Category: My Blog Posts

The Future of Work

At one point or another most of us have to work.  Some volunteer their labor but most of us are working for our wages.  I might have blogged about this in the past but when I was in kindergarten I rode the school bus to and from school like most kids.  I remember sitting on the bus one morning going to school thinking “wow, this is incredibly monotonous.”  OK I might not have known the word monotonos at six but I remember thinking another twelve years of school seemed like forever.  I’ve never really liked monotony, I don’t think many people do, but for some reason I seem to be particularly sensitive to it.  Once I have done something, I don’t tend to want to do it too many other times. I seem to be pretty good at looking at patterns and making connections based on what I observe, more so than most I think. Maybe that is why at six I already saw the road ahead of me. My son Tyler is the same way from what I’ve been able to see so far. We were working on a Batman activity book one time which had a bunch of batman characters every few pages and the goal was to spot which picture of six didn’t match the others. He could spot the picture that didn’t match the others incredibly fast. I think it is how we are wired or something, it is odd but cool.

When Routines Are Bad

IMDB summarizes the movie Groundhog Day by stating the main character played by Bill Murray goes through life as a weather man who is “reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting “rat” (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the ‘following’ day he discovers that it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing EVERY day.”

In life a lot of us are living like Bill Murray, we’re living each day like the previous and we’ve become masters of our environments so we can almost predict what will happen before it happens.  This is when life starts getting monotonous, unchallenging, and to some demotivating.

When Routines Are Good

Routine can be a good thing and I think Flannery O’Connor said it best in The Habit of Being, letter to “A” by saing “If you do the same thing every day at the same time for the same length of time, you’ll save yourself from many a sink. Routine is a condition of survival.”  We’ve become adapt at minimizing risk and the unknown to make us more successful, or so it would seem. I have all sorts of habits like putting things in the same place, parking my car in the same place, learning what makes people happy and repeating it, avoiding repeatedly what makes people angry. We all do this, many times without even thinking about it.

The Future


Here is where the topic is going to get even more interesting.  In the future of work I am seeing incredibly efficient processes as compared to what we have today.

 

 

Robots

I’ve become obsessed with robotics recently. Everywhere I look I see human jobs being replaced by robots. I won’t weigh in on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that robots are “taking” human jobs, my only thought on it is “like it or not…it is inevitable…and often times fascinating.” Kiosks, phones, robots, manufacturing, 3D printing, and more are all ways humans are getting squeezed out by more efficient, less costly, and non unionised robotic work forces. Each generation seems to face new innovations and with change comes the need to evolve or get passed over. In the future of work, creative people willing to adjust quickly will rule.

I’ve started noticing people are trying to get creative work over the “grunt work.” Here’s the odd thing though, thanks to all of our more “efficient” processes, the grunt work is going away as well. Work as we know it is quickly changing.  It is at times more difficult to be creative when templates, systems, standards or processes limit creative freedoms.

Globalization

I find the global economy fascinating and I think we are only seeing the beginning of a distributed economy. Technology is changing nearly everything.  In the future, and arguably to some extent today, if you want a job done you can outsource that task to the masses on the Internet. Instead of competing with people in your geographic area for that project, we are now all competing with one another in the future. Reputation and keeping your skills up will be even more critical than they are today.

Your Turn

What do you think?  How will we be working, or not working in the future?  Let me know in the comments.

What Ceramics Class Taught Me About Life

A Geek in Ceramics Class

When I was in High School I took two semesters of ceramics.  Yeah you read that correctly, ceramics!  I actually really enjoyed it.  I made figurines, pots, mugs, faces, and monsters.  I made some great stuff that probably got thrown away before it ever made it home.  One of my best friends was in the class which made it all the more fun.  The pottery teacher was an artsy type (go figure) and used to talk about the old house she was fixing up as we sculpted our bowls.  She got to wear the best outfit of all the teachers, a t-shirt, and jeans and because she basically got paid to teach us to mold mud, her clothes were almost always dirty.  This story will pick up, I promise.

