Friday, July 30, 2010

Facticity, Inspiration, and Bad Faith

It starts with understanding how we see ourselves.

Sartre says that who we are is a mix of facticity and inspiration. We describe ourselves by our facicity. These are the facts about ourselves. Our age, our height, our weight, our past. When we look at ourselves in terms of only facticity, we see ourselves in more of a biographical self. It isn’t something we can deny, these are rarely things we can change, they are essentially facts.

We can also see ourselves as inspiration. Inspiration is not who we are in terms of facts, but what we aspire to be. If I want to be a lawyer, I may start to describe myself as someone who is studious or career orientated. I may shift my attitudes so that are congruent with how I see my future self. For example, maybe if I go into criminal law, I will aspire to be a person who cares about justice and fairness.

Rarely are we all facticity or inspiration. If we see ourselves only as facts, we give no perspective to who we are. When we read a biography of a great leader, rarely do we have the insight of what that person was thinking about during their great acts. Maybe a historian can conclude what Julius Ceaser thought about himself as a husband, based on his life acts..but do we really know?

We rarely think of ourselves only as inspiration. Let’s take a very bizarre example. There is a sense, that we lose all groundedness as a human being if I think of myself as an angel or a dragon. Inspiration allows for growth and seeing ourselves outside of our current self…sort of giving a perspective to a future self.

Maybe the mixture of facticity and inspiration varies by person. Someone more realistic and conventional might see themselves more in terms of facts. Someone more artistic or unconventional, one could reason, might think of themselves as more inspiration. The funny thing is, who we are very much turns out to be, how we see ourselves.

Sartre tells us to avoid Bad Faith. Bad Faith is a term where we limit ourselves and who we could be by limiting ourselves, or by not owning who we are. An example might be a person who wants to become a teacher, but their parents want them to be a doctor. Because they disown the person they want to be, they decide they want to be a doctor, to placate their parents, they are acting in bad faith. Further, we can limit or facticity too. We might try to disown part of our own experience. If we had an experience in life we do not want to come to terms with, we are also acting in bad faith.

Of course as Robert Solomon says, Sartre’s philosophy is one of no excuses. It is a philosophy of personal responsibility and acceptance for what we are. I think by understanding who we are, and taking control of who we are, we live a life worth living. We have a fulfilling life experience.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Creating Space for Powerful Emotions

As human beings, it is so easy to mimic the behavior of other people. It’s something we do especially when we don’t have a self-reference frame. If we don’t personally have an idea of what to do, we’ll follow someone else’s idea. I think it's key in an emotional situtation not to mimic the other person's behavior, but give space to allow for the emotion.

With emotional conflicts, it is critical to give yourself some space.

I remember hearing the story of a social worker who was working with a mother who recently lost her young child. The mother was distraught, when the social worker arrived. The social worker, there to talk to the mother about her situation didn’t even open her mouth. The distraught mother poured out her emotions, talking about how her son died, talking about the economic disaster she found herself in, talking about her absent husband. While the woman spoke, the social worker, just listened. Listened and gave non-verbal cues of engagement and empathy. At some point there was a nature place to pause, the social worker got up, and walked out. There was nothing that social worker could have said to the mother with the deceased son. Nothing of value she could add. By being an empathetic person who would listen, it created the space for understanding. It created the space for both people to communicate.

Powerful emotions can make situations more challenging, because the reasoning can’t take place until the emotional storm has passed. Any of us, barraged internally by emotions: anger, enthusiasm, fear, wonderment, are not going to be rationally minded to move ourselves forward.
Recently a friend of mine was upset with me over how I handled a situation. My friend, lets call him Adam, at first was indirect. Once I engaged him a little bit, it he became much more upset.

It almost seemed as if a small fire had turned into a brush fire. Almost unsciously, I calmed my own emotions. Though my face flared up, and my heartbeat raced at first, I was able to calm my mind, and focus on the situation. From there, I listened without directing the conversation. Choosing not to guide the conversation or ask too many questions let him get some comments off his chest.

The situation was already powerful, and by being a mirror to the other person. After giving space for a person to express their feelings, then the opportunity came for reconcillation.
Emotions are powerful, even if there is not an emergency. Give them space, give them understanding.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Despair and Awe: Musings on Existentialism

Might it be time to face a movement challenging to us to face ourselves?

