Happiness At Work #107 ~ leadership lessons for us all

How can we all draw from some of the latest (and some of the oldest) leadership thinking to increase our own happiness and success at work, and the happiness and success of the people we work with, whether or not we have formal leadership written into our job descriptions?

This week’s post draws from and deliberately considers some of the latest and most influential ideas about leadership alongside our thinking about happiness at work.

And, because we know that our happiness is hugely affected by our own thinking and behaviour, we take this same principle through into accepting the contemporary challenge for us all to be able to bring leadership capabilities and intelligence to our work now, whether or not our job title explicitly recognises this to be part of our role.

All of these articles are collected with many others in this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #107.

 

Organisational Change Can Start Wherever You Are

By Jesse Lyn Stoner

Do you wish senior leaders would make some changes in your organization?

Instead of waiting and wishing for someone from above to provide leadership, you can make a significant impact no matter what your role is.

“Most people think of leadership as a position and therefore don’t see themselves as leaders.” (Steven Covey)

The assumption that organizational change has to start at the top is wrong.

Peter Senge says to “give up traditional notions that visions are always announced from ‘on high’ or come from an organization’s institutionalized planning process.

Michael Beer of Harvard Business School agrees. “Managers don’t have to wait for senior management to start a process of organizational revitalization.”

You might be wondering, “How can I change my organization when my boss and senior managers can’t?” The truth is, you have more power and influence than you might think.

Make your own world better.

The place to start is in your own backyard. What is your sphere of influence? Consider not only your position, but your sources of influence.

You have the greatest opportunity to provide leadership with your own team. Focus your leadership efforts on:

  1. Helping your team identify a clear purpose and the practices to achieve it.
  2. Providing access to resources, removing roadblocks, representing your team in the larger organization and protecting them from demands from on-high that will derail them.

Don’t try to do it alone.

If you just announce the changes you think need to be made, chances are they won’t be implemented well. Provide leadership by focusing your team’s attention on the right questions and involving them in finding the answers.

As a team, discuss these questions:

1. What is our purpose? What is the value of the service we provide?

2. What would we look like if we were magnificent at fulfilling our purpose? What would we accomplish? What results would we see?

3. What could our relationships look like? -with each other on the team and with other departments?

4. How would we be working together? What would be happening and not be happening?

Once you are in agreement on the vision, you can begin to look at changes you need to make that will help you get there. Start with changes that are within your control as a team – internal communications, coordinating efforts, decision-making. Consider creating a Team Charter.

The Ripple Effect

As your team changes and begins to thrive in new ways, others will notice, and like the ripple effect, it just might begin to spread to other areas of the organization.

Link to the original article

 

 

How to Grow Your Emotional Intelligence

 

How to Influence Your Manager: Passive Versus Proactive Followership

from the book, Followership: What Is It and Why Do People Follow? by Laurent M. Lapierre and Melissa K. Carsten

…Followers are essential to any organization. Without followers there are no leaders and without proactively engaged followers there is little room for company growth. Proactive followers are not ‘yes people’. They support their leaders by questioning their assumptions and offering competing views on how to overcome important challenges. In the current climate, a lack of proactive followership may lead to company-wide failure. There is however, a fine line between constructive and destructive behavior.

Excluding situations where a boss continues to make decisions to the detriment of the organization and its people, it’s important to balance the line between a passive and proactive follower.  A passive follower is one which is strictly obedient and refrains from questioning their leader’s decisions or ideas even if they disagree. Conversely, a proactive follower is one that contributes to decisions which affect the group and displays independent thinking. As such, this style of followership is more of a partnership.

So, if you are given the opportunity to actively influence your leader, how do you do so constructively?

Offer Your Expertise, Not Your Inexperience

Evaluate the worth of your advice before you give it– where does this come from? Can you support your advice with experience? Have you thought about the potential implications? By holding back on weakly grounded ideas, or by exaggerating their worth, you could be hindering the decision process. Play devil’s advocate. Ask yourself whether the information is significant to the manager’s decision, and whether the decision is based on solid evidence or facts. If not then it may be advisable to keep quiet and let another colleague have the opportunity to voice their experience in this situation.

A proactive follower is one that contributes to decisions which affect the group and displays independent thinking. As such, this style of followership is more of a partnership.

 Be a Trusted Contributor

Regardless of whether you are largely a passive or proactive follower, if there is no trust you cannot influence, and it is a key factor on the leader / follower partnership. A passive follower has to be trusted to do their job to the best of their ability and a proactive follower needs to give trustworthy advice.

If a proactive follower gives their advice in a manager relationship where there is no trust, the leader may see the guidance and involvement in decisions as a threat to their position. In this occasion it may be wiser to display passive behaviour. The more that the subordinate shows that they have earned the manager’s trust; it is more likely that the proactive followership will be well received.

Be Aware of your Manager’s Stress Levels

We have all been there, when a sudden deadline means you have to react swiftly. During these times your manager will be have a limited time to make a decision. Decision making delays such as challenging assumptions or even their logic can lengthen the process and this delay could actually be costlier than accepting the leader’s decision. Displaying proactive followership should only be done if the opinion or challenge will significantly improve the final decision. Otherwise the advice will be treated with contempt or manifest itself into distrust.

Link to read the original Switch & Shift article

 

A Googler’s Critique of Google Performance Reviews

This post was written anonymously by a current Google and former Microsoft employee.  It details the author’s perspective on her first-hand experience with Google’s performance review system.

“Confidence… thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.”  –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Institutions are built on the trust and credibility of their members. This maxim holds true for employees and their employers just the same as it does for citizens and their government. Whereas the electoral process in modern democracies allows you and me to rate our government’s performance, performance rating systems make employees the subject of evaluation. In both cases, however, faith in the integrity of the process is the only thing that ensures order.

Managing a performance rating system that motivates, rewards, and retains talented employees across an organization tens of thousands large is a grueling, never-ending challenge. How does an organization balance values core to its DNA and its continued success — merit, openness, innovation, and loyalty — all while maintaining perceptions of fairness?

As someone who has lived through cycles of the ever-evolving performance evaluation and rating mechanisms at tech giants Microsoft and Google, a few observations emerge:

Forced curves undermine the spirit of collaboration and foster a mindset of hoarding pie instead of expanding it

There are particular specialized organizations that benefit from having a defined numerical goal. For example, a quarterly sales quota is a very clear measuring stick, as are portfolio returns, bugs resolved, or customers satisfied. But absent specific, level measures of productive output, large firms face the uphill battle of linking performance to rewards.

When you force fit a curve to the array of employee responsibilities, which vary in scope and complexity, it becomes virtually impossible for one lowly employee to pinpoint what distinguishes “good” from “poor” or “great”.

I’ve found myself asking, “Did I score well because I put in the hours or because I got an easy draw?” Or, “Is managing a profitable line of business more merit worthy than building a floor for a failing business?”

In my experience, people managers suffer through this ambiguity just the same. Despite the wealth of data they have about their direct reports, they’re unable to articulate the rationale (or broader context within the cohort) underlying the numerical scores they assign. And in the absence of transparency or an understanding of how individual contributions compare to team success, self-preservation rules supreme.

And even with the recent moves away from strict numerical curves, there remains a finite pool of awards to be distributed, which doesn’t reflect the mentality they’re trying to foster.

Celebrating performance through evaluation cycles (quarterly, semiannually, annually) creates a sense that every day work does not matter

The climb toward credible ratings grows steeper when you divorce an accomplishment from recognition with an annual or semiannual review. The emotional impact of a successful presentation or a new policy is nowhere to be found in a set of six month old notes. Worse still, seeing changes to compensation or a performance rating system in response to months old polling data address past concerns (and possibly the concerns of past employees).

Even data-rich, data-loving companies shy away from being transparent about how they arrive at individual ratings which produces a perception of arbitrary assessment and a false notion of precision

How do employees adapt and improve if they aren’t working at the trading desk or privy to examples of exceptional performance? They turn to Glassdoor, HR brochures, or worse of all, personal anecdotes to bolster their own assessment of whether they are receiving a “fair” deal. Unfortunately, not one of these third party sources has the nuanced understanding of an employee or his/her team necessary to provide context. What’s often left is a broken, trust-less relationship.

Performance rating systems are reactive and intended to buoy the ship against alarming trends in survey data and rates of attrition; improvements and tweaks are subject to lengthy implementation cycles

Employers seek to improve their performance rating systems and do so by soliciting regular feedback from their employees. The intention is that a system designed in collaboration will better serve all and engage employees. Where these good intentions run awry is at the implementation stage — it takes at least one quarter for to synthesize feedback and evaluation potential changes. The feedback loops for employee performance as well as the performance review system are out of sync with actual job performance and employee sentiment.

How to Do Better

So what can these firms do to win the war for credibility? Be transparent. Throw open the doors and share the notes. Make measurement and compensation public. Have peers drive the rating process. The power of transparency is well understood. There are already measures in place to build engagement among employees and alignment within teams:

• Empowering employees to reward one another

• Have everyone share in company profits (e.g. stock awards or profit sharing)

• Create awards for exceptional team performance (e.g. working across divisions or elevating the division through combined efforts)

• Pool risk vertically (e.g tying manager performance to team performance)

Increased context and knowledge builds comfort and trust for employees and managers alike. When employees know how they’re measured, there’s less room for suspicion. And when they know can connect the dots between individual performance and team success, there’s greater job satisfaction.

Ultimately, the goal of a performance rating system is to reward and retain capable employees by keeping them happy and feeling like they have a fair deal.

Transparency goes a far way toward lending credibility to the process and building commitment to the company, but it isn’t a silver bullet. Giving employees greater flexibility in what they take on and the efforts they lead also builds a sense of ownership and commitment. Opportunities such as 20% projects (wherein employees spends 20% of their time working on something about which they’re passionate) or cross organizational initiatives (e.g. building a volunteering program) are excellent examples of empowering employees through choice. But there’s room for this notion of self direction to go even further — a completely open allocation (e.g. 100% self directed time) or letting employees choose their manager are two programs I would certainly sign up for.

What it boils down to is that employees want to know how they are being evaluated and want to know that they’re making conscious choices. Because while you vote with a punch card at the election booth, in the workplace you vote with your feet.

Link to read the original article in full

 

Ditch the Fear, Leaders Need to Create a Culture of Fun

from 360degree feedback: A Leadership Blog

Many people agree: a workplace culture of fear limits employee engagement, productivity, and retention—and by turns, the bottom line. But often, leaders aren’t cognizant that they’ve created that environment. However, Gallup surmises that lost productivity due to lack of employee engagement costs U.S. companies $300 billion annually. Other studies show that happier—and therefore more engaged—employees are more likely to be more “creative, productive, and committed.” In other words, good leadership doesn’t have to be with an iron fist—in fact, more often, it shouldn’t include iron or fists at all.

One way for leaders to ensure that they aren’t creating a culture of fear is to consciously do the exact opposite—create a culture of happiness and fun. Which can be daunting; after all, to some leaders, “fun” might seem frivolous, and other leaders might see “happiness” as the employee’s responsibility. However, just a few changes to the environment can make all the difference to an employee’s productivity.

To start, you can try something small, like improving consistency, timing, and relevancy of your performance feedback. It’s hard to capture everything an employee has done over a year in just one annual review; sending an email, writing a quick note of thanks, or even just a little face-to-face recognition once or twice a week can help your employee feel valued and therefore happier. To get into the habit, try choosing one day each week (Feedback Friday, perhaps) when you’ll focus on something each of your employees has accomplished in the previous week.

Once you’ve mastered regular, timely feedback, try creating a culture of celebration—the wins, the triumphs, the key learnings your team experienced are all worth public note. Gather your group together (whether for a quick conference-room meeting or even an after-work happy hour) and let everyone know what their teammates have been up to. You’ll show your employees their worth, and you could be starting to create a stronger, more supportive and reciprocal team atmosphere.

To continue creating a fun workplace, allow your staff to actually have fun. Let them bring their personalities into the office. It doesn’t have to be extensive, and you can certainly set limits, but remember that employees often like to feel comfortable in their work-spaces, and that can start with a little decoration. You can lead the parade in your own work-space, by adding hints or bursts of decoration, and you can even go a step further by adding a level of relaxed enjoyment through daily banter. Once your employees see you acting that way, they’ll likely follow suit.

Link to read the original article

 

4 Surefire Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Organisation

By ,

Here are 4 Surefire Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Organization

  1. Pet Projects. Institute time and resources for employees to fund and work on pet projects. This is time spent away from teams and leadership who can stifle creativity simply because of their natural influence on the employee. A simple remark from a manager can redirect an employee’s focus, and potentially move them away from creative solutions. This doesn’t have to be uncontrolled free time; you can develop timelines and budgets to ensure productivity and output expectations are in place.
  2. Coach. Some organizations, such as Chipotle, have begun rewarding staff based on their ability to produce and promote successful team members, rather than their skill at boosting the bottom line. Managers manage, leaders lead — but coaches develop their employees, identify their strengths, and push them away from failure and towards success.
  3. Upend Reviews. The typical review process ensures that an employee’s goals align with the organization and provides the employee with constructive criticism on how they can improve their performance. It could be argued that an employee’s performance isn’t the responsibility of the employee, but instead, of the leaders they work under. Upend your reviews, and have your employees review the leadership of the company to garner feedback on what type of environment they require to increase creativity. Then, make the necessary changes.
  4. Reward Risk. Many of the most monumental failures both educate and drive change in an organization. You don’t want to risk your company, but it’s time to eliminate the “Employee of the Month” politics and, instead, develop a program where creativity and risk are rewarded. Don’t single out one employee — identify a positive result attained from each employee, and recognize them for their creativity. Then, sit back and watch the inspiration and genius blossom!

We Are in the Age of Creativity

In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin says it best:

“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed. Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can. The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job. Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people. I call the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin. The job is not the work.”

If we’re to overcome the stagnation we’ve institutionalized within our national education and management systems, it’s going to require dramatic change. I hope each of us will embrace the change needed to foster creativity within our organizations.

Link to read the original article in full

 

7 Secrets Of Happy Small Business Owners

by 

Here are the top 7 secrets of happiness from everyday small business owners that we can all learn from…

1) Associate with a Good Cause

When things get hectic or frustrating around the office, it will help your mental state to remember you are also working to make the world a better place. To feel the most fulfillment, do more than just donate money. Participate in charitable events, lunches or meetings. You’ll meet great people, become more connected to the cause, and experience increased levels of happiness. The human brain releases a pleasure inducing chemical after altruistic actions — it’s that simple!

2) Work & Life Balance

However much you may love your job or business, it can’t truly replace the psychological fulfillment of family, friends or fun! It may sound cliche, but having a work and life balance will make you a happier worker. The happiest small business owners make ample time for family and entertainment, even if it’s just on the weekend. Not only will your family dynamic be improved by your presence, spending time with family is proven to lower stress levels and increase one’s overall happiness. The trick to making quality family and friend time work, however, is to avoid talking about your job or business! For those without families, you can experience the same effects from pursuing a hobby that interests you, even if it’s as simple as reading a book!

3) Disconnect & Recharge

Similar to maintaining a healthy work-life balance, small business owners who describe themselves as “happy” agree that taking time to disconnect and recharge every day greatly contributes to their sense of well being. You should take a midday break, and disconnect in the evenings. Walking around (hopefully outside) at lunch actually helps get your creative juices flowing. Once you get home, giving yourself a break from emails and app alerts in the evenings will lower your stress levels and improve the quality of your sleep. After all, you’re the brains behind your small business operation, don’t you want to give the ole’ cerebrum a chance to rest?

4) Get to Know Your Team

Water cooler chit chat may seem like an unproductive use of time, but getting to know your employees well will dramatically increase the quality of your work life. Not only will you be able to decipher who your most trusted and valuable assets are, but when you have a good relationship with your employees, you’ll find that you derive pleasure and happiness from their individual successes right along with them.

5) Be Your Own Biggest Fan

There’s no way around it: words of encouragement make you feel better. While it’s important to remain grounded in reality, don’t hesitate to give yourself a pat on the back when you deserve one. Being cheered on makes you feel great, but there might not be someone around to give you kudos for many of your accomplishments. It may seem a bit silly at first, but trust us, you’ll experience the positive mental boost even if you’re congratulating yourself.

6) Open Communication

Don’t let frustrations or innovative ideas build up — that sort of stress can take years off your life and dramatically impact your day-to-day happiness. Instead, develop workplace strategies to clear the air, and open up the communication channels amongst your team. Small business owners rate “good intra-team communication” as one of the key factors to an improved quality of work life. So long as you’re respectful and constructive, there is no reason to keep your thoughts and feelings hidden. Try holding weekly retrospective meetings, or giving the Kaizen philosophy a try! It’s a great idea to not only express your constructive criticisms, but also your hopes and dreams for the company. Being heard and understood simply feels great!

7) Focus on Accomplishing Small Tasks

It can feel daunting and overwhelming to work for months on end to accomplish a major business goal. Instead, visualize longer-term objectives as a series of individual tasks that you must accomplish. This way, you’ll get to enjoy the encouraging sense of achievement more often. Accomplishing tasks (and then giving yourself kudos for it!) more frequently will help you stay motivated and increase your overall feeling of job satisfaction.

Link to the original article

 

Marcus Aurelius: Debts and Lessons

Aurelius, the ruler of the Roman Empire for almost two decades, was also the author of the immortal Meditations

“The questions that Meditations tries to answer are metaphysical and ethical ones,” Hays writes. These are timeless questions that we are still asking. Why are we here? How can I cope with the stresses and pressures of daily life? How can I do what is right? How can I cope with loss and pain? How can I handle misfortune? How do we live when we know that one day we won’t?…

From his adopted father, Aurelius learned:

Compassion. Unwavering adherence to decisions, once he’d reached them. Indifference to superficial honors. Hard work. Persistence. Listening to anyone who could contribute to the public good. His dogged determination to treat people as they deserved. A sense of when to push and when to back off. … His searching questions at meetings. A kind of single-mindedness, almost, never content with first impressions, or breaking off the discussion prematurely. His consistency to friends-never getting fed up with them or playing favorites. Self-reliance, always. And cheerfulness. And his advanced planning (well in advance) and his discreet attention to even minor things. His restrictions on acclamations-and all attempts to flatter him. … His stewardship of the treasury. His willingness to take responsibility—and blame—for both. … And his attitude to men: no demagoguery, no currying favor, no pandering. Always sober, always steady, and never vulgar or a prey to fads.

Link to read the original article in full

Businesswoman

working woman

 

High performance leadership: You can’t lead when you’re running on empty

by 

Here are some words for the wise on high performance leadership:

1. Take care of yourself

If you aren’t displaying high performance leadership, it affects your clients, your employees and your family. Are you working out? Do you get enough sleep? How’s your nutrition? What changes do you have to make to be able to stay in top form not just today — but for the long-haul?

2. Keep short accounts

When issues come up between people it takes time and energy to resolve them. That’s time and energy that you could be using to get work done! Most days it feels so much more rewarding to get that work done than to have some dramatic conversation resolving things with a co-worker. But over the long-haul those unresolved conversations become like weights dragging down the performance of your whole team. Take a minute to apologize when you blow up, or resolve issues when you become aware of them. Not only will you be free from that weight, but dealing with those issues in the moment will mean more productivity in the long run.

3. Be brave…

Your team is there to support you. If you have the right team they wantyou to succeed. So let them know what you need from them. Be clear.

You need things from them. Be clear, and ask for what you need.

4. …and kind.

Catch some people doing something good — let them know how much you appreciate their support. When we are paying their salaries it can be easy to think, “Why do I have to thank them, I’m paying them!” Even when you are being paid, it feels good to be thanked, to have your efforts recognized. And, for some people, that “thank you” means more than the paycheck.

Link to the original article

 

Remembering Warren Bennis

by Art Kleiner, editor-in-chief of strategy+business

Warren Gamaliel Bennis passed away on July 31. For those of us who personally knew this influential writer and commentator on leadership and organizations, one of his most notable attributes was his understanding of the paradox of human nature: our ability to simultaneously drag ourselves down and rise to great heights. His famous aphorism—that while managers know how to do things right, leaders know how to do the right thing —is one of his many legacies; it’s a guiding principle for anyone with influence. Risk-averse decision makers, Warren said, don’t become effective leaders, because excessive caution keeps them from doing anything important.

While managers know how to do things right, leaders know how to do the right thing.

Of course, doing the right thing is far harder than many leaders want to admit. Warren set impossibly high standards for himself, but he also forgave himself (and everyone else) full-heartedly for not meeting them. This forgiveness was one reason, I think, so many people were drawn to him. He never let us forget our potential, or feel limited by our failure to realize it.

He was a living symbol of pragmatic humanism: the ability of people to make a better world by mustering the efforts of our imperfect selves toward perfect ends. And he was an uncommonly prescient observer of the political and social milieu of his time. He foresaw the collapse of Russian communism (in the 1960s), the dangers of total transparency (people need a little secrecy to collaborate across boundaries), and the cultural colloquy between young and old (articulated in his terrific book Geeks and Geezers, coauthored with Robert J. Thomas and published in 2002, when Warren was 77 years old.)

Warren’s personality, which was visible in everything he did, was one of erudite conviviality and perceptive generosity. He was an incorrigible, but discreet gossip—interested not in spreading the worst about other people, but in sharing insights about their essential selves.

…another classic Bennis idea, “the unconscious conspiracy,” which proposed that, unless leaders are careful and skilled, the realities of everyday life will always combine to drag them away from their true purpose.

Link to read the original article

 

The Four Leadership Lessons Millennials Really Need

by Steve Denning, who writes about leadership issues from a Millennial perspective.

1. There is no Eureka moment

Everyone tells you to “follow your dream.” But few of us in our twenties actually know what that is. At this point in our lives, we’re still exploring. In her bookThe Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter, psychologist Meg Jay describes the twenties as a “developmental sweet spot that comes only once.”

What people don’t tell you is that your calling develops over time. It doesn’t come to you in an epiphany. In How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krsnaric writes: “I regularly hear people lament that they are ‘still searching for their vocation’ or envying others who have ‘found their ultimate calling.’ […] Their search, however, is almost certain to be unsuccessful. Not because vocations do not exist. But because we have to realize a vocation is not something we find, its something we grow – and grow into.”

Dan Pink offered a similar perspective in his Weinberg College commencement speech: “The smartest, most interesting, most dynamic, most impactful people … lived to figure it out…. Sometimes, the only way to discover who you are or what life you should lead is to do less planning and more living— to burst the double bubble of comfort and convention and just do stuff, even if you don’t know precisely where it’s going to lead.”

2. 100 percent is easier than 98 percent

It’s not news that winning at life requires good execution. But why do we still have such a hard time actually getting things done? In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt writes: “The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. […] Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement.”

One way to train the elephant is to form habits. By forming a habit, you train your brain to go into autopilot. Which is why, to steal the line from Clayton Christensen, “100 percent of the time is easier than 98 percent of the time.” By making it a rule, you are removing the decision-making part of deciding to do an activity. This is especially critical for activities we don’t want to do. Exercise, diet, studying for the GRE, paying bills, you name it. If you skip it just once, you are sending a signal to your brain that you can skip it. From there, it’s a slippery slope. You are back to having to decide whether to exercise or watch TV. And very rarely will exercise win that battle.

Turning long-term goals into habits is especially critical. Malcolm Gladwell has reminded us in Outliers: The Story of Success that to become an expert you need to put in 10,000 hours. That’s about equal to 5 years! Putting in that kind of time requires discipline. But if you don’t actively take control of what you spend your time on, your expertise could easily become Facebook or Candy Crush. And no one wants that. Shane Parrish in Farnam Street elaborates on how procrastination can engulf you. If you don’t control your own mind, your mind will control you.

David Foster Wallace addressed this brilliantly in his Kenyon commencement speech in 2005: “[L]earning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

Psychologically, many of us find it easier to say we never tried than to say we tried and failed. Don’t be that person. Be the doer, not the dreamer, no matter how hard.

3. Networking: Become the buyer, not the seller

The problem with networking today is that most people see themselves as the seller and the person they are networking with as the buyer. People are so uptight that it isn’t fun for anyone. Reframe the situation: you are now the buyer. You will have much more fun and it will lead to a much more fruitful meeting.

The good news is once people start actively “networking,” they actually likedoing it. Dr. David Hamilton explains that “doing good deeds triggers an increased level of dopamine in the brain. The good feeling associated with this is commonly known as Helper’s High.”  This principle is also documented in the Ben Franklin effect. You are more likely to do a favor for someone that you have previously also helped.

It’s important because it has been shown that how you get your future jobs or salary raises is often not through your immediate circle of friend, but your acquaintances. The economist James Montgomery studied the concept of “weak ties” and explains “that weak ties are positively related to higher wages and higher aggregate employment rates.”

Networking might seem like a high investment in time. But the reward (both for your work and your happiness) will be well worth it. Most people know who they want to get coffee chats with or who they can connect with for the benefit both parties. The difference is that the best networkers actually act on it.

4. Trust yourself: no one has the right answer

Recent graduates often wait for the moment when they will be 100 percent in control — the moment when they will have graduated to be a full-blown “grown up.” The truth is that that moment never comes. Everyone is fudging it.  “You’ll meet a lot of people who, to put it simply, don’t know what they’re talking about. … Develop your own compass, and trust it.” says Aaron Sorkin.

Ultimately you have to trust your gut. Steve Jobs still said it best, “Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path.”

People often conflate success with salary and job title. But life is composed of so many variables. It is subject to change at any given moment.  Real success is a long-term game. The only thing you can control is yourself: your will, your desire, your perseverance. Success will follow whoever wants it most.

Link to read the original Forbes article

 

Happiness At Work edition #107

See more articles about leadership and learning, creativity and happiness at work in this week’s new collection

Action Learning – a better way to collaborate and communicate together…

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194
photo: Mark Trezona

Here are my newest thoughts about the discipline and magic that make Action Learning so potently transformational…

I had lunch last week with Alison Johns, a wonderful friend and colleague who I first met nearly twenty years ago when we were completing our MAs in Management Learning & Leadership. This was when I first discovered Action Learning, the framework that has changed my practice forever, as much, I confidently dare to believe, as it has transformed the lives and accomplishments of many of the people who have participated in its process.

In the Shaky Isles Theatre Company we have used Action Learning as the main framework for coming together to grow and sustain the company for a year now.  And more and more we are also using Action Learning inside our performance making process, as well, to sustain and nourish our creative learning alongside our show creation.

I am also currently facilitating Action Learning with a group of Rajni Shah Project artists to support their co-creation activities, and here, too, the discipline and framework of Action Learning is weaving across and into Board meetings, producing some really exciting new conversations and ways of working together.

In another application, Nicki Maher is starting to use Action Learning as a way to develop and grow Opaz, the Turkish music ensemble she leads.

And I am about to work with Tesse Akpeki to deliver training in using Action Learning for people who support or lead Trustee Boards.

These newer applications of Action Learning are continuing to amplify the belief, trust and joy that I have always found facilitating this process with very many very different groups of professionals and leaders, teachers and artists, teams and freelancers – not to mention my own invaluable membership of an Action Learning group that have been meeting regularly together since 1998.

With this in mind I wanted to try to uncover some of my newest thinking and insights about the disciplined magic that is Action Learning, and, alongside this, to provide a jumping off point for you to try it for yourself with the people you either work with or feel drawn to spend some time with uncovering fresh ideas and new ways to progress the things that most matter to you.

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)  photo: Mark Trezona

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)
photo: Mark Trezona

A Practitioner’s Guide to Action Learning

Reg Revans invented Action Learning to provide a ‘clean space’ in an overly noisy and overly directed world, to give people enough freedom and enough solid framework to be able to uncover and discover our own best thoughts and insights to become freshly inspired to act, fuelled by our own creative expectations and sustained by our continually expanding capabilities.

Revans was convinced that for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to – and ideally greater than – the rate of change in its external environment – this became known as Revans’ Law: Learning must be > or = Change.

The Action Learning process has developed over the last sixty years as a method for individual and organisational development. As a process Action Learning can be challenging and informative. Within organisations Reg Revans described it as “the outward communication of doubt” – an opportunity for people to engage with and work through what is unfamiliar, uncertain and not known and identify action which could make a positive difference to their own and the organisation’s effectiveness. For example, he was one of the first to introduce to the National Health Service the idea that nurses, doctors and administrators needed to listen to and understand each other – and action learning groups offer the opportunity.

In any attempt to describe Action Learning, it is essential to say that Revans rightly advises us that the only way to really know what it is, is to do it. With that in mind, here are the instructions we follow in our practice, which we hope will give you enough to be able to try it for yourself.

In the form of Action Learning we use, the available time is divided first into two parts: a first part for Action Learning itself, and the second part to work the ideas and progress the material that has emerged out from the individual contributions.

The Action Learning time itself is divided equally among the individuals present. Each person then has that amount of Clean Space time to bring to the table whatever is most live and prescient for each of them.  And during this time the rest of the group cannot interrupt or comment in any way. Once each person has said as much as they want to, the rest of us offer them open creative thinking questions for whatever Clean Space time remains.

The Clean Space Process

Space:

1. A continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied

2. A stretch of time

3. The amount of material used or needed to write fully about a subject

4. The freedom to live, think, and develop in a way that suits you best

Before you start agree how much Clean Space time each person will have and who will keep time.

In your Clean Space time…

1 ~ Say whatever you want to say. Be as selfish as you can be about what you want to bring to the table.  Talk from your own head and heart and don’t worry or care about what anyone else needs to hear. 

No interruptions, comments or questions from anyone else during this phase.

2 ~ Once you have said all you want to say, you respond to open creative thinking Questions given to you by the rest of your group.

Again, be completely selfish about how you want to respond to any question you get: you decide what it means and how you want to answer it, if at all.

The rest of the group seek to bring you moments of spontaneity – questions that open you up to fresh new thinking and insights.

Resist saying anything except Open Questions during this phase. The best questions will be a gift for the person who receives it, and they will feel and often say “That’s a great question…”

Use “Why…?” questions sparingly.

3 ~  (optional and only if time –at least 2minutes of each person’s Clean Space time) 

You ask whatever you want to from others in the group.

If there are no questions you want to ask people, use this time to draw together the thinking and ideas you are going away with.

Allow about 10% of Clean Space time for this, but shift into it sooner if the person who has the Clean Space is repeatedly saying “I don’t know…” to your questions.

Helpful Capabilities for Action Learning

o   Being fully present

o   Alert, neutral, open, heightened listening

o   The Fine & Difficult Art of Asking Really Great Open Questions

o   Being utterly selfless and tuned in to what the Clean Space holder is trying to get when it is not your Clean Space time

o   Being supremely selfish about what you want to bring and get from your own Clean Space time

o   Wondering your not-knowing out loud: bringing what you don’t know to the table

o   Being open to surprise

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191
photo: Mark Trezona

This set of simple rules sets up the conditions for a very different way of thinking and communicating that lead almost inevitably to new insights and fresh possibilities for action.  When repeated over a series of meetings it replaces our usual default ways of listening and thinking with better ways that are far more open, expansive, diverse, inclusive, and actively engaged.  And over time, the disciplines and capabilities it demands from us start to become easier, more natural, and much more our new ‘normal’.

We shift our perspective; we shift our balance…

…from only paying attention to the information that immediately interests us to listening out and trying to pick up much more of what is being said and its many nuances;

…from narrowing the conversation down and heading off too quickly on a particular tangent, to exploring the situation in greater depth and from a wider range of perspectives;

…from talking more about things and re-presenting conclusions and ideas that we have already decided upon, to uncovering what we think and feel during the act of talking about it;

…from bringing our certainties and defending our established points of view, to bringing more of our uncertainties and opening out what we don’t know or yet have answers or solutions for: dialogue means discovering the meaning through communication;

…from only having the ‘need-to-have’ conversations, to unearthing extraordinary and surprising insights and solutions from conversations that arise out of what matters most to each of us;

…from tending to get most of the input from the more talkative amongst us, to getting and thus profiting from, an equal contribution from all of us, realising and optimising the inherent diversity that otherwise lies hidden and buried underneath our different communication styles and preferences;

…from prescribing the desired goal or outcome and restricting our thinking to what seems to be most relevant and strategic to its achievement, to keeping more open to discovering higher value aspirations that emerge and progress organically from the material of what people bring to the table;

…and from excited intentions that are too soon forgotten or lost to louder demands, to achieving ever widening results that spiral up from our collective learning ~ out to action ~ back into heightened learning ~ and out to new action ~ and so on in an increasingly reliable and self-powered momentum.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery to be made in Action Learning is that, very often, our greatest joy and discovery comes less from what we bring during our own Clean Space and much, much more from what we get from the ‘enforced’ listening we give during other people’s.

It is also helpful to know that Action Learning is not only for a team of people who want to use it to make work together, but equally powerful and potentially transformative for a group of individuals who choose to come together to hear and widen each other’s thinking entirely in terms of each person’s own personal agendas.

Action Learning and Collaboration

I have been thinking a lot recently about just what it is that makes Action Learning so enjoyed and successful and surprising and special, especially when it can be experienced by a group over a repeated series of get-togethers. These reflections have drawn out these five attributes:

  1. In-Betweenness 
  2. Listening In-ness
  3. Slowness
  4. Togetherness
  5. Connectedness

1 ~ In-Betweenness

This quality is not so much walking blindly through fog, as the more delightful experience of flying through clouds, up in the air and above it all, happy and trusting that we will get to where we want to get to without having to see ahead to our destination.

This is the ability to inhabit the grey areas between boundaries, to hold ambiguity and complexity with far less need to define it, fix it, bolt it down, categorise and name it.  It involves being simultaneously inside and outside the flow of thinking, both alert to what others are saying and what matters to them while at the same time aware of the live fresh dancing of our own thoughts colliding with what we are hearing.

This quality is especially enhanced when we can keep our not-knowingness wide open and transmitting, sensing out rather than seeing straight ahead, wondering out loud, teasing out our unformed ideas, uncertainties and barely yet understood intuitions.

2 ~ Listening In-ness

This quality is about hearing in real time (rather than anticipating ahead of what is being said and so hearing only what we expect).  It demands that we stay with the material as it unfolds in the here-and-now instead of projecting our own versions of reality on to things. This is the capability of tuning in with the deliberate intention to notice more and receive more fully.  It is HD hearing that picks up the finer inflexion, nuance, repetition and other poetic aspects of our thinking.

