Tuesday, September 30

Of work place trends and work place readiness

In 2011, US News & World Report published an article titled 6 Ways the World of Work is Changing: flexibility, entrepreneurship, job-hopping, work-life balance as a priority, personal branding, and long-term employment.

Many of the changes were driven by the employed. We can blame or celebrate the Millennials, though they weren't the first to start some of these trends. But it's not really the trends themselves that interest me. It's how we respond to them. I've been thinking a lot about the world of work--what we really mean by "career readiness," how the work place has been influenced by Google and the open space proponents, how the global economy impacts how we think about doing business and being in business, and even how dress codes have changed and continue to change.

I read an article this morning about how social media is transforming how we work and not just because of the way social media is influencing how we think and behave. So that prompted me to do a bit more reflecting because I'm old enough to remember the world before smartphones. Heck, I'm old enough to remember the work place before personal computers and business casual.

My generation was deeply influenced by the 70s and those "long-haired hippie freaks." And as my compeers grew older and became a part of the work force, they conceded that resistance was futile and adapted to the expectations of the Establishment. Mostly. Sort of. Somewhat. After all, many of the changes we see in the work place, such as business casual, are because of my generation. And I suppose if I were to do a longitudinal study of shifts in work place habits and behaviors, I would discover that work place behaviors and dress have shifted because of the incoming generation as well as changes in technology.

It's not just millennials who are addicted to their smartphones. The inability to look away from the digital device and the fear of being disconnected quite possibly started with our fascination with the pager, early phones, and the BlackBerry. Mid-90s. (The first iPhone wasn't introduced until 2007).

I watch kids in high school now and the way they get to learn, and some of them get to learn using a cool array of resources, many of which are digital. And then I think about kids entering college and wonder if they'll still get to learn that way or if attending college will feel like a step backwards. And then I think about the expectations organizations will have of them: that they will have excellent if not outstanding spoken and written communication skills, that they will be able to work well with others, that they will be self-directed and able to demonstrate appropriate initiative, that they will know how to dress and behave appropriately on business phone calls and meetings and with customers, that they will have the technical skills to develop and succeed. And I wonder how much all of that will have changed by the time they graduate from college, and I wonder how we will know what has changed and what is changing.

I think of a friend's son who is talented at what he does and could probably go into management if he wanted to, and I wonder if his hair, beard, and style of dress might hold him back and how much he might be willing to compromise and change if it meant he might move up. On the other hand, I'm not sure he's that ambitious in that I think he might be looking for more responsibility but he doesn't crave the corner office some day. Even so, if he wants to move up a level, how much are others who evaluate influenced by his hair, his beard, and his style of dress? And who will tell him he has a shot of something more if only. . . he trimmed his hair and his beard, and if he dressed a little differently. And at what point, in any office situation, does it matter about dress and personal style if an individual is competent and capable and never sees a customer, or is capable of dressing "appropriately" if the need to see and meet with a customer arises?

On the other hand, because of Skype and Google Hangout as well as a host of other online conferencing tools, we can have meetings with customers at any time and from any place. If I'm having the conversation from my kitchen or home office, how much do I really have to dress up for a customer conference? Or do we instinctively understand that dressing in a particular way and representing in a certain way is a sign of respect for the other? And will even that change over time as the Millennials come further into their and perhaps redefine what it means to demonstrate respect?

There was a time when tattoos and piercings were verboten in the work place. In some places that's still true and it others not so much. I think, though, that the criteria on which we begin to build trust and we use for those impressions is somehow deeply embedded in our thinking.

The interview or initial meeting rituals seem to have a different set of expectations and rules which can be relaxed once an individual is trusted or on-board, part of the organizational culture. Then some of the rigidity of what is "appropriate" might be relaxed and individuals might be more able to show their true colors.

I muddle all of this as I continue to think about the future of work and what that means--the ways we work and if those ways differ depending on the industry in which we work and those with whom we work. I contemplate all of this as I continue to think about how we prepare anyone for the work place--students graduating from college or adults who are entering or re-entering the work place.

It's clear that much of what was true even five years ago is no longer true today even as some work place expectations are considerably more rooted.