At a party recently, I sat toe-to-toe with a good friend, who told me blankly that we all go alone. Though not physically upset, there was a sense I gathered that he was contemplating the absurdities of life. To be direct, many of us would admit there is the problem of meaning inherent in living life. In the end, our families, our friends, collegeues, lovers, enemies, and people who we made some sort of an impression on…it all amounts to us facing our aloneness.
How do we face a moment of like this? Generally, we refer to it as an ‘existential crisis’, but I think that distances the problem from the very personal nature of existence Our lives often taking a safe ride from moment of safety and familiarity to the next. It is in these moments of loss faith, or maybe awakenings that we take the look around. We all are aware, to some level that our lives may fall short of living up to our grandiose dreams.

I think existentialism gives us a different perspective.

Robert Solomon, recently deceased Austin University professor, has some of the most eloquent and thought-provoking youtube video series I’ve found that expounds on the work by giants of existentialism. These figures include: Camus, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre and Heidegger.
Solomon isn’t interested in dead beliefs, but rather, blows the sand off the scripts and literature of these literary giants. Existentialism I gather, is more then a 1940s literary movement or philosophical reaction.. There are certain attributes that I think are relevant to existentialism: 1) emphasis on the individual 2) truth in subjectivity 3) confronting despair and death and 4) living life passionately.

One thinker that resonates strongly with me is Soren Kierkegaard. Writer of “Fear and Trembling” and “Either/Or”. Kierkegaard was keenly aware of his sovereign journey. Unable to follow the ‘crowd’ or take the presumptions of his culture, he took a path unique to his own, spawning many existential thinkers. Kierkegaard starts with the premise “Truth is subjectivity”, a risky and alienating idea. Like other existentialists, he recognizes that we don’t life according to any noble truths, but rather our personal truth. Our commitments. Our passions. Our meaning. Regardless of how we feel about religion, or politics or any sort of collective feeling, there is a pervasive sense that the meaning we derive from life is one we have to feel it for ourselves.

Kierkegaard talks of the 3 levels that provide individual meaning.
The aesthetic level is the venture. Whether in our party college years or chasing the satisfactions of pleasure in our later years, it is easy to see the way we suit ourselves to a passion. Benign passions like arts, achievement, or status seeking, or more hedonistic pursuits of drugs, drinking and sex…all of which lead to a lack of satisfaction. In the short-term, these aesthetic pleasures feel a void. The question remains. How many games do you have to win, to feel vindicated? How many people do you need approval from to feel secure? The answer for Kieekegaard, and if we look honestly at ourselves, is that these pleasures are temporal. The aesthetic level is not enough.

The ethical level is one of self-development. One where we strive to be the best human being that we can be. There is a satisfaction here, one in which we are meeting the criteria of our society and trying to live a life according to our cultural scripts. Through these efforts we improve ourselves – kindness, ability, openness, honesty. All of which Kierkegaard would say is a positive step up from the empty pursuit of pleasure. Again we are faced with the existential dread of our finality. The ethical level, improves the individual, and perhaps separates the individual from the ‘herd mentality’. But the elevation is still man-made.

Kierkegaard takes the leap-of-faith. For him, this i a commitment wholly to something he can live and die for. For Kierkegaard, the answer is an individual commitment to Christ. He professed, even if there were no other Christians, it would be the right leap forward. Even if the religion were proved a lie, it is the right step forward. Again, the emphasis is not on a rational logical answser, but rather the subjective truth that makes the purpose meaningful.
Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, an intense individual by all accounts, gives us an answer which at once has us face despair, but gives us a vision toward a higher calling. The vision is unique to Kierkegaard, one he recognizes as having a meaning only to him. Many existentialists have had different visions: Nietzsche a reactionary, Sarte a Marxist, Camus an atheist, and Heidigger a fascist. The thread that binds these thinkers is the sense of personal commitment, and personal meaning.

Existentialism may offer, and I believe does offer us a compelling vision for our own lives. It is not an ordained or always appreciated viewpoint; but the message is one that we are responsible for our lives, and further responsible for our destinies. What the answer is, one gathers, really is not the point. The point is that the passions in life not only give us a sense of identity, but can give us the foundation for which to live our life.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Traits of Future Leaders

This list is also from "The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow's Employees Today" by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd.

Here the focus is on the traits of a 2020 Leader. One of the things I take away from this list is that these are values ingrained young people because it is part of their education. One point that Meister and Willyerd make is that not only are companies needing to get great talent, but that young people will be taking over leadership positions very quickly - the baby boomer brain drain is happening very soon.

