Mind, future, now!

Do you regularly… Open twenty plus tabs in Chrome? Comment on bad design? Overthink standardized test? Connect the dots for meaning? See the bigger picture? If you answered “yes” twice, read Daniel Pink’s  A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers will rule the future.

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Why should you care?

The days of the knowledge worker are gone. Automation will take jobs. Big data will make decisions. And we are going to live a lot longer. So, what will set you apart? Dan argues we need to pair right brained characteristics of design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning with the left brained proficiencies such as logic and order. Those who can master the pairing , which Dan calls high concept high touch, will succeed in the future.

What can you do about it?

We are all designers! Sure the majority of our designs don’t get beyond imagination. Yet, we all sketched one out on a napkin. The point, we are all curious by nature. Even if your knowledge of design comes mostly from encountering “bad design,” that’s okay. Creativity is applied imagination.

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Stories, we like them. One, they excite us more than facts and statistics. Two, they talk to us personally. The challenge, the sum of all knowledge is now available to us instantaneously and for free. If you can’t tell an engaging story or at least fashion context out millions of hits, you are just another statistic.

Connect and arrange the open tabs. Like an artist who draws/paints what s/he sees, you follow the links, connect the dots, and see the patters to synthesize relationships. Your symphony comes by corralling the pieces of the seemingly unrelated and creating knowledge.

Know what others feel, empathy. Don’t sweat the details of systemization, sequence, and logic. Artificial intelligence does this and processes staggering amounts of data quietly, quickly, and without complaining. Fortunately, logic doesn’t alway work with humans. So, it is better to be fuzzy around the edges yet attuned to desires and feelings. Those who can toggle between systematizing and empathy get the bigger picture.

Play is good. We succeed when we are having fun. Learning is not memorizing facts. We learn when we encounter interesting facts. We connect them to form an interpretation that creates knowledge. Play more and tap into the unlimited potential of the right brain to do anything.

We are born for meaning, not passive consumption. In this world of abundance with supersize drinks, binge watching, and mall after mall of the same stuff, it is easy to forget. Meaning rounds out the big picture and helps provide purpose. There’s no instant meaning in the future, yet you can draw upon design, story, symphony, empathy, and play to create it.

Cool brain image by by Austin Kleon @ Creative Commons

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Change – something happening there

Change is not an email from leadership. It is a process that pushes limits, brings joy to some and frustrates others. It moves slowly. Leaders talk about it, often forgetting to model it. As time passes, vision can get cloudy and ownership questions can arise. And yet, change, or at least our ability to, is pivotal to the success of our connected future.

Vision: someone wants it. A person or a group see it, play with it, and are willing to work for it. Slowly actions influence more individuals and they want it too. Some appear to be excited by change yet lean back. Others reinterpret it or worse, misunderstand it. Bureaucrats fear it, unless its new bureaucracy. Keep your vision simple, clear, and always at the ready.

changeasaqualityLeadership: it’s about people. Good leaders add value, empower, and know when to get out of the way. They listen, observe, and reinforce the motivation to change. Great ones model it. Their persistence and their ability to challenge themselves inspire us. They make the rounds and visit the trenches. We trust them because we know they have not lost touch.

Stewardship: of the people. Someone must carry the vision. Leaders get busy. Stewards step up, volunteer, and jump in because they care. They’re in the trenches daily working to affect change. They speak up, work through challenges, consul, and celebrate with us. Not everyone gets change right away, yet with empowered stewardship change runs smoother.

Learning: leaning in and owning. Learning along the way is crucial to the success. People ask questions, generate ideas, and arrive at aha moments. When they talk, listen. If they need latitude, give it to them. It’s frustrating and fabulous all at once. Champion and celebrate moments along the way. If someone lets you down, flag it. Then, reflect, refine, and move forward together. If we can’t shift gears, redouble efforts, and leverage just in time resources, where’s the learning?

Support: undervalued yet essential. Leaders come and go. Stewards have other jobs too. Those who are getting it done, get frustrated. Build and identify your support network early. Revisit its effectiveness often and build multiple forms of support. We all learn differently. Email is great for some, videos are better for others, and some only change when there is one on one handholding. Without support, change does not happen.

We all see change a little differently and that’s OK. Just keep it simple, do your part, step up when needed, ask questions, learn what you can, and take time to reflect. And remember no matter how great change sounds, we can only affect so much at one time.

Is your email a disposable asset?

