Dear reader

Thank you.

I appreciate the time you spend reading what I write. I’m still nervous every Saturday morning when I hit the “Publish” button. But, after 75 posts, I’ve come to love writing them.

Looking back, I was curious to see which posts are the most popular and how they compare to the ones I liked writing or thought were most practical.

I thought you might be curious, too.

The 5 posts you liked the most 

Here are the top 5 posts in terms of views. “Working out loud” is the most popular by far with almost triple the views of any other post.

  1. “Working out loud”: Your personal content strategy
  2. When your audience says: “No time. No money. No thanks.”
  3. It’s about time: How changing a keystone habit at work might change everything
  4. Relationships and reputation in the enterprise: a course outline
  5. Why smart managers do stupid things

The 5 posts I most liked writing

Some posts are a joy to write. In some, I’m simply sharing stories or things I love. Others are cathartic essays, channeling a past frustration into a contribution that might help others.

  1. How’s work?
  2. When are the best years of your life?
  3. 10 gifts for that special someone (you)
  4. Hope in action: the story of the Makenaizou
  5. An idea for saving $10,000,000 + 10,000 lives
  6. 3 lessons from a forced career change
  7. The paradox of “they”

(Yes, I know there are 7, but I had difficulty choosing. :-))

The 5 most useful posts

At work, I find myself referring to certain posts – about life skills, commercial value, and tactics – over and over again. They’ve proven useful to people trying to change themselves or their firm.

  1. On presenting well
  2. Why you should write more (and the single best tip for doing so)
  3. The best approach to building relationships
  4. “Collective efficiency” – from possibilities to programs
  5. Driving enterprise change in a scalable way (Part 1 of 2)

Thank you

I am in your debt. Writing for you has opened up new possibilities for me and new ways of thinking. I’m more intellectually curious than ever. More social. More committed to making a difference, starting by making work better – more effective and more fulfilling.

I bet you didn’t know your reading a blog could do all that.

Thank you.

If someone offered you free career insurance, would you take it?

Are you playing career roulette?

In a time of economic uncertainty, a lot of people are worried about finding fulfilling work or just keeping whatever job they have.

If you knew free career insurance existed and would give you access to more opportunities, would you take advantage of it?

When you’re laid off

What will you do? It’s unpleasant, but think about what you would do in the days and weeks after you’re laid off.

If you’re like most people, you’ll take your newfound free time to update your resume and your LinkedIn profile. Maybe you’ll reach out to a few people for coffee and ask if they know about any openings. If you know a recruiter, you’ll give her a call. Or you’ll ask friends for recruiters they might recommend.

Amidst the emotional and financial turbulence, you’ll be playing career roulette, relying largely on luck and hope. And you’ll be wishing you’d reached out to people before you needed to.

What is career insurance?

It’s hard for people to hire you if they can’t find you, or if they only know you as a piece of paper or a profile, hard to differentiate from any of the others. Career insurance is simply taking control over your visibility – and your access to opportunities – by using social platforms to purposefully shape your online reputation.

…social business platforms enable everyone at work to have more control over their reputation and greater access to opportunities…the roles of a manager as patron, arbiter, and gatekeeper are gradually coming to an end.

The reason for this is that modern tools and practices make it easier to contribute in a public way and to have those contributions valued by others. That kind of transparency and open access to an audience is much easier to achieve with the advent of social platforms. And they can give employees control over the perception of who they are, what they do, and how well they do it.

For career insurance, the key is working out loud. By making your work observable and narrating your work in progress, you create a much richer description of who you are and what you do. And the social nature of this process lends itself to discovering people who are interested in what you do. That growing network is what provides access to a much larger set of opportunities.

Instead of waiting till you need people, working out loud helps you build a purposeful network while you’re working. And instead of trying to fit your career into 2 -pages or a short interview, you’ll have built a rich, public tapestry of your work as a byproduct of working.

5 reasons why almost no one buys the free insurance

Yet, very few people take advantage of career insurance and perhaps it’s human nature. Hundreds of years ago, we locked the barn door after the horse bolted. Now, we backup our data after the computer crashes. We update our resume and build our network after we lose our job.

I know many people who want career insurance but don’t do much about it. And I’ve seen 5 common reasons for that.

  1. They don’t know what to do.
  2. They’re afraid. They want to be more visible but are afraid of possible negative feedback or other consequences.
  3. They’re too busy. The way they work, filling up calendars and inboxes, is a set of habits they find too difficult to change. And they value the feeling of being needed (“I’m so busy!”) and the immediate feedback associated with all of that busy-ness. (“Inbox zero!”)
  4. They’re a victim of WYSIATI. (What You See Is All There Is, courtesy of Daniel Kahneman.) The way their current job/team/division works is all they see and they can’t imagine other possibilities.
  5. They’ve a victim of learned helplessness.  They’ve tried something before and it didn’t work so they’ve stopped trying.

Each of these can be overcome with education, coaching, and a lot of practice.

Another possibility

But there’s one more possible reason, one that’s been haunting me. Rachel Happe  tweeted about it this week:

Maybe some people, even a majority of people, would rather just show up, get told what to do, and simply not deal with creating a better career. Maybe, despite what they say, they’d rather take their chances than actively try and work differently.

An offer

I refuse to accept that. Not that I know it to be false, but that I don’t want it to be true. Life is a set of probabilities. Why should people rely on hope and luck when they can, for free, take more control and increase their odds of having a fulfilling career?

So, if you’re interested in free career insurance, I’d like to talk with you. Just leave a comment on this post. (You can just say “I’m interested.”). I’ll spend an hour with each of the first 20 people, either in person if you’re in NYC or by phone if you’re not.

Thank you in advance for considering it. Each session will help me better understand how to make work better for everyone, not just a few lucky ones.

Stop stealing dreams at work

What are all these rules for?

In “Stop Stealing Dreams,” Seth Godin asks “What is school for?”

He describes why school is the way it is and what it should be instead. And he dedicates the book “to every teacher who cares enough to change the system, and to every student brave enough to stand up and speak up.”

As I read his book and watched his talk, I noticed how his arguments about school also applied to large firms. And I found myself asking “What is management for?”

At school

Seth’s main argument (one also made in the excellent documentary, “Waiting for Superman”) is that schools were designed for creating workers in the factories. That we are all products of the industrial age.

School was built “to train people to behave, to comply, to fit in.”

“We sit you in straight rows, just like they organize things in the factory. We build a system all about interchangeable people. Because factories are based on interchangeable parts. If this piece is no good, put another piece in. And org charts, those little boxes, are all designed to say ‘Oh, we can fit Bob in there because Rachel didn’t show up to work today.’”

He tells a poignant story about a teacher at his son’s public school who’s working with the class on a crafts project involving putting nails in a board in a certain pattern. When one boy doesn’t do it correctly, the teacher sternly tells him “I told you not to do it this way” and, one-by-one, she removes the nails and throws them on the floor.

“And that’s what she believed school was for. School was about teaching obedience.” She showed him who was boss. Next time, he’ll just do what he was told.

Work

And that is what we teach at work. The very phrase “Stealing Dreams” can apply to what we do to the bright young people we bring into large firms. The same approach we use at school carries over into work:

You will listen to your manager.

You will adhere to this code of conduct.

You will observe this dress code.

You will follow these policies.

You will be graded on a curve.

Management, as it is today, is not about getting the most from each unique individual. Rather, it’s about mapping each individual to their slot in processes and org charts, making sure they fit in, and making sure there’s another person to take their place when they go.

Interchangeable people, interchangeable parts. No wonder even the brightest can succumb to learned helplessness.

The consequences

When both school and work produce sameness, people produce less value than they could. And both the individual and the firm lose.

Midway through his talk, Seth asks everyone in the audience to raise their hand as high as they can. They raise their hands. Then he asks them to raise their hand a bit more. They raise them higher.

“Hmmm. What’s that about?”  You’ve been trained to hold back. To meet the objective but no more. To optimize on the test or the rating and not on the work.

