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The end of my beginning

22-Jan-10

Today is an interesting day for me. It is the first day that I am living beyond the age that my dad was when he died. Although I don’t feel old – and my kids would tell you I don’t act old, or at least not my age – knowing that I have now outlived my dad brings things into a different kind of focus.

I’m happy with my life, my work, my family. I’m not going to go out and make any drastic changes. But I will look at each day just a little bit differently, knowing that each day is a gift for me to enjoy, and make the most of  it.

I hope you’ll do the same.

Dissatisfied? Dan Pink tells you why, Seth Godin tells you what you can do about it

21-Jan-10

In his new book, Drive, author Dan Pink talks about what really motivates us, the “instrinsic drive” that we want to – but don’t always – follow. He describes the three pillars of this instrinsic motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. These three, working in concert, provide the foundation for satisfaction, and if any of these are missing, or are somehow externally constrained, chances are you are unhappy to some degree. This applies to the job that you hate, or the relationship you are “stuck in”. (On the flip side, if you are happy in your job – or relationship – chances are you have an adequate amount of all three.)

In his new book, Linchpin, author Seth Godin tells you that your happiness is entirely up to you. You can be a “factory worker” – where you give up your autonomy, opportunity for mastery, and work to achieve someone else’s purpose – or you can be an artist – where you practice autonomy, master what it is you are doing, and work to your own purpose. And while many authors will tell you how to go about this by “planning your career” or finding the “ideal job”.  Godin tells you that you can achieve this without changing jobs. It is your choice: artist or factory worker.

Taken together, these two books can give you a powerful insight into what you are dissatisfied with in your life and your work, why you are dissatisfied, and what you can do about it. All you have to do is figure out what you want to be, a factory worker or an artist.

Me? I choose art.

Seth Godin wants you to become indispensable

20-Jan-10

When I was young, I went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark with my mom. At the conclusion of the opening sequence, as Indy’s escape plane flies away, my mom leaned over and said, “Oh my God. Is the whole movie going to be like this?” I had a very similar feeling when – on page 20 of his new book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?Seth Godin asks the reader for “one last favor before you start…”

“Before I start? Is the rest of the book going to be like this?!?”

Divided into 13 chapters, each chapter is made up of a large number of small sections, very few of which are longer than a page; one section clocked in at just one word (even though the section title is 52 words long). Though related to the chapters that hold them, these little sections seem almost like a stream of consciousness of questions and answers, insights and mandates. To risk another pop-culture metaphor, I felt at times like I was inside a Robin Williams improv routine; as soon as one idea comes out, another is liberated and thrown out into the mix.

I like this book. Or, more accurately, I like the ideas in this book. On my first read through the book I chose to dog-ear pages instead of my usual of writing in the margins. This picture shows the results of my dog-ears.

In just over 200+ pages, Seth Godin asks, explores, and answers many of the ideas questions that have been on my mind lately, especially as it relates to work and the possibility of work as art. I’ve been considering this not just for myself but for my sons, one a junior and the other a senior in high school. This book is a must read for anyone considering their own future, or what to tell their kids about how they can live their own lives.

There are many themes and ideas within this book that different people will lock onto. I have the feeling that I will be exploring the ideas in the book for many weeks to come. For me, though, the two that jumped out were the discussions of “Indoctrination: How we got here” and “The Resistance”.

The former explains how we have all – or nearly all – become “factory workers” and compares this with what we are capable of – art. The latter exposes the “scaredy cat” (my term, not his) inside our brains – our lizard brains. This part of our brain was very effective – and very essential – in our survival and evolution, but now is getting in our way. The key to overcoming any adversary is a knowledge of that adversary, and he gives us an excellent understanding of this particular one.

Earlier I mentioned an especially short section with an unusually long section title. As it turns out, that section – title and all – really sums up the entire book for me:

“Wait! Are You Saying That I Have to Stop Following Instructions and Start Being an Artist? Someone Who Dreams Up New Ideas and Makes Them Real? Someone Who Finds New Ways to Interact, New Pathways to Deliver Emotion, New Ways to Connect? Someone Who Acts Like a Human, Not a Cog? Me?”

Yes.

By the time you finish reading Linchpin, you will believe that you can do all of this. All you have to do, as Seth reminds us again and again, is to make the choice.

Compliance or engagement: Which do you prefer for your kids?

19-Jan-10

Like many parents, I always enjoyed taking my sons to their first day of school when they were young. One year in particular stands out.

My elder son was just starting the second grade, his second year at this school. As we walked in on the first day of class, it seemed as if a party were going on. Kids were roaming the halls, teachers and staff were talking to each other and the kids, asking how them about their summer and telling them what a great year it was going to be. Amazingly, they even talked to me, asked me how my summer was, if there was anything they should try to get my son to talk about from his summer vacation.

In other words, “we’re glad you’re here, we’re going to take good care of your son.”

