Some truths are so obvious as to be lost. In our desire for technical mastery and our love of the shiny things, we can lose sight of a fundamental and universal truth.
Every organisation is comprised of people, exists for people and is run by people.
There is no power in an organisation outside of those three groups of people: workers, customers and governance. There is no they. Everyone falls in these groups and some fall more than one, even in all three. All the policies, process, technology and structure is subservient to these three group’s needs. All the purpose, community, and culture comes from the interplay of people in and between each of these groups.
There is nothing that these three groups of people working in alignment can’t change. The power of an individual or a small group to influence change in these humans begins with the power of conversation.
Our organisations are fundamentally human and first and foremost exist for human purposes. Our organisations should be to enable the realisation of human potential for customers and for workers. We need to remember that all the complication and shiny things we build around our organisations must not distract us from why we collectively are there, our potential and our power to have impact in the world.
We cannot escape the human in our organisations – customers and governance will always remain. Without a focus on real people, our organisations have no meaning. If we embrace the human connections and human potential, what might we achieve?
Careers are daunting things. We look at other people’s careers and they look like daunting processions of accolades. We look at our own and see the challenges in the past and ahead. A simple step to help others is to help them to understand that almost no career goes to plan.
Don’t Worry About the Showreel
In this age of social media promotion, we can be easily lured into confusing our lives with the carefully curated and often fabricated confections of others. As the great quoted goes:
Never confuse someone else’s showreel with your cutting room floor.
Fiona Tribe, who appears on Twitter as @White_Owly, shared this wonderful Medium piece on why you shouldn’t be harsh on your own career.
When I worked solely as a consultant I used to be envious of the people I admired as consultants who seemed to be always at conferences and always speaking. It took a while for it to dawn on me that to be always at conferences left little time for consulting with clients and that I spent a lot of time turning down speaking engagements for ‘no pay but lots of exposure’. Some of the most successful people are so busy working that they have no profile at all.
Year’s ago explaining someone who claimed a fabulous stock forecasting results, I came across the idea of punter’s memory. You remember only your wins and forget your losses. Most media discussion of people’s careers are constructed on this basis. Unless they are looking to share one heart tugging moment in a TED Talk, most career stories are of unending success piled on success all achieved because of relentless determination and 5am starts.
The determination is always valuable. The 5am starts are optional.
Share the Cutting Room Floor
Most careers are built on a string of failures. It is more like Snakes and Ladders than a Staircase. Nobody goes straight to the top. Nobody gets every job they want and keeps until the next perfect job comes along. Careers are full of inconvenient changes. None of them are irreversible or permanent barriers to the next step. The next step is always your choice.
I’ve lost the job I loved because of lies, deceptions and corporate politics. I’ve had two redundancies in one year and then been faced eighteen months later with the choice of being redundant again or moving interstate to a job I didn’t want. I’ve turned down promotions and high profile roles because they didn’t work for one life reason or another. I have experienced the usual famine and rare feast of consulting. I have been underqualified and over qualified. I have been just perfect but the timing was wrong or the politics were wrong. I have created roles for myself only for them to go to others who liked the look of my work. I have won roles in processes only to see them given to others because I was needed elsewhere.
As I explained to Fiona Tribe, in my reply to her post above I have given up on my career goals multiple times. Things just didn’t seem like they were going to work out. However, I get bored easily so I needed to work and I kept working. That persistence and a willingness to learn and adapt to opportunities before me meant that many of the goals I set have been achieved. My achievements were just not in the way I ever intended and certainly not in a timeframe that I expected. Remember the only thing that is final is abandoning your purpose.
