A career begins with an abiding preoccupation

Sleepwalking through life?

Today the GSCE results came out in the UK. For American readers, GSCE is like graduating from high school though you can stay and spend an extra two years working on A levels for university entrance.

Huff Post interviewed 4 boys from just north of London. I was immediately struck by two observations. The richer the boy, the more disorientated he was. And how all the boys expected a vague ill-defined authority to sort out their career for them.

The two poorer boys were infinitely better off in my view. Both had had an objective or some time. Both had responded to events, which might have been crushingly disapppointing, but were brushed off by simply finding another path to the same goal. But both, of course, exited the school system – not surprising if you know anything about the rigidity of class in the UK.

Where is the vocation?

But I am not here to lament class – well not today anyway. I was struck that ‘careers advice’ was simply functional. Sign on here. Do this. Do that. I would like to see young people getting ‘to the heart’ of what interests them and defining their economic relationship with the world through a lens of their abiding interests.

Where is the abiding preoccupation?

In business, we might talk in terms of  ‘vision’ and ‘mission’. But look at the way the manufacturing giant Danone puts it:

If associating health benefits with the pleasure of eating is our permanent preoccupation, ensuring that products are made available to the greatest number of people is now the Danone’s new endeavour.

First, let’s ask ~ what is our permanent preoccupaton?  What do we return to time-and-time again because it is so important to us?  What do we hold so dear that it puzzles us that others don’t?  What are we always willing to work on, no matter the time of day or night?

And then, what is our priority right now?  What is the endeavour or practical project that is needed at this moment?

Vision and mission. Preoccupation and endeavour.  I like the second set of words a  lot more.  Don’t you?

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Can you stand up in front of 1000 people and state your personal elevator speech in 20 seconds?

A personal elevator speech

When I taught at the University of Canterbury, my colleague Peter Cammock, would ask our class of 900 or so students, whether they could stand up and state their life purpose in a 20 second elevator speech.

Elevator speeches are hard to write at the best of times. When they are yours too, they are really hard.

Crafting our elevator speech

There are perhaps 5 things that are helpful to understand about elevator speeches that help us in this task

  • Structure
  • Resonance with our deepest beliefs
  • The story of where we have come from and where we are going
  • Our immediate influences
  • And what we are still not sure about

Structure of an elevator speech

An elevator speech is a mini-business plan. Or a mini-operational order. It has five parts.

  • Situation – the story that is bigger than us
  • Mission – that part of the collective story that we will write
  • Execution – the chunks of our mission that can be fulfilled as sub-missions
  • Administration – the resources that we need
  • Communication – how will we know how well we are doing and who should we tell

[SMEAC]

Resonance with our deepest beliefs

Our elevator speech is not about what we must do, or what other people expect us to do. Duty wears us out and is sure to wear out anyone who is listening!

Our elevator speech is about those dearly held beliefs that are vital and engaging. Our elevator speech is about what brings us alive, what we quickens our pulse, and what brings a light to our eyes. If only we could see that!

The key to finding this magical place is to look at our relationship with others. What is that we love to to do and others love us to do?

We are likely to find this place in our our work, which even if solitary, like painting, is sociable ~ it is for others to use and enjoy.

Who are these others? What were we hoping when we started our work? How do we, or how do we hope to bring the light to other people’s eyes that we want in our own?

It is here, a unique place for each of us, where we feel totally at home. It is here that we live wholeheartedly and we don’t have to plan. It is here that “our deep gladness and the world’s hunger meets”!

Our story

The curious thing about our stories is that so much of our lives are disappointing. What would you feel if you were a graduate in today’s UK facing 20% unemployment and debts from your education?

How would you feel if you were like me? Your country gone. Your house gone. Your career gone. Your life in disarray.

Well, whatever we feel, we should not disown our stories. Our stories give us perspective and the more we have lost, the more perspective we have. As a noobe in the UK, my rich paste and perspective is a gift to people in my new home. My very disappointment is what I have to enrich the lives of others.

Our influences

As I arrived in a new country, I felt muddled. Any disruption ~ a new job, a new house, new friends ~ might have confused me. Losing a country is just an extreme mutation of a general theme!

