Build Your Career on Three Hopeful Trends


As I dive ever deeper into the rabbit hole of what I call Positive Professional Development, I keep thinking about how to harness what's positive in our lives, rather than spending so much time with the negative. How do you increase the awesome

Today I was reading this blog post on hopeful trends for 2012 and it got me thinking about how to build a career on hopeful trends--what would it look like if we did that? 

A few ideas that came to mind. . . 

  • Start (or Join) a Worker Co-Op--Worker co-ops are companies owned by their employees and we're seeing a rise in their numbers.  According to this article, "some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.”
  • Engage in Social Enterprise--"A social enterprise is an organization or venture that achieves its primary social or environmental mission using business methods. The social needs addressed by social enterprises and the business models they use are as diverse as human ingenuity. Social enterprises build a more just, sustainable world by applying market-based strategies to today's social problems."
  • Think Local/Sustainable--This PBS documentary popped up in my Netflix recommendations the other night and it's a fantastic description of the kind of economy we could be building that focuses on creating vibrant local/sustainable communities. It transforms your sense of what's possible and how work coud fit into that. (As a side note, it also has great info on time-banking, which is a way for us to share our talents in a sort of barter arrangement. I love time-banking values, too. )

I know there must be more, but these are the three that come to mind for me.  

What other hopeful trends can we look to for building our careers? 

Are You Sharing Positive Impact?


In the past few days, I've had some amazing conversations with people about how things I've written here have affected them. Since having a positive impact is one of my most important values and motivators, hearing from people that what I write here makes a difference to them is tremendously rewarding. 

What occurred to me, though, was how often we DON'T tell people how something they've done has positively impacted us. We may be quick to point out where a screw-up or problem has occurred, but how often in the course of a work day do we stop someone and tell them of the positive impact they've had on us? 

I've been observing in myself, lately, my tendency to somehow withhold this information from people--to not take the time to express my appreciation for the gifts they give me in the form of insight or support. I'm great at thanking them for resources ("hey--really appreciate that link!"), but not so great at saying things like "I've been thinking about our conversation earlier and let me tell you how it helped me with something." 

I've been trying to be more intentional about acknowledging these gifts and engaging people in thanking them for the positives they provide in my life. More specifically, I've been trying to thank them for the impact their insights or wisdom or ideas have on me. I'm trying to take it deeper than just "hey, thanks for sharing," to show them the positive effect they have on me. 

Doing this has helped me build more positive work relationships, but it has also helped me to better see the positive forces at work in my career. By reaching out and letting people know that I appreciate their efforts and their gifts, I am more aware in general of the strengths and talents of the people who surround me. It has created a strange and wonderful "energy field" around me, a virtuous cycle where the more I acknowledge gifts, the more easily I can see them. 

I also realize, based on my own experiences with people sharing impact with me, how motivating it can be to hear that what you do makes a difference to someone, that it really matters. This is powerful stuff and it's what is missing in a lot of people's work lives.

I know a lot of people work in places where they feel invisible and unappreciated, where their efforts seem to go into a deep, dark hole. But we could start to make that feeling go away, simply in choosing to interact differently with each other. We could do a better job of reaching out to people who have a positive impact and letting them know that, for us at least, who they are and what they do really DOES matter.

Imagine the shifts we could start to make at work if we did this. I'm not talking in a generic, "You matter" kind of way. I mean specifically and authentically, an intentional act on our part to connect with the impact that people have on us and to share with them how important that is to our lives. 

I think we'd be surprised at what we could make happen if we did. . . 

What Do You Want MORE Of?

Abundance Plus

On Facebook yesterday, LaDonna Coy posed an interesting question:

Noodling--what would happen if we were actually able to figure out what we want in life (instead of what we don't want) and then focus on it? What would that make possible?

I've been doing a lot of reading in and work with appreciative inquiry lately and this is one of its key principles, called the Poetic Principle. In a nutshell, it says that what we choose to focus on in a person or situation becomes our reality. The more attention we give to what we've noticed, the more it becomes what we experience. 