Career stories make goals and paths seem predestined. That’s usually a lie constructed to explain an inconvenient past. We stumble, experiment and fail our way into a path that eventually matches our strengths and enables us to build on our relationships. No CV is a source of truth. They are all carefully crafted narratives to demonstrate strategy and explain continuity where none exists. Most real careers are a mess version of the ‘Lean Startup of Me‘
My CV is a mess by any measure. I have had too many careers, industries, roles and levels of status for simple formula driven recruiters or headhunters. If you are looking for the perfect candidate, I know I am not it. However, I have always prospered with people who want someone who has demonstrated the potential to learn, grow and adapt. My best jobs have been flawed compromises where both sides are getting something from the other and we spend most of the role fighting to make that deal work. My career depends entirely on my tenacity, foolhardiness and the brave decisions of too many hiring managers to take a chance on the dark horse. My CV may be a mess but my career continues to grow and develop because of it.
Nobody is perfect. Everybody needs to grow. We learn a few things that help improve our performance but we are stuck with a few personal traits that won’t go away no matter how hard we wish for more. I owe so much to the bosses, peers, coaches and mentors who have helped me learn. Somethings though don’t change. I’ve tried being the person who gets in at 7am everyday. It isn’t me and only worked when I was young and needed to get in at 7am to talk to my boss. The last time I enjoyed a 7am start was to resign that manager’s great job and get on with my life.
A big thing we can all do to help others is to share our real career stories with their challenges, their uncertainties and their frustrations. We need to make careers less daunting to those who are starting out. Working out loud on how careers happen is a great way to help others to get started on theirs and share the practical lessons of experience.
I recently did a talk on career advice and hope to be sharing it soon. It is full of the kinds of messages I have shared on this blog about the value of solving problems, being curious, collaborating, learning and having fun. However, the biggest, most obvious, but least discussed lesson of any career is ‘Keep going’. Just keep going. Keep finding problems that you love to solve. Keep finding other people who share these passions. Keep helping others with no thought of reward. Keep working. Keep working and things will happen. Opportunity only comes to those who are still trying. All we can hope for in life is opportunity. What you choices you make next is then up to you.
We are surrounded by inspiration for our work, for projects and for the development of new ideas. Every interaction, every conversation and every project is a potential source of inspiration. Working out loud is a vehicle to make more of potential inspiration.
There are two challenges converting our potential inspiration to action:
- lack of attention and
- a high standard of action
Lack of Attention
We are really busy. We roll from one challenge to the next. It is very easy to be task focused without time for reflection. However, we only notice the opportunities for inspiration if we are looking for them. We need to be alert and we need to create reflection time to consider how we can use the inspiration.
Working out loud is a way to bring more attention to our work. Working out loud asks us to think as we work about how our work can be shared purposefully and narrated to benefit others. That reflection on the nature of work helps us find additional moments of inspiration in and around our work.
We are to busy to make a new idea perfect. We wait. The idea is usually lost because there is no time to make it perfect later.
Work in progress is never perfect. Work in progress is an invitation to a collaboration and a invitation to improve and develop the idea. Sharing inspirations as they happen pulls people in and can help advance the idea towards a more workable perfection.
We often worry about our ideas being better developed or leveraged by others if they are shared too early. However, every inspiration that is never captured, never converted to an idea or never executed is lost entirely. There is a big world out there and lots of ideas. Executing well and attracting partners to work with you is far more important to the success of your inspiration.
If you want to make more of your daily inspirations, work out loud by purposefully sharing your work in progress with relevant audiences.
We don’t work alone. We shouldn’t work in silence. Most importantly we should recognise those who enable, encourage and inspire us.
This Working Out Loud Week we are looking to recognise those who contribute to our work. Share the work of others who help you to do your best work. The world is short of recognition. It can always do with an abundant supply. Recognising others is one of the greatest contributions you can make to other people.
Many people don’t even realise that their work enables, encourages and inspires others. The simple act of recognition can change someone’s perception of their work and their impact. Recognition is a reinforcement and clarification of purpose too. Help others to understand how they do their best work by sharing and praising that work.
The best recognition has some key characteristics:
- Shared openly in a relevant community: You don’t have to use…
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Time and the pace of business cycles play an important role in collaboration. However, we are so accustomed to our own time cycles we don’t often reflect on them. Designing the rhythm of collaboration in your organisation for effectiveness is one of the key untapped opportunities for organisations.