Slowly, we begin to make sense of what we contribute through our interactions. I do a lot of work on the internet and I was helped on my way by reading the Chief Happiness Officer, Steve Roesler, and Barbara Sliter.

My mission is to be happy

From the Chief Happiness Officer, I learned that my job is to be happy. I felt a bit silly, I must tell you, until I realised that happiness isn’t my vision. My happiness isn’t the bigger story or the shared story. My happiness is my mission.

My happiness is how I contribute to the shared story because happiness is contagious. Because I am a noobe. Because I have a rich past and my perspective on what is good and true at this time and in this place helps people around me fulfil their missions, whatever those missions may be.

My vision is a world where we are confident of our countries

I learned my vision from Barbara Sliter.

“We are ready for more: more meaning, more challenge, better environments, interesting work, balance of life. We are ready to be co-creators”.

I want to contribute to the world where our search for meaning is more legitimate, easier, likelier, just fun. Less hassle and more fun.

My vision, which I think is widely shared, is a world where people wake up with curiosity about what the day holds and sure that their contribution today makes their country great and their community great, their workplaces, schools and colleges thrive, and their families happy and warm places to be.

The execution

And I learned how to execute my mission from Steve Roesler. Steve suggested that employees must start the conversation. I am a work psychologist, so this is important to me.

My specific task in the next year or so is to learn, with other people, how to have these conversations, what it means to have these conversations, what are our choices when we have these conversations, and ultimately of course, what we have learned from these conversations and how they have evolved.

My immediate task, or rule-of-thumb, is to attend to my own conversation with work and people I work with ~”The way we hold the conversation” as David Whyte says.

I am not going to worry about what other people are doing. I am going to ask: does the way I hold my conversation about my work make me happy?

And then I will ask, if changing the way I hold the conversation makes me happy, does the conversation become better, fuller, richer, for other people around me? Do I fullfil my mission of being contagiously happy?

Our uncertainties

Like most people, I don’t say aloud, or post, what is really important to me. I wrote this post a good 18 months ago and I didn’t post it! But it was still in my drafts. Thank goodness for blogging! I wish I had posted it though. This is how far I have come.

I have pursued the vision and mission OK but I didn’t follow through the execution in a focused way. Imagine where I would be now if I had done so? Of course, I can do that now! With a little bit of thought, I can add the steps to be executed to other work that I am doing now!

Elevator speeches in brief!

And there we have it. Elevator speeches have a standard structure. We find out who and what we are in conversations including our work. Some people help us pinpoint what we are doing and where we are going.

We bring in our own story ~ as it is. Often our very disappointments which give us the perspective that others find valuable.

And then we must be bold enough to say what we are doing aloud!

Possibly I should add a step under execution:

Find more places to say my elevator speech aloud so that it gets better and crisper, shorter and more relevant.

I want to bring a light to other people’s eyes.

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5 pretty petals of future work

I can see clearly now

Today, I visited Wirerarchy, Jon Husband’s blog. I was delighted to find the 5 principles of future work in plain language.

I do encourage you to go over and read his version.

To make sure I fully understood what Jon was saying, I rewrote his five points in my own words and compared them to other writings on the future of work.

Yes, Jon’s principles almost perfectly match the work on positive organizational scholarship, poetry and work, Hero’s Journey and positive organizational design.   Jon uses much more accessible language though.

Here is my version. I’ll add links to other versions below. And then I’ll walk the talk and tell you how I used the principles in the most unlikeliest of circumstances!

1 Changing focus

The future of work is not about institutions and organizations.

The future of work is about you and me.

2 Listening to the people who do the work

We don’t want to talk about abstract theories any more.

We want to hear the stories of people. Directly. With no translation.

3 Valuing what we can do for ourselves

We don’t want organizations and institutions to decide things for us.

We ‘ll support changes that allow us to do things for ourselves.

4 Representing ourselves

We won’t listen to so-called experts who secretly represent other people.

We’ll listen to people we know or who our friends recommend.

5 Being active and positive

We aren’t interested in being told to wait.

We will begin with what we do well. Right here. Right now.


How would you phrase these rules-of-thumb?

I would love to hear what you think of these rules-of-thumb and the way I have phrased them.

