Meaningful Work

A typical worker is driven to do meaningful things, at least in my opinion. What a worker looks for in a job has changed through the generations – from lifelong employment to getting money to doing something with purpose (admittedly, these are big generalities). Actually, an ideal job has aspects from all three generations: career security, comfortable pay, and impactfulness. Purpose, sometimes defined in a mission statement, should be part of a company culture. Moreover, it should be used as an instrument to attract and retain talent. Millennials are thinking about the purpose of a company; according to a Deloitte Survey:

Millennials overwhelmingly believe (75 percent) businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society.1

Meaningful Work
Meaningful Work

There is a Greek parable about Sisyphus often referenced on the subject of work engagement. Sisyphus is a man condemned to roll a boulder up a hill. Right before it reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down to the bottom. He repeats this over and over again; never accomplishing the task. Ultimate futility…

In our modern workplace, the outcome might be losing a bid, having a project mothballed, getting ignored by an audience, etc. Sometimes compensation satisfies the sting, but not always. Leadership has to be cognizant of this demoralizing effect and step in to alleviate the effects of deflated workers. This can be accomplished in a few ways.

First, give internal recognition. For example, if a project is mothballed, invest the time and resources to acknowledge the participants. Setup an event and presentation to talk about what was accomplished (at least conceptually).

Second, salvage anything of value. Knowing it affects the morale of those involved, set aside time to find resources. Then publish, share, and learn whatever you can.

Third, change the game from ‘finite’ to ‘infinite’ whenever possible. This means find ways to make a better move against the competition. For example, if a worker loses a sales bid, repackage the proposal, make it better, and bid again.

Fourth, validate skill competencies. Identify and endorse skills each worker acquired while working on the task; experiences always involve knowledge gains. If possible, let workers take over possession of the resulting product – something they can share as a work sample on a personal website and/or LinkedIn profile.

I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to read a NY Times article referencing the same Greek parable, where the author made a counter argument:

Life is a succession of tasks rather than a cascade of inspiration, an experience that is more repetitive than revelatory, at least on a day-to-day basis. The thing is to perform the task well and find reward even in the mundane.2

His point has some takeaways. If you do a basic task, then you might as well do it as best you can, take your pay, and find other ways to satisfy your curiosities. (To apply “compensation” in the parable above, Sisyphus can take consolation in being one of the fittest men in ancient Greece!) In the modern world, many recent college graduates are underemployed and asked to do boring work; according to the same Deloitte survey, “Only 28 percent of Millennials feel that their current organization is making full use of their skills.” Best thing they can do is to show grit, build skills, and find purpose in other areas of their life.

Work is meaningful to us on an emotional, personal level. There are many routine, mundane, and uninspiring things we do as part of a job and simply getting paid is a motivator. Yet, deep within us, most of us yearn for some satisfaction and purpose in our career. Popular marketing guru Seth Godin calls it art. I agree. In a lifetime, you want to use your talents to create things and reach people in a positive way.

http://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/opinion/cohen-mow-the-lawn.html

Original Image © Depositphoto/ Photocreo #63993111

Showcase Your Personality

A personal website is an ideal platform to showcase your personality while trying to get a job. If you have been listening to me for the past four and a half years, you know I think there are many other benefits of a personal website. But here I want to focus on the personality aspect.

personality
personality

Why should you care about how your personality is portrayed to prospective employers? The reason is: many employers are considering it as part of an initial screening process.

  • They might have you take a ‘personality test’. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “eight of the top 10 U.S. private employers now administer pre-hire tests in their job applications for some positions”.[i]
  • They might scour your social media profiles. According to a Career Builder survey: “39% of employers dig into candidates on social sites, while 43% said they had found something that made them deep-six a candidate”.[ii]
  • They will assess a personal website. In a survey I conducted, 77% of the HR respondents acknowledged they would review one in an employment evaluation.[iii]

Since a ‘personality check’ happens so early in an employment evaluation, if you do not pass, you do not get a chance to make a face to face impression in an interview. Does a personality test effectively tell your story? Do social media profiles capture your essence?

