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From the Blog

Want To Simplify Work And Increase Satisfaction? Here's how...

Is your work getting more complicated, more bureaucratic? Is there less connection between your work and your sense of satisfaction? Are your productivity and your engagement dropping?

I re-watched a fascinating TED talk the other day, by Yves Morieux of the Boston Consulting Group. I have watched it a few times now, as it resonates with questions asked by many of my career clients.

Morieux says that we base our business models on two pillars:

Hard - structure, processes, systems
Soft - feelings, sentiments, interpersonal relationships, traits, personality

And whenever a company reorganises, restructures, reengineers, goes through a cultural transformation program, it plays with these two pillars, and tries to refine them and to combine them. The real issue, says Yves Morieux, is that these pillars are obsolete.

Trying to draw more little boxes with more reporting lines just makes things more complex - and less efficient. For Morieux, it is 'basically the interplay' that is, it's about how the parts work together, the connections, the interactions, the synapses. 'It is not the skeleton of boxes, it is the nervous system of adaptiveness and intelligence. You know, you could call it cooperation, basically.'

He uses an example of a bank where the front office and back office aren't co-operating. The classic solution is to insert a middle office to help communications. As most of us know, generally all this does is add an extra layer of mis-communication between the two parties who need to sort it out.

The solution? 'Smart simplicity', with rules to guide us (summarised here, but watch the talk for the full picture):

Simple rule one: Understand what others do. What is their real work? We need to go beyond the boxes, the job descriptions, beyond the surface of the container, to understand the real content.

Simple rule two: You need to remove layers and have 'integrators' who understand how to bring people together.

Simple rule three: Empower everybody to use their judgment, their intelligence. Then they can take the risk to co-operate, to move out of insulation.

Simple rule four: Create feedback loops that expose people to the consequences of their actions. Show people 'the shadow of their future'.

Simple rule five: Increase reciprocity, by removing the buffers that make us self-sufficient. Then, as Morieux says 'you hold me by the nose, I hold you by the ear. We will cooperate.'

Simple rule six: Reward those who cooperate and blame those who don't cooperate. Don't punish failure, only punish failure to co-operate, failure to ask for help. 

This way, says, Morieux, you increase improve performance and satisfaction at work because you have removed the common root cause that hinders both - complicatedness.

Is it really this simple? I don't know, but it certainly looks like common sense. So, is there somewhere in your working life that you can implement even one or two of these rules? A process you can simplify, a team member you can empower?

Could be interesting...
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How's Your Decision Making?

Do you struggle to make decisions? Do you have recurring questions about your working life, the kind that never quite get resolved - and never quite go away, either?

I found a nifty little book while at the airport a while ago, called The Decision Book, by Krogerus and Tschappeler.

It's a simple volume, just 50 models for strategic thinking. I always find these models very appealing, as they combine the lure of simplicity with a nice visual aid. Some of the strategies were familiar, some a really useful addition to my toolkit - and a few were plain silly, like mapping your taste in music or fashion so you can see where you fit in to society...

One that dovetailed nicely with one of my existing tools was a strategic thinking / decision making matrix. I use a matrix like this in my career change programs, with 'desire' on one axis and 'practicality' on the other. (Or sometimes it makes more sense as 'love' and 'money'.) Clients map all their career ideas on the matrix, and it can be a great aid to clarity to see a visual map of where they all fit in.

Often there are one or two possibilities that maybe aren't the top of the desirability list, but which are very practical - these are useful if you need to make money using your existing skills while you plot your career change. Also interesting are the things you love, but which aren't currently practical - is there anything you could do to make these more feasible, such as getting some skills, making new contacts, working up a business case? Of course, if you have one career that is high desirability AND practicality, your dilemma is resolved!

The Decision Book is also big on matrices. The one I liked is their 'project portfolio' matrix, for people who juggle a number of projects, either as a freelancer or within their core business. They suggest you can classify your project with cost (which includes dollars but also resources, energy needed, people involved) on one axis, and time on the other.