So from Meister and Willyerd here are some of the traits of leaders needed in 2020.

Collaborative Mind-set: Inclusive decision making, genuine solicitation of feedback

Developer of People: Mentors and coaches team; provides straight feedback

Digitally confident – uses technology to connect to customers and employees

Global citizen- diverse mind-set, prioritizes social responsibility

Anticipates and Builds for the Future – builds accountability across levels, champions innovation

Many companies GE, Zappos are already trying to deal with these trends. Rounds (getting experience, formal observation, shadowing, after-action review, team workshops). I think it is important for young people to get engaged now in their fields of endeavor. Why not build yourself up now. The wisdom of the ages is here: virtual learning, audiobooks, mp3s, and immediate access to all this information.

Learn now, learn well


Friday, July 2, 2010

Surviving the Future: Preparing for the 2020 Workplace

If science fiction has taught us anything, we always are interested in what the world will look like. Asking someone what work will be like in 5 years: we might consider the new technologies that will effect the world. For example in 10 years, maybe we have a more green economy, with products and careers centered around sustainability. We might also consider our values and our visions of our shared future. The type of work we engage in, how much we work, the reasons why we work, could all be challenged.

The good news is that even if we can't see the future yet, we can use the data from today about the emerging trends with evidence and current data.

"The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow's Employees Today" by Jeanne C. Meiseter and Karie Willyerd is a brillant book that helps guide us in that ponderous exercise.

Here are the findings from Meiseter and Willyerd about the changes we will see in the 2020 Workplace. All 10 terms are directly from the book, and I expand on each idea.

1. Shifting Workplace Demograpics - We're going to see a huge shift in the demographics of the developed world. The number of workers aged 55 and older will grow from 13 percent of the labor force in 2000 to 2020 to 20% (page 16), and generally the population is aging and shrinking (p.17). Even in the U.S. that has a stable birth rate and strong immigration will have to deal wit the baby boomer retirement in 2020

2. Knowledge Economy – The skills and knowledge levels needed to get and keep a job in a global economy. This requires complex interdisciplinaru skills. Many white collar jobs (3.3 million and $136 billion in wages) are going to India and Russia by 2015 (p.21). This changes the very type of work that many of us will be doing.

3. Globalization – Things are moving so quickly, that organizations have to contend with moving these quickly changing market; tapping into a global talent pool. Companies will deal with a number of pressures not just external (environment, politics, terrorism) but internal ones (organizational design, finding talented employees, central vs decentralized decision , making).

4. Digital Workplace – This is the continued expansion of knowledge. General point, but so important

5. Ubiquity of mobile technology. As of 2008 more then 2.5 trillion text messages were sent (p.27). This is even more central in developing world; less setup is needed with a mobile device. Also, who isn't fascinated about the latest Iphone coming out this year.

6. Culture of Connection – becoming hyperconnected; social media, can be any age (though 60% are under 35 (p.29), RSS feeds, companies use social media for internal purposes, connect with customers

7. Participation Society – Contributions from individuals are valued. Companies will use collaboration and knowledge sharing to improve business results. Consider web forms, websites, and even blogging

8. Social Learning – Some of values here are: collaboration, immediate access and relevance. All of these are central to social learning and social media today. Many companies are reinventing training and corporate excercises that are virtual and more experiential.

9. Corporate Social Responsibility – Increasingly, companies are trying to differentiate themselves and attract top talent. Some of this can be done by having a company that values more than the profit margin. Think of environmental values, religious values and humanitarian values.

10. Millenials in the workplace - These are the latest generation to enter the workplace and they do work differently. They value collaboration, they value feedback, they value quick learning and they are tech savy.

Lets see how this holds out in 2020.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Recommendation for June 2010

All meat and no potatoes wrote a reviewer for the heavily research based “Falling Behind –
How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class” by Robert H. Frank.

This is a book, while does not give direct professional direction for personal development, gives a context to understand our current economy. The world is a complex place, yes. Is one book going to give a whole perspective? Of course not. But I found this to be an immensely interesting book, supported by modern psychology experiments and ventures into understanding where we are, and where we are going.