Here's a thought experiment to test this out. If I tell you to STOP thinking of a purple elephant, you can't. In fact, the more I tell you to stop thinking of a purple elephant, the more firmly embedded that purple elephant will become in your mind. The only way I can get you to stop focusing on the purple elephant is if I give you something else to think about--like a pink hippo. 

What happens to most of us is that we spend a lot of time thinking about the things we DON'T want in our lives. In fact, I've asked people, "What do you want in this situation," and more often than not will hear, "Well I can tell you what I don't want!" But the more attention we pay to what we don't want, the more likely we are to find it. So, as LaDonna suggests, we have to ask ourselves, how would things shift if we were able to focus on what we DO want, rather on what we don't want? 

One way to do this is to look at a situation or person and ask ourselves, "What do I want MORE of here?" Often when we are in negative situations--we have a problem with a client or a colleague, a spouse or a child--we will start thinking of all the things we want less of. If only she were LESS stubborn or he were LESS confrontational. Then, of course, all we see in that other person is how stubborn or confrontational they are. All we see is the purple elephant. 

By shifting our attention to what we want MORE of, we can start to shift our perceptions in a more positive direction. We can also start to shift outcomes. It's another version of "you get what you measure."

As part of our discussion, I shared with LaDonna one of my favorite Robert Kennedy quotes:

“The gross national product (of a country) does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
– Robert Kennedy, March 18, 1968

For me, this captures beautifully how we need to shift our attention. What DO we want more of, in our personal and professional lives? In our communities, schools, churches and workplaces? I think we could accomplish so much more if we defined what is important, healthy and meaningful and shot for those things, rather than focusing on all the things we don't want. 

So--here's our question of the day. What do you want MORE of? I'd love to hear from you in comments on this!

It's a Matter of Trust

Trust So much of the stupid stuff we do at work is because we don't really trust the people around us. We don't trust them to do the right thing. We don't trust that they are essentially good and competent or that they want to do good work for our organization. We especially don't trust that they will do the work. That's why we have dumb systems of control in place, like measuring people's "work ethic" in terms of their willingness to sit in a cubicle for 8 hours a day. If you ask me, the people who are willing to do that aren't the people we really want working for us.

Last week I posted about my dream of a world where we'd let people's personal interests and passions be a much bigger driver in the professional development process. I keep thinking about how few of us have that option within the confines of an organization and wondering why that is. At the heart of it, I believe, is a lack of trust.

We don't trust employees. We act as though they are incapable of making "good" choices, when in reality its our fear that they won't make the choices we WANT them to make that's really the problem. Why is it that our choices, the ones we impose on the people who work for us, are somehow better than the ones they might make for themselves. Of course, maybe they don't make the choices we want them to make because of another trust issue:

We don't trust our employees with information. So many bad choices are a result of bad information or incomplete information, or information that isn't presented accurately.  Of course we can't trust people to make good decisions if we aren't going to give them the information they need to make them. Why do we insist on blaming people when we haven't done all we could to make sure they have the right information?

We don't trust the process. I'm seriously guilty of this one, constantly checking in to see if I'm making progress and if I'm not, then it must be because I'm doing something wrong.  But progress is an evolutionary thing, especially when it comes to professional development. Do we truly believe that the most worthwhile development shows immediate results? The skills that it takes to address the important issues aren't developed during a one-day training session. They are a result of months, if not years of learning and coaching and feedback. And learning that some might view as "extras" or "useless" (like Steve Jobs studying calligraphy) could, in fact, be the most powerful of all. But we'd have to trust the process to find out.

We don't trust in abundance . One of the most persistent mental models we work with is the idea that everything worthwhile is scarce. There are some things that are limited, no doubt--time, oil, episodes of Battlestar Gallactica. But under the right conditions, our potential for growth is unlimited. We just have to develop our faith to the point that we're willing to trust what it takes to create those conditions. Cubicles, meetings, measuring our worth in 8-hour increments and micro-management of learning are not what it takes.

Faith is a hard thing to maintain. Sometimes it's that our faith is being challenged. Sometimes it's that we've put our trust in the wrong things. I can't help but feel, though, that we need to explore our trust issues in more detail to see how they may be interfering with our ability to do what's right or what might work better.

