Tuesday, 26 August 2008

And further support from Seth...

There was a programme on a while ago called Seven up. It asked children aged 7 what they wanted to be. Some of them - the richer, more privileged ones - had it all mapped out. Eton, Oxford, called to the Bar aged 28. And then the programme followed them every 7 years. And guess what happened? That's exactly what they achieved, and that I suppose is great...but I could not help feeling sorry for them...

Meanwhile, further to my last post and as if by magic, Seth Godin writes further about choice of career direction.

It's so easy to be led into a direction, to 'fall into' a career and then make it work. That's a psychological fact by the way - we're brilliant at justifying our decisions to ourselves. Other people flit around, as Seth says. The paradox of choice anyone? But these paths are filled with compromise and your chances of success are limited, and happiness narrower still.

What we need to develop is a direction that's as right as it can be at that time and to follow it with all you've got. Decision making is not a science, which is why companies manage risk.

Taking all things into account, what's the type of work you'd enjoy most? What are the activities that appeal most? What areas in life are you drawn to? What type of people? What do you read? What does this mean for the type of organisation you're drawn to?

High quality decision-making is based on real understanding of who you are. Not easy. But if this can be achieved, then the short term decision becomes not one of expedience, but 'what can I do next that gets me to my vision?'

Self understanding de-risks the big decisions. In a complex world, that's about the best you can do. And anything more planned or perfect would be boring...

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Dream job or compromise?

It's easy to talk (as I often do) about the importance of understanding yourself, identifying your dream job, and pursuing that dream. But most of the people I meet who are in a predicament over career choice need a job and need a job now. How should they balance the pressing, material need for money with the fact that these sort of jobs often do not obviously lead to their dream?

It's difficult, and easy to sound impractical, even unrealistic. So I was encouraged to read te ever-practical and sensible Jeremy Bullmore's advice in Saturday's Guardian, to a reader who wants a creative job, but is being offered only a PA role.

Here it is in full:

I'm a woman in my mid-20s, and am already facing a bit of a career change, having realised that the subject I studied throughout uni, and have worked in for the past two years, is not for me after all. I wish to go into a related, but ultimately very different field, where I know I could really shine and make a lot of difference.

So among the usual networking, I have got back in contact with a recruitment agency that I temped with throughout uni, and who specialise in media, specifically the area I want to be in. However, the agency keeps telling me that I have to be "flexible", ie, I have to be prepared to accept a job that is not in the field I wish to go into. Moreover, rather than the creative-focused roles I wish to break into, they want to continue putting me up for PA roles, which I have gained a huge amount from and put a lot of effort into but have learned, frankly, that it is no career choice for me.

Am I right to hold out for a job I really want and make the agency work harder to make those opportunities for me? Or should I just settle for another PA job in another industry I don't want to be in? I am at a loss as to what to do; this is the only agency that has responded to me, and I do not wish to close off a valuable avenue by getting a reputation for being awkward about what jobs I will and won't consider.

I can't help feeling that the fact that you once temped for this agency is both good news and bad news. Good, because you know each other; and bad because they still remember you as a temp. That could be partially why they're putting you up for PA roles: they haven't been able to readjust to the fact that you're now a graduate with a couple of years' experience behind you.

Whatever their reasons, you simply mustn't take the easy way out. Resist the lure of "flexibility". Don't settle for anything. Your letter shows a splendid confidence and certainty. After a couple of years in the wrong field, you're now absolutely clear about where you want to go. Don't be persuaded to lose that determination.

I suspect you sense that this is a defining moment in your working life. If you don't get it right this time, there may not be another. So please don't worry about earning a reputation for being awkward. Determined people, driven by real conviction, often seem awkward. And it's not your job to make life easy for this recruitment agency.

If agencies aren't helpful, try the direct approach. Research the firms you most admire. Communicate your passion to them. Don't be afraid to follow up. You say the roles you're after are "creative-focused" - so show some creativity in the way you apply.

I realise that making a bit of a nuisance of yourself doesn't come easily to you; but at this crucial moment in your life you may need to adopt a slightly thicker skin. With any luck, it will only be temporary.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Humanising the organisation

I'm working with a UK based public sector organisation trying to identify and then embed some organisational values as part of 'the way they do things round here'.

It's interesting and challenging work. In terms of why it's important work, I think the post by Headshift goes much of the way to explaining. Values are part of humanising the organisation. They reach far beyond processes and procedures. They are uniquely human.

In particular, I like this paragraph:

'Doing an Enron' is much easier within a culture of secrecy and dishonesty, and much harder in a company where people are encouraged to think and act according to shared values rather than simply obeying orders.

Quite. That's where values sit. That's what they do. But they have to resonate with staff, they can't be imposed. So...how do you create a values-based organisation?

Oh hang on, that's what they've asked me....help!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Gedanken entstehen beim Gehen.

A German saying: thoughts arise from walking.

Certainly for me, that's always true.

Monday, 11 August 2008

What electrifies you?

Michael Moore wrote a fascinating article in yesterday's Observer about what Obama must do (or not do) to win the Presidency. He ridicules the notion that Obama should pick a joint runner who can appeal to Republican voters, particularly someone who will appeal to the floating voters in the key state of Ohio.

What's significant to me is the reasons Moore gives for not doing this:

...by doing this, you will upset the base that not only must come out on election day, (but that) must also be active and work dozens of hours during the campaign. They have to personally bring 10 people each to the polls with them if we are to avoid the disasters of the past two elections. Many won't do this extra work if Obama picks the wrong Veep. It will suck the air out of the balloon in a big way.