Frank argues four points

1. People care about relative consumption more in some domains than others
2. Concerns about relative consumption lead to “positional arms races” or expenditure arms races focused on positional goods
3. Positional arms races divert resources from nonpositional goods, causing large welfare losses
4. For middle-class families, the losses from positional arms races have been made worse by rising inequality.

Robert H. Frank puts a lot of interesting points into a context: the growing inequality of income between the rich and poor, the stagnant wages of middle class families, the increased 200 extra hours women are working every year, the less comparative “good jobs” for educated individuals, and the growing work hours.

What I really enjoyed is that Frank puts all of this into psychology terms. For example he has this fantastic example about how middle class families can not live within 50 miles of Aspen, Colorado. The real estate is too high, too expensive. The residents of Aspen, Colorado, those who can afford the real estate, do not want to do the remedial jobs to support the local economy. Every weekday, there is a mass transit into Aspen, Colorado, and mass exodus away from Aspen Colorado, the driver depending on their ecomomic status.

Frank doesn’t write all this too criticize the rich, or point figures. He shows the data, shows the research between the psychological factors and the visible ecomomic behaviors, and shows the disconnect between what we want and what we have.

On a cartoon graphic with two affluent golfers, one about to tee,
One says “Researchers say I’m not happier for being richer, but do you know how much researchers make?

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Frames of Our Lenses

‘So we see the world, so it is’.

I was bored between a standardized test, just completely exhausted and weary, wanting to get away from an uninspired school day. Luckily, the math section and science section were over...but there was still more to do. I was talking to a friend between a testing period, and we talked a little bit, and she gave my a jolly rancher. It was sweet, delectable, the perfect sugary renewing force. After the test was over and I got the results, I did far better then I thought I would do. Did I get an extra couple points on my ACT because of the jolly rancher? Probably not, but it instantly changed my mood and how I felt. Oh the difference perspective makes.

A book is suggested to me is a great organizational development book called “Reframing Organizations” by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal. Finally getting into it now, I find it a paragon example of excellent organizational learning. There was a particularly interesting section about taking a perspective.

There is an interesting story about a woman wanting to learn about organizations. She read four books, all with a different viewpoint on what an organization is. Here’s what she thought an organization could be.

• A Factory
• A Family
• A Jungle
• A Circus

Each of these organization viewpoints contains with them an individual focus:

If you see the organization as a factory, you might focus on the processes, the structure,
If you see the organization as a family, you might focus on the relationships, the people,
If you see the organization as a jungle, you might focus on the politics, the uncertainties
If you see the organization as a circus, you might focus on the culture, the perception of the organization

When trying to learn more about organizations, there is a particularly difficulty in trying to pin-down a vague construct. Some ways of understanding the organization might be more accurate or give us more information. It’s important to take into account the lenses we have when looking at an organization. Ultimately the views we take, the color we give to the perspective, is something we have to take responsibility for.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Applying to Ph.D. Programs - Mistakes to Avoid

I thought it would be timely to talk about ph.d. programs as some students might be considering getting involved for a doctoral program in the following year, the Fall 2011 semester.

Okay, so this is all from personal experience. Take it with a grain of salt, haha.

So at some point, you might decide that you want to pursue more school after getting a bachelor's degree. There's probably a good chance you know this. Let's face it, people doing well in their program, or those who have been successful in a particular area want to specialize in it. Of course there are all sorts of options after completing a bachelors - certifications, graduate school masters programs and of course ph.d. programs.

The field I am in is psychology, and I think early on the better idea you know of what you want to do, the more successful your application will be. If you are just entering college now, or are still a lower classman, consider finding ways to get experience outside of the classroom. In psychology for instance, you can take labs with professors to work on research. Other subjects require tutors, and have additional experiences that would be helpful; it really would be program specific.

In 2009, I applied originally for 13 doctoral programs in the field of I-O Psychology. I got accepted to one program (Alliant University), and had interviews with several, and the whole process was just riveting. While I didn't get accepted this year, I learned a valuable amount of information about how to apply in the future.

Learn from my mistakes. Here are 5 mistakes to avoid when applying for ph.d. programs

1) Limiting Schools You are Applying Too - Okay so here's the thing. Each application is going to a very long time to finish. You have to complete an application, have transcripts, letters of recommendation, essay for the school, and also supplemental forms usually too. Each application cost me at least $40 dollars, usually more, and took over an hour to complete.

Now the more schools you apply for, concievably the better your chances. For instance one of my peers was accepted to a midwestern school and applied to 16 schools. Do what you feel is right, for your time and resources, but be realistic about the number of programs you can connect to.