It requires us to lean in, bringing a particular kind of presence and concentration to stay with what is being said as it is being said, resisting our usual inclination to decide quickly on what is meant from the smallest fragment of information.

This needs our fullest energy, commitment, presence and attention. But, when the conditions of Clean Space are activated, it seems to happen with remarkable ease and reliability.

3 ~ Slowness

The listening we do in Action Learning recognises that…

…you can’t flick through sound;

…you can’t take a meaningful still of sound;

…you can’t glance at sound;

…you can’t sensibly hear sound backwards, or broken up, un-sequenced;

…you just have to start at its beginning and stay with it through to its end.

Mindfulness, a deliberate, disciplined, meditative practice of slowing down and tuning in, is becoming a mass practice across the globe, perhaps filling in and replacing our older religious rituals with something more secular and better suited to our times.  But, perhaps too, its popularity is building from a growing awareness that we need times of slowness, stillness and quietness that reconnects us into the rhythm of our breathing selves as a counterbalance to the incessantly turned on, turned up, turned out lives we are now living.

Stopping, and making a quieter stillness to listen and notice better are premium qualities in Action Learning. And much is yielded from the heightened waiting and trusting this gives us.

4 ~ Togetherness

Action Learning gives us a new way of co-creating – making something from the collective material that emerges from us all – and a better way of collaborating – making joint decisions and sharing out the work.

The material we uncover to work with is always richer and more multidimensional than any ordinary discussion could give us. This happens without force in a process akin to the sculptor’s art – drawing out and revealing and shaping and clarifying and heightening and unifying what is most fine and delightful and compelling from inside what we already have amongst us, waiting to be discovered.

5 ~ Connectedness

In Action Learning meanings, ideas and solutions emerge from making patterns. As humans we make sense of things by forging connections: that thing to the thing we already know (or think we know); this thing with that thing with the other thing to make the new thing.  Then the more we repeat, reinforce and practice anything the more strongly it becomes ingrained into our integral circuitry.  The repetition and cyclic iterations of uncovering and revealing and testing and rethinking we get in Action Learning deepens and strengthens our commitment to the ideas we most connect with.

Action Learning demands a kind of patient urgency – a different kind of dynamic that still has to move us forward with a sense of necessity and compulsion, but alongside a more careful, intimate and delicate holding on and out for what is still unfolding

Action Learning creates and sustains our propulsion from…

…the avoidance of rush and fixing too fast and hard alongside the necessity to make progress;

…the avoidance of jumping too quickly into action alongside the necessity for application and getting things done;

…the avoidance of the usual imperative to define desired outcomes and set the focus on the Vision alongside the necessity of getting somewhere worth arriving at.

Action Learning and Making Great Audience Experience

All of this I have come to know and trust from my many years sitting inside and outside dozens of different Action Learning groups since I first found it.

What is new for me is to start to wonder what might come from the explicit aspiration, or even the gentlest intention, to try to make the qualities we experience in Action Learning with our audience – whether they be our beneficiaries or our customers or our partners or our stakeholders or our public…

Audience: the people who come to give us their hearing.

What if… we could come together as a community of listeners?

And return to listen together again and again, each time able to listen better?

What might our better listening lead us on to do better?

What if…?

What next…?

What now…?

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193
photo: Mark Trezona

Do please feel welcome to contact us if you would like to know more about how to make Action Learning part of your work or learning.

This post was developed from the one I originally wrote for Shaking Out, the Shaky Isles Theatre Company blog

Happiness At Work edition #90

If you enjoyed this, you may also find more stories and techniques for becoming more productive, happy and creative in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, our weekly collection of the best stories about leadership and learning, mindfulness and happiness at work, resilience and self-mastery.

Enjoy…

 

Engagement At Work – a reflection of being in and out of flow

photo by Sue Ridge: 'sunbathing grape'

photo by Sue Ridge  ‘sunbathing grape’

I am just coming out of three months of making my first eLearning training programme. It has been huge, intense, wonderful, knackering, all-consuming, richly rewarding and quite definitely the hardest work I have done in one concentrated quarter of a year for a very long time.

At the end of each video I invite participants – still my preferred identity for the people who come to learn with me – to reflect back over what they most remember and want to take and use from their experience. And I decided it might be useful and of some interest, too, I hope, to step myself through these questions.

And I cannot even begin to want to do this to and for myself alone, and so I am using this post as a platform to come sit for a moment to reflect back out loud over what has been a huge three months of learning, making, experimenting, producing, crafting, failing, repeating, reworking, labouring and finessing this nearly-finished-now programme of learning videos.

Just like making a show in a multitude of ways, and completely different and unfamiliar for me in one ineluctable aspect: making a show is entirely collaborative and this experience has been entirely solo.

Question 1: What happened? What do I most remember from this experience? What stands out as significant or especially memorable?

I remember having to keep learning something new, every day, then every week. And every time I thought I’d learned everything I needed to produce this work, discovering something else I hadn’t realised I didn’t know that I needed to learn or figure out or muddle my way through or solve or fix or experiment with until I found a way to make it work. I love learning and this played right into one of my top strengths, but there were days when I felt like you can have too much of a good thing.

The programme itself consists of 6 x 70minute videos of me talking to powerpoint slides. My learning curve has been stretched to the maximum for weeks. First I had to learn all the technical skills of powerpoint (as complex as you want to make it), Quicktime screen recording (very simple) and iMovie video editing (a series of failed experiments and a great deal of scrolling through online Help conversations not really knowing what question to ask to get the solution I needed.) And there is still far more I do not know and will probably never know about video making than the tiny bit I now do know. I know that people who really know about these things would be able to do things with them in a trace of a moment and make them better. But I learned enough to make what I wanted to make good. And I learned that that was good enough.

But then I realised with a kind of Mr Stupid clunk, that in all my years of making and delivering learning programmes, I’ve never really been the expert at the podium with all the answers. I excel at participative facilitative learning. People don’t pay us to come and tell them all the things I know, they pay me to help them unlock and extend what they know and can do. So, although I joyfully help dozens of people become more persuasive and compelling speakers, I have never concentrated on delivering seminar or presentation-based teaching. This demands thinking through and ordering and finding the right articulation of all the theory and the ideas and learning you want to bring in advance and in the absence of the people it is designed to provide for. This involves making and sticking with a zillion decisions about the development and contours and cadences of the story to be told, enriching and vitalising it with the right images and preparing carefully constructed sentences. I thrive and am energised by keeping lots of different options in the air, multiplicity and then interactively weaving out meanings with the people in the room from the ideas we are creating in the space between us. Proactive independent decision making and narrowing and fixing things down are not my strong suit nor my preferred operating style, and this, more than anything else, exhausted me. I am good-on-my feet and being in-the-moment and I did initially try to make these speaking extemporaneously. The takes were hours long and then even the heavily and lengthily edited final results just sounded uncertain, graceless and irritatingly arhythmic and idiosyncratic. While I would never teach scripting a presentation, this turned out to be the winning solution, but this meant that I had to bring everything I had from my actor’s training to make it fly off the page.

‘Being in flow’ has always had a performance sensibility about it for me: the flow of a good conversation, the flow of ideas being conjured in the act of talking and listening together, the improvisational “yes – and…” (accept and build) flow of being in a group and riding the wave of what is actually happening as it is actually happening in the live here-and-now, the flow of movement, flux, emergence, dialogue, co-creation. Collaboration. This was altogether different, and it took me a surprisingly (now I think of it) long time to recognise that just because I was making this thing at 2am on a cold dark January night didn’t mean it still didn’t have to feel for the listener that it was being thought and spoken and presented as a compelling idea or an invitational springboard in that moment of them hearing it. I tried to remember (and steal from) what playwrights do. And designers do. And directors do. I could have done a lot more stealing from what stage managers do to galvanise and co-ordinate and plan and keep on track my scheduling and logistics, but I suppose I can accept being a one-person team means some things are going to fall short.

But it was a great advantage to have performance making to pull from.

And I have (nearly) got there. I have done it and I’m proud of what I’ve made. Time and the programme participants will tell with more authority on this but I dare to believe trying to practice what I teach has served me well.

As well as this I remember images: hundreds of pictures I have searched through looking for the best (creative commons licensed for commercial use) images to convey the multiplicity of ideas this programme incorporates: happiness, engagement, great relationships, meaning & accomplishment, positivity & creativity, and resilience at work are my six titles to give you a flavour of the ground I have tried to cover. And searching for the right image for each slide that is hopefully not too obvious nor too obscure, evocative without being just weird, and meaningful without being cliched has been one of the most exhausting and satisfying parts of this experience. My primary creativity is not visual, and yet it has been an immense and constant pleasure to have continually had to immerse myself in pictures and be repeatedly stimulated by all their colour and wonderful metaphor.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 1

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 1

So, above all else it seems, I remember learning, constantly and consciously in a way that I haven’t done for years.

Question 2: What new meanings, insights or conclusions can I take from any of this experience?

I have learned that, despite being a devoted follower of the less-is-more principle, I continue to be rubbish at practicing it.

I have learned that despite my love of going-with-the-flow and being spontaneous and gregarious, when I am working alone I become a zealot of perfectionism (my not-very-detailed version of it) and capable of working myself beyond and then some anything I would accept from another human being, or expect of another human being.

I have learned again that I am not at my best in extended periods of working in solitude and that I really do need to keep getting out into the world and interacting with people to keep my energy levels restocked, and my focus open and alert to incoming wide-range signals, and my sense of perspective balanced and broader than the minute ramifications of whether to align a photo credit along the left or the right hand margin. Oh yes – and that I continue to be utterly dependent upon feedback (read ‘praise’) to really know if what I am doing is good or not and to feel that what I am doing has any worth or purpose. (how do you introverts do it? how do you writers do it???) Happily I have been luxuriously favoured by my client and devoted family with enough cheering to keep me going, but I do realise that, in the absence of regular, emphatic and high quality appreciation, I could easily run myself into the doldrums and get lost in drift. (I heard in a documentary about Blondie that when rock performers get a level of repeated popularity and excitement from their audiences it helps them to hone and polish what they do. I get this. I learn best from praise and affirmation. Don’t we all? Give me the new 5-to-1 positivity ratio please. I will be so much better at responding productively to one criticism when it comes with 5 specific convincingly conveyed compliments. This is also perhaps what makes making fringe theatre great so impossibly hard – there is never enough performances to really polish a show in collaboration with its audiences: you work for months making it and you get it as good as you possibly can in the 7, 14 or 21 performances it gets to play. This isn’t enough to really find its proper orchestration. But I digress too far off road here…)

I have learned, too, and despite asserting the contrary case in one of the videos, that I can run out of creativity. By Module 6 I had squeezed out every last possible idea for what materials to include or leave out, in what order, with what images, framed alongside which model and with which ideas clustered together. But that this was only temporary and already my mind is percolating next and new ideas and making new possibilities and dreams for me to play with and/or chase down. So scratch that – it’s true – we don’t use up our creativity, or if we do run it dry, it restocks itself automatically.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 2

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 2

I have reconfirmed that engagement really is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines in his idea of ‘being in flow’, and is best experienced for me when I am deeply and completely immersed in a creative project that I care about stretched to the outer limits of my capabilities and able to spend uninterrupted periods of time being fully absorbed in what I am doing without competition from other demands. And that I am very lucky to have a husband who insists on pulling me out of this state at least once every day to eat and appreciate his delicious cooking. (And as an extra bonus I have learned to approximate the right pronunciation of Csikszentmihalyi, altho I have had to teach and rely on my spellchecker to spell it for me.)

And I have reconfirmed the irreplaceable reliability of my unconscious brain to bring me some of my best insights and ideas, but only if and when I take my foot off the pedal for a bit a make a space to hear the messages it is sending through. This means for me not drowning it in exhausted sleep – my project dreams tend to be fierce re-firings of existing ideas and anxieties. And it is not drowning it out with the noise of other media. TV and radio help me to fall asleep when my brain is on overdrive but they do not yield me any new insights. What works for me is my Qigong exercise and my fledgling novice mindfulness attempts to drop my thinking into my breathing and just stay with that. Then the thoughts fly out and at me, but I am learning that the best ones will hang around in my consciousness, ready and waiting to be worked with after my exercise. I did not manage to make this time nearly as much as I wanted to or aimed to but I made it more than I might have. And this too was good enough.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 3

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 3

Question 3: What could I do as result of any of this learning? How can I use or apply any of these ideas? Who could I share any of my learning with?

I have been able to use in practice many of the principles and techniques that I have been championing in my teaching and this has been doubly good: good for me to confirm experientially that they seem to hold up and bring real benefit in their application, and good for me to get the benefits they have provided. Techniques taken from Positive Psychology such as knowing and playing to my Signature Strengths to optimise my performance and productivity, and the capabilities of resilience that I have been able to draw from when the going’s got tough, such as staying resolutely and, hopefully, realistically optimistic and facing my fears. And, too trusting my creativity and using my slow emergent collage-based way of making to incrementally sculpt out the matter from the materials I was working with. To not need to be original in everything but, again I hope, to be original enough.

All of these capabilities become better with practice. So I will aim to keep practicing. And to keep making my practice better. And to remember to keep alive and as true as I can the artist’s holy discipline of being a practitioner.

And this above all others… Whatever aspect of happiness you look at you will find the predominant necessity of having strong relationships, to give and receive love and support.. It is key to our happiness and success at work as much as it is central to our health and being able to live a flourishing life, as it is, too, to building and sustaining resilience. This has been an especially tough time for some of the people I love most in the world – way beyond any of the challenges I have been facing in this piece of work – and it has been essential and nourishing for me to be a part of their lives and actively involved and exercised in getting their love and giving them mine.

So then this above all others – to remember in less heightened times that the people in my life are my life. They make me possible and they make matter. Not for who I am or anything I may do, but for what happens between us, in our connections and in how this affects and changes us. This surely is the finest flow to be in, and, if I am to have another time working in solitude I hope to remember that this must be without withdrawing too far from the people I love. Memo to self: the less collaborative your work activity the more engaged you better make the rest of your time.

As to the last part of this question, in this instant that turns out to be you dear reader. And thank you for your interest.

The question: “who could you share this with?” is exactly the kind of question we learning facilitators love to hand out to the people we work with, but are perhaps less likely to take up ourselves. Or at least I am. Which is what got me writing this piece, as a way to try and unravel and uncover a little more intelligence about what has just happened and what it means and what it could lead to than I might have scooped down to notice without stepping through these questions. This is why we give out these questions, And extraverted me needs an audience to have any reason to start to talk before I hurtle off into whatever will be next.

Actually, what will be next for me is learning to facilitate live online webinars as part of the weekly provision of learning elements that accompany the programme I have just made and packed into modular video instalments.

And in this, very much like making a show, the programme is only just being begun. Just as a show needs its audience to truly discover itself and find its real worth in the interplay and rhythms that happen between performance and audience, now my learning programme will have to find its actual relevance and interest and usefulness and enjoyment in the weave that happens in the space where learners – participants – bring their questions and existing knowledge and challenges and expectations to the programme I have made for them. It is, I am pleased to remind myself, only there and then that this programme exists and has a life. Let the new experience begin…

Thank you for listening. This has been a good thing for me to do. And I wouldn’t have done it without you.

If you want to find out more about your own top Signature Strengths, I like this VIA Me online self-assessment questionnaire a lot. It will give you a free report of your ranked order of the 24 character strengths based on the five virtues of Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence and Wisdom. Our top 5 are our Signature Strengths, and the guide is that exercising our Signature Strengths is a really great way to increase our sense of being in flow, as well as giving us increased energy, happiness and fulfilment, confidence, energy and resilience. (This site also offer an option to purchase a more detailed report.)

Link to VIA Me Character Strengths Profile

The programme I made and will continue to lead is called the Mini MBA in Peak Performance and Productivity, and will launch in mid-February from the IME: inspire motivate and engage online learning platform. If you’re interested in this do let me know and I will make sure you get any updates about it.

Link to the IME; inspire motivate and engage website

This post was originally written for Shaking Out – the Shaky Isles Theatre blog

Happiness At Work Edition #84

And you will find more stories about learning, creativity, productivity, self-mastery and happiness at work in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #84

Link to read Happiness At Work #84

photo by Sue Ridge: the view from Guy's Hospital cancer centre

photo by Sue Ridge:
the view from Guy’s Hospital cancer centre

Where the World Meets

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection celebrates the coloured richness and diverse temptations of the marketplace (real place markets not the mirage of money trading rooms) – including London’s beloved Borough Market. You can smell the smells and hear the sounds in these scenes. And, as always, McCurry’s pictures remind us of the universality of our human life and experience. Enjoy…

Happiness At Work #83 – what’s the number 1 attribute that helped you to be successful?

What’s the #1 attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?

This is a question Forbes writer Christine Perkettgave13 successful women.

They answered…

  • a sense of adventure
  • tenacity 
  • learning to write
  • physical energy
  • being relentless
  • curiosity
  • heart
  • flexibility
  • tenacity (again)
  • resilience
  • commitment

One Thing That Got Me Here: Tips From Successful Women In Business, Music, Technology, Culinary Arts And More

Here is some fresh bright wisdom we can all learn something from:

All of these ladies inspire me – and I believe they’ll inspire you to chase your dreams, combine business savvy with your passion, and in general, live a “go for it” life – despite what advertisers, men and the rest of the world try to tell you what you can or cannot do. One common theme you’ll see? Do. Not. Give. Up.

What’s the #1 attribute that helped you get where you are in your career?

Link to read the full original article

This week’s Happiness At Work Edition #83 collection features a special section of stories about creativity.

Our lead story offers some really helpful ideas about the link between creativity and continuous learning, and how we can keep this alive and happening in our organisations, and for ourselves too.

Cultivate a Learning Mindset: Creativity

BY KEVIN WASHBURN

Creativity. The word stirs and scares us. We associate it with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Barrie’s Peter Pan, Botticelli’s Temptations of Christ, and other incomparable artistic achievements. But creativity empowers more than art; it is found wherever success and effectiveness thrive, and in organisations characterised by a learning mindset…

We don’t have to be Beethoven to allow creativity to help us and our organisations produce exceptional results. As with many things, how we think, how we approach our work, and how we use our resources determines our continued vitality…

Dis- & Re-

Creativity arises from a readiness to dis- and re-assemble. Researcher and author Nancy Andreasen suggests this willingness is key to creative thinking: “…during the creative process the brain begins by disorganizing, making links between shadowy forms of objects or symbols or words or remembered experiences that have not been previously linked. Out of this disorganization, self-organization eventually emerges and takes over in the brain. The result is a completely new and original thing: a mathematical function, a symphony, or a poem.” Creative thinkers eagerly break apart entities—both concrete and conceptual—and reassemble the pieces in new ways to craft or express something in a novel way…

Such readiness in practicing professionals keeps individuals and organizations growing. Healthy institutions know what works today may not work tomorrow. When results from the status quo diminish, a readiness to dis- and re-assemble is a positive vital sign.

Working for the New

Disassembling may reveal a need for new tactics rather than a restructuring of established practices. Perspective, more than any other factor, influences the success of new ideas. When individuals possess a willingness to work on establishing something new, results can exceed expectations…

Organizations with learning mindsets keep what works while learning new routes to increased effectiveness. They have a willingness to work for something new.

Equipping & Enabling

Growth is free, but sparking it often requires investing. Organizations treasuring a learning mindset devote resources to equipping and enabling their most valuable assets: their people. Failing to devote time, energy, and yes, money, to professional development indicates an institution in decline. While professional growth can and should be a personal pursuit, it is beneficial for us to be challenged by others, by individuals we may not encounter via social media or even books and graduate classes. These sparks can move minds, making new solutions and new approaches more likely.

Link to read the full original article

Here are 7 more stories we think you might like to know about:

Procrastination is a mindfulness problem

By Leo Babauta

We all procrastinate, and by and large, we all know the solutions to our procrastination…

…clarify what task is most important, clear away everything but this more important task, clarify my motivations for this task, break it down into something smaller and easier if I feel difficulty.

These aren’t hard solutions.

But they don’t work unless you’re aware of what you’re doing.

You can’t step back to clarify what your Most Important Tasks are unless you realize you’re procrastinating in the first place. You can’t break a task into small steps unless you realize you’re dreading the task. You can’t clear away distractions unless you realize you’ve been following the urge to go to these distractions.

Awareness is everything with procrastination. The problem isn’t finding solutions to procrastination — it’s being aware of what’s going on in the first place.

Once we know what’s happening, the fixes are (fairly) easy.

The problem isn’t just being aware of what’s going on — it’s remembering to be aware. This remembering is what mindfulness is about. Too often we forget to be aware.

So let’s talk about the awareness of what’s going on when we procrastinate, and then how to remember

Awareness of What’s Going On

So what’s going on when we procrastinate? Try these:

  • Following urges to distraction. We get the habitual urge to check email or social media or news. Or we get the urge to go to something easier, more comfortable. The urges can be beat if we are aware they’re happening.
  • Dreading hard tasks. Our minds tend to focus on the hard parts of tasks that we’re procrastinating on. Without thinking too much about them, we label these tasks as hard, scary, overwhelming, time-consuming. If we’re aware of this, we can solve each of these problems — hard tasks can be broken into easier ones.
  • Fear. Procrastination is often about fear — fear of failure, fear of success, self-doubts. But we don’t often know that this fear is even there — we just act on the fear. Fears, once we’re aware of them, can be beaten by the light of day. When we see fears out in the open, in the light, we can see they’ve been overblown in our minds. The worst-case scenario of failure is often not that bad when we really think about it.
  • Not being motivated. Lots of times we forget our motivation for doing a hard task. Why are we putting ourselves through this suffering? It’s way easier to put it off and do other “important” things instead. But when we remind ourselves of our motivation, we can focus. So we have to be aware that our motivation isn’t clear, or that we’ve forgotten what that motivation is in the face of discomfort.
  • Not being clear on priorities. What tasks are more important? It’s hard to know when you’re caught up in the flow of things, just doing things left and right, quickly switching between tasks, and so on. Everything seems important. But when we step back and think about what matters most, what will make the most difference in the world and in our lives, we can see what we need to focus on, to make time for. We can’t step back unless we’re aware that we’re getting caught up in less important tasks.
  • Compulsively checking things. Often we compulsively check email, social media, blogs, news sites, etc. We have those tabs open all the time and go and check them every few minutes. Why? What need are we fulfilling? Often it’s a need to be up-to-date on everything, a fear that we might miss something. And often it’s just the temporary pleasure of getting something new in our inboxes, of finding something interesting/pleasurable.

These are some of the more common examples of what’s going on when we procrastinate. But how do we become aware? How do we remember to be aware?

How to Remember

The problem with remembering to be aware is that we get caught up in our moment-to-moment actions. Once we open a computer, for example, a series of habitual responses kicks in and we’re suddenly in the deep end. It could be hours before we come up for air and realize we’ve been procrastinating.

So what we need are a set of tools for remembering.

Here are the ones that tend to work for me:

  1. Recognition of harm. The first thing you need to admit is that the procrastinating is actually doing bad things to you — if we think it’s not a big problem, we won’t take any of the other steps listed below. So what harm is the procrastination causing? Well, it might be stopping you from achieving your dreams or big goals, from pushing your boundaries and learning new things. It might be causing you anxiety, and making your work suffer.
  2. Commitment. Making a commitment to being aware is a great tool for remembering. What kind of commitment? You can write it on a piece of paper and look at it every morning. Or tell someone else about it. Post it on your blog or Twitter. Have someone check on you weekly. Whatever you do, commit as seriously as you can.
  3. Setting intentions. As you start an activity, like opening your email or starting to write something, or even opening your computer or starting your day, pause to think about what your intention is with that activity. Make an intention to be mindful and notice your procrastination. Setting intentions doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll actually achieve what you set out to do, but it helps. And it helps you to learn to get better at that with practice.
  4. Reminders. Every hour or two, have a reminder that helps you to check in to see if your actions match your intention, to remember to be aware of what’s been going on with your procrastination.
  5. Recognize signals. There are signs that you’re procrastinating — anxiety about your tasks, compulsively checking things, a rising urge to go do something other than the present task. These signs might be physical (tightness in your chest, for example) or they might be certain actions (checking email) — but you can learn to recognize them with time. They are flags, waving and telling you that something is going on. Notice the flags, and check in to see what’s going on.

These aren’t things you can master in one day. They take practice, and they take commitment. But if you can solve the mindfulness problem, procrastination becomes a much more manageable beast.

Link to read the original article

10 Trends Change Leaders Can’t Ignore in 2014

Leading or participating in a change is likely one of your biggest challenges in 2014. Here are ten trends that will cause waves this year. Ask yourself:

1) What can I learn about this trend?

2) What opportunities does it present in my organization?, and

3) How can I incorporate this trend in our change today?

Trends in What We Want:

1. Desire for Meaning

Meaning and purpose build a lasting commitment to change—not just compliance or reaching a metric. Meaning is defined as a commitment to something bigger than self. Today there is a growing emphasis on ‘what’s in it for us’ more than just ‘what’s in it for me’ which can have a very short shelf life.

2. The Real Deal

In our over-advertised, Photo-shopped, create-your-brand culture, it is expected that ‘who you are’ and ‘who you say you are’ align. Authenticity—the truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intention – is essential for anyone building commitment to a change. It’s also an essential ingredient in finding meaning in our work.

3. Fast and Bite-sized

There is growing evidence that social media and changing technology are rewiring our brains with shorter attention spans than ever before. And, the exploding trend toward mobile means we are engaged all of the time, but not for long. The forty page presentations and lengthy emails aren’t the answer.

4. Customised By Me For Me

We design our own car features and phones, custom build athletic shoes, and create a display of our unique interests on Pinterest. This growing trend drives the shift from “one size fits all”, or your market segment, to “one size fits me”. Individuals want the bigger meaning, but the application must be individualized to stick.

5. Grapevine Becomes Primary

The grapevine, or word of mouth, is becoming the communication channel of choice. Research tells us that we listen to the recommendations of those we know much more than to campaigns or packaged communications. According to an Ernst & Young study, “Peer recommendations—not paid-for advertising, whether on social media platforms or in print—are what count.” Your change needs a word of mouth strategy.

6. Retro Communication

As we spend more hours in front of a screen, the more unique human interaction becomes. We use technology for convenience, speed, efficiency and even cost. Human interaction can be simple or obvious, yet is often forgotten.  Direct human interaction is a key differentiator that drives engagement and positive word of mouth. Know when technology works for you and when it gets in your way.

Trends that Affect How We Work Together:

7. Upside-Down Hierarchy

Social media has had a dramatic effect on leveling the playing field by allowing anyone to have a voice, platform and a following. Our stories and information don’t need to be filtered through an “expert” or an official source. The hierarchy and the command-and-control environment in business are giving way to a culture with more flexible and collaborative leadership unrelated to title or years of experience. An organic, flexible change plan is essential.

8. Peer Power

Crowd funding allows anyone to be an investor. Companies like Lego are crowdsourcing ideas for new designs from customers and there are increasing avenues to share our assets with each other. A self-created group can solve, invest and share without a traditional hierarchy. Find areas of your change that can be crowd sourced and designed by a broader group and then act upon it. You’ll drive up engagement.

9. Virtual Reality

Technology continues to enable a new era of virtual collaboration and sharing. Virtual collaboration from anywhere in the world can be a strategic advantage in your change rather than a challenge to be managed.  While not new, the virtual opportunity is so often underplayed.

10.  Demographic Tsunami 

In the four generation workplace, millennials will make up approximately 36 percent of the 2014 U.S. workforce and become almost half by 2020. Boomers are retiring at record numbers. For the first time a generation is entering the workforce engaged in technology well beyond what their employers use today. We all know this demographic change is upon us, yet are we redefining how we start and lead changes as a result? Our success will depend on it.

Link to read the full original article

Answering the Question: ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’

By 

What’s the first question exchanged when we meet someone new? You guessed it:“So… What do you do?”

In our culture, what you do for a living is inextricably tied to society’s perception of your worth. A stable job with a good salary is highly regarded, but we often look less lovingly upon the self-trained artist or entrepreneur who gives blood, sweat, and tears to make their vision possible.

Why is this? Is the number on your paycheck the true meaning of success?

 Instead of focusing on money or power, let’s focus on what’s fundamental: happiness and a sense of purpose. These two elements drive us to do more than status or material gain.

People don’t succeed by migrating to a particular industry or job. They thrive by getting curious about answering questions about who they really are and doing work they truly love. In doing so, they unleash unthinkable creative and productive energy. To truly be happy, our work must have meaning.

This is not a new idea. For decades, psychologists have known that humans are more motivated by personally meaningful goals than by external rewards such as money or status. Put simply: When you love what you do, it shows. You’re lit up by your passion, you put in extra effort, you’re a source of great ideas. Others envy your confidence.

Remember that 95% of the time finding oneself doesn’t happen in one major epiphany. Clarity comes in fits and spurts. Passion evolves.

All of us are born with innate strengths and aptitudes. Nurture your interests and have patience when finding ways to exercise passion for something — even if you don’t see a way to make money from it yet. Be persistent and remain open to the possibilities.

The first step is to simply explore your whims — those little sparks of interest you’re not sure what to make of yet. To help you figure out what you find meaningful and inspiring in your life, try this exercise:

Get out some blank paper or open a fresh computer file. Write for a minimum of five minutes straight. Do not censor yourself. Write freely. Jot down whatever comes to mind, no matter how silly or unformed the idea seems.

  • Name the top 3 peak experiences in your life. What do they have in common?  What does this tell you about yourself?
  • What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
  • What are your strengths and values?
  • If money weren’t a problem, what would you spend your every day doing?
  • What would you be doing if you knew you couldn’t fail?
  • What’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
  • What have you done in your life that you are especially proud of?
  • What activity are you doing when it feels like time just flies by?
  • When do you feel the most alive?
  • What kind of impact do you want to have?
  • What kind of professional and personal breakthroughs do you want to experience?
  • What are things (a language, a sport) you want to learn?
  • How do you envision you will leave your goal or legacy on people’s lives?
  • What are you excited, happy, and enjoying most in your liferight now?

Life isn’t predictable. Often the path to success isn’t clear-cut. The real secret to success is embracing life’s twists and turns. By dispelling limiting beliefs, you’re igniting a fire to help your interests grow and thrive. So the next time someone asks you, “What do you do for a living,?” you won’t have to know the final answer, but you’ll already be taking the next step.

Link to read the original article

All of Your Employees Hate Performance Reviews

Try to divide your employees into two groups: those who enjoy their annual performance reviews, and those who don’t. Turns out you can’t do that–they all hate performance reviews.

The study suggests that employers should realize that nobody, regardless of how they say they like to learn, is all that happy to be critiqued, so employers might consider framing their feedback in a more positive light…

You might also consider offering solutions and avoiding negative terms (like “don’t” or “shouldn’t”) in your feedback.

The results of the study should not cause you to devalue feedback. In fact, a Gallup study found that employees who receive negative feedback are 20 times more likely to be engaged than employees who receive no feedback at all.

A more realistic approach might just be to recognize and accept that no one’s going to jump for joy over a performance review. That doesn’t preclude looking for ways to improve the process, though, such as by reviewing teams rather than individuals.

Link to read the full original article

The Two Words That Will Lead You To Success And Happiness

The word “yes” leads to happiness.

The word “no” leads to success.

“Yes” creates opportunity. Saying yes a lot makes more things happen.

“No” creates focus.

Adam Grant has days where the door is closed, the answer is no, and important work gets done.

Other days are designated for new initiatives, helping others, and the answer is yes, yes, yes.

There’s a level of trial and error to see what works for you personally but this type of deliberate split is the first step to work/life balance…

Link to read the full original article

How a Happy Life Checklist Can Change Your Life

And here is a lovely 2minute video that might just breathe a little extra happiness into your day (even is we’re not at the beach on holiday).

Happiness At Work Edition #83

You will find all of these stories and more in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection

CB043083

Happiness At Work #82 ~ breaking the binaries

photo credit: psd via photopin cc

photo credit: psd via photopin cc

Breaking the binaries is one of the ideas that has emerged during some wonderful facilitation work I am doing with Rajni Shah Projects.  You know – like right or wrong, good or bad, true or false, task or relationship, reason or feelings, happy or sad, your way or my way, here or not here…?  And I am carrying the invitation to break the insistence of these enforced choices into this week’s Happiness At Work  headline theme:

How much of our thinking is governed by either/or expectations?
And what does this leave out, or push us into or away from, or force us into making unnecessarily limited or just plain bad decisions and choices?

The following stories from this week’s collection all play with this theme somehow, across of spectrum of different contexts, from debunking the myths that separate creative people from analytical people, and several stories that rattle the supposed high income OR do-what-you-really-love career choice we are supposed to have to make, and a couple of different stories that trouble some of our assumptions about what employees should do to impress and delight their managers and what managers should be thinking and doing in today’s organisations, and a fresh look at how to think intelligently and helpfully about getting and keeping a good work-life balance.

I am headlining with this post written by our lovely friend Stella Duffy, questioning a great deal of what we assume are fixed either/or alternatives in our work…

photo credit: sara~ via photopin cc

photo credit: sara~ via photopin cc

Stella Duffy publicly outed her new breast cancer this week, and, in doing so, breaks a whole rulebook of unwritten (and quite probably rotten) conventions about keeping illness hidden and private and ‘away from work’ (now there’s a phrase that needs interrogating).  In the same week as Radio 4’s Women’s Hour also highlighted professional women who speak out about having cancer, Stella courageously challenges our stereotypes about how ill people are, or or are supposed to be.  Perhaps this is especially so for women, historically expected to suffer invisibly in silence and carry their loads without any palaver to bother our expectations for keeping business-as-usual.  Her honest unapologetic straightforwardly “this is just how it is announcement” challenges, too, our probably outmoded ideas about the relationship between illness and work, and recovery and work, as well as resilience and work.

And it makes me wonder just how many working women are out there in the world at this moment, doing extraordinary work and making small and wonderful miracles happen, beneath an enforced mask of inordinate difficulty and hardness in another part of their lives?  Men too.  But today I am wondering about the unheard unseen experiences the women of the world are quietly carrying, to the benefit of the rest of us?

