Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Trouble With Transitions...

The trouble with transitions is that they take time and they often distract from our goals. Unfortunately, transitions are the path to the goals, so they're tough to avoid. The trick is to see them as the path, while keeping your eye on the destination.

The trouble with transitions came up for Camille and me as we have settled into our new place in Portland, ME. During all the time we've planned this move, we focused on why we were moving: the disatisfaction with our current state (not happy with where we were with our work, wanting to do better), and how much better our end state could be (happy: working on what we're passion about, figuring out what that is). The "figuring out what that is" was seen as a transition we could look forward to. It was itself a goal of sorts.

What we didn't count on was that if the figuring it out was a goal, then there was a transition to that goal. We were so focused on the cool aspect of our new and improved life that we forgot about the path that would get us there: All the little, pain-in-the-butt details, like deciding which size trailer we'd need to cart our stuff to our new place; getting our seven year old Honda to the shop and prepared for a 2,000 mile road trip towing the trailer; and once we arrived, all the little stuff we needed, like a laundry basket, a mop, a shower curtain, a waste can, internet connectivity. All these details needed tending to before we could focus on the real fun of figuring it out. And, while on some level we knew we had to contend with them, they distracted us from our goal; from what we really wanted to do.

So, after congratulating ourselves on arriving in Portland without incident; on getting the trailer unloaded and returned to Uhaul in two hours; we returned to an apartment full of boxes that needed to be unpacked. We needed to unpack, sort and decide where everything went. We needed to figure out why we couldn't find the iron, and why would it not get packed. Then we needed to break down the boxes and figure out how to dispose of them. Then we needed to Google directions to the recycling center. Then we needed to figure out if "cardboard only" meant that you couldn't throw in recyclable paper in the bin. Then we needed to go to Target and Walmart and the grocery store and call Time Warner to schedule internet hookup and then... Well, you get the picture; you've been there yourself.

Needless to say, our sunny dispositions suffered as we dealt with these transitional details. We tended to be less than understanding of each other's attitude, we were impatient, we snapped at each other...you get the picture; you've been there yourself. We got sidetracked with all the what and the how and let the why get lost.

Fortunately, we were able to regroup and ask ourselves "what was happening here?". As we reviewed our behavior, we realized that in our excitement of finally being in Portland to set our lives on a new course, we had focused on the end point, the goal, and not the path - the transition - to that goal. We let the what and how distract us from the why.

The lesson learned was that we needed to keep focused on the why, but also needed to realize that the what and the how are crucial to getting there. They are the path to the why. They are the necessary transition to why and they require time and energy. However, we can't focus just on them, we need to understand the role transitions play in gettinng us to our goals, but we can't let them undermine our ability to achieve those goals.

The trouble with transitions is that we need to keep our eye on the ball; realize we're engaged in a journey, not an event...you get the picture, you've been there yourself.

So how have you been able to keep focused on your goals and not get distracted by transitions? Have you been able to understand and appreciate the transition as a necessary path to your goal? Have you learned any lessons from your transitions? What have they been?

We'd love to get your feedback on our "journey" as well as hear about your own journey in new directions. Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts and ideas.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Balancing Head and Heart


As Camille noted in her “Body Surfing for Boomers” post, one of our big challenges was letting our values drive our responses and actions to the tsunamis we had experienced.  While we recognized that we needed to “ride the wave,” it was still a struggle to find a balance between head and heart. 

In our hearts, we’ve known – from the beginning – that this was the right move.  We need to make this move to Maine; we can feel it; we need to define our purpose.  On the other hand, there are all these “head” issues that focus on the everyday things we will need to address: what will we do, who will we do it for, where will we live, etc.:  All those things that smart people plan for in preparing for big lifestyle changes. 

Interestingly, we’re just now coming into convergence on head and heart balance.  Most of the time, we’ve been at polar opposites: Camille would be on the heart side, I’d be on the head side.  Then we’d convince the other of our point of view and switch – she’d then be on the head side, me on the heart side. 