What do you think? How does trust (or a lack of it) play a role in professional development? How can we deal with our trust issues?

Photo via dziner.

Do You Have a "Growth Mindset"? Are You Fostering Growth in Others?

From the NYT:

WHY do some people reach their creative potential in business while other equally talented peers don’t?

After three decades of painstaking research, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck believes that the answer to the puzzle lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a “fixed mind-set.” Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, however, live with a “growth mind-set.” . . .

“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

This is one of those unexamined assumptions about ourselves and life that people make without realizing the consequences. How many of us believe that we're stuck with what we were born with? How many of us work in organizations that treat us as though our talents are fixed?

Dweck's research has found that people with a growth mind-set are more creative and are more resilient and able to adapt to change. Brain imaging suggests that this may be because growth mindset people may pay more attention to corrective information than those with a fixed mindset. Interestingly, in this same study, growth mindset people who got a wrong answer were more interested in finding out the right answer, while people with a fixed mindset were more concerned about their own internal response to getting the answer wrong. Because of their emotional discomfort with being wrong or making mistakes, people with a fixed mindset actually avoid opportunities for improvement because it forces them into situations that challenge the very core of who they are.

Organizations that nurture a growth mindset do better, too. They're able to make course corrections because they are willing to concede mistakes. Managers in these organizations are more likely to see when employees improve and they are more likely to create an environment of coaching and feedback that will support that ongoing development.

Dweck points out the impact of organizations that don't have a growth mindset:

When bosses become controlling and abusive, they put everyone into a fixed mindset. This means that instead of learning, growing, and moving the company forward, everyone starts worrying about being judged. It starts with the bosses’ worry about being judged, but it winds up being everybody’s fear about being judged. It’s hard for courage and innovation to survive a company-wide fixed mindset.

Not surprisingly, Dweck has  found that it's possible for people to change into a growth mind-set, but that it's a difficult process, requiring them to fundamentally challenge and change some core beliefs about themselves. She suggests four steps for moving into a growth mindset:

  1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset voice.
  2. Recognize that you have a choice to change that mindset
  3. Challenge your fixed mindset with a growth mindset voice
  4. Take growth mindset action

For managers, the focus should be on modeling growth mindset behavior and on providing feedback that focuses on how to fix problems, rather than on labeling employees. In addition, goal-setting should focus on growth and learning, not on "innate" talent.

For more on the growth mindset, check out these resources:

What do you think? Do you have a growth or a fixed mindset? How do you think you support people in developing their own growth mindsets?

How Much Hidden Talent is In Your Staff?

Paul Potts is a cell phone salesman in the UK. He's completely unassuming--bad teeth, a little overweight, not much of a dresser. The last person you'd imagine taking the stage as a serious contestant on Britain's Got Talent, the UK version of American Idol. But beneath that quiet exterior is a most amazing voice. It literally gave me chills to listen to him. And it made me wonder how much hidden talent is around us? How many people do we see on a daily basis--co-workers, supervisors, teammates--with hidden strengths we never see? How many people do we judge based on how they look or on our own preconceptions of what they should be doing? How many great talents do we miss in the process?

Here's the challenge for today. Try to find a Paul Potts in your organization. And then do something to nurture that talent.

We Need More Beginnings

Rosetta Thurman of Perspectives from the Pipeline points us to a most excellent post--Are You Ending or Beginning? In it, Hildy Gottlieb asks us to stop trying to end things and start focusing on beginning something amazing. She points out that for 40 years we've been had "wars" on poverty, hunger, homelessness--you name it, we've been fighting it. Yet little seems to have changed:

And the reason we feel like we are not getting anywhere is because we are, in fact, not getting anywhere.

But then, we have not been aiming at getting anywhere. We have instead been setting our sights directly at our problems. And as happens when we give that much energy to anything, it grows. Yes, it grows.

We have aimed all our energy at our problems, and they are thriving under our attention.

The solution, Hildy suggests, is for us to start focusing on what we want to create, rather than on what we want to destroy. What we pay attention to grows, so why are we focusing on problems? Good advice, but how to get there?

