finished product may be different, too. But everything I do is intended to bring an idea from my imagination into reality.


June Blog Blitz Begins Tomorrow

Hello. My name is Chris and I’m a crappy blogger. I don’t mean to be…I’ve just lost my ability to blog on a regular basis. It’s a problem I’ve struggled with over the past few years.

But I hate wallowing in my own bullshit so I’m going to try to do something about it. Tomorrow is Day 1 of my June Blog Blitz. I’m producing a blogpost each day to give myself a kick in the rear, to get over this idiotic fear of publishing nonperfection. I’m also challenging myself to put a little more of ‘me’ in my writings, revealing more about myself in the process.

I started blogging in 2004 because I had something to say about the working world. I still have a lot to say; a lot of hard gained experience to share; a lot of new ideas about marketing, customers, and organizations to explore. But I’ve been holding back and that needs to end now.

Honestly, I have no idea how this will turn out but I do know this: I’m entering a land of shadows and gremlins where my dark fears lie in wait. I’m going to need encouragement and support if I’m going to exit the other side in ballsy badass blogging form.

I’m hoping you’ll come along with me on my quest. C’mon…it’s time to get started.

photo credit: sleepyneko (via Flickr)


Learning, Content Curators And The Politics Of Power

I found this clip of Jeff Jarvis via Johnnie Moore’s blog. Contained within it are some rather provocative ideas. A few of them are spot on (like how our educational system still operates as if it’s an industrial world). A few of them might be bullshit but I’m still debating internally.

The awesomeness comes in the form of how we interact with learning. So much of our training tells us that an A is better than a C, that a glowing performance evaluation trumps one with negative marks, that perfection looks smarter than blunders. And our training is completely wrong. As Jarvis notes, mistakes must be the goal, the object of the lesson. Life is a beta. It’s messy and complex and in constant flux. We’re never absolved of our responsibility to learn and improve.

What did sort of put a twist in my knickers were Jarvis’s arguments that all the good ideas are taken and that the best we can hope to achieve now is “curator” status. I get where he’s coming from: Why recreate the wheel when great content already exists? Creating content is about the ego and when we get in front of someone – regardless of whether its on stage, in a classroom, or on a blog – we do so in a quest for validation.

What seems to go unsaid is that the audience, student, and reader are merely passive participants of the process. That’s a mistaken assumption. Instead, we should think of content creation as an ever evolving mashup of ideas and personal experience. But maybe this is where Jarvis was trying to lead us. Maybe his idea of a curator is someone who is able to collect diverse information, mash it up, and recreate new knowledge.

What I don’t want to see is a tiered order where curators are relegated to second-class beneath the creators. In such a system, creators maintain their elite status and govern it through the power to release information and knowledge. Okay, so maybe that won’t happen like that but power is an interesting construct. Those who possess it don’t often give it up willingly. So who has power right now? And who will have it tomorrow?


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.


Nuance is Dead

Yesterday, during danah boyd’s keynote presentation for SXSWi, she made a comment to which I had to stop myself from jumping up amidst a packed room and shouting, “Amen! Testify, sister!” Her comment consisted of three words printed on a slide deck:

Nuance amidst extremes

It was in reference to quotes and soundbites from folks who have argued that “Privacy is Dead.” In the continuum of extremes, nothing is more polarizing than declaring something dead or evil.

I fear we’re becoming much too accustomed to being at those edges, our interests numbed by a media obsessed with getting people to yell at one another instead of actually listening and having cogent arguments. We’re living in a culture where nuance is getting set aside like a quaint antique writing desk, a reminder of another time.

Why? Because being salacious and provocative gets attention, gets click-thrus, gets retweeted and Dugg and shared virally. It means we really don’t have to take the time to think about instances where our reasoning falls apart. It means we get to stick with our safe, comfortable ways of thinking and doing.

Does this scare the hell out of anyone else?

But I don’t think we’re entirely lost, yet. It’s one reason why I continue to love blogs. Writers can propose a viewpoint and then allow for others to join the dialogue in a very public space. Online communities can function in a similar way. Thriving communities know how to help its members to share feelings and rationales, absorb the points made by others, and consider new perspectives. The point is to help people generate new viewpoints rather than get mired in their own stale ways of looking at the world.

Rather than accepting a lot of other “me too” comments, let’s encourage more diverse points of view. As bloggers, we need to challenge the thinking of our readers, reply to their comments, encourage them to keep thinking more deeply about issues.

I’m continuously hopeful of our ability to grasp “nuance amidst extremes.” But we have to keep listening to each other, keep talking, and most important of all, keep respecting the viewpoints of others we come into contact with.

