Archive for the ‘philosophy of work’ Category
Can we grow the ways we talk together?
Some say Industry 4.0 will be about Cyber-Physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Services. But I cannot help but wonder if, along the way, some genius with a high EQ will also find ways to bring out the best in people and unearth fresh ways for us to work together.
As hierarchy gives way to connecting mission with ideas and tasks, as people learn to bring their whole selves to work (emotion + logic + ethics + spirit—because they are rewarded for it), as people exercise agency and autonomy and ownership at work—things will look different.
Maybe these geniuses, with the ginormous EQs, will help us understand what happens as we form ever more confining boxes around employees. Maybe they’ll show us that using metrics that note every eyebrow twitch and hand movement, metrics that reward those movements that fit the company goals, those metrics actually measure the wrong things and defeat innovation before it is even begun. Maybe these geniuses will notice that our levers of control over employees also inhibit the very thing we most need to move forward.
I imagine stepping into the office of one of these high EQ geniuses and glancing at the portrait of Martin Buber on the wall—their patron saint of collaboration. I imagine being lectured by these geniuses on strategies around deep listening and meetings that matter and how to disagree with each other productively and how they aggressively eradicate authority-rhetoric & boss speak because it is so demotivating to be reminded that someone owns you. And it is also, by the way, not true.
Let industry 4.0 grow to include people.
Dumb sketches: Kirk Livingston
Rethinking your mundane
[No, this is not a racist rant about white anything.]
My client frequently talks about “white space.” What they mean is that extra computing capacity available with many of their industrial tools. The tools are designed to accomplish some process over and over again, but it turns out there is a mini-computer buried in each tool that can do other things as well. I’ve been writing about the other things those mini-computers can do—they bring a sort of intelligence to ordinary tasks.
The whole discussion has me thinking about Kathleen Norris and her defense of the time we spend doing dishes or laundry or brushing our teeth. She claims those are more like sacred moments than they are boring time wasters. That’s because in those moments where we go on auto-pilot as we do that same old thing yet again, our minds are actually free to play or to make connections between the bits of life we’ve been experiencing. To Ms. Norris’ way of thinking, that daily floss may well lead to epiphanies—even connecting with God—if approached with openness.
As a writer, Ms. Norris depends on those automatic moments as well as the fallow moments:
“But I do detect in the quotidian…[meaning daily or ordinary], rhythms of writing, a stage that might be described as parturient, or in labor, about to produce or seems almost unbearable, stretching out before me like a prison sentence, when I seem most dead inside, reduced to mindlessness, bitter tears or both, that what is inmost breaks forth.”
If there is a birthing process for thoughts (full disclosure: as a male my closest experience with birthing is watching our kids get born), I’m pretty sure it has something to do with staying open during our mundane boring moments. If we fill up our mundane moments with entertainment and Facebook and Twitter, we risk staying in that fallow place.
In the delightfully-readable book A Philosophy of Walking, (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2014) Frederic Gros writes short essays about writers and thinkers who wrote while walking. Like that great dark cloud Nietzsche, who scrambled up mountain trails and paused to scribble his gloomy reveries. Or Thoreau or Rimbaud or Kant—writers and thinkers accustomed to spooling out the thorny stuff while ambling about. These writers made a habit of using the mundane to tease out the thoughts they were working on. Because when you are walking, you really can’t do anything but put one foot in front of another foot. And your own personal white space (in your own personal brain pan) is free to think thoughts and connect dots.
As we move deeper into this constantly-connected age, I wonder if the wise among us will learn how to preserve their mundane tasks precisely because that’s where meaning keeps coming from.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
…in the deeper, unspoken realms of the human psyche, work and life are not separate things, and therefore cannot be balanced against each other except to create further trouble.
–David Whyte, The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship (NY: Riverhead Books, 2009)
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston
And that’s saying something.
According to Mrs. Kirkistan, these are two of my (many?) positive traits:
You’re a good sleeper and a good eater.
She is right: I am. Both.
That’s the kind of stuff we say about an infant, in which case it is high praise indeed: getting that little human to sleep and eat bodes well for future growth. It’s some of the first stuff we can say with any authority about a newborn.
But we struggle to praise an adult.
If we look at those same qualities on the other end of the lifespan, “good sleeper” remains a positive. Older folks have a hard time sleeping (it turns out all sorts and ages of people have a hard time sleeping). What constitutes a “good eater” changes through the years as well. Moving from a voracious eater to a judicious eater seems an especially praiseworthy approach that can span the years.
Still, how can we offer praise to one another in a meaningful way? The trophy for “just showing up” is nearly worthless and most of us see through that. But acknowledging the contributions we each make goes a huge way toward helping each other find and lay hold of our better meaning-making activities.
Yesterday my client drew a red star next to a paragraph he liked. It’s a small thing, but in conversation I told him it was meaningful that he did that. Our best work, it seems, goes by mostly unremarked. That’s how we know it is good—no one says anything. This is in contrast to when we are kids and our parents praise us for picking up our toys or finishing our Brussel sprouts. Even in school we look for praise from teachers and professors to know that we are doing the right thing/on the right track. But most of life doesn’t work that way.