Taking a personality test. It varies and depends on the test. Employers will argue they have stats indicating how a candidate answers particular questions predicts future performance; though according to one study: “only 14% of organizations have data to prove the positive business impact of their assessment”.[iv] I think the testing is skewed because of the tremendous amount of pressure a candidate faces trying to impress to get a job. Have you ever taken a personality test for a job?

I took one while trying to land my first job after college. I was applying for a financial advisor position. The test was a minefield of questions on ethics. With many of the questions, I remember thinking over and over again: “how do they want me to answer this question?” I desperately needed a job!

LinkedIn presence (profile, content, and updates). There are a lot of great features of a LinkedIn profile for an employment evaluation. Its strengths include: being indexed by a powerful search algorithm and the representation of connections and endorsements. Do you think it represents your personality, however? Not me. It is too formal and has a uniform style – other than your profile background image. Everyone has the same layout – a boxy table. When I write content for LinkedIn, I write in a ‘professional voice’ (not a ‘creative voice’). Though it is possible to add various forms of media, it does not have the same depth of a personal website. Finally, if you are a student or an early career professional, your LinkedIn profile does not have much content.

Facebook presence (profile, content, and updates). Of course, a Facebook presence is much more a personal reflection than a LinkedIn presence. As an assessment of your personality, it shows everything from all stages in your life. But your personality develops in stages. Moreover, elements of your social life (like ‘referenced drug and alcohol use’) are not strong indicators for how you would perform at a job. It is also much more difficult to control a Facebook presence because you have so many audiences.

A personal website gives you a chance to create a deep persona; it puts everything together, so you have control over the impression. You have a home page. This is where you choose an effective style and layout and carefully crafted content to make a powerful fifteen second first impression – a viewer’s gut reaction. You have a blog. Anyone who reads your posts gets a glimpse into how you think and what you have to say. (On my blog, I share stuff about me such as my love of fishing and Grateful Dead improv.) You have video. Create a powerful message across many dimensions – a script, setting, action, etc. Finally, with a personal website, you have full control of all the content, down to the pixel.

You may have to take a personality test and your social media may be reviewed. Regardless, an employer will review your personal website where you own the impression.

To reiterate, there are many other benefits in having a personal website. Here is a presentation of the main benefits of a personal website:

[i] http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-personality-test-could-stand-in-the-way-of-your-next-job-1429065001

[ii] http://www.wsj.com/articles/should-companies-monitor-their-employees-social-media-1399648685

[iii] https://blog.theprofessionalwebsite.com/2012/11/22/survey-employers-seeking-employees-professional-website

[iv] https://hbr.org/2014/08/the-problem-with-using-personality-tests-for-hiring

Original Image © Depositphoto/ mybaitshop #45892597

Reflection on Personal Website Concepts

Often times I think in functional ways, so get tunneled vision on sharing key concepts and forget to include personal reflection. So, in this blog, I thought I would share some of the stories behind the concepts.

The story behind a mainstream personal website service starts around Christmas time in 2010. I pulled my brother’s tag from a hat for our family grab-bag and I had to give him a gift. He has traveled extensively around the world, so I was going to build him a website to share his travel experiences with stories and images. However, he preferred having his own personal website to help promote his work for non-profits. Of course, I tried taking a short-cut by using a platform from an existing web service. I could not find one – there was not a web service with the functionality we needed. This is when my brother and I knew we had an opportunity to be innovative by designing a personal website service.

We learned two important characteristics about a personal website from this experience. First, it establishes an online identity. A person wants it to appear first in a Google search about them, therefore it must deliver a deep, meaningful impression. Second, there are both personal and professional themes on the website. Part of an effective personal website is presenting and validating skills, but another equally important part is communicating an aura – something that requires media, style, and aesthetics.