PS. Yes, the irony of this post’s title isn’t lost on me 🙂


My Blogging Quandary…I Need Your Help

Here’s the challenge that is weighing rather heavily on me as we enter the new year. As a blogger, I just don’t feel I can keep up with two primary professional blogs and a business blog for BaileyHill Media (let alone trying to continually grow BaileyHill Media’s business). I now realize that what I once loved to do has become an arduous chore and I don’t like it. So while there’s no perfect solution I’m trying to figure out what will allow me to sustain my passion for blogging ideas, my desire for further building a community here, and my commitment to helping our growing stable of clients at BaileyHill Media.

My chief challenge is that my interests don’t fall into one particular niche. I might talk about employee engagement issues one day, online community development another day, and finish the week with thoughts on creativity. I see these somewhat eclectic interests as a personal strength but understand they can also be a detriment to generating salient content that folks want to read. If you subscribe to read more about improving organizational leadership, you may not care at all about how to build a better Facebook community. And I really don’t want to be hamstrung into only writing about one thing…that wouldn’t be authentic to who I am.

I need your help and would love to get your feedback on what I’m considering as my next step.

The option I’m heavily considering right now is to consolidate Alchemy of Soulful Work and Gravit8 Interactivity into a single online presence (likely to be located at that would serve all niches. It would be focused on me and the somewhat disparate interests I have: future of work, organizational development, management and leadership, social business, business anthropology, online communities, social media and web communication, etc., etc. In many ways, I can see the overlap…but here’s what I really want to know: would you still subscribe and read my writing? As much as I sometimes try to pretend it doesn’t matter, I do need you as a reader and commenter. Your thoughtful feedback to my posts are part of the dialogue that I value.

So, there’s the question that I want to pose to you. If you’re a reader of Alchemy, would you mind reading more of the things I write about at Gravit8; and it’s the same question if you’re a reader of Gravit8. Or would you prefer and advise that I continue to keep the niches separate and find ways to maintain a writing regimen that emphasizes both of these blogs?

For this post – perhaps more than almost any other that I’ve written in a while – I do need your comments and advice. Thanks so much.


How Much Does Talent Really Matter?

Recently, I’ve come across some interesting thoughts on the nature and necessity of talent.

This morning, Zig Ziglar at Great Management asked Does talent always prevail? And the answer is, “No.” In his article, Zig tells the story of Peter Vidmar, Olympic gold medalist, and why he succeeded when other athletes were more talented. Here’s a quote from Vidmar’s coach:

Peter is not particularly talented. I’ve had boys who were more gifted physically, with more kinetic awareness, strength and flexibility. But Peter surpassed them all because of his singular determination.

Geoff Colvin wrote a book called Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else and argues a similar point. Here are a couple of quotes that underscore Zig’s thoughts on talent:

Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. This is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in. Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one’s hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone’s mental abilities. (p. 70)

If you believe that your performance is forever limited by your lack of a specific innate gift…, then there’s no chance at all that you will do the work. (But) If you believe that doing the right kind of work an overcome the problems, then you have at least a chance of moving on to ever better performance. What you really believe about the source of great performance thus becomes the foundation of all you will ever achieve. (p. 205)

What Zig and Geoff remind us to do is to not buy fully into the “Cult of Talent” that has taken root in our culture, the idea that if you weren’t born with a gift you’re out of luck. It actually doesn’t work like that. The reality is more liberating…and more challenging. It means that if we develop a habit of deliberate practice where we continually push ourselves, we can achieve more than we might otherwise believe. It doesn’t mean that innate talent is meaningless, it just means that it’s not everything.

Personally, where I struggle most is in trying to determine where to fully dedicate myself. My Renaissance Soulseems to rebel against the notion of selecting just one thing to dedicate my mental focus. I can’t claim to have a lot of answers to this question. How do you navigate the task of deciding where to place your dedication and create a deliberate practice plan? Love to hear your thoughts.


Monday Pickup: Touchstones And My BC5

Today, I’m feeling a little harried, anxious, and irritable. Yeah, yeah…it’s Monday you say. Well I do my damnedest to not fall into the TGIF and Manic Monday modes but I guess its unavoidable at times.

Which is why I learned a while ago that its important to always have touchstones to get me out of these spots. One of these is a tactile object that I can hold in my hand. It’s the red stone at the bottom right of the picture. I call it my heartstone (hopefully, you can see why). There’s something calming about having its weight in the palm of my hand.

The second touchstone is a set of mental reminders that help me to refocus. I call them my BC5:

Be Centered – breathe deeply
Be Curious – ask questions
Be Creative – pursue new ideas
Be Courageous – take risks
Be Connected – focus on relationships

Do you have any touchstones that help you reconnect with who you truly are when you find yourself being pestered by the flying monkeys of life?