The key point is not about Obama winning the election. The key point is about the energy that's released when we do what we love, and what we do best. When we think about career change, we often think radically, then scale back tactically because we're afraid of what the market will say. But what about the energy that we lose by compromising?

And what effect does this have on the people who do see the big vision? Who do get the idea? What does compromise do to them?

They'll just stop showing up at the campaign headquarters over on Maple Street. They'll say they're too busy to go on another three-hour door-to-door literature drop. They'll still take a list of a hundred voters home to call and read the index card over the phone about "why you should vote for Obama" - but there won't be much enthusiasm in their voice, and the voter on the other end of the line will hear that. After 15 or 20 calls, they'll give up - after all, there's dishes to do and a dog to walk. And on election day they'll go do their duty and vote, but they will not be up at 6am driving around the city picking up strangers who need a ride to the polls.

It's so hard to remember this when faced with a huge change. We at Bloom are faced with it too. But now's the time to be brave, and remember that the reason we changed was the big vision - not the compromised one.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Half a second

That's the combined amount of time that separated five British Gold medallists from second place in the last Olympics.

Half a second between 5! That's a lifetime of effort and 4 years of dreaming, boiled down to about a tenth of a second each.

How is it possible to cope with such pressure? The realisation that a tenth of a second separates you from fulfilling a dream and not.

In a fascinating programme last week Colin Jackson, the Olympic hurdler, talked about how he had failed in Barcelona (when favourite) but bounced back 4 years later to finally take gold.

In one experiment, he was shown harrowing images in an MRI scanner for two hours. Jackson's brain responses were telling. The parts of the brain that lit up were those assocuated not with pain, but pleasure. When asked why, Jackson had said that when he looked at the images he consciously thought how great his life was by comparison. He was able to see the positive in the negative.

People often talk about victory going to who wants it most. My bet is that when it comes to the pressure of a tenth of a second, glory goes to who is most able to cope. And those who cope are those who need to win least.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

A Bloom Brainstorm

On Monday we had a terrific day brainstorming ideas with some of the people who've worked for Bloom over the summer. To Kirsty, Rachel, Amanda (and Rupa, in absentia), thank you.

Some really terrific ideas came about, which I will share over the next few months. But what struck me is the type and quality of the people that we are now working with. It was so uplifting to share an attitude to work (and life), especially for me I think. 11 years in consulting left me consistently feeling like an outsider.

Now I get to work with people who 'get it' and it is so refreshing. There was one thought that struck me even more strongly than it has before:

Bloom's biggest strengths are not its people but the sum of the strengths of its people.

We are trying to get people to do what they do best:

Rachel is focusing on research, and is building a brilliant 'how to' guide on motivation using that research.
Kirsty is bringing together Bloom's approach to strengths. She is using all sorts of different sources and approaches to help us work out how strengths fit into Bloom's overall approach.
Amanda came along to challenge us, energise us and to get us to think far more creatively.
Rupa, who we missed greatly, is going to tell us how to connect with Generation Y.

From this, I realised that:

We need to build a network of people who fit into the Bloom way of working, and who support us.
I used to think networking was cringeworthy. Now I see it as essential. So wherever Kirsty, Amanda, Rachel and Rupa go on to work, we want them to support and help and promote Bloom. But we must do the same for them.

A corollary to this is...

We collaborate with our competitors
If we find an opportunity which we can't fulfil, we'll pass it on to someone who can. If we have an idea to improve a competitor, we'll pass it on. If someone screws us over, so be it. Most won't. And I think the benefits will far outweigh the negatives. Another extension is...

We give stuff away.
Whether it's time, ideas or expertise, we need to ensure that we're living authentically. So we'll be as generous as we can be, always.

Another extension is...

We thank people, publicly, and promote their achievements.
This is a very small start, but this blog will be thanking people publicly more often. Our website should also have space to do this.

The second big thing that struck me was that people do already regard Bloom as inspirational. So, the above is about starting to codify that.

To bring out the strengths of all those who work with, for or around Bloom and to build a network by supporting those who know us. Now that's inspirational.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Test Match Cricket and Character

Test Match cricket is the greatest of all sports because it is just that, a true test. It is a test in the classic meaning of a scientific test or experiment: is the effect of one side batting and the other side bowling the same when the roles are reversed? If it is, victory will generally go to one side, and if it is not a draw will be declared. The research hypothesis will be rejected.

But it is also a test of character. Never was this more amply demonstrated than today, when Paul Collingwood played perhaps the best innings I have seen whilst under personal pressure. It was almost common knowledge that such was his dearth of form and lack of runs that this would be his last test match inning if he failed. He was completely out of touch, and the South Africans reminded him of his inevitable fate constantly.

Yet what did he do? He got his head down, and battled. He resolved to try his best to do what he used to. To play each ball on its merits. To attack the bad ball. To stick to the shots he trusts. Playing each ball on its merits is hardest of all when you are out of touch. Every nerve in your body says 'attack this ball' to end the build up of pressure, and the ceaseless chatter from the oppoition. The quick release of tension is the epitome of temptation. But Collingwood did not yield. Instead he left the ball alone, and grafted. Through his own dogged determination he slowly turned the tide. Never reaching his best form, he reached a century before the day was done.

He hardly celebrated, for his team was not yet out of the mire. Truly though, this test of character had been passed, and Collingwood the man can be proud for eternity.