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

my news (and onwards)

So. I have breast cancer again.
This is rubbish, depressing, worrying and also kind of amazing – 14 years since the last one! My body (and the medics) did good…

Please don’t tell me to rest. Why? IF this is a bad one (and we won’t know until post-surgery) why on earth would I live my life any less than I’m already doing? Work (writing, speaking, Fun Palaces) is not WORK, as in a horrible thing, to me. It is WORK, as in what I care about, what I believe in, what I am driven to do and passionate for, what I am living for. I AM passionate and driven. I do not see these as bad things. (And yes, of course I’ll rest post-surgery, but after that, no, I won’t be cutting back on LIVING.)

What does it do to Fun Palaces? Nothing at all, except make me even more passionate about inclusion, engagement. Can we get more hospitals engaged? Can we enthuse more venues to engage with medical scientists? Can we make sure our Fun Palaces are accessible for sick and/or disabled people too? Can we do it all, and more? (Also had a wonderful conversation about Fun Palaces and arts and medicine with doc WHILE he was taking biopsy the other day. Really inspiring and hopeful for our professions, our missions, working together.)

There’s also a brilliant team of already-engaged, already-enthused volunteer Fun Palaces maker-mates, who are ready and willing to take over the email-answering while I have a couple of weeks to get my strength back post-op. (But hey, post-op from-bed emailing is what laptops are all about, right?!)

And of course there is Sarah-Jane. My work partner, my friend, my co-believer in the brilliance, strength and NECESSITY of the project. If I happen to be too tired to come to those speaking engagements we’ve already talked about, she’ll do it. Fun Palaces is hers too….

What does it do to my writing work? Nothing at all. It all stays on track, new book to deliver (third draft!) to agent in spring. And I’m totally up for all the same events/workshops etc as soon as I’m recovered from surgery. The mentoring continues – that one can be done prone!

What does it do to my directing work? See above. Working on the new idea with Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence will continue. Work with Shaky Isles will continue. Times and people are flexible and willing.

So, finally, what does it do to my life? Everything and nothing.

I had cancer 14 years ago. It was terrifying and awful. In many ways the worst part about it was that chemo led to my early infertility and me not being able to be a mother.

Having had cancer means I’m fore-armed. I know loads now. I know my surgeon and breast care nurse. I know they know me. I do not have to persuade them that I’m freelance and need to work. They know that, just like last time, I have no sick pay. And unlike last time, I’m not about to go to the US to do a show (and taking chemo with me!)

I have never felt like I was “all clear”. I had a grade 3 breast cancer, surgery, chemo and radiotherapy at 36. OF COURSE I have always known it might come back. I think my body has done so well to get me this far. I trust it will get me through this and on to the next part of my life.

It is horrible for Shelley, it is horrible for my family and friends, it is horrible for me. None of us wants to go through pain and illness.

BUT, even when I’m down and sad about this (and I have been, and will no doubt be again), I know I have waves of love and determination coming at me from those who love and care for me.

I know I have a HUGE dream – the Fun Palaces project – to achieve. I believe that my being ill now can feed that dream, can help us make even better Fun Palaces, more inclusive Fun Palaces, I don’t think this will detract from the project at all, not my ability to create it, nor OUR ability to make it the best we ALL can.

Link to read the original  article

photo credit: Eric Fischer via photopin cc

photo credit: Eric Fischer via photopin cc

Earning vs. Happiness: The Mutually Exclusive Myth

by , Author of ‘Being Human‘, International Speaker, and Life Coach

At what age did you go from being loved unconditionally to feeling that you have to earn someone’s love? Conversely, how old do you have to become to automatically earn respect? I believe the whole earning concept is at the bottom of many of our self-worth issues. Think about it.

I understand the notion of earning an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, but where did that translate into earning a living? The thought that we are not good enough to enjoy the good life until we have accomplished a goal (a number on the scale; the honor roll; acceptance into a particular college; a sales target or a salary; a square footage in our home) sets us up to feel inadequate from the start. Even if we persevere long enough to reach our chosen goal, more often than not, we are still unhappy. Perhaps our goal wasn’t high enough, and we then feel inadequate for setting such a feeble goal. If your inner critic is half as mean as mine, you don’t need to feel any more inadequate.

I am not, by any means, saying that we should not leap out of our comfort zones, aspire for great things, hold ourselves to a higher standard and strive for excellence. After all, I’m a coach and I help people do this on a daily basis. But what happened to enjoying your life while pursuing your goals? Why have we self-imposed this weighty condition that we will never be good enough until we have earned our happiness, our partner’s love or our coworker’s respect?

Some things are a birthright.
Like human rights. … The right to rest and leisure is a birth right — look it up. You are allowed to have fun while pursuing your goals.

Some things are a gift.
A gift is defined as a thing given willingly to someone without payment. And here I want to elaborate that a gift does not require payment of money, a favour, or reciprocation of any kind. I like the definition of grace even more: a free and unmerited favour – unmerited being the important part. … A sunset is a gift. A child’s giggle is a gift. Happiness is a gift that you are allowed to indulge in as much as you like without having to prove anything to anyone.

Some things don’t matter.
The opinion of others – your in-laws, your neighbors, or anyone who doesn’t share your values or the vision for your life’s purpose, these opinions do not matter. Yes, we are social animals, and most of us would prefer to belong to some sort of tribe or social circle, so I am not advocating that you tell everybody to take a hike. But, within your own inner conversations and your thoughts, don’t give weight to the unreasonable expectations of the heights you must climb to earn the approval from the toxic people in your life.

Happiness is not earned, it’s a choice every step of the way towards whatever life goals you have set. Delight in your journey.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: 50 Watts via photopin cc

photo credit: 50 Watts via photopin cc

How To Get A Promotion: 11 Bosses Spill

In this report from interviews with bosses about what made the positive difference in someone’s performance, one or two of these tips might be expected, but many will rattle and recalibrate our preconceived ideas about what the terms of engagement between employees and their managers are supposed to be…

…nearly a dozen bosses, in fields ranging from marketing and tech to new media, executive recruiting, and financial planning spoke to LearnVest on the condition of anonymity, to share exactly why they’d promoted a direct report in the past. From telling the boss when she’s wrong to schmoozing at happy hour, their answers just might surprise you.

Tell Me I’m Wrong
“I love when someone smart challenges my thinking,” says one boss.

That’s not to say you should be arguing with your supervisors on a regular basis, but if you have a well-thought-out point that disagrees with your boss’s plan, consider bringing it up directly. As this boss says, “I love it even more when a person has the data/facts or examples to actually make their point.”

Bring the Bad News First
“Don’t tell me how fantastic you are. Tell me what is going wrong and, even more importantly, what it is you are going to do to fix it.”

Ultimately, a mistake or issue is your boss’s responsibility, so make sure your supervisor is aware of any large-scale or constant problems. This doesn’t mean you should email every time the printer is a little wonky, but you should make sure your boss is apprised of any serious issues.

This serves two purposes: First, it lets your boss know you’re on top of the problem and working to fix it. Second, it gives your boss the time to work on her own solution, or at least prepare for a different course of action, and to present it to her boss.

Be Drama-Free
“I don’t care if you don’t like the person you sit next to or think the the Post-It notes should be yellow, not blue. Bring me drama and I am certain that you are not worthy of the next step.”

Especially in an office environment, we have to work closely with different personalities and in less-than-ideal situations. Unless there’s a real problem (read: you feel unsafe or can’t complete your work), keep complaints to yourself. As one boss says, “Your job is to make your boss’s life easier, not plop your drama on his or her lap. Save that for your friends and family or your diary.”

Another boss agrees: “If you gossip a lot, it’s a problem.”

Smile
“Your boss would like to harbor the fantasy that you actually like your job, since she is paying you, spending more time with you than her family, and helping you more than you realize,” one boss told us. “You can at least smile and seem like you are enjoying things in return.”

You don’t need to blind every passerby with your pearly whites, but remember that no matter how close your deadline or how heavy your workload, other people will take their cues from you. If you’re snapping at co-workers and frowning, they’ll snap and frown right back. Instead, take a breath, put on a smile, and show your boss you appreciate the opportunity.

Take Notes
“We hate having to tell you things over and over. No boss should ever have to go over directions more than once. If you don’t understand the direction when it is being given, clarify right then and there and take good notes instead of depending on your memory.” 

We’ve all been there — nodding and smiling and filing away the tasks we’re given in a meeting, only to get back to our desks having lost those mental files. Impress your supervisor by keeping a paper and pen (or laptop, if that’s acceptable at your office) at hand, ready to record the things you need to remember.

Taking the time to write things down is especially helpful, as it gives you a minute to process your instructions and think of any questions you need to ask then and there.

Never Skip the Office Party
You know how they say that as many business deals are made on the golf course as in the office? That same principle applies to the office party. One boss points out that skipping the chance to socialize with your co-workers means you’re missing basic office news (think: who is preparing to leave) and alienating yourself from the people who sit next to you eight-plus hours of your day.

When it comes time to pick a team member for an advantageous project or conference in Hawaii, who will be chosen? Not what’s-her-name, that girl who never comes to the party.

Don’t Expect to Be Rewarded
“In order to get a promotion, you need to actually be worth it!” says one boss. “Don’t walk around with the air that you deserve it, because that sense of entitlement is going to get you nowhere.”

Confidence is one thing; arrogance is another. Yes, you were the top of your class in college and yes, you dominated your last project, but it’s a fine line between letting your work speak for you and duct-taping it to your boss’s computer. Worried your boss doesn’t notice your achievements? Set up a meeting to talk about what you’ve been working on, and ask for feedback.

But don’t get too worried your accomplishments are going unnoticed. As one boss says: “Let’s be honest — I promote people with good personalities. Your ability to be professional and also eager, motivated, and thoughtful about decisions and interactions with others is significant.”

Hold Up Your End
“It’s awful when you claim to be a team player, but complain when you are given responsibilities to help on a project.”

“Team player” is cliched for a reason — because every boss wants to see that quality in a potential employee. In recent years, “team” has come to replace every office unit from department to entire company, and every employee is expected to be a team player.

Complaining about your role on the team is both futile and aggravating to your boss. Where is she supposed to find you a sub? If you aren’t a team player, the real fix is to learn the rules of the game, and fast.

Ask How You Can Help
“You should be asking me if there is anything else you can be working on to help grow the company or the project, instead of waiting around for me to tell you what to do.”

There’s another word for that, one that appears next on the cliched-for-a-reason list: initiative. Clearly, you shouldn’t be asking your boss to hold your hand during every step of a project, but a well-timed “What can I do to help?” or “I noticed that [task] needs doing — I’ll tackle that,” is much appreciated.

Have a Solution
Wrong: “You tell me you have a problem — well, actually, you whine about something which I understand means you have a problem — and you come in with zero solutions on how to fix it.”

Right: “You come up with new and successful ideas on your own and take initiative to do something we already do and do it better without being asked.”

One boss told us she’s happy to give advice to people who ask for it, but she’s “looking to promote people who can think their way out of something on their own.” To please a boss like this, you can follow one rule of thumb: Never bring up a problem without a possible solution to recommend. Brainstorm feasible, reasonable solutions to the problem you have (tips on being a better brainstormer here). When you present it to your boss, launch right into what you recommend as a solution.

Know Your Job — and Do It
“If I have asked you twice and you don’t pay any attention to what you need to do as a part of your job, I will not see you as valuable or smart,” says one boss.

Since you’re already taking notes (see: tip 5), make sure you scribble somewhere exactly what your responsibilities are, and make sure you prioritize them. Along the same lines, it’s important to know which tasks are crucial, and which can take a backseat.

One boss had the following recommendation: “I think the best candidates for promotion are those who best can gently ‘manage up’ within their ranks and can find the balance needed to do gold star work while still knowing when to draw the line and say, “I can do this for you, or I can do that for Mr. Smith, but I cannot get both done today. I feel like [this task] is the priority — would you agree?”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

And in the interests of balance – here are…

Ten Radical Shifts in Thinking All Leaders Face

Leaders fail when they don’t think like leaders.

Leaders who think like individual contributors demoralize their team and devalue their leadership.

Lousy leaders think like individual contributors.

10 radical shifts in thinking:

  1. From “I” to “we.”  Leadership begins with we.
  2. From controlling people to aligning passions. Raise your hand if you enjoy being controlled. I didn’t think so. Successful leaders align the passions of their teammates with organizational mission.
  3. From complexity to simplicity. The courage to cut away at complexity until simplicity emerges is a rare gift. Most just muddle through. Some leaders enjoy the feeling of importance that complexity creates. But, any fool can make something complex.  Leaders simplify.
  4. From who is right to what is right. In one sense leadership isn’t personal at all. The issue is the issue. It doesn’t matter who comes up with solutions. The person who screwed up last week, may be this week’s genius.
  5. From talking “at” to talking “with.” Engagement requires “with.” The more you talk “at” the more you lose “with.”
  6. From right and wrong to better and best. Complex issues have more than one answer. Usually, there is no “right” solution.
  7. From symptoms to causes. The reason you’re always putting out fires is you haven’t addressed the root issue.
  8. From feeling confused to pursuing clarity. Most people don’t have the discipline or endurance to bear the frustration of pursuing clarity. They just want to get something done.
  9. From how can I step in to how can I step out. Fixers struggle to make room for others. Stepping in means you’re in the way.
  10. From receiving praise to giving it.

Link to read the original article

The 3 myths about creativity in business

Creativity is vital in business; far too important to be left to a special cadre of ‘creative people’. Charles Andrew, joint managing director at Idea Couture outlines three myths about creativity in business that impede success and three key steps to overcome it

A business whose only ambition is to continue doing tomorrow what they did yesterday, will wither as both its competitors and customers change around it. The central role of creativity in business survival was recognised in an IBM survey of more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries. They reported that – more than rigour, management discipline, or even vision – successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity. But despite the focus on creativity and the proliferation of good advice, the solution still seems to be illusive. Maybe this is because there are three underlying cultural beliefs about what creativity really is, who has it, and how it can be managed (or not) that are acting as unseen barriers.

Myth 1. Analytical thought and creative thought are fundamentally different

Neuroscience is giving us ever deeper insight into the mysterious processes of the human brain. It is revealing that new ideas often emerge from the juxtaposing of existing information in the parts of the brain that we associate with more ‘rational’ processing and analytical thought. Understanding this, we can elevate the pursuit of creativity to a discipline that mirrors this neural process; systematically assembling, analysing, and challenging data about today in order to develop new possibilities for tomorrow…

Myth 2. Analytical people are generally not creative people

This often follows from the first myth. If the modes of thought are so different, then maybe the people having those thoughts must be different too. So if businesses need more creativity, it is a problem to be solved either through recruitment or external consultants. Either way, this perpetuates the division between ‘creativity’ and the core disciplines of business. And as we learn from organisational psychology, this cultural separation means that creativity, where it occurs, will remain largely peripheral and low impact.

By contrast, smart companies such as Procter & Gamble and GSK are especially strong at integrating scientists (often seen only as strong rational thinkers) into the early stages of innovation where capabilities in consumer empathy and imaginative thinking are equally vital.

Myth 3. Creativity is about making great leaps of imagination

The myth of the creative genius suddenly arriving at great ideas in a puff of brilliant inspiration continues to do much harm because it prevents us from recognising what is really necessary in the creative process; the on-going, painstaking, development of fresh perspectives and the nurturing of initially small ideas in order to gradually create something significantly innovative.

The problem with our observation of change is that we tend to see only the end result and we don’t see the process that led to it. Beethoven, for instance, would gradually develop a whole symphony based on taking a short melody which he would then adapt and restate. This process of continually building on, and nurturing, an initial (small) idea is more realistic and systematically effective.

Top tips:

  • The first step to an idea is not to try to have one, but to marshal the perspectives and inspiration from which ideas originate. Focus on collecting, not judging; the relevance may only occur to you later
  • Think ‘outside in’: use empathy to view your business from the customer’s point of view. Stop seeing them as merely a chooser and user of your services, but as a real person. Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Systematically challenge everything that’s important to the way you do business now. Nurture ideas that initially seem flawed to explore whether they lead you somewhere significant.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: sjdunphy via photopin cc

photo credit: sjdunphy via photopin cc

Engaging And Sustaining Creativity And Innovation: Part I

“The first step toward being creative is often simply to go beyond being a passive observer and to translate thoughts into deeds.  With a little creative confidence, we can spark positive action in the world.”  -Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack and Jill were very sure why they were going up the mountain and what they were after.  As to whether that well and pail of water existed at the top of the hill, we will never be sure.  For, according to Wikipedia…”the rhyme has traditionally been seen as a nonsense verse, particularly as the couple go up a hill to find water, which is often thought to be found at the bottom of hills.

Which provides us with an interesting perspective as we determine how to better infuse and engage creativity and innovation…in our schools and our organizations.

Unlike Jack and Jill

Do we always know why we are going up the hill?  Do we even really and truly know what we are after? Is the hill even where we need to go?

Or, are we making our way up the hill in search of answers to questions that we haven’t even truly clarified for ourselves, let alone for others…and our organization as a whole.

And even if we make up it to the well (network), have we equipped ourselves with the necessary questions (the pail), to pull up and gather the water (ideas) that can drive us towards the vision and direction that we seek.

As we consider our next steps…

We understand and see the necessity and need for infusing and weaving creativity and innovation into all that we do. but we struggle to visualize what that truly looks like…or even means.

So, in regards to creativity and innovation, we’ve sounded the trumpets, we’ve rolled out the red carpet, we’ve even opened the gates of the kingdom wide to welcome both of them in.  The only problem…

Neither creativity or innovation may be standing at the gate waiting to come in…and if they are, we may struggle to recognize who they are…

Which is why it will be so important for us to push forward in our efforts to infuse and engage creativity and innovation at all levels of our organizations…

So even though we know it, we say it, and we expound their benefits…it often comes to a screeching halt at this point.  Knowing about the importance and benefits of something is much different than taking action and determining ways to experiment with, incorporate, and weave it into the processes of what we do…on an ongoing and daily basis.

And while we know they are both necessary, needed, and important…we are still often not sure how to truly infuse and engage creativity and innovation…especially as sustainable and scalable processes across our schools and organizations.

Which is why we not only have to determine and define for ourselves what creativity and innovation is, but where it comes from, and even what it looks like…

We have to look at those methods, strategies and processes that allow them to cascade and flow across and at all levels of the organization.

And that begins first…with our mindset.

And unfortunately, most of us fail to consider ourselves to be either creative or innovative.  We lack what Tom and David Kelley refer in their new book as Creative Confidence.  Which is where the discussion must begin…our starting point.  Especially, if we are going to move towards increased creativity and innovation across the organization.  If we are going to move it beyond small pockets and just a few individuals…

Which will require us to figure out what that looks like, sounds like, feels like, is like…when engaged and active.  To determine how we, as educational organizations, districts, classrooms, teams, and individuals…create that necessary “Creative Confidence” that the Kelley Brothers refer to.

So, instead of trying to take it all on, maybe we need to just start here…

We need to make sure we know why we are going up the hill.

To overcome inertia, good ideas are not enough. Careful planning is not enough.  The organizations, communities, and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that launch rapid innovation cycles, that learn by doing as soon as they can.  They are sprinting forward, while others are still waiting at the starting line.” 

Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence

Link to read the original article

Why Google, Facebook and Twitter Execs Are Meeting With a Monk

In an age when we’re constantly being distracted, being able to focus is the golden goose.

We may thank technology platforms like Twitter and Facebook for shrinking our attention spans down to nanoseconds, but the executives of those selfsame companies know that to grow their businesses, they need to put a priority on focus.

At the Wisdom 2.0 conference being hosted in San Francisco next month, a group of tech heavyweights will come together with yoga practitioners, mindfulness specialists and even a Benedictine monk to learn how to work and live within the demands of technology more effectively….

The growing interest in the conference mirrors a growing trend in our relationship with technology: As we become increasingly dependent on mobile devices and social networks, we struggle to not feel controlled by them. These questions and struggles pervade both our personal and professional lives, but business leaders and executives at the Wisdom 2.0 conference will specifically address how to perform more efficiently in the workplace.

For example, last year, Gopi Kallayil, the chief evangelist for Google+, talked about how to integrate the fundamentals of a yoga-practice to be a more productive professional. Kallayil, who was born in India and grew up practicing yoga, has five fundamental rituals that he implements in every single day:

focus on the essential,

do one thing at a time,

take time to listen to your own body’s needs,

make at least one minute for mindfulness each day

and set appointments for the activities that will help you stay mindful.

Link to read the original article

Work-Life Balance Is A Lie – So Here’s A Better Way To Think About It

…As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, the line between our work and our personal lives is often blurred. Nearly half of American workers have jobs suitable for part-time or full-time telecommuting (aka working from somewhere outside the office). That means more people are checking work email at the dinner table and typing up project reports in their pajamas. In fact, the physical separation between our work and our personal lives (aka an office building) may be somewhat outdated. One survey found that as many as 70 percent of college students believe it’s unnecessary to be in an office regularly.

For younger workers, these relaxed boundaries may actually be desirable. When they look for a job, many millennials say flexibility (in terms of where and when they work) is especially important. That’s possibly because employees in this age bracket want the freedom to develop relationships and pursue personal hobbies: Research suggests millennial workers place a higher value on being able to spend time with friends and family than Boomers (people born between approximately 1946 and 1964) did when they were younger. Likewise, millennials are less likely to define themselves by their careers.

But flexibility in the form of having constant access to work email and never technically “clocking out” for the day can have some negative repercussions. Research suggests it’s important to take breaks from professional demands and to recover from a busy workweek in order to reduce stress.

Unfortunately, there’s no one “right” approach to balancing work-related and personal commitments. For those worried about whether, where, or how to draw the line between work and play, follow the practical steps below to create a life that’s all-around fulfilling.

1. Pick and choose.
One of the hardest parts of achieving work-life balance is recognizing that we’ll never have it all. That is, we’ll never make it to every social event while also working extra hours and making home-cooked meals every night. Once you’ve decided which responsibilities and relationships you find most important (see number two), it’s all about prioritizing. So cut yourself some slack when it comes to other achievements in your personal and professional life, and remind yourself that you’re making progress where you believe it really counts.

 Credit: Nanette Hoogslag, Wellcome Images

Credit: Nanette Hoogslag, Wellcome Images

2. You do you.
The definition of work-life balance varies pretty widely between individuals. Instead of trying to conform to someone else’s lifestyle, figure out what’s personally meaningful to you, whether that’s developing a relationship with a new partner or working toward a promotion at a new job (or both). As long as you find your life fulfilling, it doesn’t matter if your schedule looks different from someone else’s.

3. Be open to change.
Even once you’ve searched your soul to figure out what truly matters to you, accept that those priorities might change over time. Maybe you’ll start a family, take a new job, or pick up a new hobby — whatever the situation, be prepared for your values and schedule to shift, and make adjustments accordingly.

4. Accept imperfection.
Let’s say you’ve established that friendships are the most important aspect of your life right now. That still doesn’t mean you need to freak out if you miss your BFF’s boyfriend’s birthday bash because you’re working late on a big project. Know that you’ll make mistakes, and that obstacles and challenges will pop up unexpectedly. Instead of feeling like a terrible person, try to enjoy yourself and be productive and present with whatever you’re doing. Then refocus on your main priorities as soon as possible.

5. Take it day by day.
One clever tip is to combine your work and personal calendars so you don’t necessarily prioritize one set of responsibilities over the other in advance. Each day, you can decide whether the staff meeting is more important than getting lunch with an old high school buddy, or vice versa.

6. Pursue your passions.
Just because you’re working a lot doesn’t necessarily mean your life isn’t awesome. Some of us (ideally, all of us!) love our jobs, so much so that we’re willing to spend hours brainstorming, emailing, and sitting in meetings. If it makes you happy to bring your laptop home and continue working after dinner because you feel like you’re making a difference in the world or you simply love the work, go for it!

7. Keep track.
One of the first steps to figuring out how we can spend more time on the things that are really meaningful to us is learning how much time we currently spend on all our activities. For one week, try keeping a log of everything you do, from washing laundry to browsing Pinterest. Then go over the lists, pinpoint potential “time sucks,” share your concerns with your family and coworkers, and create an action plan for refocusing on the activities that really matter to you.

8. Open your options.
A growing number of workplaces allow employees to work remotely or have flexible schedules. If that possibility interests you, and if you think a new work style could make you less stressed, talk to your employer and see what you two can work out. (The worst that could happen is your boss will say no.)

9. Rock to your own rhythm.
Researchers are increasingly paying attention to the topic of chronotypes (biological schedules that determine when we feel tired and awake), and they’ve found that people vary widely in terms of when they’re most creative, energetic, and productive. Think about how your own abilities evolve throughout the day — if you’re most alert in the mornings, try getting to the office early; if you really come alive after 9pm, consider creating a less traditional work schedule (see number eight). That way, you won’t feel like you’re wasting valuable time at work when you’re half-zoned out anyway.

10. Reconsider your commute.
The physical trip to and from the office can be more draining than work itself. If standing like a sardine on a crowded subway is making you sick, consider moving closer to your workplace: You’ll have a better attitude toward work and feel less like you’re wasting a big chunk of your day. On the other hand, don’t be afraid of a long commute if it means going home to a neighborhood you love and feeling happier in general.

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

11. Seek support.
Ultimately, work-life balance is about finding a way to juggle all the different kinds of relationships in our lives. So don’t be shy about asking other people to help you manage your responsibilities. Talk to coworkers about filling in for each other when one of you has an outside commitment, or to family members about sharing dog-walking or babysitting responsibilities on days when someone needs to stay late at the office.

12. Don’t tear down this wall.
Working from home can be liberating, but it comes with challenges, like potentially getting distracted by the pile of dirty laundry on the floor. To avoid these issues, set up a physical boundary between work life and home life by designating a whole room (or even just a corner) as your office space. Try to keep all work-related paraphernalia and tasks contained to just this area.

13. Squeeze it in.
In an ideal world, we’d be able to spend two hours lunching with pals every day and attend salsa lessons every night. But sometimes it’s more realistic to grab coffee with a friend and go dancing every other weekend. This schedule might not be exactly what we’d like, but it’s certainly preferable to not socializing or letting loose at all. Let yourself enjoy the time you do have, instead of lamenting the time you don’t.

14. Find fun anywhere.
These days, lots of workplaces are embracing the idea of organized fun, like bonding activities for staff members. And nearly three quarters of millennial workers say they want their coworkers to be a second family. If you enjoy the workday and the company of your coworkers, this experience in itself can count as socializing. Don’t feel like you have to create “balance” by spending your weekends and weeknights doing non-work-related activities unless you really want to do them.

15. Tackle technology.
Smartphones, laptops, tablets, spaceships: All these tools are designed to improve our productivity and our lives overall. But when these gadgets make us feel like we’re supposed to be responding to work emails or finishing up projects at home, we can start to get overwhelmed. On the other side of the spectrum, constantly checking our Facebook feed while at work can lead to some serious FOMO. Manage all this technology-induced stress by unplugging for a little while or by setting limits on when and where to use it.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

THE TAKEAWAY

The most important thing to remember in the quest for work-life balance is that we’ll never achieve perfection. There will be nights when we miss dinner with our partner because we stayed late at the office, and days when we skip a staff meeting to bring a pal to an emergency dental appointment. What matters is that we create a personally meaningful life that helps us feel happy and healthy overall.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: dullhunk via photopin cc

photo credit: dullhunk via photopin cc

Art in good health: how science and culture mix the best medicine

Why are so many health organisations funding art projects and what can artists and scientists gain from close collaboration?

Anna Dumitriu turns bacteria into art. She has stitched strains of MRSA into a quilt; she has crocheted with the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis, found on her own bed. For her latest exhibition, The Romantic Disease – just opened at the Watermans arts centre in Brentford, west London – she has made a series of tiny lungs out of felt, dust and tuberculosis samples.

Dumitriu is at the vanguard of a new wave of collaboration between artists and scientists. There has, in recent years, been a surge in the number of projects, across all artforms, with a health or scientific issue at their heart, and a scientific or medical organisation as a key funding source.

Take, for example, Mess, the 2012 show by theatre-maker Caroline Horton, drawing on her own experience of anorexia; or Our Glass House, a compelling, immersive piece of theatre about domestic abuse, staged in various cities around the country with the financial backing of local NHS services.

To see artists and scientists working together in this way is nothing new. Historically, both artists and clinicians were often polymaths, with their feet firmly in both camps, and the distinction between science and the arts can be viewed as a modern one, imposed by an education system that requires children to specialise at an early age.

But to see scientific organisations choosing to fund art – stating, in effect, that it is through art that a particular scientific message can best be communicated to the public – is a relatively recent, and intriguing development. So why are these organisations choosing to fund arts projects? And what do both artists and scientists get from the close working relationship that should, in theory, result…

Can art play a wider role in enhancing health and wellbeing? In a speech last September, Arts Council chief Peter Bazalgette quoted Alan Yates, former chief executive of Mersey Care NHS Trust, as saying that “if the arts had not been invented, we would now do so, as a front line NHS service”.

That was certainly the feeling I got from Lesley Johnston at NHS Lothian, one of the funding bodies behind Our Glass House, an immersive theatre piece exploring the impact of domestic abuse. “Theatre is a really powerful tool,” she said. “We’re working in this field day in, day out. [But] seeing something visual like this gets you at a much deeper level.”

This is also part of what drives Anna Dumitriu as an artist: the desire to take her own fascination with microbiology and other areas of science, harness scientific expertise, and communicate that knowledge to the wider public – together with the history and emotions that underpin it.

Ultimately, Dumitriu believes it’s something only art can do. “Art, for me, is a way of investigating the world,” she says. “In that way, I see no real distinction between art and science at all.”

Link to read the original article

Yes, teach workers resilience – but they’ll still have a breaking point

As the global economic race sets in, it is leaders’ responsibility to organise work in a way that does not harm people’s health

 writing in The Guardian

This “global race” business is no laughing matter. It’s as if the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics want us all to stay in training. The language of fitness and athleticism is everywhere: we have to be flexible, we have to be agile, we have to be nimble.

And now, it seems, we have to be resilient too. The civil service is the latest organisation to support “resilience training” as a way of helping staff deal with the pressures of work. Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the ministry of justice, told the FT that colleagues could benefit from developing coping skills in today’s tougher climate.

Who could be against resilience, or greater fitness come to think of it? The healthy worker may be more resistant to colds and flu, and will have the energy to keep going when others start to tire. Economists continue to worry about the chronic poor productivity in the UK. A lack of resilience may have something to do with it. Whether you are on a late or early shift, there is work to be done and targets to be hit. That means being ready and able to perform.

But what are we really talking about when we use the word “resilience”? Calmly rising above the daily irritations of the workplace is one thing. Suppressing anxiety in an attempt to appear in control is another. If the demands being made on people are unreasonable then trying to stay resilient may be unwise. Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, says that resilience can be a useful term when it refers to ways of boosting your mental wellbeing. “Talking about mental health is still a taboo in many workplaces,” he says. He supports “any training which can equip staff with the skills they need to help look after their own mental wellbeing”.

There is a caveat, however. Resilience should not be seen as a way of putting up with anything. “Nobody should be expected to cope with ever-increasing demands, excessive workloads and longer working hours,” he says.

What really adds to stress and a sense of powerlessness at work is a loss of autonomy, either as a result of poor work organisation or the impossibility of being able to speak up. And while it might seem refreshing to hear a senior civil servant discussing the need for a more open culture and better two-way communication between bosses and employees, if in practice this doesn’t happen then stress levels are likely to rise.

If only there were a large piece of research into workplace health conducted over many years to provide the evidence we need to know how to organise our work better. But of course this research does exist: it is the decades-long study led by Sir Michael Marmot into the health of… civil servants.

What Marmot has shown is that it is status and control that matter more than resilience, cognitive skills or attitude. It may be tough at the top, but it is considerably tougher lower down. “The high-status person has a lot of demand,” says Marmot, “but he or she has a lot of control, and the combination of high demand and low control is what’s stressful.”

So while we should be encouraging employees to develop skills to help them cope with workload pressures, which will include “framing” techniques and building a more resilient outlook, it is the responsibility of leaders to organise work in a way that does not harm people’s health.

Health at work turns out to be another revealing indicator in the biggest story of our times: inequality. As Marmot says: “Health inequalities that are judged to be avoidable by reasonable means and are not avoided are wrong, they’re unjust, they’re unfair.” Tell the boss, if you dare.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: geekcalendar via photopin cc

photo credit: geekcalendar via photopin cc

It gets easier, it gets harder and it stays the same…

Martyn Duffy reflects in the Shaky Isles Theatre blog on professionalism and what it means in 2014 Britain.  He is talking about theatre and performance, but a lot of what he says carries through into many other work contexts in the new economy we are tolerating at the moment.  See what you think…

There has been a lot of talk recently about professionalism and just what the word “professional” actually means. 

The dictionary says:

noun

§  a person engaged or qualified in a profession:professionals such as lawyers and surveyors

§  a person engaged in a specified activity, esp. a sport or branch of the performing arts, as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

§  a person competent or skilled in a particular activity:she was a real professional on stage.

Seems straightforward, then.  But it’s not as black and white as the dictionary seems to suggest.  There are several shades of grey to navigate through before this semantic snapshot comes anywhere near the clear focus that a simple definition suggests.

In years gone by we as theatre practitioners insisted that getting paid was the marker for professionalism.  We assumed that the idea of the starving artist in her garret working by candlelight (and consequently so much more creative for that) was a concept long dead and buried. Now we have “interns” and people doing “job experience” which seems to translate as: “You will work for nothing and be grateful for the opportunity.”   All well and good if this leads on to better career opportunities and networking and profile raising and being taken on permanently, but sometimes  – and this is my biggest worry – it leads to organizations getting cheap labour and replacing one intake with the next for purely commercial reasons.

So, yes you can argue that the idea of the professional has evolved and now means something more like:

noun

§  a person engaged in a specified activity, esp. a sport or branch of the performing arts, as either a main paid occupation (rather than as a pastime) or engaged  in this activity with an understanding that there might be a paid opportunity at some future date.

But if this truly is now the case then we really do have to fight for the principle that a job well done deserves commensurate reward.  What that reward will be has become less tangible.

So many of us do produce work for nothing or practically nothing and that is our choice.  The reality is that there is not enough paid work out there for members of our profession and yet we still need to do what we do because we are driven to do it and that drive and that passion isn’t so much “our choice”.   We make daily compromises and generally do the best we can to offset all the demands and strains that our “real lives” throw at us.  Somehow we make it work.  Sometimes less so…

…Theatre is a strange world where we are often trying to bring life to imaginary worlds in different places, different times and different dimensions.   We do this in order to give our audiences an unforgettable experience.   I often think of this as a reflection of our own lives where we juggle different priorities and the various aspects of ourselves in the hope that we are truly making work that has meaning and that makes a difference.