Time Flowing Fast as Water
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” – David Foster Wallace Kenyon College commencement speech
Time is ever a concern in business. We worry about wasting it. We worry about how it can be better used. However, despite all our concerns time tends like water in the story above to flow past us unnoticed if not for the regular milestones that bring it back to our attention. Techniques like sprints, project planning and other productivity disciplines can also help focus our attention on time.
When I wrote about the role of transition in discussion Microsoft’s explanation of how their products support an inner and outer loop’s of collaboration, I threw into a table a row that discussed time. At the time I had a query about it and I intended to write more on the topic. That thought flowed away too quickly to turn into action. A recent conversation with Steve Nguyen of the Yammer Product Team reminded me to return to the topic.
Why did I include time? The time cycles of a business are one of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration. We can often assume that everyone in the business perceives time the same way we do. Our perception of time is directly influenced by the normal operational business cycles within which we work. This cycle is usually determined by the length of the core process we manage each day.
This difference of perception can be a barrier to sustaining effective collaboration. If my definition of ‘fast’ is in the next hour and another business defines fast as by the end of the month, there is likely to be conflict. Let’s look at an example: an organisation with retail stores is experiencing an issue with a recently implemented IT project.
- Retail stores live and die by the day. Everyone in the retail part of the business will be focused on having an issue addressed by no later than the end of the day. Tomorrow’s trading needs to be secured.
- Depending on whether the IT project is waterfall or agile the natural time scale of that project could be weeks or months. They might be working ‘fast’ to fix an issue (i.e. fixing it within their shortest operational timescale), but still disappoint the retail store for days until the issue is resolved.
- Head Office might work to its logical planning time scale, the quarter. When the dispute is escalated to head office there will be yet another definition of ‘fast’ to manage.
Managing the Rhythm of Collaboration
One reason the inner and outer loops approach works well in organisations is that it accommodates the differences between work that happens in immediate teams that is often on the shortest cycles of time and collaborative work that happens more slowly. A fast flowing operational feed will bury messages that invite reflection, discovery, serendipity, co-creation and the longer cycles of innovation.
In Cultivating Communities of Practice by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder, their research into effective communities of practice highlighted that the rhythm of a community was an important part of effective communities. These communities had predictable and routine cycles that helped foster connection, sharing and working together to solve problems and innovate. Community members could adapt to the collaboration activities of the communities because they were predictable and because they aligned to the time cycles of the wider work going on across the organisations. If collaboration needs to be pushed against the grain of the organisation or the cycles of teams, then it will have an unsustainable overhead of community management and the collaborative community will not be sustainable.
When facilitating adoption of collaboration in an organisation, community managers need to consider the time cycles of the use cases that they want to see to deliver the organisations strategy. In doing this community managers need to consider:
- Change takes time. Have we allowed enough time & support for behaviours to change and for activity to mature into something self-generating?
- Is this use case relating to the time cycles of inner loop or outer loop collaboration? Which approach will best support the use cases we are looking to see sustained?
- What is the natural cycle of activity in the business? How can we align this collaboration activity to a natural and self-sustaining cycle in the business?
- Are there any time cycle differences between fast moving and slow moving teams that we need to allow for or manage in this collaboration? How do we manage these transitions to enable effective collaboration?
- What is the aggregate impact of all the various cycles of activity in the collaboration community? Can we engender more effective communication by adjusting the cycles or managing the calendar of activities to reduce conflicts and periods of high demand on users?
Someone has to start. Other people might not be cooperative, but that is not connected to you. My advice is this: you should start. With no regard to whether others are cooperative or not. – Alfred Adler quoted in ‘The Courage to Be Disliked’ by Kishimi and Koga.
It is the only moment you have.
You have no control over the past.
The future is not here yet.
The only decision is what to do now.
Why does it have to be you?
You can see the potential.