Links to my previous posts and slideshare

All phrased a lot more esoterically –

Previous posts on future work

The essence of a happy life is a point of view

5 point comparison of the Hero’s Journey, Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Psychology

5 poetic steps for exiting a Catch 22

Lighten your personal burden for navigating 2009

Be still: Kafka and Joseph Campbell

Slideshare on future work

Positive organizational design

Positive organizational scholarship

So how will we get things done in this enchanting, new world?

For three years, I taught Management to a very large class of 800 to 900 students in a lecture theatre with 400 seats. You may remember attending lectures in one of these oversized rooms yourself. Hordes of students come in and sit in rows and struggle to stay awake as the lecturer drones on.

Of course, no lecturer wakes up in the morning intent on being deadly dull. But they do feel constrained. After all, how much can you do with this format and the size of the class?

Well, a surprising amount – if you follow the principles above.

The world through the eyes of the individual

I was teaching Management and Organizations. Students simply aren’t interested in perspective of the organization. But if you can think of how they view the organization from the vantage point of their part-time jobs and where their careers are going, then you have their attention.

Give me the whole story at once – circumstances, goal, steps, feedback loops, quirks and fancies

Students aren’t interested in the rules of organizing. No matter how elegant these rules are or how much work we put into thinking them up and trying them out!. They do like case studies, though, where they could follow a story. Then their active intellects take over. They imagine themselves playing a similar role in similar circumstances and start asking probing questions.

Don’t leave me out of the story – let me try out parts of it

Students don’t like being passive. Taking notes is better than sitting still. Solving puzzles is even better. I used questionnaires a lot in which they could see illustrations of concepts and relate them to themselves. Or I used two sets of power point slides – theirs had blank spaces and mine had the answers. In this way, they could anticipate (not just fill in) what I was going to say.

The way I relate to other people is part of the story – I’ll do this with others

Learning is social and students are influenced more by their peers than by us. They like to see and hear what other students think. There is a surprising amount of feedback from the noise and murmuring in a lecture room which is why so many students come to class in the first place! We also took polls often with a show of hands. It is active in an minor way. More importantly, students could see how much opinions varied. Developing a keen acumen of how much we vary in our preferences will be important to them as organizational leaders and influential citizens.

Harvard has a video of 2009 Reith lecturer, Michael Sandel, using the Socratic method with 800 students in one lecture theatre. Our students would have liked that – as long as we were able to be as courteous as Professor Sandel. Students really don’t like being put in the wrong in front of their friends, particularly in such a large room. (Who does?)

There is no journey unless I can take the first step

The jobs my students imagined after graduation were, to my surprise, not particularly ambitious. Though I didn’t fully approve at the time, now I think they had a well developed sense of starting with the ‘ground beneath their feet’ and growing from there.

These students particularly liked techniques that helped them do their jobs better, right now, or helped them put in words something that had puzzled them for some time.

Am I exaggerating the good points and dismissing the weak points?

You might be thinking that this was a University – we set the curriculum and the exams and the students did not have much control.

It is true that we began each year with a ‘classical’ textbook. But we would take topics that students had responded to well and use those as cornerstones to introduce new topics -or extend the conversation, so to speak. Thus as the year proceeded, a theme would emerge that was distinctive for that class.

One year, for example, the refrain became: “I will be me as I am. Not who you want me to be”.

You might recognize this line as coming from the film about Steve Biko, Cry Freedom.

Organizing for  “Me as I am.  Not who you want me to be.”

The challenge of management, as we put it to that class, is to design organizations where each of us can be “Me as I am. Not who you want me to be.”

What do you think?

Can you imagine organizing along these lines? Would you like to give me a case and see if I can rephrase it using Jon’s five principles?

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A Plan Big Enough To Include Now: We Call It Mindfulness

I am tidying up my blog and I like this post that I wrote in January about Obama’s arrival at the White House.  Obama’s worldwind activity foreshadows how we will all work in future. Fast, decisive and above all, very dependent on our colleagues.

I am an Obama-fan.  You may not be.  But then it is all the more important to study the effectiveness of ‘his machinery’.  Read carefully!

For psychologists, coaches and aspiring leaders, I’d be interested in your comments on the four points of effective living in the networked age the summaries that I added in italics and how life has changed.

