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reimagining management, leadership, workplace, and our relationship to more soulful work

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.

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Happy Labor Day: We Still Have Work To Do

image from Kissing Fish

image: Kissing Fish

Happy Labor Day, y’all.

As someone who writes, thinks, and speaks about work, Labor Day takes a certain significance as a holiday. Its important political roots often get overshadowed by three-day weekend vacations, family cookouts, outlet shopping sales, and festivities recognizing that summer is almost over.

(And for the record, I’m not begrudging any of these things…I’m damn grateful to have a day off to drink a few beers.)

However, I hope everyone can take a moment and just reflect on what we’ve gained as a result of the labor movement. Many of those gains are represented in the image here. It’s easy to take many of them for granted because they seem so unremarkable.

But look again.

Equal pay for equal work.

Parental leave.

Sick leave.

Overtime laws.

Minimum Wage.

While we may have made some strides toward improvement, these are still issues that need our attention. Women still make less than men while doing the exact same job. Maternity and paternity leave in the U.S. still lags in comparison to other nations. Workers still have to make hard choices between their job and their family’s health when it comes to unpaid sick leave. Real average hourly wages still trend downward against inflation. In other words, while much has been accomplished, there is no room for complacency. We still have work to do because, as Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Today is a day for equality and justice. It’s a day for rededicating ourselves to demanding economic opportunities. It’s a day for reclaiming the soul of work…not just for ourselves, but for all.

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Motivation By Pizza Is Craptastic Management

Angry Pizza

I’m here to motivate you.

What moves you to do your best work? To be your best self?

Does it come from an internal drive built on pride and desire for improvement?

Or does it come from appreciation, encouragement, and kudos from people around you? Maybe it’s the promise of a reward. A couple recent studies seem to indicate that pizza and a kind word from the boss provide the motivation we need to be fully engaged and awesome.

If we’re to take this research seriously, then it appears we have come to put a greater weight on outside, extrinsic motivation

Sorry, but that’s screwed up.

But it’s understandable. We’ve been trained into this mindset since childhood. From parents, teachers, and other adults, we heard such things as:
“You’re such a smart girl”
“I’m proud of you.”
“That was great work.”
“Here’s your gold star.”

From these seemingly innocent statements, we gradually learned that our goodness and value came from someone or somewhere else. So unless you were a little hell raising rebel who gave society the middle finger, you likely spent a good bit of time to seek out and earn praise from people we saw as authority figures. (Full confession: I was a born pleaser so I fell hard into the latter category.)

We’re grown up now, but has anything changed? Do we still not chase extrinsic rewards in the form of job approval, public accolades, and awards? Do we still not chase those digital white rabbits of clicks, followers, and likes?

When were we ever taught to take charge of recognizing our own value and claiming it with both hands?

The problem is that when we wait for those extrinsic rewards before we feel we can claim our value, we may find ourselves hanging out there for a long time with little to show for it.

And that’s what’s wrong with the modern workplace. All to often, we expect (demand?) to find our happiness there or else it’s a shitty organization. I’m not saying you don’t work in a shitty organization but in the process of playing the waiting game, we put our happiness and sense of value in the hands of others. And some of these folks may not deserve such an honor.

We are now at an inflection point in the modern history of work. If we want to be happy and fulfilled and fully embrace the soul of our work, we have to go get it ourselves. Waiting patiently while hoping for a pat on the head or the promise of pizza from the boss can no longer cut it.

Understandably, we’re all human so we do desire some degree of extrinsic motivation and appreciation. We want to know that others see and hear us. But it becomes unhealthy when that desire becomes all-consuming and tunes out what our inner voice says.

If we want to be happy in our work, it starts inside each of us. We need to start learning how to say:
“I’m proud of the effort I put into this project.”
“I know that my work has value”
“I love who I am.”

And if we want more fulfilling workplaces, it has to start by helping each of our employees recognize their own value first…then openly appreciating that value second.

Your play:
Stop waiting for someone else to provide your motivation and define your value. What will you do in the next seven days to claim your best self?

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Fifty Shades of Fundraising

50 Shades of FundraisingIt all started innocently enough. I was having a running series of craptastic days where I was constantly fending off internal threats to my integrity, capability, and autonomy as a digital fundraiser. Where departmental politics was bound and determined to win out over what – at least in my mind – was best for our donor relationships.