It stands always ready, takes seconds to write, requires no effort to deliver, reaches one or thousands nimbly, and yet there’s no guarantee you will ever see it again. Sound great, expect for that last part.

disposabledefinitionYou rely upon a timely return with the information required. Yet, as the world gets busier, this becomes a bigger reliance. Once you hit send, you are on someone else’s time. They too need to get work done, reshuffle priorities regularly, and get too many emails. Why increase this reliance by sending someone a disposable asset?

You have two options, one depend less on email or two invest in improving the return of your asset. –pause to reflect– OK, option two it is. 

Are you giving or asking for something?

If you are asking for something, think of the other person. Make the email clear and as concise as possible. If you can’t say what you need in one or two lines, then people are going to need more time to think about it. More time equals a higher chance of a delay or being ignored.  If you are giving something away, fantastic! Givers are not so concerned about a reply. Plus, giving increases your email karma. Still, clarity is key!

Do you have a prior relationship with that person?

Family aside, if you didn’t email someone at your work, would he/she ever think about you or miss you? If no, see notes on clear and concise above; else, consider a more direct method of communication. Yes, it is more time consuming, yet relationship building pays riches over time.  When someone unknown emails you, do you jump to reply? To stay competitive today, we must produce. Being busy isn’t enough! If you depend on email, your relationships need to be dynamic.

Is there another way? 

Maybe the answer to your email query already exists online. Check meeting notes, prior emails, FAQ pages, or even the addressee’s social media. Take action by harvesting data or information where you can and don’t wait for it to come to you already assembled. 21st Century tools, plus human brain, and an ability to act means maybe you could work at Google.

Maybe email really works for you? Yet, ask yourself the following. Are your emails clear and concise? Does email interfere with work you need to do? Do you answer emails as they come in? If you answered yes twice, I suggest you rethink your email usage. Disposable assets don’t really help you get work done!

Creativity reloaded – life, ex-pats, & outsourcing

I enjoy my life here in Hong Kong as an ex-pat. I work, I drive, I speak Mandarin, I cook, and I wash my own car. The Internet flows free and fast. Parks, beach, and hiking trails are minutes away, the food is fantastic, and it’s safe. What’s my guilty pleasure?  Outsourcing! I outsource all cleaning and sous chef duties Monday through Friday.

Every week, I meet fantastic people and families, ex-pats & locals alike, who all engage in outsourcing in one form or another. Some still cook, others outsource cooking completely along with the shopping. Some have drivers, yet no one works on their own car. Sure, we all wash a few clothes on the weekend, but rarely do we iron. We live in apartments with management fees. So drilling holes in walls is frowned upon. Painting is negotiated ahead of time. Replacing washers on leaky faucets or basic plumbing. “Please there are people to do that kind of work for us.” Moving house from country to country and packing your own boxes. “Shirley you jest!”

I am familiar with Reaganomics and trickle down theory. I am good as this, so I do only this. I leave the other things to those who are good at them or have no other choice. No doubt at work you are the creative force affecting change or keeping the organisation together. I get it, you may not be great with a needle, knife, iron, plunger, or wire cutter, so you outsource. Yet, what does this do to your creativity outside the office? Does creativity transfer across the discipline of life if you don’t get it out and show it off? I learned a lot helping my Dad with the car and being a sous chef for my Mom as took care of my newborn sister.

Why bother about creativity at home when products keep getting more complex? Average tinkers stand no chance against certified technicians. Manufacturers often replace instead of repair. Occasionally, they tell you what went wrong. Worse, they threaten to void the warranty if you crack open the case. And even if you wanted to fix something, would you have the tools? Circuit boards are all integrated. Engine compartments are designed keep us out. True story, few BMW owners know how to jumpstart their car because everything is tightly laid out and the battery is in the back. Of course, we have no garages, basements or workshops to store tools or just tinker around.

As life gets easier, you don’t need that much creativity. Google maps, I love ’em, but where’s the fun? We don’t get lost. We don’t stop and ask random strangers for directions? We just go from point A to point B. And that’s a shame. We prefer to watch reality TV instead of being in our own reality. Let someone else take the risk and succeed or royally screw up. It’s safer and more entertaining. From bread makers to rice cookers, we add ingredients and get near perfect results each time. Sure, maybe you can live without great bread crust, but what of experimentation, innovation, and getting it wrong? . 