One morning the teacher walked into the class a little late while we all sat on our stools perfecting our muddy creations remarking “weren’t the trees simply amazing this morning?”  Now I don’t know if there was a little extra something in her coffee mug to make her extra inquisitive but the statement was so odd to a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds that it made most of us all stop what we were doing and look at her to see what she would say next.  She then quickly went on to list a few other things she had seen on her drive to school.  “I mean wow…not just the trees, but the birds, the clouds, the sun, the sky” she remarked.  I think one of the students made a smart remark back to her like “uhhh nooooo I didn’t see the stupid trees today.”  She seemed perturbed by our lack of interest.  She went on to further explain herself: “you guys have lived almost a quarter of a century and you don’t notice the things that matter…the beautiful things…the things all around us that go by quickly and if you don’t stop and pay attention to them you won’t ever notice them” she said.  For some reason unlike most of the other students what she was saying made perfect sense to me.  It was a great two minute rant from a teacher.  It wasn’t great because it was an abstract concept I hadn’t thought about, but because I hadn’t really thought about slowing down and enjoying my surroundings until that point.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone stops and “smells the roses” every now and then but I took her rant a step further.  Almost literally from that moment on I didn’t take too many things for granted which sounds silly but it is true.  You know that scene in Office Space where Peter is hypnotized and is in a state of complete relaxation?  It was almost like that.  I started to see life differently.

Why Enjoying Life Matters

If enjoying life isn’t important, I have to ask…what is the point of life?  No really…what is the point of life if you don’t enjoy it?  Everyone has bad days, weeks, months.  Heck, I’ve even had a few bad years, but at the end of it all I have really enjoyed life.  I don’t know what the road ahead has in store for me, but I’m finding the older I get the less focused I am on the destination and the more focused I am on the journey.  There are lots of people who have mid-life crises where they suddenly realize they are halfway through life and they haven’t really gotten out of life what they anticipated.  There are probably even more who on their death beds that have regrets.  They haven’t lived the life they wanted to live.  Even worse, there are some who spend their entire lives living someone else’s life, or a life they didn’t enjoy.  The biggest regret I think I would have in life is regretting to live life to its fullest.

I have written about it in the past but I see loads of zombies.  I see people who live their lives with their heads down.  They don’t notice the sky, the birds, the clouds, or the trees.  They don’t notice the things that matter.  I read this poem a few years ago and kept it around because it said things that made a lot of sense to me.

“Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round?  Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?  Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?  Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?  You better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last.  Do you run through each day on the fly?  When you ask: “how are you?” do you hear the reply?  When the day is done, do you lie in your bed with the next hundred chores running through your head?  You’d better slow down.  Don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last. Ever told your child, we’ll do it tomorrow?  And in your haste not see his sorrow?  Ever lost touch, let a good friendship die cause you never had time to call and say “hi”?  You’d better slow down, don’t dance so fast.  Time is short.  The music won’t last.  When you run so fast to get somewhere you miss half the fun of getting there.  When you worry and hurry through your day, it is like an unopened gift thrown away.  Life is not a race.  Do take it slower.  Hear the music before the song is over.” – Chain email

10 Things Ceramics Class Taught Me About Life

  1. As my High School teacher recommended, you can enjoy your surroundings while driving into school, but you can’t take your eyes off the road for long before you crash and lose track of where you are going.
  2. You can learn something from any situation you choose, or life chooses for you.  I took ceramics thinking I would create some pots and other useless things…OK I did…but I took away a really important life lesson.  My ceramics teacher probably has no idea the impact she had from a rant she made one day in class.
  3. Making things in life, like ceramics, are better when done with friends.
  4. You can have lots of ideas but few people will buy your art until it is fully baked from the kiln.
  5. That scene in Ghost where you are Patrick Swayze who comes back from the dead to meet a young Demi Moore at a pottery wheel.  Yeah no…that won’t happen to you…no…it won’t…ever.  Sorry.  The good news is a true love will love you when you are there and when you aren’t…like in Ghost.  True loves love forever.
  6. Step outside of your comfort zone every now and then.  I’m not usually the artsy type but when I give new things a chance I usually tend to enjoy it.
  7. Some of the best things in life take time.  Slow down and don’t be afraid to create something slowly.  Everyone knows the saying that good things come to those who wait.  Often it is true.
  8. My teacher was crazy and probably did have something in her coffee, but man was she cool.
  9. You can make whatever you want in life.
  10. Look around you.  Enjoy life.  Enjoy every bit of it.  Wake up!  Don’t be a zombie.  Do what you want.  If life isn’t giving you what you want…go get it.