For artists throughout the ages I think it has always been thus.  Some things do get easier, and yes, some things do get harder, but mostly they remain the same.

And mostly that is a good thing.

Link to read the original article

Rosie Hardy also has something to say on the theme of following what you love to do and making it your work, even when you feel like you will fail, in her inspiring, exuberant and energising TEDx talk from Youth@Manchester 2014

Rosie Hardy TEDx talk: “Creativity and Happiness”

“We live in a society where qualifications are valued more highly than happiness…”

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #82

These and many other stories are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #82 out from Friday 24th January 2014.

Happiness At Work #80 ~ January is International Creativity Month

This week’s post celebrates International Creativity Month with an array of ideas and challenges and questions and techniques to stimulate us all into upping our creativity at work at least a little bit more.  Enjoy…

International Creativity Month

For one month each year the world celebrates International Creativity Month – a month to remind individuals and organizations around the globe to capitalize on the power of creativity.

Unleashing creativity is vital for the personal and business success in this age of accelerating change.

January, the first month of the year, provides an opportunity to take a fresh approach to problem-solving and renew confidence in our creative capabilities.

International Creativity Month was founded by Randall Munson and is celebrated around the world annually in the month of January.

Take advantage of International Creativity Month to refocus your attention to creatively improve your business and personal activities.

Link to International Creativity Month website

The Link: International Creativity Month

Creativity is reflected in human innovation and problem-solving endeavors throughout history. It is present in arts, education, technology, science, and in almost everything we do.  Creativity encourages children’s curiosity and helps them learn to think independently and critically. For adults, creativity inspires innovation, progress, and joy.  As we evolve as a species, creativity helps us evolve as a society.

January is International Creativity Month. Founded by motivational speaker and author Randall Munson, International Creativity Month is geared towards celebrating the power of creativity across the globe…

link to read the original article with its many creativity-related links

Ten Skills That Will Be Critical for Success in the Workforce

Anna Davies, Devin Fidler, Marina Gorbis

Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future. We have identified ten skills that we believe will be critical for success in the workforce.

Sense-making

Definition: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed

As smart machines take over rote, routine manufacturing and services jobs, there will be an increasing demand for the kinds of skills machines are not good at. These are higher level thinking skills that cannot be codified. We call these sense-making skills, skills that help us create unique insights critical to decision making.

Social Intelligence

Definition: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions

While we are seeing early prototypes of “social” and “emotional” robots in various research labs today, the range of social skills and emotions that they can display is very limited. Feeling is just as complicated as sense-making, if not more so, and just as the machines we are building are not sense-making machines, the emotional and social robots we are building are not feeling machines.

Novel and Adaptive Thinking

Definition: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor David Autor has tracked the polarization of jobs in the United States over the last three decades. He finds that job opportunities are declining in middle skill white-collar and blue-collar jobs, largely due to a combination of the automation of routine work, and global offshoring. Conversely, job opportunities are increasingly concentrated in both high skill, high-wage professional, technical and management occupations and in low-skill, low-wage occupations such as food service and personal care. Jobs at the high-skill end involve abstract tasks, and at the low-skill end, manual tasks

Cross Cultural Competency

Definition: ability to operate in different cultural settings

In a truly globally connected world, a worker’s skill set could see them posted in any number of locations.  They need to be able to operate in whatever environment they find them- selves. This demands specific content, such as linguistic skills, but also adaptability to changing circumstances and an ability to sense and respond to new contexts.

Computational Thinking

Definition: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning

As the amount of data that we have at our disposal increases exponentially, many more roles will require computational thinking skills in order to make sense of this information. Novice-friendly programming languages and technologies that teach the fundamentals of programming virtual and physical worlds will enable us to manipulate our environments and enhance our interactions. The use of simulations will become a core expertise as they begin to feature regularly in discourse and decision-making. HR departments that currently value applicants who are familiar with basic applications, such as the Microsoft Office suite, will shift their expectations, seeking out resumes that include statistical analysis and quantitative reasoning skills.

New Media Literacy

Definition:  ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication

The explosion in user-generated media including the videos, blogs, and podcasts that now dominate our social lives, will be fully felt in workplaces in the next decade. Communication tools that break away from the static slide approach of programs such as PowerPoint will become commonplace, and with them expectations of worker ability to produce content using these new forms will rise dramatically.

Transdisciplinarity

Definition: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines

Many of today’s global problems are just too complex to be solved by one specialized discipline (think global warming or overpopulation). These multifaceted problems require transdisciplinary solutions. While throughout the 20th century, ever-greater specialization was encouraged, the next century will see transdisciplinary approaches take center stage. We are already seeing this in the emergence of new areas of study, such as nanotechnology, which blends molecular biology, biochemistry, protein chemistry, and other specialties.

Design Mindset

Definition:  literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines

The sensors, communication tools and processing power of the computational world will bring with them new opportunities to take a design approach to our work. We will be able to plan our environments so that they are conducive to the outcomes that we are most interested in. Discoveries from neuroscience are highlighting how profoundly our physical environments shape cognition. As Fred Gage, a neurobiologist who studies and designs environments for neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons), argues, “change the environment, change the brain, change the behavior.

Workers of the future will need to become adept at recognizing the kind of thinking that different tasks require, and making adjustments to their work environments that enhance their ability to accomplish these tasks.

Cognitive Load Management

Definition:  ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques

A world rich in information streams in multiple formats and from multiple devices brings the issue of cognitive overload to the fore. Organizations and workers will only be able to turn the massive influx of data into an advantage if they can learn to effectively filter and focus on what is important. The next generation of workers will have to develop their own techniques for tackling the problem of cognitive overload. For example, the practice of social filtering—ranking, tagging, or adding other metadata to content helps higher-quality or more relevant information to rise above the “noise.”

Virtual Collaboration

Definition: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

Connective technologies make it easier than ever to work, share ideas and be productive despite physical separation. But the virtual work environment also demands a new set of competencies.   As a leader of a virtual team, individuals need to develop strategies for engaging and motivating a dispersed group. We are learning that techniques borrowed from gaming are extremely effective in engaging large virtual communities. Ensuring that collaborative platforms include typical gaming features such as immediate feedback, clear objectives and a staged series of challenges can significantly drive participation and motivation.

To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.

Link to read the original article

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

“Eat, Pray, Love” Author Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

12 Ways to Be More Creative at Work

In today’s knowledge-based economy, coming up with new ideas under pressure is essential

By 

Many people think creativity occurs naturally. Marty Sklar, the former executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, the group that designs Disney theme parks, knows better.

Sklar holds regular “gag sessions” in which all kinds of ideas are encouraged and none are dismissed as stupid. He provides employees with time and budget restrictions so they don’t waste energy on the impossible. And he seeks diverse perspectives from employees ranging in age from their early 20s to late 80s. “It’s about listening and bringing out the best in people,” he told participants at a conference. Those strategies helped create Epcot’s spacecraft simulator, the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion, and a Disney resort in Hong Kong.

Sklar is part of a growing number of businesses, organizations, and individuals trying to boost creativity, driven largely by the fact that today’s economy requires it. “As the knowledge part of the economy grows, evidence seems to be showing that businesses are demanding more and more conceptual thinking,” says Charles Hulten, professor of economics at the University of Maryland.

In other words, it’s not just Walt Disney designers who need to be creative at work—it’s all of us…

If you find yourself wondering how to constantly create at your own job, here are a dozen ways to rev your creativity engine:

Branch out. Read a magazine you would never normally look at, suggests Henry. “You need to be intentional about experiencing new things in your life,” he says. Collect ideas and interesting articles in a folder that you review regularly for inspiration.

Recharge. Henry says people tend to think about time management but neglect energy management. Take time out between meetings. Avoid socializing with people who leave you feeling drained. Set aside time each week for relaxation.

Protect your time. Don’t let anyone interrupt the creative time you set aside for yourself. For Henry, it’s at 5:30 a.m., before the rest of his family wakes up.

Get into a “relationship” with art. Whether it’s museums or music, Gregg Fraley, creativity consultant and author of Jack’s Notebook, a novel about creative problem solving, suggests incorporating art into your life because it can inspire you to approach your work in new ways. Fraley recently started playing guitar.

Write down your ideas. Fraley says people have lots of good ideas, but they ignore and then forget them. He suggests keeping a notebook handy.

When you’re stuck, take a break. Brad Fregger, author of Get Things Done: Ten Secrets of Creating and Leading Exceptional Teams, says whenever his employees were struggling with a creative problem, he asked them to work on something else for an hour. That mental break allowed them to see their problem with a new perspective and make a breakthrough, he says.

Seek support from your supervisors. Marty Sklar, executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, says employees can waste valuable time and energy worrying about whether management will support their creative endeavors. Feeling supported by higher-ups is essential to productivity.

Work with people across a variety of experience levels. Some of the best ideas for Disney theme park adventures have come from people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, Sklar says, so don’t count out the older generation. Younger workers can often learn from their experience.

Never dismiss someone’s idea as stupid. “If you tell someone they have a stupid idea, you’ll probably never get another one from them,” says Sklar. Plus, he adds, ideas that appear dumb at first often generate new, useful ideas. When listening to ideas from coworkers during brainstorming sessions, try to be encouraging so no one feels shut down.

Connect with your passion. If people are working on projects they enjoy, they will be more creative, says Fregger

Think like a boss. “We encourage our employees to think like owners … It frees up a lot of the boundaries,” says Wendy Miller, chief marketing officer for Bain & Co.

Embrace diversity. Miller says Bain recruits people from top business schools as well as concert violinists and top athletes. “That diversity is very helpful in not getting too narrow and bogged down,” she says.

Link to read the original article

We need to talk about power

Creativity is intrinsic to humanity. The ability to creatively adapt to and adapt our environment lies at the core of our genetic success (or at least the success of our genes.) We can’t help ourselves. We make, we compose and play, we organise in new ways, we invent new institutions and adapt old ones, we research and discover, invent and improve, we apply knowledge to material and systems in new ways developing new technologies in the process and so it goes on. It’s a mystery how an attribute so basic to human character has been sectioned off and made into an exclusive trait found in ‘creatives’, the ‘creative class’, the ‘creative economy’. We don’t have the ‘language elite’, the ‘language class’ (other than in language schools!) or the ‘language economy’. Yet creativity is just as strong a part of who and what we are as language.

If we accept that more creativity is not only a desirable thing but a necessary thing also, as my colleague Adam Lent argues in his invigorating new year blog, then it’s important that we understand its true nature. If it is intrinsic to our humanity, then it must be a democratic rather than elitist concept. This then raises the questions: why don’t we see more of it? Why are we all not exploiting our creative potential to the full? Could it be that we aren’t powerful enough?…

We all need that foundational power to take risks, experiment, explore and create. That comes from community and it comes from the collective institutions – democratic, legal, economic, social, and educational – that we create….

…The institutional structure matters if you want the power to create to be really dispersed rather than concentrated. That’s why we need to talk about power, its form, the ethos that seeks to deploy it, and its purpose: our purpose as individuals who wish, need, and should create.

Link to read the full original RSA article

See also

Can you have too much creativity?

Creativity? That’s Not For Me.

by 

…Firstly, and perhaps crucially, does it matter then that people claim not to be creative? And often vociferously so.  Is it because they default to the narrow association of creativity = art?  Who are these people?  And what implications does this have for our growing mission of the ‘power to create’ and the broadest definition of creativity.

Secondly, and perhaps fundamentally, I have to throw into the concept driven mix that creativity is FUN!  Don’t we all want to be more creative?  Personally and professionally?

Creativity enables us to solve problems, to meet people, to feel more human, to relax, to use our hands, to express ourselves, to experiment, to get dirty, to learn a new skill, to be brave, to get something wrong, to have a laugh, to feel fulfilled, to innovate, to feel a sense of achievement, to take a risk, to grow inside, to allow us to think a bit bigger.

But in case you were wondering , think you are not creative? Oh yes you are. It is in us all, it is innate. Embrace it. Follow it. See where you go…

Link to this article 

and ‘s original RSA post that has stimulated both of these responses

Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st Century?

Fun Palaces: Joan Littlewood’s dream for culture gets second chance

 writes in The Guardian…

As the Olympics did for sport, a nationwide project could show that art, culture and science are also core passions for Britain

“Choose what you want to do … dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky”

 In 1961, Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price conceived the fun palace, a revolutionary venue, housing culture and science, encouraging engagement, debate and enjoyment. The cybernetician Gordon Pask later added to their dream. Joan knew she had not yet discovered a way to welcome those who found buildings and institutions daunting – the fun palace was about public engagement at its most inclusive.

 It was never built.

Buildings cost and continue to cost, but we have plenty already: museums, theatres, libraries, shops, schools, universities, tents and caravans. The spaces to make fun palaces are already there, often standing empty for part of the day or night.

 Joan would have been 100 on 6 October 2014. The weekend before her centenary, 4 and 5 October, will see hundreds of pop-up fun palaces across the UK and beyond. The radical difference between Joan’s never-built fun palace and our new Fun Palaces project is that we don’t want to make a new building; we want to make a new attitude, based on what we already have, breaking out into what we need – true engagement.

More than 150 venues and companies are already enlisted, with independent artists, theatre-science makers and producers also signed up. These creators will work with local people and organisations, combining arts, culture, technology and science to create local fun palaces. Our aim is to connect them all in tone and spirit, and also digitally through an online fun palace that will be part-game, part-content, but all-engagement…

In this time of austerity we have been encouraged to think smaller, to dream less, but small visions are no good for culture and they are no good for science. If we want to make the breakthroughs many of us came into creative work to make, and if we want to be as engaged and inclusive as we say we do, then we have to do more, and soon.

This is a campaign of cultural participation that calls for a fundamental change in our thinking about creative work, not as something that is done for us, but as something we all do. As the Olympics did for sport, fun palaces could show that arts, culture and science are also core passions for Britain. We’ve all been looking for the next big thing in culture and creative work. This is it, only it was here all along. It’s all of us, working together. If you would like to join us, you can. It’s that simple.

Link to read the original article

And here is the link to find out more about becoming involved in Fun Palaces 2014

Every Child Is An Artist

 A FAST COMPANY CREATIVE CONVERSATION BY 

What do Disney Television honcho Anne Sweeney and internationally renowned education theorist Sir Ken Robinson have in common?  Ideas for unlocking creativity in both children and adults.

ANNE SWEENEY’S 3 RULES FOR BEING A GREAT LEADER

1. SHOW UP

“Walk around the halls. Eat in the cafeteria. When you show up, it means you are paying attention. It means you want to make sure people know how their world connects to the bigger whole..

2. HOLD EVERYONE ACCOUNTABLE FOR EACH OTHER

“We are stapled together. We live and die by each other’s successes and failures.

3. COMMUNICATE AS A PERSON, NOT SIMPLY AS A BOSS

“Have a conversation. Don’t have it be a reporting relationship.”

KR: The continuum, as I see it, starts with imagination. It’s the most extraordinary set of powers that we take for granted: the ability to bring into mind the things that aren’t present. It’s why we are so different from the rest of life on earth. That’s why we’re sitting in a beautiful building, drinking from these cups. Because human beings make things. We create things. We don’t live in the world directly; we live in a world of ideas and of concepts and theories and ideologies.

SIR KEN ROBINSON’S 3 RULES FOR BEING A GREAT LEADER

1. ADOPT A GROWTH MIND-SET

“If you’re always thinking about possibility, you’ll find it. You’ll keep creating the future.”

2. CREATE YOUR OWN LIFE

“The ‘element’ is where natural aptitude meets personal passion. It’s great if you’re in your element at work, because you get energy from that. But for people who aren’t, finding this elsewhere is important.”

3. UNLOCK OTHERS

“People get locked into their job descriptions. If you create a culture where they feel encouraged to unleash their various talents, they’re more engaged.”

AS: … a couple of weeks ago I just had time on my hands. I never have a couple of hours in the office that aren’t totally scheduled. And I just asked a couple of people to come in and sit. And they came in, they all had their notebooks or their iPads. After about half an hour, everybody relaxed and realized no, this really isn’t a meeting. This is really just sitting around, talking. When they left, I thought it was one of the most enjoyable meetings, maybe the most enjoyable meeting, I’d had in a long time. I loved how much we’re going to accomplish because we had this very unstructured, very meandering conversation about many different things.

Link to read the original article

Ken Robinson: Out Of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative

…One of the core themes of the book is the rate and nature of change in the modern world. The last ten years have offered dramatic demonstrations of this theme. Just think of the breathtaking innovations in technology and digital culture. Ten years ago, Google was still a novelty; there were no smart phones, no IPods or IPads; no Twitter or Facebook or any of the social media that are transforming life and work today. Then think of the increasing pace of population growth, the growing strains on the environment and the effects of all of these on people’s lives and future prospects and the fact is that the world is becoming more complex and unpredictable than ever…

…In the last ten years, I’ve worked with business of all sorts all around the world. For all of them, cultivating creativity is a bottom line issue. Last fall, IBM published a report on the challenges facing business in 2011 and beyond. The report was based on survey of 3000 CEOs. It showed that the top priority for CEOs everywhere is to promote creativity systematically throughout their organizations. The reasons are clear enough. In a world of rapid change, companies and organizations have to be adaptable as circumstances change and be able to develop new products and services as new opportunities emerge. Most people occasionally have a new idea. For companies that isn’t enough. To remain competitive, they need to develop cultures where creativity is a habit and innovation is routine. The new edition of Out of Our Minds sets out the core principles for doing this and for leading a dynamic and reliable culture of innovation.

…What changes do you hope Out of Our Minds will bring about in the long term? 
I say in the Foreword to the new edition that “my aims in this book are to help individuals to understand the depth of their creative abilities and why they might have doubted them; to encourage organizations to believe in their powers of innovation and to create the conditions where they will flourish; and to promote a creative revolution in education.” I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Link to read the original article

Study: Reading a Novel Changes Your Brain

College students experienced heightened connectivity in their left temporal cortexes after reading fiction.

Scientists have proven in the past that reading stimulates many different parts of the brain. In a 2006 study, for example, research subjects read the words “perfume” and “coffee,” and the part of their brains devoted to the sense of smell lit up. While these studies have focused on brain activity while a person is reading, a new study suggests that reading doesn’t just make a fleeting impression. It may make long-term changes to to the brain.

The new study out of Emory University looks at how the brain changes function and structure over the course of reading a novel. Researchers asked 21 Emory undergraduates to come in for fMRIs over 19 days. For the first five days, researchers took baseline fMRIs of the students’ brains. Over the following nine days, participants read 30 pages of the Robert Harris’s novel Pompeii at night and then completed a quiz to ensure they had completed the reading. They underwent fMRIs the next morning. After finishing the novel, participants continued to come in for fMRIs for five more days…

The fMRIs after the reading assignments revealed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. Heightened connectivity in other parts of the brain suggested that readers may experience “embodied semantics,” a process in which brain connectivity during a thought-about action mirrors the connectivity that occurs during the actual action. For example, thinking about swimming can trigger the some of the same neural connections as physical swimming.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said Gregory Berns, the lead author of the study. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

The changes persisted over the five days after finishing the novel, suggesting that reading could possibly make long-lasting changes to the brain. The researchers wrote that it remains an “open question” how long the effects would last, but that their results suggest reading could have long-term effects on the brain through the strengthening of the language-processing regions and the effects of embodied semantics.

Link to read the original article

You May Not Be Able To Force Creativity But You Can Certainly Invite It

by Tanner Christensen

When we look at children we can see that they don’t let biases or existing information get in their way of asking questions, poking and prodding, and generally just trying something.

Successful creatives are the same. So we, too, must find various ways to be more inquisitive.

We could try changing our perspective of the work to force a mentality of discovery. Looking at the microscopic or macro elements of our work – like painting with tiny dots rather than big brush strokes, or imaging what a novel would read like as a part of a quadrilogy – helps.

We can also try changing our environment or tools. If we’re used to working in a studio or office, getting out and attempting to work in a fancy restaurant or at a park, might be all we need to shake up how we view the work.

Link to read the full original article

Why Your Creativity Needs Boundaries To Thrive

BY 

…An interview with Seth Godin appears in the book, Manage Your Day-to-Day, put out by 99U. The book includes insights from artists, entrepreneurs, academics, and psychologists on how to carve out a daily creative practice. Here are five key takeaways from the experts featured in its pages:

1. PUT CREATIVE WORK FIRST.

Setting aside time every day to do creative work keeps your momentum going. One way to do this is creating “hard edges” for when your workday starts and ends, suggests Mark McGinness, a U.K.-based creative business coach. Within that framework, prioritize your creative work first. “The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second,” McGinness says.

Cal Newport, a writer and professor at Georgetown University, calls these periods of uninterrupted creative work “daily focus blocks.” Put them on your calendar and treat them as you would a formal appointment. Newport recommends starting out with an hour of uninterrupted work time and gradually adding 15 minutes every two weeks, never allowing distractions like email or Facebook to interfere.

2. YOUR INBOX CAN WAIT. SERIOUSLY, IT CAN.

Most of us compulsively check email without stopping to think about it. Why? The same reason it’s hard to resist piling your plate high with bad-for-you foods at a buffet. It’s right in front of you, waiting to be nabbed up, says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. Email and social media also offer what Ariely calls “random reinforcement.” Usually when you check your inbox or Facebook, there’s nothing exciting waiting for you, but occasionally, there is–that random excitement keeps us coming back compulsively.

Resisting the urge to check email and social media while concentrating on creative work can feel next to impossible, especially first-thing in the morning. But your inbox can almost always wait. “It’s better to disappoint a few people over small things, than to surrender your dreams for an empty inbox,” says McGinness.

3. RECOGNIZE YOUR BODY’S LIMITS.

Our bodies follow ultradian rhythms, cycles that last around 90 minutes–at which point most people max out their capacity to work at their optimal level, according to Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project. In other words, your body can only take so much concentrated work at a time before you start seeing diminishing returns.

That means getting enough sleep (more important than food, Schwartz says) and taking breaks is essential if you want to be at your creative best. Instead of slumping over your Facebook or Instagram feed, get away from your desk and phone. “Screen time feeds into a vicious cycle of chronic stress in a way that most of us don’t even realize,” according to writer, speaker and consultant, Linda Stone.

4. SET BOUNDARIES AND DIVE DEEP WITHIN THEM.

Try making rules for yourself and see what happens. George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles, told himself one day that he would pick up a book at random, open it and write a song about whatever words he read first. Harrison saw the words “gently weeps,” set down the book and wrote “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” long considered one of his best songs.

“Whether or not they’re created by an outside client or you yourself, a set of limitations is often the catalyst that sets creativity free,” says Scott McDowell, founder of the consulting and executive search firm, CHM Partners.

5. START TODAY.

Striving for perfection in everything you do can be so daunting it keeps you from getting started in the first place. “To a perfectionist, settling seems worse than not completing the piece, which is why perfectionists often produce very little,” says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time coach and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment.

Stop worrying about getting the beginning right and just start. You’ll need to experience chaos before you reach the calm. Define the minimum requirements needed to finish whatever you’re working on and use those as a way to press on, suggests Saunders. Keep moving forward. Relinquish your fear of negative feedback and see it instead as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Link to read the original article

The art of reflection

A key question about reflection isn’t ‘what do I see?’ it is ‘what do I look for?’ writes psychologist, Dr Nina Burrowes

Reflection is an important piece of internal feedback – a way of learning and growing from my mistakes, noticing and celebrating my successes and spotting whether I’ve wandered off my chosen path. It’s an essential skill for anyone who wants to lead others: you need to be sure that you are on the right path if you want others to follow.

Yet reflection is more art than science. When I look in the mirror I can’t assume that what I see is an accurate representation of reality. My visual system is inaccurate and incomplete. My range of vision is limited to a narrow spectrum of visible light and I take the information that is in front of my eyes and I mould it.

I don’t see; I perceive. I make the information meet my expectations. I fill in the gaps. I can be blind to the things I don’t want to see. I create the image just as much as I see it.

The openness to bias and interpretation is even greater when I’m doing something as abstract as reflecting on myself. I won’t see my reflection – I’ll create it. What will I create? Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is ugliness and unworthiness. If I focus on all the things I haven’t done over the last year, that’s what I’ll see staring back at me. If I only focus on my successes and remain blind to areas of improvement then I’ll only see that. Neither image will be accurate.

Given that reflection is an important skill, how can I reflect in a way that is useful and helps me grow? One of the first things I can do is to notice how I approach the task. A key question isn’t “what do I see?” but “what do I look for?”

When I look back on my year, do I immediately focus on what I did or achieved rather than the choices I made? Do I immediately focus on “areas for improvement” and forget to celebrate or even notice the successes? Does the experience of reflecting feel like getting a report card from a particularly strict schoolteacher or a glowing song of praise from a close friend? Knowing the answer to this helps me be aware of my own bias.

Having noticed how I automatically reflect, the next useful thing I can ask myself is “how do I want to reflect?” Whatever my natural default reflection process is, it doesn’t have to be that way. I can choose what questions I ask when I look in the mirror.

If I want the ultimate lesson in reflection, I can turn to the ultimate moment of reflection. One day I may be looking back at myself and reflecting on my life in the knowledge that I am near the end of it. In that moment, how do I hope to approach the mirror? Will I have learned to reflect with awareness and self-compassion, or will I still focus on the many things I have failed to do?

My hope is that I’ll focus on the questions that are truly important to me. Did I live my life in accordance with my values? Did I live my life as if I was the person I aspire to be?

It’s the answers to these questions that help me grow.

Link to read the original article

Henry James on Aging, Memory, and What Happiness Really Means

by 

“I have led too serious a life; but that perhaps, after all, preserves one’s youth.”

What does it take to live a good life, to flourish, to be happy? The art-science of happiness has been contemplated since the dawn of recorded thought, and yet no agreement seems to have been reached: For Albert Camus, it was about escaping our self-imposed prisons; for Alan Watts, about living with presence; some have pointed to learned optimism as the key, while others have scoffed at optimism and advocated for embracing uncertainty instead. But if there is one immutable truth about happiness, it’s that it is never a static thing — not a permanent state, but a constantly evolving experience of being, one that George Eliot believed had to be learned, transformed in each new moment and sculpted by the passage of time.

One of history’s most beautiful and crystally aware meditations on happiness, specifically in terms of how it illustrates the schism between the experiencing self and the remembering self, comes from The Diary of a Man of Fifty  — one of the finest, most timelessly resonant notable diaries of all time — by literary legend Henry James.

“I have led too serious a life; but that perhaps, after all, preserves one’s youth. At all events, I have travelled too far, I have worked too hard, I have lived in brutal climates and associated with tiresome people. When a man has reached his fifty-second year without being, materially, the worse for wear — when he has fair health, a fair fortune, a tidy conscience and a complete exemption from embarrassing relatives — I suppose he is bound, in delicacy, to write himself happy.”

Link to read the original article

Here is one of our all-time favourite TEDTalks on creativity:

Julie Burstein: 4 Lessons in Creativity

Radio host Julie Burstein talks with creative people for a living – and shares four lessons about how to create in the face of challenge, self-doubt and loss. Hear insights from filmmaker Mira Nair, writer Richard Ford, sculptor Richard Serra and photographer Joel Meyerowitz.

Daring Greatly to Unlock Your Creativity with Brené Brown on #cjLIVE

Wed, Jan 15 6pm GMT

10am PT/1pm EDT]

by 

I can say with clarity that the most defining moments of creative/professional success for me have required overtly pouring my most honest, imperfect, afraid, guts-and-all parts of myself into my work. In short – those successes were built on vulnerability – on being real. They were built on daring greatly. What do the viewers / consumers of your art really want? YOU. The want to see YOU. And in seeing YOU, they see themselves.

And so its the perfect way to kick off the 2014 chasejarvisLIVE season with a very special guest, a woman who might just hold the keys to the thing that’s been holding back your unbounded creativity…her name is Brené Brown. You’ve probably seen her on the TEDstage (millions of views), or perhaps as a regular on Oprah (they’re pals), and at damn-near every bookstore (where Daring Greatly is a best-seller). But it’s not necessarily for all her accolades that you’ll want to tune into #cjLIVE this coming Wednesday January 15th. You’ll want to join our LIVE broadcast because you’ll have full access to Brené in a way that few other forums can grant — interactive Q&A with you from wherever on the planet you might be — and she just might have the keys to unlock the thing that’s been holding back your creativity. It was the missing link for me – and I’m guessing it’ll help you too.

SHOW DETAILS
WHAT: Interview, discussion + a worldwide Q&A with Brené Brown
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan 15, 10:00am Seattle time (1pm NYC time or 18:00 London)
WHERE: Tune into www.chasejarvis.com/live. It’s free — anyone can watch and we’ll be taking YOUR questions via Twitter + Facebook, hashtag #cjLIVE

This won’t be a marketing lesson or a therapy session, but it will be be THE shortest path between your most authentic self and the professional / personal hold-up-the-mirror, tear-down-the-barrier “success” you crave. Hello, New Year.

A FEW KEY CONCEPTS WE’LL COVER ON THE SHOW
~ Vulnerability does NOT equal weakness – it equals strength (the world’s best artists are living proof)
~ How to cultivate creativity, “gratitude” & “worthiness”
~ Personal + professional transformation happens when we ask the hard questions
~ Explosive creativity happens when we have the courage to share our struggles
~ How to harness the space between our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, feel + become) and our practiced values (what we’re actually doing)

Link to the original article

Happiness At Word Edition #80

You will find all of these articles and many more in this week’s new Happiness at Work collection,  – plus more stories about leadership and learning, and happiness and productivity and resilience at work.

We hope you find much here to enjoy and use.

Happiness At Work #79 ~ creating the year you want and need

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

Happy New Year and welcome to the start of 2014.

In this post, I have pulled together some ideas about how we can be more the creators of the year we want to make for ourselves, considering different ways to make new year resolutions that work for us and last through the year ahead, as well as ideas on what can help us to change and make better habits.

I hope you will find something here to fuel and support the aspirations, hopes and wishes you are making for own year ahead…

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

Higher Resolutions – Makeshift Thoughts

Stef Lewandowski in Makeshift Thoughts reflects on the why’s and how’s of making new year resolutions that matter and last through the year…

It’s nearly New Year’s Resolution time again. Time for the dieting and fitness industry to start pumping out messages about changing your life for the better. And time for us normal people to try, and in the main, fail, to alter multiple things about our lives based on these aspirational reminders.

I used to be something of a cynic about this annual cycle. There’s an implied life-dissatisfaction built in to the idea that we should make a firm resolution to change something about ourselves each year. So, because many of us are unhappy about multiple things about our lives, the approach that we take is to attempt to change multiple things at once in January. It rarely works!

Yet over the past few years I’ve begun to enjoy the annual challenge of doing something new, and attempting to stick to it. Here are two of the resolutions I’ve made over recent years, and they’re things I’ve actually managed to stick to for a whole year:

Be useful on the internet

One year I decided that Stack Overflow was one of the most useful and helpful resources for people working in tech. At its most basic it is a question-and-answer service. People are stuck on something, and other people attempt to unstick them…

So I thought for one year my new year’s resolution would be “Don’t be a leech”, and I spent a fair amount of time answering questions there. I didn’t manage to stick to it every day, but a general feeling of “be useful on the internet” now sticks with me, which was the reason I did it. To alter my own behaviour and attempt to be generally more helpful to others. Now, when I see someone asking a question on Twitter and I know a good pointer, I’ll often reply.

Ignore the news

This year I became frustrated with how much of my attention I was giving to things that were useless and stressful. Information that demanded attention but no action. Horrific stories that leave you thinking about awful things and not concentrating on the things that matter. Namely, news stories.

I wrote about this in my first Medium post earlier this year, so have a read to understand why I’m not talking about ignorance.

It’s about stronger connections with actionable information, filtering out negative influences and directing your energy towards things that you can really change in the world. The results of my little experiment, using myself as a single point of anecdata, are positive.

I’ve not read a single article in the free commuter paper that my fellow passengers stick their noses into each day. I’ve turned off the radio at half past the hour, and on again four minutes later, multiple times every day for a whole year. I’ve not watched any of the mainstream news channels, and I’ve only very rarely read something in a newspaper unless it has some industry relevance for me.

Yet I still feel informed. I’m actually more aware of industry trends and global shifts, I’m still aware of roughly what’s going on. Those extra hours each day where I would have been worrying about something I can’t affect, are now filled with reflection, thinking about the process of building my company andtinkering. And if you’ve read any of my other writing, tinkering is pretty important to me.

A creative rhythm for a year

My wife, Emily, this year gave herself a challenge—to take a photograph every single day of the year.

I’ll leave her to write a piece about what she’s learnt doing that, but the observation I’d make is that she’s found the process of having a creative rhythm to the year to be beneficial, not just in the act of taking the photograph and improving her practice, but in that it’s a long, rhythmic project that is in many ways akin to daily meditation or exercise.

One of the hackers I work with at MakeshiftTanja, was talking to me about the project that she is doing, and there are many similarities. Each day she “free writes” seven hundred and fifty words. They’re crucially not published, but over time the service she uses, 750words.com, provides some insights into her style, her mood, topics she is thinking about, and it enables her to self-reflect over a long period of time. It’s a daily ritual that takes around fifteen minutes, and I’m tempted to make this my next annual resolution.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A higher resolution

I quipped to friends recently that there are “New Year’s resolutions” and then there are “higher resolutions”—decisions to undertake a whole year of activity as an attempt to adjust ourselves and our behaviour by undertaking something that sounds hard. Something that will require a degree of mental energy and effort to achieve. Sometimes by making a quick joke about an idea, a bigger truth can emerge, and I think that perhaps it holds true here.

For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be thinking about things that might be up there as projects that I can be doing every day (and I think it has to be every day), that build on some aspect of my behaviour that I want to develop, and that might release or change something about myself over subsequent years. Here’s a few ideas. I thought I’d share in case others were thinking similarly:

Draw something every day

I’ve noticed recently that I’m always drawing in meetings. I use it to think and to concentrate, sometimes to remember a key theme.

