Busywork rots the soul

The Obvious?

So much of what takes up people’s time at work is pointless.

Meetings that are in the diary that no one can remember their purpose and that rarely agree anything; forty page reports that you are asked to rewrite or reformat a dozen times and that you know no one is going to read; pitches for work that inflate everything so that both purchaser and supplier can look more important but that are really only an indication of an intent to work together; project plans and strategies that bear little relation to how things turn out and join the large pile of their predecessors gathering dust on a shelf.

You know this and I know this, the people around us know this, but no one wants to admit it. No one wants to confess how out of control it all is, how nervous they are of stopping moving long enough to realise that they have forgotten what the point is (if they ever knew it).

Whole careers get wasted like this. This seems sad.

We can avoid this soul destroying nightmare if we break ranks, if we find the courage to be the first to ask that scary, and apparently dumb, question: “Why are we doing this?”. Follow it up with: “Do we need to do this?” Keep asking these questions and maybe others will break ranks and join you.

Maybe some, just some, of the madness will stop.

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Public Speaking

Aside from death, public speaking is a strong number two in relationship to what most people fear most. That says a lot given what number one is on that list, but getting up in front of a group of people is a unique skill that varies as far as ease and comfort when you look across the spectrum of people who attempt to do it.

Simply put, you’re either really strong at speaking publicly or you flat out just don’t like doing it.

For those who fall into the latter category, your lack of public speaking skills most likely is holding you back as it relates to career advancement or being viewed as the person your boss or management goes to when they need a presentation put together or someone in the office to really drive home a particular point or close any number of deals.

Your goal as someone who isn’t very comfortable or competent as a public speaker shouldn’t be to overnight become some sort of success story of epic proportions. What you should be thinking about is filling that gap that is the happy medium so that you’re at least somewhere in the middle to above average pack so that you’re not consistently being left out when it comes to something important on the docket or agenda at your workplace.

So how exactly do you go from a zero to at least a 7 or 8 without much work? Well, the work part has to be there, but it is possible. What you want to do is focus on the people who are 10 out of 10s and think about how they frame the speech, how they understand the audience and put forth the type of eye contact or non-verbal communication that works well on all levels.

You’ll want to stay away from jokes and humor, but rather focus on who is listening to what you have to say and build the public speaking session out from there. As you frame your speak, keep the transition simple. Don’t be afraid to write out a simple 1, 2, 3 outline so that you’re able to easily move from one topic to the next without worrying about how you’ll get through the speech without it feeling as though it is out of sync.

In other words, don’t be afraid to dumb down your approach.

Sometimes simple often is just as superb as being overly wordy or trying too hard to impress.

Your skills might never be magical or monumental, but getting them beyond mediocre also works well for what you’re intending to accomplish.

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The Obvious?

I wrote a post this morning that had a go at faux busyness in the workplace but decided not to post it. It was a grumpy post, written for the wrong reasons.

It’s too easy to focus on the bad things in life, the news does it, we all do it, it seems to be part of human nature. It’s also wrong to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that things are OK when they are not. But just finding fault without offering possibility for change or insight doesn’t help.

We should try not to.

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The enormity of it all

The Obvious?

By the nature of my work I spend a lot of time with people who are trying to change the world around them, upsetting the status quo, encouraging people out of their comfort zones and into new ways of working. This is often unrecognised, long term, and challenging work that calls for endless energy, personal commitment, and a belief in worthwhile outcomes.

Sometimes people get ground down by the enormity of it all. They feel like Sisyphus, endlessly pushing that stone up the hill only to have it roll down again; a lone voice facing armies of at worst dissenters, at best the disinterested.

Helping keep their confidence and energy up is part of my role; reminding them that they are not alone, that others around the world are taking on similar challenges. Reinforcing the idea that what matters is taking the next concrete step, no matter how small, and doing that again and again – potentially for a very long time.

The trick is to focus on and enjoy the process rather than obsessing about the outcome. Remembering this is the hard bit!

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Fear of disapproval

The Obvious?

