Snowy boots: A reminder that enjoyment enhances skill

Sunburst in Snowy Mountain ForestA walk in the woods this weekend with my sons, ages 8 and 3, was initiated with the expectation that the snow on the trails would have melted enough for us to walk on the ground or, as this time of year in northern New England typically requires, in the mud. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any mud (nor the associated puddles that are so much fun to stomp in) and, instead, discovered the trails were still covered by a good foot of heavy, compacted snow.

I contemplated turning around, and heading back after a short walk, but the boys were having a blast and convinced me to just keep going.  Falling into the snow up to their knees, at times, didn’t sway them in the least.  You see, for them, the importance was in spending time outside walking with each other.  We worked hard walking on the snow-covered trails, much harder than was needed had we decided to walk on an asphalt trail in a park, but we carried on just to enjoy the day and be near each other.

The situation made me think of some comments left in response to my post on Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telework at Yahoo, a person going by the unfortunate name of “FuggleyBrew” over on reddit.com posted the following:

You don’t need to be passionate for a companies every action in order to be one of its top performers.

They’re a company, they pay you to provide a service for them, you can be dedicated to performing your job well and earning that money but not be devoted to the company.

Yes, and….

While you can do work for money and do a fine job, imagine how much greater of a job you could do for a belief in addition to a paycheck.  As my boys demonstrated, even children will work hard for something they believe is worthwhile.  If you can combine that kind of belief with a skill so well developed people are willing to pay you for it, I can only imagine the degree of success that could be attained.

As business leaders and managers, it is important to bear this in mind, and to set an environment for people that engages their passions, and doesn’t just offers them a paycheck.

In the age of engagement, you can’t thwart ambition

ambition_by_tja88

ambition by tja88

There are more articles, books and posting out there on engagement, creating engagement, the benefits of creating engagement, and so on than I can count.  So, of course, I’m going to write a post about engagement (Once in a while, I do like to suppress my contrarian urges and go along with the crowd).  Instead of yet another voice telling you how to generate engagement, however, here’s a tale of how to make sure it gets utterly destroyed:

A friend recently told me that, at the employer she has been with for years, and after having recently completed a graduate degree that the company funded, during her Annual Review (a practice that, all by itself, tends to smother engagement anyway.  Click here for good reading on the subject) she was penalized….yes, actually penalized, for seeking other opportunities within the company.  “Clearly, you’re not happy here,” she was told.  “Everyone else is doing good work because they are committed to their position.”  and, with that, she received a less-than-stellar review that impacted her income, of course.  During the course of the year other people had transitioned to new roles both into and out of that department, leaving her flabbergasted at the comments in the appraisal.

My poor friend’s predicament left me wondering how, in an era where engagement is so widely and openly discussed, any employer can seek to crush its people’s ambitions?  Clearly, this person was not disloyal – after receiving advanced education she was looking to return that value to the company by applying it internally (something she had limited opportunities to do in her current role).  Nonetheless, she was chastised and punished for trying to bring greater value to the company and create her own sense of engagement by taking on a more challenging position (because, obviously, no one was much interested in creating that sort of engagement for her).

I heard this story right on the heels of a great Fast Company article describing how many employees are now forced into faking enthusiasm.  Clearly, as both the article and my friend’s experience demonstrate, the situation with regard to engagement is getting worse instead of better.   Also, if you want people to be dedicated, celebrate their ambitions.  Chris Seper recently placed a very popular article on LinkedIn speaking to the situation directly: “Why I celebrate when my employees leave”

Here’s a tip for those who are still struggling with the concept:  Engagement….or passion…or loyalty…or whatever word you want …. is not about appearances.   Nor is it something that you should rely on people creating for themselves, because such things are not brought about through the perserverance, discipline and dedication of employees.  Perserverance, discipline and dedication are the results of employee engagement, not the inputs.

“Discipline, effort, patience and courage”

patience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrosepatience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrose

patience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrosepatience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrose

Thanks to StumbleUpon, I came across on article on Psychology Today entitled “What to Tell Kids After Failures and Mistakes.”  The Author, Salmansohn, describes some recent research conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck, who advocates an “Incremental theory” of learning.

Incremental Theorists believe that success is achieved through putting in the necessary hard work. According to Dr. Dweck, a big key to a successful life is to embrace being an “Incremental Theorist” – so when failure or disappointments occur, you are ready to overcome them.

This quote from the article is powerful:

Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values for kids to grow up embracing.

 

They are also hugely important core values for adults to maintain, too.  I think we can easily simplify that message and state that Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a grown up or just look like one, either.

Consider all of the writings on change management, personal improvement, operational excellence, or just about anything else I’ve ever discussed in this blog.  Every school of thought regarding those issues relies on some combination of exactly those same 4 principles:  Discipline, effort, patience and courage.

Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement seems to embrace these concepts most closely.  To successfully launch, you have to have a plan, work your plan, stick to the plan, but be willing to make the courageous decision to pivot when called for.  That dynamic applies to many facets of both work and life far from the startup environment, too.

Since there is always overlap of concepts and even repackaging of old one, I’ll go ahead and assume that the practices advocated by the Incremental Theorists aren’t anything entirely new.  Nonetheless, the depiction of the characteristics necessary to overcome adversity is simple, powerful, and entirely consistent with the best practices for both business and personal development (and isn’t it funny just how much those 2 things go hand in hand?).

I don’t recommend lunch & learns

Lunch_Time_by_X_Night
Lunch_Time_by_X_Night

Lunch Time by X Night

I’ll probably incur the wrath of quite a few consultants and HR organizers out there, but I have to state my case.  I simply hate the practice of “Lunch and Learn” sessions.

My objection is simple:  Lunch time is my time.  When it is lunch time, I like to read, surf the web, play games on my smart phone, take a walk, run an errand, or shoot the bull with my friends.  I even like to eat while doing these things, too.

What I absolutely don’t want to do during lunch is talk about work.  Since I don’t even like to talk about work on what is my time then I definitely don’t want to sit in yet another meeting just for work’s sake during my time.  If the subject is so important, then we can certainly find time during the work day to gather around and discuss it.  Otherwise, it’s just another example of how horribly disorganized things are, not to mention condescending.

No one was able to manage and organize the workday such that these informative, developmental sessions could be held on company time.  That, in itself, is a problem.  Then, to conduct training sessions that, while not mandatory on paper, carry a significant stigma for not attending and require the attendees to bring their own food, even though you’re taking away their personal time – well, that’s just plain rude.

I think we’d all be a lot better off if the practice of lunch and learn’s was done away with, and replaced by the practice of Lunch, then Learn.  Give me my 30 minutes to myself where I can recharge and reflect on the morning’s activities, and I’ll be much more ready, focused and insightful when you want to discuss the topic at hand afterwards.

I’m confident that I’m not alone on this one.

A few comments on the language of texting

cell_waves_by_arcticcathuffy-d4sti5g
cell_waves_by_arcticcathuffy-d4sti5g

cell waves by arcticcathuffy

I stumbled into a short conversation recently on the value of text-speak or, perhaps more accurately, I was told how text-speak was utterly lacking in value and rotting the minds of the teenage population.

Texting is, indeed, an odd form of communication.  You do have to marvel in curiosity at the chronic need for immediate information exchanged, not to mention the superficiality and triviality of the messages being sent.  Nonetheless, I retorted, you do have to appreciate the enormous creativity involved in the phrases that kids are developing, as well as the implementation of problem solving skills in order to fit as much information as possible into as few characters as necessary.  Given my affinity for efficiency, I like the trend.

My counterpart in the discussion sneered and reiterated the belief that people ought to be able to write out, in longhand, clear, precise, detailed descriptions and think in such terms.  After all, that is how people used to be taught and all those people turned out just fine.  My side of the argument was quickly dismissed.

So, to determine if there was any merit to either side of the conversation, I went to the Google and looked to see what the state of the matter was.  I found most of the argument boiled down into this article: FOCROFLOL: Is Texting Damaging Our Language Skills?

The article points to some research that reveals what I consider to be the universally true answer to every question ever asked:

It depends.

You see, the development of the texting language follows many of the patterns linguists expect a language to follow as it matures.  Yes, there is tremendous creativity and innovation in the use of the language and in the adoption of the technology that enables it.  Information moves faster.  People think faster.  The status quo changes faster.  None of these are, necessarily, bad things.  In fact, much of it is indicative of the future and enhancing these skills will make young people more capable and successful in the future.

Then, of course, there is the “Yes, and…” part of the discussion.

Not having the skills to concentrate and absorb information for long periods of time is a problem.  Not being able to structure your thoughts and make cohesive arguments while taking into account multiple points of view is a problem.  Not knowing how to delay a response, contemplate potential reactions, and carefully word your arguments in order to elicit a reaction is a problem.  All of these things are enabled by training a mind through reading and writing lengthy pieces.  Not to mention the tendency to multitask, which is a self-deceiving activity since we all know that multitasking is a myth.

The takeaways from this conversation I had?  For one, not all things are bad.  Most issues are multifaceted and, while you should have a preferred point of view upon which rest your convictions, it’s not acceptable to say that your point of view is the only one.

Secondly, no matter what you might think of them, today’s young will set the tone for the future.  By saying their ways are silly or stupid and that those folks shouldn’t be acting in such-and-such manner, you do very little to stop their progress.  All you really accomplish is to block only yourself from understanding them.  

If history has shown us anything, it’s that the young will eventually come into positions of power and authority and will not revert back to previous generations’ patterns of behavior. And certainly not because those older generations liked it better … way back when.