So every time we talk with some sort of breathlessness about the current shiny thing that will change the way we work and how we behave at work, I think it's reasonable to acknowledge it may have some relatively immediate impact, but that real change in work place behaviors and mores will take much longer.

Sunday, September 28

Stupid experiment about being unplugged

Situation: college kids have their digital devices confiscated for an hour.

On the face of it, that doesn't seem so bad. The idea is to see how kids fare when they cannot check their devices every two seconds.

But that wasn't the experiment. The experiment required that students give up their smartphones or silence them and put them away, then sit in a room with nothing to do, nothing to listen to, and nothing to look at for an hour. Every 20 minutes the students were given an anxiety assessment. Guess what? Hold on to your socks. . .they were increasingly anxious. I know, right? Shocking.

What a stupid experiment.

How about if we ask kids to surrender their smartphones or silence them and put them away, then have them sit in a room in which there is engaging conversation and discussion, in which there are videos or posters or even PowerPoint to look at and which spark some of the conversation in which they participate or to which they listen? Let's see if college kids get anxious about not being able to check their smartphones if they are engaged, even in learning.

Or, even better, let's see what happen when kids are asked to silence their phone and put them on the table so they are accessible, but reminded that they must use the phones only for the tasks at hand. So if there is a question they can't answer using the other resources in the room, perhaps they will use their phone to research the answer. The question then might be how well they can resist temptation to check on their Twitter feed or their Facebook page.

Here is my hypothesis. As long as the students--or anyone else on the planet for that matter--is engaged in whatever is at hand, they will be okay with being "unplugged" because they won't really notice they're "unplugged." However, I also believe that when the students--or anyone else on that planet--gets excited about something they've learned or discovered, then yes, they'll want to share it online. And how horrible they want to share a learning experience online!

Will it increase student disconnection anxiety if they are asked to wait until the end of class (or the meeting or whatever) to post something about their learning? Will it increase student disconnection anxiety if they are asked to wait until the end of the class and then to write a blog post that reflects their learning, even their questions that day?

I get the looooong reach of trying to say that wearable technology will increase digital attachment and, therefore, increase the probability of digital separation anxiety. But if we're going to test digital separation anxiety, let's do so in an environment that gives the brain an option.

If I were left in a room for an hour without anything to read or look at, without any noise whatsoever, well, I'd fall asleep. Who am I kidding? And then I'd grumble when someone woke me up every 20 minutes to test my anxiety level.

I've no doubt that there are those who are addicted to their devices, but if we're going to test separation anxiety for college students, let's put them at a student union with a bunch other people, or at a sports event, or in a classroom with a great professor with a lively, engaging class experience, and then let's see to what extent there is anxiety for the high, medium, and low user. As with any assessment, let's make sure it's realistic and relevant.

Thursday, September 25

Rape is not funny

I dare you not to be angered, frustrated, and perplexed--all at the same time--after reading just the first line of this message.

The story behind this ludicrous "we didn't know this was a bad idea" statement is of a store that had to pull a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "It's not rape. It's a snuggle with a struggle." I'll give you a few minutes to get your blood pressure under control. Stop screaming at the screen. Seriously. The neighbors are getting nervous. But also seriously, you have good reason to be screaming.

First, what idiot thought the phrase was clever, funny, a goof, a prank, or anything remotely close to the territory of a good idea? Second, what colluding idiot thought it was an even better idea to make T-shirts with this phrase? Third, what imbecilic, vacuous bonehead thought it was a good idea to buy the T-shirts to sell in a store?

I don't care if the store is on Mars. I don't care if the manufacturer and the socially tone-deaf cretin (or, heaven forbid, cretins) who designed the phrase live in the outer reaches of tje Delphic Expanse.  This. Is. Not. Acceptable. Not in any culture. Not in any store in the world.

I laughed out loud when I read the first sentence of the second paragraph: " We do not tolerate such action." The grammar snark in me noted that that particular sentence could easily refer to the preceding paragraph because that's the only "such action" so far referenced. So they do not tolerate being informed by social media that they'd demonstrated a colossal error in judgment?

And now to the second sentence of that same paragraph: "SM does not support such irresponsible and malicious acts. . . " and yet the T-shirt was unpacked from the shipment and no one--not a sales person not a manager--seemed to think it was a bad idea to put them out for purchase.