They say that the best CEOs have an ability to draw—perhaps working on my sketching skills will enable me to communicate ideas more rapidly? Perhaps I’ll come up with a theme or observations [worth sharing]? Who knows…

Make up the bed-time story

It’s improv, it’s fun, it’s like not being able to prepare for a talk where you’ve been given the slot because a co-worker has fallen ill, and the kids really appreciate it…

Publish tiny thoughts

The main question here would be: is it possible to write something of interest to others, that’s insightful and interesting, every day of the year? …

I wrote two experimental posts: “The ideas won’t run out” and “A tiny act of feminism”, just to see how it felt. I’ve had a good reaction from writing these shorter pieces, yet I’ve found it hard to repeatedly put out small thoughts on the web. It feels so risky!

Do something you can

If you’re considering a daily creativity project like this, a big consideration is starting with something you’re already tinkering with, but challenging yourself to repeatedly make it part of your every-day…

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

MIND 2014: How to break old habits and make the new ones stick

New Year’s resolutions — losing weight, eating better or getting in financial shape – are all about habits. Every January we’re trying to break a bad habit or start a new one.

Our success often has less to do with willpower and more to do with understanding what triggers the habit in the first place.

“Habits build up by repeating the same action in the same situation,” says Jeremy Dean, the author of last year’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits”

“Each time you repeat it, the habit gets stronger. The stronger it gets, the more likely you are to perform it without having to consciously will it.”

“There’s bound to be some competition between old and new habits at first,” he says, explaining that this is normal. “Try to notice or anticipate what the mental danger points will be and plan for them.”

For example, you may want to get up earlier, so it’s important to acknowledge that you might feel lazy when you wake up.

“Plan to think about something that will make you jump out of bed, like an activity you are looking forward to doing that day.”

You can read more about Jeremy Dean’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits book, along with a report by him on a fascinating study of how our emotions map across our whole bodies further down this post.

Journalist Charles Duhigg covers some of the same territory in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business.”

In this interview he goes further to explain how to create habits that can bring lasting change for the better, in 2014.

Q. What causes habits to form and why are they so hard to break?

Duhigg: What we learned particularly in the last decade – primarily from neurological studies but also from laboratory and real world experiments — is that at the core of every habit there are three things:

  • A cue, which is like a trigger for an automatic behaviour to start;
  • Then the routine, which is the behaviour itself;
  • And then finally the reward.

The reward is really why your brain latches onto this pattern and makes it automatic.

We’ve known about the importance of cues and routines for decades ever since Pavlov was doing his experiments with his dogs. But the real insight from the last decade is how important those cues and rewards really are — the neurological circuitry that allows our brain or causes our brain, to latch onto this particular pattern and make it feel more and more automatic.

We’ve also learned that when your brain is in the grip of a habit (about 40 to 45 per cent of what we do every day is a habit) our brain essentially ‘powers down.’

Q. Why does the brain ‘power down’?

Duhigg: Habits allow us to conserve mental resources, cognitive resources and act automatically. And our brain likes that because anything that saves energy is good; it frees up your mind to work on other problems while you’re backing a car out of the driveway or you’re walking to work.

But the risk is that because your brain shuts down, it is much harder to consciously intervene in that behaviour and that’s why breaking a habit is so hard. In part, it’s because our brain essentially shuts off when we’re in the middle of a habit and as a result, we`re paying much less attention to what’s going on around us.

The second reason why it’s so hard to break a habit is because people are often unaware of what the cue and the reward is that is driving their behaviours. … And as a result, we become blind somewhat to what in the environment is pushing us in a certain way, particularly when it comes to rewards.

Q. Why doesn’t our willpower seem to work when we try to make or break a habit?

Duhigg: Willpower is like a muscle and much like any other muscle, like the muscle in your arm, it gets tired with more and more use.

Q. Can mindfulness help us to change bad habits?

Duhigg: Absolutely. I think the parts of mindfulness that are important for habits are this awareness, that you are forcing yourself to be aware of the cues and rewards that are driving your behaviour. In some respects, mindfulness is different from habit formation.

Mindfulness really says that you try and be in the moment and notice what’s going on. Habits neurologically are exactly the opposite; you tend not to notice what’s going on….

But the place where mindfulness and habits intersect is this awareness of what’s going on around you, forcing yourself to pay attention to the cues and rewards that are shaping your behaviours and then eventually allowing yourself to let go and ignore what`s going on because you’ve figured it out.

Q. How can we replace bad habits with good ones?

Duhigg: There’s a principle that’s known as the golden rule of habit change: It’s very hard to extinguish a habit and again there’s neurological reasons for this. But essentially, once you’ve created neural pathways associated with a particular cue, routine and reward, trying to extinguish those, to make them no longer be in existence, that’s really challenging.

Change the routine

A much better strategy is to change the habit … You identify the cue and you identify the reward and then you find a new routine that seems to correspond, a new behaviour that seems to correspond with that old cue and that old reward but that is different and better.

Q. What one small strategy could we implement to make incremental yet lasting change in 2014?

Duhigg: You need to start small and you need to identify one thing. One of the things that we know is that there’s a lot of power in what is called the science of small wins, that if you can choose one behaviour to change, that sometimes it sets up this chain reaction that makes other changes easier to accomplish.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

Why A New Year’s Theme Works Better Than A Resolution

By Melinda Johnson

A few years ago, I learned a new approach to making New Year’s resolutions. Instead of the typical resolution that identifies a concrete behavior, you assign a theme to your New Year. The theme should be a word that resonates with you and embodies something that has been missing from your daily life. Instead of defining specific behaviors that you want to do, you simply keep your theme in mind and allow your days to unfold from there. This can be a very refreshing way to approach a New Year, especially for those of us who are tired of making the same resolution every year.

Here are some examples of possible themes to apply to your New Year, along with how they might serve to enhance your overall health:

Theme: Mindfulness. Many of us live in a constant state of distraction, due to our busy lives. But this relentless multitasking can take a toll on our health, as well as our overall quality of life. Research has linked mindfulness with many beneficial outcomes, such as being able to curb overeating, experiencing less stress and anxiety, and even helping with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment. We can practice this in many ways — taking time to notice the taste of our food when we eat, pausing to focus entirely on a child during conversation, or purposefully enjoying the feeling while taking a brisk walk are all acts of mindfulness.

Theme: Enjoyment. Sometimes, the quest for better health seems like total drudgery. The truth is, we are much more likely to do things willingly if we actually enjoy those things. Perhaps the best place to start, then, is to find enjoyment in healthy behaviors. Find a physical activity that is fun to you, or make a mundane one more fun by adding in music or a companion. Enjoy healthy food by exploring recipes, choosing quality ingredients and making your kitchen a pleasant and inviting place.

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

Theme: Movement. Our bodies are designed to move, and yet our world is designed for sitting. The absence of movement in our day is a big culprit in the obesity epidemic, and it’s also a likely factor in decreased mood, disruption of sleep and increased rates of chronic diseases. Researchers in the exercise field point out that reducing the time we’re sitting every day can play a big role in improving our overall health. This means we need to find ways to add in movement every hour, not just when we hit the gym on the way home from work. Building in movement throughout the day may mean building new habits (such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator) or even creating new procedures (such as having a walking meeting with your staff every morning).

Theme: Nourish. Our fast-food society has created a unique situation where many of us are over-fed, yet under-nourished. When our diets lack fresh, whole foods and rely too much on convenience and fast foods, we are not getting enough of many different nutrients, such as fiber and antioxidants. This can take a toll on our weight, our immune system, our overall health and even how fast we age! Approaching meals and snacks with the nourish theme in mind helps inspire better food selection decisions. Foods that nourish us include water-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy and even water. You may also want to expand the theme to include daily tasks that nourish your soul, such as adding in time for a new hobby or saving up to travel.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

What Makes YOU Happy?

Here is a great two-part exercise to begin the year with from Eric Karpinsky, The Happiness Coach…

You are the best one to answer the question, “what makes YOU happy?”   But in our busy lives, we often don’t take the time to ask ourselves this question or go deep enough.  Now is the time!

Happiness List Exercise

(This is adapted from a great book called ‘How We Choose To Be Happy’ by Foster & Hicks.)

You need to have 10 minutes of focused time.  If you have that time right now, go ahead and keep on reading.  But if you are at work and likely to be interrupted or dinner is about to be put on the table, block 10 minutes this evening or in the next day or two to where you can work uninterrupted.

Ok, now stop reading until you have your 10 minutes.  (Seriously, this will be a much more productive exercise if you don’t read this until you have that uninterrupted time.)

Ready to start?

Get out a blank sheet of paper, a good writing instrument and a timer.  Set the timer for 4 minutes.

  1. Then begin making a list of everything that makes you happy.  List anything that comes to mind by speedwriting.  This means you write as fast as you can without stopping.  Include things both large and small.  Don’t judge your answers.  Just let things flow in a stream-of-consciousness way.  The idea here is to allow internal stuff to surface.  (i.e. don’t be distracted by the seeming randomness of some of your ideas.  Just write and move on.)
  2. When the timer goes off, drop your pen and notice how you feel.  For many people, just the act of writing the list makes them feel happier.  Know you can do this anytime for a quick happiness hit.
  3. Now look through your list and find one thing that would be easy to do this evening or over the weekend.  This is your HOMEWORK (Ok really it’s more of home-play) for this week.  Take out your calendar and schedule it.  Right now.  (Really.  I’ll wait…)
  4. And if you need to coordinate with someone else (for that tennis match, date to make dinner together or go to that museum exhibit) send those emails right now (your 10 minutes isn’t up yet, right?)
photo credit: eagle1effi via photopin cc

photo credit: eagle1effi via photopin cc

Next, email yourself this list, so you’ve always got it.  Put something really obvious in the subject line like happiness list, so you can find it when you want it.  Feel free to add on to this list as other things come to you.

Finally, share what you are going to do.  Commit to it by making a public declaration to someone who will help you to act upon your plan.

Then enjoy the treat you’ve scheduled for yourself!

Finding time to do what makes YOU happy

Here is how to make your Happiness List come to life.

Step 1: Expand Your List

First, take a few minutes to expand your list.  Is there anything you missed?  Think about things you loved when you were younger. Can you make the list more specific?  For example, if you listed your child, dog or partner, think about what you enjoy when you are together – conversation, snuggle time?  If you listed nature, how do you like to experience it – a hike, camping, sitting quietly?

Step 2: Celebrate What You Already Do

Now, go through your list and check off those things that you do regularly.  These are already central to your life.  Nice work!  Celebrate that you’ve made time for these activities which recharge you. (Don’t blow this part off; honouring your successes gives you the energy and motivation boost you need to set new goals.)

Step 3: Schedule Your Happiness

Go through and pick a few of these activities that you would like to do more in your life.   Get your calendar.  Yep, right now; go and grab it.  I’ll wait…

Now find the time to make these things happen.  Decide how regularly you want them and put it into a repeating calendar event.  Date night every other Thursday?  Tennis every Saturday morning? Fresh cut flowers each week?  Schedule a vacation to a place you love or you’ve always wanted to visit?

Commit to these activities, put them in your calendar and protect them.  Make the lists now of what you need to make these activities happen; schedule time to get the preparation done too.

Step 4:  Find more time in your schedule

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes now, thinking, “There’s no way I can add more to my life!”  If so, then it’s time to look critically at your calendar.  If you’re feeling over-scheduled here are some time-sucking traps to watch out for:

  • You spend time on things that your friends love that don’t make your Happiness List.  I have friends who love to see concerts.  For years, I’d go along.  One day I realized I’d rather just listen to the CD and talk – so I stopped going (and saved a bundle of money at the same time!).
  • You do everything with your partner.  Time together with a cherished loved one is important, but can be overdone and limit your time to pursue your passions.  See where your lists overlap and do those things together.  But venture out on your own sometimes, too.  I LOVE a night out dancing and connecting with new people where Becca loves a quiet night at home reading.  We’ll go our separate ways a couple times per month and the energy we both get from doing what we love comes back to our life together.
  • You do things you “should” like.  After I moved to San Diego, I thought I HAD to be a surfer, that’s what you DID here.  But after a year of learning (and occasional bouts of seasickness in big waves) I realized I didn’t love it.  So I let go of that vision of who I was supposed to be.  What do you do just because you “should” like it?
  • You do things that suck time automatically, almost without thinking.  Does the TV go on when you get home from work?  Do you log onto Facebook or play video games on your lunch break?  If these aren’t things on your Happiness List, stop doing them. Use tips from my Making Habits post.  Put the remote in a high shelf in the closet and replace it with something that reminds you of a Happiness List item.  Or schedule something from your Happiness List at your vulnerable time, so you don’t get pulled into the vortex of habits you want to break.
  • Combine things from your Happiness List with things you have to do.  Sometimes when I’m watching the kids, we will head off to Chuck E. Cheese for video games or have a dance party in the living room.  Both are things on my Happiness List (and fortunately on my kids’ lists) so while mom’s away we get to play!  If jazz makes you happy, make a ritual of playing it while you do dishes.  If exercise is your mood-booster, walk or ride your bike to run errands.

If these tips have not helped you find time or if this post, instead of bringing happiness has sent you into a tailspin of hopelessness – “My life is already so overscheduled! I just can’t fit anything else in!” – recognise and honour those emotions.  Then see tips for putting First Things First.

Link to read the original article

Ruby Wax: How To Take Your Mind

Ruby Wax – comedian, writer and mental health campaigner, visits the RSA to explain how and why our busy, self-critical thoughts drive us to anxiety and depression, and to provide ways of taming our out-of-control minds.

Ruby Wax: why mindfulness is the secret to a happy new year

By 

Happiness is not a shiny 2014 diary already clogged with meetings, phone catch-ups and must-do errands. The modern take on Descartes, “I’m busy therefore I am” is, according to Ruby Wax, the comedienne and now therapist (she holds an MA from Oxford in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy), crushing our ability to be happy and overloading us with stress and anxiety. “Excessive ‘busy-ness’ is usually a sign that all is not well,” she says. “When I’m reaching burn-out I start fixing too many dates and writing one too many emails. I become so uber-busy that things don’t make sense any more. It’s that tripping point between creativity and a downward spiral.”…

Mindfulness has helped Wax to find a plateau of peace away from the therapy rooms; her book, Sane New World, shows others how to do the same, although it’s not, she pleads, a self-help book. “It’s a comedy about how the brain is – otherwise it would have been whiney.”…

…here are Wax’s 14 tips for a happy, calmer, more self-assured and focused you in 2014. “Working out your mind is the new working out in the gym,” she says, oblivious to the fact her mobile is going insane in her handbag. “If you haven’t discussed how you’re feeling before, this year you will be.”

Find your braking system

This is what mindfulness is all about. When you’re in high anxiety mode, feeling stressed out, your mind racing and your heart pounding, focus on something in the present: a sound, taste or smell. By becoming aware of what’s around you, you will calm down and can focus more. You’ll have to experiment to find what works for you: I send my attention to my feet and their contact with the floor. As soon as my focus goes from thoughts to a sensation, the red mist drains from my brain and I can think again. You might need to do this 100 times; it’s how to tame your mind.

Stave off the darkness

Only eat what tastes good and fill your life with things you like. Surround yourself with true friends but if you find entertaining stressful, don’t invite them for dinner all the time. How can you talk to your friends properly when you’re busy panicking that you’re not a good enough cook? Go to a restaurant instead. And don’t force yourself to go to other people’s houses, it takes energy to adjust yourself to their way of living.

Find your happy place

People used to find peace in gardening or going to church but no one has time for them any more. You need to find a place or activity that makes you feel relaxed, be it a café or a park, dancing or cycling. But don’t mistake happiness for that tingly buzz you get when you’ve hooked or booked something. This kind of hit only lasts as long as a cigarette.

Be less busy

We worship busy-ness but brain research shows that rather than it being a great accomplishment to be able to juggle, it may actually scramble your brain. Rather than being in “doing” mode all the time, have a go at “being” mode. I experience it when I’m scuba diving but everyone feels this at some point: looking at a sunset, stroking a cat, a moment where time stops and you’re experiencing something directly without the running commentary. In this mode the mind isn’t flipping between the past and the future, it has nowhere to go, so it can start to settle.

Stop shopping

I get obsessed with possessions. I need that pair of shoes. It’s something about staying busy that makes me want them. But the chase is always better than the kill. I get them and then they don’t mean anything to me. We never stop wanting but it’s good discipline to understand your lifestyle and what you really need and know when to stop and say “enough”.

Pay attention

When you’re listening to someone, really listen. If you want to pick up your phone or are distracted, acknowledge this, and then refocus on the conversation. You can’t stop your mind from churning but you can train it to focus. Focused attention breaks up the circuit of banal thoughts in your mind and builds up grey matter in the brain, which increases the ability to remember, attend, and execute actions, no matter what age you are.

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

Exercise productively

A hit of your own endorphins is almost better than any drug you can buy over or under the counter. You’re happier when you’re moving your body, and your mind feels less sluggish. But if you hate jogging, give up. Mindless exercise isn’t good for you. Some of the most rewarding exercises are those you do when you’re sensing what you’re moving, flexing, pushing and pumping: pilates, yoga, Tai Chi and martial arts are examples of mindful practices.

Name your demons

Nobody will ever tell you that your mind is interesting and needs cultivating or that you’ve done well to get this far in something, so it’s OK. There’s always somebody better than you out there and this can get you down. Rather than sliding into depression when things don’t go right, name your feelings. I’ve called rejection “Mitzi” and have a very distinct picture of her in my mind: ratty hair, scrawny face and wearing rags. When I bring her up I feel compassion for her and then for myself. I also have “Stella” for envy, a blonde with blood on her teeth, and “Fred”, a werewolf, for anger.

Go easy on yourself

This is really important. We naturally have a negative predisposition. Try to recognise your thoughts without judging them. When you notice that your mind is wandering where you don’t want it to be, stop and acknowledge your thoughts and try, as I mentioned before, to focus on a sound, taste or smell. You’re being kind to yourself by intentionally moving your attention to the body. Remember, your body can withstand emotions; your mind cannot as it will always try, fruitlessly, to solve them.

Be kind to others

It follows that the way you abuse yourself in your thoughts is the way you abuse other people. It’s much easier to pass on our neuroses and anger than it is our feelings of warmth and kindness; but when you do, you get a sudden rush of oxytocin, which makes you feel safe and soothed and can switch such feelings on in others around you. If you’re calm and at ease you have the free space in your head to listen to someone else and be curious about their life. When you get into the habit of passing warmth, humour and compassion, you might just experience what happiness feels like.

Learn to say sorry

My relationships are happier these days but I still screw up. I clean up my mess by writing apology letters. You don’t have to be sorry for seeing the world in a different way from someone else but you can be sorry that things haven’t worked out. Lower your expectations: don’t expect others to be perfect, or even to like you.

Change is good

If you let go of your armour, it really is possible to evolve. But when you change, those around you might not like it. People don’t like letting go of their image of you even though you have redecorated your inner self. They think you’re a loser or a victim when in fact you are neither of those things any more. There’s not much you can do about this, except hope that they wake up to the new you.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Go on retreat

I’m spending a few days on my own in a “nano house” next month. A one-room building, with a big picture window, a kitchen and a comfy bed but no clutter, it’s the antidote to the nuclear family house and I’m happier in there than I ever would be in a house that goes on and on. It’s like being in the womb.

Taking yourself on a retreat allows you to reinvent yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Go to a cheap hotel or bed and breakfast and spend some time in silence, with no television and no one to talk to. You’ll be amazed how much happier you feel afterwards.

Don’t force it

You can read this article as many times as you like but none of these tips is going to help you unless you get out there and try it. But don’t put to much pressure on yourself to change overnight. Never say “I should be doing more.” Notice that you’re not doing it and that’s a step in the right direction. There are no rules.

Link to read to read the original article

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

‘Tis the Season To Be…Mindful

by , author of ‘Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness’

…Here are a few tips that can help you have a happier, easier and less emotionally loaded holiday season:

Take a breath, and then another, so you create little pauses during the busiest time of the year. Simply taking a breath (and consciously shifting your attention to that breath) helps your body relax. And, when the body relaxes, the mind can rest. The key is remembering to take that breath so you punctuate your day with pauses. This means practicing the three steps of mindfulness: Focus, Observe, and Refocus.
o Focus on taking a purposeful breath and pay attention to how that breath feels. You can do this anytime: it’s fast, invisible and effective. For example, take a mindful breath before you leave your house for a party or as you toast the coming year. Pause in the midst of shopping and when your kids clamor (again!) for more presents.
o Observe your attention as your take that breath. Simply breathe and feel yourself breathing, without thinking about what just happened or what’s coming next. Give you mind a brief rest while observing the sensations associated with breathing (and without multitasking).
o Refocus on that breath if/when you notice that you lost focus. Begin taking that one, conscious breath fully focusing your attention on the sensations of breathing and watch what happens. As soon as you notice that you’ve lost focus, shift your attention back to observing the focus of your attention. Distraction happens, but you can train your mind so that your mental detours are shorter and less frequent.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

Mindfulness in Everyday Life: 5 Sure Steps to Achieve New Year’s Resolutions

Mindfulness practice has come to us and developed in its secular form from Buddhist disciplines, and in this article Dr Donna Rockwell  walks us through the fundamentals of Buddhist wisdom.  This can provide a  guide to help us to build increased potency and resilience to our the aspirations we are resolving to keep and make happen this year…

We do the same thing every year. New Year’s Eve comes and goes, and our New Year’s resolutions, promised so fiercely at the stroke of midnight, are dismissed shortly thereafter, fading away over time, like friends who’ve moved to another city. It is the dirty not-so-little secret of New Year’s resolutions: They are very rarely kept. In fact, resolutions usually made in desperation (I’ve got to lose weight this year!) become another excuse for guilt and self-denigration, another opportunity to feel like a failure. How can resolutions be a point of positive self-growth, instead, where we make them, and keep them, and benefit from their healing and restorative powers?

There may be hints to the answer in the texts of Buddhist psychology, which examine the nature of life itself and suggest ways to live more successfully and with greater discipline. In these teachings, one might find a blueprint for how to generate the commitment necessary to keep those well-intended resolutions. Much as a monk learns to adhere to the rigours of a daily meditation practice, what might seem at first daunting in anticipation is experienced in reality as a breath of fresh air. The way to get there can be found in what is called the Eightfold Path, the heart of the Buddha’s famous “Four Noble Truths” and well-known way toward enlightenment. Becoming a student of this teaching, particularly in the areas that focus on wisdom and mental development, could show us how to follow through with resolutions, keeping the promises we make to ourselves.

Before considering the best path toward change, however, it is important to consider how much control we actually have over our minds in the first place. The answer is relatively little. That is why we find it so difficult to stick with our commitments: Our minds have an innate and persnickety tendency to wander here and there. Until we are aware of this undisciplined pattern of mind, we are at a loss to re-direct it. Once we understand that the mind, by nature, jumps around, and we need not let its untamed nature distract us from the task at hand, we discover that a wide range of thoughts come and go, which we do not have to follow. We come to see that we can always return our discursive minds to the present moment, making the choice to stay on task and follow through on commitments to goals we have set. Thoughts and whims may ebb and flow, but a steady focus takes us where we want to go.

The following highlights from the Eightfold Path, otherwise known as the Middle Way, describe what is necessary in order to realize our most cherished aspirations and New Year’s resolutions. They include: right view, right intention (wisdom), right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (mental discipline). The word “right” can be interpreted as “ideal” or “full-hearted.”

Wisdom: A major component of wisdom is coming to grasp the truth of the human condition more fully. Such awareness helps us chart life’s course in more effective ways, making tonight’s New Year’s resolutions tomorrow’s improved behaviors and new, positive, rather than negative, habits:

(1) Right view: The mind is like a wild horse. If we do not know this, we are victims of the unsettled quality of the mind and our confused thinking process. Right view simply means remembering the fact that we will never be able to get our mind to behave in the ways we want it to one hundred percent of the time. By getting rid of this unattainable expectation, we are more open to doing what is called for in the moment. In this way we don’t necessarily have to feel like doing something – with our thinking in total agreement – in order to do what we know we must in order to stay committed to our goals.

(2) Right intention: In order to accomplish the lofty aims that New Year’s resolutions often are, we should have our heart in the right place. That is the meaning of right intention. The only way to keep working to make resolutions come true is to want them to, with earnestness and committed engagement.

Mental Development: Most important to keeping promises to ourselves in the new year is the development of our mental attitude and the maturing of our moral toughness. Losing weight or quitting smoking aren’t tasks for the faint of heart. It takes sweat and struggle to get there:

(3) Right effort: In order to win an Olympic medal, one must train religiously and with unparalleled dedication. That is the quality of right effort. Whatever we set our minds to, right effort is what we need to get us there. Diligence is the quality of right effort and is required to get the job done.

(4) Right mindfulness: In order to realise any achievement, a person must conjure up the right state of mind. Confused and wandering attention will never do. The challenge is to quiet down, and still the churning, thinking machine that is the mind. When the mind is more settled, like sand in a glass of water, thinking is clearer and decision-making wiser.

(5) Right concentration: None of this is possible without a focused mind. This is called right concentration. In order to play a tune on the piano, the student must concentrate on learning the music and using his or her hands in such a way as to make the music come alive. This cannot be done without right concentration. The most intense of the tasks we are called upon to do demand our concentration and heartfelt attention. We are at a loss without it.

Our resolutions can be made and kept. The skillful means to do so are achievable by focusing on these five particular aspects of the Eightfold Path: having the right view and intention, and exerting right effort, mindfulness and concentration. That extra weight can be lost, cigarettes cast to the wind, and relationships mended. Anything is possible when we seek wisdom and develop mental clarity. Then, in the midst of a clear mind, nothing can stand in our way.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

Why Your Organisation Should Focus On Employee Engagement

In this article Officevibe co-founder Jeff Fermin writes about the importance of employee engagement for a new small startup, but everything he writes here is equally true for every organisation, and worth thinking about anew as we start into the new year of activity.

Which of these ideas could help to fire new life and energy into the enterprise you are part of?

…A reflection and focus on employee engagement is not only worth your time- it is absolutely essential if you want your [organisation] to be more than marginally successful as it struggles to find footing in an ever changing and extremely competitive business world.

Employee Engagement: Not Just For the Big Guns

There is a reason that “employee engagement” is a hot buzzword these days. Lethargic top-shelf companies are looking for ways to catapult their businesses into new and creative outlets.

Stale company culture has permeated many big companies that were once filled with employees who were eager to engage with a new and innovative business model.

Simply stated: many companies have been reduced to being a building filled with paycheck driven drones. It’s no surprise that engaged employees work hard and diligently but research has found that companies that focus on creating a challenging and healthy work environment stir up not only employee loyalty but an entrepreneurial work environment that causes transformation and growth from the inside out.

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

No Band Aides Necessary

Ditch the cubicle drama of the average workplace. Employee engagement and motivation starts with a healthy company culture…

Hire wisely. Listen to your newly found talent. Let them in on your company dream map and fund team building experiences that create loyal employment.

Loyal employees, who are challenged and extended throughout the day, work efficiently when your startup company needs it the most. More importantly- they stick with you because they want to watch your company become [sucessful] as well.

Where Enthusiasm Can Take Your Business

It’s this easy:

• Companies run on enthusiastic and loyal employees
• Healthy company culture ensures that individual members feel welcomed and challenged
• Employee engagement starts on your very first day
• Employees that generally feel excited about their place of employment  will go above and beyond general expectations
• Hard work [continually working to make people happier at work] = a successful [organisation]

Will every day of your business’s life be a perfect combination of happy employees and excellent work? Probably not. You are sure to hit some bumps in the road to success no matter how elated each of your individual employees is to come to work every day. But a company’s focus on employee engagement can, at its very core, make those obstacles surmountable.

A happy company culture will create a work environment that makes the success of your business feel like a team effort…

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

How Might We…? Use Language to Shape a Creative Culture

adapted by Tom Kelley and David Kelley from their book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us 

Language is the crystallization of thought.

But the words we choose do more than just reflect our thought patterns—they shape them. What we say—and how we say it—can deeply affect a company’s culture.

To change attitudes and behaviors, it helps to first change the vernacular.

To spark innovation, it helps to influence the dialogue around new ideas.

Several years ago, IDEO hosted a visit from Jim Wiltens, an outdoorsman, author, adventure traveler, and speaker, who also teaches a program of  his  own design for gifted and talented children in Northern California schools. In his programs, Jim emphasizes the power of a positive vocabulary. And he leads by example. You will literally never hear him say, “I can’t.” He uses more constructive versions of that sentiment that emphasize the possible, such as “I could if I…” He actually promises to pay his young students a $100 if they ever catch him saying, “I can’t.”

Think Jim’s approach sounds a bit simplistic for adults? Don’t be too sure. When Cathie Black took over as president of Hearst Magazines, she noticed that negative speech patterns had cre­ated an environment hostile to new ideas. One person close to the company reported that the naysaying had become a cynical mantra for the executives. So Black told her senior team that every time they said things like, “We’ve tried that already” or “That will never work,” she would fine them $10. (Note the difference be­tween business executives and teachers: they levy the fine on others, not themselves.) Of course, $10 was a trivial amount for the Hearst managers, but no one wants to be embarrassed in front of his or her colleagues.

After enforcing her rule just a few times, Black effectively wiped those expressions from the office vocabulary. Did the shift to more positive words have a broader effect beyond changing the tone of meetings? During Black’s ten­ure, Hearst kept its flagship brands like Cosmopolitan healthy through an extremely tough period for the publishing industry and launched new mega-successes like Oprah’s magazine. Meanwhile, Black rose to become one of the most powerful women in American business.

IDEO’s favorite antidote to negative speech patterns is the phrase “How might we…?”  It was introduced to us by Charles Warren, now salesforce.com’s senior vice president of product design, as an op­timistic way of seeking out new possibilities in the world. In a matter of weeks, it went viral at our firm and it’s stuck ever since. In three disarmingly simple words, it captures much of our perspective on creative groups. The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remain­ing is how we will find success. The word “might” temporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows us to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving us more chance of a breakthrough. And the “we” establishes own­ership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group. Anyone who has worked with IDEO in the past decade or participated in OpenIDEO’s social innovation challenges has undoubtedly heard the phrase.

We’re also careful about how we critique ideas. As we explained in this HBR article, our feedback typically starts with “I like…” and moves on to “I wish…”. We refrain from passing judgment with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. When you open with the positives, then use the first person for suggestions, it signals to everyone that you’re offering your opinion in an effort to help, which makes them more receptive to your ideas.

As adults, we sometimes forget the simple power of words. Try fine-tuning your group’s vocabulary, and see the positive effect it has on your culture.

Link to read the original article

The Body Map of Emotions: Happiness Activates the Whole Body

Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How To Make Changes That Stick, reports on this fascinating study that illuminates why we have so many ways of drawing on different parts of ourselves to communicate how we are feeling…

New study reveals where people feel different emotions in the body.

Unlike thoughts, the emotions don’t live entirely in the mind, they are also associated with bodily sensations.

For example, when we feel nervous, we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’.

Thanks to a new study, for the first time we now have a map of the links between emotions and bodily sensations.

Body maps

Finnish researchers induced different emotions in 701 participants and then got them to colour in a body map of where they felt increasing or decreasing activity (Nummenmaa et al., 2013).

Participants in the study were from both Western European countries like Finland and Sweden and also from East Asia (Taiwan).

Despite the cultural differences, they found remarkable similarities in how people responded.

Here are the body maps for six basic emotions. Yellow indicates the highest level of activity, followed by red. Black is neutral, while blue and light blue indicate lowered and very low activity respectively.

The authors explain:

“Most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate. Similarly, sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area […] as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events.”

It’s fascinating that happiness is the one emotion that fills the whole body activity, including the legs, perhaps indicating that happy people feel ready to spring into action, or maybe do a jig.

Along with the basic emotions, here are the body maps of six more complex emotions:

The stand-out emotion here is love, which only just fails to reach down into the legs, but lights up the rest of the body with activity very successfully. The three centres of activity are head, heart and err…

The study’s lead author, Lauri Nummenmaa, explained:

“Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities […] Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness.”

Link to read the original article

How Long It Takes To Form A New Habit – Jeremy Dean’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits

And you here is Maria Popova’s introduction to Jeremy Dean’s book about making good habits…

“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle proclaimed“Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state,”William James wrote. But how, exactly, do we rewire our habits once they have congealed into daily routines? We already know that it takes more than “willpower.”

When he became interested in how long it takes for us to form or change a habit, psychologist Jeremy Dean found himself bombarded with the same magic answer from popular psychology websites and advice columns: 21 days. And yet, strangely — or perhaps predictably, for the internet — this one-size-fits-all number was being applied to everything from starting a running regimen to keeping a diary, but wasn’t backed by any concrete data. In Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick — which also gave us this fascinating read on the psychology of self-control — Dean, whose training is in research, explores the actual science of habits through the existing empirical evidence on habit-formation…

This notion of acting without thinking — known in science as “automaticity” — turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a central driver of habits. And it helps illuminate the real question at the heart of this inquiry: How long did it actually take for people to form a habit? Dean writes:

The simple answer is that, on average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed. As you might imagine, there was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.

What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.

While the finding may at first appear disheartening, it’s actually oddly assuring in reminding us that habit, like genius, is merely a matter of doggedness and “deliberate practice” — in fact, this brings us to the lesser-cited yet pivotal second half of Aristotle’s famous dictum“Excellence … is not an act but a habit.”

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

Family Table (Steve McCurry’s Photos)

The family is the nucleus of civilisation.  (Will Durant)

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection celebrates the family around the table in a series of heartwarming and poignant images from around the world, reminding us, again, how much more we have in common with each other than are our differences…

Researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time;
sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members.  (Anne Fishel, Ph.D.)

In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.  (Eva Burrows)

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.  (Anthony Brandt)

Link to see these photos

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

Jumpstart Your Journaling: A 31 Day Challenge

Here is really helpful framework by Jeremy Anderberg for helping to get your journal off the ground and up and running.  (Anderberg’s blog is concerned primarily with development for men, but these headings and questions can be easily taken and used by all of us).  And, too, you might like to try to combine this with the journalling website 750 words mentioned in the first article in this post…

…When presented with a totally blank slate — that open journal, with pen in hand, and nothing but white pages — we freeze up. It’s been said that constraint actually gives way to greater creativity. When we have clear boundaries, or direction, we no longer have to think about the act itself. We don’t have to think about what to journal, we simply have to journal based on a prompt.