Or you could create a matrix where 'x' is how much the project is helping me achieve my objectives, and 'y' is how much I am learning from the project. Clearly, projects that don't score highly on either need to be ditched. If you're learning but it's not contributing to your vision, then it's either a hobby or needs to be tweaked for a better fit. If it contributes but there's no learning, maybe you can outsource it? And of course if it's tops on both, then you have a winner.

These are all good examples, but the best matrices are the ones that you create to reflect the dynamics that are the most important to you and your current work issues. What are your big questions?
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5 Ways To Chill Out Without Taking A Holiday

So the work year has well and truly started and I hope it's going well for you. It will be a while before most of us can take another break so I thought it might be timely to offer a few tips to manage yourself so the stress doesn't build up - so you can remain a cool banana rather than a stress bunny. Check out these ideas for helping you de-stress while you are still in work mode:

1. Find a relaxation technique
There are any number of simple techniques available, some associated with a particular religion, others not. Have a look at the internet, check out the numerous books available or look for local classes.

2. Work hard then rest...
In an interview I did a few years ago with Siimon Reynolds, he suggested we should all work only 5 hours a day, but really focus during those 5 hours... then switch off entirely from work and do something restful. Really fill your working hours, but then build in some space each day to recuperate and switch off.

3. Take control of a (at least) a corner of your life
The most effective stress reduction technique is to remove the things in our life that are stressful. Of course, this is not always possible or even desirable. However, it is a great strategy to at least render order to a small corner of your world. This has benefits to mind and body far beyond the practical effects of the completion of the task itself. So, if your boss is giving you hell or your partner is awaiting a risky operation, it may really help you to clean out a cupboard at home or organise your finances or build a shed...

4. Develop your emotional self-management skills
There are any number of books and courses available now on improving your ability to deal with your own feelings (and those of the people around you). Two excellent choices are Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness and Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Both contain excellent strategies and are easily available. But really it's about whatever is helpful for you...ask around, borrow books from friends or libraries, find useful tips that make sense to you (oh, and do them...).

5. Pursue meaningful goals
This may sound trite, but stress that crops up along the path to a satisfying goal (like getting a degree or raising a child) is much less damaging to the mind and body than stress we encounter say in a dead end job or in dealing with a constantly noisy neighbour. The reason, of course, is that we are working towards a meaningful future and are focused on the big picture. So find your vision and start working towards it.
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Think Like Socrates

Have you ever been out-argued? Do you remember a time when you just couldn't work out the answer to something, even though you had all the facts?

I'm running a workshop next week that will reference critical thinking as well as creative thinking. It has reminded me of my law student days, when I took an elective in Socratic questioning and Aristotelian logic. I really enjoyed learning the system of uncovering truth by using questions, but love having the chance to delve back into it.

Socratic questioning is all about using questions to uncover the truth about something, and is a core part of critical thinking. You can Google 'Socratic Questioning' and find a wealth of information. Here are some starter questions, based on R.W. Paul's six types of Socratic questions:

Questions for clarification
  • Why do you say that?
  • How does this relate to our discussion?
  • Is your new product going to be available overseas?

Questions that probe assumptions
  • How can you test that assumption?
  • What could we assume instead?
  • Why is the budget $500,000? Can we do it for less and achieve the same result?

Questions that probe reasons and evidence
  • What would be an example?
  • What do you think causes this? Why?
  • Is the loss of profits in June caused by the change in our marketing strategy? Can we prove that?

Questions about paradigms and perspectives
  • What's a different way to look at it?
  • Who benefits? Who will suffer?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of...?
  • How are X and Y similar? How are they different?
  • What is a counterargument for...?
  • If we introduce the new staff policies, how will they affect older staff?

Questions that probe implications and consequences
  • What are the consequences of that view?
  • What are you implying?
  • How does X affect Y?
  • How would our project change if we dropped the prototype phase?

Questions about the question
  • What was the point of this question?
  • What does X mean?
  • Why is this project worth doing? Why is it important?

What do you think? Could you see this being useful to you?
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Careers and Chaos

Do you have a grand plan for your career? Have you got it all mapped out? Do you fret when it goes off track?