The inanity continues: ". . . we are investigating why it was included in our delivery of assorted t-shirts." The key word there is "assorted" because by that the store can claim they ordered an assortment of T-shirts and left it to the consignor to make the decision of what to send. Right.

So it's not the store's fault--even though they could have chosen not to put the stock out for the buying public. Even though they could have been outraged when they saw the T-shirts and returned them, demanding something more appropriate sent and lodging their own concern by a clear lack of judgment and perhaps a lack of incipient, or any, rectitude.

What is even more alarming, revolting, and nauseating is that there seems to be a whole line of these kinds of T-shirts. That these kinds of shirts have been sold online through Amazon, and are still available through some online shops. [NOTE: The T-shirts referenced in this story are no longer available at the stores mentioned in the story.] [WARNING: Do not visit foulmouthshirts.com unless you are looking to be further alarmed, revolted, and nauseated.]

And so to the final statement. I offer it here with my own subtext: "Thank you for informing us. .  of our moral and offensive blunder, of our ineptitude in making good decisions about how we represent our cultural and social responsibilities, of how we represent what we think of women--our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters, of our inability to admit our mistakes and try to pass blame on some other apparently callously indifferent numskull."

I cannot help think of my post from yesterday and my contemplation of doing good for the world, trying to do something to repair the world. In spite of this, I KNOW there is good in the world.

I can't imagine what motivates anyone to create such content and to find it amusing or okay on any level. Simply banning it won't work, I know. But maybe trying to countermand it in some way can be effective.

Maybe simply trying to do effect positive change in our individual spheres of influence can matter more than we think or imagine.

Maybe we just have to keep trying to do good in the world, every day.

Maybe we have to encourage each other to do good in the world, every day.

Maybe by expressing outrage by such things rather than just shrugging and letting it be someone else's problem, we can take small steps to repair the world.

Wednesday, September 24

Believe There is Good in the World

L'Shanah Tovah. This is the traditional New Year's greeting on Rosh Hashanah. This is not at all like the New Year's celebrations that mark the transition from December 31 to January 1. Yes, there is introspection, but on a much deeper and profound level. But the purpose of this post is not to talk about the Jewish New Year compared to any other New Year, or the Jewish holidays. Still, of the holidays, this one is a fascinating gateway.

In this morning's (Sep 24) Chicago Tribune was an article about a school that began its life as a Jewish school and is now a Muslim school and, more importantly, how former parents and teachers of the Jewish school welcomed the students and educators of the Muslim school.

Any familiar with Chicago neighborhoods know that Skokie was for years a predominantly Jewish enclave. As is the case with so many neighborhoods, demographics changed. The Muslim community outgrew its own school and needed a second one.

Potential drama? Absolutely. Risk of rejection, even violence? In the times of these particular troubles? No doubt. But that's not what happened. And this is what else I "heard" as I read this story. First, the students and teachers at the school greeted their guests with the words Salaam aleikum, which means "Greetings of peace and peace be upon you."

I also learned about tikkum olam, a phrase that means "repairing the world" or "healing the world." It isn't, of course, that simple. As I started reading about it, recognizing the way rabbinical commentaries work, I realized I could spend hours tracking down the phrase. But most seem to agree that it carries a message of social justice and action. Of being able to ask, "What have I done today to repair the world?"

This reminded me of the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. In Chapter IX, Franklin articulates his "Plan for Attaining Moral Perfection." Not a bad goal, that, and most of what prescribes himself could be attainable if we didn't insist on having our personal and political agendas, if we really did want to try to abide by the Golden Rule. But we are selfish creatures, so we struggle with being consistently thoughtful of others. Yes, Franklin struggled in his habitude of his virtues, and with good reason. Even so, as I thought about Franklin and I considered tikkum olam, I remembered that Franklin also wrote he would ask two questions of himself each day. In the morning he would ask, "What good shall I do today?" and at the end of the day, as part of his self-reflection, he would ask, "What good have I done today?".