No, I am not advocating to end domestic outsourcing. We all work hard and will probably continue so, especially with Samsung building bigger smart phones. Yet, do get into the creative game. Yes, it’s more work. And yes, you will need to push a few comfort zones. Chances are, it won’t matter. Plus, you’ll get a a great story to tell.

And yes, I know Mandarin is the easiest of all the Chinese dialects. 

Liking – a photo

Who led the Million Dollar Quartet? My guess, Carl Perkins. Odd isn’t it?

I like this photo! I liked it enough to take the time to print it, trim the margins, and then put it up on my wall. No, I do not mean my Facebook wall. I mean a physical wall in a building that I see pretty regularly.

Few people will see the photo. The foot traffic around it will be limited to about ten colleagues. I did not put it up for them. I put it up for me.

It inspires me! The four were all so young. Each one would rise to prominence. They must have learned so much on their journeys. What can I learn from theirs?

Media continually surrounds us. Yes, I know you can star or favorite things for later. Yet, who has the time? Many friends and colleagues decorate their desktop wallpaper or picture with their favorite digital image. Very 21st Century hip, yet I go entire days without seeing my desktop.

My point, liking things is not enough. You must do something to make something happen. If you push the same bits around each day and attend the same meetings, nothing will ever change. When nothing changes, how do you learn? So go on, shake things up. Break a habit. Get something done. Just don’t point click, and like!

Email, you can’t win!

Remember when you looked forward to getting emails? You bragged about it to friends and family. I installed a campus wide email system in 1995. Administration worried that the staff would not take to it. We held wine & cheese events to promote email. We designed email communication guidelines and employee expectations policies. We hoped, prayed, and crossed our fingers. In 2010 the human race racked up one hundred trillion emails. I credit the wine & cheese.

In 2011, the average corporate office worker received 112 emails a day. Assume you want to deal with all your emails each day. Yes, I know, big assumption. Estimate that you will send at least another 40 that day. Let’s figure 1.5 minutes on average to deal with each email, (112 x 1.5) + (40 * 1.5) = 228 minutes. If nearly four hours of your day goes to email, how do we get any work done?

Why can’t you win

Email is an asynchronous form of communication. The sender does not need to be in sync or direct contact with the recipient. You send it and hopefully someone reads it later during their scheduled four hours of email. Remember that other great asynchronous communication tool of the 80s and 90s, voicemail? Sure, people still leave voicemails today, just not as many. Why? The general perception among the twenty random people I surveyed, voice mail is too slow.

Guess what? Email is slow too. And I find that its ambiguous nature slows the process of communication down further. One, you are hoping that the person is going to write you back immediately. Probably not going to happen!  Two, there’s a good chance the email recipient will need to collaborate/consult by email with someone else. And three, email comes without any visual or auditory cues. Any one of your recipients might be in a bad mood or dealing with some crisis. So, in the end you end up with a cold or less than desired answer that results in you sending more email back.

Digital Zen

Caliorg @ Creative Commons

Email is not like smoking or drinking, you can’t go cold turkey. It’s too much a part of your life. And work does get done via email albeit slowly. Your long-term goal must be one of reducing dependence on email. It should not be your “go-to” communication method. It should at least be a secondary method or even last resort.

As learners and learning leaders, we need to be utilizing our management skills and think before send an email or a blitz of emails. Before you commit to new cool ideas or projects, consider current commitments. Unfortunately, time, life, & different interpretations of email use will always challenge the amount of work you can take on at one time. The path to digital enlightenment relies upon honesty and the knowing yourself.

I urge you to fall back on a more synchronous means of communication. Pick up the phone! We all have them; just we rarely use them as phones. Take a risk and go online to see if anyone’s around for instant message or online chat. Should the mood strike you, start your video camera. Google Chat, Skype, and FaceTime all include abilities to talk face to face. Yes, it is not the same and sometimes there is a delay. I say, get out of your comfort zone. Then, there’s my personal favorite, go see the person! There’s nothing like real time conversation to get work done!

Email was once a risk. For many, it was their gateway tool to the digital age.  Now, we must challenge ourselves to move beyond email before it buries us!

I learned a lot in school, just not from my teachers

Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School by Jessica Hagy, is a fantastic education retrospective. Upon extensive reflection, some yoga, and a lot of green tea, we clearly attended different schools. Yes, there were many insidious and unspoken lessons in school. And I agree completely that students will “have to unlearn them” if they want to thrive. Yet somehow, what I took away from school was different.