Well, maybe you can take heart from the story of Anna Bligh. As you will know, she was Premier of Queensland (from 2007-2012) and is now CEO of YWCA New South Wales. She was awarded an AC - Companion of the Order of Australia - in the recent honours list.

I had the privilege of attending a lunch a while back where she spoke about her career. She confessed that she wanted to be a nun originally, changed her mind as a teenager, and then did a literature (and social science) degree at university. She was drawn to social justice and political discussions, but was it because she was determined to become premier? No - as she explains it, there were no women in political life in Queensland, or in Federal Parliament, when she was growing up, no role models, and no thought that this was a possibility.

She drifted into the public service, via a heap of bar jobs, stints in fast food places and the like. So, how did she get to be Premier? She told us all that she followed her interests, she spoke up about things that mattered to her - and she went with the path that excited her, even when she was unsure where it would lead.

When she was asked to run for parliament, her youngest child was under two, and she had no idea how she would manage. But she already understood that most careers are not perfectly planned. She knew that luck and serendipity have a big part to play - and when chance comes your way, you must grab it. So she did. As she said, 'most careers aren't perfectly planned'.

The other essential element in her career path was the ability to tolerate a bit of chaos, and to realise that 'balance' was never going to happen. She told stories of the kind that all working mothers can relate to, about the days when all organisation fails, and your worlds just collide. Her advice? Stop torturing yourself, eradicate the word 'balance' from your vocabulary, and do what you can to get through.

I think this is great advice. I've written before about both the importance of having career goals, and the equal importance of following your gut, seizing the opportunity that may never return - and trusting that you can make it work. I've also written about the fallacy of work-life balance.

So, follow your interest, take note of what excites you - and develop a capacity for living (a bit) chaotically. It might just be all the plan you need.
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Are You A Fox Or A Hedgehog?

Are you the kind of person who pursues many ends at the same time and sees the world in all its complexity? Or do you simplify your world into a single organising idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything?

This dichotomy is often discussed in management writings through the 'the fox and the hedgehog' story. Do you know about it? Based on a Greek fable, it's about the importance of having a clear vision, a single big idea about your life.

Jim Collins made the story famous in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't. He quotes the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes in his famous essay (called, you guessed it, 'The Hedgehog and the Fox'), concluding that 'the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.'

As Collins goes on to say, 'The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog's den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty - the fox looks like the sure winner.

The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox. "Aha, I've got you now!" thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, "Here we go again. Will he ever learn?" Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.

Berlin extrapolated from this little parable to divide people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are "scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,' says Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple - indeed almost simplistic - hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.'

The point of all this for Collins is that a simple clear guiding principle or strategy is essential, beating a scattergun approach every time.

BUT, surely you can take this too far. Yes, I think vision is vital. Yes, I think having a guiding principle  in life is vital. But so is having a range of options, possibilities, ideas and approaches. Nothing could be worse than being fixed on one solution or possibility, with nowhere to move if things change, or someone (a badger, perhaps?) with a better vision comes along.

It's also true that Isaiah Berlin pointed to some brilliant foxes in his essay - Herodotus, Moliere, Goethe and Shakespeare among many. Oh, and I checked - in the real world foxes in fact do kill hedgehogs, often.

So, where does that leave our story? Is a hedgehog always better than a fox? What do you think?

(A fox with a that would be interesting.)
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What Are Your 3 Futures?

Are you at a career crossroads, struggling to decide whether to go this way or that?

Here's an excellent exercise that helps you imagine what your life might be like if you took this path, or that path, or if you left the path altogether. You look at three possible different futures and really play out how your life might look after, say, 3 - 5 years of living each of them. I use it with all my clients, it's fun and productive.

Part 1
Start by thinking of all the things that might get in the way of change for you - is it money, small children, financial commitments, investment in a particular work identity, status, family stuff, or...?

Now, for the moment, just sweep them aside. We aren't ignoring them, just moving them off centre stage for a minute.

Then, imagine a world where there are NO obstacles to whatever future you might imagine, none.

And ask yourself this question: 'What future would bring me the most satisfaction / success / happiness?'

