Tag Archives: Life

Incubating the Next Thing

Someone who appears on the collective public radar seems to be an ‘overnight success’ because we weren’t aware of any of the preparation this person had gone through.  Somehow this becomes part of our ideal of success then, that it just happens to you.  But that newly minted person of renown will most likely tell us that there was plenty of trial and error, effort and planning that went before this heightened awareness.  There was an incubation period.

 

Subject matter expert, thought leader, influencer – these are the words that we use to describe the people who know their stuff in whatever part of the professional world we inhabit.  They have experienced localized, or possibly broader success that may or may not have seemed to come out of nowhere.  But again, there was deliberate and consistent effort and planning on their part during some sort of incubation period.

 

Incubation will include some sort of training – formal or informal – and practical experience.  At the start, it might not be exactly clear what is being cultivated, perhaps a generalized affinity for certain activities that could support a career; say communication or math skills.  And I think that is key, many of us hearing someone else’s success story will hear about deliberate, decisive action and think of this as a potential deterrent for our own success because we don’t have clarity on our own direction yet.

A different kind of incubation.  (public domain image)

A different kind of incubation. (public domain image)

 

That successful person might have had clarity from their early days, but more than likely their intent developed slowly through an incubation period that, at the time, looked nothing like the fomentation of a successful business person.  (How many people do you suppose who knew Thomas Edison during most of his early years thought that he was all over the place?)

 

So if most subject matter experts and thought leaders today had their own messy incubation periods, that means that we all still have time to look over our careers to date – at what worked and what didn’t seem to – and see it all as trial and error, steps to nurture our next thing.  To encourage the incubation of our own success.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Generation Generalizations

What generation do you fall into chronologically?  I am most often lumped into the Baby Boomer generation, albeit the very tail end.  Sometimes I see articles that claim people in my age range are part of Generation X.  I remember hearing a whole lot more about Baby Boomers than Gen X growing up.  I suppose due entirely to numbers, this makes a lot of sense.

parent or friend

These generational groupings don’t seem to be created with consensus by the sociologists that discuss them since the date ranges vary by multiple years from one study to another.  One of the things that has always confused me is the difference between Gen Y and the Millennials.  Wikipedia advises that these generations are one and the same, not sure why the different naming conventions although in memory the Gen Y designation came first.  People in this cohort have birthdates ranging from the early 1980s into the early 2000s. (Note the vague start and end years.)

 

A blog that I follow, Chrysanthemum Communications (first read just because I was attracted to the name) helped me to gel my thoughts into this post with Women Over 50: Dive into the Multi-Generational Workplace.  I don’t meet this designation, but still found value in what Raye Elizabeth Ward has to say.

 

All this is preamble to my underlying thoughts on this topic.  Demographically, we will be lumped into groupings of all kinds – generationally, gender-wise, level of education, experience, and on and on.  Groupings are generalizations that may or may not apply to us individually.  I don’t identify with the characteristics that are applied to either the Baby Boomer generation or the Gen X group – bits and pieces, yes but overall, no.

 

I bet you don’t exactly fit into the generalizations made about your generation group either.  So think about what Ms. Ward has to say the next time you want to believe generalizations about someone else:

“Remember, the stereotypes work both ways.  I was considering interviewing with a large tech company where I would have reported to a woman some 15 years my junior.  “She’ll never hire me,” I said to a friend.  “Not if she’s as narrow-minded as you’re being right now,” came the response.  Bingo.”

~Raye Elizabeth Ward, Chrysanthemum Communications

 

What are your thoughts about these generational designations?

 

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All the Little Life-keeping Tasks

I am amused or perhaps bemused by the occasional articles in various sources about people who have successfully simplified their lives and are happier for it.  I like to be aware of where all my edges are, so I have never been one for creating complexity in my life.  And yet, I cannot imagine how people are able to really pare down these days with all the bits and pieces that worm their way into your needs.  (For instance just consider all the types of insurance…)

 

Anyway, I have been taking stock of the status for many of the little things that help us to keep a life.  Particularly because quite a few can be out of sight, out of mind.  I just realized that I cancelled my teeth cleaning in January, meaning to reschedule and haven’t gotten back to it, oops.  This is why I take stock periodically.  I keep a list of all these bits and pieces, again so I know where the edges are – because these are all things that can trip you up when you don’t have them in order when you need them, but things that tend to work their way out to the edges of your awareness.

 

Many people let the condition of their skills and career work out to the edges, and often even fall over the edge.  And then when they need to take stock, say in the midst of some change at the office, they don’t even know where to start.  Doing the work every day somehow felt just like keeping that skill current.  But it turns out that it wasn’t, at all, and now it’s a problem.

public domain image - French predictions for the future

public domain image – French predictions for the future

 

We can fill each day with plenty of tasks, we get bombarded with reminders of this or that bit of life-keeping thing from the dentist or the insurance company or HR; and we can relax and let the busyness of the tasks or the external reminders take the lead.  It can all just be too much.

 

Or we can set aside an hour or two as often as we feel the need and go through some of this life-keeping that gets out to the edges, check up on it.  I’m going to go hunt up the dentist’s phone number now.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Putting your Mark, Laying Claim

Mom used to practically chortle when telling my brother, sister and I how she and her brothers would lick something to lay claim to it.  Now a couple of thoughts come to mind.  This only worked because everyone in her house was a bit squeamish.  It is interesting that she told us these stories with such glee because we could exhaust her with our bickering.

 

My dad, as an only child, never understood the ruckus we would create in an effort to get our fair share of everything, all of the time.  Mom was careful in many ways to dole out even numbers of everything that she could, but this was next to impossible with her time or attention.  And that is what we really wanted.

 

I thought of this post while walking around my neighborhood and noticing all the cars parked on driveways.  You can usually tell the car that is just visiting from the car that belongs at the house based on positioning on the driveway.  When we are visiting we are hesitant to pull our car up in a spot that feels proprietary, right toward the top of the drive.  (And then often block the neighborhood walker’s progress…)  Which got me to think about our sense of ownership, how we put our mark on things.  And brought me back to those childhood events.

Everyone knows John Hancock signed the Declaration because his signature shows confidence.  (photo credit Wikipedia)

Everyone knows John Hancock signed the Declaration because his signature shows confidence. (photo credit Wikipedia)

 

We have varying comfort levels when we think about ownership of our things.  Some people are automatically comfortable taking ownership of any thing at any time.  And on the other end of the spectrum some people don’t feel certain of what they really own.  What they may have a right to claim.

 

The people who are naturally comfortable taking ownership might monopolize the shared office space, equipment and even the boss’s time.  There may be rules to even out these sensibilities, and a wise boss will make an effort to keep things fair.  But if you are more hesitant, you need to fight that urge and get in the fray to lay your claim.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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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.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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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