The other interesting aspect (at least for me) was that whichever one of us was more head focused, was more anxious.  We worried about those things that smart people worry about; we never came up with the answers, but they took up a lot of our energy and concern.

In the past few weeks, as our time draws closer to leaving, we’ve come together more around the head – heart balance.  We feel we’re pretty well prepared to make this move in the way in which we want.  We’ll have the resources to take a significant time off to reset and refresh.  We’ve come to terms with a lifestyle that will enable us to do so.  We’re not blindly marching into the fray; we’re not as prepared as others might be, but we’re good enough and that’s what counts.

A good example is our recent reconnaissance trip to Maine, ostensibly to find a place to live.  We had a set of criteria: hardwood floors, claw foot tub, reasonable rent, inspiring neighborhood.  As you can imagine, we looked at a number of apartments in different parts of town.  None of the initial places we visited met our expectations.  We were getting pretty discouraged.  Finally, the last place we looked at we knew was the place for us.  It met our basic criteria and then some.  It wasn’t perfect, but we weren’t settling either.  This place will be good for us.  It will allow us to do what we need to do.  It will be good enough to inspire us.

How have been you handled the “head – heart” challenges in your life?  Do you look for balance or do you let one drive your behavior over the other?

We’d love to get your feedback on our “journey” as well as hear about your own journey in new directions.  Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts and ideas.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Body Surfing for Boomers

Camille ... 

Although it was on-the-beach in Troncones, Mexico-margarita-fueled, I still consider this to be one of those divinely inspired moments.  You know, when Spirit is speaking, and you are listening.  A small fishing/surfing village, Troncones seems to cater to the older population, but don’t let this fool you.  When it comes to crystal clear water and very decent bodysurfing waves, us of a certain age come alive with the strength and vigor of youth.  It was during a refreshing margarita break that I heard the words ‘body surfing for boomers’,  and in that moment,  I knew this was something to remember, in spite of my liquid of choice.  I spent the rest of the day considering this while surrendering to the will of the waves.  And thus, my return home to our rented casa began our ongoing conversation about life and body surfing as metaphor.

For those of us familiar with the ocean, we have a basic working knowledge of tides and currents and weather patterns.  We know that ocean activity changes from quiet and tranquil to exciting and challenging to thunderous and wintery.  Just like life.  We have our cherished quiet moments when the ride is easy, relaxing and supremely fulfilling.  And then we don’t.  Our days, energies, thoughts and emotions are consumed with situations that require clear thought, precise skill and a present moment awareness in order to avoid a total beating.  But if these skills are used, the ride can be the thrill of your life.  Unfortunately, our first years together were spent in a sea of events that no amount of time in the ocean could prepare us for.

Our first conversation about "body surfing for boomers"  began with a critical review of our past 7 years together and how we spent the first 4 years riding tsunamis.  These frightening and potentially devastating waves appeared in the form of child custody issues, bankruptcy, a very lengthy lawsuit, job loss and all the hidden drama that forces its way into every moment of life. 

The one belief that sustained us through this period was to let our values drive our responses and our actions.  It was an arduous process of letting go – as much as possible – of the anger, resentment and – most of all – fear that we felt so often.  It asked of us that we take that energy and direct it into knowing that the outcome would be in everyone’s best and highest good.  These waves were tremendous and how we survived them was not to fight, resist and attempt to control, but to surrender to the moment and let it take us where it wanted.

Two years later, after my margarita inspired epiphany,  Scott and I decided that we wanted a life makeover, well he wanted an overhaul, so we set the goal of moving to Maine in the fall of 2011.  We would take a ‘gap year’.  Certainly a year of NOT WORKING, relaxing, playing, creating, staying in bed on a cold rainy/snowy day watching videos and eating Chinese food out of the carton (Scott doesn't share in this part of the fantasy...it’s all mine).  But most importantly, allowing ourselves the freedom, time and space to create what’s next for each of us.  After 40+ years in the job market, we want our own gig.  We’ve had so many ideas of why and how we could spend the rest of our lives.  We have all the skills and resources necessary to create work that is fun, fulfilling, satisfying, makes a difference and is financially rewarding and to create it in a way that allows for life the way we want it. 