The next day I took my younger son to his first day of Kindergarten. I had to sign in at the front desk before walking him down the hall – an incredibly dingy, quiet, and deserted hall – to his new classroom, where we found about 10 of his new classmates sitting quietly in their chair, hands folded nicely on their desk. No one was talking to them, even the teacher. Especially the teacher, who greeted us with a curt, “Welcome to class, just find a desk and sit down while we wait for announcements.” Huh??? As I walked back out the hall, I took the time to look in on the other classes along the way. I was greeted by much the same as in my son’s room.

The message I took from that school: “we’ve got your kid for the day, as long as he does what we tell him there will be no problems.

As many of you know, one of my sons is autistic and attended a private day-school while the other attended the local public school. Care to guess which was which in this story? (I’ll give you a hint: we were very fortunate that our autistic son went to the school he did.)

The first school is all about engagement, the other all about compliance. You may recognize this theme of compliance and engagement from Dan Pink‘s latest book, Drive. These two schools are also representative of a key theme in Seth Godin‘s newest, Linchpin, that we are churning out future “factory workers” when we should be developing artists.

More on that tomorrow in my review of Linchpin.

FIRST and the sports model – is it getting out of hand?

18-Jan-10

Dean Kamen’s vision for FIRST is simple to state:

To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.

Simple to state, but not nearly so simple to achieve.

The FIRST organization have chosen to use the sports model as the basis of their programs, as shown in the image to the right. Of course, many of the most celebrated people today are athletes, and much of the K12 experience here in the US revolves around athletics.

If you heard his kickoff speech for this year’s game, though, you know that Dean is becoming frustrated with how this model is working out, with the focus for many individuals and teams becoming the winning, not the competition itself. Or, in the terminology of the folks at TrueCompetition.org, these teams have moved from competition into decompetition.

In some ways, this is an inevitable evolution, the nature of professional sports (which, in my mind, includes college sports) in which the intrinsic motivation of young athletes with a love of the game transforms into the extrinsic motivation of the rewards of victory.

What do you think? Is the sports model getting out of hand and need to be changed? Or does it just need to be “tweaked” a bit.

Some early thoughts on Linchpin

15-Jan-10

In the letter that he sent along with the early review copies of his new book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin asks us to “read it through (twice if you can)” before we review it. I get the impression from his letter, and from his introduction to the book, that he expects many people won’t like it, or won’t agree with it, and that many people will stop reading before they finish.

From my point about 1/2 way through I can see why he might think that; some people are going to find his ideas and suggestions quite radical. I really hope those people who don’t agreee, or don’t understand, take the time to read the entire book and reflect deeply on what it says. They will come out better for it, even if they still don’t agree with what Seth says.

That’s all I’m going to say here about Linchpin for now, I am going to wait until I’ve had a chance to go through it twice and really absorb it before I write an actual review. If you want to know what others are already saying about the book, check out the Linchpin lens on Squidoo.

To meet, perchance to dream…

14-Jan-10

In Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, author John Medina discusses the importance of sleep (Rule #7: Sleep well, think well):

Why do we sleep? It may be so that we can learn. The brain replays information learned during the day hundreds of times while we saw logs. You’d be more productive if you took an afternoon nap, too.

The “replay” of information that happens while we sleep comes, of course, in the form of dreams (or nightmares). Many of our dreams never make it to our consciousness, while those that do are often quite vivid and may plant the seed of good ideas that we can follow up on. Whether we remember the dreams or not, doesn’t matter, though; we “learn” from all of that crazy activity that takes place while we are asleep.

The typical recommendation for individuals is to get 8 hours of sleep per day – fully 1/3 of the day essentially dedicated to “learning”. Compare this to how most companies operate: maximum effort, maximum efficiency, no room for down-time. The expected amount of “sleep” for an organization? None, zero, zip.*

(In case you are wondering, I don’t consider “after hours” as sleep time since at this point the organization doesn’t really “exist”. Consider it a form of cryogenic sleep, and as Jake Sully reminds us at the beginning of Avatar, “you don’t dream in cryo.”)

The question then is, “Does an organization need to sleep? And if it does, what form would that “sleep” take?” To those questions I propose the following answers:

Yes, organizations need to sleep, and

Meetings are the organizations “sleep”

In his article Meeting of Minds, Richard Veryard talks about the costs associated with meetings:

  1. The direct cost of conducting the meeting (salaries, travel, etc)
  2. The opportunity cost of the meeting (lost productivity)
  3. The cost of not having the meeting

It’s that last one that is relevant here and Richard’s comments on it are part of what inspired me to finally write this article. He says:

Good meetings can make people more productive and creative, and help avoid wasted effort. Good meetings make the organization more intelligent – processes become more efficient, decisions get better, the organization learns more quickly – and this increases the overall added-value of the work done.

Exactly.

* A notable exception is the US Army. Most Army units operate on a 3 phase cycle: deploy, recover, train. At the risk of being overly anthropomorphic – and overly simplistic – you can roughly equate those to “go to work”, “relax in the evening”, “go to bed”.