Collaborating Without Trespassing

Photo Credit: http://bestlawn.info/organic/does-organic-really-work-t4659.html

From the time I was capable of pushing a lawn mower, I was mowing my parent’s lawn. At first I would mow a strip of grass and my dad would critique how straight I stayed with the previous row until I eventually got enough experience and strength to mow the entire lawn. When we moved to Maryland we had a front yard with a fair amount of grass that we shared with our neighbor in the front yard. At first we mowed our own lawn from the property marker near the sidewalk to the fence which separated our front and backyard. My parent’s yard was sometimes longer, and more healthy than our neighbor’s property. In other instances throughout the year our yard was also shorter and less healthy than our neighbor’s. With inconsistent approaches for caring for our lawns, we had very different results depending for the amount of care we each put into it. One day our neighbor asked us if we would be willing to take turns cutting and caring for each other’s lawns each week. This allowed us on some weeks to only cut the grass in the backyard, as well as have a nice consistent look across both of our front yards. Our neighbor edged his lawn so he edged ours, he knew more about fertilizing, he aerated, and other lawn care best practices we previously hadn’t done or been knowledgeable of. Our lawns never looked so nice and the consistent look and feel across both yards really helped make the neighborhood shine.

When I entered the business world I quickly realized that it wasn’t just property owners who tended to primarily look out for their own areas. In business each “silo”, or business unit tended to think about their needs first, and rarely did they want to willingly collaborate with others. The result of silo’d business processes led to times where I learned we were working on something another team had already been working on, was about to work on, or even a few times when another team had already done what we were doing. I learned about “turf wars” where people didn’t allow others to encroach onto their areas of responsibility within the business. Silo’d businesses aren’t fun to work for because they are highly competitive instead of collaborative, and it seems everyone is in it for themselves. I don’t want to spend too much time writing about the problem, or the impact of silo’d thinking because most of us have lived or worked in a silo’d and uncollaborative environment.  Think about your religious institution, business, education, or even personal lives.  If you have ever tried to do something big, you’ve likely stepped on someone’s toes.  I want to spend the rest of the time writing about how to change or create a more collaborative work environment if you are at a company with a silo’d approach to business.

Recommendation #1: Set Boundaries
Make sure you have property markers in your business. You wouldn’t buy a home or property unless you know what you own versus what your neighbor owns. If people don’t know what areas they are responsible for, they will encroach all over everyone’s areas of responsibility which will cause massive amounts of conflict.

Recommendation #2: Communicate Boundaries
Once you have property markers, share them in a very public and accessible location so team members can never say “I didn’t know they were responsible for that”.  There is an old adage which says it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.  The adage is true, but what it fails to advise is the end result.  You may get what you are looking to accomplish done, but if the impact is so great that others stop trusting you, the only strategy you have left is to continue the same adage.

Recommendation #3: Clarify Boundaries When Appropriate
Once you set the expectation for who is responsible for what area(s), create processes to get clarification if something isn’t clear. Many times there are “gray areas” in areas of responsibility which also leads to conflict. Responsibilities cannot always, nor should they always be “black and white” but if you have turf wars because your employees claim a responsibility wasn’t clear, look to clarify and define responsibilities when it makes sense. Don’t let fuzzy areas and confusion last too long within your organization.

Recommendation #4: Communicate Intent
If you intend to encroach on someone else’s turf, inform the property owner. You wouldn’t go into someone else’s house without knocking. Don’t encroach on someone else’s area of responsibility without asking if they can accomplish what you need first in a timely manner. The business process owner also will need to be able to meet your requirement, unless it conflicts with a larger strategy.

Recommendation #5: Respect expertise
I’ve visited several large companies and one thing that always intrigues me is corporate cultures. I admittedly don’t know much about Cisco other than a few visits I’ve made but have to say they have really impressed me each time I’ve been there. Working at Cisco, and attending an “Executive briefing” are likely two separate experiences, but each time I am there I tell others the same thing: they respect one another. I’ve been in all day and half-day sessions where different groups from within their organization come in to present. Each department is highly respectful of one another’s area of expertise. It is refreshing and something most companies lack based on what I’ve seen.

Recommendation #6: Reward, hire, promote, and fire based (in part with) on how collaborative team members are
If you set boundaries but promote, reward, and hire employees who encroach onto other employee’s areas of responsibility in a hostle way, it encourages others to do the same within the team. I know of several instances where leaders within companies “steamroll” other departments in order to quickly accomplish what they are looking to do. Always try to avoid doing this, and more importantly, never encourage that type of behavior. Steamrolling others is a way to get something done quickly but when you need those who you “ran over” in the future, how willing do you think they will be to trust, and collaborate with you?

