Black, White and Ambiguous All Over

Well let’s see if I can write about gray areas without using the term shades of gray, which while being a timeless phrase has been co-opted by a certain ubiquitous book series.  How about layers of gray?

 

Some of us are most comfortable in a clearly defined space; black is this, and white is that, and everything within the space is classified as one thing or the other.  But in our complex world it seems that more set ups, situations, and processes lend themselves to gray; plenty of room for ambiguity, fuzzy definition, unclear lines of responsibility.  Layers and layers of gray in which we must pass through, pour over, sift for many of our working hours.  What is the right thing to do here, now?  How about there?

Public domain image, 1920s office

Public domain image, 1920s office

 

Have the powers that be in your office been able to push through all this gray enough to provide you with a clearly defined job description?  This will help you to navigate through the gray, but if you are looking for a promotion at any future point you should not just stop at the borders of your job description.  You must continue with the task until you can find a natural hand-off point to the next logical person.

 

But what if I am in an office where ‘wing it’ seems to be the first bullet point of everyone’s job description?  I have an answering question – how comfortable are you with this wing it approach, this sea of gray?  If you simply cannot reconcile yourself to this environment and the anxiety is mounting, then your best answer is to carefully select a new more black and white environment.  (Yes, the market is still in turmoil, yes this is very gray – but this is short term gray with a big dose of anxiety but a payoff of a more structured black and white space at the end.  Or you can stick to endless layers of gray, you chose.)

 

What if your situation is terribly gray and you are game to be an agent to change it, to help create some structure?  Good for you.  Consider why there is so much gray – is it the type of business (say due to frequent change or growth and process hasn’t caught up), is it due to communication gaps, or perhaps there is a lack of cross-training and knowledge sharing?  Or any number of other underlying reasons.  Knowing why is crucial to improvement.  There is plenty of help available in many forms, and you will be in a better place to choose the right help when you understand the reason for the gray.

 

Your solutions will be found as you consider your whole situation – particularly your tolerance for layers of gray and your ability to control or affect the causes of the gray areas.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Reforming Perfectionism

I’ve told anyone who is interested that I have been a reforming perfectionist for the last decade or so.  I say reforming because there is no end, no reformed and never a concern again.  Perfectionism is a mindset that is powerful and pervasive.  And not in my best interest.

 

Perfectionism is constantly on the lookout for all of the things that you did wrong or said wrong, not necessarily to improve upon them but often just to highlight your imperfection.  Reforming perfectionism is constantly on the lookout for ways to improve what you have said or done and therefore helpful.  As in ‘yep, I forgot that breathe and take one more look step before I sent out that email so I missed the attachment’.   I will work harder to make this a step every time in the future.

 

We are human and therefore have flaws; but also capable of learning and improving.  Perhaps perfectionism has been more of a friend to you than it has been for me.  I am happy for you, but have found more perfectionists that have been hampered by this trait, similarly to what it has done to me in the past (and currently when I am not vigilant).  What parts of perfection are worthy, and which should be discarded or ignored?  Where does a quest to be better turn into self-imposed disappointment?  We each must find these answers in our own time and way.

Nature makes beautiful things, without worrying about perfection.

Nature makes beautiful things, without worrying about perfection.

 

I have found reforming perfectionism to be more open, perfection is terribly rigid.  Rigid doesn’t allow one opportunity in a fast changing environment.  Rigid perfection creates a lot of negative energy, and there is already too much of that out and about; improvement is fluid and adjustable and positive.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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The Relationship between Work and Money in Your Head

The ideas of this post have been rattling around in my head for a very long time, going back into childhood in many respects.  Now they’ve gelled into a post after reading My Encounters with Organized Labor by fellow blogger Dan Albion.

 

His post reminded me of one of the first money and work influences, a story that my mom told about her father regarding his first days as a clerk at one of the larger employers in Peoria.  He had a strong sense of duty and whisked through his work every day.  His coworkers were cool toward him, until finally it was made clear to him that he was making them look bad.  He needed to learn to pace himself and not produce at such an ambitious rate.  This was against grandpa’s nature, but he understood their sentiment.  What is an appropriate level (or standard) of productivity in relation to the amount that employees are paid per hour?  Your level within the organization will greatly affect your response to that question, most likely.   Also the way that you associate work and money.