What do I need to unlearn? I definitely was not a great student. Good grades were celebrated at my house. When I was clearly having too much fun, I got sent to harder school. We did not celebrate again for a while. To me, I always seemed to be learning. Yes, there were rules, but somehow I learned early on about angles and latitude. College was a given, but there was no pressure to conform. Was it the rural Midwest landscape? Some of my best friends were card carrying members of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. I did get my first job at thirteen? Maybe I just got a batch of eclectic teachers?

Maybe the concept of school was similar, but different variables resulted in vastly different school experiences? Sure, I was not overly fond of school, but it had its moments. I heard about the starving kids in China. Turns out in China, there were stories of starving kids in Africa. Talk about early spin. I had my share of passionate and “less passionate” teachers. I got through them all. Yet, somehow I picked up on an unspoken/surreptitious undercurrent.

  1. Question Authority! School was filled with historical references to people shaking things up. Whether it was taxation, liberty, the industrial revolution, or voting rights, I learned that people could create different realities. So, when I did not like an answer, I asked questions. Sometimes there was further discussion, sometimes there was not. Most times I was dispatched to the library. I went on to build robots, venture to big cities, and even plan a Grade Eight trip to our national’s capital. Sure, we never made it, but I learned early on that the teachers were only going to get you so far.
  2. Show & Tell Rocked!. Students, teachers, and even parents brought in cool stuff. Everyone had a story. And those that were interesting, you sought out to learn more. You went over and tried to borrow whatever it was. If his/her parents have a strict “no lending policy,” you invited yourself over. If that did not work, then you asked all the questions you could. Where’d you get it? How much was it? How long have you had it?
  3. Pay Attention! Yes, there were different rules for different people, e.g., Teacher’s Pet & Goodie Two Shoes. You had to get past those though if you did not want to be teased. I noticed teachers liked it when you asked questions. Offer a little physical labor, wind an extension cord, move a desk, carry some great smelling ditto copies, teachers liked it. Swing by the lunch counter at clean up, you might get free cake. School/life was coming together nicely for me by Grade Eight. To keep me humble, I was sent to the citys top high school. Talk about challenge based learning?
  4. Supplements to the Book! No dispute, the textbook was the go to place for information and answers. Occasionally though, a topic came up that was too new. Unlucky students got told to choose a new topic. Lucky students found their way to the library. And if they were really lucky, they found Reader’s Guide to Period Literature. Note to reader, I noticed a correlation to “lucky” and those students who paid attention. Of course, this is just my observation.
  5. Standardized Testing Wouldn’t Kill Me! I was horrible at standardize tests. And I am a little proud to say; I never quite learned how to take them, apart from the ones at the DMV. Maybe I was warped early by all those law dramas my Dad made me watch, i.e. every case was winnable. I knew I was bright. My parents favorite phrase was, “you’re a bright kid, you just need to apply yourself.” Of course, according to the government, I was not bright. Lucky for me, no one in my educational career focused on this fact.
  6. Snow Days Could Get Boring! Believe it or not, you can only watch so much daytime television. I did learn a lot about value, worth, and probability from the Price is Right. In the absence of school and cable, thank goodness for copies of the magazine Boys Life and the book the Boy Mechanic.  I learned a lot about making igloos and Eskimos. When we did make it back to school, I stocked up on books at the library. Unfortunately, I could find no whale blubber in Southern Ohio.

Where did this undercurrent come from? It came from my parents. They somehow engineered a reasonable balance of push, pull and slack. In my mind, there could have been more slack. There were trips into New York City when I could have been playing with toys or watching television. We shopped at a historic inner city market house instead of the A&P or the IGA supermarkets. The library was a weekly trip and twice a week in the summer. I red and was red to. Television was a family activity where shows were vetted and many ruled inappropriate or “a waste of time.” I learned to use chopsticks at age ten. Talk about a patient mother. We talked about the future, theirs and mine.  And family friends streamed our house or dining room table on their way to their next adventure. Ah, the stories!

Learning is now a team sport and parents need to be in the game. Technology brings fabulous opportunities along with new responsibilities. Shirk these responsibilities and who knows what your son or daughter will need to unlearn. Technology is not a makeshift babysitter. It is a tool that requires ongoing collaboration and monitoring.  You may want to be their friend, but do keep in mind the there are different job descriptions for parent and friend. My parents did!