With that in mind, I’d like to present a 31-day roadmap and challenge for your journaling. Doing something for around 30 days is a great way to not only build a habit, but to also explore if it’s right for you. Maybe journaling isn’t for you, and you just have never taken the time to really prove that to yourself. Or maybe you love the practice, and simply haven’t gotten into the habit yet. Either way, I hope this calendar presents you with ample opportunity to take the journaling bull by the horns and experience all its benefits.

All of these can be accomplished in just 20-30 minutes per day, and often less. If you can’t make time for that, perhaps journaling isn’t as important to you as you really thought, and you’ve discovered right there that it’s not for you.

In this roadmap are many questions. In your journal — whether digital or by hand — you can simply write out the question at the top of the page, and answer as if having a conversation. Don’t worry about formality, how it may sound out loud, grammar, etc. Just write your thoughts. It may seem mundane, but there is a magical quality in writing something down that cannot be fully explained. You just have to trust me and try it out.

Note: I am of the opinion that this exercise should be 31 continuous days. However, you can also decide to do it over the course of a couple months, or just on weekdays; remember, this is for you, so if don’t enjoy what you’re doing and are just stressed out by the thought of it, it won’t work.

Day 1: Start with answering the question of why you want to journal, and beyond that, why you decided to embark on this 31-day experience. Write out what you’d like to get from journaling.

Day 2: Continuing to work within that idea of constraints, try to write a 6-word memoir of your life so far. This idea is rumored to have originated from Papa Hemingway. The benefit is that with only six words, you really have to filter your life to what you deem most important. It may take you many iterations, but you’ll end up with something that speaks largely to who you are, if not in toto, then at least in this moment in time.

Day 3: Decide on one positive habit you’d like to implement in your life. …Then, think about the steps you’ll take to get there, and how you’ll keep yourself accountable.

Day 4: pick a habit that you’d like to eliminate from your life. … And again, also think about how you’ll keep yourself accountable to that goal.

Day 5: Write a letter to a loved one. …The beauty of this letter is that you aren’t sending it in the mail, you’re simply “voicing” something that needs to be said. Should you choose to share it later, that’s okay, but you don’t have to…

Day 6: Pick a quote from [anywhere on the internet] and reflect on why it stands out to you. …If you can’t seem to reflect on a single quote, just take the time to write out a few of them that you like. Doing so will keep them top-of-mind and perhaps lead to some thoughts later down the road.

Day 7: You’ve made it one week! Reflect on what this newfound practice has been like. Getting through the first seven consecutive days is truly the hardest part. What have you enjoyed about it? What has been difficult? How has it been what you expected and what surprises have you had from it?

Day 8: Take some time today to reflect on your career. Jot down a timeline of it, including all the ups and downs. What was your best experience? And the worst? What would you like your future to look like, in terms of your career? If you’re a young person and haven’t started in yet, focus on that future part. What do you want your work to look like?

Day 9: On this day, simply write about your day. …The beauty of this exercise is that you may discover something that you hadn’t realised…

Day 10Take a look at the hero’s journey, and identify where you are in that journey. Doing so can help you better understand where you are in life, and help you figure out where to go next. You can take it in the context of your entire life, or you can take it in the context of a certain phase of your life…

Day 11Memento mori. “Remember that you will die.” Admittedly, this isn’t the most pleasant topic. There is, however, great benefit in meditating on the reality that at some point, you will in fact die. It motivates you to live the life right now that you want to be living. Meditate on this, and write out your thoughts…

Day 12: Give stream-of-consciousness writing a try. … for 10-15 minutes. You may uncover something — no matter how small — you hadn’t previously realized.

Day 13: Perform a mind dump of everything you’re worried about. From the leaky dishwasher to your family member’s poor health — get it all out… Getting all your stressors on paper may alleviate some of that pressure…

Day 14: Write a review of some form of entertainment you recently took in. Whether book or movie or TV show or Broadway play, write out what you liked and didn’t like about it…

Day 15: Come up with your own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors. There are innumerable great people from history who we can learn from today… Write out who you would have on your list and what you admire about them…

Day 16: Imagine that someone has decided to write a book about your life, just up to this point. What would the cover blurb say? Be honest here. Is it kind of boring? Are you happy with it? Now imagine what you’d like that blurb to say at the end of your life. What changes need to made for that to happen?

Link to read the original article in full and the themes for the next 15 days

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #79

You will find all of these stories – and more – collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #79.  Enjoy and best wishes making the start you most want to your new year.

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #76 ~ a parcel of practical ideas for the festive season

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

‘Tis the season of gift giving and in this spirit I have tried to make this week’s post a Santa’s Sack of tools, techniques and practical approaches with – I do hope – a treat for everyone.  I hope you will find something here to make your festive season just that little happier, less stressful and more enjoyable…

The Power of Empathy (RSA Shorts)

What is the best way to ease someone’s pain and suffering? In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

This sublime animation of sorts out the difference between empathy and sympathy and provides the basics on how to give it well.

photo credit: MyTudut via photopin cc

photo credit: MyTudut via photopin cc

4 Critical Skills for a Changing World

BY 

Bob Dylan wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in the midst of the cultural and political upheaval of the 60s. What I remember most about those days were the endless fights with my parents over my long hair, my frayed bellbottom jeans, the Vietnam War, and, of course, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

We had a name for our extreme differences in perspective back then. We called it “the generation gap.” I doubt if it’s any consolation to Millennials – especially coming from a baby boomer – but we’ve sort of been here before. Each generation has its own ideals, behaviors and challenges.

 While there’s nothing new about generational change, when you’re in the thick of it, that’s a different story. It’s unsettling, exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time.

Related7 Things Great Entrepreneurs Don’t Do

The high-tech revolution of the past few decades certainly fits that description. Having “grown up” in that industry, I can certainly look back and see how far we’ve come. Not only that, I’m proud that I made the transition – that I successfully adapted to this brave new world.

And I’d like to help you do the same. I’d like to help the entrepreneurs of today and the business leaders of tomorrow make the transition to a world that never stops changing. Here are four critical capabilities I think you’re going to need to distinguish yourself – to become the leaders, the innovators, the success stories of a new age:

Truly connect with real people in the real world
Any successful executive or business leader will tell you that among their most critical assets are their ability to communicate and network. Not only that, but success in business is all about relationships. Every business transaction has a human being on both ends.

These days, people think they’re connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, when in reality, they’re just blasting gigabytes of superficial sound bites and links at each other. It’s the Internet equivalent of talking at someone. Actually, it’s not even one-to-one, it’s generally one-to-many, and, by many, I mean thousands.

The truth is that social networking isn’t even fractionally effective when compared with a simple real-time discussion or face-to-face meeting. One real relationship with a real person in the real world is worth a thousand virtual connections.

Related: 9 Steps to Becoming a Great Writer

Shut out the noise
You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a world of unprecedented information and communication overload. We’re expected to be on 24/7. The urge to text, tweet and email is constant, addictive, and nearly irresistible.

And yet, you have to find a way to resist all that. You have to figure out how to manage distraction without completely shutting yourself off. You have to learn to shut out the noise without missing out on what matters, what’s relevant, and what’s critical.
It’s never been more challenging to prioritize and focus, to be effective and productive, to get things done, than it is today. And it’s only going to get harder.

Recognize the bullsh*t
Everyone’s aware that “I saw it on the Internet so it must be true” is a fallacy. And yet, quoting, posting, forwarding and retweeting information from unreliable sources has become the norm. It’s pervasive.

When you question assumptions and claims, challenge conventional wisdom, and avoid collectivism and groupthink, that’s called critical thinking. It dates back thousands of years to the teachings of Socrates and Buddha.

Critical thinking is fundamental to smart decision-making. It’s in short supply … and getting shorter all the time.

Be the genuine you
All the personal branding hype has turned people into Internet avatars: social-media sound bites that are nothing more than two-dimensional fabrications of how they want others to see them. The problem is you’ll never get anywhere by trying to be something you’re not.

It’s never been more challenging or more important to be the genuine you, to possess the humility and self-awareness to realize that you’re not who you hold yourself out to be, you don’t have all the answers, and calling yourself an entrepreneur or a CEO doesn’t make you one.

In a world of indistinguishable lemmings, where everyone imagines they’re unique while behaving exactly like everyone else, the true innovators will be those who possess the courage to know who they really are and become the best version of themselves that they can be.

No matter how much the world changes, your personal journey is the one that will matter most. Keep it real.

Link to read the original article

C OK

photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc

5 Surprising Ways Writing Makes Your Life Better

Want to have a clearer head, a more engaged workday, and get wiser faster?  Then you might want to write this down…

BY 

What are we “putting down” when we “put it down on paper”: a current of thought, a torrent of emotions, the first incisions of a decision? Flannery O’Connor said that she writes in order to discover what she knows. And as research into writing shows, the act of tracing your thoughts across a page can make you more productive, more emotionally aware, and a less irrational decision maker.

Here’s why.

1. WRITING CLEARS THE CLUTTER FROM YOUR MIND

Getting Things Done author and TED speaker David Allen emphasizes that your mind is for processing, not for storage. Storage of information, after all, can be outsourced in any number of ways, including writing down your to-do list on a pad of paper. The insight underlying this is that attention is a finite resource, one that gets depletedover the course of a day. So if you’re walking around thinking about what you need to do next–rather than thinking about how you’re getting to get it done–you’re misspending your neurotransmitters.

2. WRITING LETS YOU MAKE A BANK OF KNOWLEDGE

Productive people take better notes: if somebody is dropping knowledge on you, writing down what they say allows you to commit your attention to next insight–rather than trying to remember the last one. Like the Chinese proverb says, you can trust the faintest of ink more than the strongest of memories.

As you take more and more notes on awesome things said and read, you can amass an awesome bank of knowledge. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.

3. WRITING HELPS YOU SEE YOUR OWN GROWTH

Journaling in particular helps you see how you have grown. Harvard Business School research director Teresa Amabile has discovered that people feel more engaged, more productive, and have a greater sense of meaning in their work when they record even the most miniscule of accomplishments within their days. She calls this the Progress Principle: the more you’re aware of your progress, the more involved you’ll feel in making it continue to grow–another reason to make a ritual of writing about what’s happened.

4. WRITING HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND YOUR LIFE

University of Texas psychologist James W. Pennebaker has found that writing about their lives helps people to organize their thoughts and find meaning in their traumatic experiences–from people diagnosed with HIV to Vietnam veterans. This is crucial, since the more meaning you find in your difficulties, research shows, the more resilient you’ll be in over-coming them, which reminds us of how the happiest people often have the hardest jobs.

5. WRITING HELPS YOU BECOME MORE WISE

The last reason to write about life: it helps you study your emotions, which makes you wiser, faster.

“What we construct as wisdom over time is actually the result of cultivating that knowledge of how our emotions behaved,” says USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, “and what we learn from them.”

This reinforces Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s recommended first step for making better decisions: buy a notebook.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: bloody marty mix via photopin cc

7 Ways to Find out What You Really Want in Life

…If you don’t know what you really want in life, you’re not alone. Thousands, if not millions, of people wander the earth every day without a quest. If you don’t want to spend your life wandering aimlessly, you can use the following 7 tips to find out exactly what you want in life.

Be selfish

You can’t pinpoint exactly what you want in life if you’re constantly sacrificing your time and dreams for other people. You have to put yourself first. Ask yourself: If you weren’t tied down by your job, family, friends, or anything else, then what would you be doing right now? Always remember that it’s okay to put yourself first, because if you don’t, then no one else will.

Regret nothing

Don’t feel bad for being selfish. It’s your life. It’s time for you to live it exactly the way you want to. If you constantly regret things you did or didn’t do in the past, then you won’t be able to move forward. Don’t live in the past. Live in the present…and the future!

Figure out what you need

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what you need. Sit down and think about what you need the most. Is it your family? The freedom to express yourself? Love? Financial security? Something else? If it helps, you can make a list of priorities. Also think about the kind of legacy you want to leave behind.

Determine what really bothers you

You can soar only by pushing back against something you don’t want. Figure out what upsets you, and be specific about it. Don’t just say that you hate your office job. Pinpoint exactly why you hate it. Could it be your micromanaging boss? Your workload? Your meaningless job title? Or all of the above? What bothers you, and how can you fix it? How much do you want to fix it?

photo credit: marsmet548 via photopin cc

photo credit: marsmet548 via photopin cc

Determine what makes you truly happy

There’s no waste to life if you’re happy living it. Your happiness is the root of your desires. So take a few moments and really think about what makes you happy. Is it traveling? Being around children? Owning a successful business? Your significant other? Financial freedom? Once you pinpoint the one thing that makes you happy the most, you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what you should strive for in your life.

Let people around you know what you’re trying to achieve

Don’t keep your goals and desires to yourself. Voice it all out! If you tell people what you’re trying to accomplish, they will most likely support you and give you new ideas. Sometimes mother does know best!

Stay positive.

Life doesn’t always go how you want it. Don’t feel dismay as your plans stray. Take control. Instead of freaking out, try your best to roll with the changes. You will get there someday. You’re just taking a little detour. Sometimes a positive attitude is all you need to keep going.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Nearsoft via photopin cc

photo credit: Nearsoft via photopin cc

Creating A Great Place To Work

by KEVIN EIKENBERRY

It’s become almost an industry itself – judging organizational culture and creating lists of great places to work. The most recent I’ve read is fromGlassdoor, as reported in FAST Company Online this morning. The findings and lists are worth reading, but perhaps not surprisingly, I want to talk about how we as leaders can impact these ratings.

So let’s do exactly that.

Quoting from the article, here are the top six themes, Glassdoor found from the top rated companies:

  • Mission: a sense of purpose in coming into work
  • Collegiality: working with awesome people
  • Challenging work: being stimulated by the work to be done
  • Meaningful advancement: the promise of growth
  • Confidence in senior leaders: a sense of trust–and transparency–with management
  • Perks: good pay, free food, a beer cart or two.

Read this list with your leadership hat on and you will see that if you are a senior leader, you have impact on all six. More importantly though is the message if you are leaders from somewhere else. Whether you lead from the shop floor, the phone room, or any middle to upper middle level, you can directly impact the first four, and influence the fifth one, from your perspective as a manager, too.

Read this list as an employee, and my guess is that is your list, too – attributes describing where you want to work.

So your job as a leader, if you want to create a great place to work (and why wouldn’t you?), is to focus on:

  • Giving people (and helping them see) the purpose in working in your organization. Help people see the biggest and most powerful picture for their work.
  • Selecting and cultivating a great team of people that others want to work with.
  • Creating challenging and stimulating work for all team members
  • Leading for growth, so there will be opportunities for people to grow their roles and contributions moving forward.
  • Being trustworthy and offering greater trust to your team members.

I know that this list isn’t simple, yet all of these are things that you can do regardless of your organizational level. To not focus on these is to deny your ability to make the difference you were hired to make.

My message?

As a leader, stop wishing you could have a better workplace. Start creating it today. The steps are clear and in front of you, and they are yours for the taking.

Greater results, higher productivity, less turnover, more job satisfaction, and more fun await.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: daveypea via photopin cc

How Positive Psychology Can Help Your Organisation

Leslie Sachs writes…

Positive psychology is providing a new focus on effective ways to ensure that teams exhibit the right behaviors in a group or organizational setting. Closely related to many agile and lean concepts, these emerging practices are helping teams to improve communication, collaborate, and emerge as highly effective groups. Leslie Sachs explains what positive psychology is all about and how to start using these practices in your organisation…

If you want an effective and healthy organization, then it seems obvious that it is essential to focus on promoting healthy organizational behavior. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have pioneered a new focus on a positive view of psychology, and this article will help you to understand and begin to apply these exciting and very effective techniques…

Seligman delineates twenty-four strengths, ranging from curiosity and interest in the world to zest, passion, and enthusiasm, which he suggests are the fundamental traits of a positive and effective individual. Notably, playfulness and humor, along with valor, bravery, and a sense of justice, are also listed among these traits that Seligman describes. So, how do we apply this knowledge to the workplace and how can we use this information to be more effective managers? The fact is that we all know people whom we admire and we have all had more than a few employers who seemed less than completely effective.

Effective leaders do indeed exhibit valor, bravery, and a sense of justice in identifying barriers to organizational success. The best leaders are not afraid to deliver a tough message and also use their positional power to help teams achieve success. Leaders are often particularly motivated by curiosity, interested in the world, and most certainly exhibit enthusiasm and passion for their work.

Other traits observed in strong leaders include kindness and generosity, along with integrity and honesty. Successful leaders also exhibit perseverance and diligence as well as a love of learning. It hardly comes as a surprise that so many of these strengths are specified as beneficial traits. In fact, many of these aspects have been discussed earlier by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers in their work on humanistic psychology, a discipline that focuses on helping people achieve success and realize their full potential.

Positive psychology is providing a useful framework for understanding the traits that lead to success, both at an organizational level and also for each of us individually. Much of what positive psychology advocates aligns well with agile methodologies and the agile mindset in which many organizations are finding to be so effective, especially in creating an environment where each stakeholder feels empowered to do the right thing and speak up when there are problems or barriers to success.

Quality management guru W. Edwards Deming noted long ago the importance of healthy behaviors, such as driving out fear, in order to ensure that your employees are willing to speak up and warn of potential issues [4]. Clearly, positive behaviors lead to highly effective teams and successful organizations.

Positive psychology cannot solve every problem and there is no doubt that many organizations have cultures and environments that just do not foster success. However, if you are a technical leader (or wish to emerge as a technical leader), then understanding the significance and impact potential of encouraging positive traits is essential for your success….

Link to read the original article

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adapted image from photo credit: qthomasbower via photopin cc

Get Your Free VIA Me! Character Strengths Profile

Here is a link to a great online site where you can find out the ranked order of your own 24 character strengths, mentioned in the above article.  Your top 5 strengths are recognised as your Signature Strengths and here is Martin Seligman’s activity that helps us to hugely increase our level of engagement and happiness at work, and thus our success and productivity, using the power of our Signature Strengths:

Playing To Your Strengths

A.) Identify your top 5 Signature Strengths

B.) Over the next week create a designated time in your schedule when you will exercise one or more of your signature strengths in a new way at work.  Decide what you will do for this.

C.) Write about your experience…

How did it feel before, during and after engaging in the activity?

  • Was the activity challenging? easy?
  • Did time pass quickly?
  • Did you lose your sense of self-consciousness?

What plans can you make to help you repeat, develop or build on this experience?

Link to get your Via Me! Character Strengths Profile

photo credit: Len Radin via photopin cc

photo credit: Len Radin via photopin cc

How to beat the female leadership stereotypes

Mother or seductress, pet or battle-axe: 30 years after research first identified these roles we’re still living by them

by Judith Baxterprofessor of applied linguistics at Aston University. She researches the relationship between language, gender and leadership in educational, business and professional contexts.

recent Gallup poll states that if given the choice between a male or female boss when taking a new job, Americans strongly lean towards men as their preferred choice. The figures highlight that issues with female authority have not gone away. The stereotype of the “horrible female boss” persists because expectations for women in power are set so high that it’s nearly impossible for any human being to meet them.

 The explanation is usually psychological: both women and men unconsciously view men as leaders and women as followers, so that when a woman is promoted to senior leadership, she disrupts unconscious collective norms.

Yet this unconscious bias must emanate from somewhere, and I suggest that this “somewhere” is rooted in the language we use to represent women and men.

 We have been raised in a culture that has historically constructed successful leaders as male. The “great man” theory of leadership prevails in the western world heralding male leaders as heroic, charismatic, commanding, competitive, creative, cut-throat, masterful, and sometimes just plain quirky. Think Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, even Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg.

 There is simply no room for women to fit into masculine archetypes of leadership. Female leaders are seen as the exception and often as socially and professionally deviant. Consequently, women get pigeonholed and labelled by narrow and limiting language. They become caricatures.

 In 1983, American businesswoman Rosabeth Moss Kanter famously identified four “role traps” for women in the public domain: the pet, the mother, the battle-axe and the seductress. Today, if you look at the way women are represented in the media, these role traps heavily influence the way we see female leaders.

 A woman falling into the pet role-trap is viewed as cute, sweet or girly. We all like her, she may be a favourite of the boss, but ultimately she is not seen as serious. Think Tory MP Louise Mensch, famously the pet of David Cameron before she fell from grace. A pet will rarely make it to the top of her chosen field.

 The mother or schoolmistress is perhaps the most traditional leader role-trap. She is routinely described as school marmy, bossy, frumpy or mumsy. Think Fern Britton before her makeover on Strictly Come Dancing. The mother may command authority and respect but her manner is characterised as too arch, parental or humourless for serious leadership positions.

 The seductress is disliked by both men and women, and gets described as a bitch, witch, cow, vamp or man-eater. Think MP Nadine Dorries or presenter Carol Vorderman. She eats men for breakfast and no boyfriend or husband is deemed safe. If she flirts with senior men, her behaviour is condemned as inappropriate, unprofessional, distracting and misjudged.

 Finally, the most opprobrium is reserved for a woman who falls into the battle-axe role-trap. She has historical form in the tradition of Lady Macbeth or more recently, Margaret Thatcher. She is caricatured as scary, tough, mean, bossy, or just like a man. While she patently can make it to the top, she is then viewed as “a horrible female boss”, although her reputation may be redeemed over time.

 Can female leaders escape from these role-traps? Research I conducted in 14 multinational businesses compared seven women and seven male board directors chairing meetings with their senior teams. One notable finding from the research was that colleagues represented women leaders in stereotyped ways using words such as “scary”, “tentative”, “flirty” or “bossy”. However, in my own observations, I saw senior women refusing to be entrapped by such monolithic stereotypes but rather, turning them to their advantage to be effective in the workplace.

 I saw women leaders move skilfully between the four roles, using them as resources to draw on to achieve different business and political goals. Recent media representations of Angela Merkel, known by the Germans as “the Mother”, depict her moving flexibly between the iron-fisted chancellor and the charming token female bantering with male heads of state.

 But it is a dangerous game. Ultimately the fact that such role-traps continue to thrive in our collective unconscious, and are daily reconstructed in media representations, is a barrier for women. Now we have to ensure that such media representations are challenged, and to create multifaceted leadership archetypes for both women and men.

Link to read the original article

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The History of the To-Do List (And How To Make It More Effective)

BELLE BETH COOPERY writes…

…As I researched this post, I realised how hard it is to pinpoint the origin of something as simple and widespread as the list (to-do or otherwise), but I did find out some interesting stories about how lists have been used in the past and why we find them useful in everyday life.

Why Do We Make Lists in the First Place?

Philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco is a big fan of lists and has some fascinating ideas about why they’re so important to humans:

“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible… And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists…

Umberto explained in an interview that lists are often seen as relics of primitive cultures — simplistic devices that don’t belong in our modern day and age. However, the simple form of the list prevails again and again over time, because, as Umberto says, it has “an irresistible magic.”

When we struggle to express ourselves, we use lists. Like Umberto says, lists help us to make sense of the world around us. We create lists of the sights we see on vacation, the places we want to visit, the food we need to buy at the grocery store, and the tasks we need to get done. It’s a simple habit of increasing our day to day productivity. We pack all the madness and ambiguity of life into a structured form of writing. In short making lists is a great way to increase our overall happiness and feel less overwhelmed.

Not only that, but we also form and challenge definitions of the things around us by making lists of their characteristics. For instance, if we were to describe an animal to a child, we would do so by listing characteristics like colour, size, diet and habitat. Regardless of whether this matches the scientific definition of the animal or not, that’s how we make sense of it.

Benjamin Franklin, the Godfather of the To-Do List?

Benjamin Franklin is a great example of someone known for using lists to encourage his own self-improvement. He famously detailed a thirteen-week plan to practice important virtues such as cleanliness, temperance, etc. Each day he tracked his progress on a chart.

Benjamin also set himself a strict daily routine, which included time for sleeping, meals and working, all set for specific times of the day. Unfortuantely, the demands of his printing business made it difficult for him to always stick to his routine.

Lists for Productivity

These days, we use lists for productivity as much as anything else: shopping lists, reminders, planning for events, and the to-do list are all variations on a productivity-based list that we use to help us get past procrastinating. The to-do list in particular is one that we spend a lot of time and energy on perfecting. Somehow, we don’t seem to struggle when it comes to making a shopping list and buying everything on it, but getting the tasks on our to-do list done is a whole other ball game.

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4 Tips for a To-Do List That Will Actually Help You Get Things Done

Looking at the history of lists and how they’re used, we can glean some insights about how to create a to-do list we can actually complete.

Break Projects into Tasks and Don’t Succumb to the Zeigarnik Effect

We kind of have a reminder system built-in to our minds that nags us about unfinished tasks called the Zeigarnik effect. It sounds pretty cool that we already have this, but it’s actually not that reliable or healthy for us.

What really happens is that there’s a disconnect between our conscious and unconscious minds — the unconscious mind can’t plan how to finish the task, but it gets annoyed with the feeling of it being unfinished. To shake off that feeling, it nags the conscious mind with reminders about the task — not to finish it, but simply to encourage us to make a plan.

If you’ve heard of David Allen’s GTD method, you’ll be familiar with his concept of “next steps,” which is pretty much the same thing. It’s the process of breaking down a project or task into smaller tasks, and planning which one will be the next step towards completing the whole thing. This abates the nagging of the unconscious brain, as it’s satisfied that at some point we’ll get onto that task, and we know exactly how we’ll do it. Maria Popova of Brain Pickings says the essentials of creating these do-able next steps are to make “a few very specific, aactionalbe, non-conflicting items.”

Prioritise Ruthlessly

Maria’s post on the history of the to-do list also describes the story of a psychologist who gave a talk at the Pentagon about managing time and resources. Before the talk began, the psychologist asked everyone in the group to write a summary of their strategic approach in 25 words. Apparently, 25 words was too little for the men to express their strategies, and the only response came from the single woman in the group, whose summary read as follows:

“First I make a list of priorities: one, two, three, and so on. Then I cross out everything from three down.”

…To-do lists invariably crop up when we have so many things to do that we can’t keep track of them all in our heads (Aha! We’re back to Umberto’s thoughts on how lists help us to create order from the chaos of our lives!). Which means that we end up with lists far too long for us to complete. Prioritizing ruthlessly seems to be the only way to actually get done what’s most important in the little time that we have.

Plan Ahead

Here’s another story of how to-do lists evolved in the workplace:

Almost 100 years ago, the President of the Bethlehem Steel company in the USA was Charles M Schwab. His company was struggling with inefficiency and Schwab didn’t know how to improve it, so he called in Ivy Lee, a well-known efficiency expert at the time. Lee agreed to help the company, with his fee being whatever Schwab felt the results were worth after three months. Lee’s advice to each member of the company’s management team was to write a to-do list at the end of each day, which consisted of the six most important tasks to be done the following day. Then they were told to organise the list based on the highest priority tasks.

The next day, the employes worked through the list from top to bottom, focusing on a single task at a time. At the end of the day, anything left on the list would get added to the top of tomorrow’s list when the employees once again planned for the following day. As the story goes, the company was so much more efficient after three months that Schwab sent a check to Lee for $US25,000.

In your own planning, you can take Lee’s advice for free and use the night before to plan your workday. Setting out the most important tasks you want to complete the following day will help you to avoid time-wasters and distractions by knowing what to work on immediately.

Be Realistic

…If we’re struggling to complete our to-do lists on a regular basis (we’ve all been there at some point!), we need to make a change to the list — make it more realistic. Although a to-do list can be infinite, our time is not. We need to match the tasks we require of ourselves to how much time and energy we can afford to spend on them. This is where prioritizing can really come in handy, as well.

Starting to develop your own, personal daily routine is one of the most powerful ways to become a great list maker. You might find some inspiration from these 7 famous entrepreneurs and their routines.

Find a Way That Works for You

As with pretty much any kind of lifehacking or productivity topic, individual mileage will vary. We all need to take into account our unique situation when experimenting with advice like this. For me, prioritizing and planning the night before has really helped. For you, being realistic might be more useful…

Link to read the original article

photo credit: jakuza via photopin cc

photo credit: jakuza via photopin cc

The 5 Best and Worst Things About Working from Home

For those trapped in a cubicle or an open plan office, working from home may sound like pyjama-clad heaven.  But there are two sides to every coin.  Here the trials and triumphs of the home office…

Is working from home a blessing, or a curse?

That’s what we wanted to find out last week. So we put out a call on Facebook and Twitter asking for your input. Many of you, after all, have experienced both sides of the coin.

The results came streaming in and after just a few days we received over 100 detailed–and passionate–responses.

Below, we’ve singled out some of the most common positives, and negatives that you have found. We’ve also listed respondents’ Twitter handles so you can continue the conversation!

The Good:

1. FREEDOM

My rules. My way. My pace. My goals.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to me that I’m working for something I personally care about in a creative manner. When I create I get messy and my bosses usually were too psycho-rigid… @Alan_RY

Freedom to use your time as you see best fit, and working only as much as you need to. @nagra__

2. THE AMENITIES

Sitting on my patio on a warm summer’s day with Wimbledon on my iPad in the background whilst I worked! @thewheelexists

3. BEING CLOSE TO LOVED ONES

My grandparents and I live in the same apartment building. Being at home working gives me the chance to just drop by to share a meal together or even sometimes cook for them. I would not trade those precious moments for a job that pays me enough to buy a Porsche. @Alan_RY

No question–being near my family. For eight years I worked more than an hour away from home, so there were many early mornings and late nights. Working from home, I am able to help around the house and experience life with my family–like watching my daughter take her first steps. @trent_scott

4. WORK HOW YOU WANT, WHEN YOU WANT

The greatest benefit from working from home is the ability to work on any project at any time. You can start your day early or late and finish when you like. You have the flexibility to plan your day and include your errands and be there for others. @imediaexposure

I’ve worked in offices for about 40 years. I was recently hired in a great job working from home. It took me a while to not to worry about ‘looking busy’ during slow periods. No one is watching and judging! What freedom that is!@lmpratscher

5. NO COMMUTE

No commute during Chicago winters, no office politics except when one of my dogs decides he no longer likes the other, being able to take a guilt-free break whenever I want and having complete control over my environment–noise, temp, decor/aesthetics, etc. @ResuMAYDAY

I save a lot of money on the days I work from home. Not having to spend money on buying lunch or a subway ticket or gas is a HUGE benefit.@jaiathomaslaw

My morning commute now consists of walking from the bedroom to the office, which has saved me gas money, and there’s no line for my morning cup of coffee. @salesbuddy

The Bad:

1. THE STIGMA

Dealing with managers (and CEOs) who are set in the antiquated way of thinking that if they can’t see you, you can’t possibly be doing work.@jaynawallace

2. NO BOUNDARIES

When I have relatives over while I’m working, it’s hard for me to say: Sorry, I’m busy now… but they just take my presence and open door as an invitation to just talk to me openly without my consent. I’m an introvert, I hate when my thoughts are interrupted! @Alan_RY

Sitting down at your computer as soon as you roll out of bed only to realize upon opening the door to the courier at 4 p.m. that you are still in your bathrobe and have not eaten lunch. And possibly not brushed your teeth. Not sure if that’s the best or the worst thing about working from home: high on productivity but low on the social health scale.@aromacentric

Friends and family think that when you’re working from home, you’re available to help with other things. While this has gotten better over time for many people, I still get occasional lists of things that I don’t have time for through the day.

3. ISOLATION

Loneliness and inability to work face-to-face with others to talk creatively, bounce ideas, etc. Distractions are plentiful, so it’s always a challenge to avoid them. @LouMongello

There are moments of loneliness. That deck I’m working on, the copy I just wrote; while I can email it to a friend or co-worker there’s no one in person to sit and review/collaborate/iterate with me on it. I can’t exactly have my dog review it. The companionship that you get by going into an office and developing live relationships is something that I miss. @icyfrance

4. THE DISTRACTION

The worst is definitely having friends and neighbors think that because I’m home, we can “hang out”, get coffee, go run errands, or the flatmate who thinks that because I’m home, it’s not an issue to expect, rather than ask, me to walk her dog twice a day, because I’m home anyway, when I actually have work to do or calls to make.
@michelejmartin

Sticking to a schedule is the hardest because there a tons of distractions while at the same time not being “watched over” gives my lazy side more temptation. Inconsiderate friends and relatives and who assume you don’t really work and call you out to help them move or pick them up from the airport. @Kapilbulsara

Very little intellectual mind stimulating discussion with like minded work colleagues–really miss that! @Kapilbulsara

5. STAGNATION

Sitting too much, which is very bad for my health. I know I need to get up and walk (run, dance) around more, but I get into what I’m doing on the computer and forget. @escapeartist02

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Stephen Poff via photopin cc

photo credit: Stephen Poff via photopin cc

How To Boost Your Self-Confidence After Failure

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s nothing like good old-fashioned failure to send your self-confidence into a nose dive.

I’m not talking about the little flubs and foibles of life.

I’m talking big, fat, fall-on-your-face failure.

Failure like . . .

getting fired from your job;

loosing a major account;

flunking the final exam;

forgetting your big speech;

your business going belly-up;

your marriage ending;

not following through on a major goal;

making poor life choices that hurt yourself or others.

If you’ve experienced a major life failure, as most of us have, the memory of the experience likely still stings. And perhaps your self-confidence has never fully recovered from the blow.

When you fail to live up to expectations, your own or others, it’s like stepping into an open manhole and landing in the pit of despair. At first you simply want to huddle at the bottom and pray someone will cover the manhole and leave you with your misery.

But eventually you must face the light of day and find a way to resume your life and regain your dignity. After a big life failure, it’s natural to feel shell-shocked and insecure. Your weakness, inability to perform, or bad decisions have been spotlighted for the entire world to see. It seems nothing will boost your self-confidence ever again.

For some people, the wounds of these fiascoes are so profound they never recover their confidence. Their self-esteem is compromised, and they sink into malaise or depression which further undermines their feelings of worthiness and competency.  This becomes a vicious cycle driving them further and further away from success and happiness.

Fortunately, most people eventually recover from life failures and can move past them. But the scars are ever-present and flair up again when one is faced with the prospect of taking risk or attempting any endeavor similar to the previous failure. They live a compromised life, never fully reaching their potential or experiencing the richness of life for fear of failing again.

However, low self-confidence isn’t a life sentence, even after a colossal bungle. It is possible to boost your self-confidence and recover more quickly from failure when you are determined to do so — if you know how.

Here are some thoughts on building confidence and self-esteem after the initial shock of failure passes.

