Friday, December 24, 2010

Changing Your Life Starts Now

If you’re really going to do it, do it now. What’s stopping you? If you don’t have the focus to start changing your life the day you decide to change your life, then you can bet you won’t be able to do it a week from now. People who are serious about a goal don’t put the goal off. People who put off goals have the wrong goals in mind. Tell yourself you are going to make an improvement in your life right now. This minute. Then keep reading to figure out how to do that.

1. Pick one small goal.

Big goals entail lots of little goals, which is why big goals fail. If you want to wake up early, for example, the first thing you have to do is stop accepting invitations for stuff that will get you to bed late. Getting up early is relatively easy if you go to bed early, but going to bed early is relatively hard in a world where few people do it. And, you have to do it every night to train your body. Big goals need to be broken down into pieces and tackled this way. This is why the classic New Year’s resolutions — lose weight, exercise more, eat better — are guaranteed failures.

2. Give the self-discipline part of your brain a workout.

If you want to do something and you’re not doing it, it’s an issue of self-discipline, right? The good news is that self-discipline is something that snowballs. If you have a little of it, you get more. It’s sort of like “the rich get richer” — the self-disciplined become more self-disciplined. This is because self-discipline is like a muscle in your brain, and in many of us, it’s a weak muscle. It’s no wonder: It wasn’t a high-priority as people evolved. The impulse for immediate gratification (food) and the need to fight or flee (survival) were stronger than anything in the newer, front part of the brain where delayed gratification (self-discipline) occurs.

So you have to exercise the self-control mechanisms in your brain to make them stronger than the immediate gratification/fight or flight part of your brain. To this end, if you do one, very small thing (like, say, make your bed every morning), then other things will happen without trying. This is because it takes concentration (mindfulness is the buzzword here) to get yourself to change your behavior, even if it’s something seemingly as simple as making your bed. This small step-and the concentration that’s required-stays with you and begins to help you make other changes. So instead of making a big resolution, resolve to change one small thing about your day, every day.

3. Tell someone.

Private goals are excuses to not do them. If you don’t tell people it’s because you don’t want to fail. When you win a prize, you tell people, right? Because it’s certain. So why not act like your increase in self-discipline is certain, and tell people about it. Act like someone who is successful, and you’ll become someone who is successful. It’s oft-told advice, I know, but it works. So start believing in yourself. Note that telling people your big goal is actually detrimental to you. But telling friends the small things you are doing right now, on a daily basis, is useful.

Sure, your friends might wonder why you’re telling them you’ve started making your bed. But so what? It might open the path for conversations about other things you’re tackling as a way to achieve goals. And, ultimately, talking about these things, however little they are, will help you succeed.

4. Hang around successful people.

Successful people don’t need New Year’s resolutions. People who understand goal setting are successful. They have daily to-do lists and they prioritize their goals for their life. And, most importantly, they attack big goals by breaking them down. They don’t need New Year’s resolutions because they are making resolutions all year long. And keeping them. Find these people. They’re easy to spot. Hang around with them, and skirt the New Years resolution frenzy in favor of a well-examined life.

Technology Influencing Our Lives

there are five technologies - actually applications that utilize lots of different enabling technologies - that are already here today and have the potential to dramatically alter the way we live.

Smart infrastructure. Japan had smart highways decades ago and America’s just now getting around to digital power meters. Still, the world is becoming too complex to physically monitor everything. Wireless sensor networks that enable the remote management of assets, systems, buildings, even cities, are just beginning to take off. And they’ll make everything that matters easier and more efficient.
Robotics. From cleaning our homes to taking care of our rapidly aging population, from medical procedures to industrial factories, robots of every shape and size are slowly but surely changing the way we work and live. Yes, it’s an evolutionary process, but the core computing, communications, sensor, and mechanical technologies are continuing to advance at a rapid pace. There are robots in your future.
Motion sensing. It’s starting with video games, of course, but the applications for technology that allows us to control electronics without having to touch anything is virtually limitless. When combined with speech recognition and other related technologies, just imagine a world where you can interact seamlessly with computing and communications devices that are essentially invisible.
Smart cars. The technology for self-driven cars is being developed and tested as you read this, but its broad usage is still a long way off. In the mean time, however, cars are becoming more and more aware of what’s going on inside and outside the vehicle. In terms of keeping us safe from each other and ourselves, and making cars more reliable and efficient, there’s a lot of good stuff under the hood.
LED lighting and OLED display technology. One of the most consistent aspects of just about every depiction of a future world is amorphous lighting that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. Not only can ultrathin LED lights be embedded in almost anything, but organic LED or OLED technology enables ultrathin displays that can, get this, be rolled up and formed into all kinds of shapes.
Put all this together and you may wake up one day in a world where our critical infrastructure is smart, safe, and optimized; robots make our lives easier; we can control everything through speech and motion; lights and displays become part of the walls and furniture, and you can get from point A to point B almost without thinking about it. And this isn’t future stuff. It’s here now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Are You A Role Model For A Team Player?

Here, then, are five make-or-break questions for leaders who want to make a fresh start for the New Year.

1. Why should great people want to work with you? The best leaders understand that the most talented performers aren’t motivated primarily by money or status. Great people want to work on exciting projects. Great people want to feel like impact players. Put simply, great people want to feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves. It’s the leader’s job to keep everyone energized and determined in a business environment that remains lackluster and uncertain.