This has been our ride for the past 10 months.  It has been gentle in comparison, yet still the waves have required that from time to time, we wear masks, goggles, fins and a snorkel.

Riding the waves can involve a number of vehicles.  There are surf boarders, there are boogie boarders, there are jet skiers.  What’s your vehicle for riding the waves in your life?    

We’d love to get your feedback on our “journey” as well as hear about your own journey in new directions.  Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts and ideas.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

A New Direction II: Camille’s Take

Well...you're right.  This is how it happened; albeit a somewhat condensed and simplified version of the process.  How nice if this life changing and somewhat risky venture was as easy as you make it sound.  Over here, I have been struggling with the choice to move to Maine.  It has felt like one of those big decisions we must make from time to time where both choices are equally weighted with pros and cons.  If I stay, I am blessed with watching my children move forward in their lives and my grandchildren grow into who they are.  I get to be a part of all that.  But it means staying in a place that does not move me, feed me, refresh me or inspire me.  I don' hate Denver.  Colorado is masculine.  I've done that my entire life and for many years, masculine was OK.  As a result of that competitive, goal-focused drive, I have achieved some very cool things.  But I am tired of that pace.  Actually, I'm just tired.  I long to live in a feminine city that is fertile and moist and lush.  A city with an ocean, a center and a community.  I long to rest; become an expert at self care and give myself permission to trust that I have something to offer others and to use all that I know to create a lifestyle that is fun, creative, healing and financially and emotionally profitable.

What this ends up looking like is the unknown; how this ends up happening can be easily planned out or a total surprise.  It's the why I keep returning to and in so doing, I know it is absolutely the right thing to do.  YIPPEE !!!!

We’d love to get your feedback on our “journey” as well as hear about your own journey in new directions.  Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts and ideas.

You can also follow us by subscribing to the blog by RSS or via email.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A New Direction

For the last 18 months or so, I’ve been writing about work and transitions.  I’ve written about how work is changing – especially for those “of a certain age” – primarily those of us of the Boomer generation.  I’ve written about the ability to articulate one’s value to prospective employers, the importance of using social media to market one’s skills, and the power of story to give our lives meaning.  One thing I haven’t written about is my own story.  Blogger Francisco Rosales writes Why It’s Important to Humanize Your Blog Content.  So, taking his cue, future blog posts here will concentrate on my – that is mine and Camille’s – story.  Our hope is our story, what we’re experiencing in our midlife, will be of benefit – or at least of interest – to others experiencing similar transitions.

The title of this blog is Second Acts: Musings on Careers & Transitions – Advancements and the Occasional Retreat.  It’s a fair description of what Camille and I have been experiencing since we met.  We’re both of the Boomer generation; not in our first marriage; on the cusp of our early 60s; looking forward to a new – and improved – stage of life, which is not retirement.   Our story unfolds below…

"I was on my way to Hawaii before I met you," she said; "I need an ocean; I hate Denver."

"Well I'm not moving to Hawaii, I won't do well in the tropics," I countered.

So began the dance between Camille and me as we tried to figure out the rest of our life together.

We had met and married a year or so before this conversation began.  Suffice it to say, this was not the first marriage for either of us.  In our mid-50s we were exploring new paths in a new life together.

The compromise was relatively quickly reached: Portland, Maine.  We both knew and loved Maine, and it had the requisite ocean.

But there were things in life that had to settle first: I had a son still in high school; then Camille's daughter had a daughter.  Camille needed to make sure her granddaughter was on her way to growing up safe.

Another couple of years passed, we were now in our late fifties.  Neither of us was satisfied in our job; kids were on their own; grandkids were thriving.  One evening, Camille was complaining about work: about how much longer she could continue to function in a dysfunctional system.  She led the mental health team at a correctional facility.  I noted we had been talking about Maine for a few years, but had never put a date on the move.

She replied, "how about a year from now?"

"Done!  September 2011."