I took an interest in academics at the start of senior year of my undergraduate education, before then I was more into a social experience. I was in a fraternity and made some great, lifelong friends (would not change that). But my goal was to get a degree, not actual learning. For that year and in my graduate education, I performed well academically. It was simply a switch- balance social and academic experiences. All it takes is accountability, dedication, and tricking yourself that learning is enjoyable. I want to help others to turn on the switch earlier in their lives.

In creating the Skills-Based Approach methodology, one of my primary objectives is to get college students and young professionals on the right career track. I feel so many young adults lack maturity, so do not go through the necessary self-reflection to find career fulfillment. Personally, I think it is a generational thing. In their two books Academically Adrift and Aspiring Adults Adrift, the authors provide a compelling case that this problem of career preparedness affects a majority. In A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career, I suggest four career planning strategies: craftsman’s mindset, self-awareness, product to market, and passion theory. My goal is to get the average person thinking about higher education and a career much earlier, take responsibility for their own learning, and grow personally and professionally – be happy.

I root for the underdog. A person who has fresh insights should be successful, regardless of their status and how many connections they have, in my opinion. Things I fear about personal branding approaches laden in self-promotion is that it becomes a ‘popularity contest’ in social media and credentialism takes over. This is why I am an advocate of using the power of demonstration. Get your ideas and content out there.

With online personal branding, one of my goals is to remove the stigma of self-promotion. I acknowledge varying doses of self-promotion are required in personal branding because professionals compete against each other, whether it be for a position, clients, or eyeballs on content. I cringe when forced to self-promote. I am more or less an introvert who prefers writing and sharing content, then sitting back and hoping it gets read based on the content itself (and not what I say about myself). So I came up with a model of online personal branding where self-promotion is not a focal point. Instead I suggest assessing your skill set, aura, and identity and then projecting it onto a network. No one likes too much self-promotion on a personal level, why do we accept so much of it on a professional level.

It’s Not All About How Smart You Are…

Individual intelligence is commonly associated with cognitive intelligence, though emotional intelligence is also getting a lot of attention nowadays (especially among leadership gurus). Going forward, a collective intelligence – the combined intelligence of systems and a network/team – becomes more important than individual intelligence. It makes more sense to compare collective intelligences, because teams and their intelligent systems are the actors of future competition.

Intelligences
Intelligences

Here are the definitions of some of various intelligences I have come across:

Cognitive Intelligence (IQ, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, etc.) – “the set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge: attention, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and computation, problem solving and decision-making, comprehension and production of language, etc.”[i] People with a high cognitive intelligence often brandish the results of related tests on college and employment applications, some even put it on their LinkedIn profile; it is a status symbol in our society. Stereotype of someone with a high IQ: a brainy genius who you ask to solve a problem.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”[ii] In Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves break emotional intelligence into four areas – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management – and provide strategies to improve your EQ. A distinction they make frequently is you can improve your EQ, but cannot improve your IQ. Many of the leadership and personal branding experts assert that a high EQ is more valuable than a high IQ in most professions. Stereotype of someone with a high EQ: a social magnet who you ask to coordinate gatherings.

Creative Intelligence (CQ, curiosity quotient) – capable of ‘generating original ideas’, open to new experiences, and inquisitive. People with a high CQ ‘stir the pot’ by challenging the status quo. Their ideas are not necessarily rooted in complex thinking (requiring a high IQ), but rather tweaking or thinking out of the box. In a HBR article Curiosity Is as Important as Intelligence, the author concludes: “CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems”. Stereotype of someone with a high CQ: an edgy designer who you ask to create concepts.

Contextual Intelligence – “the ability to understand boundaries of knowledge and adapt to other environments.”[iii] Understanding the nuances of different cultures and their social norms is critical as we become increasingly interconnected. Understanding variations in seemingly similar applications is important as the competition between new technologies stiffens. Stereotype of someone with a high contextual intelligence: a street-smart diplomat who you ask to understand a culture.

Artificial Intelligence (Turing Test) – the intelligence of machines or software. Artificial intelligence is becoming a reality, some current applications include: feeding content in social media, asking IBM Watson questions through Verse (an email collaboration platform), and nudging by personal assistants on cell phones (Siri, Cortana, Google Now, etc.). It is a commonly accepted notion that AI becomes pervasive in our everyday lives. Though many outspoken leaders, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk, have recently voiced concerns about the dangers of future intelligent systems.