Giving feedback can help us close the circuit for each other. Even if barely acknowledged, a complement does a whole lotta good.
But it better be true. Otherwise it’s just pandering.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
If one motivation doesn’t fit you right now, check that you have a pulse
We’re not great listeners. There’s so much we want to say and we are generally desperate to be heard. And in these highly partisan times, we simply shout at and past each other and call it a conversation.
But there are natural times when each of us actually does stop to listen. I count at least four:
- I Need Something. The most interested college students I teach are the ones who realize they need something. They are motivated to listen and stay engaged in class because they see themselves using the skill/knowledge we are talking about. I listen intently to the old guy at the hardware store because I truly have no clue why this plumbing connection will not seal. I listen because I need whatever it is the person is saying.
- I Want to Understand. It’s why a lot of us read fiction and non-fiction alike: we want to understand this topic and we’re willing to pay attention to this author as she or he spins out the story or argument. Wanting to understand is the motivation behind a story’s tension—it’s the hook that keeps us on the pages. We listen to our kids when they explain why they did this or that (when it seems perfectly counterintuitive to me). We sometimes listen to our own explanations and obfuscations as we try to distance ourselves from some thing we’ve done.
- I Want to be Close to You. “Listen, sweetheart, tell me everything about you.” The early days of romance give way over time to the growing realization that there is much we don’t know about our spouse—even after 30 years of marriage. We listen because we want to hear the perspective of our beloved.
- I Want to Serve. “Serve” sounds so menial, doesn’t it? And yet finding yourself in a position to help another is a primary motivation for work—at least I’ve found it so. Wanting to help beats working only for money. Wanting to help beats working to amass power every time. And wanting to serve is a sort of gift that keeps on giving. The desire to serve means listening to someone to see what he or she needs and wants. You cannot serve without listening.
If you have a listener in your life—someone who lets you spin out your argument or story and remains engaged—count yourself fortunate. I believe there’s actually quite a lot of healing in those listening encounters.
If you want to be an extreme listener tap into one of these motivations and apply it to your current situation.
Can you think of other motivations for listening?
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Engineers aren’t the only ones who love to correct you
I’ve been saying aloud the oral version of a dumb sketch. I’ve been telling and retelling the story of how I thought one thing but then in conversation with different experts, came to see what I thought was really not so at all, but something different. I know this is terribly abstract and I apologize: We’re working on a new proprietary idea at the moment, so I cannot be too specific.
I thought X was like Y. But it turns out that X is very like Z. And when I tell that story—of trying and failing and trying—my listeners get it. They learn something. They jump to Z and each gets pretty excited about Z—they had not seen Z before. But now that Z is named and out there, Z may just change everything (and not in a breathless marketing-hype way, but really change how people move forward in this particular industry) (Which I cannot name.) (Sorry.) Each mini-audience put the pieces together and then leaps forward in a way my didactic, linear, word-driven paragraphs did not succeed at.
The point of a dumb sketch is to be not-finished. A sketch is the opposite of the heavily produced diagram or slide. The “unfinishedness” of a sketch is the very crux of usefulness as a communication tool. By being unfinished, the sketch invites collaboration and improvement. And people seem to not be able to turn away—at least from the oral version. Failure is built right into my story, and who can resist gawking at a car wreck?
Maybe this is an engine behind John Stepper’s notion of “working out loud.” Maybe this is a key to how we collaborate with each other. We already do this with friends and family, but what if we extend our try-fail-try circle to include many others?
Dumb sketches: Kirk Livingston
Silence can be nice sometimes, too
I know a few people who process life verbally. I’m not naming names, but to be with them is to sit before an open window through which you hear internal debates, sharp intakes of breath in response to a new stimulus, and general narration about turning left or standing up or “I think I’ll eat a jelly bean.”
People process life in all sorts of ways, of course. I don’t know what I think until I write it down. Others might sketch a response to a life event. Others process a life event over the course of a three-hour bicycle ride. James Thurber could hold 1000 words in his head as his eyesight failed, processing and editing in his brain-pan and seeming to spit out a fully-formed essay or story.
And some talk it out: declaring boldly and then backing up to change direction. And then boldly declaring the opposite. They settle on a position over time (often). Sometimes it’s fun to engage in their internal debate. Sometimes it is maddening to witness the ebb and flow.
The ways we process life are not mutually exclusive, we might each do all of the above to figure out what is going on. It may take many conversations and many bike rides and many sketches to, say, process a larger than expected tax refund (ha), or a job loss. Or a death.
But the verbal processor plays a unique role among us. They are the ones who quickly spout a response to a question. They tend to be more comfortable in a group, or , perhaps this: for the groups they are comfortable in, they are even more verbal. The things they say become a sort of conversational/processing rudder against which we agree or disagree. But it is something nearly tangible (as tangible as words ever get) we can react to. The verbal processor does everyone a service by putting something out there for the rest of us to respond to. Their initial, fast response is a word that can rescue us from our solitude. Their quick work can help us avoid sitting passively while inside we are furiously yelling to get our heads around some new situation.
Kudos to the verbal processor.
Their out-flowing attempts to sort things pull the rest of us in as well.
Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston