What organizations need isn’t always what they want

From Seth Godin’s recent article Why ask why?

The secret to creativity is curiosity… The student with no curiosity… is no problem at all. Lumps are easily managed.

Same thing is true for most of the people we hire. We’d like them to follow instructions, not ask questions, not question the status quo.

This reminded me of something I jotted down in my notebook from Richard Farson’s book Management of the Absurd:

Real creativity, the kind that is responsible for breakthrough changes in our society, always violates the rules. That is why it is so unmanageable and that is why, in most organizations, when we say we desire creativity we really mean manageable creativity. We don’t mean raw, dramatic, radical creativity that requires us to change.

As much as organizations say they want to be innovative and groundbreaking, they usually don’t mean they want each of their individual employees to be innovative and groundbreaking.

Even though that is often exactly what they need.

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My full review of Dan Pink’s “Drive”…

…as posted to amazon.com and GoodReads.com.

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I read 39 books in 2009, just “a few” shy of my goal of 50. Thanks to a little nudge from Art Johnson (@artjohnson) and some tips from Julien Smith, I’ve set my 2010 sights just a little bit higher: a book a week, for a total of 52.

I got the list off to a good start this evening when I finished Dan Pink’s latest, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Interestingly, one of the first books I read in 2009 was also one of his, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

Part Three is the “Type I Toolkit”, which includes suggestions, reading lists, and other tools for individuals and organizations to help them become more Type I. As Pink says, Type I’s are made, not born, and this toolkit can help you remake yourself, or your organization, as a Type I.
Perhaps the most damning statement about the current state of affairs comes in the sentence: “Unfortunately…the modern workplace’s most notable feature may be its lack of engagement and its disregard for mastery.”  Longtime readers of my blogs know that mastery is a concept I’ve long thought and written about. Pink’s chapter on mastery in the context of work pulls together many ideas that I’ve struggled with over the years. This chapter alone was worth the price of the book.
All the rest is an excellent bonus.

Part One of the book explores the evolution of the motivation “operating systems” at play throughout human history and how the science of motivation is leading us to version 3.0 of that Motivation OS. Or, at least, how it should be leading us to this new version. I found it fascinating that much of what Pink describes in the book is not new at all, but has been known for several decades.

Known and ignored. Known and actively buried buy those who just couldn’t believe it or didn’t want to accept what it meant for them and their positions of control within organizations. Fascinating reading.

At the end of Part One, Pink delves into the differences between workers who are intrinsically (Type I) and extrinsically (Type X) motivated, and leads right into Part Two, which explores the three elements that make up Type I behavior: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The chapters for each of these elements includes some insight into each, along with practical examples of what they mean.

Part Three is the “Type I Toolkit”, which includes suggestions, reading lists, and other tools for individuals and organizations to help them become more Type I. As Pink says, Type I’s are made, not born, and this toolkit can help you remake yourself, or your organization, as a Type I.

Perhaps the most damning statement about the current state of affairs comes in the sentence: “Unfortunately…the modern workplace’s most notable feature may be its lack of engagement and its disregard for mastery.”  Longtime readers of my blogs know that mastery is a concept I’ve long thought and written about. Pink’s chapter on mastery in the context of work pulls together many ideas that I’ve struggled with over the years. This chapter alone was worth the price of the book.

All the rest is an excellent bonus.

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Sorry for the partial repetition. I posted this full review here to kick off my participation in Robin’s 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, which I learned about from Jack Vinson’s wrap up of his 2009 reading list.

Some initial thoughts on Dan Pink’s “Drive”

I read 39 books in 2009, just “a few” shy of my goal of 50. Thanks to a little nudge from Art Johnson (@artjohnson) and some tips from Julien Smith, I’ve set my 2010 sights just a little bit higher: a book a week, for a total of 52.

I got the list off to a good start this evening when I finished Dan Pink’s latest, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Interestingly, one of the first books I read in 2009 was also one of his, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

In that previous book, as the title suggests, Pink describes the type of workers that will emerge – actually are emerging – to solve the complex business and social problems now facing us. Taking that as a starting point in Drive, Pink provides some guidance on what will be necessary to “manage” these new types of worker by exploring the what motivates these workers to perform. Or, as the title put its, what drives them.

It comes down to three basic things that people want and need for fulfillment and satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Longtime readers of my blogs know that mastery is a concept I’ve long thought and written about. Pink’s chapter on mastery in the context of work pulls together many ideas that I’ve struggled with over the years.

This chapter alone was worth the price of the book. All the rest is an excellent bonus.

Don’t judge a new book by an old cover

Is Google making us stupid, as Nicholas Carr and others have told us? I don’t think so. Instead, it is making us differently intelligent. Carr, et al are simply judging this difference, the new type of intelligence, against the old standards.

In his article The War On Flow, 2009: Why Studies About Multitasking Are Missing The Point, Steven Boyd makes the point much more eloquently:

If you use industrial era yardsticks based on personal productivity to try to figure out what is going on in our heads, here, in the web of flow, you will simply think we are defective. We’ll have to learn how to measure the larger scope — the first and second closure of our networks — and distill from our media-based interactions how we influence and support each other. Get away from counting the calories, and get into how it all tastes.

I found Boyd’s article through Jim McGee’s article Asking more relevant questions about focus and multitasking, in which Jim adds his own take on the question of multitasking:

The question is not about whether multitasking is a better way to do old forms of work; it is about what skills and techniques do we need to develop to deal with the forms of work that are now emerging. … One of the useful things to be done is to spend a more time watching the juggling (to borrow Stowe Boyd’s image) and appreciating it on its own terms instead of criticizing it for what it isn’t.