2. Do you know a great person when you see one? It’s a lot easier to be the right kind of leader if you’re running a team or department filled with the right kind of people. Indeed, as I reflect on the best workplaces I’ve visited, I’ve come to appreciate how much time and energy leaders spend on who gets to be there. These workplaces may feel different, but the organizing principle is the same: When it comes to evaluating talent, character counts for as much as credentials. Do you know what makes your star performers tick–and how to find more performers who share those attributes?

3. Can you find great people who aren’t looking for you? It’s a common-sense insight that’s commonly forgotten: The most talented performers tend to be in jobs they like, working with people they enjoy, on projects that keep them challenged. The trick is to win over these so-called “passive” job seekers. These people may be outside your company, or they may be in a different department from inside your company, but they won’t work for you unless you work hard to persuade them to join.

4. Are you great at teaching great people how your team or company works and wins? Even the most highly focused specialists (software programmers, graphic designers, marketing wizards) are at their best when they appreciate how the whole organization operates. That’s partly a matter of sharing financial statements: Can every person learn how to think like a businessperson? But it’s mainly a matter of shared understanding: Can smart people work on making everyone else in the organization smarter about the business?

5. Are you as tough on yourself as you are on your people? There’s no question that talented and ambitious people have high expectations–for themselves, for their team or company, for their colleagues. Which is why they can be so tough on their leaders. The ultimate test for people in positions of authority is to demonstrate the same values, attitudes, and mindsets they want to see from the people who report to them.

In other words, as we approach a New Year filled with new worries, problems, and difficulties, the biggest question is the one it’s always been: Are you the kind of leader you’d want to work for?

Friday, December 17, 2010

We Still Can Get Thinkgs Done At Our Offices

If you’re one of those managers who worries that people who don’t come in to the office aren’t being productive, ask yourself this question: where do you go when you need to really buckle down and get stuff done? Odds are it’s not the office during normal hours.

That’s just one of the provocative points raised by Jason Fried, who is the co-founder and president of 37 Signals. He recently spoke at a TED conference in Chicago and kicked up a lot of dust with the notion that “Work Doesn’t Happen At Work.”You can watch the entire presentation here if you’d like (and I recommend it). Many of the points he raises are valid. Some, I think, need to be tempered by a dose of reality, or at least understanding of the human condition.

Before you light the cubicles on fire here are some of the highlights, and a few thoughts of my own:

When you ask people where they go to really concentrate and get work done, they rarely say “the office”. This is absolutely true. Real inspiration doesn’t happen between 9 and 5 and rarely happens surrounded by cubicle walls. It also seldom happens when your dog is barking at the postman or your kid is banging on the office door because they’re late for soccer practice. Jason’s point is that people need to be able to work when the time is right and they are at their best, not be restricted to specific hours or places. No one is at their best 24/7 and few people’s jobs require top-tier inspiration every minute of the working day. This doesn’t mean that the office doesn’t serve a lot of mundane but critical uses.
Most meetings are an expensive waste of time, brain power and oxygen. You’d be hard pressed to find an argument from anyone except the people who sell doughnuts (who would shrivel up and go out of business if we all went cold turkey on this). I think, though, that this is an indictment of the way most people run their meetings and the politics involved rather than the actual act of human discourse itself. At his most didactic, Jason sounds as if actually talking to people is most often a waste of time. Unless you have coworkers hanging out in your home office this can be difficult to do without a central meeting point.
Work, like sleep, happens in phases and it doesn’t really work when constantly interrupted. A bit of a strained metaphor but the point is that you can’t do good, sustained work if you’re constantly interrupted. However, this again supposes that your job is primarily to sit quietly and create. Some people actually have to interact with others and be a resource to those who sit and think. Of course, it doesn’t have to be inside burlap-padded cubicles.
He has 3 ideas and I have a couple of gripes about them. Jason plays the gadfly and makes three radical suggestions to make the office a better place.
1) Instead of casual Fridays, how about “no talk Thursdays”. His idea is here is to make it okay to be quiet and not interact with people on command. You can do that now if you have the nerve to set and keep boundaries. It also presumes that all conversation is unnecessary (which reveals as much about the coder mindset as it does about the workplace). I am an auditory learner and I need to speak to other real live human beings in order to process information effectively. The office also provides social interaction which makes the workplace bearable for the majority of people who aren’t introverted knowledge workers.

2) Use more asynchronous tools instead of synchronous tools. Email, instant messaging, blogs and social network sites actually are great places to gather information and formulate thoughtful answers. We should not assume that the live event (telephone, videochat or, heaven forbid, actually getting together) is the best way to achieve your outcomes. On the other hand, we can’t just assume that it’s not. Input and feedback are the keys to any successful process and I’m not arrogant enough to assume that I have all the answers i need if everyone would just leave me alone. Please let there be someone smarter than me around I can talk to. Any workplace that runs entirely on email and electronic messaging without some human contact and conversation isn’t a place I want to be part of and a lot of people feel the same way.

3) Just cancel any meeting that doesn’t look like it will be worth the time. I can get behind that. It also applies to remote workers in the form of painful webmeetings and conference calls that are held because you think you should hold them. Also, do you really need to send that email right now? Stop and think about what you want to accomplish and weigh the best options to accomplish it. Shockingly, you may find that dealing with other humans is actually a useful way to get where you need to go. Just go about it in a way that’s respectful of their time and their working process so that by solving your problem you’re not becoming someone else’s unwelcome interruption.

In fact, while much of what Jason says about the modern workplace is correct, I took away an unintended lesson. Instead of doing away with the office completely… how about we all actually think about what we need to do, make it possible for people to do it and work with people respectfully to let everyone be their best?