Pick over the ashes

Once you are back on your feet, revisit the failure to find nuggets of information and areas of personal growth. What did you learn from this failure to help you become a stronger and better person in the future? What would you do differently? How do you need to make amends, right a wrong, or correct a mistake?

It’s not pleasant to look at the evidence of your failure, but this analysis and reflection show emotional maturity and resolve. Facing your failure forthrightly and learning from it will boost self-confidence immediately.

Put it in context

A big failure does not define your entire life. It may feel that way at first, but try to perceive it within the context of everything else in your life. You’ve had plenty of successes. You’ve accomplished many things and done well in many areas of your life.

The pain of failure taints your perceptions and paints your life with the broad brushstroke of negativity. But consciously regain control of your perceptions, and remind yourself of these positive things. Remind yourself that failure doesn’t define your essential character, your intelligence, or your future.

You likely will need to practice this positive thinking repeatedly until you begin to believe it and feel confident again. But eventually your feelings will catch up to your thoughts.

Build your skills

One of the best cures for low confidence is gaining mastery or proficiency in areas where you failed. If your failure was caused by lack of preparation, lack of knowledge, or lack of skill — then figure out what you need to do to gain the preparation, knowledge or skill — and go do it.

With practice and time, you will feel more confident in your abilities. As you study other people who are successful at the endeavor you are polishing, you’ll set a standard for yourself which will make you feel more secure about the likelihood of success the next time.

Cut your losses

Sometimes failure is a painful clue we’re doing the wrong thing, with the wrong person, or working against our authentic selves. This is a great time to examine whether or not you need to move in a different direction entirely.

Ask yourself the deeper questions that will lead you to the best decisions and choices.

Is this the career I really want?

Are these the people who feel like my “tribe?”

Am I really suited for a management position?

Is my former spouse (or business partner) really the right type of person for me?

Taking the time to know yourself, your inner desires, your aptitudes and preferences, will help you avoid future failures. In general, it is best to play to your strengths, live according to your own values, and follow your inner wisdom — rather trying to be something or someone you’re not.

Face your fears

Once your self-confidence has a small foothold, begin taking small and manageable steps to stretch yourself, to try again. Act in spite of your fear of failure, which will not truly dissipate until you challenge it.

Use what you learned from your failure to help you recalibrate, and then get back in the saddle again and take a few steps forward. Push yourself slightly past your comfort zone every time you try. This is a great time to have an accountability partner or coach who can help you continue to move forward by challenging and supporting you.

Lean into your fear and accept it as a natural response to the aftermath of failure. But don’t allow it to control you. If you allow fear to have the upper hand, your self-confidence will remain harnessed to it. View your fear as a small child that needs comfort, but one that also needs a firm hand and mature direction. Let your higher self, the self who knows you to be strong and capable, be in charge.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: tim caynes via photopin cc

photo credit: tim caynes via photopin cc

Manage Your Email, Manage Your Life—3 Ways to Get Started

by , a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance, productivity, and self-leadership

What is one of the biggest time wasters leaders deal with on a regular basis? For many, it is the daily barrage of email. How much email do you send and receive each day? How much time is spent reading, writing, or responding to email? Here’s some practical advice for managing your email instead of letting it manage you.

This advice falls into three basic categories: Reduce the amount of email you send and receive, Send clear, concise messages, and Keep your inbox clean

Reduce the Amount

Sure, it sounds easy enough, but how do you do it? Believe it or not, the easiest way to reduce the amount of email you receive is to send less. The less email you send, the less you receive. Here are some ways to accomplish this goal:

  • Pick up the phone. When you expect a conversation, don’t use email. Pick up the phone or get up and go talk to the person.
  • Use cc: and Reply All sparingly. Only copy or reply to people who really need the information.
  • Use No Reply Needed in the subject line or in your signature. Too many emails are sent just to say thanks or to let the sender know their email was received. If you don’t need someone to reply, let them know in a prominent spot.
  • Create an alternate email address for junk mail. Create an email account to give out to people or companies you don’t need to interact with on a daily basis. Once a month, go to that account and do a quick scan to see if there’s anything you need to read or act on.

Send Clear, Concise Messages

Clear, concise messaging can dramatically cut down on the time we spend on email. Consider the following:

  • Use descriptive subject lines. Help readers know the intent of your email in the subject line.
  • Put required action in first paragraph. For example, you might type Approval needed,Information Only, or Need Help Immediately to let the receiver know what you expect.
  • Only send email that’s okay to forward. If you wouldn’t want the message to be sent to others, use the phone or communicate face to face. It also helps to go with the assumption that your email will be permanently stored.

Keep Your Inbox Clean

Manage your email so your inbox stays empty. A full inbox is a major time waster.  To keep your inbox clean, each time you open an item for the first time, do one of three things with it:

  • Act on it. To act on an email, you can:  handle it immediately; delegate it by forwarding it to another person; schedule it as a task for later; or schedule it as an appointment in your calendar. Once you have acted on it, either file it for later or delete it.
  • File it. If you think you may need the email later, put it into a specific folder for that client, project, or individual. Consider saving attachments and deleting the email. If you are unsure whether you will need it later, create a 30- or 60-day Hold folder for items you might need to go back to. Periodically clean up this folder or simply set it up to automatically delete mail older than 30 to 60 days. If necessary, make a note on your to-do list or calendar to remind you where you filed the email.
  • Delete it. If you don’t need the email after you’ve read or scanned it, simply delete it.

I hope you find one or more of these ideas for managing your email helpful in the New Year. Let me know any other best practices you use to manage your email.

photo credit: Courtenay via photopin cc

photo credit: Courtenay via photopin cc

How To Fight Afternoon Exhaustion Without Coffee

…It can be hard keeping up with your work when you’re feeling tired, and sugary foods and energy drinks just leave you feeling groggier when they wear off.

The best solution is to try some of the many natural, healthy ways to fight midday exhaustion.

Get your Blood Pumping

You’re most likely spending a large part of your day sitting and working at your desk without much variation. This relaxed, steady state can lull your body and mind into relaxation and make it even harder to stay awake.

Whenever you’re feeling especially tired, start by taking a few minutes to get up out of your chair and get your blood pumping by doing some simple, easy workouts. Exercises like jumping jacks, push-ups, or even some light, full-body stretches will help you wake up.

Just getting up and moving a little bit will help to keep you alert throughout the day.

Use Aromatherapy

Smell is one of our most powerful senses, and we can use it for everything from recalling powerful memories to staying awake during a long, tiring day.

Bright, strong scents like eucalyptus and peppermint can be a great pick-me-up in place of that second cup of coffee. Try getting a few essential oils to keep around, but use them only when you’re feeling tired or else you risk getting used to the scent.

The smell of fresh herbs like rosemary can also be useful in staying alert.

Drink Green Tea

If you’ve tried other methods already and still find that you need caffeine to make it through the day, green tea is a great alternative to coffee.

Green tea contains a smaller dose of caffeine when compared to coffee, but it might be the perfect amount to help give you that energy boost without the extra sugar or the jittering that can come along with coffee.

Green tea also has no calories, is a great source of antioxidants and alkaloids, and contains vitamins like A, D, B and B5. It’s also quick and easy to brew.

Healthy Smoothies

Smoothies packed with healthy, high energy ingredients like almond milk and protein powder can give your body the energy it needs to keep going. They also have the benefit of being cold and refreshing, so you’ll feel more alert from the first sip.

You can make your smoothies using whatever fruits you like, or you can even make them using vegetables like spinach or avocados for a super healthy variation.

Snack Right

Snacking is a good way to stay awake, but candy and heavy, starchy foods like potato chips will just make you more tired. Foods high in protein are the fuel your body needs to provide consistent, lasting power throughout a long day.

Try snacking on a mix of lightly salted nuts with raisins or dried apricots to give you a boost while staying healthy.

Listen to Something Engaging

It can be easy to zone out when you’re very focused on one single task. By providing a little background noise, you’ll be giving yourself some much needed variation and helping to keep your brain active.

Listening to podcasts or audiobooks can be a great way to stay awake. The conversational nature of these things requires more concentration, making for a more engaging and energizing experience.

If your work requires more focus from you, though, listening to music is another good option. Listen to any of your favorite songs that get you energized, but instead of cranking the volume up, listen to them quietly so your brain stays active and works to pay attention.

Turn up the Lights and Open the Windows

Dark, dreary offices will immediately put you in the mood to go to sleep instead of doing any work. Open the blinds or turn on all the lights to help stay alert and convince your brain that it’s the middle of the day and not time for sleep yet.

Fresh air can be another great way to perk up your senses, so open a window if you can.

Consider a Short Nap

If you’ve tried everything else and you just can’t shake that feeling of lethargy, consider taking a short nap during your lunch break.

The key to productive napping is to set an alarm and sleep for only 15 to 20 minutes. This time frame gives you the perfect amount of rest so you’ll wake up feeling more alert and revitalized.

If you sleep longer, you’ll not only take more time out of the day, but you’ll have a higher chance of waking up during your deep sleep cycle and end up even groggier.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Nils Geylen via photopin cc

photo credit: Nils Geylen via photopin cc

4 Things To Avoid for a Good Night’s Sleep

By 

Good sleep can mean the difference between crazy and sane the next day… Between crying between meetings at work or lashing out at your husband over laundry and a semi-functional person who can fake it enough to keep her marriage and her job intact.

It’s one of the members of my holy trinity of good mental health (along with a good diet and regular exercise).

Over the ages, sleep and depression have proved to have a dysfunctional, angry relationship…

But getting your zzzzs is a tad like a chess game: do I get up, don’t I? Do I check my email? No? Do I count sheep? Will those vicious animals keep me up? I had been engaged in a list of bad behaviors until I read “Quiet Your Mind & Get to Sleep” and set myself straight.

Don’t Do These 4 Things to Try & Sleep

Here are just four things you should avoid to hit the sheets and stay there:

1. Stay in bed when you can’t sleep.

Despite sometimes-conflicting advice, it is important to leave the bed when you find yourself awake. Leave the bed within 15 to 20 minutes of waking up or when you realize you won’t be able to fall back asleep.

If you are upset about anything, leave the room. That action sends the message to your brain that there is a separation between the place of rest, which is your bed, and feelings of being awake. Although it seems counterintuitive, it is recommended that you stay out of your room until you feel like you can sleep.

By continuing this behavior night after night, you are strengthening the connection between sleeping and your bed.

2. Watch the clock.

For some people, watching the clock feels like counting sheep, or, in my case, praying the rosary; however, this activity can be very arousing, making it that much more difficult to nod off again. We are programmed to live by the clock, allowing it to direct our actions throughout the day.

However, when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, it is better to base your decision strictly on how you feel.

3. Doing arousing activities in bed.

Falling asleep with the laptop in hand not only will keep you awake, but will give you bad work nightmares. So will bringing a carton of ice cream to bed. You’ll dream about a big cow coming after you.

Other activities to be avoided: listening to music, texting or talking on the phone, smoking cigarettes, watching television, planning your day, working, and paying bills. The bed should be for sleeping and sex. That’s it. Again, by establishing the connection between your bed and sleeping, you are conditioning your body and mind to sleep.

4. Try to sleep.

If you breathe and eat, there has most likely been a time in your life when you have tried your best to nod off. The primary difference between good sleepers and bad sleepers is that the latter group tries to sleep, while the former group doesn’t have to. There are a few ways you can condition your minds not to try so hard:

  • Go to bed at a normal bedtime, no earlier.
  • Do not linger in bed after the alarm goes off.
  • Do not nap.
  • Do not stay in bed when you can’t sleep.
  • Challenge catastrophic thoughts about sleep with true statements such as: “It’s okay to be awake; it’ll pass. I’ve survived it before.” Or “I can be at peace while awake during the night.”

It’s best to keep in mind a famous study from the 1980s, where a group of subjects were told to think about anything but a white bear. The results: they all thought about a white bear.

Link to read the original article

5 Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Position

Jobsearch advice by WILL THOMSON

As a recruiter, I encounter candidates in different stages of their job search. I talk to people who haven’t looked for a job in years, and I also who talk to people who change jobs regularly. It could be personal preference/choice, or it could or it could be necessity. If you work for the State, you may never change jobs. If you are a recruiter, you may change jobs every 18 months because you have to go where the hiring is hot. If you are a Java Developer, you need to keep your skills sharp in a rapidly changing technology world. You may need to change jobs to learn new things just to keep up, and keep your skillset relevant.

The other day, a candidate fell into the bucket where she did not change jobs very often and felt very uncomfortable with the whole negotiation process. Before you say “Yes” to an offer, you need to talk about the basics such as 401k, Benefits, Time off, etc. Here are 5 things that you may have not thought of that are important questions to ask before you accept an offer.

5 QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE ACCEPTING A POSITION

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF ME AS AN EMPLOYEE?

This sounds so basic! What happens often is that an employer will expect much more than you can give. You have made it through the process and they want you. Great. Do you want them? So- you CAN do the job. So what?! Do you have the time to do what is expected of you on a day- to- day basis. If the manager wants you to work until the job is done and you have a family that needs to be fed at 6 PM, is this going to work? No!

WHAT IS YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE?

Double & triple check this one. This should have been covered, but make sure that how they manage is how you want to be managed. Some people may need constant guidance. Some people may need to be left completely alone. Some people are very detail oriented, others may not be. Who are you? Can you work with this person? Different styles CAN complement each other and bring out the best in both, or it can be a disastrous situation.

WHAT DO YOU FORESEE THIS DEPARTMENT LOOKING LIKE IN A YEAR?

So, they are going to ask you what you want to do in 5 years. Why don’t you flip the question right back on them? If you are going to be in sales, what exciting things are coming to the company that could help you in your sales efforts? This is two sided! Find out as much about what the future holds as what today holds.

TELL ME ABOUT PEOPLE THAT HAVE BEEN PROMOTED?

If you are joining a company and you want to make more money in the future, how realistic is that at this company? Are you getting hired for $50k and will you make $50K the entire time you work here? Is that okay with you? It may be, but it may not align with your goals. You may get frustrated because there is no upward mobility. Do people move up within the company or is it a place where there is constant turmoil. What is the longest tenured employee that works here and in your department?

WHY ME?

Seriously. There is a reason they want to hire you. If you are going to succeed at this company, you need to know what you need to bring to the table. If you are a social media expert, be prepared to really help the company in that area.

Link to read the original article

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An Introvert’s Guide To Better Presentations

Improving Your Public Speaking Despite Hating Crowds

Matt Haughey writes

I am an introvert and I have always feared public speaking, and despite having given an industry conference presentation every year for the last fourteen years, it’s only gotten marginally easier for me. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about myself, I’ve noticed a few things that have helped me greatly and I wanted to share some of those here.

Equip yourself with some knowledge

There are good biological reasons why no one likes public speaking. Knowing this changed the game for me personally and maybe it will for you too.

Think about this: is having 30 or 300 or 3,000 pairs of eyes staring at you from the darkness while you stand alone on stage good for you? Deep down, you know it’s bad right? Did you ever stop to think why that is? I have heard this hypothesis from lots of people but in the normal course of human existence, any more than 5 or 6 pairs of eyes on you means trouble. If there are 300 pairs of eyes looking at you, you are about to be ambushed — you are someone’s dinner. That is why your palms get sweaty thinking about a stage and where butterflies in your stomach come from and once I realized that, I started to became ok with this.

I suggest you embrace this curse of biology. The next step is to realize that those hundreds of pairs of eyes aren’t there to kill you, but to learn from you. They’re not lions and you’re not a zebra separated from the pack, they’re all monkeys and you’re the prettiest monkey and they desperately want you to tellthem where the best bananas are located that will turn them into pretty monkeys as well.

“You’re a pretty monkey, and you know where all the bananas are.” That’s what I tell myself before I go on stage to hundreds or thousands of people. I really do. It makes me laugh and it calms me down.

Stamp out your self-doubt

Introverts shy away from the spotlight in more ways than one. We don’t blow our own horns, we don’t network at events, we’re not handing out business cards, or shaking strangers’ hands. We don’t brag, and if pressed, we’ll likely become self-deprecating to attempt to deflect your attention with humor. But it gets worse: while introverts are self-deprecating on the outside, we’re also self-doubting on the inside. …

Conference organizers asked you to speak (and sometimes even paid you!) because you’re good at something and have knowledge worth sharing. Embrace that, and know that everyone that flew to the conference, paid hundreds-to-thousands for a ticket, woke up early and walked to the auditorium all are pulling for you and want you to succeed and give the best presentation possible. You’re not going to let them (or yourself) down because you’re going to tell a story, practice the shit out of it, and make it look good.

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photo credit: Tatiana12 via photopin cc

Craft a story

This may seem like an obvious point, but when I learned about basic story structure, it changed my presentations forever. If you don’t create a narrative with an introduction, some semblance of a plot, and a resolution, your audience will attempt to do those things in their heads for you, because that’s how humans share knowledge. We love stories and patterns that look like stories and you can look at anything and see storytelling tying it all together…

When it comes to presentations, Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson is your new bible. This book’s premise is trashing typical Powerpoint usage we’ve all had to suffer through in meetings: those giant slides filled with 5-10 bullet points and hundreds of words of text, as the speaker just reads from their slides. And while the book does a fantastic job helping you create better looking slides, the opening chapters begin with describing basic story structure going back to the origin of theater in ancient Greece, and bring it back to a model for organizing your presentations that will change your life…

At first, it feels silly to learn about how a basic 3-act story structure works and the book furnishes you with a presentation template (here’s a Google Docs version I whipped up) that is literally fill-in-the-blank. Despite the structure feeling forced at first, I swear if you follow the advice, you will give much better presentations. Once I read this book and began following the advice within it, everything got easier and audiences started enjoying my talks much more (my feedback honestly improved overnight).

…the gist of it is building your presentations around a basic story structure by outlining your story in three stages, writing an introduction where you set up a thesis and a challenge to it along with an ending that restates the introduction but reinforces your solution to the challenge. The book also offers step-by-step advice on making beautiful slides (full bleed photos with just single words or short phrases on them), and using those beautiful slides as a jumping off point to support the thesis statements you made in your introduction in a very organized way.

photo credit: tim caynes via photopin cc

photo credit: tim caynes via photopin cc

You can’t over prepare

One of the ways I ensure I’m at my best for any presentation is by thinking back to my very worst ones. The one or two bad experiences I’ve had on stage were due to me procrastinating for weeks as the date approached (while getting increasingly nervous about disappearing time), throwing together something in the last few days, practicing the talk a couple times, then winging it up on stage. I noticed this pattern led to sub-par results about 7 years ago and since then I’ve taken on a more serious approach of spending three months working on every major talk I do. My typical timeline follows this pattern:

  1. Three months out, I start with a title and a basic thesis I am going to build a presentation around. I begin to create a basic outline in Google Docs, adding major points and sub-points for a week or two. After I’ve got a fairly full outline, I transfer it to a Beyond Bullet Points template for a talk, filling in the blanks as much as I can.
  2. Two months out, I start to lay out my presentation into slides. It’s pretty straightforward to go from an outline to slides. This is also the fun part, where I can start picking nice looking photos and illustrations for slides. I use presenter notes in Keynote/Powerpoint and typically write a paragraph or two about each slide below. I begin practicing the talk this month by myself, editing along the way, adding, removing, and rearranging slides to fit my thesis.
  3. One month out, I give my talk to a few friends and my spouse, asking for feedback. I continue editing and refining the talk, working on timing, jokes, and incorporating feedback from those that have seen it.

Three months might sound like a lot of time, but I typically spend about 10 hours a week on the talk during the lead-up, just doing a little work on it here and there through my normal week. By the time I’m a week or a few days away from the presentation, I’ve given the talk 100 times in my head and often a dozen times out loud to myself and peers. I’ve typically added half a dozen slides, modified a dozen to make my points clearer and removed a few. I know it forwards and backwards and refined it through weeks of editing. I take the stage with confidence due to all the preparation leading up to it, exuding expertise instead of undercutting my command of the subject. I don’t think it’s possible to over prepare, but it’s almost guaranteed you’ll sabotage yourself if you under prepare.

Don’t skimp on the visuals

The greatest free stock photography source is probably one you don’t even know exists. It’s the Creative Commons licensed archive at Flickr, where you can search through hundreds of millions of photos. I personally stick with an extremely permissive attribution-only license (cc-by). Here is the URL in large text so no one misses it:

http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/by-2.0/

Go ahead and pop any word you can think of in the search box and you’ll likely find some impressive results (here is one for “Yosemite”). You can also sort results by interestingness, relevance, and time. The attribution license requires that you give the photographer credit and typically presenters will either put a small photo caption in the corner of each slide or include a list of Flickr source URLs on their final slide.

photo credit: BC Gov Photos via photopin cc

photo credit: BC Gov Photos via photopin cc

Fewer words = better

Nice, full-bleed images with just 5-10 words max, with fonts at very large sizes. You rarely want to have more than a short sentence of text on any slide. About the only exception is when I want to share a really important quotation, and I’ll typically have it close by to read from instead of having to read off my slides.

In the last few years, most of my presentation slides don’t even have words on them, they’re just images (sometimes screenshots) that are somewhat related to whatever point I want to make. My presenter view looks like this on stage, with the current slide shown, time elapsed, and my notes.

Timing

… I typically shoot for about 5-10% less than the allotted time, to ensure that I finish early instead of running long, and getting the timing right is a major component to practicing a talk for months leading up to a presentation.

Some final technical bits

Find out as much as you can about the presentation venue and specifics of the A/V setup as early as possible. Travel with a bag of every connector your laptop will need, and format your presentation to the final presentation screen size. Have copies of your presentation on your laptop, in the cloud (I save mine to Dropbox), and on a USB stick just in case. I also create a plain exported PDF backup of my slides in case everything goes wrong and I have to borrow someone’s laptop.

Some Examples

Over the years I’ve uploaded a few presentations to Slideshare and you can view them and see a lot of the tips and approaches I’ve covered. If you’d like to see the actual talks I’ve given, I like how my Webstock 2012 talk about turning 40 and having a long term project turned out:

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

How To Champion Learning In Your Organisation

Written by: global innovation insurgent and author, Jorge Barba

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” — Anthony J. D’Angelo

Innovation is increasingly becoming something businesses strive for, yet most cannot define. Innovation is messy and complex. It is not something that can be scripted with a predictable outcome. It involves throwing out the rules and rethinking solutions. It involves being creative and reaching beyond the 5-year calendar and targeted sales goals. It involves creating a culture that invokes passion, creativity, and thinking.

Innovation is often something that is felt rather than taught. It’s something that happens when a group of people come together to solve a problem. And it often starts at the top, and trickles down to every department of an organization—large or small.

So how do leaders go about creating an environment for innovation and innovative thinking? …

Here are five ways to always be learning:

1. Learn by doing. There is no better way to learn than through action. With the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), it’s now very easy to gain new knowledge at minimal cost—all that is needed is time. But, acquiring knowledge without doing is only half the battle. That’s why it’s important to act, learning in the process, while uncovering personal insights. It’s about putting ideas into action.

2. Learn by asking. If you’re not asking questions, you’re not going to find answers. Questions open the mind, and the more questions you ask, the more insights you’ll uncover. The best questions are those that provoke—not with the intent of irritating, but of exploring the boundaries of what is known and unknown. Probe, and then probe some more. The only boundaries that exist are those that go unquestioned.

3. Learn by networking. We all network, however it’s not the size of the network you have that matters, but how diverse it is. To think differently and become more valuable, you need to know and understand multiple topics. You need to develop an idea network, which feeds you insights and ideas, and will keep challenging you and helping you grow.

4. Learn by observing. There is much being said around you, and it has nothing to do with the words people say, but rather how they act. Listening doesn’t just happen with your ears, but with your eyes too. True attention makes use of all of our senses, so make an effort to take a step back and soak it all in—there is a puzzle waiting to be solved.

5. Learn by sharing. Doing is great, but sharing what you’ve learned with others is even greater. When you share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences, your influence expands dramatically, not to mention that you’ll also learn more because others will do the same with you.

Innovation certainly starts from the people at the top—people who need to walk the walk and take responsibility into their own hands to become a champion for change. Curiosity is the engine of creativity and innovation, and if you can be the champion of curiosity, there is nothing that will stand in your way. Get uncomfortable, roll up your sleeves, open your eyes, ask why, then why again, and share what you’ve learned with your network.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

How To Be More Creative (Infographic)

Don’t consider yourself creative?  Nonsense.

James Webb Young likened the production of ideas to the production of cars – there is a definitive process involved.

Here are a few simple steps you can take next time you’re in need of an idea.

Step 1 – Gather the Raw Materials…  Remember, gathering is a lifelong activity…

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”  (Leo Burnett)

Step 2 – Digest…  Sift through the gathered materials and look at them in different lights…

“Creativity is just connecting things.” (Steve Jobs)

Step 3 – Don’t Think…  Let your thoughts unconsciously bubble away…

“Don’t think.  Thinking is the enemy of creativity.” (Ray Bradbury)

Step 4 – Wait For Eureka… Out of nowhere an idea will appear.  It’ll happen when you least expect it, so be ready and keep a notebook handy…

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

Step 5 – Bring The Idea To Reality… Submit the idea to criticisms.  Be pragmatic when adapting the idea as a viable creative solution…

“It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong, than to be always right by having no ideas at all.” (Edward de Bono)

Tool and Techniques To Try

  • Oblique Strategies…
  • Lotus Blossom Technique…
  • Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats…

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  (Albert Einstein)

Link to the original article and find the tools and techniques to try

photo credit: Jason A. Samfield via photopin cc

photo credit: Jason A. Samfield via photopin cc

5 Simple But Often Forgotten Ways to Keep a Relationship Strong

 sifts through the wisdom gained from first making a relationship work at long-distance, and then living every moment together…

I truly believe that we learned and practiced the universal truths that are essential for every relationship regardless of the distance.

Trust

…If you are in the relationship for the long term, you simply cannot afford to have trust issues. There is no room for doubt. You have to trust with a full heart that your partner loves you.

Quality time

…Quality time is essential. Whether you are in a long-distance relationship or just live a busy life with full-time jobs and outside activities, you may not be able to spend as much time as you’d like with your loved one.

Do something fun together, do something meaningful, have meaningful conversations, pay attention to each other, and express your love like crazy.

Communication

Communication is always crucial, especially when you communicate through Skype. We quickly realized that the way we communicated with each other was key to maintain a loving conversation.

When you communicate with your loved one, remember that love is the key. Speak from the heart.

Have good intentions and be clear. Discuss problems in a peaceful and loving manner.

Practice effective active listening skills; do not interrupt the other person, listen and watch. Be mindful.

Remain calm. Be respectful. Be loving.

Small acts of kindness

Small acts of kindness have always been a big part of our relationship. When we were apart we sent each other postcards, eCards, handwritten letters, and songs over email. When we were in the same country we bought each other flowers and made each other some wonderful meals.

Small acts are vital. Whether it is a small gift, doing the dishes, or giving a hug, it shows your love and support.

Send flowers, send an ecard, or leave a small note on the table. Bake cookies or make breakfast in bed. Give hugs and kisses for no reason other than to show your love.

Express Your Love

Expressing our love for each other was probably the most crucial thing in our relationship. It still is. We always make sure to tell each other how much we love each other, and do it with meaning.

Love is always the foundation. It’s nearly obvious, but sometimes so obvious that couples tend to forget about it, and saying “I love you” becomes monotonous. But love is the basis and the reason of your relationship.

So express your love through actions, words, and non-verbal communication. Don’t make “I love you” a routine, but instead always, and I do mean always, say it from the heart.

Link to the original article

photo credit: *Sally M* via photopin cc

photo credit: *Sally M* via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #76

All of these articles, and many more, are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #76.

We wish you a very happy celebrations and a great yuletide cauldron of pride and shared sense of accomplishment for all that you have achieved and made and made happen in 2013. 

Happiness At Work #75 ~ stress, happiness and productivity

This week our Happiness At Work theme considers some of the growing knowledge we are getting about the effects that work-related stress is causing us in our always-on-and-available 21st century lives.  And we give particular focus to ideas that can help us to learn better ways to think about and respond to pressure without harming, but rather increasing our productivity.  And our happiness too.

photo credit: canonsnapper via photopin cc

photo credit: canonsnapper via photopin cc

Nelson Mandela, 18th July 1918 – 5th December 2013

And, on the day the world remembers and mourns the death of an extraordinary human being, you will also find a photo tribute to Nelson Mandela, from The New Yorker, and an article from Fast Company highlighting

Nelson Mandela’s Most Innovative Moments:

+  When you have a just cause, go global…

+  Be open and forgiving, trust the truth to bring progress…

+  To maintain the health of what you’ve built, know when to step aside…

+  It’s never too late to make up for mistakes…

+  You can embody courage while still feeling fear…

Nelson Mandela: Barack Obama Pays Tribute

“…so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him…

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, so it falls to us, as best we can, to follow the example that he set.  to make decisions guided not by hate but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice..”

How To B More Productive and Happier During Times of Stress

Laura Shin writes…

Few deadlines are quite like the end of the year…  It’s the perfect storm for stress.

But stress isn’t the dreaded beast we all make it out to be.

In a study conducted with two Yale researchers, Shawn Achor, positive psychology researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness,  found, “if we could get someone to change their mindset around stress to see it as a challenge instead of as a threat, they had 23% fewer stress-related symptoms like headaches, backaches and fatigue. The stress was still there but the effect upon the body was completely changed. So stress is inevitable but its effects on us are not. The question is how can we take things like holiday stresses and see them as enhancing instead of as a threat or something that takes us away our energy.”

Here’s how to make it through this stressful time happier, more productive and better prepared to take on the new year.

1. Use the “add vantage” technique.

If you’re facing what seems like a mountain of tasks, try to think of as many descriptors as you can for each activity. Take, for example, washing dishes. You might start with “bore” or “soul-draining,” but as you go on, you might also remember it’s a chance to feel productive, that you enjoy the feel of warm water, or that it’s nice to engage in a mindless activity for a while.

“The more you do this, the more you realize that there’s not just one reality but multiple realities at any point, so the key is to pick the most adaptive reality,” says Achor. “You could view your work as hectic — and that’s true, it is hectic, but you could also view it as a source of opportunity, and that’s also true. The way we describe that event to our own self and to other people changes the way we think about it. If you are about to have a holiday meal and listing off all the stresses and all the negative parts of that holiday, your family will remember it as a stressful, panicked, unhappy time. But if you focus on meaning, connection, how beautiful things look, then you have a different brain and social script for that event.”

Two activities that help you add vantage points are to cross-train your brain by visiting art museums (seriously — 20-some medical schools require their students to take an art class because a study found it increased students’ ability to detect important medical details by 10%), and changing your patterns so you drive a different way to work, talk to a person you wouldn’t normally talk to, etc.

Achor writes in Before Happiness, “Research shows that by simply changing your perspective in the workplace you can achieve greater long-term growth, 37 percent higher sales, and 31 percent more productivity, and perhaps even increase your likelihood of living to age ninety-four by up to 40 percent. “

2. Think about the meaning behind the stress you are experiencing.

If you only think about the stress of an activity, and not its larger purpose, you’ll reap only its negative effects, says Achor. “So if you are stressed about a job interview, refocus on the chances to advance your career, and if you are stressed about a presentation you have to give to an organization, think about how your involvement with that group is making a difference,” he writes.

Similarly, social connection has been proven to help us overcome stress and fend off depression in a variety of settings ranging from work settings to addiction programs, says Achor. He recommends that, when considering your holiday tasks, focus on how they will deepen your relationships instead of viewing them merely as items to be checked off.

If certain triggers distract you from the meaning behind your work and take you down a counterproductive mental path of destruction — for instance, Achor found negative reviews of his books killed his productivity — banish these mental hijackers. For Achor, he kept good reviews of his book at hand and would read some each morning to remind himself of the meaning in his work and jumpstart his productivity.

3. Decrease noise.

Two researchers from the University of San Diego found that the amount of information consumed per capita by Americans has increased 60% from 1980 to 2008 — from 7.4 hours a day to 11.8. Shockingly, these figures exclude working hours.

Achor says that studies show that when your brain is overwhelmed with information, it’s harder for your brain to see positives. What he suggests: “Decrease the noise a little bit — for the first five minutes you get into the car, turn off the radio, or mute the commercials during the football game. Or, have two to three hours a week that you reserve as no cell phone and computer time — turn your brain into basically like noise-canceling headphones, so you can quiet some of that noise and allow your brain to work better at meaning in your life so you can find the positives to move forward in your life.”

4. Set yourself up for success.

See that drawing? The two circles in the center are actually the same size. But the one on the right looks bigger simply because it’s surrounded by smaller circles. People putting golf balls into the center holes were more likely to score with the hole on the right than the one on the left, because they perceived their likelihood of making the putt as higher.

How do you re-create this effect at work? When you face a difficult task, remind yourself of times when you’ve succeeded in similar situations. When you think of your competitors, think of as few as possible. (A study found the greatest predictor of performance on an academic test is the number of other test takers in the room, with students competing against fewer students doing better.)

Likewise, when many leaders come up with contingency plans in case of problems, they’re setting themselves up for failure. Instead, think of all the ways you can succeed at your challenge first. “Because what you map first is more likely to become the reality, you should spend your brain’s valuable resources looking for an escape route only once you have mapped multiple paths to success,” he writes.

5. Get a full night’s sleep, and don’t go hungry.

“If you memorize sets of positive, neutral and negative words and then sleep for seven to eight hours, you’ll remember about 80% of all the words a day later,” writes Achor. But  if you miss a night of sleep? You’ll still remember a majority of the negative and neutral words but will remember almost 60% fewer positive words. Your brain perceives your lack of sleep as a threat and starts scanning the world for more threats.

On a similar note, a study found that judges have been found to grant many more paroles after lunch than before. “As sugar levels were dropping, their willingness to see the positive and that change is possible dropped, and as soon as they ate again, they could start to see what was possible,” says Achor.

He says there are four barriers to creating a positive reality, which he’s nicknamed HALT — being hungry, angry, lonely or tired — so if you feel any of those things, you need to eat, calm down, talk to someone you love or sleep.

6. Give yourself a head start.

If a store gives someone a buy-ten-get-one-free coffee card, it speeds up that person’s purchasing of coffee, says Achor. But if a store requires 12 coffees to get the free one but gives you the first two stamps for free, you’ll actually buy coffees even faster. Why? Even though you still have to buy 10 coffees, you perceive that you’re already 1/6 of the way toward your goal.