You bring your potential to grow.
Now you can start.
Now you can be better.
Now you can make things better.
Will it be easy? No.
Will others help? They have their work. The generous will contribute. The passionate will align.
Will it succeed? You will learn.
Why start? You are best placed to see the potential now.
How should you start? Small, fast, agile, openly, generously, and now.
I often get queries from people around how I structure my working out loud, particularly in social media, enterprise social networks and other public channels. As always with working out loud, people’s initial reaction is a reluctance to be seen to engage in bragging or self-promotion. A recent and rising concern is the danger of being considered an empty thought leader.
A recent conversation on how I practice working out loud, prompted me to sketch out a taxonomy of the various approaches that I have experienced. I set out below a short guide to this model, how it relate to my personal practice to working out loud and some other every day practices of sales and marketing.
Start with Purpose
My personal purpose in sharing my work is to build meaningful relationships by working out loud. I believe that effective working out loud is a goal to increasing influence and connection with others through shared learning and shared work. That is particularly important when I am sharing as I often do on this blog with a goal of increasing my influence with current or potential future clients of my consulting and speaking work.
Focus on Your Audience and Your Strengths
The approach I take in sharing my work here and in other channels is to not just focus on what I want to share. If I all I did was share what mattered to me then I can’t expect more than to contribute to the content marketing chatter that washes over the planet in all channels. I bring three additional lens to what I share:
- What my audience wants to hear: much of the literature on content marketing talks about the need to hit the current themes and trends of conversation in your target audience. However, if you only share what people want to hear then you are pandering. We see this with the endless articles with identical recommendations of platitudes and other motherhood advice.
- What my audience needs to hear: to ask for attention I have to offer a point of view on what matters to my audience. This may well be one that they don’t share or even wish to share. Remember there is a danger in thinking you know what’s best for others. Leaving this advice open to learning through working out loud is a good way to test your perception of what is needed and mitigates against resistance from the audience. If I focus only on sharing what they need to do, I will fall into the trap of preaching.
- What I do well: Sharing doesn’t demand that you do anything. Much thought leadership is just talk even if it is a catching package of what is needed and wanted. A key differential is the ability to base your working out loud in actual work and practice. The practical lessons of real work help ground what you share and add to its richness.
Build Influence to Deepen Relationships
The most powerful and most effective influence occurs at the intersection of what I share, what I do well, and what my audience wants and needs to hear. The more my working out loud is focused on this domain and to the right into the harder realm of what my audience need, but may not yet appreciate, the greater the value to both my work and that of my audience. Telling people what you do well that they already value is just bragging. The ultimate value is giving people new insights or new actions that enable them to make progress in new ways.
Because this approach to influence is based in competence and consideration of what clients want and needs, it is highly conducive to an enduring relationship with the audience. The goal is to use openness, practicality and value to build trust and deepen the connection through shared learning, collaboration and shared work. Working out loud in this way (and building a system to enable consistent sharing in this way) has fostered great relationships and accelerated my pursuit of mastery too.
What You Don’t Share
It is also worth spending a minute on the areas that are not shared openly:
- Sales is a personal conversation and is usually based in connecting what clients want to hear to your best work. To the extent clients don’t value your best work you will need marketing to influence their perspective.
- Marketing is again most effective when it is personal, connects to needs and emotions and reinforces what you do well in the minds of clients. It sets up a sales conversation. When Sales and Marketing work in concert in this way, growth accelerates.
- Smug Silence: If you do something well, you aren’t sharing it and nobody wants and needs it, then you can be silent in your smugness. You are the best in the world at it, but it is of value only to you.
Putting it into Practice
Before you share your next post ask yourself the following questions;
- What is my purpose in working out loud?
- Who is my audience?
- What do they want to hear?
- What do they need to hear?
- How do I share what I do best to enable learning and collaboration?
These simple questions are my steps to avoid the dangers of bragging, chatter and thought leadership. What works for you in your practice of working out loud?