I’ve also highlighted in red the work of leading a huge immensely talented team. Since I wrote this in January, I have become convinced that management and leadership will not change much in the networked age.  It will just rest less on command-and-control and more on orientation, synthesis and coordination.  I’d love your thoughts.

Learning from Barack

Day Two, Barack Obama continues with his extraordinary pace.  With Hillary Clinton, on her first day, he appoints experienced Special Envoys to the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan.  His Communications Director gives the first press briefing, and he tours the Press Room personally in a surprise visit.  He signs Executive Orders, closing Guatanamo, and reinforcing the Freedom of Information Act (or US equivalent).

Importantly, he has done all of this in public view.  For many of us, this is a welcome inclusion in the process of government.  For others, this is a useful preview of work, leadership and management in the decades ahead.

Networking our work

We are seeing networked government in action.

Obama’s Blackberry is its symbol.  He uses rapid, brief electronic communication, but his communications are neither thoughtless nor ephemeral.  Indeed, as President, all his communications are recorded.

Everyone in the network was invited in for their experience and professionalism.  They are able to assimilate new information quickly, point out what they don’t know, and act accordingly.  Not everyone is old.  His Director of Speech Writing is 27 and has acquired experience, confidence and judgment through successive elections.

The network moves with dazzling speed.  Though they were able to prepare for these two days, they have been moving office, moving house, and waiting for confirmation of some senior people.

Networking our work

All work is going the same way, and we have questions.

How do young people get experience to join in at this level?  How do we work with a leader whose vision is different to ours?

There seem to be 4 rules to this new way of living and working.

#1  Find our own vision

We have to find our own vision, build our own networks, and develop the mindful working skills to work with very skilled people in networks that are forever reforming and reshaping as they responding to world events.

Even the youngest among us needs to adopt a posture of leadership.  We all need to be bold enough to work out our vision and identify the best people to take us there.

#2  Act

Dreaming is not enough.  We need to reach out and be the bridge between people who are part of our vision.

#3  Be present

Personally and electronically, monitoring and nurturing involvement and direction.

#4  And because we need to be present, we can only pursue “one vision at a time”.

Whatever we pursue should be big enough and important enough for us to spend all our time with it.

Learning from the master

I am glad we can watch the President at work.  He helps me pinpoint 3 challenges to ask myself at any moment.

#1 Those of us who grew up in hierarchical systems at home, school and work, may find it difficult to imagine a system where we are all leaders and that we are actually guiding an entire network at the moment when ‘the ball passes to us’.

At this moment, I am holding the ball.  I am mistress of the universe. Quick!  What is my vision?  What do want for the world and what am I promising to work at with all my heart and all my might?

#2 Before the internet, we were able to compartmentalize our lives, putting on a mask as we went to work, and taking it off again on the way home.  In this interconnected world, like the President in the gold fish bowl of the White House, we need to live as we mean to live, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing.

Is what I am doing ‘so together’ that I am happy for everyone to see it?  If not, why am I wasting time and energy on it?

#3 And hardest of all, the old systems allowed us to ‘sleepwalk’ and blame the inadequacies of our lives on the ‘owners of the vision’.  There was no need to be fully present, and it was probably better not to be.

Networked work requires us to be mindful.  Just as we are part of a large fast moving network, today is part of a seamless stream of yesterday, today and tomorrow, and for today to play its part, we need to revere today and live it fully.

If this place that I have come to is not where I want to be,  what must I attend to fully to take me on my way?

Day Three

So today is Day Three.  The President will have another tight schedule.  He relies on the many competent people he has brought in to play their part without minute direction, but with minute coordination.

His role and contribution is to keep the common vision alive, to acknowledge and value the smallest contributions, and to ensure that the network gets rapid feedback about the way the world receives our actions, so we are able to respond effectively and appropriately in real time.

Our Day Three

Networked times have come and take some readjustment of our thinking.  It is good to watch Obama in a White House that seems to have developed a glass front.

Our role is to start to take part.  And our first step is to work on a personal vision, which is important enough to pursue with all our heart and all our mind, beginning in the situation in which we find ourselves today.

It is a big task.  I am on to it.  Are you?