The business of busyness

item0546luIn a classic clip from an old I Love Lucy episode, Lucy gets a job in a chocolate factory and she and her friend Ethel are placed on the assembly line.

The draconian supervisor tells them: “Girls, this is your last chance. If one piece of candy gets past you unwrapped, you are fired!” The production line starts slowly and they carefully wrap candy, remarking how easy it is. Then the assembly line starts to speed up, and they can barely keep up.

They start stuffing their mouths with candy and Lucy calls out to her friend in despair: “I think this is a losing game.” They hear the supervisor returning and hide the remaining candy in their mouths, under their hats and even down the front of their dresses. Their mouths are bulging. The supervisor returns. Seeing the empty conveyor belt, in a moment of perfectly-timed comedy, the supervisor shouts to the conveyor belt operator “Speed it up!”

This famous scene has been parodied by many other TV shows.  What makes it funny even now is the relevance of this message to our modern lives. So often we keep up the pretence of being on top of stuff, and the pretence can work for some time, but exacts a heavy toll.

Somewhere along the line, for a lot of us in business, work became synonymous with worth and ‘busy’ became the currency to measure this worth.

Author Julia Cameron says there is a difference between purposeful, zestful work and work for work’s sake; not in the hours we put in but in their emotional quality.

Three things we can all do to improve the emotional quality of our work lives is to ask for help, stop being a hero/martyr (only I can do this) and draw a line in the sand (I don’t look at emails on Sunday or take business calls after 6pm).

Just as an alcoholic gets sober by abstaining from alcohol, we need to abstain from the idea that we’re only at our most productive when we’re putting in frantic 12-hour work days. There’s far more merit – and reward – in purposeful, contemplative work.

How do you improve the emotional quality of your work? Please share, as always I love hearing from you.

When Goliath stands up for David

1414516339_taylor-swift-467“We don’t ask you for free iPhones,” pop star, Taylor Swift, wrote to tech giant, Apple, in an open letter titled To Apple, Love Taylor.

“Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.”

Taylor was expressing her disappointment with Apple’s new music streaming service and the company’s decision not to compensate artists during its three-month trial.

In a beautifully-crafted letter, Swift says she still respects Apple, but does not respect this particular decision. She made her protest on behalf of young and emerging artists who could not afford to go unpaid for three months.

Less than a day after her public criticism, Apple dramatically reversed its decision.
Now Taylor Swift can add to her to many titles and accolades the title of leader. While nothing produces more debate, articles and books than the idea of defining leadership, we know it happens in unexpected places. Like having other people’s backs, this allows your team the courage and confidence to get on with doing good work.

This is when leadership is not about the people you lead. It’s doing what Taylor Swift did: speaking for people who don’t have a voice.

The lyrics of her hit song Both of Us say: “Some day I will be strong enough to lift not one but both of us.” That day has come, Taylor. Your stance is a wonderful example from which we can all learn.

Are you using your voice to help people who don’t have one?

Please comment I love hearing from you.

That dreaded F-word

imagesAn eager young author in Alabama, USA received news that made her heart sink: her book submission had been knocked back. But the editor offered some feedback: focus on the childhood of one of the characters.

Most budding authors would have continued plodding away on the same old manuscript, thinking someone else will surely recognise their genius, or even considered giving up writing and trying their hand at something different.

But this determined writer was different. She decided to act on the feedback. She worked for two and half years on the new version, at one point growing so frustrated that she threw the manuscript out the window into the snow. She later retrieved and finished it.

Listening to feedback – and acting on it – would change her destiny and that of book publishing for decades to come. The new book was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and it has become a classic of modern American literature, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide. The book was To Kill a Mockingbird and the author was Harper Lee.

Imagine if Harper Lee dismissed that vital piece of feedback? There is a belief that a peacock grows its beautiful feathers by eating thorns;  what a powerful frame to use to view feedback.

But not all thorns are equal! Ask for feedback from people you respect and who are masters in your field. Remember, Harper Lee got this feedback from an established book editor. Ask the masters: what you should do differently?

Be totally present and mindful about receiving feedback. This is hard to do as our emotions boil up. Instead, practise being hyper-alert, write the feedback down as you are receiving it and don’t give in to your first impulse, which might be to make excuses, bluster and explain.

Another good strategy is to thank the person and say you will think about what they have said. And if it is valid, for god’s sake, do something about it!

How are you going to turn thorny feedback into beautiful feathers? Please comment – I love hearing from you.


PS: Just this week we saw a new chapter in publishing history when Harper Lee’s very first novel, (yes the VERY one that was rejected, more that fifty years ago) Go Set a Watchman, became one of the most anticipated publications in history, topping Amazon’s best-seller list for several weeks – even before the book hit the bookshelves on July 14.

Are you skating to where the puck is?

downloadHave you heard of Wayne Gretzky? Your answer will definitely be yes if you are either Canadian, into ice hockey or a general sports nut.

In Canada, Gretzky, a brilliant ice hockey player, is a national hero. Gretzky was so good that when he retired, his number – 99 – was retired from all North American professional hockey teams. He was once asked why he was so successful. He had no immediate answer for the reporter, but he went away and thought about it. Later he summed it up perfectly: “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”

The simplicity of this message belies what it conveys for us in business. It’s not the grand vision or the 90-day plan, but the simplest action I can take right now to achieve my goal. In ice hockey it is skating to where the puck is going; in business it might be making that phone call to a client, or having that difficult conversation with a team member.

This is backed up by current research in the recent best-seller Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader where the author, INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra, shows that becoming a leader is not an event but a process with kinks and curves.

Ibarra turns the usual ‘think first and then act’ philosophy on its head, arguing that we learn through action. She says action increases your ‘outsight’: the valuable external perspective you gain from direct experiences and experimentation.

Of course through experience, champions such as Gretzky build up formidable outsight, but it all starts with that simple first step. Skating to where the puck is.

Please comment; I love hearing from you.