This focus on problems and endings is a legacy of that scarcity thinking I've written about previously. It's difficult to get out of that mindset of seeing the world as a series of problems to be solved rather than as a series of opportunities to create something new. And we've spent a lot of time dwelling there, building up a system, skills and staff that are focused on getting rid of problems, not on creating a new world.

One big area of change I see being necessary is in staff skill sets. The skills it takes to solve a problem are not necessarily the skills it takes to create a new vision. Problem-solving seems to me to be more analytical, left-brained work, focused on identifying the problem, generating solutions, weighing pros and cons, and applying the solutions. There may be some creativity in generating solutions, but because the focus is on essentially destroying something (a problem), can it truly be creative?

Creating a new vision for what the world would look like without hunger seems to me a vastly more artistic exercise, one that requires us to picture something we've never seen before and to focus on what's working, rather than on what's not. It feels like an artist's eye is required here and I wonder if we even have the skills to do this in a consistent, long-term way? I wonder if you asked a staff person to describe to you what the world would look like without your nonprofit's "problem" if they would be able to do that?

I also think about the staff systems we've set up. Have we created a process where we hire staff who see the problems and can solve them, but don't necessarily have the vision to create something different? In my own work I know a lot of wonderful people who have excellent abilities to keep things running smoothly. But ask them to picture a different world? Not so good with that.

And what about staff development? We have all sorts of trainings that support teaching the skills to solve specific problems. But when was the last time we taught a creativity course? How are we teaching people to challenge their own mental models so that they can break free of old ways of thinking (the ones that focus on "ending poverty," for example), making room for new ways to see the world.

I believe that many of the things that play out in our personal lives are a microcosm of how things work in organizations, so I'm going to end with a story.

Five years ago I was in the process of getting a divorce. We knew every problem we had in that marriage and we had spent years trying to fix those problems. What happened instead was that the marriage ended, in part because we spent too much time "fixing" our problems and not enough time creating the relationship we really wanted.

Even more difficult for me was that once the "problems" were gone, I had to picture a life without those problems. And I didn't know how to do it. I only knew how to define myself in relationship to ending our problems, not in relation to beginning a new life. I still struggle with it actually, even though I'm married again and going in different directions. Sometimes I find that I'm more focused on avoiding the problems I had in my first marriage rather than on creating a new marriage, and that's when things don't go so well. When I focus my energy on what we're trying to create, then things seem to fall more into place. 

I share this more personal stuff to say that I think that what I've experienced on a personal level is what happens on an organizational level when we focus on fixing problems. I do believe that where we put our energies is what we get more of and that the first step to dealing with what we want to end is to begin creating something else. The challenge lies in making sure that we have what we need to do the creating.

Is Your Nonprofit Ready to Stop Watching the Clock?

My husband, like many Americans, is unhappy with his job. It is a job that combines impossibly high expectations with little personal control. There is a strong emphasis on "face-time" and productivity is measured by your slavish adherence to poorly thought-out metrics that emphasize process over outcomes. So it was interesting to find, as often happens to me when a problem is on my mind, this post from Ryan Healey at Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist. It's about Best Buy and its current experiment with ROWE--or Results-Oriented Work Environment.

In a nutshell, Best Buy has decided that measuring employees based on the amount of time they spend at work is a useless endeavor. So they have banished all schedules, mandatory meetings, and even the requirement that they show up to the office. Employees know what work needs to be done and their managers assume that because these employees are competent and responsible, they will get it done. If it's work that can be done over a cell phone or on a laptop in your bedroom, so be it. Feel free to do it that way.  You're a grown-up and we trust you to do the work. If you can't handle that, then we'll deal with it at that point. Otherwise, we're all happy.

According to an article in Business Week, since Best Buy adopted this approach, the results have been pretty amazing:

Since the program's implementation, average voluntary turnover has fallen drastically, CultureRx says. Meanwhile, Best Buy notes that productivity is up an average 35% in departments that have switched to ROWE. Employee engagement, which measures employee satisfaction and is often a barometer for retention, is way up too, according to the Gallup Organization, which audits corporate cultures.