2) Essays, Make them relevant to the Program - You need to be insanely specific about the type of program you want to be in, the research you plan on doing, and the professor you want to work with. If you don't know, create experiences to learn what intersts you. Join clubs, become active in research labs, travel the globe, read a book.

The more planning you can do on your front-end, the more likely that will reflect well in your personal essays. And your one step closer to being accepted.

3) Letters of Recommendation - Lots of programs are going want to know who recommends you. Letters of recommendation can make or break your application. A positive letter can make up for a poor GRE score, or maybe even a bad score in a class. This is the closest the panel of reviewers will come to learning about your character outside of actually meeting you.

My advice. Be upfront. Ask for a strong and positive letter of recommendation. In most situtations, you will not read these letters of recommendation, so it's essential that you have that verbal trust with the person you ask to recommend you. Ideally, the people you ask a) have a lot of experience with you work b) have relevance to the program your interested in.

Most people are more then willing to help you in this process, but very clear about your expectations for a letter, and even recap the experiences you've had with that professor or manager.

4) Ask Relevant Questions, to Relevant People - Again, most people are willing to help, but it's on you to guide them. The more information you have about what you want: your school, your research, your personal goals, your future; the more specified answers someone can give you.

It's so simple, but so important. This is a good time to get in touch with professors and others who have been through a similar process. Just make sure you respect their time, their intelligence and their resources, and you will be creating even stronger bonds.

5) Stay in Touch with the Programs - Learn what is going on at those universities. Reach out to students and professors currently there. Act in a way that assumes you are going to get accepted to that school. It's just like applying to a job - do your homework, do your follow-up.

People hire who they like, and if you are putting yourself out there as a serious student who wants to be involved with the university, you are going to receive a positive reaction.

Do you want to send 500 emails to the professor you want to research with? Nooo.
But make yourself known.

Good Luck!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Peer Monitoring - A Session with Dr. Goldsmith

The Value of Peer-Monitoring

The gem of the ASTD International conference I recently visited in Chicago was Dr. Marshall Goldsmith discussing finding happiness in everyday life. One of the major factors that contributes to the difficulties of daily life, is our general busyness, he says.

One of the best things we can do is to monitor ourselves. Sure life gets stressful, but what is our attiude going to be. It’s easier to change ourselves then change the world, so how about starting with changing things about yourself to become happier.

As Dr. Goldsmith says in Mojo. “Happiness is not a natural state; vision is not a natural state; inertia is a natural state”. So if we’re going to achieve things, we are going to have to push ourselves to get out of our naturally inert state.

When we monitor, we can do just about anything. Consider the success of weight loss programs like “Weight Watchers” or alcohol anonymous programs where the success rate is continued by our peers monitoring our work. Self-monitoring has its place, but we know that feedback from our peers is more likely to give us a new perspective, more like to give us new ideas, and more likely to keep us honest.

One idea that Dr. Goldsmith uses is a daily monitoring checklist. He wrote out a set of questions, 24 I believe, that he would answer every day. These questions were personally important to him. All questions are about an important part of his life. Some examples include: “Did I do do any push-ups today?”, “What is my weight today?”, “How happy am I today?”.

Goldsmit made it a peer-monitoring exercise, because he had a good friend call and ask him these questions everyday.

Sure enough, with this daily exercise, he soon started to see results. Keeping track of the data in a simple Excel row/column matrix, he is able to see the patterns over time.

It’s not only checking behavior, it’s monitoring our attitudes too. When we monitor how we are perceived against how we want to perceived we start to envision a better future for ourselves. We start to see how to grow in that direction.

It’s a small thing, and something far too few of us do. But peer-monitoring, whether through Dr. Goldsmith’s checklist or another creative method can give us the freedom to say “yes, I’ve made a change”.

In the words of Dr. Goldsmith “Hope you find this practical and useful, and may you have a little bit better life”.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tracking a Job Search

The way we look for jobs has been changed, but the way people get hired is still the same. With the internet, people all over the world are able to apply for a position, where before jobs were more location specific. We know the economy is improving and jobs are being created. Although a sign of improvement, job seekers like myself know the difficulties of having fantsatic job skills.