OMG! Now we had committed.  We moved in with her son to save money.  Over the next few months we downsized – getting rid of extraneous items we decided we could live without: furniture, clothing, books.

We adjusted to a different living experience: being part of a larger household; living in a house that wasn't ours; working around the routines of others.

And we worked on what we would do – what work we could do – when we moved to Maine.  Neither of us could afford to retire at 60, but we weren't sure what, exactly, we would do to bring in revenue.

We knew we wouldn't be employees.  I had the vague idea that I would continue some sort of the career coaching that I was doing in Denver.  But I didn't just want to write resumes for people looking for their next job. I wanted to work with people looking to make a real change in their lives and I wanted to write about their efforts.  Beyond that, I had no real idea of how that would manifest.

Next: Camille’s response.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Work Sucks!

I’ve been reading Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution by Cali Ressler & Jody Thompson. You can see it on Amazon.com here.

Ressler and Thompson’s book is "based on a simple idea: Our beliefs about work – forty hours, Monday through Friday, eight to five – are outdated, outmoded, out to lunch. Every day people go to work and waste their time, their company's time, and their lives in a system based on assumptions...that don't apply in today's global, 24/7 economy."

Your company provides a paycheck and other benefits. They provide a job, and in some cases, a career. For that you absolutely owe them hard work, focus and dedication. You owe them real, measurable results. But if you're delivering those results and the company is benefiting, then there is no reason why they have the right to make you sit in a cubicle from eight to five. You owe them your work, not your time. You do not owe them your life.

Ressler and Thompson’s book is about bringing a commonsense, effective, and mutually beneficial approach to living and working. Their solution is the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), a movement to reshape the way things get done. ROWE is not a new way of working, but a new way of living, based on the radical idea that while you owe the company your best work, you do not owe them your time or your life. While it's a sweeping change, it requires only a basic adjustment in thinking: work is not a place you go – it's something you do.

In a ROWE, each person does whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done.

In a ROWE, people get paid for a chunk of work, not a chunk of time. ROWE is not about having more time off; fewer hours may be worked, or even longer hours, but they're done on the worker's terms. ROWE is an intense focus on business results.

Ressler and Thompson point out that we labor under the myth that Time + Physical Presence = Results.

This myth applies only to work. Every other life activity – errands, chores (laundry, housekeeping, cooking, mowing the lawn) – is measured in results, not in time expended.

In an information & service economy it doesn't make sense to use time as a measurement for a job well done. Knowledge work requires fluidity, concentration and creativity.

Living our lives under a new set of demands in the knowledge economy, but under the old set of assumptions of the industrial economy, results in frustrated, burned out employees where few people are giving their best. "The fact that we get time wrong in corporate America may seem small, but [it] adds up to big problems both for employee and business.

Flextime isn't the answer either. It's limited (only certain days for certain people), conditional (we'll see how it goes and evaluate) and it's not based on trust (you're not working if you're working from home). Moreover, it's still attached to the traditional and obsolete notion of time as a variable of results.

Giving people complete control over accomplishing their work means completely giving up the old model of work. It means coming up with new methods of measuring performance and judging work. In a ROWE people are paid for outcomes, rather than time; they are paid for "a chunk of work" not a "chunk of time." As long as the work gets done is an absolute. The employer's job is to create “crystal clear” goals and expectations for what needs to get done on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. It's up to the employee to meet those goals, with the coaching and guidance of management. If problems or challenges arise along the way, it's the work – not the hours worked – that comes under scrutiny.

ROWE requires adaptive change of people's underlying attitudes and beliefs change along with their behaviors. Adaptive change is defining the future state in real time. People have a hard time with this. Real change involves loss: the loss of habits, attitudes and beliefs. But if adaptive change is to occur, they must endure the examination of their beliefs and be open to reforming them.

ROWE is TiVo for work. TiVo gives TV viewers control. They watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it. They're not held to schedules or to extraneous content. They have the freedom to watch TV on their own terms. There is no right way or wrong way to watch TV. They learn how to optimize their TV viewing experience. Similarly, ROWE optimizes work.