Collective Intelligence (a variation of IQ to accommodate teams) – this is the combined intelligence of a team and/or intelligent systems. With advances in technology and communication practices, leaders need to think in terms of a collective intelligence as they build teams and introduce technologies. A collective intelligence can be predicted. It is strongly correlated with “the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and proportions of females in the group” – not strongly correlated with the individual intelligence of its members.[iv] It is also worth noting that online communication (driven by technology) has similar correlations to collective intelligence as face-to-face communication.[v]

There are various forms of intelligence: cognitive, emotional, creative, and contextual. Fortunately, it is not just about how smart you are – personality, ingenuity, and street smarts are as valuable. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a reality. Leaders should optimize the collective intelligence of their teams.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognition

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence

[iii] https://hbr.org/2014/09/contextual-intelligence

[iv] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6004/686.full

[v] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4267836/

College Maturity

The transition from high school to college to early employment is crucial in career development. A successful transition depends on maturity, being able to prioritize learning while becoming more self and socially aware. In Aspiring Adults Adrift, the authors take their study (started in Academically Adrift) further to understand the lives of early career professionals soon after graduating from college.

Time Management
Time Management

College graduates are still having a difficult time finding satisfying employment. In a recent article in HBR, a study points out that employees also recognize the existence of a skills gap – something employers have been talking about for the last couple years[i].

Internships, apprenticeships, and volunteering lead to greater employment possibilities and are becoming fundamental as employers and colleges work to close the skills gap. This type of work relationship is good for a few reasons. First, students practice skills as they learn them in the classroom. Second, students explore and experiment in jobs without over committing. Third, employers influence what is being taught in the classroom. Finally, it is cheaper for employers to assess a candidate’s skill set (as opposed to a direct hire).

According to the study, students are not using their college career services to land future employment. A career center’s biggest contribution is to setup career events, where students link up with employers who have a relationship with the college. In addition, career services help students perfect their resume (and this should be moving towards an online personal brand, I argue). The Obama administration is pushing a new college rating system that makes colleges accountable for “dropout rates, earnings of graduates and affordability”[ii]. Career centers, being a bridge between employers and a college, should face an expanded role in courting employers and ensuring their graduates have the necessary skills.

One of the major themes of the book is that higher education needs to reverse the course towards consumerism and concentrate on improving academic rigor. This is challenging because of the above-mentioned college rating system. On one-side there is pressure to improve graduation rates (currently 60 percent of undergrads), and on the other-side there is pressure to get students to work harder with a more difficult curriculum. Perhaps both can be accomplished in the long-term, but would require a major change in social norms – college students showing up ready and willing to learn on day one.

Still the book makes clear a social element has its place in a college experience, for these reasons: 1) it “plays a highly stratifying role in partner selection” (even though people marry later in life); 2) it introduces students to a diverse student body; 3) it is meant to cultivate the “whole man”. Students must learn a balancing act – work commitments (studying and being in class) versus play – that exists throughout the rest of their lives.

In the eyes of graduating college students, everything is peachy. According to the study: 95 percent reported their lives would be better than those of their parents and 90 percent of seniors reported being satisfied with their college experience.

To improve learning in college, educators, policy makers, and parents are going to have to work together – make true learning the primary objective of college.

Colleges and universities thus have a responsibility to address the lack of academic rigor and limited learning we have reported… Consumer satisfaction is not a worthy aim for colleges and universities.

What I like about this book is it speaks the truth of the average college student. It is something I can surely relate to with my college experience. For many, the social experience is overwhelming. We get tunnel vision about earning a credential – the degree – rather than actual learning and building skills needed for a career. In Paying for the Party, two sociologists study women in a public college and come up with similar conclusions. Speaking about partying is taboo because there are deep privacy and trust concerns within a circle of friends (and we all grow up at different times). But I am not suggesting changing the social scene. My suggestion is to treat college from the beginning like a job: you do the necessary work, spend the time, and meet a learning expectation, and then are free to do as you please. In my opinion, it all comes down to: time management, learning commitment , self-control, self-awareness, and social awareness.