What are some areas of opportunity in your business for better collaboration?  What recommendations do you have?

Fight Back!

I’ve given some career advice in the past, and love talking to others about tips we each have for getting work done at work.  Having problems working at work, or getting work done might sound like an odd problem to talk about, but you would be surprised how difficult it can be sometimes. At any company large or small you are going to encounter “red tape”.  People will want to put their stake in the ground and fight for their turf (right or wrong), or fight for change not to happen, even if the change makes total sense for the company (many only think about themselves or their respective area).  Advice I often find useful is to fight back in the face of adversity.  So many people give up when they face adversity and being the reality TV lover that I am, I’m always looking to learn from what most see as mindless (OK some of it is) TV.

One of the reality TV shows I never miss is Hell’s Kitchen.  Many don’t watch the show and often cite the fact that they don’t like how Chef Ramsay yells at the contestants.  I don’t necessarily like it either, I think some of it is for TV, but one thing I have noticed is there seems to be a method to his madness.  He will yell at the contestants calling them words like “wankers, donkeys” and other belittling terms.  I find some of what he says hilarious but yes mean and absolutely disrespectful. If you model that type of behavior you won’t stay employed and you certainly won’t get respect.  Unstable leaders results in unstable teams.  Stressed leaders result in stressed teams.  I could go on but very frequently a team will model the behavior of its leadership.  One thing I have noticed is Chef Ramsay scolds someone and then he carefully watches their reactions.  Some cry, some give up, and every now and then someone will fight back.  I’ve noticed he doesn’t like those that fight back with disrespect, little do, but when contestants fight back with resilience, time and time again he will accept failure if it means he is able to keep someone who wants to continue in the competition.  Then there are times when there is someone who fights back with no respect and as you can see in the video below, that didn’t go well for him, and it will never go well for you.

Similarly in business I’ve noticed people will give up when they are reprimanded and choose a different career, quit the company, and in even some cases, stop believing in themselves entirely.  Never stop believing in yourself and always fight back in the face of adversity.  How you choose to fight back is going to be different for everyone but if you truly believe in yourself and what you believe in, one would hope it is worth fighting for.  Fight back but always fight fair, even when others aren’t.

Indie Game The Movie

Growing up I didn’t get a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) until I was in Middle School, and when I did I was instantly addicted.  I remember having to wear bandages on my thumbs because I played it so much.  Mario, Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Contra, Tetris and a few others were my favorites.  I have many passions and the tough part about being a passionate person is you can’t pursue every passion.  When I was little like most boys I saw a garbage truck, I was amazed by it, and I think being a garbage man was the first profession I remember wanting to pursue.  For a while I fell in love with planes and wanted to be a pilot until I came to the stupidly obvious realization that if I didn’t like roller coasters, I probably wouldn’t like flying a plane.  After being in a small plane a few weeks ago I think being in control of something and being out of control are two different things, but being afraid of being out of control directed me away from pursuing becoming a pilot.  I love ice cream and when I was in college I started out as a Small Business Major because I wanted to create my own ice cream business.  My senior year of High School I fell madly in love with computers but I fall madly in love with all my passions.  Upon graduating my parents bought me a computer and from that point on I consumed every computer book imaginable.  After a few years of pursuing a small business management degree I realized my love for computers was even more strong than that of ice cream, which is really saying something, so I changed to computer science.  I started going down a path of trying to become a video game developer but life ended up taking me in another direction.  Not a bad direction, it has been a very good direction, but that is the thing about life, it has many directions.

So with all that said when I saw the Indie Game Movie trailer back in July, I couldn’t wait to see the full movie.  On June 12 the movie was released and I bought it that same day.  If you are a geek, you like video games, and you want to see a beautiful documentary, you must see the film.  Head over to http://buy.indiegamethemovie.com/ and download your DRM free version (1080p, 720p, clean version, team meat commentary version) or you can stream it directly from the site for $9.99.  The trailer was great so I had high expectations for the film, but I have to say it really exceeded my expectations.  There is definitely some strong language in the film so if that bothers you I would recommend you watch the clean version.  I talk about passion a lot and the people making these indie games put so much time and effort into them that it really impressed me.  You get to see their trials and tribulations, as well as their wins.  It is a beautiful movie and I hope you get the chance to see it.  Let me know what you think if you do get the chance to watch it in the comments.