ROWE may also help the company pay for the customer centricity campaign. The endeavor is hugely expensive because it involves tailoring stores to local markets and training employees to turn customer feedback into new business ideas. By letting people work off-campus, Best Buy figures it can reduce the need for corporate office space, perhaps rent out the empty cubicles to other companies, and plow the millions of dollars in savings into its services initiative.

So let's see, higher employee morale, reduced turnover, greater productivity, a re-allocation of resources from offices that serve little function to services that actually help customers. . . does this sound like something for nonprofits to consider?

This story really opens up several lines of inquiry for me:

  • What would ROWE look like in different nonprofit environments? Is it just an advanced version of flexible scheduling or does it become something more? Is it possible for nonprofits to untether their staff from their desks? This article in Money magazine says that managers have no say in employee scheduling and can only measure employees on the work they get done--could command and control organizations live with this? 
  • What are the practical/logistical implications of using ROWE in a nonprofit? There are a lot of things that would need to happen differently. There are huge implications for staff selection and assignment, management and supervision, employee evaluations and training, expectations, etc.
  • What would need to be done with technology to really make this happen?
  • What organizational culture changes would need to take place? In addition to all the practical considerations, what cultural changes would need to occur to support a move to ROWE?
  • What are the pros and cons? Does it make sense to go this route? What are the benefits for a nonprofit and do they outweigh any costs?
  • What are the barriers to implementation? The Business Week article, as well as the resources below, indicate that there was a lot of push-back on the concept from old-style managers who'd grown up in a workaholic culture. The experience has also revealed some ugly attitudes--most notably that some managers have a profound mistrust of and disrespect for their employees. It's also made visible an unspoken "rule" of many workplaces--that flexibilty should only apply to certain "types" of staff, i.e., the "professional" or exempt staff. Many managers felt that this couldn't work with hourly employees that they "needed" more guidance and structure to get their jobs done.

More on ROWE and Best Buy from:

  • Time Magazine--Good stuff on results and on the challenges Best Buy faced, particularly from "old style" managers.

And a related article from the NYT on "When Work Time Isn't Face Time."

This is something that I think bears further investigation. I'm also curious about people's reactions to this idea. Do you think it could work? Are there organizations where you think it isn't possible?

Open Source Bidding and Innovation

A few weeks ago, Michelle Murrain asked a great question--How do we make change if we keep doing things the same way? (I would argue that you can't, but that's not the point of this post.) Now David Wilcox and some other collaborators are looking at how they can use a different process for a familiar nonprofit activity--responding to a Request for Proposal/Invitation to Tender (depending on your location). Writes David:

. . . the Cabinet Office wants to promote innovation among UK nonprofits, and is offering £1.2 million to anyone who can come up with a plan for a Third Sector Innovation Exchange - and also put it into practice over three years.

My initial reaction was slightly sceptical, because despite brilliant work being done by extraordinary people there are many barriers to innovation in the sector, and even more to sharing. Why give away your best ideas when competing for funding? Why try and do things differently if that would mean getting rid of most of your trustees first? As a fall back, there's the fatal "We have always done it that way."

Then I got a few calls from people who were thinking of putting in a bid, and we fell to wondering whether it might be done differently. If one of the things that stifles innovation is the way that procurement of services is handled, couldn't we demonstrate a different approach while still meeting all the tendering requirements?

The solution David's team is betting on here is open source bidding:

A small group is undertaking research and developing ideas for the bid online – and inviting others to join in the process. The inspiration for this approach comes from an increasingly collaborative online world, where people are prepared to allow others to build on work they have done.