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Public domain image

Over the long term money cannot be a motivator unless it is somehow tied directly to your output, like piecework.  Quality has to come into play too.  Otherwise that acceptable raise that you might have gotten months ago no longer is part of the consideration for your productivity today.  (And if you haven’t received a raise in some time, well… now money is a de-motivator and engagement can be greatly affected.)

 

We all develop a mental relationship of money and this affects our work effort to varying degrees depending on our other characteristics.  Some people assign some sort of mental value to everything that they do at work and once that value has met their pay for that hour, they act accordingly.  These people have closely related work and money.  Effort should be rewarded monetarily.

 

Other people, while appreciating a steady paycheck and expecting to be paid decently based on their skills, have a different set of criteria that they apply to their output.  Like my grandfather, who wanted to be busy and just happened to work at a faster pace.  He valued that his paycheck provided for his family, but also expected other benefits from his working hours.  His relationship between work and money included more variables.

 

There is no right or wrong, and my thoughts today aren’t going to touch on appropriate pay levels, more on getting you to actively think about your own relationship between money and work – what experiences created it?  Is your work-money standard helping or hurting you?  How aware of your work-money opinions?

 

Work is part of our lives and money is necessary, these are intertwined needs.  Awareness of our work and money biases helps immensely.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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When did Built to Last become Planned Obsolescence?

I could do a bit of research and find out the actual answer to my question from a marketing or product development standpoint, but that isn’t my objective.  (If you know, please do share.)  I’m more interested in this question in an esoteric manner; we seem to have started this idea with products, quietly and slowly (washers and dryers used to be built for 15-20 years, now 8 seems to be the norm yet they cost comparatively more!) and the idea has spread to other parts of business and life.

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)

 

Now progress is different than planned obsolescence – I learned to type on an old manual typewriter (my pinky fingers will never forget the force exerted to depress those keys was nearly beyond their power) and am thrilled to now use Word on my laptop to create.  That is progress, new inventions to improve upon old process.  Calligraphy and quill pens are now lovely in living history settings and used for artistic expression, but we will stick with our gel pens, thanks.

 

And as for applying the concept of obsolete to people, well skills might get a little stale, but not a person.  A person who has learned how to navigate a changing world always has something to offer.  We might have to slow down our hurry just a bit, sit down and have a chat, and then cull through the conversation for the good stuff.  But there will be good stuff; solid knowledge on making a life, earning a living, solving problems.

 

Older people might not know their way around all of these devices, but should your GPS break most would be capable and happy to show you how to read a map.  To tell you a story or two about the area where you find yourself.  How it once was, how it came to be what you see before you.  Sometimes this means a place quite different as the story progresses, but since nature is cyclical sometimes it means returning to something similar to what it was before.

 

One of the answers to my question might be, ‘that’s progress’.  Hmmm.  It seems to be more about pure commerce to me, which is what it is; but then we should carefully consider what parts of the world to apply the concept.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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What Do You Do that is Counterproductive?

Don’t tell me nothing because I don’t believe that for a minute.  We all do things that we know perfectly well might put us into some hole or other, a deficit that will be difficult to overcome, and yet we cannot help ourselves.  I save up personal business phone calls.  Note that I said personal – I would like to say that I spend so much effort on work related calls that I just don’t have the energy for the personal business related calls.

 

Psychologists just love to study this sort of thing and then tell us all about our foolish ways of undermining ourselves.  The really honest ones let us know that they got into this area of study because they know they are the worst offenders of counterproductive actions.  The others are just too holier-than-thou for words.

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie.  (my appreciation has lasted a lifetime)

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie. (my appreciation has lasted a lifetime)

 

Back to you and the shovel that you are right at this moment using to pierce the ground at your feet in the form of a doughnut that belies your diet or a bit of office gossip that can be traced back to you.  Ask yourself why?  What do you hope to accomplish with this counterproductive act?  Well, you don’t know, you are just in the moment and it is too delicious to pass up.  Pay for it later?  Hmph, future self can deal with it.  S/he will have the energy, skills, will power, stamina necessary that you just can’t seem to muster at the moment.  Right?