I have to admit I’m a bit old-school, and still have some work to do on my “juggling”. In some ways, I  miss the old days of a “simple catch”. At the same time, I love the challenge that juggling presents and am working my way up to having ever more balls in the air. 

Who knows, one day I may graduate to flaming torches or even chainsaws.

(For a great intro to juggling and how you can apply it to work and life, check out Michael Gelb’s More Balls Than Hands: Juggling Your Way to Success by Learning to Love Your Mistakes.)

Some new thoughts on “my dad is a knowledge worker”

Several years ago (has it really been almost 5 years?!?) I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek blog post entitled “My dad is a knowledge worker“:

While I was reading Martin Roell’s Terminology: “Knowledge Worker”, a TV commercial I saw a while back came to mind: elementary school students were telling the class what their dads did for a living, and after a couple of well defined jobs (policemen, construction, etc.) were announced one boy proudly stood up and stated, “My dad’s a pencil pusher!” I don’t remember what the commercial was for, but the imagery stuck with me I think for the same reason Geoffrey Rockwell, as described by Martin, doesn’t like the term “knowledge worker”: the job title gives you no real idea of what the job is.

Apropos of what I’m not entirely sure, but this old post came to mind earlier today when I was thinking about some ideas related to Work Literacy.  It occurred to me that calling someone – say a Systems Engineer like me – a “knowledge worker” would be like calling Albert Pujols an “athlete”.  (Not that I’m comparing myself to Albert!)

Sure, he is an athlete, but he is a very specific type of athlete, in a sport that requires a very specific set of skills and experiences. You can not get across what he does, or what he must be able to do, with a generic description of “athlete”. Like all athletes, though, there is a core set of skills and abilities that Pujols must have simply to be able to consider participating as an athlete in his specific sport. Fitness, endurance, flexibility, etc., all things common to most athletes.

In the same way, each individual knowledge/concept worker is a very specific type of k/c worker, requiring a very specific set of skills and experiences in order to do the work they do.  But like athletes, there is a core set of skills and abilities that anyone who would be a k/c worker must have. And that core set of skills and abilities is, I believe, what the term “work literacy” should encompass.

The question then, of course, is what makes up this core set of skills and abilities?

(As you may be thinking, I am not the first to raise this question – visit WorkLiteracy.com for more on the subject. On completing this post, I realized that it was simply my way of putting the question into a context that made sense to me.  I hope it makes sense to you, too.)

Too much “information”, or not enough – thoughts on telecommuting

A few days ago while re-reading some parts of The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size I tweeted the following:

Is it possible that the problem isn’t too much information, but not enough info going into our subconscious to help us maintain context?

When I wrote that, I was thinking of the lack of in-person human contact that comes with a heavy reliance on social media and other technology based communications.  With those tools, all you get is the message; you are limited, for the most part, to the throughput capability of language and your ability to consciously process it.  Compare this to all of the information your brain receives, and processes, unconsciously when you communicate face-to-face.

Earlier today, Aaron DeVries (@adevries) tweeted a story on MSNBC.com titled Why telecommuting doesn’t work.  Author Jonathan Weber’s reasoning for saying this echoes some of what I had in mind in terms of “not enough info”:

The reasons for this have nothing to do with checking that people are actually working. It’s about efficient communications, building company culture and camaraderie, and sharing the daily bits of work and personal experiences that create a shared sense of purpose.

For starters, all the telecommunications tools and document-sharing systems in the world are no substitute for the simple act of walking over to someone’s desk and pointing to something on a screen or asking a question. It’s almost always quicker than any technological alternative, and there’s little room for confusion.

This issue increases when more people participate in a task. Coordinating input from three or four or five people via e-mail is a recipe for errors and misunderstanding. And conference calls are so far inferior to face-to-face meetings that I barely bother with them at all. Rather than the collective engagement of a good meeting, you end up with people half-listening while they catch up on e-mail. Plus lots of awkward silences.

When telecommuting, it is easy to miss out on the dynamics inherent in an office.  (This is where the “not enough info” thoughts come in.) You can’t really judge what kind of mood individuals are in, or the overall feeling in an office in a time of stress or excitement, from e-mail, IM, or tweets. Easy to miss out, but not inevitable.  Just because you aren’t physically located with someone, doesn’t mean it is not possible to keep up.  Of course, this does require a whole different set of skills than you might need to work in an office.

As someone who telecommutes on occasion, I can attest to some of the challenges.   But not all of them are exclusive to telecommuting.  (How many meetings have you been in where most of the people’s attention is on their Blackberry and not the meeting?) And I don’t think these challenges mean that telecommuting doesn’t work.

Telecommuting doesn’t work for some people, in some industries?  Sure. But in general, it is like anything else – appropriate for some, not for others.  As long as you understand the limitations and challenges, and are willing to overcome them, telecommuting can be an effective tool for any business or worker.  At least that’s my opinion.

What do you think?

Gen Y says, “Take me as I am”

I wrote my recent post Take Me As I Am with a specific, and intentional, slant towards autism and autistic individuals.  However, the feelings expressed are not limited to those with autism, as any young teenage rebel can attest.

In Generation Y in the Workplace Explained, guest poster Teresa Wu gives a Gen Y perspective on the sentiment.

As Gen Y enters the professional world, we bring a whole new set of rules. We’re often criticized for our restless job-jumping or our sense of entitlement. The truth is, we might play the game differently, but that doesn’t mean we’re not every bit as bright, innovative, and hardworking. Here’s why.

  • We crave personal development
  • We pursue unconventional paths
  • We value company culture
  • We’re not afraid to ask
  • We embrace transparency
  • We just want to do what we love

Like David Gurteen, from whom I learned of Teresa’s post, I crave these same things today but wonder if I did when I was a few (!!) years younger.