The right question to ask in a ROWE is "Am I dong what I need to do to meet my goals?"

What do you think? Does work suck? Can a ROWE work with your work? Are you in a ROWE? Does it work for you?

Let me know what you think. Post your thoughts in the comments section.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Random Factoids

Presented below, for your edification and enjoyment (maybe), are factoids collected from recent readings. In no particular order…

From usa.com, “More Americans leaving the workforce” (04-13-2011):

  • In 2010, only 45.4% of Americans had jobs; the lowest since 1983, down from a peak of 49.3 % in 2000.
  • In 2010, only 66.8 % of men had jobs, lowest on record. Until 1960s, more than 80% of men worked.

From wsj.com “Out of Work, Out of Options and Over the Hill” (10-24-2010)

  • Of the 14.9 million unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 or older, according to the U.S. Labor Department. And almost half of those have been unemployed six months or longer. The unemployment rate in that age group is a record high 7.3%.

From cbsnews.com, Sunday Morning, “Baby Boomers: America’s New Unemployables” (04-03-2011):

  • While people over 50 are less likely to be laid off, those that are have only a 24% chance of finding a new job within a year. For those past 62 years, the chance drops even more.
  • “…employers are cautious about taking on not only the salaries [of Boomers] but the benefits they expect…Experience is less valuable to employers these days than being cheap.”

From The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College, (03-25-2011)

  • Employees approaching-retirement (55-65 years) and retirement-eligible (66 +years) are more engaged than are younger workers. There are no significant differences between older or younger workers regarding the job conditions that predict employee engagement.
  • The current trend of older workers continuing to work past the traditional age of retirement is creating new challenges as well as opportunities. While some employers may see the advantage of retaining older workers to avoid losing critical knowledge, other employers may still be hindered by the misperception that it may be necessary to make extensive (and costly) adjustments for older workers.
  • There is this idea among employers that older workers require a lot of accommodations…Older workers want the same things other workers want: opportunities for learning, job clarity, workplace flexibility, and supervisors who show concern for their well-being and recognition for a job well done. When these job conditions are met, workers of all ages are more engaged.
  • The ideas that older workers are inflexible, unable to adapt, and costly to employers, is outdated in the current context of longevity and health. People in their 50s and 60s may well be at their peak—on average they are energized, reliable, and engaged. The real cost that employers should weigh is the cost of losing experience. Older workers have typically accumulated valuable knowledge and resilience and can be vital contributors in the work place.

To me, these factoids, culled from different sources, re-enforces The Great Disconnect in the last post. If companies are serious about achieving innovation to re-gain competitiveness, they need to rethink their approach to acquiring talent; especially talent over the age of 50.

The flip side is that workers over the age of 50 need to be able to rethink their value to potential employers and be able to fit their value to employers’ needs.

Your take?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Great Disconnect

About a year and a half ago, I wrote a post about competing in the coming war on talent. The post cited a Forbes.com article that noted the critical nature of talent retention and recruitment as the economy improves: “Companies will need to keep their best employees and recruit talented people in order to be competitive.” Unfortunately, it seems that in the past 18 months, companies still haven’t learned the lesson.

A recent USA Today article notes that “employee loyalty is at a three-year low, but many employers are precariously unaware of the morale meltdown.” While frustrated workers seek new opportunities (often secretly), employers naively think their employee loyalty is the same as it was three years ago.

Employers have taken their “eye off the ball” with regard to what drives employee satisfaction and loyalty. In cutting wages and demanding that their workers do more with less – to pick up the slack of their laid off colleagues – they have increased their employees’ stress levels. Forty percent of workers note that heavier workloads, unrealistic expectations and longer hours have created tremendous stress levels in their lives. A third are confident that they can find new jobs that match their experience and salary within the next 12 months.

The Forbes article 18 months ago, noted the disconnect between employers’ and employees’ perceptions with current job satisfaction. It cited surveys that indicated up to 65 percent of employees were looking for new jobs. Employers – once again ‘grossly out of touch’ – thought that only 37 percent of their workforce were seeking new work.