We all face it. From an early age the disapproval of our parents and teachers was something that most of us learned to avoid. This feeling of not being good enough carries on into the workplace where we are monitored, measured, compared. Even if we have become successful, have reached senior positions, gloried under impressive job titles, the existential terror of being found wanting lurks under the surface.

On the face of it we may appear confident but our decisions are really being driven by concern about what other people might think. We don’t say what to us seems obvious in case we contradict. We keep our world changing ideas to ourselves in case they are laughed at.

In the online world this fear is even greater. We are expressing ourselves in writing, potentially in front of large numbers of people most of whom we don’t know, in a medium that can last forever.

It’s little wonder we are terrified.

But we need to overcome our fear. We need to learn to assert ourselves, risk disapproval, deal with it when it happens. We need to because if we don’t we will always wonder what might have been. We will have let ourselves down. We will have let those around us down.

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Being brave

The Obvious?

We live in a time of massive change and instability. Many of us sense the uniqueness of the opportunities this presents us as individuals and collectively.

But we are daunted too. In many cases we are trying to shrug of lifetimes of conditioning and habit.

In the “real” world of work most of us are afraid, most of the time. We comply, compromise, concede. We know we “should” be brave and then we beat ourselves up about being too scared.

We need to be gentler with ourselves, and each other, as we take the small steps that are the only way we will be able to deal with the enormity of our challenge.

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The Obvious?

Years ago I wrote that “Social media adoption happens one person at a time and for their reasons not yours”. As time passes I am more and more convinced that this is ultimately how any change happens.

For all the change initiatives that keep people busy at work, the strategising, the PowerPoints, the endless meetings, nothing happens until one person has a conversation with another and the other person thinks “Right, I’m having some of that!”

We use slightly disparaging words such as viral for this kind of change, as if it was somehow under the radar, unofficial, risky. But it isn’t it how all change really happens? Isn’t everything else just a displacement activity helping us avoid facing the fact that we feel uneasy about having those real conversations because we ourselves haven’t bought into the change that we are so busily proposing?

Isn’t real change something we do for and with each other rather than something we do TO others? How could we get better at that? How could we all make it more likely to happen?

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It’s the little things

The Obvious?

It fascinates me how organisations don’t disappear under the weight of their own administravia. Getting even the simplest thing done becomes a challenge that can soak up valuable time and energy. As a freelancer I have a lot of control over my own processes but if you are stuck in a large organisation it can become a nightmare.

Bureaucracy is a necessary part of all of our lives but sometimes it runs rampant and out of control, becoming an end in itself. We need to exercise constant vigilance to keep it in check: to get as good as we can at designing the form that we expect others to spend time filling in; to constantly ask if we really, really need the form in the first place; to have the courage to say no to processes and practices that we feel add no value.

The world doesn’t end if we say no to bureaucracy. Try it today!

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The Obvious?

Presenteeism came up in conversation over the weekend and I was expressing frustration that it was still so common. “But that is what real work is like” was the rejoinder,”anything else is just philosophy”.

How did we end up with this fixed sense of reality? Isn’t it all just stories about how things should be?

We must always ask who started those stories and why. We must always remember that we can choose our own stories. We can always imagine new ones.

If we don’t have control over our stories we have lost control of our lives.

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Stan The Man

The Obvious?

The stunning poem In the video below by Tom French (recited by Andrew Rowen) brought back memories. I knew men like Billy and Tadgh, or their Hebridean equivalents.

Those memories prompted this novice poem.

Stan The Man

Clattering down Byres Lane late
His seg’d brogues sparking on the cobbles.
Hands in dungaree pockets
Leather elbowed tweed flapping like wings
‘Til he swaggered to a stop.
To stand shaking
Drink sweating from his flanks
Like a bull shocked to be in the ring

Ready to drive the truck.

Pity The Bastards (For Billy & Tadgh) from Andrew Rowen on Vimeo.

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  • Number of UK oil jobs falls at fastest rate in at least 11 years November 26, 2015
    LONDON (Reuters) - The number of contractors employed in Britain's oil and gas sector has fallen over the past year at the steepest rate since at least 2004, an annual industry survey carried out by a Scottish business association showed on Thursday.

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