“So as as you make to-do lists for the holidays or resolutions,” says Achor, “the biggest mistake we make is we start at 0%, and we don’t show our brain any of the progress we made. So now when I write down checklists, I write down what I’ve already done this day — I already had breakfast, had a couple phone calls. By perceiving that progress you’ve already made, it speeds your brain to achieving the rest of the goals.”

Ditto with New Year or resolutions. When you write yours, note down the accomplishments you’ve already achieved this past year so it’s not a list of things you haven’t done yet.

7. Train your brain to be more positive.

Achor details five steps to happiness and more productivity in his TED Talk,The Happy Secret to Better Work. Every day during the holiday season, write a gratitude list of — you guessed it — things for which you are grateful. Spend a few minutes every day journaling about a positive experience in the last 24 hours. Exercise. Meditate. And finally, send an email expressing your appreciation to someone you love, or perform other acts of kindness.

By doing these things, “your brain’s optimism will stay high for the next six months,” says Achor. That not only sounds like a great way to spend the holidays, but also a great way to start the new year.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Joel Bedford via photopin cc

photo credit: Joel Bedford via photopin cc

Are Happy Workers More Productive?

Alexander Kjerulf and Jan Kristensen debate the issues

Would you agree with the statement: ‘Happy people are more productive?’

Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo inc., Alexander Kjerulf presents the evidence that convinces him why this is true, taken from his perspective reviewing and writing about the research on this subject, and Jan Kristensen, Director of Lean Leadership at Novo Nordisk, presents his refute from his critique of and perspective as an occupational psychologist, before they both going on to debate these issues in discussion…

Here is a summary of the evidence that Alexander Kjerulf presents for the affirmative:

‘”In the workplace we know that happiness causes more productive and creative workers…” – Ed Deiner, ‘the grandfather of happiness research

There is a significant amount of research that organisations with high personal wellbeing will get better results…an increase of 1 point on the Personal WellBeing (PWB) scale is associated with an increase in productivity of 8.8% – a significant amount.” – Cary Cooper, Manchester University and author of ‘Wellbeing, Productivity and Happiness At Work’

Happy people of more and better work: Daniel Sproy, University of Warwick found people who watched a short comedy clip before doing maths equations worked harder at it and performed 10% better than their neutral peers.

Happy people are more creative:  Teresa Amabile, Harvard University, found people who were in a good mood on Monday had more ideas on Monday and on Tuesday, even if they were in a bad mood on Tuesday.

Happy people are more productive, braver, more resilient, sell more, give better customer service, are more open and empathetic, and more generous…  On all of these areas happy people outperform their less happy peers.

A huge Gallup study involving 8,000 people found that happiness at work leads to lower absenteeism, lower employee turnover, higher productivity, higher customer satisfaction, higher sales and higher profits. (‘Well-Being In The Workplace and Its Relationship To Business Outcomes – a review of the Gallup Studies‘, James K. Harter, Frank L. Schmidt and Corey L. M. Keys)

Causation: Alexander Kjerulf says it looks at though it goes both ways but effects caused by happiness at work is stronger than the other way around.

Stock Price: companies who measure as the Best Places To Work  also show the highest share prices and the causation here has been well established.

Jan Kristensen’s presentation firstly winds its way through a personal history from wanting to live up to his grandfather’s achievements, to his work in management development.  He presents some of the same research as Alexander but interprets its findings differently.

His first objection is the problem of correlation which. he says. ignores the higher degree of variation and his second objection seems to be that many of the studies have actually led to false conclusions and brought about the conditions of self-fulfilling prophesy.

“if we continue to fake a correlation between happiness and productivity, eventually there will be no HR, there will be no organisations.  The only real alternative is to figure out different ways of thinking about management and then helping leaders to move into that…”

Here is what fell out from the discussion for me…

Kristensen: Our conclusion about the link between happiness and productivity is based on inaccurate reporting of 14 original studies that actually proved the opposite…

Kjerulf: Later studies (e.g. Diener & Seligman) have shown that these original studies were wrong and have found much higher correlations.  And a seemingly small percentage increase can actually lead to a very large actual benefit in terms of real productivity measures.

Kristensen: LEAN was invented in the 1950s and concentrates on work processes rather than people to increase productivity, and “the funny thing about that is the only way you can make that improvement is by making people unsatisfied about their work … because the only way you can get people involved in saying ‘how can we do this better?’ is if they believe that the way that they are working is not good enough…”

No no no no no no no no

Kjerulf:  “I would argue that a large part of happiness is involving people in meaningful work and give them a chance to say ‘how can we do this better?’  And i would argue that one way to be ridiculously happy at work would be to get someone to create an 800% improvement on something…  And the whole ‘you gotta be unhappy to improve’ – you can be unsatisfied and improve but as we see from teresa Amabile’s studies, if you need people to be creative, we are more creative when we are happy, when we are experiencing positive emotions.  So saying the unhappiness drives company innovation is actually wrong…”

“There is a fundamental flaw in your argument and that is happiness has been used before to trick people and therefore happiness is bad, but this not logically follow…”

And here is Alexander Kjerulf’s self-addmitted biased summary of the case for the negative…

…after having read Jan’s phd thesis and done the debate, it’s clear that there is ample evidence that happiness makes us more productive in the workplace and very little evidence against this.

As best I can tell, Jan offered 3 specific arguments for his assertion that happy workers are no more productive than unhappy ones.

1: 14 original studies
Jan claims there are 14 original studies, which everyone in this field cites as proof that happy workers are more productive but that those 14 studies in fact show the exact opposite.

He only mentions one of those 14 studies (hawthorne) so it’s hard to evaluate his claim. But let’s say we grant him this. It still doesn’t support his position. Even if every single one of those 14 studies could be invalidated, it would not serve at all to disprove all the studies that have come since them. I quote several of those studies in my presentation.

2: Low correlation
Jan states that the best correlation found in meta-studies shows a correlation between happiness and productivity of 0.25, which is too low for his liking.

But a low correlation is still a correlation, so at the very least we can say that happiness and productivity are connected. And as I showed in my presentation, there are also studies showing causation, i.e. showing that happiness causes productivity.

3: Difficult to implement
Jan’s final argument is that he and his HR colleagues have tried to implement happiness in Novo and that it has failed every time.

The logical flaw in this argument is clear: People’s ability or inability to implement it has no bearing on whether or not the theory is true.

As best I can tell, Jan offers no further arguments in support of his position.

Your take

What’s your take on this – are happy people more productive? Are happy workplaces more profitable? What evidence have you seen that supports your position?…

Link to read Alexander Kjerulf’s original article

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

U.S. Employers Rank Stress as Top Workforce Risk Issue

Press Release: Understanding employee views is key to addressing issue

Stress is the number one workforce risk issue, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity, according to the 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, conducted by global professional services company Towers Watson, and the National Business Group on Health. However, only 15% of employers identify improving the emotional/mental health (i.e., lessening the stress and anxiety) of employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs.

While stress can energize workers to meet challenging goals, it can also overwhelm them and interrupt business performance. Despite the negative consequences, many employers do not fully understand employee views of its causes.

“Employees seem to be saying, ‘support me, pay me, and direct me,’ but employers are focused on other stress factors,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. “Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community — all contributing factors to workplace performance. Employers that fail to understand employees’ views on stress risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees.”

Causes of Stress: Employer and Employee Disconnect

Employers rank the top three causes of workplace stress as lack of work/life balance (86%), inadequate staffing (70%) and technologies that expand employee availability during nonworking hours (63%). Employees rank inadequate staffing as the number one source of stress, followed by low pay or low pay increases, and unclear or conflicting job expectations... Inadequate staffing includes lack of support or uneven workloads and performance in groups.

This is where the disconnect starts to take shape. Only inadequate staffing is ranked in the top three causes of stress from both employer and employee points of view. Based on 10 drivers of workforce stress, employees ranked lack of work/life balance fifth, while employers ranked it first. Furthermore, employees ranked low pay or low pay increases as their second-biggest source of stress, while employers ranked it ninth.

Solutions: Establishing a Workplace Culture That Proactively Manages Stress

While employers feel that the employee assistance program EAP is a primary way to address stress issues, only 5% of employees say they use this resource. Also, only about four in 10 employers (39%) offer overt stress management interventions to employees (e.g., stress management workshops, yoga or tai chi). Employees turn to leisure/entertainment activities (47%), social support (42%) and physical activities (39%) to help them cope.

There is a strong recognition that the workplace experience can both contribute to and reduce employee stress. By pursuing a holistic approach that covers both health and well-being programs and the employee value proposition (EVP), organizations can foster a healthy and productive work environment.

“Employers need to understand their employees’ stress drivers, assess their health and productivity programs in light of the findings and leverage what employees are already doing to cope with stress,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

In addition, organizations need to take a closer look at their EVP, including employee compensation, lack of adequate staffing levels, unclear or conflicting job expectations, and organizational culture. Improved manager training, clear direction on the job and a review of compensation practices could help alleviate the stressors.

Link to read the original Press Release in Wall Street Journal

Paula Davis-Laack follows up this story with some practical solutions we can all look at to better navigate and balance our stress levels with our needs and ambitions to produce and perform to our best…

Life Is Stressful: 10 Things To Stop Tolerating

…A Catalyst work report shows that most employees feel stress in four main areas: workload levels, interpersonal issues, job security, and juggling work and personal life.  Does this sound familiar?  If so, it’s time to examine what you might be tolerating in your life; those things that may be driving some of your unhappiness and lack of productivity.

photo credit: AGrinberg via photopin cc

photo credit: AGrinberg via photopin cc

Here are the top ten:

Being Burned Out.
Burnout is the chronic state of being out of sync with one or more aspects of your life, and the result is a loss of energy, enthusiasm, and confidence.  If the causes of your burnout are not immediately addressed, your physical health and mental well-being will likely deteriorate.

Inaction.
People often get stuck because of fear, guilt, or simply not knowing which way to go next. In order to achieve bigger goals, take smaller steps. If you are staring down a goal that seems overwhelming, keep breaking down the goal until you can say with confidence, “Of course, that’s so easy I can get that done!”

Negativity.
Given how hard the professional world is today and how often you are barraged with negative information, it’s easy to be tuned into pessimism and negativity. Fight back with humor. Early studies of humor and health showed that humor strengthened the immune system, reduced pain, and reduced stress levels. Since humor builds positive emotion, it can also help reduce feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety (McGhee, 2010). Additional research in this area shows that positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction (Cohn et. al., 2009).

Disorganization.
Disorganization is a barrier to productivity. If you continually say, “I don’t have time to do x,” you can get more organized by creating schedules and systems that become habitual. The business book E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, does a wonderful job of describing the importance of systems in the business world, and the idea is transferable to non-work situations as well. Good systems are fluid, measurable, and can and should be changed as better methods are established or as missing pieces are learned.

Link to read the original Forbes article 

photo credit: Koshyk via photopin cc

photo credit: Koshyk via photopin cc

Penn Study: How Women’s Brains Differ From Men’s

Stacey Burling, reports…

Forget right-brain or left-brain thinking (or even up and down thinking)

What may be more important from a gender standpoint is back-to-front or side-to-side thinking.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania used diffusion tensor imaging, a type of brain imaging that shows how brain cells are connected, to study young men and women. The team’s maps of major information highways were noticeably different for the two genders.

Men had more pathways that ran the length of each hemisphere, to parts within a hemisphere and across the cerebellum, which coordinates movement. Women had many more powerful communication links between the two hemispheres.

What this means is that, at any given moment, a woman is likely to be using her whole brain while a man is using half of his, said Ruben Gur, a neuropsychologist who was one of the study authors. He struggled when asked if this structure makes men superior at anything.

In fairness, he said, “each hemisphere is really a complete human being,” so it’s possible to function at a high level while using one hemisphere. It does mean, though, that men really are more likely to be right-brained (more intuitive) or left-brained (more logical) than women.

The strong link with the cerebellum might make men more action oriented, better at tasks that require quick response time or an “I-see-and-then-I-do” attitude.

The side-to-side thinking likely boosts women’s memory and social skills and seems designed, the authors said, to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. Communication within the hemisphere facilitates connection between perception and coordinated action…

The connections between right and left let women’s brains “more easily integrate the rational, logical, verbal mode of thinking and the more intuitive, spatial, holistic mode of thinking,” Gur said.

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be in one mode or the other. Gur said scientists don’t know why men are more likely to use a particular side or even how to test whether you’re a right-brained or left-brained guy.

He said women’s thinking is likely to be more contextual. “Their brains are better connected between their decisions and their memories,” he said. “For men, memories are memories. Decisions are decisions.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Emilie Ogez via photopin cc

photo credit: Emilie Ogez via photopin cc

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

Wait But Why‘s very funny and wise words and cartoons that get to the root of procrastination and what we might to do to overcome it…

Who would have thought that after decades of struggle with procrastination, the dictionary, of all places, would hold the solution.

Avoid procrastination. So elegant in its simplicity.

While we’re here, let’s make sure obese people avoid overeating, depressed people avoid apathy, and someone please tell beached whales that they should avoid being out of the ocean.

No, “avoid procrastination” is only good advice for fake procrastinators — those people that are like, “I totally go on Facebook a few times every day at work — I’m such a procrastinator!” The same people that will say to a real procrastinator something like, “Just don’t procrastinate and you’ll be fine.”

The thing that neither the dictionary nor fake procrastinators understand is that for a real procrastinator, procrastination isn’t optional — it’s something they don’t know how to not do…

…The fact is, the Instant Gratification Monkey is the last creature who should be in charge of decisions — he thinks only about the present, ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future altogether, and he concerns himself entirely with maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment. He doesn’t understand the Rational Decision-Maker any better than the Rational Decision-Maker understands him — why would we continue doing this jog, he thinks, when we could stop, which would feel better. Why would we practice that instrument when it’s not fun? Why would we ever use a computer for work when the internet is sitting right there waiting to be played with? He thinks humans are insane.

In the monkey world, he’s got it all figured out — if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything difficult, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human world, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Decision-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to put up an effective fight — he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.

It’s a mess. And with the monkey in charge, the procrastinator finds himself spending a lot of time in a place called the Dark Playground.*

The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses.**

Link to the full article and pictures 

How To Beat Procrastination

And here is the link to Part 2 with practical ideas and more great drawings to help you break free and through procrastination…  HINT:  It’s all about Planning, Doing and the all-important – increasing Self-Mastery…

Practices for Resilience and Development

Curtis Ogden writes…

…My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology.  Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development:

  1. Ritualize gratitude: Fredrickson defines gratitude as noticing the gifts and blessings in our lives. One way to notice is to keep a gratitude journal. The suggestion is to, at the start or end of each day, write at least one thing for which we are grateful.  Studies show that this helps to develop our ability to handle adversity and grow possibility.
  2. Write for 15 minutes a day, especially after or during a difficult or challenging situation:  Research has shown this can help with meaning making and resilience.
  3. Practice 3-5 acts of kindness every day: A practice that I like to invite groups to engage in is to note what assets we have that we can pass on to those in our networks.  As the world’s wisdom traditions have long known, this has tremendous personal and social benefit.
  4. Get the body moving: Go for a 20-30 minute walk.  Do yoga.  Maira Kalman among others has demonstrated the power of movement as a generative force of intellect, awareness, and creativity.
  5. Laugh:  Drs. Steven J. Wolin and Sybil Wolin have noted the connection between creativity and humor in people who are resilient.  Check out some of these laughter exercises.
  6. Visualize success: In appropriate doses, optimism has been shownto broaden our view on life and possibility. Consider doing the best possible future self exercise.
  7. Get into natureResearch shows that getting out into nature promotes positive emotions and that viewing and walking in nature have been associated with heightened physical and mental energy.
  8. Use the mantra, “Be open”Fredrickson’s research in particular suggests that if we try to force ourselves to be positive or happy, this can backfire.  Much better to try to keep an open mind.
  9. Reach out and connect to others who feed us: We are social beings, and who we associate with has implications for our outlook on life.
  10. Meditate:  Increasingly we hear about the health and outlook benefits of mindfulness practice, including loving kindness meditation.  Fredrickson’s web page has links to several different guided meditations.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Susanica via photopin cc

photo credit: Susanica via photopin cc

Talk Yourself Into Success

Learning expert and writer, Annie Murphy Paul, writes in her blog, The Brilliant Report about self-talk and how we know it works…

In the privacy of our minds, we all talk to ourselves—an inner monologue that might seem rather pointless. As one scientific paper on self-talk asks: “What can we tell ourselves that we don’t already know?” But as that study and others go on to show, the act of giving ourselves mental messages can help us learn and perform at our best. Researchers have identified the most effective forms of self-talk, collected here—so that the next time you talk to yourself, you know exactly what you should say.

Self-talk isn’t just motivational messages like “You can do it!” or “Almost there,” although this internal cheering section can give us confidence. A review of more than two dozen studies, published in 2011 in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, found that there’s another kind of mental message that is even more useful, called “instructional self-talk.” This is the kind of running commentary we engage in when we’re carrying out a difficult task, especially one that’s unfamiliar to us. Think about when you were first learning to drive. Your self-talk might have gone something like this: “Foot on the gas pedal, hands on the wheel, slow down for the curve here, now put your blinker on…”

Over time, of course, giving yourself instructions becomes unnecessary—but while you’re learning, it does three important things. First, it enhances our attention, focusing us on the important elements of the task and screening out distractions. Second, it helps us regulate our effort and make decisions about what to do, how to do it, and when. And third, self-talk allows us to control our cognitive and emotional reactions, steadying us so we stay on task.

Link to read the rest of Annie Murphy Paul’s article

photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

The Science of Great Ideas – How To Train Your Creative Brain

 writes…

The production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords; —James Webb Young

In his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young explains that whilethe process for producing new ideas is simple enough to explain, “it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it.”

He also explains that working out where to find ideas is not the solution to finding more of them, but rather we need to train our minds in the process of producing new ideas naturally.

The two general principles of ideas

James describes two principles of the production of ideas, which I really like:

  1. An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.
  2. The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

This second one is really important in producing new ideas, but it’s something our minds need to be trained in:

Set aside time

John Cleese says your thoughts need time to settle down before your creativity will feel safe enough to emerge and get to work. Setting aside time to think regularly can be a good way to train your mind to relax, eventually making this set time a safe haven for your tortoise mind to start putting together connections that could turn into ideas.

Find a creative space

Setting aside time regularly sends a signal to your brain that it’s safe to work on creative ideas. Finding a particular space to be creative in can help, too.

This is similar to the research on how the temperature and noise around us affects our creativity.

LET YOUR BRAIN DO THE WORK

This may be one of the hardest, yet most important parts of the process of producing ideas. I think James Webb Young says it best:

Drop the whole subject and put it out of your mind and let your subconscious do its thing.

Something  else John Cleese talks about is how beneficial it can be to “sleep on a problem.” He recalls observing a dramatic change in his approach to a creative problem after having left it alone. He not only awoke with a perfectly clear idea on how to continue his work, but the problem itself was no longer apparent.

The trick here is to trust enough to let go.

As we engage our conscious minds in other tasks, like sleeping or taking a shower, our subconscious can go to work on finding relationships in all the data we’ve collected so far.

The Aha moment
James Webb Young explains the process of producing ideas in stages. Once we’ve completed the first three, which include gathering material and letting our subconscious process the data and find connections, he says we’ll come to an “Aha!” moment, when a great idea hits us:

It will come to you when you are least expecting it–while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night.

How To Have More Great Ideas

Understanding the process our brains go through to produce ideas can help us to replicate this, but there are a few things we can do to nudge ourselves towards having better ideas, too.

Criticise your ideas–don’t accept them immediately

The final stage of James’s explanation of idea production is to criticize your ideas:

Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism of the judicious.

James says this will help you to expand on the idea and uncover possibilities you might have otherwise overlooked.

Here it’s especially important to know whether you’re introverted or extroverted to criticize your ideas from the right perspective.

Overwhelm your brain–it can handle it

Surprisingly, you can actually hit your brain with more than it can handle and it will step up to the task.

Robert Epstein explained in a Psychology Today article how challenging situations can bring out our creativity. Even if you don’t succeed at whatever you’re doing, you’ll wake up the creative areas of your brain and they’ll perform better after the failed task, to compensate.

Have more bad ideas to have more good ones

It turns out that having a lot of bad ideas also means you’ll have a lot of good ideas. Studies have proved this at both MIT and the University of California Davis.

The sheer volume of ideas produced by some people means that they can’t help having lots of bad ones, but they’re likely to have more good ones, as well…

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: liquidnight via photopin cc

photo credit: liquidnight via photopin cc

What If Performance Management Focused On Strengths?

Marcus Buckingham writes

In previous posts I praised Microsoft’s rejection of individual performance ratings as the building block for an effective performance management system, and described why rating people on a list of competencies is a flawed method for improving their performance.

Obviously we need a new system. And what can we say about the new system that would serve us better? Well, the specifics of the system will depend on the company, but we do know that it must have the following six characteristics, each of which follows logically from the one preceding.

First, it must be a real-time system that helps managers give “in the moment” coaching and course-correcting. The world we live in is unnervingly dynamic, where we are on one team one week and another the next, where goals that were fresh and exciting at the beginning of Q1 are irrelevant by the third week of Q1, and where the necessary skills, relationships, and even strategies have to be constantly recalibrated. In this real-time world, batched performance reviews delivered once or twice a year are obsolete before we’ve even sat down to write them.

We need much more frequent check-ins—weekly or, at most, monthly. Luckily, we now live in a world where most of us are armed with a device that knows exactly who we are, and into which we can record pretty much anything we want. This device—your mobile phone—will enable you, the employee, to input what you are doing this week and what help you need; and, because it knows you, it will be able to serve up to your manager coaching tips, insights, and prompts customized to your particular set of strengths and skills.

Second, it must be a system with a super light touch. If we expect our employees to share their weekly or monthly focus, and if we expect our managers to react to and adjust this focus as needed, then there can be no complicated forms to complete, no narrative sections requiring writing wizards to supply the right words, no conversation guides, no input required from a requisite number of peers. None of that. For this performance system to be as agile as it needs to be, it must be wonderfully simple. Just two questions answered by the employee—”What are you going to get done this week? And what help do you need from me?”—and a chance for the manager to speak into these answers. Counter-intuitively, the simpler the form, the richer the coaching.

Third, it must feel to the individual employee that it is a system “about me, designed for me.” Even if it is light-touch, managers will reject any real-time system that they have to initiate. Instead, the employee has to be the one to drive it. And the only way to achieve this is to make its starting point and ongoing focus: me, my strengths, where I am at my best, and how I can get better. At present, we don’t do this very well at all. For example, most companies’ employee profile pages are clearly a company tool and not a “me” tool, and as such are updated infrequently and inauthentically, and wind up reading like a computer-generated resume.

With a little creativity, there is every reason to believe that we can design for each employee a place to positively present her strengths, her skills, her accomplishments and her aspirations. Although current “profiles” are clinical, superficial, and out of date, it is entirely in the company’s interest that they not stay this way.

And besides, given that we live in a world where we expect all content, from our news, to our entertainment, to our healthcare, to be aware of our individual needs and desires, this “start with me” positioning is the least we will expect.

Fourth, and crucially, it must be a strengths-based system. Current systems are explicitly remedial, built on the belief that to help people get better you must measure them against a series of competency bars, point out where they fall short, and then challenge them to jump higher. While this feels practical, and rigorous – even “tough” – it is also depressingly inefficient. Although we label weaknesses “areas of opportunity,” brain science reveals that we do not learn and grow the most in our areas of weakness. In fact the opposite is true: we grow the most new synapses in those areas of our brain where we have the most pre-existing synapses. Our strengths, therefore, are our true areas of opportunity for growth.

More to the point, if we want employees to take responsibility for their own performance and development, what better place to start than with their particular strengths? The new performance system must find myriad ways to challenge employees to contribute their strengths more intelligently over time. (To be clear, this does not mean ignoring my weaknesses. It simply means acknowledging that my weaknesses are actually my “areas of least opportunity for growth.”)

Fifth, it must be a system focused on the future. Our current systems are fixated on feedback about the past. You are asked to write a review on yourself, then your manager writes his review. Often he will be required to sit with his peers to calibrate your review with others at your level; sometimes even your peers will be called upon to share their insights about your personality and performance. Your manager will be trained on how to deliver this feedback to you so that you will see it as “developmental” rather than overly “critical.”

The new performance system will dispense with all of this – on one level, simply because these feedback systems are plagued by a terrible signal-to-noise ratio. Managers are, and will always be, highly subjective providers of feedback; peer feedback when anonymous is just gossip, and when public is sugarcoated; your own self-ratings are more than likely generously distorted; and calibration sessions merely turn up the volume on the noise.

On another level, though, better performance management dispenses with all this because future-focused coaching is demonstrably a better use of time than past-focused feedback. To accelerate my performance tomorrow, don’t try to grade my personality with feedback from all sides—it will always be hard to give, hard to receive, and net a disproportionately small performance return. Instead, coach me on the few specific work-related activities that I could usefully add to my strengths repertoire tomorrow. Or tell me what skills I should go acquire next week. Or advise me which specific contacts I should seek out next month. None of these will necessarily be easy for me to do, but at least they will be something that I can do. They are in the future. In the new performance system, this is where most of our time and creativity will be focused.

Finally, it must be a local system. Current performance management systems are centralized. Their express purpose is to cascade the defined company strategies and values down through all levels. First, this flies in the face of the previous characteristics. Worse:  a fixed, cascaded strategy prevents the company from being agile (even if, ironically, one of the company values is “agility”); I care a great deal more about my own success and strengths than I do about “alignment”; and allocating each of my goals to one of the company’s values or strategies is inevitably both heavy-handed and retroactive. Any company with the courage to mine its HCM data will discover that many of us end up shoehorning our goals into one of the company’s categories only after the goals have been completed.

But more significantly, most of the company’s best intelligence about the future of its products, people, and customers can be found in each local team. So in place of cascading down, the new performance system must be designed to capture this local intelligence, and then aggregate it up. Goals should be set at the team level and aggregated up; compensation should be allocated by local leaders and then aggregated up; employee opinion surveys should be triggered by the local team leader and aggregated up. Only then will the company be agile enough to stay relevant.

So, that’s a blueprint for a better system. Lighter, more creative, more flexible, strengths-based, and ultimately more human – with current technologies available to you so you can start designing your version of this within your company.

And, frankly, you can do this even before your HR department has retired your existing human capital management system. Current systems are thankfully so infrequent, and a strengths-based system so light-touch, that the two can coexist for a while before the two start to get in each other’s way. With luck, by that time, HR will have taken a hard look at the performance of the old HCM system, and it will be on its way out.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: . SantiMB . via photopin cc

photo credit: . SantiMB . via photopin cc

Happy Cities, The Chapman Brothers and Gandhi (Arts & Ideas, Radio 4)

The first 16 minutes of this broadcast involves a discussion of what makes a happy city including Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, who we featured a story on in a previous post…

Rana Mitter looks forward to an Age of the Happy City with innovative urban scholar, Richard Burdett, and journalist and urban experimentalist, Charles Montgomery. What can Rio de Janeiro teach Mumbai or Copenhagen teach Vancouver or Bogota have to say to Shanghai? Why should density replace sprawl? Can planning bridge the gap between efficiency and sociability? The world is witnessing unprecedented urban growth; fifty three per cent of us live in cities today – heading towards seventy per cent by the middle of the century. The form these new and growing cities take will have a huge effect on global resources and the living conditions of billions of people.

Link to read Susan Perry’s article about Charles Montgomery: Cities, Cars, Cycling – and Human Happiness

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

Debunking the Myth of Happiness

Kevin Roberts writes…

…People think that as we achieve our hopes and dreams, somehow our daily problems, annoyances, disappointments, and anxieties will magically disappear. Unfortunately the truth is not so utopian. Negative emotions and experiences can affect our daily lives, and despite having it all, even the “stars” among us are subject to depression and disappointment at times.

In his new book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, neuropsychologist at Berkeley University, Dr. Rick Hanson, contends that this phenomenon can be explained.

Hanson’s evidence is drawn from the biology of human survival. He describes how our neural pathways are constructed to activate on negative emotions with greater intensity than positive ones. In other words, evolution has driven us to respond more strongly to predators and environmental threats than when we experience something pleasant. With this understanding, it makes it more difficult to create permanent neural pathways for our positive experiences, thus this dilemma with achieving lifelong happiness.

So how can we navigate life without melancholia, considering our own minds afflict the pursuit of happiness?

The answer is not simply positive thinking, but rather the pervasive adoption of radical optimism. I have used the phrase “radical optimism” for years, meaning we must go beyond simply a positive disposition and commit to a program of action and activities that continuously put oneself into a good space, and avoiding negative ones. The truth is that it is possible to harness our biology, since the desire for long term happiness is also part of who we are.

Simply stating that you are an optimistic person does not induce true psychological and physiological change. One must internalize that sense of self that meets our three core needs “safety, satisfaction, and connection”. True change takes persistent radicalism and constant optimism. It takes the will to lift your head up, look around and realize that happiness and success are ALWAYS within your control.

Although the molecular make-up of the brain and the chemical reactions that determine neural pathways are complicated, sometimes something as simple as a fast walk around the block will do you wonders!

Link to read the original article

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Podcast #075: My Top Productivity Hacks

by Michael Hyatt

…I love the topic of productivity. I collect productivity hacks like some people collect stamps. I am always looking for the edge that will make me more efficient and, even more importantly, more effective.

Based on my recent 2013 Reader Survey, 75 percent of my readers want more productivity content. So here are my top ten favorite productivity hacks of all time, in no particular order:

  1. Eliminate online distractions.
  2. Schedule time alone.
  3. Batch similar tasks together.
  4. Identify your must-dos.
  5. Eliminate, automate, delegate.
  6. Hire virtual assistants.
  7. Invest in coaching.
  8. Acquire better tools.
  9. Get better at saying “no.”
  10. Use templates for everything.

Link to hear the podcast and the links to resources linked to this list of tips

photo credit: Akshay Charegaonkar via photopin cc

photo credit: Akshay Charegaonkar via photopin cc

6 Ways To Banish End-of-Year Stress At The Office

Judy Martin writes…

The festivities have begun, but the merrier trimmings won’t likely override the underlying state of the workforce. A Gallup poll this year found that 70% of the workforce was either disengaged or miserable. An uncertain labor market, work overload, and nudging thoughts about career advancement are enough to have you thinking about jumping on the next sleigh away from the office.

Generally, we all get a bit sensitive with more work-life conflict during the holidays. But workplace stressors like year-end deadlines, office politics, and expectations from the corner office can burn you out and make your eggnog go sour.

While taking it in stride, here are six tools to bring you comfort and joy this time of year, making your workplace holiday experience a little more manageable.

1. Don’t Take Anything Personally

For many people, the holidays can be tough. Old memories or wounds tend to surface, some miss loved ones, and December acts as a reminder of yet another year gone by. Unless you’re a mind reader, you won’t know what’s going on with your colleagues in any given moment, and it’s unrealistic to try to figure it out. Instead, it’s extra important to give people the benefit of the doubt this time of year—accepting that they may be more stressed or pained than usual, and trying your best not to jump into defensive mode if someone lashes out at you.

That’s not to say you should be a doormat. But consider the source before taking things to heart.

2. Determine What Can Wait

With year-end reviews and deadlines on the horizon, we often spend the end of the year stressing over finishing last-minute reports, wrapping up back-burner projects, and squeezing in just one more meeting before the holidays—knowing full well in the back of our minds that it’s not all going to get done.

This year, try this: With any item on your to-do list, ask yourself, “Is it a high-level priority that will impact my good standing at work—or can it wait?” For those second-tier projects, approach your manager with a few solutions, as well as more reasonable timelines in which you can get them done. 

3. Practice a Growth Mindset

Whether you’re dealing with a difficult colleague or wondering how to approach a problem at work, positive psychology research smiles upon working through the lens of a “growth mindset,” which opens your mind toward reframing thoughts that make you feel stuck. For example, think of a colleague you’ve perceived as indifferent, difficult, or just set in his ways. Rather than concentrating on his faults or judging him, try focusing more on learning new ways to work with him.

By using a more curious approach, you’ll persist in the face of setbacks, learn from feedback, embrace challenges, and realize your effort can help you achieve more successful results—all of which creates positive emotions that can help reduce your year-end stress.

4. Use Breath as a Daily Stress-Busting Ritual

Incorporating regular deep breathing into your daily routine is the cheapest, easiest way possible to foster a sense of calm throughout your workday. Try setting your phone alarm twice a day for a breathing break (preferably, late morning and late afternoon). Take three deep breaths into the pit of your belly, evenly inhaling to a count of three, holding for a moment, and exhaling to a count of three. Do two rounds of that. Then on a third round, double the length of your exhalation, which triggers a physical relaxation response. Try it—and see how much better you feel about the task at hand afterward.

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5. Find Moments of Solitude

It’s almost counterintuitive to imagine that the office can be a respite from the holiday bustle, but finding small ways to take a break throughout the day can really help your sanity this time of year. Take a walk, listen to some music for a few minutes—or if you can—just close your door for some quiet time. You could even try working in a conference room or telecommuting for a day or two.

If it’s hard to take a break throughout the day, place a small trinket on your desk that reminds you to shift your mind to a calmer place, or display a family picture on your desk to help you remember the good people around you.

6. Savor Positive Experiences at Work

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect, so take time to look back on the better moments from the last year at work. Were there projects that you influenced in a profitable or creative way? Were there relationships that enhanced your working experience?

Even if you don’t particularly like your job, writing a list of the good points associated with your position can enhance your skills of gratitude and positive thinking. In fact, research shows such behavior helps to activate the feel-good neurotransmitters of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine in your brain. This then triggers your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to reduce stress.

Don’t let troubles at the office get in the way of enjoying the holiday season. By proactively managing your work stress, you’ll finish the year—and start the new one—in an all-around happier place…

Link to read the original article

Give and Take with Adam Grant

Professor Adam Grant talks about a revolutionary new approach to success in business and in life at an Action for Happiness event in London on 19 May 2013.

Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar

Here’s a lovely way to approach Christmas, each day helping to make your world a happier place – and yourself happier and probably more productive along the way too…

Link to the Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar

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Happiness At Work Collection #75

All of these stories and many more are in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection , out from Friday morning (GMT)

I hope you find much to here to enjoy…