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Category Archives: creative workers

Easier work.

easyFrequently I ask myself what I can do to make other people’s job easier.   If it is my boss, it might be getting the general direction and then taking a project from his plate.   If it is direct reports, it might be finding a new software or giving other resources to help them.   By working unselfishly and offering efforts without an expectation in return, everyone rises to a pleasant and productive state.   This type of environment fosters reciprocity and soon others do that for me too.   My job becomes easier.

The children I am raising don’t seem to get this at all.   At this time in their lives it is more about keeping score and the concept of offering help to make a siblings life easier is completely foreign. Kids tend to be the center of their own little universe and teaching them how to be grateful and not entitled is difficult. In order to start to teach gratitude and helpfulness, some of the following topics will have to be discussed; repeatedly:

  • The “we”:   Using the word “we” instead of “you” is powerful in any environment.   “We will work on project X” sounds much better than “you need to work on project X.”  We need to eat dinner and we need to all clean up.   Learning the idea of working together in a group or team on any task is going to bode well for them in the future.
  • Gratitude:   Regularly talk about what you are grateful for.   Bring to conscious all of the things that could quickly go away, and give thanks.   These little conversations will develop a broader thought process that is more inclusive of others and fosters thoughts about how others function in their daily lives.   It is all about recognizing other paths in life.
  • Help:   Have kids help.   The more you do for them, the less appreciative they will be.   Yes it takes longer.   Yes it can be frustrating.   Think of it as a long-term strategy.
  • Generosity:   Be a generous person yourself.   Do your children see you helping others?   Do they see you trying to recognize moments of another’s need?   Show them these times and how you can quickly and quietly spring to action.   Not for the purpose of recognition but for true compassion or caring.
  • Say no:   Always saying yes is not reality.   And, it isn’t going to teach thankfulness for what kids already have.   It is ok to say “no.”   Entitlement is not an attractive quality in life.
  • Time:   This is the hardest one – time.   These lessons have to be repeated over, and over and over.   Sadly, I think the true value resonates with kids after they leave home.   It’s frustrating because a parent doesn’t get to witness firsthand the true payoff of their labors.

These ideas can help develop a more prepared next-generation workforce to make their boss and coworkers have it a bit easier.   The result will be an easier environment for themselves.


Tools in the yard.

N9pRwacr1l1UWyLzThis week I have my kids at my childhood farm in Iowa. For the most part my kids are “city kids” and when we get the farm there are some new rules.   When the kids play in the garage at home, putting tools away is required but the ramifications of leaving them out is not much more than getting lectured by the parents. However, when the kids are at the farm and leave a tool in the yard, the ramifications are costly.   One hammer left out can completely ruin a very expensive riding lawn mower.  And, when the yard is several acres, it is hard to check the grass ahead of time.   The kids don’t have the wherewithal to see the ramifications of their actions; until they learn the hard way or are told.

This scenario makes me think of a similar phenomenon in the workplace.   Business needs people who are willing to venture out into the “yard” with their tools to drive GP and grow.   However, often the business development people leave their tools in the yard for the fulfillment side of the business to pick up.   Common behavior…and annoying behavior.

To teach these next generation workers to think beyond their own actions, consider having some of these discussions:

  • Thinking: Are you doing the thinking for your kids?   Each time there is an action that has an effect on someone else, are you handling the situation for them?   Or asking them what the potential outcome might be?   When the hammer was left in the yard, should we have picked it up and put it away?   Or was there a better option?   Managers at work are guilty too.   Solving all problems with no explanation to the actions does not benefit the organization.   If a sales manager over promises, a fulfillment manager might under deliver.   No one wins in that situation.   Rather, if the sales manager spent some time looking at and thinking about fulfillment or fulfillment took the time to communicate their process, they would both be less likely to sell a potential mess.
  • Logic: Ask kids to explain the next steps in any situation.   When traveling, ask them (age appropriate) questions about how to find out if the plane is on time, the next gate or where to find ground transportation. Don’t lead automatically and let them blindly follow you. Logical thinking leads to better behaviors in the workplace and when kids are taught at home it will be inherent.
  • Relevancy: When I asked about the hammer in the yard, I get all the reasons why they needed the hammer.   I don’t care. That is not relevant. They didn’t put it away.   That is relevant.    How often at work do you pose a question to get the answer to a different question?
  • Accuracy: “Yes.   What is the question?”   Often kids jump into something and then figure out if it is a good idea later.   At work, the goal is to drive business and saying “yes” to everything is pretty easy.   It is better to find out if something is actually possible and communicate an honest “no” than to try to please upfront.   Teach kids to look at the facts and make accurate decisions.

Sound decision-making is arguably the biggest part of getting a promotion in the workplace.   Teaching this at home can offer kids a huge advantage when they start their own career.   Parenting with this in mind takes more time and sometimes more pain, but teaching why they can’t leave their tools behind is the right thing to do.


Rapid development.