So I floated a comment to what has become my go-to community of fellow nonprofiteers: the Nonprofit Happy Hour group on Facebook:

Ever feel like you’re being ask to fundraise while blindfolded, having both arms tied behind your back, and shoved in a small box? I’m…uh…asking for a friend.

What came out of this was an outpouring of similar stories of frustration and countless reactions that indicated I wasn’t alone. Which is what we all need sometimes. We need the validation that comes when another person sees us and empathizes with our experience.

What also came out of it was some good ole bawdy humor. I put my comment out there not sensing the delightfully devilish sadomasochism that floats just below the surface of the nonprofit sector. But there it was and it was surfaced by a group member who asked, “Hmm, are you sure someone hasn’t been reading ‘Fifty Shades of Fundraising’?” Well, that’s just gold right there and even though it looks like some folks tried to cash in on the idea around the time the book and movie came out, they didn’t really follow through on the concept.

That’s all the opening I need. So, without further ado, I present some snippets from Fifty Shades of Fundraising:

I’ll start with Elaine’s as she is the muse who has inspired this work:
“Your mission statement,” she panted. “It’s so…biiiig…it will never fit into 50 words!”

My riff off of that:
“OMG, your CTA! It’s so long…I can’t believe how it all fits in your email.”

And some others:
Breathlessly, she told him, “I love the way you use your exclamation point to punctuate my donor appeal.”

With a stern look on her face and a twinkle in her eye, she told him, “I think it’s time to introduce you to my Board.”

They noticed they were alone. It was late at night in the conference room before the annual fundraising drive. He looked longingly into her bloodshot eyes and said, “I love how you stuff that envelope.”

Okay, your turn. If you have a gift for subtle innuendo and a predilection for softcore copywriting, show us what you got. Don’t be shy.

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Five Observations For Surviving The Modern Workplace

Zigzag MazeThis post might serve as some indication as to the type of week I’ve had. One where the veil has been pulled aside to further clarify some observations that I’ve noticed in my long and winding career journey.

1. Our organization is not our family.
This very notion that my organization is a family has always made me cringe. Unless we’re related by blood or marriage or some other legal compact, there’s not one shred of truth to this. Further, it feels cultish, like I’ve joined up with the Sunshine Carpet Cleaners.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, goes so far as to say that its one of the worst lies a company can tell its employees. It’s misguided at best and deceptive at its worst.

In a Harvard Business Review article, he elaborated:

In a real family, parents can’t fire their children. Try to imagine disowning your child for poor performance: ‘We’re sorry Susie, but your mom and I have decided you’re just not a good fit. Your table-setting effort has been deteriorating for the past 6 months, and your obsession with ponies just isn’t adding any value. We’re going to have to let you go. But don’t take it the wrong way; it’s just family.’

2. Our organization is not responsible for our happiness.
On the face of it, this feels stupidly obvious. But how many times have we felt pissed off, frustrated, and ultimately unhappy only then to blame our organization for it. Take a moment and reflect on your recent experience. Go ahead…I’ll wait. Hey, I did it just this week. It’s all too easy to feel we’re owed happiness at work by the very organization that feels it’s owed our loyalty in return for a signed paycheck.

However, who gets to determine our happiness? We do, of course.

3. Our boss is not our friend. And conversely, our employee is not our friend.
This isn’t to suggest that the boss-employee dynamic shouldn’t be friendly. But do not mistake that dynamic for a true friendship. The boss still holds the upper hand in the power structure. Don’t believe me? The next time you have the chance to do what you want versus what your boss wants, go your own way. Where your friend may be irritated, your boss is likely going to see it as a direct challenge to their authority. Do it too many times and you’re going to find yourself taken behind the woodshed for a professional whipping.

And god forbid that you work for a friend or hire a friend. The times when this works out for everyone is vastly outnumbered by the times when it ends in tragedy.

4. Our job does not define our identity.
I am an entrepreneur. I am a dentist. I am a diner waitress. I am an assistant to the traveling secretary of the New York Yankees. Or for me, I am a digital nonprofit fundraiser.

