Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Loving Your Work

I like what I do for a living. Most people don't. A 2015 Gallup poll discovered only 31% of American workers enjoy their work, feel invested in what they are doing, and find meaning in it. I suspect an even smaller percentage, probably a tiny percentage, would keep working at what they are presently doing if they didn't have to. Most people trade time for dollars in order to pay their bills.

I find this terribly tragic, and I intend to do something about it. (More on that in future blog posts.) 

Here's an even bigger problem. A lot of people start out passionate about their career, but do not maintain their passion. When you're in your 20s the world is your oyster. High school and college commencement speeches inspire the younger generation to get out there and change the world, but it doesn't take very long for reality to set in.

The real go-getters climb the corporate ladder only to find themselves trapped by the money. Their passion is gone, but the bills are bigger, so they have to keep on working. Americans are bad at saving money. Most of us have nothing put aside to allow us the freedom to continue pursuing our passion should an opportunity arise. In fact, it is worse than bad.

According to an NBC News article, the USA savings rate went NEGATIVE in 2005 for the first time since the Great Depression. That was before the economic collapse in 2008. There is no cushion for a soft landing when you find yourself in a macroeconomic free fall and zero (or negative!) savings. And it gets worse.

A root cause of corporate fraud, corruption, and fiscal malfeasance is formerly passionate individuals who were seeking a better life or desirous of "changing the world," but who got caught up in personal greed and selfishness once they lost their passion for making a difference. They lost their way with a win-at-all-costs mindset on their rise to the top. Sadly, they were willing to do whatever it took to make the quarterly earnings reports look good for Wall Street, even if that required unethical, immoral, and even illegal behavior.

A former CEO of the company where I currently work appears to have taken this path. Sanjay Kumar immigrated to the USA in 1976 to escape civil unrest in his native Sri Lanka, but ended up going to prison for orchestrating a massive fraud. How does this happen?

As a software technology professional, I make great money, but over the years fear and uncertainty has frequently chased away my passion too. I’ve been through five different merger and acquisition experiences as well as a failed technology startup in 2008. Worries over not being able to support my family would lead me into anxiety and depression. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. (Have you seen Groundhog Day?)

It was only by the grace of God that I didn't fall into the same trap as Mr. Kumar. Fear can easily flip to greed, and without a strong moral compass, a motivated and talented person can quickly become a felon. It happened at my place of employment, and the cycle is almost a cliché.

How does our society overcome this problem? I think it is relatively simple, but not easy. And I think I have the secret sauce. If you want to know more before I get to the future promised blog posts, join my new Facebook group here:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reframing No...But to Yes...And

by David Wilk, Frank Ford, and David Ahearn

As improv comedians, the same philosophy and principles that work so well for us on stage also work very well when we apply them to our business. Here are four ways you can apply improv techniques to help you succeed at work.

1. Become an active listener 

Everyone thinks that to be an improviser that you have to be super quick. We hear that comment after every show: “You guys are so quick.” We always smile and take the compliment, but it’s not really the truth.

The truth is that we listen very well. And we don’t just listen; we actively listen.

You have to be present, you have to be in the moment, and you have to be non-judgmental. You just have to go with an idea. And the way you do that is to listen and then build on that thought.

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we’ve learned that being a better listener actually makes you a better communicator. You’ve heard everyone out so you’re able to make decisions without overlooking things. You’re not thinking of the thing you were going to say next; you’re paying attention to what’s happening now.

In the improv world, we don’t know where we’re going; we only know where we’ve been. So it’s paramount that we all retain that information because it’s influencing our decisions, much like in the business world.

A lot of people pride themselves on multitasking. But basically all multitasking is is doing a lot of things in an average way.

When people are actively listening, they’re retaining anywhere from 90 to 95% of the pertinent information. When they’re multitasking, they may be retaining 40%. If you’re at work running around only retaining 40% of the information, you’re doing yourself a disservice, and you’re certainly doing everyone around you a disservice.

2. Practice “yes, and . . .”

 The number one rule that we have is to strike the word “no” and replace it with the two magic words “yes, and . . .” It’s a philosophy, not a statement.

It means that you don’t judge an idea. You agree with it by saying “yes,” and then you add your 2 cents so that it becomes a collective idea and both people have buy in to its success.

People are often “no, but . . .” There’s a lot of negativity. People will always find the problem or the reason for not doing something.

But they aren’t mistakes in our world; there are only disruptions from the routine. Improv forces you to solve scenarios on the fly. We’re all about finding a work around and moving forward.

Becoming a “yes, and . . .” person is like going to the gym. You have to practice it everyday and reframe your brain to not go to “no” first. If it has to be a “no,” so be it, but make it a considerate “no.”

 3. Embrace all ideas 

One of the rules that we live by is that there are no wrong or bad ideas, and nobody’s ideas are any better or worse than anyone else’s. There are just high- and low-percentage choices.

The creativity comes when you can recognize that every idea has merit. What we’ve found is that sometimes those low-percentage choices end up being wonderfully creative ideas that we would have never come up with because we would have dismissed them early as wrong. These ideas get the ball rolling.

When you do that within your business, you develop a culture where people realize they’re going to be heard and that they’re not going to be judged or shot down.

Imagine how creative you would be if whatever you brought to the table, your team would build upon. There’s no fear involved. The freedom to create is endless.

4. Empower your team 

If you practice these techniques, you’re honoring and empowering those around you, and they in turn will honor and empower you.

For instance, we noticed that a lot of people were on their phones before and during our show. From our perspective as the performers on the stage, we thought it was rude. But then our technical director, who sits behind the audience and runs the lights and sound, told us that he was seeing people give us five-star reviews and tweet about the show.

He suggested that instead of being angry, we should incorporate phones into the show. Now, we have people upload funny photos on our Facebook page, and we improvise from the photos. As a happy accident to this, our social media numbers are through the roof.

When people think about the corporate ladder, they think that the way to get ahead is to step on whomever you need to step on. But that’s not how we advance. The way we ascend is by making each other look good. We pull each other up.