 

What do you have to say for yourself?  Me, I’m going to get right on that list of calls.  Right after I do this other thing.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Hassle Anticipation

We’ve all heard the advice not to buy trouble.  But we should also be prepared for certain eventualities.  Some days, certain activities are just like… doing your taxes or going to the dentist.  A hassle, an aggravation, frustrating – and so on.  But sometimes we expect something to go wrong and so we start to work ourselves up, just ready.  Going to get your license renewed, for instance.  Encountering certain people at work, perhaps.  Waiting in line just about anywhere for anything.  (I’m not an early adopter so I really don’t get the folks that stand in line, sometimes for days for the latest release of any technical item – don’t ever tell me you hate to wait in line.)

Construction is always a hassle.

Construction is always a hassle.

 

Back to hassle anticipation – could we possibly experience the hassle just because we became so certain that we would have one that we somehow brought it on?  I’ve certainly watched it happen to others – someone ahead of you in line is giving off that vibe by fidgeting, sighing, or other cues gets up to the counter and their voice has that edge right off the bat.  I imagine that I have probably done it too, though no example comes to mind as I type.

 

We are bound by rules almost everywhere we go – the employee handbook at work, bank rules, insurance rules, school rules – piling up in front of us and blocking us from just getting the simplest thing on our to-do list done.  (Well such-and-such isn’t going to happen today because I forgot to bring that stupid form with me.)  It is such a hassle, why are there so many rules?

 

We know on one level that we need the rules to create structure and protection for certain rights, but do we need so many?  (The answer to that is probably not, a lot of rules are around just for the sake of rules or to benefit the institution over the individual…)

 

Back to anticipating the hassle, logically we are just in knowing that these established steps and rules can make things go slowly so why do we not allot enough time to accommodate this awareness?  I’ll just be a minute at the bank at noon on a Friday – sure.  Why is the doctor running late at 4pm, I have to get my daughter to dance class you know?

 

We are mad at the system, the institution for making our quick task or errand drag on and put us farther behind for the next one.  On top of it, we knew this would be a hassle, so we waited to the last possible minute to do this thing so it isn’t like we can come back later – how dare they?

 

How dare they indeed.  Do you have any stories about hassle anticipation?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Cultivating Your Professional Garden

Periodically you have read reference here in this blog to sowing seeds, cultivating ideas, fallow and fertile ground for thought so how fitting that we talk about a full-fledged garden of your professional being.  (A nod to contact Bob Podgorski for this phrase.)

 

Gardens, vegetable or flower, must be tended regularly or their character will change entirely.  Some plants will run rampant and strangle out others, some are too delicate to survive in a wild environment and will die, weeds will take advantage and push out more valuable plants by depriving them of nutrients.  So to must you tend to your professional life in an intentional manner.

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I like to take walks around my neighborhood and check out how the plantings in various yards change with the seasons and the years.  There are so many different styles and predilections starting with absolutely no plant adornment, through no time to spend on the previous owner’s efforts, all the way to showy designer planned installations.   And of course in these days there are the houses that fell victim to the crash and are awaiting loving care.  Some of these had beautiful yards and I watch with interest to see if new owners will coax the garden back to glory or will rip it all out and start fresh.

 

My point is that it is easier to find a means to maintain than to bring something back or to give up on it and start fresh.  I know that you don’t have enough hours in a day for all your tasks – work, family, etc.  How could you possibly squeeze in a to-do or two to plot out the state of your professional garden?  You don’t know the first thing about what is growing there these days.  Well, finding yourself suddenly in job search is not the time to start taking inventory except that this seems to be the standard prompt.

 

What is in your professional garden?  First there is you – do your skills stack up against others in your position and industry?  How aware are you of the trends within your industry?  Then there are your contacts – who are they, where are they, and when was the last time that you were in touch?  It is a whole lot easier to get a recommendation from someone right after a successful mutual project than months or years later.  What have you done for them lately?

 

I know that it just sounds exhausting, and it is work to maintain any garden.  But judicious effort on a regular basis is warranted and prudent.  And a whole lot less work than bringing a tangle back to order or replanting an empty lot.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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