Yes, these can all be true statements…and untrue if we believe our job is our sole defining role. The times when I’ve identified myself as primarily a marketer, an entrepreneur, or a fundraiser are the times when I have been a shitty husband, father, and friend. These are also the times when I forget that I am a writer, a hiker, an amateur naturalist, a Steelers fan, and several other things that I enjoy in my life.

5. Our work is not our life.
There’s a thin line between being invested in our work (which is good) and being over-invested (which can lead to the type of obsessive behavior that robs us of strong relationships and our well-being). Over-investing in work can also lead to a type of vicious anxiety where the work isn’t just part of our life…it can feel like it’s life or death.

One mistake can cancel out several superb accomplishments. Then, fear of committing another mistake can prompt job insecurity and a paralyzing fear that just one more mistake can lead to a pink slip. And then we’re marked by the stigma of the Scarlet Letter F – for Fired AKA Failure-at-Life.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. But wait.

If you’re still with me so far, hang on. I’m about to take this whole line of thinking for a U-turn because maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe this is my cynical persona taking me for a ride.

Instead, if I listen to the quiet voice of inner wisdom that whispers in the space where my ego screams, it reminds me that all is One and Life is interconnected. And our Work is a testament to our love not just for our self but a gift to this fractured world.

As someone who has experienced career success as well as career hell, here’s where I openly admit that I struggle with two concepts: realism and idealism. The real provides a protective fence for my ego. By avowing that my organization is not my family, it allows me to keep the group at arm’s length so I can’t be hurt. By acknowledging that my employee is not my friend, I can more easily make the decision to cut him loose with a parting comment that it’s “just business.” Maybe this protective fence is what keeps me from fully living life, fully sharing my talents with others, fully being human (and therefore vulnerable) with each person I encounter in my daily journey.

Perhaps these five “cynical” concepts I’ve described above have the opportunity to be turned around and transformed into something more spiritually rewarding, and therefore more radical in society and our modern workplace. What if organizations can be more human spaces where respect wins over condescension, courage over fear, service over power, and vulnerability over arrogance?

I wonder what our organizations would look like?

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10 Things I Learned In 2013: The Year Of The Existential Speedbump

It’s taken me the better part of a month to assess the past year and take in the learning. I re-read my 2012 review post and I’m rather unnerved by how it’s eerily similar to my initial thoughts on 2013: the importance of love, courage, and vulnerability.

Well, no sense beating around the bush: last year sucked. There really is no other way of putting it. For the better part of 2013, I was a nervous, anxious wreck. I was frequently visited by a sense of fear – almost bordering terror – that clouded my sense of self-worth. I was mired in a depression that was horrific in its depth. All of which led to some bad career decisions (and subsequent professional ass kickings) from which I’m still working to recover.

Yet, I am incredibly thankful for my experiences from 2013. Every single one of them. The few highs and the many lows served as a kind of existential speedbump that helped me to slow down and reassess my life, my choices, my expectations, my faith, my purpose.

Here are 10 things I learned (or at least learned how to appreciate) in 2013:

1. Take care for my health – both physical and mental. Recognizing my own long-time struggle with depression and anxiety has helped me to be a more compassionate advocate for all mental health issues. I’m starting to find the courage to be a voice for mental health and want to ease the stigma our society still has around mental illnesses.

2. Stop trying to have all the answers and start asking more interesting questions. I’ll always struggle with this. I found an early identity in school as The Kid Who Knew The Right Answers. That’s a shitty identity to assume, particularly when you get older and have to contend with the reality that there are often no right answers in life. I’m learning how to ask more questions and being comfortable with uncertainty.

3. Stop comparing myself to others and letting my Inner Critic beat me up with his horseshit. My Inner Critic looooves playing the social comparison game. He’s the LeBron James of his grotesque sport. And as I approach 40 years old, he relishes each opportunity to remind me that my life isn’t what it should be when so many other 30somethings have already achieved personal and professional greatness. Well, it’s all a load of steaming horseshit. It assumes there’s only one way to live a purposeful life. Some of us just take longer to figure out what that means.

4. Stop chasing. Did I ever chase the wrong rabbits this year. I chased money in a high-demand profession and for a company that was such a poor fit for me, my talents, my passions. And I not only did it once…I did it twice in one year. Why? See #3 above.