The Johnsons.   Rogue River, Oregon 2012

The Johnsons. Rogue River, Oregon 2012

Each year we take our three kids on a multi-day white water raft trip.   Not the type of trip with a hotel stay and a little rafting during the day, but a fully contained raft carrying everything we need for 3 – 4 days with no access to roads or power.   These trips top the list of events we choose to do and create beautiful memories.   While thinking about the all different aspects of rafting, I realized there are lessons taking place.   Whether the kids know it or not, the skills they are obtaining on our family adventures in the remote world will one day be valuable to them in the working world.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Budgets and project planning:   Trips require an outlay of cash.   For a rafting trip, permits need to be obtained in advance and food and supplies need to be purchased.   Usually the trip involves an overnight stay on the way to the destination and fuel for the car. Very careful planning is required to ensure we have everything we will need.  There is no running to the store.   This is a great opportunity to involve children in understanding a budget, timelines, planning and contingent planning.
  • Rapids: White water rafting means there are rapids.   This requires several levels of teamwork.   River guide books read differently from other maps (they read from the bottom to top) which requires specialized skill sets and everyone has to watch the landscape and interpret what is coming up.  There are no mile markers or signs on a river.    Preparation for a rapid that we are not familiar with requires scouting and decisions of what to do based on risk; going through the rapid with dad or walking around.   This process of making sound decisions based on multiple variables is a future management tool that will guide their career.
  • Eddies: An eddy is a river formation that occurs usually when water hits an object like rocks and creates a calm part of the river.   Rafts can sit quietly in an eddy and get a break. Sometimes boaters use eddies to simply slow things down and figure out the next step.    When tensions mount at work, an “eddy” can give a person the opportunity to regroup and perhaps choose a two-part meeting, something I speak of in my blog “Stop Talking.”
  • Handling fear: On our river trips we have experienced getting stuck on rocks in the middle of river, severe weather and bears close to our camp.   Each occasion is a teaching lesson on how to handle fear and remain calm.   Kids look to the parents and read their actions.   The ability to face fears in the workplace in a rational manner is critical.
  • Limited resources: A multi day trip means that everything we need has to be on our raft, or we do without.   Each person understands how to ration the food and water and care for our critical supplies.   Nearly every company is going to have limited resources and workers have to understand how to work within their parameters.
  • Complaining gets you know where: Sometimes there is discomfort.   Our trips are well designed but we may get caught in a rainstorm, get attacked by mosquitos or have the wind working against us.   It is ok to be uncomfortable for a while and complaining about it does not solve the problem.   Often workers spend more time complaining than focusing on solutions.   Anyone that can redirect others toward solving problems, instead of perpetuating them, will be a positive asset.
  • Unplugged: The river means no power, no cell phones, no Wi-Fi and zero video games.   Not once, not one time,  did the kids ask about their devices or miss them.   Everyone needs to unplug once in a while and get off the grid.   Teaching your kids that you hold this time together in high regard means they will one day be workers that take meaningful vacations.

    The Johnsons.   Klamath River, California 2011

    The Johnsons. Klamath River, California 2011

  • Great stuff happens at sunrise:   Waking up with the sun, instead of an alarm clock, is living the best life.   Typically it is calm and peaceful.   Harvard Business Review did a study on morning people versus evening people.   While evening people did have some advantages, morning people tended to be smarter, more creative and have better sense of humor.   If regular life doesn’t allow your family to get up at sunrise, it is worth the special occasion of doing so on an adventure trip.   Someday they may be lucky enough to have a job that they can’t wait to get up for.

For kids, their worlds are small.   Any opportunity to take them on an adventure based trip, whether rafting, hiking, sailing or biking, is worth the effort to get there.   The lessons taught are far greater than texts and classrooms and also enormously important when they begin experiencing life away from home.

Inside the lines.

Inside the lines.

Inside the lines.


Recently I saw an article on adults using coloring books as a means to de-stress.   I loved to color and am excited of its resurgence for grown-ups.   This got me to thinking about the popular sound bites about coloring outside the lines and the value of thinking independently and creatively.   Sure, there is value and I hope to soon write a blog on the rule-breakers and how the workplace needs them.   But for now, I’m thinking about the enormous value of those that do “work inside the box” and consistently do jobs that are really the foundation of a workplace.

I am recalling an organizational behavior class I had where we learned of “followership”.  There are some great blog posts from the professor I had found here.  Followership is not a secondary state (contrary to leadership) and is critical for success.   In fact, individuals can flip flop between being a leader and a follower.   Isn’t the same true for inside and outside the lines?

Some kids follow rules extremely well.   They quietly fall into line and often are overlooked because they do so with zero disruption.   In the workplace, there are positions that are mission critical, and employees consistently and quietly work within their parameters and again, are often overlooked.   Truly, these positions can be the footings of the structure and allow a path for the rule breakers to challenge the status quo and move the company in new directions. History has repeatedly shown this example with architects and brick layers.   The brick layers stay in the critical lines to ensure a solid structure and architects are revered for thinking beyond the normal.   Both are necessary and both are valuable.

For those that do color within the lines, keep these items in mind:

  • Don’t make creativity the only recognition point at work, or at home.   Celebrate consistency and correctness.  If I have a payroll person or tax accountant that consistently submits completely accurate reports, find a way to give credit to the work.   If I have a child that consistently does homework without being asked, celebrate!
  • Offer an avenue to present ideas.   Not everyone enjoys spending time on new ideas and certainly not everyone enjoys sharing them.   Ways for people to communicate that are non-threatening or even anonymous can be helpful.
  • When individuals that are very different team up in a supportive environment, great things can happen.   Often the creative types have no appreciation for the baseline, routine functions of the organizations.   Learning opportunities will abound.
  • It can be therapeutic to work inside the lines.   Even those that are expected to drive new ideas and play devil’s advocate, can find reprieve in working inside the lines.   There is a reason that adult coloring books are popular.   Checking-out for a while can lend a brain a different way to process.   The converse works the same for those that work diligently on rote work and get breaks to delve into a creative task.

Researching this topic, I see countless articles on how to squeeze creativity out of employees and think outside of the box. I challenge the mindset to accept those that don’t find comfort there.   What if we can tolerate and then capitalize on both types?  In fact, coloring inside the lines can produce some beautiful results.

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