And the thinking isn't for a whole year, but just one day at a time. Which is all we can really hope to try to manage. Even if this is not your New Year, there's no reason you can't start thinking in terms of the good you can bring to the world. Oh, I know it's naive to think that simply asking people to truly strive to be kind and do righteous deeds is going to change the world. I know that the word "righteous" means different things to different people of different faiths, and that's partially because we're so busy insisting on our own religious agendas, and I'm a bit suspicious of many of them being linked to any actual theology ascribed by one's faith rather than some hodge podge of selected verses that satisfy someone's need for superiority.

Even so, perhaps it wouldn't hurt if each of us took a challenge to ask these questions each morning and each evening. And let's just see.
     What will I do today to repair the world, to be kinder and more thoughtful, to do well by doing good?     What have I done today to repair the world, to be kinder and more thoughtful, to do well by being good?

Find someone who will hold you accountable and try this for a week. Then try it for another week. Then try it for another two weeks and before you know it you will have been thinking about being kind and doing well by doing good for a month.

Thursday, September 18

The Power of Interest

When I was in school all those eons ago, I figured I was good at English-related things because I liked to read and seemed good at writing. I figured I wasn't good at math because my mother wasn't good at math and didn't seem very interested in math. Now I also want to say that my mom was a good cook, but, like her mother before her, she rarely measured. I mention that because there could be an obvious correlation between enjoying cooking and math. But I didn't learn to cook that way. I learned to measure important stuff like baking soda and baking powder, but that never felt like math.

Many moons later, having graduated as an English major with a rudimentary inclination to go to law school, I started working as a temp for a software engineering firm. That led to my getting a job as a bookkeeper for a small software company. Yes, a bookkeeper. Hey! I could balance my checkbook, but that, again, didn't feel like math. (Just go with it).

Now while at the software company, I discovered this thing called programming and found this quite fascinating. So fascinating I went to the local community college to take a few classes. None of this felt like math nor like science. It feel like solving a really challenging puzzle. Even when elements of mathematics were required to calculate memory management, this did not feel like math.

Fast forward many more years: lo and behold! I'm teaching a Basic Math class. This is side-splittingly humorous. I made a D in Foundations of Math 101 and managed a C in Foundations of Math 102 because of the incredible dedication and focus on a graduate student. But I did not like math. It was not interesting to me. Not then. Was it relevant? Pffft. I don't know.

But I didn't like it because I didn't think I was supposed to like it and because I assumed I would be bad at it because my mom, supposedly, wasn't good at math. Now there are other family dynamics in the mix here, I should add, all of which could yield terrific fodder, I imagine, for some of my therapist friends. 

In retrospect, a view of life that has profound advantages, it's possible that I could have been interested in math and I could have found it relevant had there not be other forces or influences of which I wasn't aware or which I accepted as a norm for me.

As with math, science didn't hold much interest for me. Until 7th grade. That's when my teacher, Mrs. Moen, introduced science in a whole new way. And she saw me differently than some of my other teachers. Science was "interesting" to me in 7th grade. Less so in 8th grade.

From my own experience, I can extrapolate that some of my interest was informed by whatever I felt towards and from and because of the teacher. I can also extrapolate that some of my interest was informed by whatever kind of success I had in the course. I got an F on a project with Mrs. Moen. She talked to me about it and I was able to resubmit that project, and after that I worked hard for her and discovered some interest in the course.

As you will discover in "How the Power of Interest Drives Learning" and based on your own experiences in wanting to learn and having to learn something new, interest is only one element of the learning experience. Relationships (many of which are complex), past experiences (about which the learner may have little awareness), and more inform our interests.

I know that many of my interests are informed by what I shared with and learned from my mother. I also know that my curiosity directs many of my interests, some of which are more short-lived than others. And I know that some of my interests are because of what my friends have introduced me to or because of the interests of those I admire.

There are teachers and coaches who work extraordinarily hard to make something "interesting" and "relevant." Maybe they work too hard because they present that which is interesting and relevant from their own perspectives which means that their students don't get the pleasure of that moment of discovery of something that piques something they might not yet be able to define that starts that bit of flutter that forces them to lean forward just to see a little bit more or a little more closely. I don't think there are surefire ways to plan for that. But I do believe that the astute teacher and coach look for the moments of opportunity for learner discovery of the power of interest.