But if I can pull some positives away from these two experiences: both were my attempts to do things I had never really done before (business analysis and product marketing). So I can continue to take pride in my ability to take risks even when those risks don’t pan out (much like unsuccessfully starting businesses in 2012).

5. Stop settling. Settling is a Siren’s song. Sure, accepting a paycheck in exchange for doing work that doesn’t fulfill us sounds like a decent compromise, but the cost can be our soul getting smashed on the rocks. For me, I’ve discovered that I would rather live frugally and do work that improves the world than settle for a bigger salary that ties me to work that doesn’t matter. Does that sound idealistic? Fine by me.

6. Quitting a bad situation is sometimes better than sticking it out. No one likes a quitter, but there’s a certain idiotic futility that comes from not leaving a bad job situation. See #5 above. Life is far too short to do work that provokes panic attacks, causes us to doubt our competence, or simply isn’t bringing out our best self.

7. Failing is not an end but a beginning. As a recovering perfectionist, failing has never been easy for me to accept. Actually, that’s not true – if I fail, I’m more than happy to accept the blame. However, I’m trying to practice a different way of thinking. Failings are just data suggesting we make course corrections. They’re learning experiences. They’re guides toward better ways of working and living.

8. I am responsible for my own happiness. I can’t pawn this off on anyone else. If I want to live a happy, fulfilled life then I need to own it. It’s not going to come from wishing for better life situations (better job, nicer house, badass truck, etc.). That whole “I’ll be happy when…” internal dialogue is full of lies that keep us from embracing the changes we need to make in our thoughts and actions.

9. Self-compassion means accepting my weird quirks, embarrassing flaws, and contradictory thoughts. Self-compassion is one of the greatest gifts we can give our selves. It’s also one of the most difficult gifts to give. It means accepting and boldly claiming our own oddness and eccentricities. It means acknowledging that there are some folks that are just not going to get who we really are. It means being cool with our own innate contradictions because life is messy and non linear.

10. Don’t give up on finding my soulful work. Finally, never give up on the idea that our work can be meaningful and inspiring. For me, it’s coming to a place where I am choosing to go back to the work of the nonprofit sector. I left it several years ago largely for reasons outlined in #4 above. Since then, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of experience, skills, and insights in the for-profit world. I’m excited to bring my ideas, passion, and commitment to achieving great things to nonprofits that share a mission to create a positive impact in the world.

My sincerest hope is that at the end of 2014, I’ll look back on this post and remark on how it was a year of success, of growth, of courage and love and self-acceptance. And may it also be your greatest year, as well.

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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?

Resources:
Aeon Magazine: The Play Deficit

Slate: Inside the Box

 

Photo credit: eurodrifter

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How To Piss Off Your Employees the Yahoo! Way

Let’s hope not.

Hot off a media scolding for selecting The Today Show instead of Good Morning America to announce the new Yahoo! home page redesign, Marissa Mayer is now going to have to deal with fallout of a very different nature. Apparently, it’s no longer acceptable for Yahoo! employees to work remote. Everyone is being called back to work in the office with no exceptions – even if your prior work arrangement allowed for a work-at-home situation.

When I first read the details from Kara Swisher at All Things D, my initial reaction was, “WTF is going on at Yahoo!?” A Silicon Valley-based tech company mandating an end to flexible work arrangements is like spotting a white elk…and then watch it charge you, ready to gore you on its antlers. It doesn’t happen very often and it when it does, it usually ends with a bloody struggle. We’ve entered an age when the old ways of working are no longer valid, where productivity and effectiveness are not measured by whether you’re sitting at your assigned desk, in your building.

Which is why there is a very real possibility this isn’t at all about flexible work arrangements at all. It’s about a most pernicious form of a corporate lie. This is a layoff in disguise. By forcing remote employees to return to the office – it’s worth noting that many remote workers will have to uproot and move to make this happen – Yahoo! is effectively telling their folks to either love it or leave it. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I can’t help having a nagging suspicion that something very dodgy is happening here that will do nothing but ratchet up skepticism and cynicism among their employees. Maybe there’s open and honest dialogue taking place within Yahoo! that’s more truthful as to the real objective behind this new HR policy. I hope so, but judging by the employee anger reported by Swisher, I’m betting against it. How can there not be a sense of broken trust between management and employees? And even if you’re not a remote worker, wouldn’t you question what else is coming that will impact you? Matt Mullenweg of Automattic won’t be the only one trying to poach smart talent from this mess…and I’d say he’ll get quite a few resumes this week.

And yet, it gets more interesting when we read the original internal email from Executive Vice President of People and Development, Jackie Reses, announcing the policy. Never mind that it’s marked as “YAHOO! PROPRIETARY AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION — DO NOT FORWARD”. It was forwarded to Swisher and she shares it at the bottom of her follow-up post.

What really fascinates me is the second paragraph of the email:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Note the implications. That collaboration and communication only happens when sharing the same physical space. That working outside of the office space leads to less-than-optimal performance. That “speed” and “quality” can only be managed when the boss is sitting down the hall. That Yahoo!’s employees don’t know how the hell to work independently, achieve objectives without constant management oversight, and share ideas using technologies like the phone, IM, web-conferencing, and the like. To which, I call bullshit. That’s lazy, backward, and potentially business-suicidal thinking. And that’s not an employee problem. It’s a management problem that will further sink the company, no matter how many times they try to redesign their home page.

So, which is it? Is Yahoo! just trying to surreptitiously lay off a portion of its workforce? Or admitting it doesn’t have a clue about how people can work together to solve real business problems in 2013? Or is Yahoo! just rotting from the head down?

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

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Three Myths Of Corporate Culture

Messy CordsOne of the reasons I’m attracted to anthropology is because I want to better understand something that most businesses fail to fully comprehend: organizational culture. There are countless posts out there by otherwise well-intended people trying to describe “corporate” culture. Trying to clarify how this concept of culture works. Trying to explain how we can create culture that gets results.

These posts are all very nice. And most of them are dead wrong, at least in terms of trying to convince us that culture is this narrowly-defined concept bereft of nuance and appreciation for complexity.

In a blogpost last week, Rand Fishkin wrote about what company culture is and is not. On whole, it’s one of the better and more eloquent attempts by a business leader…but it still simplifies culture down to what are very limiting ideas. Yes, culture can encompass shared beliefs and values. Yes, it can include how people act and behave together. But too many organizations use culture to control their people and institute a false sense of order. When this happens, they are perverting culture to be just another management tool.

Business leaders do this based on what I have found to be three interrelated myths of organizational culture:

Myth #1. Culture can be built, top-down.
Yes, it’s important for leadership to clearly articulate goals, values, and mission. But these elements merely provide direction and structure, the expectations of management. They are not the culture themselves. The problem is that management has come to see culture as one more way to institute controls over employees. If you read, “This is the [insert company name] way” when discussing culture, then you’re reading a top-down, executive mandate for what management wants the culture to be…but likely not what actually is. And just because the CEO says, “This is our culture” doesn’t make it true. It’s way bigger than that.

Myth #2. There is just one culture.
No matter how many people call an organization their professional home, there is not just one culture in play. Actually, there are multiple cultures and subcultures that often get overlooked. Even in a small start-up, think about the differences between accounting and sales teams. Yes, they may adhere to the same shared norms and values of the company, but how they work and interact are very different.

This isn’t even including the cultures we bring with us from our own outside lives. Think of the large, multi-national companies with work teams spanning the globe. We don’t shelve our personal lives when we enter the front door of the office, why then would we expect folks to shelve their respective cultures?

Again, by emphasizing one monolithic culture, management can feel like it’s exerting control over the organization. This also ignores the next myth, which is…

Myth #3. Culture is tame and structured.
This is the most pernicious lie that business leaders tell each other. Instead, here’s something closer to the truth: Culture is messy. It’s constantly evolving. It can be fragile and bewildering. This is what happens when people come together. We’re not programmable robots. We’re extraordinarily complex creatures with emotions, dreams, fears, and ambitions.

Corporate culture isn’t a highly conformed and stable melting pot. Instead, think of it more as a dynamic mixed bag of goodies of all shapes, sizes, and flavors.

It pains me to see culture get thrown around like so many other management buzzwords. This is when it gets stripped of its meaning, its vitality, and its power to convey something that is truly beautiful in its complexity.

Photo credit: otkuda via Flickr

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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.

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