[i] http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/09/workers-dont-have-the-skills-they-need-and-they-know-it/

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/upshot/why-federal-college-ratings-wont-rein-in-tuition.html

Richard Arum and Josipa Roska. Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates. (University of College Press, Chicago 2014)

What Is Knowledge?

Google’s definition of knowledge: facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Let’s discuss each clause separately.

Knowledge
Knowledge

The underlying notion of knowledge is going through a transformation. Memorization of ‘facts and information’ is less important, and building skills is more important. All possible content is available to us through the internet, social media, and other networks instantaneously on computer and mobile devices. In the not so distant future, implanted devices will interact with our normal thought processes and create an ‘augmented reality’. (Love this video on what this might seem like; be forewarned it is frightening, but realistic .) Why is there rote-memorization in education? Should the focus be on building skills to find, synthesize, and discuss ‘facts and information’?

The ability to mix technical knowledge with solving real-world problems is the key.[i]

Look at the success of IBM’s Watson – a supercomputer that won Jeopardy and beat the top chess player in the world. Winning Jeopardy requires recalling facts and information in a wide array of subjects and winning chess requires cycling through a significant number of iterations for each move. In a chess match, a supercomputer beats the best human player, but a team of a supercomputer and a human player beats a supercomputer by itself (at least for now).[ii] Of course, humans build the computer and program the underlying algorithms. Players now learn chess in new ways. They optimize the computer for crunching out calculations, know how to process the data, and spend more time reading their opponent. IBM has just come out with mainstream application that utilizes Watson to bring ‘big data’ analysis to the average user.[iii] Learning to ask the right questions is paramount.

Memorizing a foundation of ‘facts and information’ is a requirement in certain professions, such as historians, doctors, and lawyers; a common thread in their responsibilities includes being able to recite facts and stats, classify elements, or identify precedence on the spot. Although there are huge online content reservoirs, such as Web-MD and Lexus Nexus, which can be accessed when needed. Nevertheless, a ‘theoretical or practical understanding’ remains critical in these high stakes professions.

Knowing ‘facts and information’ is required for developing a perspective. You cannot make an effective argument without a sufficient understanding of the prevailing schools of thought. Still, immediate access to huge reservoirs of facts and information online accelerates this process significantly. The notion of spending days in a library rummaging through printed copies of journals, periodicals, and books is over (still remember the awful, time-consuming process). Now you can  follow new ideas in social media, conduct Google searches, and access websites of information distributors. Digital content is much easier to manage – make comments, highlight quotes, and copy and transfer to other platforms.

Understanding is key. But not superficial, light-bulb moment of understanding. In STEM, true and deep understanding comes with the mastery gained through practice.[iv]

Here are some thoughts for moving forward with a new concept of knowledge:

  • Promote self-guided learning. Learning has become a lifelong commitment because of the rapid adoption of new technologies and dissemination of huge amounts of content. Professionals must keep their skills sharp with new applications. They must also follow the latest trends by following influencers in social media, taking courses, and reading articles, books, and blogs.
  • Focus on skills required to manage, process, and analyze information and facts, as opposed to memorization. Computers are better at memorization and number crunching; humans are better at making decisions and showing compassion and empathy (soft skills).
  • Competency based learning instead of the traditional credit hour model. With online learning, you can learn at your own pace and utilize many different resources.
  • Use the latest technology in all levels of education. It is essential to put the latest hardware and software applications into the hands of students – a generation that is expected to use it.

[i] Tyler Cowen. Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. (Penguin, New York 2013).

[ii] … (page 81)

[iii] http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/ibm-offers-a-data-tool-for-the-mainstream-with-watsons-help/

[iv] http://online.wsj.com/articles/barbara-oakley-repetitive-work-in-math-thats-good-1411426037