“What people do quite naturally is if it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less. If it’s art, they try to figure out how to do more. And when we put kids in the factory we call school, the thing we built to indoctrinate them into compliance, why are we surprised that the question is ‘will this be on the test?'”

Our focus on improving productivity through sameness and repeatability has produced tremendous results for certain kinds of work. But more and more of that work is now controlled by machines. And what we need now is something very different.

What we need and want is not passing the test but more innovation, adaptation, and agility. Our schools and management systems are simply not designed for that.

What you should do, every day, at your firm

The main contribution of “Stop Stealing Dreams” is to inspire us to question our institutions, why we do what we do.

If you have kids, think about what and how you want them to really learn. And when they go to work – when you go to work – think about the kind of system that will help you realize your potential.

“Are we asking our kids to collect dots or connect dots? Because we’re really good at measuring how many dots they collect, how many facts they have memorized, how many boxes they have filled in. But we teach nothing about how to connect those dots…

Persistence in the face of a skeptical authority figure is priceless. And yet we undermine it. Fitting in is a short-term strategy that gets you nowhere. Standing out is a long-term strategy that takes guts and produces results.”

At work, every day, ask the question “Is this what management is for?” Whether it’s the next re-org or HR process or training program, don’t just accept what management is and does. Much of it was designed for another time and another set of problems.

Unless we question what we’re doing and understand why we’re doing it, we’re not going to get what we need.

7 ways an industry community can help you and your firm

Do you really need another network?

For those focused on making work better, there are already many networks and channels to choose from. (For me, in addition to a small group of people I know well, I rely on the Social Business Council, the Jive Community, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and my firm’s social collaboration platform.)

Yet, last week, we started a new industry network. What could I possibly get there that I can’t get elsewhere?

What I need

While I have plenty of networks, I need more than just connections. I need help – and more help than I’m getting currently. I need to accelerate my learning so I can make work better at my firm – more efficient, more effective, more fulfilling. And I need to do all of it more quickly.

There are 7 ways I’m expecting our new industry network will help me. I experienced 3 of them in our first meeting.

  • Use cases: Learning about other problems firms are solving – e.g., extending their communities to include partners or consolidating their entire intranet onto their collaboration platform – will broaden my sense of what’s possible.
  • Compliance, legal, HR: Sharing precedents – e.g., the handling of alumni data – will make it much easier to change opinions at my own firm.
  • Adoption: Hearing about creative approaches at other firms – like making the collaboration platform subsume the corporate directory – will help me re-think how we promote our platform.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be looking for yet more help via our shared online space, working group meetings, and future symposia.

  • Policies: knowing what other employees can or can’t do and how that’s communicated.
  • Technology: learning how to deal with everything from basic product implementations to integration and customization.
  • Suppliers: learning how we might act as a group to specify requirements for, say, on-premises implementations, support for Ethical Wall requirements, and even applications to save money.
  • Talent: connecting good individuals and vendors with good opportunities.

Sharing this kind of information doesn’t fit neatly into 140 characters or email. This kind of learning requires richer, in-depth discussions, documents, and other forms of knowledge you can build on. This is one of the benefits of having our new community use a comprehensive collaboration platform.

And there’s another, even more important thing we’ll need.

What’s been missing so far

Building trust through actions over time

To realize all of this potential, the key thing we’ll need is trust.  As much as the new community members want value from participating, they won’t contribute unless they know they’re safe and have control over their content.

It’s a difficult thing to achieve. Trust is personal and human. It’s earned over time. It involves shared goals and actions more than policies. In my own networks, without trusted relationships, the sharing is shallow.

The closest I’ve come to experiencing a trusted network was in the Social Business Council managed by Susan Scrupski. She was constantly contributing, brokering relationships, curating knowledge, and tending to the needs of members. I trusted Susan (and still do) and met some great people via the Council. But as many new members joined from a wide range of different firms with different problems, I found we couldn’t do much in-depth work toward shared goals.

So that’s why I need another network, organized specifically for my industry. To make meaningful progress towards changing my big, regulated firm, I need to do more than swap stories and tactics. I need to work closely with people I trust on specific problems we share. And I need to keep working with them until we solve those problems.

Together, we can make work better, faster.