As the economy continues to improve, as employers look to enhance their competitive edge, one thing we keep hearing is that innovation will be key to sustained growth. Yet employers lament that they’ve had difficulty in attracting employees with critical skills. It’s ironic that these employers’ talent recruitment policies often screen out talented people. Company websites’ career sections that proclaim that unsolicited resumes will not be considered ignore possible candidates that can add tremendous value. HR screening policies that focus on specific keywords in resumes as evidence of qualifications, risk those candidates who don’t “game” the system. Recruiters and HR managers that don’t consider functional resumes, but only chronological resumes, do their clients and employers an incredible disservice in an effort to make their jobs easier.

I am amazed, these days, at the vitriol of the comments posted on recruiting and HR blogs by job seekers. They are fed up with the seemingly irrational process of recruitment and selection, which changes, not only from company to company, but also among different recruiters and HR managers.

As companies look to enhance their workforces; as they seek to improve competitiveness and reach new levels of innovation, they need to be clear with their recruitment staffs that they want the best employees they can obtain. They need to take a hard look at their current employees and ensure they retain the best of the lot. And recruiting and HR professionals need to advise their clients and employers on why it’s in their best interest to identify, recruit and retain high performers. As the subject matter experts in this field it’s their responsibility to ensure that their companies have the workforce to be competitive in today’s economy.

So, what are your thoughts?

Do you agree there’s a disconnect between employers perception of their workers’ loyalty and reality? Does your company get it?

Do you know of companies that do get it? Do their talent recruitment and retention policies reflect their understanding of what truly motivates their employees?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Power of Story

I’m reading Jim Loehr’s book, The Power of Story: Change Your Story, Change Your Destiny in Business and in Life (Amazon link). Loehr is a psychologist who runs the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, FL, and works with world class athletes, business executives and other high achievers to hone their stories so that they perform at optimal levels. His premise is that we tell ourselves stories that help us navigate through life because they provide structure and direction. The stories we tell ourselves give our lives meaning.

Because the stories we create and tell about ourselves form the “only reality we will ever know in this life…and since it’s our destiny to follow our stories, it’s imperative that we do everything in our power to get our stories right” (Loehr’s emphasis). Most of us, he asserts, get our stories wrong; or more accurately, tell a story that’s really someone else’s – our parents, our bosses, our spiritual advisors and others who have influenced us throughout our lives.

Loehr argues that the most important story we tell is the one we tell ourselves: “if you aren’t the author of your own story, you’re the victim of it” and at the heart of our story is purpose, one of the fundamentals of good storytelling. Purpose gives our life story meaning, it is never small, but grand, heroic and epic; it’s our ultimate mission in life, the thing that continually renews our spirit. Our ultimate mission spells out our most overarching goals that we want to achieve and how we must do it – our values and beliefs. Thus, our ultimate mission/purpose must be clearly defined; and until we can define it, we can’t come up with our own story, and remain trapped by our old story.

Loehr offers step by step exercises to determine our old story; discovering where it is out of alignment with our values and beliefs and then developing a new story based on our ultimate mission.

So the story we tell about ourselves is what gives our life meaning – in our relationships, our spirituality and our work. If we’re not telling the right story we’re not living the right life, but someone else’s sense of our life.

Have you examined your story? Does it align with your purpose, your ultimate mission? If not, can you determine the voice in your story (your parents, your boss, etc.)? Can you find and retain your voice?

Is the story you’re telling yourself precluding you from really doing what you want to do? Can you articulate what you really want to do?

Can you write a new story?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Do You Do?

What do you do?

How do you answer this question? Do you give your job title: Car salesman, plumber, housewife, career coach? Or do you respond with WHAT YOU DO? Do you give what you do meaning?

I can’t recall where I read this, but it had an impact on me. In essence, the idea was to give meaning to our work rather than respond with a job title.

Instead of responding with a title: Car salesman, plumber, housewife or career coach; respond with meaning.

I facilitate the process, from selection to acquisition, of customers choosing which automobile they wish to buy. I help them in this process, making sure they get exactly what want they want, within their price range” … or …

I keep people above water” … or …

I make sure that the most important people in my life get out the door every morning with what they need to be successful in that day” … or …

I help clients figure out what they want to do next in their life and how they can achieve their goals.

Can you give what you do meaning? Can you see by making what you do meaningful that you provide value?

What do YOU do?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Asset or Commodity?

Most all of us start out our careers as commodities for our employers. Regardless of our profession, we’re pretty raw talent needing refinement. Early on we are given discrete assignments, with specific deadlines, defined by someone else. We’re rarely provided with a sense of how our tasks fit into the bigger picture of the overall project.

We’re assigned to write code for a particular piece of software without any sense of the final product; or research a particular issue and draft a memo, which will be part of a larger report to a client; or design a particular part that will fit into the larger product or system; or frame a house that has been designed by someone else.

In each of these tasks, we are given parameters that are decided by someone else: the boss –team lead, foreman, architect, division director, partner – to whom we’re assigned. They decide who does what, how much time should be allotted to the task, and they determine the quality of the finished product. However, the boss may also be a commodity.

In his book, A Whole New Mind (Amazon.com link), Daniel Pink notes the “three As” of Abundance, Automation and Asia that are influencing the shift from the information age to the conceptual age. In the information age, work was organized around knowledge workers – accountants, attorneys, doctors, engineers and executives – who acquire, organize and interpret data; and provide functional, logical and rational products and services. These workers, as educated and highly trained as they are, are commodities. Their skills are in abundance; their work can be easily automated and outsourced for cheaper, faster products. (A recent New York Times article reported on how new “e-discovery” software can analyze legal documents in a fraction of the time and costs that an army of lawyers used to.)

Commodities are easily replaced. Younger, cheaper, more nimble employees are always coming up through the ranks and ready to take their turn. If you have spent your career assembling a body of knowledge, an expertise, that is in overabundance or just no longer in demand, that computers can do faster and overseas labor can do cheaper, then you’re a commodity and in danger of being replaced.

Assets on the other hand, continually add value to an organization. Assets are creative, designing new products and services that improve the bottom line. Assets interact and empathize with clients to help define their needs and design solutions that fit.

So, what do you think? Can you distinguish yourself as either an asset or a commodity in your career? Are you comfortable with this distinction?

If you’re a commodity, are you comfortable with project-based tasks defined and assigned by others? Can you shift to more of an asset-based career path?

If you’re an asset, do you design products and service that continue to have meaning to customers and for clients?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The future ain’t what it used to be

It seems that the future has been cropping up a lot of late and Yogi Berra’s quote sure hits home.

Chris Brogan, who blogs and consults on social media and business communications has been posting lately on the future of such subjects as marketplaces, work and media. You can check out his thoughts on these subjects here, here, and here respectively.

In addition, Mary Meeker, an internet and technology analyst recently published a report on The Future of Tech. Among the conclusions: technology will be SoLoMo. That’s not a new trendy neighborhood in New York City. It’s an acronym that stands for Social, Local and Mobile. She notes that shipments of Smartphones and Tablets will now outpace those of PCs and laptops. This phenomenon will emphasize connectivity, location and mobility.

There’s a lot of synchronicity among these reports on the future. All three of Brogan’s posts note that the future will be mobile and global and that while size of an organization will matter, the little guys will be able to compete with the big guys (and there probably won’t be any mid-size guys). He also posits that the future will be interactive, integrated and subscription based. We’ll be able to interact with each other and we will purchase bundles of products that will have ongoing updates to which we’ll have access via our subscriptions.

Brogan’s take on the future of work includes that work will be modular, or project-based; that it will be cause-balanced, we will seek out companies for their “social giving profiles” as much as for their products and services. Brogan argues that work will be smaller and bigger – that is, it will be dominated by really small companies and really big companies; mid-size companies will lose their luster. Finally, he notes that work will be goal aligned – that we will work toward personal goals rather than an end state retirement.