If there is only one winner, go to Part 2A.
If you have more than one clear answer, move on to Part 2B.

Part 2A
Now, for your top future, imagine your life in say 3, 4 or 5 years' time. Think about a typical day:

  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What is happening?
  • What are you doing?
  • How do you feel?
  • What do you see?
  • What do you hear?
  • What about smells, tastes, touch?
  • What do you feel?
  • What about spiritual elements, physical elements, mental elements?

Record this in whatever way you like - journal, collage, mindmap, list, a story, a recording...

Part 2B
Zero in on the top three possibilities for a future direction, picking the three that seem the most attractive or compelling or interesting, NOT the three that are most practical or easiest to achieve. Remember that for the moment there are no obstacles in the way of achieving these dreams.

Now, pick one of the three, and imagine your life in say 3, 4 or 5 years' time. Think about a typical day and answer the same questions that are listed for Part 2A.

Then repeat for the other two futures.

Thinking about the three, which one seems more compelling or inviting?

Part 3
Taking your top pick, bring all those obstacles - money, time, kids, status, identity, fear - back into view. Make a list of them, thinking of them as logistics challenges rather than reasons not to move forward.

Looking at them one by one, brainstorm ways you could overcome the obstacles. Assume that there IS a way around each challenge without losing your dream.

If you get stuck, get help - talk to a coach, a mentor, a colleague or a friend. Do some research, seek out people who have done what you dream of doing.

Don't give up.
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Do You Have A Strategic Plan For Your Career?

I spent the first 15 or so years of my working life drifting in and out of a series of different legal jobs, without a clear plan for the future. Actually, that's not quite true. Towards the end, I did have a partial career plan. It was called GET ME OUT OF HERE!

(The law is a great career for many people, but not for me.)

However, the obvious flaw in my exit strategy was that there was nothing in it about 'what's next', so I kept leaving jobs, travelling, daydreaming - and then having to go back to the law when the money ran out, my sugar-daddy failed to materialise, and I had no idea what else to do.

Even when I found the right career direction for me, it took me a ridiculous amount of time to learn how to manage my career. But in fact, it's not so hard to take the driver's seat, to develop a plan for your working life and map out action steps to take you there (whether 'there' is CEO of a top company, or owner of your own small business, or doing a series of satisfying creative project jobs).

In the interests of you getting a handle on your working life more quickly than I did, here is a 10-step checklist for a simple strategic plan.

1. List 3 ways you will increase your strengths (and the time spent using them).
Using your strengths at work is a recipe for job satisfaction, and it is also a key way to get noticed and promoted. Think about your key strengths (things you enjoy doing, that make you feel strong) and plan to use them more.

2. List 3 ways you will reduce time spent doing activities you dislike.
Most of us are very clear about what we don't like doing, but often assume that we have no choice in the matter. Can you use some creative thinking here - swap tasks with a workmate or filter it through a strength (if you are a people person, why not make the dreaded task a team activity, for example)?

3. List 3 skills you will improve.
These might be in areas that are holding you back, or new skills you'd love to add to your repertoire.

4. List 3 ways you will keep up with developments in your field.
What about a journal subscription, joining a networking group, or doing some strategic internet browsing.

5. List 3 ways you will connect more with your values.
If you're doing work that is not aligned with your core values, dissatisfaction and internal stress will follow. List your top values, and make sure you work (and live) in accordance with them.

6. List 3 ways you will increase your use of networks.
Online and offline networking are NOT optional if you want to forge ahead in your career.

7. Is your resume up to date? And your Linked In profile?
If not, fix them.

8. Is anything in the way - unhelpful beliefs, anxiety, inner critic talk or procrastination?
These are often the biggest reason behind a stalled career. If you suspect this is true for you, do something about it - read a book, talk to a coach or counselor, devise a strategy for handling the issue.

9. Where are you playing small? What is the risk (or opportunity) you're not talking?
Most of us know that if we couldn't fail, we would be braver and more strategic in our career. Even though failure is always possible, you need to find the courage to make these moves anyway.