One of the books I’ve found most instructive in this new job search is by Orville Pierson “The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search”. Many recruiters use it, it's the most valuable job-seeking book i've found...i don't really know what else a job-seeker would to read to learn the process.
Most job-seeking books focus on the obvious elements of a job –seeker: resumes, cover letters and finding your passion. Important things sure, but hardly rendering a job-seeker ready to toil against the difficulties often at hand. It hardly give attention to the effective search itself.

Pierson gives job seekers another method. A systematic method to combating our process problems of a job search: seeking out networking events, tracking responses to people we email; targeting companies, and even ways to network into a job.

As pierson points out. The average person is going to look for a job 10-15 times in his or her life. Why not learn the skills to gauge involvement in this often difficult process of looking for work.

Here is are some tips about what a good job searching week looks like

25-35 Hours
Creating/Modifying a Target Company List
15- 30 contacts that week
Having a Core Message, with 6 stories to back it Up
Establishing communication with several decision Makers
Follow-uping up with your contacts, and scheduling people with multiple contacts
Deciding on Tracking the Progress of all contacts related to the job search
5 to 50 letters, notes emails a week

There are little tips like that, but the joy of the novel is that Pierson works you from the beginning: the problems many job seekers face (most of which are poor attitudes, and ignorance on networking), and leads you to a complex, but practical method in the job search.

Find a few other inspirational poems to put on your refrigerator, and i'd say your ready to play ball.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Powerful Questions: Peter Block's Advice from "Community"

So I finished Peter Block's "Community". A book formatted with a colorful cuban exterior, and rich pages in between, "Community" (2010) is Block's investigation into building solid communities. I'm not going to dive into the whole book, but rather would want to dive into a section of the book that could be applicable for a lot of people

Do you know the power of a question? Block says a powerful question is more important then a powerful answer. A powerful question can be dissenting, it can be building, it can be timely, it can be thought-provoking and it can lead to the unearthing of higher values.

Often our questions in everyday life are pitifully bland.

How are you? What's new?

Nothing wrong with these questions, but they do keep the status quo. They are questions you ask that will get regular responsive answers. I guess thats good if you like the status quo, but they are not growth questions.

Block shares that powerful questions have three qualities

1) They are ambiguous - These questions are not linear, they make no attempt to give the other person the "right answer". Ambiguity, ironically, grabs a listener's attention. If a question is asked and the intent is unknown, it leaves the possibily for a deeper understanding. The most immediate example I can think of is flirting. You aren't going to get very far with someone asking surface level questions. Ask something daring, be playful, be coy, be anything but boring, right? Or in a professional manner, beneath a critical question, maybe you can ask it with the intent to help grow a person. Help a person up when their down through a deep-cutting question.

2) They are personal - Every great question is going to relate to the listener.

Even when a politician speaks in a vast crowd, they completely target the speech to individual action. If you can speak to a person authentically, then you have a clear line of communication. Non-personal questions are okay, "what's the weather like", "that's a pretty cool car, isn't it", but don't expect them to lead to individual or community growth.

3) Evokes Anxiety - We need a call to action. Why does it matter now? What happens if we don't make this decision? A powerful question taps the immediacy of the situtation. As Block writes "No edge, no power".

Using these three qulaities in substanitive way, we can take a person from being crestfallen to being estatic.

Consider these great questions (all from Block)

How valuable do you plan for this effort to be?

What is your contribution to the very thing you complain about?

What is the crossroads you face at this stage of the game?

What is the story you keep telling about the problems of this community?

Don't wait on some "leader" to ask the powerful questions. You have the power, you have the ability, just ask the questions.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

World Cafe - A New Way to Engage Big Groups

Have you ever felt marginalized in a big group? Ever felt like the group was so big, your voice hardly mattered?

It's not that uncommon and it can feel like the bigger the group, the more order is needed for it. Let's face it, there are some things you can get from a small group - consensus, engagement, and order, whereas much larger groups can breed chaos. Much worse, even if you have a large group that is working togther, the level of discussion may be shallow. Some people hold back their thoughts, ofters monopolize the conversation.

Enter: The World Cafe

The World Cafe is a new technique used to create engaging big group discussions. This method was created by Juanita Brown and Davis Isaccs in their book "The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter" (2005). Peter Block goes to discuss the method extensively in his new book "Community" (2010).

A World Cafe is a method in which the large group can optimize with everyone and share thoughts.
It looks a little like this

1. Facilitator puts a large sheet of paper in front of a class with questions. In this example there are 5 questions.
2. The big group lets say, 40 people, distributes into smaller groups in individual areas (let's say 4-5 people in a small group).
3. Each small group will explore and discuss question 1. It's a small group so the level of engagement and discussion will be. high
4. Facilitator asks each group to go around and discuss 1 or 2 thoughts.
5. Each small group disperses, and 10 completely new groups are formed for Question 2.
6. The new group starts by looking at the work that the last small group did, discusses that briefly, and then starts again with their new insights for questions 2.

It may not look that different from small group discussions but it is. The unpredictability of new groups, the new interactions allow for networking, ideas do not get stale. It's fun for the whole group, and can be sustained for some time.

In april, I was able to experience a World Cafe event at the Organizational Development Network. It was a really interesting experience, because when your in it, you realize how each group has it's own short development, and how the ideas processed in that individual group might be different then the group only 5 feet away.

Hopefully more training and development experiences optimize their experience in a WorldCafe, that allows for some facilitation and a lot of peer to peer learning

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Toastmasters - Speak Your Mind

I highly encourage young people to get involved in public speaking.

I've been an active member of my Toastmasters organization - Toastmasters Plus! for almost 2 years. There is no skill more valuable then having impeccable communication skills.

Most of us dislike public speaking. Many of us fear it. It's not unreasonable really for a number of reasons. But consider how valuable the skills to speak in front of others truly is. There are times in your life you will be called on to speak. Maybe at a wedding, maybe at a board meeting, maybe at your son's little league championship. Are you going to have the confidence in yourself to speak up?

I joined Toastmasters and continue to go to improve my skills. I've worked on a number of different types of speeches: persuasive, humorous, impromptu, storytelling and technical. I can tell you, every experience is unique. I always learn more about myself. I always feel like I can communicate with others a little easier.

Even if Toastmasters is not the right option for you, right now. Consider the idea that speaking is a skill. Some are born with the encouragement to speak their mind, and receive the positive reinforcement to excel. Others need to challenge themselves, and develop this skill.

The important thing is to always improve and develop ourselves.

Speak up, speak well, speak often,


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lincoln Electric Story - Are Layoffs Necessary?

Here are some of the destructive consequences of mass layoffs, from the point of the view of the book we've been looking at "Spark" (Koller, 2010).

Laid off workers make less money at their next position, often never climbing back to their original payscale level.

Laid off workers have been casually shown to have shorter life spans. This stems from the lower-class (SES) difficulties of health care problems, mental health problems and general stress

Organizations suffer the ironic fate of being underemployed and having to rehire to be adequately staffed.

Short-term economic gains for the organization may not create long term gains. Further organizations may suffer from retraining costs, and the lost of talent from employees who want to quit before getting the laid off ax.

Layoffs are almost completely acceptable now. We hardly flinch when we hear about mass layoffs in the news. Starting as a phenomenon in the 1970s, it has quickly become a reality. It could be because it is so commonplace, that organizations accept it as the norm. What is deemed a good idea comes across as so short-sighted.

The last half of the book "Spark: How Old-Fashioned Values Drive a 21st Century Corporation" shows a huge disparity between the way American businesses are running, and how their competing global adversaries are taking the market by actually focusing on the employee. In India and Japan, the rise of solid and reputable companies has been possible because of process improvement and an investment in employees.

Koller writes toward the end of his book about the exceptional employee centered company Lincoln Electric:

"The business model that Lincoln Electric has built over the past 114 years have proven phenomenally successfully by any measure used to gauge success in the American economy"(208).

Current CEO John Stopki is quoted (p.210).

"We believe that guaranteed employment is a good for all of our stakeholders - shareholders, customers, and employees. I think that is very important in understanding why we work so hard in trying to do the things we do. There are a lot of policies which you could implement, such as layoffs, terminations, all the things you hear about, which are good for one or another of those constituencies, but generally not good for all three at the same time.
If we are proven to be right and can go through these very troubling times while keeping our core people energized and committed to the company, as we have done many times before, it is pretty easy to see how our shareholders and customers will benefit from that".

As a young worker, consider the reputation of the organization you want to work for. Are you willing to work for a company 20 years, and then be comfortable with being laid off. This is a reality for millions of Americans, but we know it doesn't have to be this way. I encourage young people to explore new options. Consider that success is more than a short-term profit. Consider that when you start your own company, value what makes your company exceptional.