These are certainly different takes on the future we thought we knew. We thought that things like work, technology, markets and media were fairly easy to predict. They tended to be linear and static; the future described by Brogan and Meeker is dynamic, exponential and chaotic – “it ain’t what it used to be.”

Can you see yourself succeeding in a future that is mobile, global, integrated and serial? Can you define a role for yourself in such a future? Will it be the same role over time?

I’m reminded of another favorite philosopher’s take on the future – Yoda – who noted that “the future in flux always is.” May the force be with you.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Office: Where Work Doesn’t Get Done or How Managers & Meetings Conspire to Prevent Productivity

Jason Fried, of 37 Signals, speaks about why the office is not the place to get work done in a TEDtalks video; you can view the video here.

Fried notes that when he asks people “where do you go when you want to get things done?” the one answer that doesn’t come up is “The office.”

He notes that at the office one doesn’t experience a “work day,” but “work moments.” People need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get something done – that doesn’t happen at the office. Managers and Meetings (M&Ms) conspire to prevent work from occurring. M&Ms don’t exist outside the office.

To overcome the inefficiencies of M&Ms at the office, Fried presents three intriguing proposals guaranteed to turn the culture of the office on its head.

How about you? Where are you most productive? Where do you go to get work done? Are Fried’s proposals realistic? Can they overcome the M&Ms that conspire to prevent productivity at the office?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Paradox of the Comfort of Crowds

An interesting dynamic occurs with new clients. They sign on, initially, because their current job search isn’t working. They have a traditional resume, one that lists, in chronological order, the responsibilities of the jobs they’ve held over the years. They’ve posted this resume on a number of job boards and used it in applying for the positions listed on the boards and on company websites. They’ve waited for someone to contact them. And they’ve waited some more. Rinse. Repeat.

They get discouraged, naturally. Then they come to us. They want help; they can’t do this on their own. We show them something different: A framework where they differentiate themselves from everyone else. We write them a new resume, one that emphasizes their accomplishments over responsibilities. We coach them on how to speak to the value they can bring to a prospective employer. We help them build their brand. We coach them on how to network and create relationships with decision makers.

They get very excited. This is different. It will work. After all, the process they’ve been following hasn’t produced any results; it’s been a black hole.

So, they begin anew with great energy. They have a brand and a resume that shows how their brand works; and a LinkedIn profile that reflects their brand. This is really different. They’re really gonna stand out.

They reach out to people on LinkedIn; they join Groups; they follow companies. They post their new resume on the job boards, replacing their old one. They send it in when they apply for positions posted on the job boards and on company websites. They wait for someone to contact them. They consider selling life insurance or becoming a financial planner.

They may get contacted by a recruiter who tells them that he needs a resume that shows their responsibilities from every company they’ve worked for, in chronological order. They come back and ask for a new resume that looks much like their old one. They’re concerned that they don’t look like everybody else.

I had a recent conversation with a recruiter. I asked her how she saw 2011 shaping up for jobs. Her response was that it will be a great year for people who can articulate and demonstrate their value to prospective employers; those who rely solely on skill sets, not so much. The interesting thing is, with published positions – those posted online on job boards or company websites – skills are how HR folks determine candidates’ qualifications. Decision makers, on the other hand, are more focused on value.

If you’re in a job search and you’re relying solely on your skills you blend in with the crowd. Like the gunslingers of the Old West, if you’re relying solely on your skills, there will always be someone younger and faster and cheaper. It may feel safe in the crowd, but you don’t get noticed.

Value isn’t necessarily related to time or cost. Values relates to accomplishments rather than responsibilities. It appeals to the people who care; the people who make the decision whether to hire or not. Skills may get you in the door for an interview, but it’s your value that will get you hired.

Value stands out; it’s what makes you unique; it becomes your brand. Skills are necessary, but not sufficient, they don’t trump value.

So do you feel safe if you run with the crowd, by blending in with everyone else? Are you indistinguishable from others?

Or do you take the risk and stand out? Can you articulate and demonstrate your value? Can you stand out from the crowd?

What do you think? Is there safety in numbers? Is it worth the risk to stand out and stand on your value?