They're inviting world-wide participation via their Open Innovation Exchange website  (created in Drupal, another open source environment) and asking interested participants to join in by:

  • writing about this on their blogs or other spaces with a link, or add this tag - openinex
  • registering on their site if you want to be associated with the proposal by adding specific ideas
  • contacting the organizers if you think you might be able to offer something to the core team

(Note that all content will have a Creative Commons license attached to it. More info on the bid and process here)

This is a really fascinating undertaking that I think has a lot of potential. As the organizers point out, if you're trying to get innovation, you should start by modeling it. Given that this project is about "piloting new approaches to fostering, exchanging and replicating third sector innovation," an open source process for developing the bid seems particularly appropriate. I think it's far more likely that the process will result in truly new and innovative ways of thinking than the "normal" mode of proposal development which tends to occur in isolated silos. As David aptly points out:

The difficulty in tendering for complex and challenging projects is that you know your proposals may well turn out to be inadequate because there's no way of figuring out in advance  what will work. Ideally the solutions have to be worked out with those who are "the problem". But if you do go in with a proposal full of co-creation workshops with stakeholders, there's a danger you will be seen as fuzzy. It's all too easy to end up either in tacit collusion between consultants and funders to do something rather inadequate, or acrimonious disputes about failure to "deliver".

Certainly this will be a test of the sector and its ability to break free of traditional territorial, scarcity thinking. In my more optimistic moments, I'd like to believe that organizations invested in doing good in the world could model the best of human behavior, which I think is what is asked for in this process. But there's a lot to overcome--our innate tendency to "preserve" our best ideas for ourselves, our sense of competition in a world where it seems resources are becoming ever more scarce, our fears about risk-taking. All of these are the mental barriers that people will need to overcome in order to really participate in the process.

For myself, I intend to hightail it over to the site and register. I want to be a part of doing things differently, even if it means having to push past my own comfort levels and into new territory.

The Power (and Pain) of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Fast Company has an interesting article in their May 2007 issue (sorry--not available online at this point) by Chip and Dan Heath of Made to Stick fame on the power of self-fulfilling prophesies. Entitled "Success Can Make You Stupid," the Heath brothers write about how Hollywood pumps out bad films because they get into a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies. What caught my eye, though, was this gem of a quote:

"HR is another hotbed of self-fulfilling prophecies. The researcher Albert King told a welding instructor at a vocational training center that five of his incoming students had unusually high aptitude. In fact, the students had been picked randomly. And yet random yielded reality. The "high potentials" were absent less often than other trainees, learned the basics in about half the usual time, and scored 10 points higher than others on a welding test. Even the other trainees noticed. They chose the five high potentials as their most preferred coworkers.

Is it possible high potentials across America perform better solely because, like movies, they have been given more attention and resources than they truly merit?"

Hell yeah, as this article on the Pygmalion effect (a fancy term for self-fulfilling prophecy) makes abundantly clear (read the article for some other great info on the effect):

In another classic experiment, Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson worked     with elementary school children from 18 classrooms. They randomly chose     20% of the children from each room and told the teachers they were "intellectual     bloomers."

They explained that these children could be expected to show remarkable     gains during the year. The experimental children showed average IQ gains     of two points in verbal ability, seven points in reasoning and four points     in over all IQ. The "intellectual bloomers" really did bloom!

So here's a question--or actually a few.

  • How often do our belief systems influence how we see our coworkers and how do they impact the resources with which we provide them and the ways in which we interact?
  • What about how we treat our clients? Are we making judgments that negatively influence the resources, supports and strategies we make available because we expect too much (or too little) of our customers?
  • Is the self-fulfilling prophecy influencing how we look at our "tried and true" organizational strategies? Is it possible that we're backing the wrong horses, putting resources where they actually are doing less good than if we really looked at the facts?
  • Are we short-changing our coworkers, our clients and our organizations because we rely on subjective beliefs rather than analyzing objective information?

I would argue in a lot of cases the answers to all of these questions are yes. Mental models are powerful things and breaking free of their influence has to be intentional and ongoing. It's a battle I fight with myself all of the time and one I wish I'd make greater progress toward winning.

The Heath's suggest that there's a moral in all of this for us to consider:

Question success. Success propagates backwards in our minds and bestows the glow of wisdom on our every decision. The irony of self-fulfilling prophecies is that even bad ideas end up looking right in the end, because we've salvaged them with good execution. And when bad ideas get reinforced, there are other consequences: The wrong movies get pushed.The wrong deals get funded. The wrong employees get advanced."

So is success making us stupid? And what can we do to break the cycle?