10. What are the action steps that will take your career to the next level?
These questions are a great first step. Next, turn your answers into a series of actions that are clear and have a timeframe to them - and then DO the actions, one by one.

Simple. (And if you find it's not so simple, contact me {} and I will help you.)
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Is Magical Thinking Holding You Back?

Over the new year, I reflected on the reflection questions that were the subject of a recent blog. (Yes, I actually do use the exercises I recommend to others...).

I've been doing this for the last 8 or more years, so I didn't expect any major surprises in answering the questions. But in fact, every year I find I have indulged in magical thinking in at least one area of my life.

Magical thinking is 'believing that one event happens as a result of another without a plausible link of causation'. Examples abound, as we are hard-wired to look for patterns in our environment, to want to be in control and to avoid surprises. So if we wear our lucky charm to an exam and do well, we want to believe that if we wear it next time too, all will be well again. If we wish for something and it comes true, we tend to believe that somehow our wishing caused the event to happen.

It's a fascinating topic, and there are benefits as well as downsides to all this - without magical thinking, we would never go to parties, let alone blind dates. We'd be less creative and find it much harder to spot useful patterns. (Too much magical thinking however, leads to psychosis, so there's definitely an edge...).

Magical thinking and I go way back. When I was four or five, I decided I was an alien, and haunted our back garden every night waiting for my 'real' alien parents to beam me up. When I was 12, I decided if I did well enough at school, everyone would love me and life would go well. When I was 20, it was all about princes on white horses and when I started my business, I just knew if I worked hard the rewards would flow.

Over the years, I have done much weeding of the magical hotspots in my life and work, and I thought they were all eradicated. And in the main, this is true.

My piles of pixie dust are pretty small these days, but often it's the small things that make a big difference. So, in 2017 I will focus on (gently) sweeping up some of my remaining pixie dust.

What about you?
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Is The Script In Your Head Running Your Life?

All of us have a script inside our heads that contains our beliefs about our world. These are not necessarily helpful to you today, or even true. They were laid down long ago, and should be brought out and checked against the light of day from time to time.

Some of them were literally absorbed with your baby food, some from school, our culture or early life experience. How many people are told by their first teacher that they couldn't draw or spell or were too loud or...and still believe that today? Or did your mother tell you that you shouldn't trust people, or did your father explain that the only definition of success was a uni degree and a good salary - and do you still think that's true? Or did you absorb the message from the world around you that to be acceptable you needed a great body, a fast car, a big bank balance, a cool mobile or... The examples could go on and on.

Some of your beliefs are no doubt useful to you (such as 'I can be really determined', 'Life usually woks out OK' or whatever) but it is quite possible to sidestep beliefs that are not true any more, or which are not helpful ('I never finish things', 'No-one will help me').

You may well think of some of these not as beliefs, but how the world really is. In fact, the more desperately we defend our view that, for example, 'everyone knows that people can't be trusted...' the more likely it is to be a belief, rather than an objective observation of reality.

The first step is to get really clear on your beliefs - what are your perspectives and attitudes? Only then can you start changing those that no longer serve you. My beliefs once included such decidedly un-useful things as 'No-one will help me', 'I would rather die than network', 'Success is not an option' and 'Sensible people don't take risks.' It took some time to eradicate that lot, but I have now largely succeeded - and the change has been huge.

If you'd like to know more about dealing with beliefs, contact us with the subject 'beliefs' for a longer worksheet.

What are some of your beliefs about work? About success? About change? What do you believe about risk taking? About the importance of money? How have these beliefs affected your life?
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News & Events

Dangerous Minds

Check out Dangerous Minds, an article I wrote for BOSS on corporate culture and creativity. Do some cultures encourage creative thought and innovation? Do other cultures kill it stone dead?

Taking Charge of Your Work. 
Joanna is speaking at the Network Central breakfast in Sydney on 20 September on Taking Charge of Your Work. Do you have a strategic plan for your working life (or even for 2012)? Whether you run your own business, or work for someone else, you need to take charge of your career development. If you'd like to find out more, why not come along? Use this link for the discount rate: